Notebook

Appearances Matter (From my Goodreads Q&A)

One of the most important aspects of the novel is the notion (reality) that people have a public image that is different from the private self. In the book I don’t elaborate on the circumstances surrounding how Evan Meade got custody of Oliver because those circumstances don’t really matter. He did. And he shouldn’t have. The first is in the past, the onus of the showing why it was wrong falls to the book through character development.

The reason I chose not to explain the custody in greater detail was to illustrate what I believe to be the ludicrous notion that judges make decisions everyday about kids and custody knowing full well that the testimony they hear is tainted with these two sides of a person’s identity. This book, as in real life, attempts to dole out bits of their personality slowly and relies upon the intuition of the reader to fill in some of the blanks themselves just in how the characters behave. That is precisely, I feel, how real life works. Nothing is given to us on a platter. We intuit people, we watch and listen and read between the lines to learn who they really are. To do or expect something different in this story would be to not reflect real life.

The question of how much an author must fill in for the reader so as not to make character development a hardship on them is one of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel. You worry that what you omit will leave the characters not fully developed and the reader then not fully satisfied. But the flip side of omission is inclusion and adding more to the story than is needed means there is nothing then for the reader to contemplate on their own, to think through and work out, to discover, which, I believe, is the true pleasure and purpose of reading.

NC Author Tribute month

Over at Booksie’s Blog, Sandie is reviewing books by North Carolina authors, of which I am fortunate to include myself. She says of the intention behind her tribute is to:

…set aside June to celebrate all things North Carolina.  All books reviewed in June will either be by a NC author (born here or currently living here) or have a North Carolina location.

Today she writes about A Lovely, Indecent Departure. See what she has to see about what calls is “a masterful debut.

On a side note, June is full of equally exciting news & events surrounding the book

  • If you haven’t signed up for my Goodreads Q & A, please consider joining. I love talking about the book, but more than that I love talking about the writing craft and the passion that fuels the stories we read.
  • Also, if you’re in the Wake Forest, NC area on Friday, June 8th, I’ll be giving a reading and book signing at The Storyteller’s Bookstore downtown. You can find more details here.
  • Lastly, you’ll find in all of tomorrow’s three print editions of The Wake Weekly, an interview I gave to the paper’s owner and editor, Clellie Allen.

Thanks for visiting my blog and please feel free to drop me a comment any time.

A Lovely book review for “A Lovely, Indecent Departure”

Megan, from the book review blog, Love, Literature, Art and Reason, calls A Lovely, Indecent Departure “a literary novel, a thriller, a mystery all wrapped up in one package.”

Check out Megan’s complete review:

To order your a paperback copy today click here, or select the eBook format of your choice from the menu to the right.

Check out the other reviews of the book by clicking over to the Reviews page above, or simply click here.

Did I mention the hot librarian?

John Updike once said that all his works were literary fiction because they were written in words, but he didn’t really like the term as he felt it limited him in his writing. I can appreciate that sentiment as in the month or so since releasing my first novel, I’ve struggled with the labeling because honestly, I’m not really sure what it means (I don’t think I’m alone on this either).

The trouble with associating my novel—or myself as an author—in a category that seems to have so much uncertainty about it looks risky in terms of marketing the novel—and so far I have yet to find a book site that did not ask the genre. After all, my story has suspense, it has action-adventure and romance. But it also has a very serious side as it tackles a complex, universal theme about law and child rearing. The people are complicated, the subject universal, the style lyrical and poetic. And so, when I was made to choose a genre, I chose literary as I felt it best described it. I’m just not sure in what way?

I am disappointed and always conflicted when people ask what genre is my novel. It’s just fiction, I tell them. More often than not they press for more (Okay, it’s like literary fiction, if you must), but I wonder in giving that to them if they don’t then imagine a story without action-adventure, without suspense, without romance.

So, in my zealous effort to cover all those bases, I quickly add: but there’s a flirty, hot librarian in it.

Quotate

I don’t really care for quotations, but I know why a reader would miss them. Words not chosen for their precision, directness and clarity—even those which are spoken—need a little bit of help. Or as was recently pointed out to me from an avid believer of the inverted comma: a book without quotations would be like a book without periods.

That doesn’t make much sense to me as it’s literally quite possible (and been proven by Pulitzer Prize winning novelists) to follow along perfectly well with a story without the author providing a “clue” as to when and when not a character is speaking but trying to read something without periods would serve not only to disrupt the story’s flow but probably lead me screaming from the house as if my own mental ramblings weren’t enough now I have to be privy to someone else’s and so I would have to say that comparison just doesn’t work for me, but that’s just me (also I cheated on this paragraph as I had intended but just couldn’t bring myself to write a complete sentence and not end it with a period, so I wrote it the way I did and now having read back over it I think it reads pretty well…) but back to the point. Apparently, the majority of readers—or at least the majority of the commenters on the thread I posted on a popular book forum—I’m the rare reader who thinks it’s time to kill the quotes.

