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Posts tagged ‘storytelling’

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…

The Thrill of the Story

I love storytelling! In fact, The idea of someone spinning a great yarn, gathering everyone’s attention and holding onto it, taking the listener through highs and lows, surprising them, wringing them out, and getting them to the end of the story, exhausted and exhilarated–there’s something truly wonderful about that. And the fact that it’s been happening since language was invented makes it a grand tradition. (In fact, I’m pretty certain storytelling is the World’s Second Oldest Profession, as folks enhanced their experiences with the Oldest Profession.)firetelling

When I was a kid, everyone wanted to ride to school in our car, because a little man named Bertram lived under the seat. In fact, my father, who is one of the great oral storytellers of all time, had all the children so captivated (and often in stitches) with Bertram’s stories, that it was nearly impossible to empty the car when we arrived at Wildwood Elementary.

Radio dramas played into this tradition. I would have loved to live in the early part of the 20th century and have the opportunity to  huddle in the living room with friends and family to listen to “The Shadow” or “War of the Worlds,” where all you have is a voice and the listener’s imagination.

oldtimeradio-1-1-2epting-300x257-126abvo

So, for me, audio books have become the modern day equivalent. When they were first gaining popularity, on CDs and cassettes, our friend Mary Ann put one on in the Jeep as she drove into town to run errands. She was so surprised by the erotic turn of events that she ran through a stop sign. I guess that’s the sign of a good narrator.

For years, I worked as a book abridger for Harper Audio, and it was a fantastic education. It was like learning how to perform surgery on books; recognizing all the layers, and knowing how to peel them back, excise what needed excising, and put them together again. (It also, hopefully, made me a leaner writer.)  Not every book merits abridging–in fact, I bought an abridged version of one of my favorite 600-page tomes to discover that they’d taken out all the good parts. But some books are actually strengthened by a good abridgment (and probably should have been better edited from the get-go).  And yes, I have had this argument with Stephen King.

One thing I learned at Harper was how grueling it is to record a book. Seriously, when my kids were little, I was running out of steam my third time through Good Night, Moon. But voice artists would come into the Harper studio and read for two or three days solid. With inflection and voices, and never losing energy. God bless them!
When we found out that CHASING EDEN, the first of the Eden Thrillers was going to be made into an (unabridged) audio book, we were excited. It was like joining the millennium of storytelling through the ages. I will post again, telling about the process of turning a print book into an audio book. (And no, we didn’t use David Tennant. Didn’t even think to ask.) It was indeed a journey: finding the right narrator, working with her to find the right character voices and narration tone, and remembering again a book we wrote 7 years ago. When words are spoken, you hear them in a different way than when they’re seen on the printed page. (And I realized that, for Jaime, the fact that “none of this made any sense,” was a theme through the book.)

dagger of urBut it was great fun. Our main characters, Jaime and Yani, were so much younger then.WE were so much younger then! In CHASING, the first book, Barb had to write all the military dialogue, because I was not fluent in Acronym-speak at all. It was fun, going back to the Indiana-Jones-with-a-theology-degree feel of racing through Iraq, through Ur and Babylon and Baghdad and the Southern Swamplands. Describing the halls of the Iraq Museum and the walls of the various eras of Babylon and the bricks of the Ziggurat at Ur. Seeing the horrific effect of Saddam’s draining of the Southern Swamplands, and how they were slowly re-irrigated. Being able to discuss (and pronounce) the Transflandrian Transgression.  Of remembering when Jaime first met Yani, and the immediate effect they each had on the other. Seeing that gorgeous Dagger of Ur. (In fact, had tears running down my face when I saw the replica in the British Museum. (Much the way I did when I saw Princess Kaiulani’s peacock hat in the museum in Hulihe’e Palace. But that’s a different story.)

There’s been a lot of talk about creationism-versus-evolution lately, with the Cosmos show on television. I rest happy in knowing that we provided an alternate ending. So, thanks for bringing the story to life in a new way, Kristina. I’d sit around your fire any night!

Chasing Eden: Eden Thrillers | [B.K. Sherer, Sharon Linnea]

So, if you’re curious, feel free to click on the Chasing Eden cover above and listen to a free excerpt from the audio.

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