Saturday, December 15, 2018

The One Writing Rule You “Must” Follow

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published August 11, 2010.


By Charles Gramlich

I hear a lot of advice about writing. I listen to it all, though I don’t necessarily take it all. Here are some of the “rules” I’ve picked up over the years:

Show don’t tell.
Kill your darlings.
Avoid adverbs.
Never use clichés.
Ain’t ain’t a word.
Avoid Info Dumps.
Conflict on every page.
Use adjectives sparingly.
Don’t split infinitives.
Character trumps plot.
Avoid “ing” endings.
Never a day without a line.
Don’t open with description.
Never write in second person.
Don’t start sentences with “and” or “but.”
Characters must change during a story.
Dialogue should do more than one thing.
Develop a full biography for each character.
Never repeat salient words close to each other.
Use active rather than passive sentence structure.
The first word that pops into your head is the best word.
Always begin a story with people talking to each other.
Know every element of your story before you start writing.
Children and animals are naturally sympathetic characters.
Avoid authorial intrusions (Direct address from author to reader).

The truth is that none of these are rules. At best they are guidelines, and at worst they are straightjackets. The one absolute rule of writing is that there are no absolute rules. “Show don’t tell” is a good guideline but you can’t always follow it literally or your work would be unreadable. When you’re moving characters around in a story but the travel itself isn’t important, just tell it and get it done. The rule really means to “show” the interesting stuff. Otherwise your work will be weighed down with useless detail.

Never start a sentence with “and” or “but” is a bad rule. Sometimes those are perfect to start sentences with. Note every sentence, of course.

Never begin with description might be a good rule but it’s one I refuse to obey. I often start with description, and, for me, I hate, hate, hate books and stories that start with dialogue. I almost always put them down immediately.

Never use clichés is both a good and a bad rule, depending on the situation. Cliché description, like “red as a rose,” or “free as a bird,” is generally weak because readers have seen the phrasings so much that they don’t really process the meaning. However, sometimes having a character speak in clichés is just the right element to bring your story to life.

“In media res” is generally a good rule, I think, but it also depends on the genre. It’s a critical rule for thrillers, but not nearly as necessary in literary fiction. And when someone tells me to “never use adverbs” I counter with “never throw a tool out of your tool kit.”

One of the best things about writing, and one of the most intimidating, is the incredible freedom it affords you to do and say whatever you want. Certainly, you should listen to the advice of others. I’ve given plenty of advice myself, and I think it has been good advice. But don’t let anyone fool you into believing that guidelines are rules. It just ain’t so.

So, tell me, what are some of the other “rules” of writing that aren’t really rules? What have I missed?


Saturday, December 8, 2018

Must-See TV for Writers

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published January 21, 2018.  


By Maggie King

As a writer, I love TV shows that use intricate plots and settings to show the ups and downs of being human in a less-than-perfect world. As a crime writer, I am especially fond of shows in the mystery genre. Regardless of the genre, the best TV features conflict as a common denominator.

The following are my top picks:

Cast of As Time Goes By from BBC
As Time Goes By (1992-2005) was a BBC-produced romantic comedy of manners about Lionel and Jean, who were lovers in their youth only to be separated due to a communication failure (communication issues dog every relationship, don’t they?). But they meet up again thirty eight years later and resume their relationship, in fits and starts.

As Time Goes By portrayed well-drawn characters in relationships that were very real. The humor was natural and not manufactured. Lionel and Jean loved each other, despite occasional minor conflicts. My husband and I share the same affectionate marital banter that Lionel and Jean enjoyed. Their story has gladdened the hearts of romantics everywhere.

I try to emulate this tone and interaction for my characters. Most stories have a romantic component and my Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries are no exception.

Beck is a Swedish police procedural, based on the novels of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The characters are sharply drawn, from the plodding, methodical Martin Beck to his hot-tempered, politically incorrect partner, Gunvald, a loose cannon if ever there was one. The writers allow the characters to grow throughout the series, giving them plenty of opportunities to reveal their humanity, warts and all. There is violence, especially when Gunvald gets involved, but it’s not on a par with the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series.

Writers can learn much about creating riveting stories and compelling characters from watching Beck.

Downton Abbey Talk about conflict! This acclaimed British period drama revels in it. It’s educational to see how the fast-paced stories keep us glued to our seats. The secret, I believe, is to supply each character with back-to-back personal challenges, whether they be related to money, marriage, death, birth—the list goes on.

Midsomer Murders Don’t be fooled by the idyllic-looking county of Midsomer—its murder rate beats that of any urban area. Passions run high and evil lurks everywhere. Midsomer Murders is a slightly quirky British detective drama based on the crime novels by Caroline Graham. The main characters enjoy satisfying relationships, and the guest characters tend to be eccentric and harbor pasts (and often presents) ridden with secrets and scandals. They are often involved in the arts, academia, and the occult: painters, actors, writers, professors, fortune tellers, etc.

I especially liked the episode “Written in Blood,” where murder took place in a writing group.

Miss Marple Ah, the beloved Miss Jane Marple, created over eighty years ago by Agatha Christie. The elderly spinster lives a quiet life in the village of St. Mary Mead—quiet until a villager is murdered and that happens with alarming regularity. Miss Marple nails the murderer(s) every time, using her powers of observation. Sometimes she disguises her shrewdness with a dithery manner. Living in a village, she is well-acquainted with the vagaries of human nature, and she can always draw a parallel between the latest crime and a villager, or village incident.

There are countless adaptations of the stories and a number of actresses have played Miss Marple. Joan Hickson is my favorite as she best matches my picture of how the character looks, acts, and speaks.

Agatha Christie has influenced many crime writers over the years, especially with plot development. I expect that she’ll do so indefinitely. I think the Columbo character played by Peter Falk often channeled Miss Marple, with his bumbling ways that concealed a sharp mind.

From Wikipedia
Taggart, one of the UK’s longest-running series, is an unflinching police drama from Scotland. I rent the DVDs from my local library. The story lines are intricate as are the personal relationships of the recurring and guest cast members. I enjoy the depictions of the relationships, many of which are unenviable and riddled with friction between characters who are far from perfect. Twists and turns in the plot culminate in the killer, or killers, being identified. More often than not the end comes as a stunning surprise.

