Posts Tagged ‘novels’


As I’m sure I’ve already mentioned, character writing is my favorite part of the fiction process. Nothing else–except maybe the finished product–is as satisfying to me personally as the moment a character begins to tell his or her story. Sometimes, they reveal themselves in slow sections, teasing you with their secrets and the private details of their personas. Sometimes, they come fully-formed in an in-your-face moment of undeniable clarity.

My intrigue with the process of character development is what keeps me writing, and it is what has prompted me to elaborate on it here, and dig a little deeper into some of the characters I’ve created, with the purpose of learning more about the mystery of it in general, and maybe even learning a little more about my own process. And, one of the most frequently asked questions any writer receives is about the development of characters, so I thought it might also be fun for the folks who have read my work to see the inner workings of my imaginary friends 🙂

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The first character that comes to mind, for some reason, is Brytt Tanner, Sterling Bronson’s dim-witted side-kick in Beautiful Monster, so I’ll start with him.

Brytt came into existence pretty early on in the plotting of Monster,  and if I remember correctly, it all started–as it often does–with his name. My co-author, Mimi A. Williams, met a man named Brytt in the workplace. The moment she mentioned the guy’s name, I knew I had to use it.

The first thing I knew about Brytt was that he was a stripper. I’m not sure why that was–again, probably the name. It just sounds kind of strippery, I guess.

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Next came his physical appearance. I figured a bulky, muscle-bound blond guy would be an interesting antithesis to Sterling’s dark, brooding good looks. I don’t like to create characters who look too much alike, and second, I’m a sucker for contrast. After ascertaining the basics of Brytt’s appearance, the next thing I did was start browsing the internet for his doppelgänger. This isn’t something I always do, but at times, I’ve found it helpful. So, I found a photograph of a guy that fit the mold, and referred to said picture when I needed to expound on details. I considered posting that picture here, but have ultimately decided against it. I think it’s best to let readers fill in their own blanks and use their own imaginations.

Not all of Brytt was pre-planned. He–like all good characters–came with a little of his own agenda, and one of the first things that surprised me was his dim-wittedness. I don’t know that I would have deliberately created him to be such a lunkhead, but as is so often the case, this is how he kind of “revealed” himself as I wrote him.

And it worked… which is also very often the case when you trust your characters to do their own things.

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It was also a surprise to me that Brytt was almost–but not quite–as morally corrupt, sexually deviant, and as dangerous as Sterling. In the beginning, Brytt was created, I think, simply as a means to give Sterling–who lives by himself–more opportunity for dialogue. But as the story progressed and began to demand artistic unity, Brytt began to play a significant role in the novel.

Brytt’s last name was tricky. A strange thing happened as we got further into the story. We started noticing a pattern… an absolute overuse–and abuse, really–of the letter C. We had Claire, Connie, Carlson, Cassidy, Carson, Carlisle, and probably several other names that began with the letter. I wish I could tell you why C became such a prominent player, but I can’t–I don’t know. Wierd things happen sometimes. So, after we made the discovery of the letter Cs undeniable overuse, Brytt’s last name–Carson–was changed to Tanner. Tanner, because at the time, I worked for a company with the word “Tanner” in the title. I’d been at the company for thirteen years, and figured it deserved some kind of recognition for paying my bills all that time. Unfortunately, Brytt probably isn’t really the most complimentary thing to be associated with, but for what’s it’s worth, I like him. He amused the hell out of me… and hey, it’s the thought that counts…

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I can’t remember if Brytt’s addiction to cocaine was a surprise or part of the plan, but this was the most fun, and most challenging thing about him. His constant “pit stops” kind of became his calling card, his personal catch-phrase in a sense, and it was interesting to describe the physical symptoms, like his glassy eyes and powder-congealed nostrils–and it was a total blast describing the actual snorting of the cocaine. I know… I’m kinda twisted that way, but it was fun. The snorting of coke is not glamorous. I wanted that to be very clear when Brytt did his thing, and it turned out being more hilarious than anything.

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Brytt is, believe it or not, one of my favorites. He was fun because he didn’t allow Sterling to take himself so seriously. Well, maybe Sterling took himself seriously, but Brytt made it impossible for me to take him–and the rest of the story–as seriously. Brytt is one of the reasons Beautiful Monster was so much fun for me. He moved the story along like a good character, he played by the rules by not demanding more stage time than his part required, and he forced me to learn more about the darker, sleazier side of life. I absolutely love him, and I have no doubt he will reincarnate, in some form or another, in my future writes.

