I Edit For Authors. I Write For Readers.

I’m a writer who loves to write. Yet writing can also be so frustrating as to cause one to stop writing for long periods.

How so? you ask.

If a writer is not clear on why they wrote a certain piece, why they let a certain sentiment float from their pen into an inky, judgmental world, this will come through in their writing and they–and their sentiment–are likely to be lost in this world, lost in the drone of so many voices saying so little, so many pages telling us not much.

There are so many stories I began writing whose main thesis never congealed into a cohesive narrative, and so they will never see the light of day, nor the dark of night. They will forever be known only to me, the writer who, in frustration, called a halt to them.

As I edit books and work with authors to fashion the best books we can, my chief thought is always, Does this sentence or that sentence serve the story? If it doesn’t, I recommend the sentence be excised. The most beautiful writing can’t save a sentence that, while beautiful in style, says essentially nothing of substance. All such sentences do say:  Look at me and the big words I know! Praise be to big-word knowers!

As well as being clear on what they’re writing, authors should be clear as to who they’re writing for.

Some authors write to be lauded by reviewers. They don’t want readers so much as to be talked about in the same breath as David Foster Wallace, Michael Cunningham, or the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The great irony of this fact is how Fitzgerald hungered for readers for his Gatsby. Readers he could not find until he’d left the world for good.

Other authors write for readers. They still want good reviews, don’t get me wrong, but they hope their good reviews come from the readers who take time out of their busy days and nights–their hectic lives–to carve out a place for their book. And hopefully said book will lodge forever in the reader’s memory, to be thought on and reread again and again.

I know I am firmly in the latter group. I edit for authors. I write for readers.

 

 

 

 

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The Future: A Poem

I love poetry. Somehow, it allows you to say just what you want to say and nothing more.

The Future

Would that you could see the future,

What would it be that you’d see?

A bright winter day half a year away,

Your unborn child,

Aged ten,

Up in a tree?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Would you cheer it or would it cause groans?

Would you feel the bliss of your betrothed’s impassioned  kiss

Or cry at the year’s-later scene

When  it was cancer’s choice,

Not hers,

To leave you alone?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Would your family be the one you dream of,

As if they were conjured from your mind one lonely night,

Brought to life in that moment by your very sight?

Or is family something we build piece by piece,

And the most important piece is love?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Your future self would say,

“Of course this is the future.

How could it have turned out any other way?”

 

Would that you could see the future,

Your wife and child smiling back.

“We’re waiting for you in the future, dear.

Confidence that you’ll get here?

Oh, honey, for such confidence we do not lack.

Timmy turns ten this Sunday.

He’s excited for the tree house you’ll build.

Meanwhile, your book just found a bestseller list.

Your publisher is absolutely thrilled.”

 

This last one is the future I see,

Beautiful yet incomplete.

The particulars and minutia have yet to set themselves.

But, as far as I’m concerned,

It can’t be beat.

 

I say that not knowing the truth

Of the future that will stand in its place;

Whether its hallmark will be

A warm southern breeze

Or an Alaskan night cold as ice.

No one can know the future.

Would that you could.

It comes down to chance and choice.

But I hope and pray that the true future day

Will somehow be

Just as nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internships And Spring Training Trips

Life has a way of changing, switching things up, and putting you right where you’re supposed to be.

The thing is, it does so with such a measured pace–sometimes that pace can still seem something akin to slow even when we’re living in a world that demands everything happen fast–that we might not even notice some of the changes it brings. Yet others are obvious, maybe even painful.

I’ve always been a writer. Truthfully, when I first begin dating a woman, my writing plus my humor are my secret weapons. I think they admire my forging on through life despite my cerebral palsy and eyesight that might not make Mr. Magoo jealous. But I have yet to find the one person out there who says, “I choose you. Above all others, and in spite of–or maybe partially because of–your struggles and the way in which you handle them, I choose you.”

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads that you can only define as a crossroads looking back, after the fact?

