Feb 28, 2012

Satisfy me.

I just plunked down $17 for your book.

I've suspended disbelief.

I'm hanging on your every word.

I've committed time and energy to your work.

I want to like you.

No---you know what?

I want to love you.

I want to love your story.

I want to believe in you.

I want things to work out between us.


Don't destroy all we have with a cliffhanger ending.



I adore a good series.

I love revisiting

favorite characters.

I love knowing

I can trust an author

to deliver

one satisfying story

after another.


Provide that for me and I will order everything from your backlist.

I will pre-order your next book, no matter how long it takes you to write it.

I will be devoted to you.

I will tell my friends about you.

I will gush and embarrass myself with how much I love you.


Play games with me?



Toy with me?


Withhold until. . .

I feed your publisher another $17. . .

or maybe another $17 after that?


Forget it.


Not only have you lost the sale, you've lost the fan.



I have a great deal of sympathy for beginning authors who don't quite nail the ending.

Some of my favorites wobbled a bit with their first books.

I savored the improvement of their writing

from one novel to the next

until finally

they wrapped their stories

around me

so completely

I reread the ending over and over

and cheered for them.



I'm not talking about the new author who may be a bit clumsy, but endearing.



I'm talking about the skilled professional

who could write a satisfying ending,

but chooses to court the dollar

and frustrate the reader.


I'd rather have the earnest, awkward fumbling

of someone who wants to please me

over and over again.


Now that's a series.


Feb 14, 2012

Telling Stories

As a kid, I remember being asked, "Are you telling me the truth or are you telling me a story?"  Make no mistake.  Telling a story was telling a lie.  It was not a good thing.

That's not to say I didn't grow up in a rich storytelling environment.  I did, but my family specialized in the tall tale rather than realistic fiction.  If the anecdote couldn't be exaggerated and acted out, it probably wasn't worth telling. Oral tradition ruled the day.

When I entered first grade, I found myself a titch bored with rote phonics lessons, but enamored with my little red desk.  The functional piece featured a solid top and one big opening for all my possessions---and I was such a clever child.

If I squirreled away paper in just the right position, I could write my stories while other students toiled away learning their alphabet sounds.  My teacher might be old and scary, but she'd certainly never encountered this trick before.  I was just that bright.

The old woman circled around the class as she taught, using a yardstick to point up at letters on the wall.  If she called on you to recite a sound, you would keep working at it until you got it.  She never-ever provided the mercy of calling on another student to answer for you. That woman would latch on and make your life miserable until you knew the right answers.

So that day I wasn't particularly worried about the teacher's circling.  She'd vice-gripped her attention on a little boy in the front row and already completed several laps around the room. While she waited for him to guess every sound he could imagine and work through at least three rounds of bargaining with God, I scribbled.

The yard stick came out of nowhere.  I heard it whistle by my ear before it smacked down on that pretty desk with the loudest THWACK I could imagine.

I jumped so high I almost toppled out of my chair.  My pencil and paper fell to the floor.

The old lady grabbed me by the ear and pulled me to the front of the classroom.  She had a reputation for this and we all thought it must hurt horribly, but really the humiliation was the worst of it. The horror of being dragged from my desk in front of all those kids made tears spring to my eyes.  She dropped me in a chair, where she could "keep an eye on me" and then turned back to the poor kid who couldn't think what sound W-H made in combination.  Only moments earlier, I'd felt sorry for him, but now I'd earned his pity.

When the teacher kept me in from recess, I was pretty sure I was done for.  None of the other students would ever see me again.  I wished I'd told my mom I loved her.

After all the other kids disappeared from the room, our teacher click-click-clicked over to my desk and snatched the paper from the floor.

Yes.  I know.  Not only wasn't I paying attention in class, I also spent my time telling stories---lying.  And why was I lying?  Oh, it was time for my own bargaining with God.  I was lying because it was fun.

The click of her heels returned to me more slowly.  She must be devising a fitting death for a child so bad.

When she stopped at a big wooden cabinet, I wondered what instrument of torture she had inside.




She hovered.  I winced.  Then, gently, she placed a piece of red construction paper in front of me.  She folded it in two and ripped it apart.  Then she took my paper and ripped it in two.

And then she did the damndest thing.  She placed those sheets of my story inside the red paper and she grabbed something from her desk.

Her fist came down hard. . . on a stapler.


I jumped again.

She turned the pages toward me.  "Your book needs a cover."

I never saw it coming.

I never forgot it.

She was the best teacher ever.

Feb 6, 2012


I've been starting my day with freewriting and this morning Zehra Cranmer asked if I'd do a blog post about it.  So here it is, Zehra!

Freewriting is simply writing without pausing.  You can type.  You can write longhand.  Not pausing is the only rule.

So how do you know when to stop?  That's up to you.

Some people set a timer.  This is a good strategy if you have a difficult time settling in, stilling the outside mind-chatter, and writing.  Figure out what amount of time you need to spend before you stop jumping up or feeling the need to click over to another screen.  Sometimes it only takes five minutes of constant writing to find your zone.

I also use the timer if I'm worried about something and that thing keeps intruding on my writing time.  I'll say to myself, "Self. . . you have ten minutes to obsess on this.  Go."  Then I dump it all.  After ten minutes, I'm done.  It's time to move on to something else.

Setting a timer also works if I'm trying to answer a plotting question.  In this situation it becomes more like brainstorming.  Instead of letting my mind wander where it will, I tell myself to answer something specific.  I might freewrite for ten minutes, trying to find a name for my character, running through all that name's associations to different names or settings or circumstances.  This is a great strategy if I'm avoiding a problem in my manuscript.  Or if there's something that's bugging me about a scene, but I can't quite put my finger on it.  Instead of looking sideways at the issue, I make myself focus for ten minutes and I'm done.

So that's one way to know when to stop:  set a timer.  Another option is to write until you're done.  This is great for times when you have a million things you need to purge before you can relax into your writing.  Your to-do list is rattling around in your mind, making too much noise.  Or you're worked up about something in the news or something in your family.  There's a point when you have to dump all the brain clutter so you can focus.  Freewriting is a great way to do it.  When your fingers quit racing and your mind settles, you're done.

Another option---and the one I've been doing lately---is to write until you reach a certain number of words.  I've been doing this because the first thousand words of the day are always the most difficult for me to write.  After 1000 words, solid bricks of words become liquid.  One thought flows into the next.  Usually I write those words into a novel or a story and then I have to go back and revise like crazy.  I don't know why it took me so long to realize I need to warm up with disposable words.

Well, yes.  Maybe I do know.  It's the idea of it.  The idea of throwing away 1000 words every day makes my heart race a little.

The idea became a lot more palatable when I timed myself.  I can easily freewrite 1000 words in 15-20 minutes.  At the end of that time, my thoughts flow.

When I attempt to dive straight into a novel or story, it usually takes me an hour to write 350 words.  In the second hour I write 500 words.  In the third hour I take off.  Why?  Because I don't cross 1000 words until that third hour of novel writing.  That's how many words it takes before I find fluidity.  To make matters worse, those first thousand words need more revising than the rest.

If I do my freewriting warm-up, I'm in the flow of the novel or story from the first words I put down.

If I spend 20 minutes burning off first words, I write better and more in the time remaining.

Thanks for the question, Zehra! Do remember that none of this is set in stone. Adjust and modify the process into something that works for you.