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Beautiful Monster is available in paperback and ebook format at www.damnationbooks.com, and everywhere books are sold.

If you like my blog, also stop by and give me a like at my Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/thejerodscott?ref=tn_tnmn

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When I contacted Patricia Scanlan a few moths ago, inviting her to do an interview on my blog, I didn’t necessarily expect a response. Authors are very busy people, especially number one bestselling authors like her! As it turned out, Patricia not only agreed to do an interview, but she turned out to be one of coolest authors I’ve met. We’ve kept in touch via e-mail for several months now, and every time I get an e-mail from her, I get a little giddy.

My wife and I discovered the books of Patricia Scanlan several years ago. After finishing Francesca’s Party, my wife told me I absolutely had to read it. I am a lover of all genres, but I tend to lean more toward thriller/suspense, and even horror. Still, I figured if it was that good, I better give it a shot.

I couldn’t put it down. After finishing it, I immediately went and purchased several more of her books and devoured them just as quickly. We recommended these books to everyone we knew, and my sister-in-law soon became a big fan as well.

After talking more about it, Patricia and I decided to hold off on posting her interview until the release of her upcoming novel, With All My Love, which is on or around Mother’s Day. In Ireland, where Patricia lives, Mother’s Day falls in March. Here in the U.S., it’s in May…so either way, it will be several months before I post the interview.

The thing I’m most excited about, however, the real “Rockstar Moment” is that after she and I got to know each other better, she asked me how I would like to be the first person in the United States to read With All My Love. She told me she had talked to her agent and they decided they’d like to send me a proof copy of the novel before its actual release. I was stoked! I eagerly gave her the information she needed so she could send it to me.

Patricia sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago, letting me know it would soon be on its way. This is, by far, one of the most incredible things to happen to me since I’ve begun meeting authors and traveling the writing circle. To receive a proof copy of one of your favorite author’s novels is an honor of the highest kind and I’m thrilled to be the recipient of such an awesome gesture.

It’s things like these that have inspired me to write these blogs, which I have dubbed “Rockstar Moments,” because that’s what it makes me feel like. Since beginning this journey, I’ve repeatedly been struck by the kindness and sense of camaraderie from the other writers I’ve met, and to have Patricia Scanlan among my friends is inexplicable. It’s just plain…rad.

I recommend all of Patricia’s books to anyone who loves a good story. Her novels have  a way of touching the human heart, moving the spirit, and making the readers feel at home in a way few authors are able to do. She’s written dozens of novels, and all of them have been number one best sellers. Her novel, With All My Love will be available Mother’s Day, 2013.

In closing, thank you Patricia Scanlan, for your great books, your wonderful gesture, and your friendship. I can’t wait to read With All My Love!


Of the many totally awesome benefits to getting your book published, probably nothing is as cool as getting letters from your readers, and in the short time since Beautiful Monster has been published, I’ve discovered there are three basic types of mail that readers will send an author: fan mail, hate mail, and just plain-strange-mail.

Each of these types of mail are important to the author who is interested in knowing his or her audience and/or learning more about his or her own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s always great to get mail from readers, however, you have to be careful not to get too caught up in anyone’s take on your work. There’s something to be said about writing for one’s self.

I believe that anyone who writes a novel and gives it to the world has already got nerves of steel. Putting your work out there leaves you vulnerable, it makes you raw, and it is absolutely terrifying…but when you start getting feedback from readers, the good, the bad, and the ugly, that’s when things get real interesting. That being said, here are the types of mail you can expect to receive from your readers once your manuscript is published…based on my experience…

The first and best kind of mail is, of course, fan mail. This is the stuff that reminds you of why you wanted to do this in the first place. The writer’s of fan mail are always very excited about your characters and the world you’ve created. Many of these guys even share insights into your story and your characters that make you see your novel from an entirely new perspective. The writer’s of fan mail are your most important readers. These guys like you. They support you and they want more from you. Be very nice to these folks.

