Tuesday, October 29, 2019

There’s Ghosting and then there’s Ghastly

In early July, a post made the rounds in writers groups online and caused some consternation. You can read the original post here.

Most people know by now that professional writers (who rarely get public credit) often write books authored by people who are not writers. Thus, such writers are called ghostwriters.

But ghostwriting fiction for rich teens so they can claim literary novels on their resume? This is a different ballgame. After all, part of the buzz these mis-credited novels get is because their “authors” (not!) are teens. Think “WOW-only-sixteen-and-already-a-traditionally-published-novelist.”

There is plenty of puffery in the public sphere, so why do I find this a different order of offense?

Maybe because as one who writes, I know the joy of seeing my name on a published cover is the least of it. That part lasts but five minutes. I know the real deep spiritual satisfaction of writing itself, and to think young persons so completely miss that boat makes me sad.

It isn’t very different from a rich person hiring a well-coiffed escort and thinking it is the same as real loving companionship with an equal. The ways of the world are rife with examples of thinking you can buy what is priceless. But what makes this especially sad is that parents are buying it for their children.

You have to inhabit real writing, struggle with your story and come out alive, published or not. 
That’s the real deal, kids.

{With a nod to Halloween, round the corner}

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why should it be EASY when it can be HARD?

Some weeks ago, at a meeting of writers, I overheard an experienced published writer (I’ll call her Ms. Author) explain the journey to a young hopeful just embarking on the path to publication. (I’ll call her Ms. Newbie.)

“The first thing is to finish writing the book,” Ms. Author said. “But you know, statistically speaking most people who start writing a novel never finish a single one.”

“And then what’s my next step?” Ms. Newbie asked.

“The next step is to find a legitimate literary agent,” Ms. Author said. “But you know, statistically speaking, most writers never get a legitimate agent.”

“And once I get a legitimate, non-fee charging agent, what do I do next?” Ms. Newbie asked, unperturbed.

“The next step is for your agent to sell the book. But you know, statistically speaking most agents don’t sell most books they represent.”

“So if my agent does sell the book, what’s next?”

“Next the book must be a commercial success if you want to sell another. But you know, statistically speaking...”

By this point, Ms. Newbie’s eyes were twice their original size and her mouth was agape.
“It’s hopeless,” she mumbled.

Listening, I had to say something. But another writer (I’ll call her Ms. Wise) chimed in and saved me from a reflexive mumbling attempt at reassurance.

“All true, statistically speaking, “Ms. Wise said. “ Just like life, it’s hard and none of us is getting out of this thing alive. However, it’s a magnificent journey that few wish they’d never started.”

Yes, write your story.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Less Ordered Gardens

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
Olde English Nursery Rhyme

My late father had two sayings he repeated. The first was, “I’m always right,” said in jest, sort of. The second was, “you should write in a less ordered way.” The latter he said in all seriousness, but with affection and the intent to help my writing.

I could blame my structured writing on reading and incorporating too much writing conventions and advice. But, in truth, I am a person who fears disorder. My living space has everything in place, and I spent much time putting it just so.

I thought about it the other day when I walked by two homes one next to the other. The first had gardening of tight orderliness, and the second resisted it.

As I looked at them side by side, (photographs of the actual gardens below) I could hear my father's voice telling me to loosen some of my ordered ways.

The cultivated wild look is known as an English-style garden. I much prefer them to the French gardens, so manicured and carved to perfect symmetry. English gardens take as much work to control and sustain, but they look as if nature could have sprung them forth.
French Style Garden^

English Style garden^

Great stories are the same. They have bones, (for coherent meaning, which comes from internal symmetry) but feel organic, as if one unexpected thing led to another to make a living thing.

I’m in the midst of first drafting a less ordered story. Yes, my father was right.

© By Shelagh Duffett

Cultural Appropriation

The other day I ran into Rona.*
*(name changed)
Rona was a girl I knew in one of my children’s classes. Rona has changed a lot. Rona is now going by Ron. They are transitioning.