I found myself at one of these crossroads recently. (It made me think of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, until I read a little deeper and realized that poem is not about what most of us think it’s about.) When my recent relationship of two years ended, I spent a while after the initial shock wondering what it had all been for. (Then I wondered, just now, why I felt the need to end a sentence with a preposition? My third-grade teacher is probably turning in her grave.) We had shared so much, this woman and me, yet I had not been enough. My writing, my humor, my sarcasm, the last of these a quality that feels built-in to me but was honed by my loving grandfather (a quality I would not trade for a chance to write a best-selling novel, or a poetry collection that gleams with something critics call brilliance, because doing so would mean having to forfeit the best things in my life; the joy of laughing even when laughing seems impossible and the love of a man who taught me the sentimentality that, certainly in part, anyway, defines me.). Those things, as much as I appreciate them, they had not been enough to keep a relationship I treasured afloat.

My relationship was a sinking ship taking on water before I ever realized I should be unhappy in it.

The contentedness I so rarely feel in matters of the heart that was my companion then was also the thing that blinded me to what was really happening, the way life was changing, switching things up without my knowledge or, more importantly, my approval.

A writer has control. His universe is what he makes it. What he writes it.

A man with cerebral palsy must give up control before he ever knows he lost it. “I’m a go-with-the-flow kinda guy,” I often say. Because that is who I am, but also because I don’t really have a choice.

I love words, and what they can do to people who read them, but I also love the control they give me. “Shape this world,” they say. “Make it what you will. Make it a world with great castles, or one with peasants living in tiny hovels.”

I know how to write. What I didn’t really know–until life let me know it–was how my ability to write could actually teach me about the business of writing.

The business of writing. To a writer, for whom telling stories is the ultimate escape and/or communication tool (Sometimes, a writer’s not saying, “Come with me into a magical land.” Sometimes they’re saying, “If you take the time to learn a little something about my life, it just might teach you about yours.”), thinking of writing as a business is not easy. But a business it is.

For me, loving the business of writing all began with TV. That’s right, that box that used to be square and then flattened out and lost its boxineess. Every May, the networks (whose relevance we can debate, if you’d like, though not today) hold what they call the “Up-fronts.”. They have new shows coming next September, and they want to get their friends the advertisers excited. They couldn’t be higher on their shows then. The network presidents will say things like, “This is the greatest show since Breaking bad.” (If you hear that, by the way, run the other way. Nothing will ever compare to Breaking Bad, and if a network tells you they have “the next Breaking Bad” they are severely over-reaching and should be punished with low ratings.)

Low ratings, of course, lead to cancellations. Shows that networks crowed about–that viewers knew to be crap–removed from eyeshot forever.

Books–and the business of books and writing–work a bit differently, yet there are similarities. An agent loves a story or a project. The agent is essentially a producer, whose job it is to then bring their new love and its author to an editor at a publishing house. (The publisher is the network.) If the publisher can be convinced, the book will see th light of day and the eyes of readers.

But before this can happen, an agent must read many stories to find those that they feel comfortable sharing with their publishing colleagues. And they might use a second reader to help in this endeavor.

That’s part of what I’m now doing as an internship, an opportunity that came to me through my father, an opportunity I never thought I’d have. I love forecasting which new network shows are doomed to fail, and I love even more reading stories and helping to determine their viability. Doing so makes me a better writer, because I can spot the “what-not-to-dos” in writing, and sometimes in my own writing.

This position is new, but I hit the ground running, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far. There isn’t anything better than feeling productive and appreciated. The agent I’m interning for (for whom I’m interning, my inner-editor is screaming) went on vacation recently, and she asked me if I wanted to take a vacation of my own while she was out. I don’t usually take vacations, but March is a big month, and my dad, my uncle, my second cousin, and I have been planning a trip to Seattle Mariner spring training for months, so while I didn’t take my vacation when she took hers–I kept reading, and I actually read something I love–I would take my vacation a week or so later. Our crew would drive to Arizona to watch baseball, do some casinoing, and revel in In N Out burgerness.

And–Dad and I are both writers, remember?–we’d tell stories on the road, too.

Stories of Papa, the man who gave me my sarcasm. Who showed me that my cerebral palsy only limited me if that’s what I wanted it to do. Who loved my writing–and showed me where I could make it better–before I ever knew people did that for a living. He certainly didn’t. He simply liked to read stories, and he loved and encouraged his grandson.

