I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. A time when we played outside until well after dark. We didn’t think about being snatched from our front yards by a creepy guy in an ice cream truck. Back then, the ice cream man wasn’t creepy at all. We waited eagerly with our quarters in hand at the first sound of whatever happy tune was playing in the distance.
We were safe.
One of the most vivid memories of childhood I have came rushing back to me the other night. Fall is in the air so I turned off the air conditioner and opened my bedroom windows before I went to bed. I snuggled down under the quilt, and listened. Listened to the sounds of a far away train, a couple cars, a barking dog in the distance. And then like magic, it was no longer nighttime. There was no longer a chill in the air.
|My dad, Willie Chandler,
long before I was even thought about.
I was ten years old and batting my eyes against bright sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. It was a Saturday morning, early summer, maybe around nine or ten. My mother had just come into my bedroom and opened the windows, pushing the curtains aside. I pretended to be asleep to prolong the beginning of the routine Saturday chores. Once I heard her bedroom slippers pad across the hardwood floor and out of the room, I lazily opened my eyes. My room was filled with sunshine. A soft breeze flittered through the open window and gently ruffled the curtains. Outside, my father mowed the lawn. The constant hum of the mower could have easily lulled me back to sleep, but I wanted that moment. I wanted to lay there and experience the smell of the fresh cut grass, the sound of the lawn mower. I wanted to bask in the knowledge my father was just beyond the window, my mother, somewhere in the house with a can of Pledge and a dust rag and tomorrow, Sunday, we would probably pile up in the car and go get ice cream. I felt safe.
My family is super supportive of my chosen career. My kids know I’m a little weird. Their spouses have learned. The grandkids think I’m pretty cool. Sometimes. Sometimes not. But to be honest, I’m surrounded by a bunch of non-readers. They’ll wait for the movie.
|Grandkids Ivy (left) and Aiden actually reading a book!
Well, they were looking at the pictures.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s my problem, not theirs. They cheer me on and ask questions about my latest book and beam with pride when I show them the cover. And I have absolutely no doubt they’ll be at the book launch party and maybe at a book signing or two. And they will beam with more pride. But will they actually read my book? Probably not. And that’s okay.
Why? Because I’ve finally accepted writing novels as my career choice. I will take a day job here and there but my main focus will be writing. And to accept that as more than just a time-consuming hobby, I have to accept that my family may not be as mesmerized by the final product as I am. Yes, they are proud. Yes, they are supportive. But do they know what I mean when I say I’m proofing a galley? No. It’s not their job to know no more than it’s my job to know medical coding (my daughter) or plumbing (my son). And I’m as proud of them and their chosen careers as I know they are of me.
My oldest grandson, Landon, will turn nine years old tomorrow. We celebrated today with a basketball party. Landon’s planning to play basketball this year for the rec center so he’s all into the bouncing orange ball. Yeah, we did food and presents and all the regular stuff but the real fun came on the basketball court. Landon and his friend Tyler shot a game of hoops with Landon’s older cousins, his much older uncles and Tyler’s dad, Landon’s dad, and his grandpa. Yeah, his grandpa. Keep in mind Landon turns nine tomorrow and Tyler is barely ten. They were the only ones on the court under six feet tall. They’re barely five feet. If that.
They were little guys in a big mans game.
We, the cheering section, had to on occasion remind the um, bigger guys, that HELLO, it’s LANDON’S party!! Can you give HIM the ball?? Maybe let him play too??
Made me think of all the indie publishers and the do-it-yourself ebook authors going up against the big guys. Only I don’t think a group of moms and grandmoms and aunts and cousins shouting at Random House or St. Martins to let Johnny play, too, will carry much weight.
That’s why the little guys need a cheering section. Even the little guys with contracts with one of the big guys. Chances are the big guys aren’t going to have the time or devote the money to promoting the crap out of your book. You’re going to have to do that. And enlist your mom, and your grandmom, and your sisters and brothers and cousins and every friend you’ve ever known to help. Make them your cheering section. If they’re loud enough, the big guys may notice.
I knew I wanted to be a writer at a very young age. When I got to jr. high and high school, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. My favorite class, of course, was English and I loved the creative writing exercises. Give me a writing prompt and I’d give you a ten page masterpiece, even though the teacher said it only had to be five pages.
In the seventh grade I had a teacher that was the hippest teacher ever. He brought his guitar to class and we sang folk songs. He talked about dreams and feeling the music and getting it. Dig it? And oh! How I felt the music! Yes! I understand everything the writer was saying. It touched me. I felt their pain. I embraced their anguish.
And then came tenth grade and America Lit. And delving into the psyche of Faulkner (God help us all!) and Hemingway and Poe. What did they mean? It was then my true ambition surfaced. I wanted to write a novel so complex every tenth grade student would scratch their heads wondering what in the crap I meant. Surely I was suicidal. Or maybe a psycho. The words on the page reflect such a great despair and hopelessness no sane person could ever have penned them. Right? Insert evil laugh.
Note to English teachers – you can stop looking for the hidden meanings in every piece of written work. Sometimes, it is what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It was a big week around here. Four of the nine grandkids started school. One started high school, another started kindergarten. Big life-changing events. And oh yeah, I sent the first round of edits/revisions back to my publisher,.Pelican Book Group.
Sending the first round of revision/edits didn’t cause nearly the nail-biting anxiety as submitting the query, first three chapters, etc.. because, they already liked it. We’re in the polishing stage now. But for all those other submissions we writers make, we’re back to nail biting. Much the same way my daughter Nina was stressing about Ava heading to kindergarten.
