I attend for several reasons. To get away from home. Don’t look at me that way. Unless you are supportive. I say that because there are times I just need to immerse myself in the writing world and the best way to do that is away from home. I miss my husband and my three little dogs, but these times feed my soul.
I also attend to network with fellow authors, but mostly, I go to network with agents and editors. And my favorite way to do this is by volunteering at the agent/editor appointments. During these times, especially at Nationals, I have many opportunities to chat with editors and agents. And I love to do that because not only do I get the chance to meet them face-to-face and have even, at times, been able to pitch, I learned about the things they see and notice. I’d like to share some of these with you. You’d think these are no-brainers. But, you’d be wrong. And these are why some writers fail before they even start. There are more tips, but these are the ones I think are the most important.
1) Send in your requests. The percentage changes between agents/editors but they all agree on one thing – over 80% of the time, they don’t receive the material they request. That’s right. Writers scramble to get these coveted appointments and coveted requests but don’t send in the material. I’m sure a certain percentage of this are those who may be simply trying out an idea to see if there’s interest but I think that’s too small to matter. This means the majority just don’t send in their material. And it’s sad, really, because most of the agents/editors I’ve chatted with want to see the material. And yes, are even anxious to get some of the requests. Was that you?
2) Don’t pitch to “anyone that moves.” I saw this particular one a lot this year. I’m there the two full days of pitching (I’ve gotten to be quite a fixture ) so I’ve seen writers do this too. The same writers coming through time after time, agent after agent, editor after editor. And believe me, the agents and editors are noticing. They are not so involved in pitching that they don’t recognize the same frantic writer bouncing from pitch to pitch to pitch. Why is this bad? Because it means you haven’t done something they consider important. Which leads to the next one.
3) Do your research. There are a lot of agents/editors out there and not everyone is going to be the right fit for you and your book. Research them. Read what they represent / publish. I know it’s hard to resist the urge to pitch to all of them in the hopes one will recognize your talent and sign up on the spot. Believe me. Been there, done that. But there’s no reason why writers can’t give themselves a leg over the competition by spending their time pitching to those they’ve researched who want their stories.
Do you see yourself in any of the above? Are you allowing yourself to fail before you even start? And now that you know, what you are going to do about it?
On one of the Food Network Challenge shows, bakers created cakes based on romantic novels. One woman’s story featured a heroine who was killed inadvertently by the hero. Her justification was that not all romances end happily.
Romances that don’t end happily are called tragedies. Apparently, she didn’t understand the difference. Not to be overly critical, I would say a lot of people don’t understand happily-ever-after. One of the criticisms one hears is that life doesn’t come with HEA endings.
I disagree. Commitment is not simple. Because work is required every day, it’s easy to become complacent. If marriages had an expiration date, they would resemble elections. One or both parties would always be campaigning to serve another term, providing the popular sound bites and putting their best profile on constant display.
Marriage provides you with the best sex of your life. That may not have been historically true when the purpose of marriage was for security, social prestige, family obligations or because the bride feared being on the shelf at twenty-four. Times have changed. The pressure to marry is less than it has ever been.
So if we’re marrying for love, or at least major attraction, sex is a serious player. Learning the ins and outs of what a stranger likes is hard work. The awkward fumbling and the pressure to perform are overcome in a long-term relationship. Unstated rules become a pact with layers of comprehension between two partners.
Ron White, comedian, states that marriage works for him because his wife understands what he likes and he knows what she won’t do. But that aside, we also know what turns the other one on. There are no probing questions asked at the wrong moment, like “do you like that?”
My husband can look at me from across the room and we recognize the other’s thoughts. Each partner plays out our assigned duties and roles so that neither shoulders the entire burden. Life is not perfect, but how can one appreciate happiness without contrast? In the quiet of the night and in the dark of our bedroom, we savor all the happily-ever-after moments we’ve had.
We are so glad to have Genie Gabriel with us today. For years she’s been fascinated by the puzzle of why some people collapse under life’s traumas and others emerge triumphantly stronger. Her dramatic action stories explore the lives of heroes and heroines who overcome those traumas, often using touches of humor. However, sometimes humor demands its own vehicle, such as the romantic comedy novellas she has written as Genene Valleau.
Welcome, Genie, to SJP!