I was twenty when he passed. A week shy of my twenty-first birthday, actually.

My second cousin knew Papa in the abstract way that really young people know really old people. (My brother once wrote on the white-board in his hospital room, “Papa smells old.” He got a kick outa that.) The wonderful thing about that is that I got to tell my cousin just how much Papa loved him, how overjoyed he was that this new person would share his name, how Papa delighted when he would come over in the morning asking for “Hot Chocate milk”.

And, while on this trip, we made our own new stories. Some of which almost defy explanation unless you were there in the car with us, driving the twenty hours from Arizona all the way to the Oregon border. (Just an observation. Between Vegas and Reno, there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING.)

On this trip–this shared experience–I found in my cousin one of the best friends I kinda never knew I had. I had watched him when he was very young, but now he’s about to graduate high school, he’s a smart guy, and we make each other laugh. And it’s nice to meet someone whose first question isn’t, “Why do you walk like that?” I actually really liked answering his questions. One of them was something along the lines of, What was Papa like? I’ll answer that question any day, any time, because he was the person I wish I could be.

So, in the space of four months, I’ve found something I love to do–that’s reawakened my enjoyment of words and writing–and in the space of a week, I was re-acquainted with family and found a pretty great friend. And it all happened because life has a way of changing, switching things up, and putting you right where you’re supposed to be.

 

 

 

MY Novel–Even God Makes Mistakes: Chapter 1

With apologies to my longtime readers, I have decided to repost the first chapter of my as yet unpublished novel, for the benefit of my new twitter and Facebook friends! I hope you enjoy what you read here and find inspiration in it!

Each chapter begins with a poem.

I could tell you life is fleeting.

But that’s a truth everyone knows.

It doesn’t bear repeating,

Isn’t worthy of a refrain

Read while a tired body lies in repose.

As it’s a fact that too often shows

How little control we mortals maintain.

-An excerpt from the poem Nothing Is Forever by Madeline Mailer

Chapter 1.

Death, Part 1

            

              Terrence McDonald is 55. The year is 2045.

      

       The TV is on, and I’m on the couch, leaning as far back as I can. My heavy, indecisive brown eyes—their lenses blurred ever since my tumultuous entrance–flutter between open and shut. I am half-watching half-listening to a football game on a Sunday afternoon. Was that the doorbell?

“Who is it?” I call out, expecting to hear my daughter Megan’s voice. These days she is the one person who visits me. The only person who knows I’m making my home in this little oasis fashioned from wood felled by my own hand.

“Terry, it’s Mom. I’m here to help you move.”

       My mom? That’s not possible. She’s…

       Wait, to help me move? Oh, God.

I rise from the couch and glance back at my lifeless body. Five-foot-eight standing up, but now it’s slumped over, grayish-blue. A few stray locks of the black hair my father gave me spill over into my unseeing eyes.

       Shit. I still had more I wanted to do, damn it! Was it my cerebral palsy? We’ve co-existed forever. Has it somehow—in its slow, indirect way—finally done me in?

I turn back around toward the TV, and I see my mom materialize in front of me, a concerned look on her face.

“Are you okay?”

“No, of course not!” I scream. “So is that it? I’m dead. Just like that?”

She doesn’t say anything, but her silence says everything.

“How? How did I die?”

Mom puts her hand on my shoulder like she always did when I was a kid and I was upset and needed some time to calm down. “You don’t remember?”

“No, Mom. If I remembered, why would I ask?”

She is silent for another beat. “If you don’t remember… then it’s probably best if I stay quiet for now. My job is to take you Home.”

“I am home,” I shoot back.

“You don’t understand. Where I’m taking you… this is a different kind of Home. This is the place where you’ll find out what happens next.”

“Is there any way around this? Any way at all?”

These words are as close as I’ve ever come to arguing with my mom. That’s because arguing with her does not come naturally to me. And, considering the life I have, I never thought I’d hear myself plead for it.

“No, Terry. I’m sorry, but there’s not. You know that, if there were a way, I’d tell you what it was. But this has been decided.”

I pull away from her. Am I frightened? No, not exactly. But I am… disheartened.

Before I can get too far away, she takes my hand. “Come with me, Terry. I love you.”

