Friday, February 22, 2019

Two Kinds of 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 August 27, 2010.

By Charles Gramlich

At our first faculty meeting of the year, a fellow named Jeff Howard, a social psychologist, spoke to us. Now, I often don’t find such speakers very interesting but I really enjoyed what Dr. Howard had to say. And though he was primarily talking about student types, I think his ideas apply to writing, as well. Of course, I tend to think most everything applies to writing. Below, I’ve extended Howard’s ideas to writing. These are my interpretations, not his, so I hope I got his basics down right.

First, Howard suggested that there are two kinds of people in the world: “Performance Oriented” and “Learning Oriented.” Performance Oriented (PO) folks come into every new situation looking to “prove” something to themselves and others. Generally, that means ‘proving’ that they are smart and capable. Thus, PO writers want to show others and themselves how smart they are in their work. PO individuals also tend to believe that writing is a “talent” rather than a learned craft, and PO folks tend to believe that if something requires a lot of “effort,” then that reveals less “talent.”

Learning Oriented (LO) folks come into new situations looking to improve themselves. Their main goal is to learn “how” to do a particular thing, and they don’t doubt their ability to learn that material. LO folks believe that “effort” controls outcome and is the key to success. They don’t equate less effort with a sign of greater talent.

A key difference between PO and LO folks shows up when a “failure” occurs. Say the writer approaches a major magazine publisher with a story and gets rejected out of hand. PO individuals take the failure as a sign of lack of talent, and often develop a sense of helplessness, which leads them to either quit writing or to lower their sights. The PO writer may think things like: “I just can’t do this.” If the same rejection comes to an LO writer, the response is quite different, something along the lines of: “OK, that didn’t work. What do I have to change to make sure I’ll sell my next story to that magazine?” The LO writer then begins generating ideas and strategies to improve his or her work to the point required for success.

Dr. Howard went on to say that Americans “take in the PO attitude with the water” as we grow up and that the vast majority of us are PO when we need to be LO. He does believe we can move people away from PO toward LO. Here’s my take.

The “two kinds of people” thing is always an oversimplification but it can be a useful one. I believe Howard is definitely onto something here. For his “taking it in with the water,” I suspect what he is getting at is that all children really begin life as PO. Most of childhood seems to be about proving oneself to others, both adults and peers. And children, being small and inexperienced, are going to have quite a few failures and naturally look to someone else to tell them how to do better. The LO attitude itself is a product of education and experience, although certain cognitive (thought) processes need to develop along with the training and experience.

I think I definitely began my writing life as a PO kind of person. I don’t think I was trying to show others how smart I was as much as I was trying to show myself that I was capable of writing material good enough to be published. Then came the failures. I definitely remember thinking, “I just can’t do this.” And if I hadn’t had a few small successes here and there I quite probably would have quit. I did understand, though, that the route to success most often comes through sustained and directed effort. I began putting in that effort, and was rewarded with more successes. I could see that I changed things and they “worked.” Out of that I really developed the LO attitude.

I’m not sure one ever becomes completely LO, though. I will always believe that there is an element of innate talent in many peoples’ successes. That’s the biologist in me talking. I also still suffer at times from self-doubt; I wonder if I really “can” do this. Most of the time, though, I’m going to try anyway. And if I fail, I’m going to study harder and try again.

How about you? PO? LO? SOB? Something else I haven’t thought of?

Friday, February 15, 2019

When is adultery 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 March 9, 2011.

By Jewel Amethyst

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a divorced mother. On discovering I was a romance novelist, she proceeded to provide me unsolicited ideas for my next novel. One of her ideas involved a military wife who falls in love with a man on base while her husband was involved in covert ops somewhere overseas.

I shook my head and said, “If I do that, I’ll have to make her husband pretty despicable and probably abusive. Readers don’t think of adultery as romance.”

As I pondered the scenario, the writer in me wondered, “When is adultery romance?”

Romance novels have clear guidelines. The leading character (especially the woman) should not be involved in a relationship at the time the romance begins. Beyond the guidelines, I have my own religious views, which do not condone adultery in any form or fashion. But as an artist, my mind was already thinking of scenarios that would work.

One scenario that would justify the new relationship is an abusive controlling philandering spouse. But what if that spouse was actually a nice person?

A few years back I was at a party when a friend of mine told the story of her friend, Jane, who called her in the middle of the night. Jane was driving aimlessly frustrated with no clear plan except that she was leaving her live-in boyfriend. Everybody in the group gasped. The consensus: he was such a nice man. He cooked, he cleaned, he took care of the bills and he was committed. But according to my friend, that was the problem. He took care of everything but he was a dud. Jane was emotionally frustrated and bored to insanity because her boyfriend offered no excitement or romance. He just took care of business.