Another form of mail you’re likely to receive is the kind no one likes to get: hate mail. Before assuming that this kind of mail is limited only to writers of sex, violence and sensitive social subjects, be warned that receiving hate mail is almost inevitable. I know writers of the most delightfully sweet children’s books who have received their fair share. Realize that in a time when people are looking for reasons to be offended, there are no safe books to be written. The writer’s of hate mail like to tell you that you have no business writing. Sometimes, it’s your writing style that has set their vicious pens a-scribble. Other times, it’s the content. Too much sex, too much violence…not enough sex, not enough violence…these are all just a few of the triggers that get hate mailers in a dither of wrath. It’s best not to respond at all to these guys as any correspondence from you is only likely perpetuate the hate and increase the chances of them telling their friends and families what a prick you are…on top of being a lousy writer. That being said, don’t forget that even the hate mailers are important, though. As Oscar Wilde said, “there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.”

Finally, of the three kinds of mail, the just-plain-strange mail is far and beyond the most interesting. These folks like to confess deep things to you. I suppose they figure that (if you’re a horror writer) you somehow understand their darkest, secret fancies. (These folks also tend to get the idea that your characters are real people with whom they would get along famously with, but that is neither here nor there.) There is not, in most cases, anything wrong with getting these kinds of letters. These guys are reading your books, and that makes them cool as hell. That being said, there have, however, been a few letters that have given me pause, and I would caution readers against revealing too much to a stranger, even one who seems to let his freak flag fly. There are just some things that need to be kept under the toupee.

And that is, as far as I can tell, the three types of letters that readers like to send to authors. As I said, all letters from readers are important, and the fact that I’m getting any letters at all is wonderful. I am still in the beginning of all this, but for what it’s worth, this is what I’m learning: don’t let the fan mail go to your head, don’t let the hate mail go to your heart, and… well, as for the just-plain-strange mail, I’m still not sure what to do with that…


I’ve never met Elaine Viets in person, but I have, on at least one occasion, missed her by a matter of minutes, and… I have one of her pens. I didn’t mean to steal her pen, honest. She left it on a desk at a bookstore where she visited to sign some books, I ended up using it for something or another, and as is the fate of all pens I happen upon, it ended up in my pocket. So, Elaine Viets, if you’re reading this now… I am sorry. I stole your pen. (I kinda hope you don’t need it back, because I’m pretty proud of my Elaine Viets Pen…)

Elaine Viets is the author of the Dead-End Job series, the Francesca Vierling series, and the Josie Marcus series, as well as several short stories and other novels. She is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime organizations.  In 2004 she was nominated for three Agatha Awards, and the next year, she won two Best Short Story Awards.

I wanted to ask Elaine to do an interview because, first, I have heard wonderful things about her, and second, I am a personal fan of her work. She was as kind to me as everyone said she would be, and I am glad to have been able to get some insight into her writing life. For more information on Elaine Viets, visit her website at: http://www.elaineviets.com/

Q: When did you start writing?

A: In high school. I wrote a really bad column for the St. Thomas Aquinas school newspaper. I started writing mysteries in 1997. I currently have two series: The Dead-End Job mysteries, set in South Florida, where I live now, and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper Novels, set in my hometown of St. Louis.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A: No. In grade school I was going to be an artist, until I realized I couldn’t draw. The nuns at St. Thomas Aquinas in Florissant steered me into journalism, and I am forever grateful to them. The newspaper business was good training to be a writer: It taught me dialogue, research and how to make deadlines.

Q: What makes you smile?

A: Classic Warner Bros. cartoons and funny movies like Will Ferrell’s “Blades of Glory” and John C. Reilly’s “Walk Hard.”

Q: Is there anything about the publishing industry that you especially respect?

A: There’s a lot I respect, especially the team work it takes to produce a mystery. I’m lucky to work for a good house, NAL, a division of Penguin. My editor, Sandy Harding, does a tough but thorough job of editing my books. She’s good at pointing out plot holes and inconsistencies and telling me which characters need to be developed. Sandy wants the plot lines tied together and all major characters have to have some role in the mystery — they aren’t allowed to stand around and look cute. Usually I sulk for a bit when I get her criticisms, then make most of the suggested changes. Since I started working with Sandy I’ve received the best reviews of my career.

Q: What do you think is the most troubling thing about the publishing industry?

A: The uncertainty. E-books have changed the game. It’s getting harder now to predict a book’s print run, because publishers are not sure how many books will be hardcovers and how many e-books. We’re still waiting to see how many libraries will adopt e-readers and what kinds of agreements publishers have for e-book loans.