It’ s been so long since my mother said those words to me—I love you—that I’d forgotten how true and convincing they sound in her voice, and how much I missed them—and her.

Without warning, we’re not in the cabin anymore, and I find myself in a house so familiar I am comfortable in seconds. The smells are familiar. The floor plan. The art on the walls. This is a replica of the home I shared with my wife, before she got sick and I moved into the cabin.

“See, it’s not so bad,” Mom is saying. “I picked it out and furnished it myself. Just for you.”

It is a nice place. Much nicer than I’m used to these days, that’s for sure. Not that I have anything but a vague idea where we are.

Now that I’ve calmed down some, it isn’t just this new house I’m appraising. I’m also getting my first real good look at Mom in twenty years. Hers is a face looking as youthful today as it appeared in the photograph announcing her entrance into womanhood—taken in her eighteenth year. I remember seeing this picture in a family album decades ago.

“You’ve got all the comforts you’re used to,” Mom explains. “Along with a couple you might have forgotten about.”

“So this is where I’ll be living now?”

The frown on her face hints at the fact that things aren’t that simple. “Well, that depends on your appointment, but I sure hope you will. Your father and I are just down the street.”

“Dad’s here?”

“Yes, he made it.” She smiles.

“My appointment?”

“Everyone has an appointment when they first get here.”

“What happens? Who is the appointment with?”

“I can’t tell you, Terr.” Mom takes a seat in the first of three chairs arranged in front of my large television screen. This is the only liberty she’s taken in the design. The original home had two chairs in front of this television, because two was enough for Mattie and me, but I sense Mom gave me the extra seat in case I should have company over. “Those who have been through their own appointments, like me, are expressly forbidden from sharing any details with newcomers, like you. Each one is different based on the soul and the life it concerns.”

“Ah.” Now I’m nervous. And not just because I get the feeling at this moment that Mom is spouting some section of a well-rehearsed monologue. I wonder if, at this appointment, everything in a person’s life is considered.

“Yes, everything is considered,” Mom says.

I shoot her a confused glance. Did she just read my mind?

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t often use spoken words or languages here. I mean, we can. And we will, especially in cases when explanations or announcements need to be delivered to a large number of people. God prefers spoken language Himself. But it’s more common, for those who have been Home a while, to communicate telepathically. I thought that was what you were doing.”

I shake my head.

“Well, in a few days, once you’re feeling acclimated, let me know. You can call me on this.” Mom produces what looks like a cell phone. “That’s a direct line to me and me alone. When you’re ready, I’ll come and pick you up and take you to your appointment.”

“Okay.”

But first, she thinks, get some rest. You look terrible.

I am a little tired, but what do you expect? I’m dead.

“You’re getting the hang of our telepathy already.” She laughs, gives me a hug. “I’ve gotta get back to cook your father’s pot roast, or he might go a little nuts.”

Sounds like Dad. A hungry Carl McDonald means an irritable, hard-to-deal-with Carl McDonald (I was going to say hard-to-live with, but the word doesn’t fit).

Mom pats my shoulder and disappears. This new Home is going to mean some big adjustments for me.

                                   

                      ***

 

       I’m going to guess it’s taken me the better part of three days—spent resting and recuperating from life–to convince myself that I’m really dead and, secondly, that I’m ready to face whatever might be in store for me. I have to guess at how much time has passed because, as it turns out, this new home of mine–furnished by my mom–does not include a clock. Not one. I only discovered this flaw after she departed, so there was no way to readily remedy it. Stores specializing in electronics aren’t plentiful in The Afterlife.

Wait, that’s not true. Maybe they are. I don’t know what lies beyond these four walls yet. I’ve barely moved since I got here. But I am as prepared as I’ll ever be for my personal appointment, so I pull out the cell phone Mom gave me for just this situation. It doesn’t require dialing. My connection to her is immediate.

“Terry?” she says.

“Hi, Mom.”

“You’re ready for your appointment?”

“I guess.”

“Okay.” She pauses, a bit too long for your run-of-the-mill pause. Something’s bothering her. “Okay, I’m glad to hear it.”

“What’s wrong? You’re gonna pick me up, right?”

“I was planning on it, but it looks like your Grandpa Jack needs to be picked up today.”