Tell us about your publishing journey.
I started seriously writing my first manuscript 1992. One minor detail: I didn’t sell that manuscript until 14 years later. In the intervening years, I spent many hours learning the craft of writing. I had the good fortune to read about a local RWA chapter, went to a meeting and decided I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There were real writers at the meeting! Not only had they finished a manuscript, they had books in print! And they were willing to share their expertise with writers like me who were just starting out. I was so excited I joined that night. Soon after, I went to a three-day conference. Once again, I was in heaven. More writers sharing their knowledge. However, I quickly crashed into the reality of how little I really knew about writing a manuscript.
This set up a pattern I repeated several times over the next few years. I went to a conference, took copious notes, had a major AHA! experience, and rewrote my manuscript. Again and again–probably six or eight times. Fourteen years and a number of rejections later, this book sold to an e-book publisher. Less than two months later, they bought a second manuscript, and then a third. Since then, I’ve switched publishers, written two novellas for anthologies, and am celebrating the re-issue of my Rock and Romance trilogy with new titles, new covers I designed, and a new author name: Genie Gabriel.
THE ROCK STAR was released November 1, THE BODYGUARD comes next on November 15, and THE LEADER OF THE BAND will wrap up the series when it’s released on December 1.
What’s the funniest thing to happen to you along your road to publication and what was the most exciting?
This isn’t the funniest, but my most ironic experience was writing a romantic comedy at one of the darkest times of my life. I was wallowing and getting very tired of my own whining. I wanted to laugh again, so drafted the story that became CHASING RAINBOWS, a romantic comedy novella printed in A VALENTINE’S ANTHOLOGY. The most exciting times have been when my books are released. And I’m as excited about the re-issues of my Rock and Romance trilogy as I was when they were first released.
My own doubts about being able to write a novel and that someone would want to publish it. Who is your favorite author, and what are you currently reading? I have many “favorite” authors, and love discovering authors with great stories I haven’t read before. When I’m writing, I don’t read much except to write and edit my own work, which leads into the next question…
What’s coming up next for you?
My next project is a family drama/action romance series of at least nine books. The LEGACY series is set in a small town and centers on a family of eight adopted children and a policeman’s widow with secrets of her own. After Bernie O’Shea is shot on the job, his children are determined to continue his legacy. The series follows each of the siblings as they find their true loves, and forces them to choose between honor and family as they move closer and closer to the truth that killed their father. The first book of the series is PICTURE PERFECT LEGACY, which will be released in March 2012 by Rogue Phoenix Press, with another book following every two months.
THE ROCK STAR is available now for the special price of 99 cents. This book is also available on Amazon.com and other online booksellers. However, due to technical difficulties, readers can only get the special 99-cent price at Rogue Phoenix Press right now. THE BODYGUARD will be available on Nov. 15; and THE LEADER OF THE BAND will be released Dec. 1.
No one is more surprised than I am that I’ve found ‘home’ in a small town. Or that besides dipping my toes into the hot eddies of paranormal/fantasy and loving it (stay tuned), I genuinely love writing what is now being called gentle fiction, “heartwarming stories set in small towns, about what really matters in life: home, family, and true love.” (Melissa Bourbon Ramirez, Romance Writers Report, November 2011 issue, page 33). While I’m doing final revisions on my current project, a gentle fiction set in the make believe town of Rosewood (very similar to the little community I live in), I’m also taking a break to do what a lot of folks in Rosewood like to do. Watch movies.
What I love about watching a movie is that sometimes a line will jump out at me with tons of meaning for that moment in my life. Here are a few of my favorites:
All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you. ~ The Oracle (From the second or third Matrix movie)
I especially like this last quote. Don’t think you are a teacher. Know you are. Don’t think you are the best barista in town. Know you are. Don’t think you are a writer, author, novelist. Know you are.
So I return to Rosewood, the gentle fiction story I’ve set there, and the characters challenging my knowledge that I AM the author. Will he get the girl in the end? We’ll see
What’s your favorite line from a movie?
As a romantic suspense writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, about police procedure. After all, if the murder is supposed to set me free, I certainly don’t want to spend any time in jail. And let me say clearly for the record, I don’t like jumpsuits and orange isn’t my color.
