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Posts tagged ‘fiction’

Pretty Normal…For a Writer

Last week I was the guest at a library book group. The librarian who booked me warned that they were a feisty group who would speak their minds. They were reading my movie murder mystery, THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS.

crazy writer on bedThey were a feisty group, all right, and we had a fine time. They were an intelligent group, also, who spotted and wanted to discuss not only plot and characters, but ways I’d decided to work with the literary references and mystery tropes. One man said, “I admit it that at first I thought the book had a little too much estrogen for me, but then I started seeing how you were playing with the reader, and I became fascinated. It became a great psychological game of cat and mouse.” We talked about the writing process and the reading process and the contract implicit between author and reader.

Then one woman spoke up. “Well,” she said. “You surprise me. You’re not what I expected a writer would be like. I mean, we hear so much about writers being loners and anti-social. You speak English really well. I mean, you talk really interesting. I mean–well, you know.”

Green quoteThe thing is, I do know. Truth is, if you’re naturally gregarious and a doer rather than a ponderer, you’re probably not cut out to be a writer. (At least not a fiction writer. You’ll likely do well at writing and selling self-help.) Fiction writers are made from the stares of kids looking out the window during class, often accused of “being somewhere else” while something not as interesting (say, math or the rest of life) is going on.

It’s not that we writers are an unfriendly bunch. It’s that we keep to ourselves for a living. In fact, I belong to a group of professional fiction writers who work hard at helping their aspiring counterparts and giving opportunities to each other. I brought a friend to a recent party. No one talked to her. I posit this is because chatting is not a writer’s strong suit. (In fact, during my formative years,  my father was the pastor of a large Midwestern church, hence, my definition of Hell is still “a coffee hour you cannot leave.”)  On the bright side, the aforementioned gathering was at a painter’s club andl the painters were thrilled to meet my friend. She is planning to start taking watercolor classes there.

Now, there are sometimes when being something “for a writer” comes in handy. For example,  sitting around a pool in Hollywood, surrounded by people with body types unavailable to most of us, it helps to think, “Hey, I look pretty good for a writer!” Or, perhaps you’re in an endless PTA meeting where a few completely jerkish parents are STILL holding forth on an issue of seemingly no consequence, and you think, “wow, I haven’t killed anyone. Great self-control for a writer.” Or, you’re watching a TV show in which they’re having “adventures” with the ghosts on the Queen Mary, but the voice over is using the word “ironically” in such an egregiously incorrect way that it’s much more jolting than ghosts talking–but you don’t throw anything heavy at the television. “Wow, staying really calm…for writer.” (Okay, I turned the show off. Couldn’t take it any more.)

Most fiction writers would likely agree with John Green’s quote, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” I know the feeling.

And yet. Yet, now, somehow I’ve slipped over. I do love telling stories while looking people in the eye. More that that, some of the most fun times of my year are the “The Book Inside You Workshops” I lead  with fellow author and editor Tom Mattingly. It surprised me when I realized this had happened–this morph into a novelist who enjoyed standing in front of others and talking out loud.

I know exactly when it began to happen.

I started working in book publishing in New York while I was still at NYU, and I continued after graduation. My first two editorial jobs, at William Morrow and Taplinger, opened my eyes and taught me so much about books and authors and publishing. When visiting my parents in California, the writing teacher at the local community college asked if I’d come and talk to his creative writing class about publishing. I said sure. As I prepared my notes, I began to get excited. There was so much insider information I could give these writers that I would have loved to have had when I was starting out! I went to the class, and we all started talking–and talking and talking. Afterwards, I realized it didn’t matter what I’d worn or how I’d come across, all that mattered was the exchange of information. We were in it together.

storytellerSlowly, that’s what changed everything for me. It no longer became about me talking and others watching, it became about the exciting information I had to share, or the wonderful adventure of a story we were going to go on together.

Oddly, I stopped dreading looking people in the eyes when I realized that, instead of looking at each other,  we were looking together in the same direction. I got to be the one holding the lamp.

I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason, when I talk to others such as the library group, I seem pretty sane. (Also, I now realize that people will think you’re stuck up if they talk to you and you’re gazing into the distance so I’ve cut down a lot on that.)

Perhaps when we meet up, we’ll get into a stirring conversation about fantastical things. Perhaps we’ll use the word ironically correctly. Perhaps we’ll even discover we speak pretty good English for writers.