“Oh, you mean he’s-”

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Boy, he lived forever, didn’t he?”

She laughs. “Pretty darn close. I’m just glad he got to go out the way he wanted; peacefully, in his sleep. Anyway, your dad and I have to be there for him, but I’m sending your old friend Charlie out to you. He’ll get you where you need to go, no problem.”

Charlie. How nice it will be to see him again. It’s been a long time. This isn’t the only thought I have upon hearing Charlie will be here soon, but it’s the only thought I feel comfortable sharing, in case Mom can read my thoughts through the phone as easily as she could standing in the same room.

“Okay, thanks. Tell Grandpa Jack I say hi.”

“I will. And you call me when you and Charlie get to your appointment. Otherwise, you’ll have me worried.”

“Sure thing.”

We hang up, and I wait. There’s the sound of tires churning gravel and then a knock at the door twenty minutes later… I think. I answer it.

“Charlie Ewell’s limousine service.” He smiles and nods his head toward a jet-black vehicle closely related to a town car that’s parked nearby.

I step back. Blink. Once. Twice. He’s still there. My mind doesn’t know how to make sense of this.

It really is Charlie. Well, of course it is. Mom told you he was on the way. Yet despite my mom’s assurance, there is this part of me that snickers at most religions, labels them NOT FOR ME, and I never warmed all the way up to the idea of Heaven. Therefor, even after seeing her again, I doubted that my old friend Charlie would show up. You’re telling me Charlie will be here! Charlie? Yeah, right.

Just like I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her—Charlie can’t possibly be on his way, Mom!–I can’t deny it now.

       “It’s you,” I say.

“Sure it’s me,” Charlie says, as though he’s just shown up to my most recent—and last?–birthday party, cheer on his face, a gift in his hand.

“Like, really you.”

“Yeah. It’s really me.”

       “How?”

“I know it’s a lot to take in when you’re new,” he says, “or when you’ve just come back. I was so glad when your mom called and asked me if I would pick you up. I’ve missed you so much.”

“Same here,” I admit. The initial shock of seeing Charlie is ebbing slowly, like adrenaline leeching out of my bloodstream after an earthquake.

“It’s so good to see you, Charlie.” We enfold each other in a backslapping, how-have-you-been hug.

When we’re apart again, he says, “And you, Terry. It’s just now dawning on me how odd this circumstance is.”

“True. But under what other circumstances would we see each other?”

“Good point. In one of your dreams, maybe. You ready to get going?”

“Sure. Is there a set time we have to be there? My mom always said it’s better to be early than late, no matter what the occasion.”

He throws his car keys in the air, catches them, as we make our way down my temporary home’s front steps.

“Don’t worry about time anymore,” he reveals. “Time is a human invention. It is seldom kept here.”

“That would explain the lack of clocks.”

“Which always throws newcomers off. And don’t be nervous. Sure, no one who’s been through an appointment can tell you what your appointment will be like. That’s because appointments are unique to each soul, but they aren’t to be feared. Your appointment is a place where you will get the chance to ask questions and learn.” Charlie flashes a quick grin. He opens one of the back doors for me, and I see that in the car rides an elegant woman. “Terrence McDonald, this is my wife, Patty Ewell.”

Patty turns in her seat, puts out her hand. “It truly is a pleasure to meet you, Terrence. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I give her my hand, as is customary, but can find no words. I’ve never met Patty before. She passed away the night I made Charlie’s acquaintance.

A Father’s Day Realization

“You’re so brave.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase. There’s nothing to do when someone says it besides smile, blush, and say an awkward, too-quiet: “Thanks.” Because I don’t feel all that brave. I live my life. That’s what I do. I live my life, letting the days pile up behind each other, just as everyone else does, and hopefully in those days I’ve done and said things that will make the world a bit better for everyone else.

I am someone who may not see himself as all that “brave”, but I do embrace my creativity. And for this creativity I have always needed an outlet. I found mine early. Writing.

In elementary school, a teacher told my dad, “Derek will be published someday.”

My dad, a writer himself, took this to heart and told me what the teacher had said. I never wrote because he wrote. I wrote because I had to. But the fact that he wrote also let us bond on that level.

