Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Middle Of The Book

Back in the ‘sixties when geezers over fifty drove DeSotos and watched Lawrence Welk and kids under twenty drove Volkswagen vans and painted peace signs on their faces and me and my sisters were the only ones on our block who wore bobby socks and saddle shoes, this girl moved two doors down with poker-straight hair and Bob Dylan records and no mother.

Well. Talk about your run-on sentence. But this first sentence sets the tone of the new book I'm working on. I want it to speak volumes to any reader's first glance. To draw them into the life of the narrator without knowing it.

First sentences of any novel should do that. They should pin you to the wall and hold you like super-glue. A first sentence is filled with magic and pierces your heart or peaks your interest to the point that before you know it, you're five chapters in.

But what about the middle of the book? Doesn't it deserve the same?

Lately, I'm finding I've spent as much time on the arc of the story and the chapters following it as I have on that first sentence. Some novels I've read lately have left me flat in the middle. As if the writer had a great idea for the beginning and end, then just filled in the middle the best they could. Sometimes with paragraphs and chapters that have very little to do with the actual story. As a result, my eyes skim over a third of the middle just to find out what happens at the end.

I think the middle of any story should be every bit as thrilling as the beginning. It sometimes answers questions, agreed. Maybe even ties up a few loose ends. But a skilled writer knows how to up the ante, raise the stakes, and turn the tide in the middle pages in ways the reader never sees coming. A good writer can introduce a new character (another rule breaker) or change point of view all while keeping the tone and voice throughout. Keep me enthralled through page 200 and I'll be your biggest fan.

The middle should set up the ending without giving it away. But it's often the most overlooked. It is also where readers find giant pauses. A place they can stuff in their bookmark and put down the book. The question is, are they anxious to get back to it or do they hesitate to pick it back up again?

The middle of the story is where the heart is. Writers, by all means, pay attention to it. Give it as much love as the rest.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Good Writer

How does one know if they are truly a good writer?

One of the mandates to becoming a writer is reading and writing every day. Every day without fail. Even if it’s for five or ten minutes. A good writer reads. A good writer writes every day. Or so I’ve been told.

And there are many writers with much more impressive literary pedigrees than mine. It seems to me that many folks (especially those within the industry) measure a writer’s greatness by the number of previous publications.

Well. Thank the good Lord that Literary Agent Susan Ramer and Amy Einhorn Books loved The Help as much as I did, because Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before they got a hold of it. My question is, why was it rejected 60 times? I’m sure Ms. Stockett didn’t send out her beloved manuscript willy-nilly to just anybody. And according to this article, (http://www.more.com/kathryn-stockett-help-best-seller) the rejections took their toll on her. So what do some see in debut novels that others don’t?

Is there something in a writer’s DNA that makes us good? Is there such a thing as natural-born talent? Even if one follows all the rules, reads and writes every day, and possesses a natural storytelling ability, how do you know you’re a good writer?

Is it because your friends and family gush over your work? Or because you’re published? Because you've won a contest or two? Or is it because something inside you pushes you forward. To not write would send you to the looney bin. Suck the air out of your lungs. Stop your heart. But does that really make you a good writer?

Every writer receives good and bad reviews. Some have thousands of followers who buy every one of their books, as well as folks who turn up their noses at the mention of their name. Is it all about personal preference?

Who decides? What qualifies them, for crying out loud? And yet what, pray tell, makes up the essence of a good writer? Is it the marketing and publicity machine behind the writer? (I hardly think so.)

Writers often question their worth. They have peaks and valleys in their careers and hold on to each and every positive comment, turn of phrase, and head nod. They possess the patience of a saint. After all, what kind of person does it take to persevere through 60 or even a hundred rejections? Years of waiting for an offer. Writers bend with the wind and roll with the god-awful punches. Even though the words come out of us like a rocket and keep us up all night we wonder--will we ever get a break?

Literary Agent Donald Maass says it takes ten years to develop a breakout writer. What if those ten years have come and gone?

Who or what determines a good writer?

Well. I really don’t know.

Helen Keller once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

And yet it’s not success that defines us as a good writer. Our MFA degree, the hundreds of folks who turn up at our book signings, or our fifth New York Times bestseller. It's not that at all. Because at the end of the day, it's still just you and your computer.

So how do you know you're a good writer?

Do you ever?

Maybe that in itself is what keeps us moving forward.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Brevity Of Life

I think the one thing that surprises me the most as I enter the youth of old age is the brevity of life. Time passes in a wisp of an eyelash. I look at my granddaughter (I'm even surprised I'm old enough to have one) and I think ... shouldn't that be my daughter? After all, it was only a day ago I was changing my own baby's diapers.

Evangelist Billy Graham says that a lifetime is fleeting, but that our soul is eternal. That once we are born, our soul will never die. It's a scary thing to contemplate. There is no end to us. Only an end to what we know as life. As a believer, and a writer, I have been meditating upon this lately. And whether or not you believe in the hereafter, you have probably felt the spiritual side of yourself at some point. Something tugging on your soul.

Yes, contemplating eternal life in Heaven can be an exhilarating and yet a scary thing. For me, the very thought of atheism or agnosticism frightens me to the core. My inner spirit confirms to me daily the presence of God. The love of my creator greets me each morning and to not believe in the Heaven He has prepared, well I simply don't have that in me. I cringe when I hear celebrities on TV say there is no God. It's like fingernails down a chalkboard to me.

As I grow older, I find I'm not all wrapped up in theology, or denominations, or whether or not one should tithe, attend church, or become a deacon. What I am is at peace with myself. Sunday mornings on my front porch watching the sunrise ... that's where I feel Him the most.

Life is short. An old and overused cliche that somehow passes right over our heads when it's said to us. But oh, my friends and ah, my foes ... a cliche that should never be taken lightly.

Blessings to you and yours.