I of course didn’t know the man and was only slightly acquainted with Jane. A few parties later I met Jane and I understood why she was dissatisfied. She wanted the kind of romance I write about in the novels, where the man wines and dines her and offers emotional excitement. She wanted someone who made her heart throb and her palms sweaty every time he came near. I could imagine in a situation like that, Jane would be vulnerable enough to leave her boyfriend (or have a steamy affair) for someone more exciting who can meet her emotional needs. Could we make that adulterous affair into a romance story that readers would enjoy and even root for?

Needless to say, Jane did return to her boyfriend, trading the excitement of the novels for the everyday mundane of a steady, comfortable, secure relationship. I have no doubt she had a laundry list of changes she would like to implement. But my question still stands: could we really make adultery so romantic that readers are rooting for the adulterous relationship, even though the spouse is a nice, committed person?

What do you think? What scenarios would work?

Friday, February 8, 2019

So, you're a writer? Let me annoy you for a bit...

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 May 22, 2015.

By Liane Spicer

Back in April Dayton Ward wrote this post about the things people say to writers, which gave me the idea to do my own version. Every question/remark below has been said to me--by relatives, friends, or total strangers. As you can tell from the responses I wish I had made, this sort of thing brings out the very best in me. I deserve gifts of chocolate for not strangling anyone--yet.

Why don't you try to get your book on Oprah? 
Do you have any idea what I write? Do you have any idea what sort of book Oprah promotes? Do you have any idea how...  Sigh. Never mind.

I need some quick money to cover my bills while I wait for my severance payment to come through, so I'm going to write a book.
ROFL. ROFLMAO. Bwahahahaa! That's a good one... Oh--you're serious?

I'm not much of a reader but I'm writing a book. I'll send you the first draft and you can fix it up and get it out there for me as you know about this stuff.
Sure I will, you lazy SOB. That's what friends do. Because instead of writing my own books, I'd like to spend a couple years polishing your first draft, researching markets, submitting to agents and editors, following up, promoting, etc etc etc. Yeah, that's what I do because, you know, I took about 15 years to learn this stuff so I could do all your work for you.

So--you're writing the great West Indian novel?
No, I'm writing the great Nahuatl erotic sci-fi lesbian vampire novella. I'll let you know when it's out.

Can you get your agent or editor to read my manuscript? [Asked by total strangers]
Of course. Because that is what my agent and editor do--read manuscripts by people their clients do not know, recommended by said clients who have no idea what or how you write. This is the way we build trust in the author-editor-agent relationship.

So how much do you make? Give me a ballpark. [Said with a condescending smile.]
Frankly, it's bad manners to ask people probing questions about their earnings. Even if you know them. Even if you're family. What possible use can this information be to you? Until such time as I ask you for a handout [read: never] what I earn is none of your [expletive] business. Upside: You've given me a great opportunity to practise concealing my anger behind my mild-mannered facade while fantasizing about planting my foot up your smug rear end.
Are you getting a private jet?
I'll let that pass because you're technically still a child. A money-obsessed pest of a child, but a child nonetheless. I doubt I'll ever be into ostentatious status mega-symbols so if I ever strike it rich you'd never know it--unless you sneak into my shoe closet, maybe. Now get out of here before I whup your precocious butt.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Be Aware Who's In the Room!

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 14, 2015.

By Sunny Frazier

This is my favorite anecdote from my career so far.

There used to be a small writers conference called Bare Bones. The San Diego Sisters in Crime put it on and it was in a church camp in the hills of Julian, CA. The site has since burned down in one of the forest fires.

I was pretty distraught when I walked in to register. My friend J.A. (Judy) Jance was talking to someone and she motioned me over. She wanted to know why I looked so upset.

I told her that a week ago, I'd sent two of the narc detectives I worked with to go check out a chemical drop from a meth lab at one of the Indian rancherios. I was getting phone calls that children were playing in the river where the chemicals were seeping. On the way to the site, another call came from dispatch that a man was chasing his parents around with an ax. My detectives were the closest in the area and they responded. One of the detectives shot and killed the man.

"Today's the day he's coming back to work and I feel I should be there, not here," I explained to Judy. "They said it was a good shoot but what's a good shoot to a young Mormon kid?"

"Honey, sit with us and talk," said her companion.

I really didn't glance at the woman, but I declined. She insisted, patting the seat emphatically. I finally turned to look at her.

"You're Sue Grafton," I exclaimed.

"Yes, I am. Now honey, just sit right down and tell me all about it."

The rest of the conference she kept me close. She wanted to come and visit my narcotics team, but that's not allowed. Not even if you are the #1 female crime writer in the world.