For years, writing gave me reason. It was the thing that made all my struggles worthwhile. If I could eventually turn all of them into stories that let people see the world anew through my not-so-good eyes, then they wouldn’t really have been struggles after all, would they? Tests, maybe, but not struggles.

Many years passed. I was twenty-six by the time I began a novel I described as: “My story, fictionalized and embellished, but hopefully real.” I had never written a novel before, favoring short stories and poetry instead, and doubted if I could manage it.

Well, I did.

But after working as hard as I possibly could to turn it out, I let someone else decide it wasn’t any good before it had the chance to be anything. “Why are you writing?” this person said. “It’s not like it’s going to go anywhere. You should get a real job.” You’re not making any money from writing, so stop, they meant.

I let myself believe that this one measuring stick, cash, was a judge of talent. I sunk deep down into myself. And I stopped writing. Because what was the point, anyway?

It has taken me to this very day to drag myself up out of my scared-gopher hole. (Did you know us writers live in gopher holes?) To say to myself with conviction, “That person didn’t know what they were talking about!” (There are some people who get some kind of joy out of seeing others languish; I’ve never understood it, and I never will). But I did it. I’m writing again, working on a couple new pieces, and wishing my father, a fellow writer and one of the best people I know, luck at finding a publisher who believes in him the way all writers should believe in themselves. I wish that for him on this Father’s Day, his 33rd.

If you want to call me brave, that’s fine. But call me brave not for living my life, because we all do that. Call me brave because I recognized my talent and, when challenged–and through much reflection–I finally refused to let someone who didn’t see it convince me it wasn’t there to be seen.

For that, I’m brave.

A Life Lived Without Complaint…

…is not a life truly lived.

I am exceedingly lucky in this life, and I know it. I am handicapped, but it could be much worse.

It is true that I may never drive a car, and in never doing so I’ll lose officially–without ever having gained it–a certain measure of freedom afforded most everyone else. My eyes fail me regularly. Come to me in the mornings–when they’re blurry at best, and struggling to focus, and I’ll tell you all about it. My back is aching right now, as I write, and will continue aching, for a good time to come, because in this weekend of goodness just past I overdid it physically. Too much walking. Too much climbing of stairs. Too much trying to prove to myself I could handle the collective it without admitting to myself that sometimes I need–and must accept–help. Too much… being alive and using my body the way most people use their bodies, while taking such use for granted. These things are also true.

Tonight, I allow myself to complain for just a second. So often–too often in films and literature–the handicapped person is made to seem like the portrait of the non-complainer, willing to take on all the crap he must deal with, as a result of his station, never raising his voice in protest..

That is not me.

And, whether or not you’re handicapped yourself or not, if you’re human, it’s not you, either.

But, in amongst the complaints and the crap, and the junk we must wade through as people breathing air on this planet, a planet which is not quite green enough anymore, and a bit more too carbonated every day, if you get my meaning, there are fleeting moments of goodness (mentioned briefly above) that show us why life is still the best thing going.

There is, for example, this.

I met my dad’s agent tonight. Living with him under a roof where creativity and love are celebrated, I know how hard he worked to find her. And now that he did, I can say she is a  real person, who is kind and smart, and we talked books. And family. And our dogs. And T.V. And pop culture. And the world.

And she showed me a way into my query letter–and out of a corner I’ve long felt I boxed myself into–for which I am extremely grateful.

So even though I’m in pain right now–having dragged my laundry basket up the stairs to begin the wash, an act that took longer and hurt my tender back more than I would have liked–I am able to drag my laundry basket up the stairs, and I began the wash when some among us can not. (It has now finished above me).

Also this weekend I watched, live and in-person with one of my favorite people in the world, while my Seattle Seahawks punched their ticket to the NFC Championship Game. (Remember when I mentioned climbing lots of stairs? Worth it!) In a city where sports mediocrity is the accepted norm, it feels great to delight in a winner.

I understand how lucky I am to live in this country, to be who I am, to have the talents I have, to know the wonderful people I know, even with my deficits.

But just… every now and then… if I complain, hear me out and honor the complaint. Can you do that? I would appreciate it.

Because a life lived without complaint is not a life truly lived.