1) Financial (this is big): Divorce is expensive, and do you really want to split your possessions? Or if you married for money, aren’t you entitled to all of it? The draw back is the police aren’t stupid. They are looking at you first. So you have to be organized, ruthless and very clever. Husbands have disappeared from cruise ships before. Why not yours?
2) Lying, cheating bastard (deception of any sort): This is a crime of passion. In anger, you bash his head in or stab him with a kitchen knife. Most of the time there is a trail that leads directly to you. Each type of murder leaves clues. A crime of passion does not look like a stranger was involved. And who is left to clean the blood from your carpeting?
3) Fell in love with someone else (usually financial is also involved here): Let’s say your Church frowns on divorce. You need to be a widow so you won’t fall out of favor with your religion. At this point, I should mention that it helps if you aren’t too burdened by the 10 commandments.
4) Abuser: This one is tough. Anybody can claim abuse. What is abuse? To a teenager, it might look different than to a spouse. As a motivation, this reason usually comes up after you’ve been arrested. Not a lot of abused wives dial 911 upon burning down the house with their husband in it.
5) It’s your profession: Now we’re talking. You already possess both skill and knowledge. You have the moral ambiguity necessary to carry it off. Quick hit and you fade from the scene. Get your payment upfront from someone else, because life insurance probably won’t send a check.
Options to consider:
Guns – loud, messy, require some skill. If it takes 10 shots for the sucker to die, either you have terrible aim or he’s on drugs.
Knives – really personal and close up. Blood everywhere. Eww.
Garrote – how much upper body strength does it require to strangle a person?
Random heavy piece of equipment – usually this involves hitting someone hard with the baseball bat or the pipe wrench you just happen to have in your hand.
Poison – considered a woman’s weapon. Arsenic is easy to obtain, worse, easy to trace. It takes a month or two to kill someone. Plus, they are sick the entire time. Who wants to hang out with a sick husband? Knowledge of pharmaceuticals would be handy. Availability would be even better. A word of caution, watch out for poisons found in nature. They are not a sure thing. Too little? Too much? Your mother always told you to marry a doctor. Now you know why.
Hiring a lover – Never a good idea. The husband dies, and the wife gets the money. The lover doesn’t always win in this scenario. Sometimes he, too, finds himself facing a loaded gun.
I find it is easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them. I don’t want to worry about blood and brains splattered on my walls. And really, I’m not good at remembering lies. But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough.
What constitutes a good romantic suspense is the whys? What happened that forced a person into this situation? How will they justify this action? (By the way, he needed killing is not a legal defense.) Can they keep a secret? A confidence whispered in the dark is no longer secret.
What if killing didn’t produce the right results? Would they do it again? Could they do it again? What if they liked it?
Whoa, there’s an idea for a new story.
Good morning SJP’ers. I hope you have coffee at your elbow and are ready to be entertained. Today we welcome Diana Duncan to See Jane Publish. I’ve known Diana from the time we both wrote for Harlequin. She’s funny, determined, and always has a smile for everyone. Her journey through this crazy business is amazing!
Here’s a little bit about Diana… When her dreams of becoming a ballerina were quashed by early-onset klutziness, Di took up the safer vocation of writing. Her first thrilling masterpiece—written in orange crayon—was titled “Perky the Kitten,” and became an instant bestseller with her grandparents. Growing up as a military brat gave her the ability to leap into a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime…and she always discovers a new friend in the process. This gift of gab perfectly equipped her for a career that involves making stuff up. Di is famous for using seven words when one will do. She wields smart-assery like a samurai sword, loves her job as an author, and claims writing is the most fun she’s ever had while wearing her sock monkey pajamas. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, and adopting abandoned curbside furniture to refurbish into treasures. She published six award-winning books with a traditional print publisher before going rogue with Indie publishing. You can find Diana at her website and on Facebook.
Tell us about your publishing journey.
I’ve always loved reading and writing. I wrote articles and short stories all the way through school until graduation. I got married right afterward and put my husband through college, followed by the birth of two daughters. During those years, I had no time to write.
After Daughter #2 was born, I began having a dream. Over and over. The same dark-haired kilted warrior. The same scene every time (which I can’t reveal b/c of spoilers! *G*). That dream haunted me for five years…until I wrote it down and tucked it away.