Here are a few more of the 44 responses from the 472 readers who viewed my suggestion in the past couple of days (paraphrased to avoid quotes, of course):

  • I’d have to work harder to decode the breaks in narration
  • the book would go back on the shelf immediately
  • I’d find it annoying
  • I LOATHE books printed without quotations
  • It’s gimmicky and would get in the way of the story
  • writers trying to be cutesy or smarter than the reader…. go into the pile of never again to be read, and never again to be recommend to another living person.

On and on, commenters have been weighing in on the notion I presented that writing might actually be better without the use of the little tick marks and, as I said, the larger percentage of them say No Way.

Here is my argument: Our job as writers is to make clear what happened in the story, or as Hemingway wrote: to tell the truth. If we are choosing our words correctly, with the idea that they should be accurate, concrete and applied to our fiction with bare-bones realism, then it should be clear to a reader when someone is performing an action that involves speech and when they are not. Take this scene for example. It comes from The Child of God, an early work by Cormac McCarthy:

The auctioneer was squatting on the tailboard of the truck. He looked down at his shoes, plucked idly at a piece of dried mud on the welt. When he looked back up at the the man with the rifle he was smiling. He said: Lester, you don’t get a grip on yourself they going to put you in a rubber room.

The man took a step backward, the rifle in one hand. He was almost crouching and he held his free hand out with the fingers spread toward the crowd as if to hold them back. Get down off that truck, he hissed.

The man on the truck spat and squinted at him. What you aim to do, Lester, shoot me? I didn’t take your place off ye. County done that. I was just hired as auctioneer.

Get off that truck.

Behind him the musicians looked like compositions in porcelain from an old country fair shooting gallery.

He’s crazy, C B.

C B said: You want to shoot me, Lester, you can shoot me where I’m at. I ain’t going nowheres for you.

 

To be sure, McCarthy is one of our greatest contemporary writers, if not the best. His grasp and use of language is superb. In fact, it’s surprising to me that many of the commenters on the thread are suggesting—and sounding a bit like an English teacher I once had—when you’re as famous as <fill in the blank here> you can break usage rules, too.

But I’m a believer that practice makes perfect and if you want to write better you have to challenge yourself to chose words that are more clear, more vivid, more accurate, layering them into language that is sober, forceful and focused on the emotion and not the adherence of some silly rule that exists for no other reason than just because (or worse, those listed above). Only then can we be assured ourselves that the story is shared and received in a way that is real and without question.

I’m not suggesting you can’t do both, or even that you shouldn’t. But the decision to do so or not should rest with the author, not the reader (or high school English teacher).

(Un)Tying the Bowline

If I were ever to own a sailboat, and I think I would like that very much one day, I would name it The Damned Fool. To be sure, the phrase embodies what many might think of the sloop’s senseless, stubborn captain. But the moniker has little to do with me, and even less with the boat, as it speaks to a philosophy. Philosophies are earned, not awarded, however, as anyone with some age on them can attest, and so it is fitting that if this thing (I hesitate to call it a goal) were to come to me during this, middle life—if it is to come to me at all—so too should the task of naming it.

We should be so fortunate if all of life’s little experiments, opportunities and experiences arrive only after we’re good and ready, so that we know what to do with them and can clearly identify the good from the bad, the right from the wrong. Only, that is not how the real world happens (visit my blog, Without Envy, to read more on the challenges of the unwanted and unexpected). Even when we think we know what we’re doing it seems more often the case we do not, thus the perception of foolishness and in my case a well-deserved title for a boat.

Having said that I am reminded of a saying by Mark Twain, and of which the general idea prompted me five years ago this Friday to leave my job to pursue writing full time.

 20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did.

There are of course a thousand other quotes just like that suggesting that life should be lived to the fullest. What you don’t hear is how exactly to go about it. Looking back on my own experience over the past five years of writing full time, there were some things I think I/we did well—We planned and saved for the day, and afterwards I wrote, I mean really wrote and didn’t just talk about it (other writers will understand this). I also studied the works of those authors I most respected and used what I learned about them and about my own writing to teach every summer at a young writers’ workshop which helped me stay focused on the mechanics and share my passion for the craft.

Then there were a few things I could have done better, like I should have behaved more like an unpublished artist, which I was. What I mean by that is I should have treated my day as if I still had a day job to with which to divide up my time. Instead with this huge amount of time, I started a garden, built a backyard chicken coop. If the kids classroom needed a chaperone, I volunteered. In other words, I did all the fun things I could find (in a house there are so many distractions, I wasn’t prepared for them!)

I was acting like a successful and financially-established novelist, though I wasn’t either of those. Yet there I was hoeing, feeding hens, gathering eggs, carting kids around on field trips. Just because we had saved up some money, that wasn’t an excuse to pretend that it wouldn’t run out. That’s not to say we spent foolishly, we didn’t. We cut our expenses drastically those five years (and I would say for years to come, maybe ever). But were we as frugal back then on day one as we were on day seven hundred, there would be a lot lest today to worry about.

Was it foolish to leave work to pursue this? Perhaps. Some would say it was a drastic and selfish thing to do. But I don’t think so. After all, to end with another commonly heard quote in regards to change (this from Karen Lamb):

A year from now you will wish you had started today.