The Lost Art Of Loyalty

This is a story. It is fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, while intended as an honor, is not intended as a re-telling of any event that has actually taken place, or ever will. It is a piece speculating on how a writer might find a second novel in among his musings, and a reminder to remember why a writer writes, in the first place.

We must find that agent and that publisher, in our writing journey, who will be as loyal to us–and to our first book, be it a mega-seller or a modest performer–as to our last.

The book was a big hit. It was after it hit, the sound reverberating through the “book world”, that several media outlets clambered to know what he’d do next. A sequal? A new novel whose characters have only minimal ties to the characters people grew to so love? they speculated.

He was scared. Sure, readers had loved his book–his baby, had treated it with the kind of reverence he could only have dreamed of previously, before anyone knew his name–but what if they detested his next effort? What would his next effort be? Despite the speculation, he had no idea. He didn’t like any of the ideas occupying his mind right now. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote another book, he thought. I don’t blame her.

He called his best friend for advice. Since childhood, Luke had always been that guy, the guy he trusted to tell it to him straight, even if straight wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. Often, it was the one he needed. Am I freaking out for no good reason? he wondered, to pass the time as the phone rang.

“Hey, dude, what’s up?” A second-ring answer.

Yep, that’s Luke. Glad I called. And happy to help, if I need a hand. Which, in a figurative sense, I do right now more than ever.

“I’ve finally got everything I’ve ever wanted,” he explained, despensing with any preamble. “Readers. A real publisher. So why aren’t I…?” He searched for the word, couldn’t find it.

“Happy?” Luke ventured.

“No, that’s not it. I’m happy. I’m just not…”

“Content?”

“Yeah. When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer. We both did. I struggled like hell to get there. But I finally did. So, now that I’ve got what I wanted all those years ago, why aren’t I content?”

“How long has it been since we hung out? You and I?” Luke asked, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” the author said, not liking the taste of that truth on his tongue.

“Six months. It’s been six months, dude. Now, you know me. I’m never gonna begrudge you your dream, and I know you wouldn’t begrudge me mine. But what was it you said to me when we were kids? You said, and I quote, ‘If I ever lose sight of why I write, you be sure to let me know, okay?’ Today, I’m letting you know.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t hung out in a while. But we both got busy. You have to admit that.”

Luke gave an mm-hmmm in acknowlesgement.

“And then my book hit. And, just like that, the roller-coaster started. I finally had the chance to prove all those people who ever doubted me were dead-wrong.”

“I’m your best friend, man,” Luke said. “So you can go half a year and not talk to me if you want–I hope you won’t, from now on; I hope you’re back to stay–and our friendship won’t change. But there are two things you need to remember.

“Your book may be big right now, bud,  but in the end it’s just a book. It’s just a story printed on pages bound between covers. A humble piece of art. It may have struck a chord wit the public, but that chime, as so many others before it, will fade.”

“What’s the second thing I need to remember?” The author wanted to change the subject, in any way he could.

“That the people who believed in you from the start, before the agent, the publisher, the readers, the book signings, the whatever-else–I’m talking about your brothers and your sister, your parents, your girlfriend, me–we didn’t need your book to sell to have your talent confirmed to us. We knew it was there and it was real all along. You used to be someone who believed in loyalty and humility…”

“I think I still am that person…” I hope, anyway.

“Someone who had a fire in his belly to be great. And now… sure, your book’s big, but are you the great man you always wanted to be? I’d be willing to bet you’re not there yet. Because, somewhere deep inside, you’re worried that you were just a flash in the pan. That that one book might be all you’ll ever do. And that worry is frightening your talent, so that it doesn’t want to show itself. It doesn’t want to give you anything more. And you waited so long to call me… because you didn’t want me to confirm what you already feared you knew.

“Now, it’s time for your talent to stop being afraid of what it might accomplish, and it’s time for you to stop being afraid of your talent.  It’s there to help you, if you’ll let it. You’re a writer, no matter how many books that publisher of yours asks you for. Who cares if they don’t like your next book, as long as you like it? You’re a writer because you want to be a writer, and no one can take that designation away from you  but you.