Q: What are some of the best marketing strategies for new authors?

A: Have a Website that’s easy to navigate. Join authors’ organizations. For mystery writers, those include the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Go to the major conferences for your genre. In my case that’s Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest and sometimes Bouchercon. Know your local booksellers, chain and independent, and support them. My career was greatly helped by the booksellers who recommended my mysteries.

Q: How has your writing changed since you first began?

A: It’s gotten darker.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I just finished reading the copy-edited version of my new Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novel, “Murder Is a Piece of Cake.” It will be published in November 2012. Now I’m writing my new Dead-End Job Mystery, “Board Stiff.” It’s a real beach book — it takes place in a South Florida beach town. The competition for beach concessions is murder — literally, in my novel. I’m taking stand up paddleboarding lessons for part of my research.

Q: Which of your books was the most fun to write?

A: “Final Sail,” my latest Dead-End Job mystery. I loved writing about the Upstairs-Downstairs world of the yacht owners and yacht crew. Plus, yacht chef Victoria Allman fixed me some very good meals. For research, of course.

Q: Do you have a favorite character?

A: Helen Hawthorne. She’s my alter ego when it comes to working those lousy jobs. We have similar attitudes toward work.

Q: What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you since becoming an author?

A: One woman sent me an email saying she’d kill me if I hurt Phil, a private eye in the Dead-End Job series. Helen was thinking about marrying him, but this reader knew a male character was especially vulnerable near his wedding. Writers often kill off a spouse just before or after the wedding to keep a series going for two or three more books. Phil is now Helen’s husband in the Dead-End Job mysteries and she is also a private eye. I think this woman reader was kidding when she threatened me, but I made sure nothing happened to Phil, just in case.

Q: What would you say to your “number one” fan?

A: Thanks for reading me.

Q: Do you do other work besides write?

A: Yes, I host a half-hour Internet talk show on Radio Ear Network called the “Dead-End Jobs Show.” I interview people with interesting and off-beat jobs. The show streams three times a week in 148 countries, or you can listen to the show at http://www.mixcloud.com/tag/elaine-viets/. REN is at radioearnetwork.com

I like Internet radio because you can listen to it when you want. For more details, go to my Website at elaineviets.com and click on Radio.

Q: What is the number one question you get asked? And are you just plain tired of answering it?

A: They ask, “Is ‘Final Sail’ the last book in the Dead-End Job series?”

No. I’m working on the twelfth book now, “Board Stiff.”

Q: Do you think personality plays as large a part in marketing one’s self as the quality of the material written?

A: Yes, and I think you should choose marketing options that suit your personality. I enjoy public speaking, so I give lots of talks. If you’re not good at speaking, think about using the Internet to promote yourself.

Q: You divide your time between St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Which of these cities do you find more inspiring?

A: They’re both inspiring in different ways. South Florida is unpredictable and wacky and I like writing about life there. St. Louis is a quiet, Midwestern city. It has its weird moments, but the society is more structured than South Florida.

Q: Do you believe in Muses, and do you have one of your own?

A: I study my credit card bills for inspiration.

Seriously, if I’m having trouble with a book, I know I’ve been too isolated. I have lunch in a restaurant and listen to conversations. That’s what helped spark “Final Sail,” which is set aboard a luxury yacht. I overheard two woman at lunch in Seasons 52 and one was complaining about how her yacht only had once staircase and she didn’t like running into the staff on it. You can imagine how sorry I felt for her.

I also meet with writer friends, like Kris Montee, (one-half of the writing team, PJ Parrish) for whine and wine sessions. I always come back energized and ready to write after those.

Q: Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so, how did you combat it?

A: Writer’s block is a luxury. I had a bad case once when I couldn’t start the third book in my first mystery series. My agent told me not to write for a month. I didn’t write for a full week, but then I started thinking of ways to start the book and a week later I was writing full-tilt. I guess child psychology works on me.

Q: What do you think your greatest strengths as a writer are?

A: Creating believable characters and walking the line between humor and parody.

Q: What do you consider your greatest weakness and how do you combat it?

A: I’m easily distracted by the Internet. I’ll get online, determined to post on Facebook, Tweet and then go  straight to work. An hour later, I’m listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” live or watching funny pet videos on YouTube.