Finally when my daughter went to first grade and I had a few free hours during the day, I started writing my first manuscript – a Scottish paranormal which ended with the scene from that dream.
Almost the moment I finished it, the paranormal market tanked. So it got stashed for “some day.”
I switched to romantic suspense, because I also loved to read those. Nine full completed manuscripts and five long years later, I finally sold “Bulletproof Bride” to Harlequin Romantic Suspense. It was based on the real-life event of being robbed when I’d worked as a bank teller. The robber was cute and charming (YEP!) and my writer’s brain said… “Hmmm. What if…” Which made Gabe, my cute & charming bank robber hero, spring to life.
I didn’t sell any of those other eight pre-sale finished manuscripts. After “Bulletproof Bride,” my editor wanted all new stories, so my “Forever in a Day” 24 hour series was born. I wrote four books featuring my sexy SWAT team heroes, and then another, separate, romantic suspense. A total of six books for Harlequin, two of which were nominated for RITA awards. My sales numbers were strong and growing with every book. One book won a “Best Continuity of the Year Award” and another won “Best Category of the Year Award.” I had all 4 and 4 ½ star reviews, and reader emails told me they were really relating to my stories and characters. I was at the top of my game.
Then everything crashed and burned.
A little later, I’ll talk more about hitting the wall, falling into the pit, and then finally climbing out again.
What’s the funniest thing to happen to you along your road to publication and what was the most exciting?
The most exciting thing is definitely the same answer I’m guessing almost all authors have: When I got “the call” to tell me I’d sold my very first book. OMG! I was jumping up and down and shrieking into the phone. My poor new editor probably thought she had a lunatic on her hands. lol!
Funniest thing…ah…there have been a lot of odd goings-on here since I became an author. *G* It’s a well-known fact I will do just about anything for research. Including asking my hubby to duct tape me up and put me in the trunk of our car so I could see what it was like. Our neighbors got quite an eyeful, and I’m really surprised nobody called 911. Luckily, they all know me and the crazy things I write about.
What has been the most challenging thing related to publishing you’ve had to deal with on your journey?
Ah. The crash and burn. Just after I completed my sixth book, the romantic suspense line was assigned a new senior editor, who had a completely different vision for the line. My sales record and street creds suddenly became worthless. Nothing I wrote fit her vision. She rejected 18 story proposals (3 full chapters and a complete synopsis) within a 12 month period.
I finally got a clue (took me long enough, didn’t it? *G*) and realized I wasn’t going to sell at that house anymore. I was heartbroken and adrift. Didn’t know what to write, where to go next. Not to mention the financial devastation to our family at a time when my youngest daughter developed very expensive health problems.
I started to try to write to the market, instead of writing the stories my heart was passionate about. I fell into the trap of trying to please editors and agents instead of myself and my readers. Over the next two years as I flung stuff at the wall to see what would stick, and rejection after rejection poured in, I grew more and more desperate.
Writing was no longer fun and fulfilling, it was an agonizing chore. My dream was on life support, and dying a little more every day.
My amazing critique partners convinced me to forget the market and write what my heart wanted. And that haunting dream sequence from long, long ago came instantly to mind. I tossed out my entire first manuscript based around it…except for the ending…and started over with an entirely new premise based on the mythology surrounding Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of prophecy and war. It took me another wretched fourteen months to reinvent myself and write my paranormal romance, “Sword of the Raven.”
Every word was like yanking pieces from my soul with pliers. On those pages, I worked out my angst by forcing my heroine to stand up to her fears and doubts. Forcing the hero to face his loss of control over his life. And I killed a bunch of nasty fictional bad guys in creative ways, and cried a whole lot.
When I was done, I knew “Sword of the Raven” was the best thing I’ve ever written…because it was born from genuine soul-deep pain and passion.
And guess what? The “best ever” story of my heart got rejected. Over and over, for another year. My snarky heroine scared editors and agents! They only wanted “dark, dark voices and dark, dark stories.”
Meanwhile, Indie Publishing had taken off like a wildfire. I joined Indie Publishing loops and groups and absorbed every bit of info I could about how to bypass editors and agents with their “dark, dark expectations,” and sell my stories directly to readers.