“But, more than that, you’ve always tried your best to be humble and loyal. That effort isn’t lost on the people who appreciate you most. Don’t let that guy get lost in all that you’re doing now. And, just because loyalty is a lost art in business,  that  doesn’t mean it should be a lost art in life.”

“Now, how about we meet up for lunch?” Luke finishes. “Giving my friends advice makes me hungry.”

Tune Out The Critics And Don’t Try To Be Perfect

I have a wonderful support system around me. A support system well worth crowing about. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that. Family, immediate and extended. Friends from all facets of my life; school, writing, radio. (Networking’s pretty important; if people like you, they’re apt to like what you do.) Friends who’ll watch sports with me, friends who would go to a Garth Brooks concert, should he and Ms. Yearwood come to town. Cross your fingers!

I’ve got people on my side who have been–and remain–steadfast believers in my talent. “Derek’s a writer,” they say. Sometimes, I believe them. Then there are the moments I silently scoff.

Regardless, I appreciate them all.

Think back on your life. Somewhere within it there is that person–that one person, lurking, waiting to be a reminder; maybe it’s an ex from long ago, maybe a bully who just never “got you”–who really affected you. Who said you weren’t good enough, and against your better judgment, and because it’s easier than taking the time and effort to prove them wrong, you believed them. We put so much more stock into what our critics say than we do into that with which our true believers counter.

“I’m not a good enough writer to write that story,” I’ve said to myself so many times. Buying into the non-hype, you might say. Result: That story went unwritten each time I had the chance at it. Whereas if I had just sat down, put my fingers to the keyboard, and trusted myself a little, there’s no telling what would have come to the page.

Sure, every writer wants to write the perfect piece. That faultless gem that everyone falls over themselves to first represent, in an agent’s case, and then to read, once it’s in print. But those gems have no chance to exist if writers don’t first trust themselves to hammer out an imperfect first draft.

Don’t try to be perfect. And don’t spend so much time giving your critics the air time in your mind they’ve never deserved. Surround yourself with believers. With friends. With the kind of support every artist needs.

Don’t Be Afraid To Break The Rules!

Writers love language. That’s why we work in it. Because we love it, letting our minds bathe in it whenever we can, and because our reverence demands we use our voices to say what we need to say in the languages we know and love best.

Languages have rules. If they didn’t possess parameters, they would be an unruly collection of syllables spoken haphazardly. Nothing more. Writers must learn what the rules are, and how and when to follow them.

An example of such a rule is the personal address comma. It saves lives. In my opinion, a writer can’t ever forget to use it.

“Let’s eat, Grandma,” I said as my grandmother came down the stairs to dinner.

That sentence is very different from one without the all-important comma.

“Let’s eat Grandma.”

Who wants to be a cannibal? Not me, and I’m guessing you don’t, either.

As the editing process continues (it’s a lot of work, and don’t ever let anyone tell you any different), I am realizing that–as much as I appreciate the rules I have spent years learning and applying–I need to remind myself now and again that it is perfectly okay, once you know the rules and how they function, to break a rule here or there. Maybe even to throw a rule away, if you’re feeling particularly bold.

 Not the personal address comma rule, though. That one should remain in place. It saves lives.

But most rules are there for you as guideposts; they are not hard and fast this is the way it must bes.

If your work calls for the breaking of a rule, don’t be afraid to do just that.

This was as much a blog post as it was a pep talk I decided to give to myself. I hope it helps you as much as seeing the words in print has assisted me.

 

 

Breakthrough!

For a writer, each day is different. Some days, you are struck with amazing inspiration, and you can’t say for sure where it came from, and you can barely contain your enthusiasm to put pen strokes to page. On others, you wonder why you chose the profession at all, and do you even have the right to call yourself a professional when the words won’t come out right?
Then there are days like today. Editing days. Where you have a manuscript, but it needs much love and care, the kind of tending you fear is not your strong suit. Even so, you commit yourself. I will up this story’s stakes. I will give readers a reason to want to read on. I will make them care as much as I care for these characters, this place, this time, this work.
To feel like you’ve done that, even in a small measure–with the pruning of some words, the adding of others, to know that you’ve achieved a breakthrough when no one else knows it, no one else can see it to celebrate with you, is nonetheless such a glorious feeling I just had to share it here.