C.J. Cherryh is one of the most prompt, and easy-going people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if she’d like to participate in my recent author interviews, she said, “Sounds great.” I sent her some questions, and within fifteen minutes she’d responded to them all!

She is the author of more than 60 science fiction and fantasy novels, which in and of itself, is astounding. She has several Hugo award-winning novels, and even has her own asteroid: 77185 Cherryh. The folks who discovered the asteroid had this to say about her: “She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them.”  To learn more about C.J., check her website out at: http://www.cherryh.com/

Q: Was there a defining moment in your life when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

A: Pretty well when they canceled my favorite TV show [Flash Gordon, the old serial] and there were no books like that in the library. I was 10.

Q: When you did start writing, were the people around you supportive of you?

A: My mother heard my ambition of the week and said, sternly, a very eye-opening thing: “Do something to eat.” This made me, at 10, wonder how writers got paid, and how they got to be writers. I decided publishers wouldn’t come to me, I had to get to them somehow, and meanwhile I had to eat. Teachers, I thought, had summers off. So I planned to be a teacher, so I could write.

Q: How long after you wrote your first novel did you get published?

A: Twenty years.

Q: How did you celebrate when you first got published?

A: Nobody I knew was home or would be for a week or so. So I went down and spent 200.00 completely redecorating my little office, repainting, putting up a mural, new carpet. And furniture. It wasn’t much. I invited my relatives in to admire it. They were amazed. My mum asked, “What prompted this?” I said: “I sold a book.”

Q: Is it true that early in your career you had to rewrite several manuscripts because the publishers misplaced them?

A: Yep. Moshe Feder found one at Ace, fallen down behind a cabinet, years later, and took it to an editor, who recognized it had long since been published in more than one language. I received it in the mail and couldn’t think what sort of fan would give you such a gift—I didn’t even recognize the typing: it was that old. Then I realized it was one of the old ones. I didn’t hear the whole story until Moshe told me his half of it at a convention. They lost that one 3 times.

Q: When you first began writing science fiction, was it difficult for you due to the fact that the majority of sci-fi writers were male?

A: I had no idea. I’d never been stopped from being or doing anything because I was female, except being shunted into a detestable home ec class instead of shop (but I still have all my fingers) and realizing I couldn’t fly fighter jets (but my vision wouldn’t let me do it anyway.) I write under initials because that’s the way my addy stamp was made up, because (the third reason) I lived in a rough neighborhood and didn’t like having a solo female name on the door. I’d have met them in the hall with a Persian saber—I competed in fencing—but I didn’t intend to let rascals even get the idea.

Q: Your writing voice is unique and especially powerful. What can you tell us about how you developed your style?

A: The key is viewpoint—understanding how to ‘be’ the person you’re writing about.

Q: You have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel two times, and the Best Short Story Hugo. What has that like?

A: Really, it’s hard being up for something: you do get nervous. And then I felt bad because I’d beat out some friends who also wanted it really badly.

Q: What does your writing space look like?

A: I have a little recliner beside a window in my bedroom, and I face a telly which provides white noise. I am frequently assisted by a cat.

Q: How many languages do you speak?

A: I know Latin, Ancient Greek, my best ones; can get along in French, once I get it going; and Italian [a Latin student is cheating on that one.] I know a little Russian, can muddle through several Romance languages in Latin, as long as it’s not too wild; and a couple of others.

Q: Do you write anything outside of the Science Fiction genre?

A: Fantasy. Jane and I are talking about collaborating on the next vampire book.

Q: What has your greatest moment as a writer been?

A: I think when I went to my first convention and met people who’d actually read my books.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I outline a little, because I have a life, and travel, and need to pin the bare bones down so I can remember it. Then I don’t look at that unless I need it and just go forward. If I get stuck I start editing from the beginning. A good shower is really essential to the process, too. If you get stuck, shower.

Q: Which of your own books is your favorite and why?

A: Gate of Ivrel remains dear to my heart; Cyteen is one I’m quite proud of.

Q: What is the best novel you’ve ever read?

A: Hard to say: that varies by my mood. Jane and I read each other’s, and of course we love what we’re working on. Vergil’s Aeneid occupied a lot of my college study: he had a great influence on my sense of expression—Latin’s impressionistic and tricky. He was a great ‘sensory’ writer and it doesn’t come across well in English.