These gritty stories are set against Glasgow’s grand architecture.

In my estimation Taggart is a must-see show for crime writers.

Touched by an Angel was a popular American series that ran for nine seasons. I’ve long been attracted to stories of people who have reached turning points in their lives. Sometimes they’re between a rock and a hard place. As they’re grappling with personal demons, conflict, and tough choices, along comes an angel in human form to guide them and impart God’s wisdom.

This show inspired me on many levels. At the beginning of my debut mystery, Murder at the Book Group, the main character, Hazel Rose, is standing at a crossroads. She is at loose ends in her life and is hard pressed to make even the smallest of decisions. Solving the victim’s murder gives her the opportunity to grow and get out of her rut.   

Writers can get inspiration from many more great shows: Brokenwood, Janet King, Inspector Morse, Maria Wern, Wallander, West Wing, and Winds of War/War and Remembrance are just a few.

Tell us your favorites.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

What Is a Platform and Where Do I Find One?

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published January 14, 2013.


By Sunny Frazier

The hot topic today, the buzz word in the writing industry, is “Platform.” Writers are constantly told they need one, but nobody seems to have a clear idea of what a platform consists of or how to construct one. If you build it, will they come?

Here's the problem. Many writers, in the thrall of creating a book out of their imagination, haven't bothered to learn how the industry works. Everything has changed, but too many potential authors believe what they've seen in the movies--the romantic vision of art and the written word with publishing hacks doing promotion and getting their book on the bestseller list.

I doubt if that dynamic ever really existed, but if it did, it's as dead as Hemingway. The reality is that Big Publishing isn't interested in any work that doesn't have guaranteed sales right out the door. That's why Snookie got a contract and you didn't. But then again, she has a platform. One built with substandard materials, but one that exists.

Independent presses also have to try for guaranteed sales. They struggle enough without handing out contracts to people who have no sense of promotion. That's why we hope to see something in place, to hopefully hedge our bet that the book will sell. This is why we look hard for the author's platform.

Start with name recognition. Sell yourself by getting on sites where you get a page to decorate and interact with people. Book Town, Crime Space, and of course, Face Book. Put up photos, post blogs, jump into forums, initiate discussions. Have a personality that people will remember.

Start collecting your fan base. Anyone who communicates with you is a potential reader. Research each one, take notes on bits of info (do they have a cat? What part of the country are they from?). Everyone likes feeling they get personal attention. So, make the effort.

Get a website up. Create a bog. Make it compelling. Offer people something they can use, not just your idle thoughts on a subject.

It takes the sale of 200 books for a publisher to break even. Can you come up with that many buyers? Indie presses have distribution, but it's hard to get libraries and bookstores (the ones that still exist) to stock POD books. The public still has trouble seeing the economically feasible format as “real” books. That's why authors have to convince the reading public that their book is worth buying. You do that with a fan base and by physically promoting your work.

This is what a publisher looks for—not promises by writers uneducated in promotion, but those who have an established presence before publication. A platform. This is the author we are willing to invest in and hope for a return.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Writer's Crossroads

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published November 28, 2011.


By Carol Ottley-Mitchell


Three children had fallen into the crater of a volcano and I had no way to help them get out.

To make matters worse, they were my children, or they had been for the last few weeks and four chapters of my WIP, the fourth book in the Caribbean Adventure Series.

I was as stuck as they were, unable to move the adventure forward. I was suffering from the much discussed writer's block. Finally, after staring at the page for many more days, (dare I say weeks?) than I care to mention, I remembered a bit of advice about overcoming a block. That writer suggested that one solution to writer's block was to rewrite the scene, come at it from a different angle.

So, I, very reluctantly, took the kids back the way they came out of the volcano and took a second shot. It worked. This time they found a solution to that issue and moved forward to the next.

What techniques do you use to kick start your writing if it stalls?


Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Call to Action- Literally

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 22, 2016.  



By Amy Reade

This week a trifecta of events led me to an unwelcome realization. Ordinarily self-knowledge is a good thing, but not so much in this case.

First, I made an appointment for a physical. You know what that means- I’m going to have to step on the scales. A grim prospect, at best.

Second, the coup attempt in Turkey following closely on the heels of the horrific attack in Nice, France, mesmerized the world, including me.

And third, my Fitbit has been remarkably silent over the past seven days. No buzzing to let me know I’ve hit 10,000 steps, no notification on my phone to congratulate me for achieving some kind of milestone.



I’m sedentary.

There, I said it.

I am a writer, so much (read: all) of my time is spent at my desk or at a table in the kitchen or at the library, tapping away on the keys of a computer. I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I should.

I need to get moving, and not just because it’s good for my physical health (I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated phrase “sitting is the new smoking”). It’s also essential for my mental health. I need to exercise more often in order to get my mind out of my work-in-progress, out of all the bad news permeating the airwaves, and out of the endless lists of marketing assignments I’ve given myself.

I know it works (it’s not as if I never move). I always feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after I walk my dog or go for a bike ride. I just need to do it more often. I need to make exercise a conscious part of my daily routine, and lately my physical movement has been sadly lacking.



So I have an idea. I was brainstorming topics for this post, my first for Novel Spaces, and I hit on something I think might work. I know I’m not alone- there are lots of people, and many writers included, who don’t get enough exercise.

My idea is to start a Facebook group where we share our exercise goals and encourage and inspire each other to get moving by posting what we do for exercise and how long we spend doing it. I’m in a closed Facebook group called “What’s for Dinner?” in which members post photos of the meals they cook each night at dinnertime. It’s a fun group and I would love to participate in an exercise group that operates the same way. Anything you do in motion counts as exercise- weeding the garden, walking the dog, biking, swimming, playing with your kids. Anything.

I’ll even start by telling you my first goal: I want to have more energy and more focus when I write and when I’m marketing. I believe physical exercise is going to help me achieve that.

You’ve heard of writers who sprint? That’s when writers get together in person or virtually or on the phone or in any other way and write together for a specified period of time. In terms of actual sprinting, I only run if I’m being chased (please note, the photo above was taken two years ago). But if anyone is interested in setting up a time to exercise together virtually, I’m up for that, too.