Ava is…well, Ava. The world revolves around Ava. Or at least she thinks it does. But she’s so darn happy about it, you can’t help but be happy with her. Nina made her husband Allen go with them the first day of school in case Ava got upset. Allen went into work late so he could be there in case his daughter was scared. In case she was frightened. In case she questioned this big new world she was expected to participate in (like eating together with your class and not just when you’re hungry, and assigned seating, and having to raise your hand to ask to go to the bathroom!) There was just one little hitch in Ava’s expected meltdown. It never happened. She didn’t even wave goodbye to her mom and dad. Just ran head first, arms open wide into her classroom. She threw herself out there, out into the world and said “Like me!”
|Ava and big brother Landon ready for that first day of school
And of course like any mother, Nina worries will they like her Ava? Will they understand her quirky sense of humor? Will they embrace her independence? Will they accept her? Do they pay on acceptance or publication? Do they have a kill fee? How many author copies do they offer? Oh…oops. I was talking about my daughter sending her daughter to kindergarten, wasn’t I?
This past Saturday we celebrated my grandson Aiden’s 2nd birthday. We had a lot of fun and even some surprises. Like balloons that pop just because you looked at them. Big shout out to my son for blowing them up so tight everyone was scared to move out of fear of the BANG! But they were big. Yeah.
Aiden was a very good guest of honor. He smiled for the camera, smiled appreciatively at his cake and presents and, well…that was about it. The little bugger sneaked off to the kitchen and dove into his cake while everyone else was chatting and visiting with one another. In one split-second moment, a few of us looked at one another and realized the others didn’t know where Aiden was, either. That first moment of realization that you don’t know where your two year old is is sheer panic, the moment after that is …”oh noooooo” as we all ran to the kitchen to salvage the cake.
Then there were his presents. He opened his mom and dad’s present first. Mommy and Daddy got him a baseball cap so he could look like daddy and they got him a really cool little boy book bag (Aiden has three older sisters. He knows the Disney princesses and fairies by name.) So he puts his ball cap on and daddy helps him put his book bag on and he’s done. Like finished. What other presents? I’m just going to walk around with my cool red cap and little boy book bag on. Y’all go ahead with whatever. Daddy says, “Aiden, look you’ve got another present. Let’s open it.” If he had more than a twenty word vocabulary Aiden would have said, “Yeah, cool. Go ahead, there dad. I’m just going to check myself out in this mirror.”
Papa Hemingway was quoted as saying: “Begin your story as close to the end as possible.” No other author’s words could ring more true. Start big and build bigger until it’s so big, it explodes on the page. Like overfilled balloons. Save the ball cap and little boy book bag for last so the reader can savor every minute of it.
My three-year old granddaughter, Paisley, is…shall we say, a handful. She is the most “independent” thinker I’ve ever met. Adults included. She takes issue when you state the obvious. Like in her little over-acting three-year old mind, she already knows the answer so why do you insist on voicing it?
Example: Paisley: Mommy saw a bug and screamed like a girl.
Me (grandma): Mommy is a girl.
Paisley (complete with eye rolling): I know. That’s why she screamed.
Gotta love this child. She got aggravated because I was telling her something she already knew. Much the same way a reader will feel when they’re beat over the head with information they already know. If your character, John, gets up from the couch to go get a beer in the kitchen, do you have to tell the reader he opens the fridge? No. It’s obvious. Unless he keeps his stash in a Styrofoam cooler, which might be an interesting side note. I like to refer to this type narrative as stage directions: he got up, went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, removed a beer…works great on a stage. Not so much in a book.
I’d rather know why John wanted a beer than read a step-by-step narrative of his physical motions in his trek to get the beer. Hard day at work? If he worked at all…perhaps he lost his job? Maybe he just wanted to drink a cold one while he watched the game? What game? Baseball? Football? Each of these little tidbits adds characterization to John, turning him into a three dimensional character. Rather than just someone who got up off the couch, went into the kitchen, opened the fridge…
My beautiful little Paisley with her little brother, Aiden. They were fascinated by the printer.
Lynn C Willis – Fiction Writer: What was the question?: Have you ever talked with someone who rambles? They ask a question at the beginning of the conversation but don’t give you a chance to respo…
Have you ever talked with someone who rambles? They ask a question at the beginning of the conversation but don’t give you a chance to respond until it’s too late. Too late meaning you’ve forgotten what the question is!
I see this often in written dialog, too. The writer will have Character A ask a question or say something that needs/deserves/warrants a response from Character B, followed by several lines of narrative. By the time we get to Character B’s response, we readers forget what he/she is responding to. And you never want the reader to have to go back and re-read a passage for it to make sense. It interrupts the flow. Do it too much, and they’ll stop going back and simply return the book to the bookshelf.
Example: “So how do you take your coffee?” John asked. He pulled two mugs from the cabinet. One, his prized NY Yankees mug with the embossed logo, the other one a black one with the green logo of the furniture company he used to work for. That was back in his married days. He was a single man now and rather enjoying his new life.
“Black,” Miranda said.
My first thought after reading Miranda’s dialog is black what? I had forgotten what she was responding to. I worried poor Miranda had some kind of condition that made her spout out random words. But then I went back and re-read sleazy John’s question and her line of dialog made sense. I went back and re-read. Not a good thing. I’ll give the author one more chance, then it’s back to collecting dust for this baby.
A better way to write the above passage is to simply put the action (John removing the mugs) after Miranda’s line.
Example: “So how do you take your coffee?” John asked.
“Black,” said Miranda.
John pulled two mugs….
Ahhh…can you feel the flow?
Lynn C Willis – Fiction Writer: Misbehaving Characters: As a parent, one of our jobs is to lead and guide our children safely from childhood to adulthood. In addition to all the love and support w…