Q: What is the most discouraging thing about being a writer?

A: Isolation. There is NO instant gratification in the writing biz. It’s a long battle with white space. But it’s wonderful when it’s going well.

Q: How large of a role do you play in the marketing of your novels, and what are some of the best marketing strategies you know of?

A: Since NY has not been able to keep up backlist—Jane Fancher, Lynn Abbey and I formed our own e-book company for just the 3 of us, to keep our backlist in print and to experiment with books and stories that the bean-counters who try to dictate to publishers what they CAN buy — might not like.

Q: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

A: I garden, I do fish tanks, I figure skate, I travel, I hang out with my friends.

Q: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: In the same month I wanted to be a writer? An astronomer and a fighter pilot. Astronauts weren’t on the horizon yet.

Q: Are you working on anything now, and can you tell us about it?

A: I’m working on a Foreigner book, I’m putting out the Rusalka books (3) as e-books, I’m advising the Audible people who are doing some of my books, I’m talking with Jane about that vampire novel, and meanwhile we’re doing our own covers and conversions, and thinking up other stories.


Writing seems to be an awful lot of re-learning things I should already know. I don’t know why I forget some of these basics, but I continually find myself saying, “Oh yeah… I knew that,” and wondering why yet again, I went down a road I should have known went nowhere.

My most recently forgotten guideline of writing is that first drafts don’t have to be perfect. This was the very first thing I ever learned about writing a novel, and I didn’t even realize I‘d been caught in that very counter-productive trap until last week. Initially, I was only aware that it seemed to be taking a lot longer than usual for me to get the story moving. It wasn’t till I asked myself what the holdup was that I acknowledged what was happening and began practicing something I already know: write first, edit later.

I’ve read the left-brain/right-brain theories which suggest that creative writing and technical revising require the use of opposite sides of the brain. Allegedly, to try to utilize both sides simultaneously results in a kind of cerebral squabble that ends up clogging the system and cancelling out both endeavors, like some kind of cognitive conflict of interest. Whether or not this is the truth, I don’t know. But I do know that for me, editing as I’m writing doesn’t work.

In order for me to get to the story written, I need to drop my “good writing” pretenses, ignore the sentences that suck along the way, just keep moving, and save the spit-shining for the edits. I know this… yet until a few days ago, I was spending hours on paragraphs where no more than a few minutes were needed, at least in this stage of the game anyway.

I’ve given it some thought and have narrowed down the culprits which have triggered this first draft amnesia. The main offender is the new standard I’ve reflexively set for myself; entirely my fault, no surprise there. I’m working on my third novel, and with the previous two under my belt, my expectations of myself have been raised. I reason that by now, I should have a pretty firm grip on what I’m doing and shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time searching for the right words, or ransacking the corners of my mind trying to remember some grammatical technicality or another. That with enough practice we will eventually get good enough to throw gold on paper with the first flick of our wrists, requiring no second, third, or fourth drafts, unfortunately, is a myth. At least, I don’t think that will ever happen for me. I’m almost as dim-witted now as I was two years ago, and perhaps, even more so. The ordinances of the English language and the guidelines of good storytelling are vast. When you’re constantly learning new things, the new information can bury the previous knowledge, leaving you completely dumbfounded when you should be on the ball. This is perfectly okay. That’s what re-writes are for.

The second contributor to this roadblock is having an audience. It’s not a secret anymore that I’m writing. My prior novels have passed through the hands of many friends, agents, and fellow writers, and I’m all too aware that this same fate awaits my current manuscript. I have to remind myself that this is a good thing. When people are eager to read your next project, it’s a good sign you’re doing something right. Still, the pressure is unnerving and I have to pretend, on some level, that no one will ever see it, and try to go back to the days of hobbyist writing.

The final villain in this particular drama is my mentor. Oh yeah, I said it. She and I meet twice a week to do critique, and though we’ve been doing this for almost two years, things are different now than they were in the early days. For one thing, I’m no longer new enough at this to play the bright-eyed, “God-Bless-Your-Ignorant-Heart” novice I was once able to pull off. I’ve spent two years under her tutorship and in that time, I’ve learned more than I ever thought there was to know about this craft. I don’t have the luxury of being uneducated anymore, and that kind of sucks.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my mentor. And it isn’t her Master’s degree in English that intimidates me. Nor is it her years of teaching, or even her owned published books. The problem is that the book she’s currently writing is really damned good. From premise to execution, from characterization to climax, this story casts its golden shadow down hard and heavy on my own project, making it difficult for me to bring her my weekly progress with any kind of pride. But this is good, and here is why: it’s forcing me to get better. Not that I need to feel that I’m a “better writer” than this guy or that girl, but the stakes are higher now, and for the sake of not embarrassing myself, I need to bring some pretty powerful stuff to the table.