Of course, exercise is more fun when there are built-in rewards, so I want us to share our rewards with each other, too. You want to reward yourself every time you exercise? Cool. Want to reward yourself once a week? Great. After every five workouts? That’s fine, too. The rewards are up to each member and can be anything- dark chocolate is my personal favorite.

If you’re interested in joining the group, mention it in the comments below. I’ll create the group (I’m thinking of calling it “The Write Way to Exercise”) and add you to the list of members.

So what do you say? Are you in?


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Too Old

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published February 7, 2012.


By Liane Spicer

Courtesy KXCD.com
There comes a time when you have to look reality in the eye and accept that you're just too old for some things. You're no longer a spring chicken. You don't have the resilience and stamina you once had. You're a writer of 'a certain age' - whether 30, 50 or 70 - and you have to focus on efficiency, on putting your valuable energy where it counts. You're too old...

     ...to take crap lying down. Writers have been groomed to be submissive and accepting, to grovel before all-powerful publishers, editors and literary agents. You're too old for that, and now you don't have to any more.

     ...to listen to the people who say you can't start a company at your age, take up spear-fishing, go back to school, or write and publish a book or ten. Don't allow pessimists, naysayers and scaredy-cats to keep you from realizing your potential.

     ...to keep on trying to save people who don't want to be saved.

     ...to be in love with people who don't value, respect and love you back.

     ...to keep abusing your body by feeding it garbage and starving it of exercise.

     ...to hoard your treasures. Wear the pretty outfit; break out the special lingerie; use your good stuff.

     ...to keep blaming your parents for your failings in life.

     ...to allow people to stomp on your spirit. Excuse yourself from that conversation.

     ...to say yes when you mean no, and no when you mean yes. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
   
     ...to take people for granted. Show appreciation.

     ...to take life for granted. Count your blessings every day, be happy you woke up, and make good use of your time.

Take a long, hard look in the mirror with all the lights on and tell me: aren't you too old for all of the above? I've discovered that attaining 'a certain age' can sometimes be the most liberating experience of all.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

What I Learned From Bad Writers

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published December 27, 2010. Enjoy!


By Charles Gramlich

Even as a kid I loved telling stories, but I first thought about becoming a writer in my late teens and of telling stories on paper for others to read.

Two things persuaded me to try my hand at the author thing. First, I wanted to enthrall others the way I’d been enthralled by L’Amour, Bradbury, Burroughs, Howard, MacDonald, and many others. Second, I figured I could do better, or at least put more effort into it, than some of the other writers I was reading. I won’t mention names, but I was finding books that just didn’t move me. The prose was leaden, the pace stagnant, the characters as stiff as new jeans.

Sometimes the poor writers just didn’t know how to tell good stories. But more often it seemed these authors were writing too fast and not giving the care to their work that being a craftsman required. To me, this became, and remains, the definition of a hack. Turns out, however, that I learned quite a bit from the hacks, mostly, I hope, about the things a writer should not do.

I learned that well-written prose strikes the ear like music, not like the sound of a bell without a clapper. I learned that description is boring unless it fires the imagination or sets a mood. I learned that good characters can’t become chess pieces to be shoved around, that they have to have integrity of action and consistency in their behavior over time. I learned that fiction should give the illusion of reality even when it can’t illustrate reality absolutely, as when dialogue sounds as if real people are talking rather than serving mechanically to advance the plot.

One important thing I learned from bad writing is that there is no suspense for readers when things come too easily for the characters. I read a book where the villain gathered a huge army and cornered the last heroes. The villain had a great bomb but the hero defused it, and the enemy army just suddenly ran away. I might once have thrown that book across the room, but this time I kept reading, wondering what other gems of “thou-shalt-not-do” wisdom might be found between the lines of a weak tale.

Of course, the most important thing I’ve learned from poor writing is that good writing takes concentration and effort, and there is no substitute for either. It’s easy to tell a bad story. The good ones take time.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Write a Novel in a Month

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 19, 2010. Enjoy!


By Kevin Killiany

National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) is rapidly approaching. Literally at the speed of time. Every November tens of thousands of writers strive to produce a 50,000-word manuscript in thirty days. Why 50k?* Because in publishing, that's the official definition of a novel. Today 90,000-word novels are common, but they are a recent development. (Or at least younger than I am.) Take a look at your copies of The Old Man and the Sea and Brave New World. Time was most novels were that slender. Though most were not that good.

More than a month devoted to writing, NaNoWriMo is an active internet community – something of a global glee club – with daily encouragements, prods, and reminders to keep you going. In many cities NaNoWriMo writers get together one or two nights a week for group writing sessions that take the loneliness out of what is usually a solitary pursuit.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is not to produce great literature, though creating great literature is not discouraged. The purpose is to get writers – especially writers who do not think they have enough time for writing – to sit down at the keyboard and write. And in that respect it has been a great help to me over the years.

I have NaNoWriMo-ed five times – the last in 2006 – and twice finished the month with a manuscript of more than 40k words that told a story with a beginning, middle, and end. None of these manuscripts are ready to be submitted to a publisher. And of the five, only my last will become a novel some day. Right now "Dram Rock" is a 42k outline of what will be the second novel in my Coastal Carolina mystery series.

Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem!, the book of all things NaNoWriMo, has been on my essential reference shelf for half a decade. (Though it's not at the moment; I loaned my copy to an aspiring romance writer who's preparing for this coming November.) While much of Baty's writing advice is NaNoWriMo-specific, there are clear lessons on discipline, priorities, and time management that should be in every writer's tool kit.

One example, useful to anyone who's ever lost an evening of writing to puzzling over how to fix a scene that doesn't seem quite right no matter what you do: Use bold. (Actually, Baty suggests italics, but bold is easier for me to spot.) When you're having problems with a scene, or a bit of dialog or a chapter ending, highlight the troubling section by putting it in bold to remind yourself the problem is there and get on with your writing. That way you do not lose your creative momentum and get more words out of your head and onto the paper where you can work with them.