Until then, perhaps I’ll meet you in the middle distance…just beyond the next horizon…

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Sometimes, Being a Writer Sucks

This is a post I never really planned to write. But the lovely Brie, Arundel’s marketing person,  wants me to start blogging more, and I figure the only way to do it, really, is to tell the truth.

I have a lot of writer friends on social media, and they all seem to be having a swell time. Writing, and kvetching about writing, their books being “blurbed” by major players and being nominated for awards, and they themselves posting selfies while being flown to book conferences all over the globe with their equally exuberant friends of letters. Usually, they are also raising half a dozen children, coaching Little League, and visiting their offspring at Ivy League schools when they’re on break. They also write posts about how they used to only be able to write 30,000 words a day, but now, thanks to wonderful secret algorithms, they’re up to 50,000.

If they’re traditionally published, they lunch with all their well-known peers in NYC; or, if they are now self-published after a successful run in traditional publishing, they’re pulling in hundreds of times their former take because now they get to keep the dough for themselves.

They often also appear on Good Morning, America or jet off to Italy on vacation.

In case people look at the glossy finish of social media and think my writing life is anything like that, I’d like to set the record straight.

Sometimes, being a writer sucks.

The first problem is, I’m never as good as I want to be. There’s a paradigm in my head of the story I’m telling, the book I’m writing, and as hard as I try, I seldom achieve it. I am also writing this post at the particular moment in time because we’re inching towards the finish line on the next Eden thriller, and it’s 85 percent there. Which is a depressing number. The lifeblood and brilliance and paths of engagement with the reader are in that last 15 percent, and, as of now, I don’t know how to get there.

The good news is, it isn’t just this book. It happens in every single novel I write. So I know it is possible to make that last climb, if not to the 100% mark, at least into the 90s. It often has to do with knowledgeable editors showing you which strings to pull to tighten everything into line.

But right now, I’m thinking, even if the plot is pulled into line, I’m not happy with the writing, the characters, the vocabulary, the process. I should know better by now. I should be better by now.

[Famous graph on the creative process:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3.  This is sh**

4.  I am sh**

5. This might be Okay

6. This is awesome. ]

 

So maybe I’m just transitioning between numbers three and four of the above chart (which was posted on FB by the inimitable composer Skip Kennon) at the moment.

Maybe I’m still sloughing off a surprising and very unprofessional bout with a formerly trusted editor who sort of had a meltdown that had nothing to do with us or our book but was still weird and hurtful and required getting past. Honestly, this happens to everyone in the arts. What many people don’t know is that, no matter how many times you’re published or produced, you are acutely vulnerable when it comes to your art. This is true for artists who give it their all in the quiet of their rooms, and no one ever sees their work, as it is for those who publish constantly.

Then, there is the fact that you’re never truly “off.”  I wake up at 4 a.m. and know I should spend the awake time figuring out what’s going on in my latest project. And I drive my husband to the bus at 5:30 a.m. and know I need to come home to write. I’m trying hard to learn how to complete deadlines and not feel guilty for missing time with my family and friends. I am learning to enjoy the precious time with them, even if I hear the tick tick tick of deadlines, like Captain Hook’s crocodile, behind me.

You’d think I’d have this all figured out by now.

You’d think I’d figure out how to have time left over to clean my house.

But, even writing this, I know how truly lucky I am.

I have the world’s best co-authors and editors and publishing pros and marketing folks around me. Some of the coolest people in the world (and I’m counting YOU) have read some of my books and enjoyed them.

Cause, when it comes right down to it, what I love is the work of writing. It’s hard and irritating, but I get to spend months and years with characters I love going to places all around the world (at least in my mind) and learning all kinds of cool stuff I’d never ever know otherwise. I know how many stories there are at the Eiffel Tower and truly bizarre stuff about wine making. I can describe, in detail, vineyards in China, discuss inheritance laws in France, and parks and cafes in Argentina. I know how to get up to the top of the bell tower of Cadet Chapel at West Point (okay, I’d probably know that anyway).

In any case, I can’t leave Jaime and Yani and Mark Shepard at 85%. Can’t do it. Will fight through this one more time and make it out the other side. You’ll have to decide for yourself if we made it into the 90s or not.

But just so you know, when you read chipper posts about new Audio books (way cool) and and blog tours and book signings–well, it isn’t all a heady rush of achievement. In fact, it hardly ever is. But we often pretend for the lovely folks in marketing. So, Brie, this one’s for you.

xo Sharon

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