There are no doubt thousands of reasons why we slip into bad habits and backslide into unfavorable territory in writing, but if you look at it from different angles, you’ll see that for each new barricade there’s a proportionate opportunity to improve your craft. I think of these stumbling blocks as Fate’s way of upping the ante and lighting the necessary fire under your ass that will get you back in the game with your head on straight and your determination resuscitated and revitalized.

As for forgetting even the basest principles of writing (such as allowing yourself to write bad first drafts), I say forget these things as often as you can, because each time you come back to the basics, you’ll be able to experience the pleasure of seeing your progress in other ways. Back at the very beginning of things is where we see the headway we’ve made. Also, as you “fail” more and more, your armor gets thicker and your tools sharper, so…

Write on… and revise later. Oh, and remember…


     A few years back, I attended a writing workshop where I met some of the most unusual and memorable people I ever have. It was there that I first heard one of the most preposterous and, I soon found out, common, writing faux pas’ that exists. When the workshop facilitator asked us what we liked to read, the gentleman next to me spoke up and stated he did not read anything. The room turned its head in unison to blink at this guy. “Why… don’t you read?” asked the facilitator.  The man next to me proudly explained that first, he did not have time to read, and second, he avoided reading anything because he was afraid of unconsciously plagiarizing whatever authors he was reading. There was a long stretch of silence before the facilitator ushered the topic into new territory.

     Reading is the first reason I ever had to write at all. I have never met a credible author who wasn’t also an avid reader. I was surprised by a writer who didn’t read, and apparently I was not alone. It made me wonder what kind of writer I would be if I didn’t first have a profound love for reading.

     One of the first books I ever remember loving was Howliday Inn by James Howe. I was intrigued by the humanization of Chester the cat and Harold the dog. Chester and Harold has this very Holmes/Watson kind of relationship which showed me very early on the importance of character contrast. I submerged myself in the Bunnicula series for the next couple of years and from there, I remember reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. This style of writing kindled my intrigue with murder, mystery, suspicion and suspense. It showed me how characters are used to move the story forward. Also, Agatha Christie wasted no words, so from her I learned the importance of getting to the point. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was reading mostly adult fiction. Granted, I was only ten and there were many things I didn’t understand about the things I was reading, but I believe beyond doubt that these books are what shaped me into the kind of writer I am today… warts and all.

   

     In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he talks about reading actively. What this means is that first, you must read, and second, you must be conscious of what you’re looking at. Pay attention to what the author is doing and what emotional response his words are invoking within you, the reader. I began practicing active reading immediately and have since trained myself to read this way almost solely. It has its pros and cons. On one hand, it will absolutely hone your own writing. On the other hand, it makes reading less enjoyable because you are often too focused on the technique to experience the story. Over all, it’s worth it though. In reading actively, I have learned many things that can not be taught otherwise.

     I suppose it’s possible to be a great writer who doesn’t read anyone else’s work, but personally, I can’t imagine it. I think it’s important to learn from the greats. Not just the classic, historically cemented, old-time writers, but the contemporary writers who are experiencing the success you are striving for. Yes, writing is absolutely an art… but it’s also a business, and that business doesn’t have much compassion for writing that relies too heavily on an authors need for self-expression. And there’s a lot of self-expression out there.

      To be great, I believe, you must first learn what great is. From there, you must determine specifically what makes them great and how that greatness was translated onto the page. Then, you must try to find your own greatness. You must know your strengths and weaknesses and find creative ways to capitalize on both. You must be willing to sacrifice snippets of your own brilliance for the overall quality of your story. You must be willing and able to take criticism, insult, and ignorance. You must be willing to place your ego on the chopping block and allow complete strangers to take turns bashing it to bits. But above all… you must continue learning and getting better, and I can think of no other way to do this than by learning everything you can from those who’ve traveled the path before you.