Don't go back to your bold sections until either your subconscious – which never stops working – has provided you with a solution or you finish the rest of the manuscript. I work in Word, so the easiest thing for me to do is view my ms in "print layout" and shrink the images to 25%. That saves paging through looking for areas that need work because the bold passages show up as dark smudges. I just click on a smudge, go to 150% (I have old eyes – large print is my friend), and get to work fixing whatever needs fixing. Sometimes I can't think why I bothered to highlight the section. Other times the solution is obvious. Usually it's something in between. But no matter what I find, I'm able to make clear editorial decisions quickly because I did not waste time trying to edit when the words were flowing.

If you have trouble using your writing time productively – or if you have trouble finding writing time at all – I highly recommend taking part in NaNoWriMo. It's a fun and challenging way to prove to yourself you can overcome the excuses and get words on paper. Can't go wrong investing in Baty's book, either.
Either will show you you've got more time to write – and can write more in the time you have – than you knew.

* = I originally had the word count wrong. I corrected it when a commenter pointed the error out.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Selling Yourself

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 17, 2012 . 


By Dayton Ward

In the world of professional publishing, we as writers are both a product and a service, and it’s up to us to present ourselves in this manner. We’re of value to a potential editor and/or publisher; we just have to convince them of what we already know, right?

Oddly enough, I tend to suck at selling myself.

Specifically, I still struggle when it comes to introducing myself to editors, agents, and other publishing professionals. Take this past weekend, for example: Comic-Con International in San Diego. Tens of thousands of people milling about the exhibitor’s hall, and in the midst of that chaos were booths sponsored by publishers big and small. You’d think it’d be easy enough for a guy like me, a reasonably accomplished if not well-known sort, to walk up to one of these booths and feel comfortable talking shop, but as usually seems to be the case, I often was second-guessing myself at the moment of truth. It wasn’t such a problem if I at least knew the person in the booth by name or perhaps even had exchanged earlier e-Mails with them, but a cold introduction?

Awkward.

It’s a lot like when you finish a story and you’re getting up the courage to mail it to the faceless editor you’ve never met, only here you don’t even have the cushion of distance to ease your uncertainty. It’s you and your prospective client, face to face, and everything hinges on the next words to come out of your mouth...assuming you can make your mouth work.

I did have some success, of course. I met several writers in fields outside my own, and we spent a few pleasant minutes here and there swapping war stories before exchanging info. Likewise, a couple of good discussions were enjoyed with friends and colleagues, during which plans of one sort or another were hatched. And I did introduce myself to a few new folks at publishers’ booths where conversations ensued, and I came away with contact information and an agreement to communicate after the mayhem of the con was behind everyone.

Did I take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the con? Honestly? No, owing mostly to my own nervousness with such situations. I always feel out of my depth at these things. Part of me always wonders if the con’s hectic nature just makes attempting any sort of introduction worthwhile. Would the business card I gave the booth person go in a pocket, a box, or the trash? How many other hopeful, hungry writers were selling themselves to editors and publishers just as I was? Quite a few, obviously, and while I imagine most of the people working those booths took such introductions as to be expected in the con environment, I still was wondering if their first reaction as I walked up was something along the lines of, “Oh, great. Another one.”

I suppose it’s worth noting that I’m better at dealing with these scenarios now than I was a few years ago. A little better, anyway. I’ve refined how I present myself and what I do, how to say what I want to convey, and shortening the amount of time it takes to say it while still communicating the appropriate and relevant information. As my resume has grown, so too has my confidence in selling myself, but there’s still that little bit of anxiety taunting me whenever I enter these situations. The rational part of the brain-like thing renting space inside my skull tells me the only way to get over this self-doubt is to keep at it; continue preparing myself as I would for any other job interview, and convincing that other person that I’m a seasoned professional with valuable skills to offer.

From discussions I had over the weekend, I know I’m not the only writer who feels uncomfortable selling themselves. Even some veteran pros—people I’d never having any kind of trouble with this—have confided that they still feel that momentary apprehension in these types of situations. “Just keep working at it,” they tell me.

How about you? Are you a natural seller, or does it come a bit harder for you? Are you a smooth talker, or do you feel like your tongue sometimes wants to fight you over every word? How do you prepare for making these types of introductions, and do you have any particular success (or horror) stories you want to share?

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Impotence of Editing

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published April 26, 2012.  Enjoy!


By William Doonan

After reading Jewel's excellent post, I wanted to add my two cents about editing. 

With the possible exception of marketing, the most onerous task a writer faces is editing.  I can pull a character out of a hat.  Here’s one now – Ned.  Setting – abandoned donut shop north of Muncie.  Plot – middle-aged taxidermist despairs of finding love in a post-apocalyptic world.  Theme – unending gloom.  Title – Mounted. 

Tell me you’re not dying to know what happens.  I can write it.  The only problem is that when I’m done, it will be riddled with errors.  And when I go back to edit it, it will look just fine to me.

The reason is simple.  As readers, we are trained to ignore the connective tissue of written language.  Punctuation becomes invisible, pacing is ignored, anomalies are forgiven, and dialog tags fade into the background.  And because all writers are readers, we fall into a trap.  We overlook the same things.  And when we make mistakes in the connective tissue of our own story, we don’t notice.

I’ll use a short story to illustrate my point.

Mounted – Chapter 1

Ned’s hands shook as he glued the beak onto the stuffed bat.  “Damn, he shouted, throwing his tweezers onto the ground, realizing he had glued the beak onto the back of the bat’s head by mistake.  “Damn post-apocalyptic word!”
__________________

Good, isn’t it?  But there are problems.  There is no close-quote after the first Damn.  There’s no such thing as a post-apocalyptic word (unless there is), and bats don’t have beaks.

Mounted – Chapter 2

Oriole shivered, her ragged hoodie no match for the evening chill.  If only her sisters had left Muncie before the troubles.  If Robin and Grackle were here, surely one of them would know how to stat a fire. 

Hugging her poncho tight, Oriole stepped gingerly around the piles of brand-new disposable lighters that littered the road like gemstones, shimmering in the sunrise. 