A light came on inside me, burning away the darkness. Hey! I can be true to myself and give my readers all the humor and quirkiness and adventure and sexiness—and yeah, the SNARK—they expect from a Diana Duncan story. I can do this MY WAY!
“Sword of the Raven” still needed major editing, so I rewrote one of those early manuscripts. I polished and published “Deal with the Devil,” the first book in my Devilish Devlins series. Readers loved it, and it started selling far better than I ever expected.
I spent another month of seventeen-hour days honing “Sword of the Raven” to perfection.
On October 27th, the day it came out, “Sword of the Raven” climbed to #14 on Amazon’s “Hot New Fantasy Romance” list! Directly beneath authors like Mercedes Lackey and Sherrilyn Kenyon! ::faints::
Baby, if that isn’t validation, I don’t know what is. *G*
Who is your favorite author, and what are you currently reading?
Oh, you would ask! lol! I read in every genre of romance and I own over a thousand books…so there’s no way I can pick just one favorite! However, if you twisted my arm really hard and forced me to choose my “go to” author, it would be Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. I know when I pick up a La Nora book, I’m getting a fantastic story that transports me to another place, with “real” characters that I’ll like and root for. Her stories are a sure ticket to escape my worry and problems, and banish whatever is getting me down or stressing me out. I can just relax and enjoy myself, and isn’t that exactly what we want from a book?
I have a TBR pile that is higher than my head…no exaggeration. The wonderful news about Indie publishing is that I have total control. The bad news is that I have total control. Not only do I have the responsibility to write a killer book, I also have to design an enticing cover, write selling blurb copy, and format, then upload the completed files so readers can buy it. My two incredible critique partners, authors Susan Gable and Jennifer August, keep me sharp with proofing and edits, and vice versa. Which means we also have to make time to read and critique each other’s work. With very little time & energy left over for taking care of my home & family and/eating/sleeping/breathing.
I’ve had to give up watching TV (except for my favorite HGTV shows!) and leisure reading is also drastically curtailed. But as soon as I get a few moments, the next novel on my list is J.D. Robb’s newest Eve & Roarke story: “New York to Dallas.”
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m so excited! Daughter #1 has been brainstorming with me on Morrigan’s Legacy, my Celtic mythology-based contemporary paranormal series, and she’s decided to write young adult books about the paranormal world we’ve created. She’s very independent and self-contained, so working with her will give us something special in common. I’m looking forward to a whole new adventure! “Shield of Thorns” is the 2nd book in the series, and it will follow my current October release, the 1st book in the series, “Sword of the Raven,” hopefully by next summer.
In the meantime, “Devil May Care” (the 2nd book in my Devilish Devlins fun, sexy contemporary romance series) will be out in late November or early December, followed by “Taken by the Highlander,” a smokin’ time travel, in late December. Followed by two connected romantic suspense novels: “Laws of Attraction” in January and “Big, Bad, Wolfe” in February.
You see now why I’ve been wearing the same shirt, both to wear and sleep in, for four days in a row? lol!
I’ve never been busier, more productive…or happier.
Thank you for hosting me today. It was so much fun. : )
When her dreams of becoming a ballerina were quashed by early-onset klutziness, Diana Duncan took up the safer vocation of writing. Her first thrilling masterpiece—written in orange crayon—was titled “Perky the Kitten,” and became an instant bestseller with her grandparents.
Her childhood growing up as a military brat gave her ability to leap into a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime…and she always discovers a new friend in the process. This gift of gab perfectly equipped her for a career that involves making stuff up.
Di is famous for using seven words when one will do. She wields smart-assery like a samurai sword, and will be the first to volunteer in a catastrophe. Of course, she was probably the one who caused the catastrophe. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends and family…but in the event of the upcoming zombie apocalypse, she won’t hesitate to use them as human shields.
She loves her job as an author, and claims writing is the most fun she’s ever had while wearing her sock monkey pajamas. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, and adopting abandoned curbside furniture to refurbish into treasures.
Diana published six award-winning books with a traditional print publisher before going rogue with Indie publishing.
And feel free to stop by and ogle her kilted hunks — or to peruse or purchase her books – on her website http://www.dianaduncan.com
I’m going to take a walk on the craft side this week. First and foremost, we’re all readers, and even though some of us are writers too, we know what we like when we read it. That includes our own work.