I wish them well. People seek their authentic selves all their lives, and there are many ways to that. But something occurred to me right then and there. There is nothing inside my being that has insight into this particular transition.

Oh, sure. Like most humans, there were parts of my physic that I wished were different at various times, though this has lessened greatly as I gained in years. Who hasn’t wanted a different nose/eye color/height or whatever? But the feeling of being in the wrong body was never one I had.

Which brought another insight: I could never write such a fictional character from the inside. I could and would write characters who are very different from me, but only as secondary characters, the way a main character whose inner world is one I know intimately, experiences them. We encounter and appreciate many people as we live, and my main characters will also. But it is the inner world, or point of view, (POV) that will remain someone I can vouch for.

This means that a black/Asian/Muslim/Trans character will not be the POV (first person or third person personal) for a story I will write. I’m guessing this is what the cry about cultural appropriation in fiction is about, and to that extent, I understand it.

But I do not begrudge any writer of fiction who does attempt this, because here also we must allow others to tackle what they feel strongly about. If they do so convincingly, that’s just fine with me.

And, in the end, there is no end to appropriation in fiction: main characters who are male written by female writers, (and vice versa) or a story taking place at a time so long ago the writer couldn’t have lived it except in their mind. It’s fiction.

I just don’t think I could do it well, so I will strive to appreciate but not appropriate.

©Luis Rodriguez 2018

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


I have periods of high creativity and low creativity. But writer’s block isn’t invited to any of my days.

I refuse to have writer’s block.

I connect that feeling of “I’ve got nothing to offer” some writers experience to perfectionism. I haven’t been cursed with perfectionism.

*{Perfectionism as a block is not to be confused with depression, which may block most every activity. I'm blessed not to be prone to that, either. I think Writer's Block, specifically, is caused by aiming at pristine results right off the bat.}

Writing anything, regardless of how well it’s coming out, has to do sometimes.

 I’m okay with that. In fact, I give a self-pat-on-the-back for plowing through the barren patches even more than the fertile ones.

It’s the perfectionist who crumbles half-typed pieces of paper in disgust, or deletes whole Word files in exasperation. Not good enough! Bad! I can’t write!
Which is another way of saying it isn’t perfect.

Perfect, as far as I’m concerned, is an illusion. Going for perfect is a delusion. But keeping going is the real deal.

I’ve discovered this long ago, when I realized that some of the chapters I’ve written under feelings of drought actually read better than what I experienced as inspired writing at the time.

 But even that is subjective.

Letting go of the search for perfection also brings the blessing of knocking down that thing, the writer’s block.
Knocking it off block by block.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Going to the Market

I know how to choose a good avocado at the supermarket, or a melon at the farmer’s market. But blimey if I know how best to market a book, and books are what I read, write and live.

Other than self-publishers, authors have little to no say about marketing. The title, the cover, the rest--- are the provenance of marketing, and there are specialists for these in the publishing world. This is what they do. Many of my published writer friends roll their eyes when asked, “How did you choose the cover?” 
They didn’t.

I have written about letting others change the title, (mine are too prosaic) and the covers, (my tendency is to the too-precious and not fitting for market) but I think this article in Publishers Weekly by the amazing Jane Friedman-- gives the whole story as authors experience it.
{In case the inserted link doesn’t work, here it is again:
Because this is how much I like it}

Marketing folks make mistakes, too. But what they know is different enough from what writers know that it's a good idea to accept their input, even though it can sting. If our stories are our children, a title/cover suggestion is akin to having to accept a teacher’s plan for your child that feels oh-so-wrong. But is it?

To quote Winnie the Pooh: “Think, think, think.

And then let it go. Because unlike your flesh and blood child, you have to. And the marketers are often right, anyway. It’s a long road to market, and we need all the friends our books can have.