Up ahead, she saw something flicker in an abandoned donut shop.  It could be a campfire.  She approached carefully.  “It could be another gang of surfers,” she groaned, remembering her last encounter.
__________________

I know, right – you’re hooked.  So hooked you might be willing to overlook the slovenly writing.  You can’t stat a fire.  And the pacing is off.  First it’s evening, then three lines later it’s sunrise.  Is she wearing a hoodie or a poncho?  Surfers don’t form gangs.  And you can’t groan something.  Really, you can’t.  And even if you could, you shouldn’t.

Mounted – Chapter 3

Ned was gluing the last tail feather when he heard the door chime.  He turned away from the peacock as the girl entered.  She was the first human he’d seen since….since the troubles began.  “Damn Buffet Rule,” he gurgled, staring at her.  She was gorgeous.  Mid-twenties, maybe five foot two, mixed Scottish and Mexican heritage, judging by the poncho she wore and the pan of haggis she carried. 

Oriole came forward and knelt by the fire.  She rubbed her hands together

Ned carried the peacock to the display case, and set it next the owls and ducks and penguins, the product of his labor these long years.  Then he approached her.  He extended a hand but she cringed, spotting a distinctive feather that clung to his sleeve. 

“Is that spotted owl?”

Ned beamed.  “Do you do taxidermy too?”

Oriole shrieked as her eyes darted around the room.  “You…you kill them.”

“Well, yes,” he said.  “Otherwise they fuss when you try to stuff them.”

She shook her head sadly. 

What’s wrong?

“Im an ornithologist.”
__________________

Problems?  Actually, this part is pretty good if you can ignore the missing quotation marks, and the fact that you can’t gurgle words. Would the door chime still work?  The word I’m needs an apostrophe. 

Mounted – Conclusion

“I’m not currently in need of eye care,” Ned told her, eyeing her lustfully. 

“Not ophthalmology,” Oriole said, “ornithology – I study birds, I love birds.  I come from a long line of bird lovers.  I could never love a man who, who, who…”

“Shh.” Ned put a finger on her lips.  “You sound like that owl I strangled last week.  Look, we might have our differences, but we can make it.   At least we’ll have each other.  We can forget about the zombies for awhile?”

Oriole pulled back.  “There are zombies?”

“Probably not,” Ned said as he kissed her.  “I mean, I haven’t seen any but you never know.” 

“This is so wrong,” she said, kissing him back hungrily.  “I could never love a man like you.”

“We’ll make it work,” he said, gingery removing her poncho and her hoodie, and setting her haggis aside. 

“Tell me how this is going to end.”  She tore at his clothes, spilling the contents of his pockets.  Ear pins, wing screws, and spools of tail wire tangled with beak nuts of assorted sizes.  “Tell me how this is going to end.”

Ned took her in his arms, remembering the title of his story.
__________________

Problems?    How can he talk while kissing her?  Seriously, there’s way too much kissing dialog here.  Also, there’s no such thing as a beak nut. 

OK, so how can we avoid an editing nightmare?  Here are four ideas:

1)      Go to the TOOLS bar in Microsoft Word, and turn on the GRAMMAR AND STYLE checker.  It will drive you crazy.  But it will save you grief.
2)      Unless you’re willing to pay an editor, you’ll need some editing software.  I like PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing.  It will find mistakes you missed.  At $49, it’s a bargain, and you can download a preview for free.
3)      Read your story out loud.  Read it slowly as if you were recording an audiobook.  Also, try to sound like Morgan Freeman.  Reading out loud keeps you honest.  You won’t be able to ignore your mistakes.  
4)      Find a writing partner you can trust, someone who’s willing to look you in the eye and laugh uncontrollably at your story if that’s what’s called for.  If they can’t do that, find someone else.


Monday, October 1, 2018

When English isn't

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published on November 9, 2009. Enjoy!



By Liane Spicer

"The Americans are identical to the British in all respects except, of course, language." - Oscar Wilde

When I've completed a novel manuscript one of the last checks I do is to ensure that my spelling and usage conform to the US standard, since my publisher and main market are US. This is because UK English (commonly called 'English') is the standard in the anglophone Caribbean. I spent many years teaching this version of the language and Americanisms, as we called them, were/are considered errors in usage.

Don't start pelting me with rotten fruit, dear US friends. Until relatively recent times not only were these Caribbean territories British colonies, but all our high school examinations were administered by British universities. My high school certificates, for example, were all awarded by the University of Cambridge. These guys mark our papers, we obey their rules. And although I've always been aware that there are differences in the US version of the language, it wasn't until fairly recently that I realized how deeply those differences affect all aspects of the language: spelling, grammar, idiom, punctuation, even formatting of dates and numbers.

Here are a few points of diversion that can result in hilarity or extreme embarrassment to the unwary:

Randy: This is a perfectly reasonable first name to Americans. When these poor guys cross the pond and say "Hi, I'm Randy" to the locals, what they are saying in UK-ese is: "Hello, I'm feeling horny." Then they wonder at all the sniggering and outright guffaws that greet their innocent introductions.

Rubbers: In the UK, and here in the Caribbean, a rubber is an eraser, not a condom. Imagine the mild mannered new Englishman in a US office requesting a rubber from office supplies - and mentioning that he likes to chew on 'em.

Table: In a US boardroom, tabling a motion means postponing it. In the UK, it means the motion has been brought up for discussion. That must make for some entertaining mixups in trans-Atlantic commerce.

Lift: In the US the device used to travel between floors in a building is called an elevator. In the UK it is called a lift. American hitch-hikers should also be warned that it's best to ask for a lift (or a 'drop' in the Caribbean) and not a ride - which is a sexual favour in the UK and the Caribbean.

School: In UK English someone who goes to school is a student between the ages of five and seventeen. In the US, it can also mean an adult enrolled in a place of higher education. We call that university - and look with pity on our middle-aged relatives who reside in the US when they tell us they're going back to school.

Numbers: In the US a billion is a thousand million. In the UK it's a thousand times that amount. Thus a British billionaire is much, much richer than his American counterpart - even without factoring in the exchange rate.