I’ve given a lot of thought to this over the last couple of weeks. In the beginning, I think we can learn about craft from the best; by studying their work; favorite authors, the ones who have been around for ages. For me, that would be Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kerrelyn Sparks, and Wendy Warren. We can also learn from newer authors. Shelley Adina, Karen Duvall, and Tawna Frenske. How do they organize story? Use humor? Write reality or fantasy?
After studying published authors’ work, the next best way to learn to tell a story is to write, write, write. When you finish one, start another story, and so on, until you’re confident enough to send your baby out into the world.
So how do we put a story together? Here’s my recipe:
Start with an idea. A Marine must come to terms with an orphan’s death, or lose the one thing she holds most dear. Or, In order to make sense of unexpected changes in her life, a woman is exiled to London with her rebellious granddaughter. Repairing her family relationships is not easy, but along the way she discovers family is a gift; and living, something to be treasured.
Add characters. Who are they? What do they want? What is their vision for life? Why don’t they think they’re worthy of achieving that vision? Add a dash of their world view, and stir well.
Mix in goals, motivations, and conflicts – the obstacles that keep them from reaching their goals. Continue to stir until smooth.
Fold into the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure (see Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.
Cook, revise, and rework at 325 degrees for however long it takes.
When nearly done, read your novel like a book (in book format). You’ll be surprised to find your story needs a little more stirring.
Finish cooking with one more read-through for mechanical errors.
As readers, we appreciate a well-developed story, one that grabs us from the very first page, and doesn’t let go. As writers, the recipe can always use a little extra dash of this or that, but at least we have a place to start.
What’s your recipe for writing a book? Which flavor of book do you like to read most?
I don’t know anyone who thinks they can’t write a novel. And not a mid-list book either, but a best seller. If only they had more time. But they have a family, a job, soccer practice, dinner to put on the table, and vacations to take. It’s a shame really, because they could be the next Stephen King, Dan Brown or JK Rowling. If only life hadn’t gotten in the way.
There are others who have started a manuscript, but floundered. They received negative feedback from a friend, spouse or contest. They sagged. They folded. They lacked enough passion to rally back and fight. No doubt it was harder than they thought. No doubt it sounded better in their mind than on paper. No doubt another career called their name.
I envy the perfectionists. Chapter one, scene one is written, and rewritten, and rewritten again. Every comma is perfect. Each word resounds with meaning upon meaning. When they die, they have achieved twelve perfect pages.
Others believe a first draft is a final draft. No need to edit or rewrite. Women will weep; men will envy. Any editor who would dare to reject such a masterpiece is an idiot.
One of my favorite stories is about the English teacher who finally decided she’d made her point that good writing is in the re-writing when a student left a sign on her door one day. “Should I kill myself? All that lies before me is suffering. Dying would rid me of that pain….” Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1 First Draft.
We have got the excuses, don’t we? How many of those categories do I fall into? All of them. Toni Morrison wrote, “if there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
The hardest book to finish is the one I’ve never started. Writing (and I’ve learned this the hard way) does not come from muses or the girls in the basement. Writing is a career that requires earnest dedication and continual work. You can find 150 things to do on your computer each day besides write.
There are blogs to read and blogs to write. There is email to answer and games to play. But no matter how much I lie to myself, that isn’t writing.
Setting up a website, marketing or designing my cover isn’t writing either. Although I do admire authors like JD Salinger who write one perfect book and become a recluse. So far, I’m struggling with making that plan a reality.
I’m finding my process. It’s an excuse I’ve used more often than not. But here’s the ugly little secret I’ve learned. Each book is a new process. I’ve written fast and slow, at home and on the road. I’ve plotted and made storyboards. But as long as I can find other things to do, I put off the hard work of getting the story onto the page.
I fight writer’s block constantly.
Here’s my best idea. While thinking about my characters and the scene I need to write, I find a favorite author and a scene of a similar purpose. I start typing their words while thinking about my characters. Within a couple of sentences, my words take over. By the time the book is finished, I’ve edited and changed every sentence so many times, the other author’s words are gone.