So you thought it was simply a matter of color vs. colour, tap vs. faucet, post vs. mail, pavement vs. sidewalk and trousers vs. pants, huh. When we consider all the differences in usage within the US, UK and the Caribbean, is it any wonder that those of us who go back and forth across the language lines sometimes feel like tearing our hair out?

Liane Spicer

Saturday, September 22, 2018

12 Myths Writers Believe

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published March 13, 2016. 


By Sunny Frazier

The other night I went to dinner and met someone for the first time. I was introduced as “a published author.” This young woman, looking way too impressed, gushed “How exciting!”

“Not really.”

It wasn’t the response she was looking for. She thought she’d given me a compliment. I gave her an honest reply.

I’m over it. All the shiny newness of being a published writer has worn off. I can’t maintain the façade anymore. The pedestal has crumbled, my feet are firmly on the ground. Maybe in the mud. Sometimes it feels like quicksand. I’m beginning to understand why Salinger went into hiding, Hemingway killed himself and Hammett became an alcoholic.

There’s no fooling myself anymore. They say fiction writers tell lies for fun and profit. Can writers handle hard truths? Here goes:

1.    Writing is a gift. No, it’s a curse. It’s rejection. There are easier ways to make a living.

2.    We are born with natural talent. Doubtful. “Talent” takes years of reading and absorbing. It takes time in the classroom. It takes studying spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and craft. It takes trial and error.

3.    It’s a labor of love. No, just labor. Below minimum wage. The payoff is we don’t get Alzheimers as often. We keep the brain cells firing.

4.    We have to write. No, we don’t. Nobody is twisting our arm. Nobody holds a gun to our head. Readers aren’t waiting with open arms for our golden words. What we have to do is eat, keep a roof overhead, pay taxes. 

5.    There’s a “writer’s high.” Maybe a rush when the right words hit the page, a sentence that sings, a perfect paragraph. Want a high? Take drugs.

6.    Writing a book is like giving birth. Really? While you may bloat from eating crap for 9 months I seriously doubt there is as much pain unless the pages are expelled via your vagina. Men excluded.

7.    These are my children. Oh, do your manuscripts need to be fed and clothed? True, it sucks the life out of you. Yet, when it’s time to leave the nest and go to a publisher, you cling and hold back.

8.    Writer’s block? More like laziness. Excuses. Fear. Will I be able to finish the book? Will it be as great as I hear it in my head? Do I have talent? The mantra repeats until we have to block it out.

9.    You have to open a vein and bleed all over the page. That’s suicide and you’d be dead. Maybe you’ll become published posthumously. Probably not.

10. We live glamorous lives. Seriously? Is perpetually living in pajamas and slippers with endless cups of coffee, tea, diet soda (or booze) a lifestyle to aspire toward? Things go unattended like grooming, housework, bills, yardwork. We have insomnia with thoughts rumbling through our heads. In the wee hours plots and doubts decide to show up.

11. We make lots of money. Only if your name is Rowling, Crais, Evanovich, Patterson, Steel or any one of the 1%. The rest of us barely scratch out enough to keep us in printer paper and ink cartridges.

12. We make important contributions to the world. Then why hasn’t society caught on? Oh wait—they are too busy living productive lives. They have little time for our insights. They are Philistines who would rather watch Dr. Phil. 

What we do have is a community to commiserate with us. We recognize our kind, seek them out at conferences and online. We can tell the clueless beginners with stars in their eyes to jaded veterans who’ve had too many empty book signings. We’ve heard unrealistic expectations and Hollywood dreams and wait for reality to set in. We’ve finally admitted we are nothing special, just people who choose to be miserable.
But, we keep all that a secret. Instead, we smile at readers and try to charm them into being fans. We nod when friends tell us we’ll get on the best seller list someday. We tolerate disappointment from family members who think we should do something practical. Like make money.

We continue to ignore the odds, the pitfalls, the walls thrown up to stop us. We put one word behind another and fingers crossed it all makes sense. We continue to hope when it feels hopeless. Even if you agree with the above, chances are you’ll ignore the advice. After all, I write fiction.     


Saturday, September 15, 2018

How to Not Write Novel #2

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 7, 2014.  


By Che Gilson


There are in fact many, MANY, more reasons NOT to tell people you are writing a novel than there are reasons to tell people what you're up to.

Let's look at a few of them:

1- I don't know if you know these people (I sure do), they are the people who endlessly tell you about their book but never actually write it. Let's face it, it's a lot funner, and easier, to just talk about writing a book. Actually writing it is work. Hard work. Or maybe it's just that the book has been talked to death. Talk about something long enough and it feels like it's already written. Or maybe another, newer idea supplants it before anything on the other book can even get put on paper. 

2- People love nothing more than a parade they can rain on. And you being happy and excited about the book you're working on is BEGGING for a reality check. Don't let them rain you out! When people ask what (if anything) you are writing just say stuff. 

3- People love to tell you all about what you SHOULD be writing, and it generally  involves them and their ideas, which they've never done anything with. People also want to contribute, for I don't know what reason but this one irks me likes no one's business. Often because other people's ideas are so far OFF from what my vision is that I get really annoyed with them for daring to foist their ideas off on my work.

These are only three reasons! The responses to "I'm writing a novel." vary from actively hurtful, to poor advice, to plain discouraging. It's best to keep your work and your ideas close to the vest until you have a  finished product, or a sturdy support system.

So what are some of the choice responses you've gotten?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

To Read, or Not to Read?

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 23, 2012.


By Eugenia O'Neal

The young daughter of a friend of mine told me the other day that she doesn't like to read.  We were chatting as we waited for my friend to finish what she was doing so we could head out to an event and when she said that I felt, well, gutted would be the word.  Her mom is a reader.  Her dad, too, though he mostly reads business books or political memoirs, that kind of thing.  So I told her all I thought she was missing.  I pointed out that some of those movies she loves so much like the Harry Potter series were books first.  I said that books will reveal much more of the world than she could possibly learn by just watching tv or even surfing the Net.  She responded, laughingly, that her mom had already told her all that but she just found reading boring.  Well!!!