My problems do not come from external sources. I battle my inner self who, given an opportunity, would drink scotch and eat chocolate all day. As the Pogo cartoon character once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I know there are people out there who don’t struggle. I hear about them all the time. But the funny thing, is I’ve never met one. Most of the writers I know suffer, suffer, suffer. And they want to tell you all about it, because the rules of suffering are like the rules of surgery. Minor surgery is on someone else.
In fact, that might make a good novel. Why don’t I just sit down and whip that out, right now? In the process, I’ll open a vein, because that is what novel-writing really is, giving your life force to your story.
For years, writers were told to “write what you know.” And this was something I heard when I began this path over ten years ago and to this day, I still here it occassionally dusted off and spoken out loud.
I did some research on who said this and while this is most frequently attributed to Mark Twain, there is a general consensus that no one really knows who said it but more than that, it’s something that should be banned.
So, what does it mean, really? Well, some believe it should be taken literally – to mean writers should not write about things we have not personally experienced. This is actually the definition I heard many years ago. Now, I find it very amusing and my reaction to it can be summed up by a quote from Robert Duncan, “If I write what you know, I bore you; if I write what I know, I bore myself, therefore I write what I don’t know.”
Isn’t that great? Here’s another by Howard Nemerov that made me laugh – “Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.”
So true. Now, I don’t consider myself uninformed. I’m smart. I know stuff. But I don’t know enough about places and things to infuse my stories with the atmosphere readers are looking for. Because while we read about characters, we also read for places and things. If I were to write only about what I know, I’d be writing short, flat stories.
I write paranormal stories. I have yet to meet a fallen angel, demon or a shape-shifting rock. I have yet to travel to another planet. I have to visit Egypt and see the pyramids at Giza. I have yet to explore the Mayan ruins in South America. Yet, these are all places I have visited in my research.
I’d like to leave you with another great quote on author’s writing what they know. This is from Valerie Sherwood: “Don’t write what you know – what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you – and interests you deeply – and your readers will catch fire at your words.”
Would my writing be any better if I experienced some of these things? Maybe. I don’t know. I think what makes it great is that I haven’t been there so I can infuse my stories with the passion of discovering something new. And that’s what I try to do. If you read my story, I hope you agree.
How about you? What does “Write what you Know” mean to you? If anything.
In today’s busy world, where every hour in the day is taken up with the day job (if you have one away from home), family, social networking, marketing (if you’re a writer, published or not), there’s little enough time to write, much less time to really hunker down and enjoy a good read. I was listening to a conference CD the other day on the commute to the city for the day job and one of the speakers was John Charles (librarian – I didn’t catch from where, I’m sorry to say). John says, and I have to agree with him, “Reading is a necessity.”
How we’re reading might be changing, but I don’t think anyone who has a love of the written word will disagree with John. There are so many good reasons to read.
First, it’s a great escape. What else can you do that lets you explore the world at large, in such an intimate way, without leaving the comfort of your lazy-boy? You can watch a movie. But the level of detail is often hampered by the constraints of film (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE movies). Think about the places you can go. Metropolitan cities like New York, Paris, and London. Places you’ve never been to like Pompeii, Japan and Atlantis. Some destinations you would never see, like an off-world planet, or Regency England.
Second, reading is a great glimpse into the human condition: love, war, sex, relationships forged under some of the worst, and best, situations. Books are vignettes of peoples’ lives, stunning, sometimes unimaginable, always incredible.
You can learn a lot from reading fiction. I didn’t know a thing about Feng Shui until maybe four or five years ago, when I read about it in a story. After that I studied the art thoroughly. Reading expands your horizons.
You can be anyone you want to be when you’re reading. A New York detective, who always gets her man. An art restorer who falls deep for the Navy Seal who saves her. A ghost. A vampire who is the good guy, or girl. A shapeshifter who’s ancestors descended from the Maya, a private investigator who’s a wizard, a lost soul trying to win her, or his, way back into the grace of heaven. A prince, or a pauper, or the butler.
And reading can be the best history lesson. Authors are clever at doing their research, and then layering in the details that underlie their story. Historical romances are full of little tidbits you might not discover any other way. Even contemporaries. Readers expect, and get, accurate details. Think of Steampunk, how the minutest element informs the story. They are perfect depictions of what was, is, or could be, with a little twist unique to the genre.
So, at least for me anyway, John is right. Reading IS a necessity. How about you? What do you love about reading? And how do you find the time?