I didn't know what more to say so I didn't say anything.  But, later, discussing it with her mom, we conceded the problem was bigger than Rhonda.  In fact, a couple of the high school English teachers I know, say that every year it seems like less and less children are reading at their age-level.  Worse, their ability to express themselves and to comprehend what they read also seems to be in decline.  One of the teachers has started a book club to help overcome this but they think the problem has reached epidemic proportions.  Of course, it's not just BVI children.  Educators on other islands and in the States, for example, have been complaining about this ever since the publication of the sensational Why Johnny Can't Read.  

For years, the Caribbean prided itself on being a highly-literate region with some of the best schools in the world.  The region's roster of writers include V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Jamaica Kincaid, George Lamming and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, among others.  But, if less children are reading, where will future generations of Caribbean writers come from?

As a parent, I've tried to instill a love of reading in my daughter by getting rid of television, by discussing the stories she's reading with her, by asking her to come up with different endings for stories, and by making sure she has some of the best children's books in her library.  She will pick up a book and read it but she, increasingly, uses her Kindle to surf YouTube.  Can The Wind in the Willows compete with Beyonce, or even Alvin and the Chipmunks?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Interracial Romance

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 24, 2011. 


By Jewel Amethyst

We have been discussing as a theme “Vampires and human” love stories. The thread that seems to be recurring in the discussion is the issue of the forbidden love. I want to deviate and write a little about romance in a more realistic sense: The interracial romance. In this context I am talking about love between two human beings of different races or ethnicities appearing in books and on TV.

I was recently working on a manuscript where a white female of a deeply religious sect living a 19th century lifestyle in distinct colonies, falls in love with a black man. Of course it is a forbidden love, much like the Vampire human love stories. As I began looking at publishers and their submission guidelines, I realized for African American romance, several publishers place a stipulation that both the hero and heroine had to be African American. In fact Genesis press had this as a guideline: “The heroine in romance and the protagonist in fiction must be black (African-American, African, Caribbean etc). The hero in romance must also be black....”


Are we saying love between a white woman and a black man cannot be considered “African American Romance, even if the man and just about every other character in the book are African American? Mainstream romance is not much different either. Even if the guidelines don’t specifically say it, in most mainstream romance both Hero and Heroine are of the same race. Therefore interracial romance, especially if it involves a white woman and a black man, neither fits into African American Romance or Mainstream romance.

That prompted me to look around on television for interracial romances in the primetime series. I examined the last two seasons of primetime shows on ABC, simply because it’s the television station I watch the most. I found while many of their primetime shows had at least one gay couple, only one show, “Modern Family” seemed to have a stable interracial couple. It was the marriage between an older white male and a young (really sexy) Hispanic female. Consequently, that couple also embodied the May/December relationship and the multicultural relationship. And though I am not much of a movie buff, I’ve seen very few recent movies with interracial romances.

Apparently while Vampire/human romances are gaining popularity today, the interracial romance, especially between black and white are becoming a relic of the past, at least on television. It is not a true reflection of today’s society where there is an increase in interracial marriages. According to the PEW report, 20 years ago only 6.8% of marriages involved couples of different races. Today, that number has more than doubled to 14.6%.

So why don’t the romance in books and on primetime television reflect the trends of today’s society in terms of interracial romances? I can postulate a few reasons:
 Interracial relationships are still uncomfortable to many viewer/readers?
 Too many complicated societal issues?
 Writers/producers fear offending particular races by having stereotypes?
 Or is it because fiction simply lags behind reality?
What’s your take on it?


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Life Lessons

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 22, 2010.  Enjoy!


By Terence Taylor


I had an experience the other day that left me filled with so many contradictory emotions that I feel the need to write about it. My writing has always been where I’ve gone when I need clarity. As I explain in print what I’m feeling, I often understand better what it is that I’m actually going through.

My adolescence and even my adult life is littered with lengthy, heartfelt, meticulously typed letters to lovers, friends and family detailing how I felt after fights -- explaining in the overly articulate detail of aftermath why I really won or why I was apologizing -- or as a way to release inner thoughts, positive or negative, that I had trouble expressing in person. There’s even a stack of old journals written to myself from the eighties that I’m almost afraid to re-read, remembering the highs and the lows of those years. Words have the power to bring back both the pleasure and the pain of the past, sometimes more vividly than is comfortable.

This particular event occurred at my local Chase bank, as I entered with my battered bike to get twenty dollars from my account to buy some vegetables at a local farmer’s market to make a salad. The day before I’d grilled some salmon I’d bought on sale, cooked enough for two meals, and realized that I could add it to a cold salad on a hot day, if I just steeled myself for one brief exposure to the heat and humidity to get the fixings.

I was in a good mood. The day was a classically hot and muggy New York summer Sunday, but the idea of eating a cold salad in front of the fan, in front of the computer, pleased me no end and made it worth venturing out.

A black man my age, maybe a little younger, but with a harder history, opened the door with the broad smile of someone who wanted something.

“Come on in, brother!” he said, and ushered me inside, adding that any help to him on my way out would be appreciated. I’m one of those people who will always buy a meal for anyone on the street who says they’re hungry and asks to be fed. I’d like to think I’d clothe the naked as well. But I stopped handing out cash in the nineties, as it got harder to earn and as more people, younger and in better shape than I, were asking me for it, with increasing belligerence, as if somehow it was my duty.

He had a plastic cooler next to him, and as I got my solitary twenty from the cash machine, all I could afford to take out that day, a white woman who‘d walked out as I entered came back to the door and sheepishly handed him a dollar for one of the tiny bottles of water he had on ice for sale, her eyes downcast in guilt. I finished my transaction, and turned to go.

As I approached the door, he began his spiel again, rapidly going from a fake cheerful, “Gonna help a brother out?” to snide derision as it became clear I had no intention of doing so. By the time I hit the door, he was accusing me of letting down the black race by not giving him money, and I felt a flush of embarrassment rise as I exited. Not content, he followed me out the door, and continued his tirade.

I got mad and started responding, yelled back that he was no great representative, and that I had done more for black people than he could imagine, and in return was told, “You don’t even sound black!” spat out as if it was the worst thing he could think of to say. And it was. I launched into a rant that I cut off only because I was heading across a street with my bike and didn’t want to be smeared across Fifth Avenue by traffic.

He stepped back inside the air-conditioned ATM to peddle his wares and his line. I biked down to the Farmer’s Market, angry and ashamed, without knowing why I was reacting so strongly. I understand now, of course, after taking time to process it and talking to several friends of assorted ethnicities about the encounter.

But as I fumed then and came up with all the things I could have said to put him in his place, I came back to one thing. He was a hustler and he’d hustled me. Guilt is the panhandler’s first line of offense, and he’d just clicked into a mode that had worked for him in the past with articulate middle class black folk who may feel some residual guilt that they’re doing better than their less successful fellows.

It wasn’t any great insight he was exercising, or even a truth he was revealing. It was an animal survival reflex. Tearing into him, showing off the high verbal skills he’d mocked, wouldn’t make me the winner, or make me feel any better, even if I made it past his emotional armor to get in a dig.

I was left confronting my real issue. Why do I feel guilty about being educated, being a professional black writer who owns his own home (though still broke at times between jobs), has travelled the world, written and produced hours of television seen across the planet, with two published novels? And why should I?

Of course the obvious answer is that I shouldn’t, but all my life I’ve had to deal with people, both black and white, who have tried, as so many did with Barack Obama, to define my blackness. In my Catholic high school, where my Harlem-raised mother sent me to get a grounded education she felt would be better than public school, I had an argument with two white friends who insisted that, in their words, “You’re not black. You talk like us, you like the things we do. You’re the same as us.”

To them, my manner and cultural tastes were enough to exempt me from blackness, and they meant it as a compliment in their own weird way. In their minds they were accepting me as one of them, despite my skin color, when I wanted to be accepted along with my skin color, not as a faux Caucasian, but as an articulate educated black man like the ones I grew up around.

On a family vacation trip to the Pegleg Bates Resort in the Catskills where there was no one my age to hang with, a group of younger black kids gathered around me one day, going on and on in thick southern accents that I “talked funny. You sound like that Get Smart guy!”

Neither confrontation was meant to be malign. Both were just expressions of astonishment that someone who looked one way should sound and act so differently from others they’d seen that looked like me.

I’ve never wanted to be white -- not that there’s anything wrong with it. If anything, I bemoaned the melting pot past that gave me thin lips and what I saw in profile as a ski jump nose, wanting to be have the full rounded features and dark unblemished sheen of my best friend David from down the street when I lived in Cincinnati. Most of my life I’d grown up on Air Force bases, surrounded by all races, but mostly white. I sounded like very other kid who did the same. We all grew up without a regional accent. “The newscaster voice,” we used to call it as kids. We sounded like the TV shows we watched no matter where we lived, a flat, neutral, slightly nasal accent, like a British actor impersonating an American.

Honey, I can “code switch” with the best of them in a room of black folks at ease, dropping the professional veneer many of us affect at work to be taken seriously. But my default is that nasal Get Smart guy, and on the phone, I’ve had more than one misunderstanding because of the way I sound -- a blessing and a curse, as they say, that has worked both to my advantage and disadvantage. I know I am not alone in any of this, and that we’re all susceptible to having that button pushed. Which brings me to my realization.

Why have we allowed ourselves to culturally support the idea that educated black people are somehow losing their heritage if they rise up the economic ladder into the middle class and above, when for generations we were told to do exactly that by the best and the brightest among us? There’s no reason I should feel guilty for living up to guidelines laid down by Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora neale Hurston, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King and a host of others.

My emotional reaction, the flash of shame and guilt that the panhandler’s hurled abuse raised in me isn’t his fault -- it isn’t the fault of everyone who’s ever told a black kid that doing well in school is somehow a disgrace, that speaking “proper English” well enough to get a good job is turning your back on your people.

It’s my fault for listening, for letting myself diminish the years I spent staying up and studying to get passing grades (not always by as wide a margin as I would have liked), the years I spent working when I could have been partying (not that I didn’t party at all -- oh, I did!), the time I spent becoming the person I am today, a guy I finally appreciate.

That guy is black -- not African-American. My gene pool is far too diffuse for me to claim any one branch of my family tree as my sole origin. Like most of us, I am a Black-American mutt, a wonderful genetic soup cooked up from the races, cultures and widespread geographies that combined to make me. I carry them all proudly, the good and the bad, as we all do in this gumbo called the United States, as divisive as we are.

Short of recent immigrants, no one here is pure anything. That is the chemistry that drives this nation forward -- a distillation process that reduces everything and everyone down to a common goal -- the pursuit of happiness -- without diluting the ingredients it took to make it.

I am resolved not to be embarrassed ever again by who or what I am, or how I am perceived by others. I am a proud black gay man who took decades to find his ethnic identity and self-image in a world and time that offered few choices I could embrace, forcing me to forge my own path. I know my politics, and they are left and liberal. I know my own mind and it is rich and full of ideas that no one has had before, as are all our heads.

That is what the encounter at the ATM has given me -- the right to be me, as I’m finally able to allow everyone else the right to be who they are, as they please, as long as it doesn’t harm others.

To do no harm -- the essence of the Hippocratic Oath -- the heart of any good religion worth believing in and of any good God. I don’t have to hurt the haters. In the end they only hurt themselves by hating. After a lifetime of Catholic education I’m learning again to turn the other cheek, to feel empathy for the man who basically spat on who and what I am, only because I wouldn’t give him what he wanted for doing something I didn’t want done.

In the end we are all only as good as we can be. How well we do is for someone or something greater than us to judge, if we need to be judged at all. I’m just trying to put down my own gavel, and accept the world for what it is, others for who they are, and maybe, just maybe, if anything, trying to leave things here just a little better than they were when I arrived.

If getting from shame and anger to that quiet comfortable place is where writing can take me, then I’m happy to keep doing it. More than anything, that’s why my writing is so important in my life, why I make time for it, and why I open my mind to where it takes me. It tells me who I am.

And if I see that guy in the Chase bank again, I’ll probably give him a dollar this time, without worrying about what he’ll do with it, or passing judgment conjecturing on what brought him there. As far as tuition payments go, it’s pretty reasonable, and I’ve paid far more for lessons far less valuable.