I’m not going to trick you today, but maybe I’ll give you a little treat—a peek into the psyche of this writer. Maybe that’s not much of a treat at all, but hey, it’s calorie free!
So this week’s theme is What scares you most about writing (and I guess by extension, publishing)?
Oh, that’s easy. How about: EVERYTHING!
But in the interest of brevity, I’ll talk about my top few here.
Now that I will be published, my work will be (hopefully) read and reviewed by strangers. People that don’t have to love me and tell me it’s wonderful (like you, Mom). People who may even…gah…NOT LIKE IT. That’s pretty terrifying. I realize that it’s not rational to expect everyone to like my work, but deep down under my tough, crusty exterior, I’m kind of mushy inside and am scared my heart may not be able to take it if people actively hate it.
And here’s another thing: I’m an introvert. I’ve said it before here, and for some reason, my mom doesn’t believe it, but it’s true. I am a homebody who is very happy sitting at her desk by herself, writing down the stuff she makes up in her head. Yes, sure, sometimes I get lonely, but that’s what e-mail and message boards are for. Taa daa! Instant interaction with others in the medium I’m most comfortable with: WRITING. When I write, no one sees me blush or stutter or say the wrong thing or even blather on incessantly about ridiculous topics (Er, that last thing is pretty much what I do here every Monday, but I do edit these posts and try to make them somewhat entertaining).
But the thought of getting up in front of strangers (if they show up – yep, there’s another fear right there) to read to them and answer questions off the cuff, gives me the vapors just thinking about it. Because I will blush and stutter and feel stupid and inadequate and inarticulate. I’ve done some public speaking before, so I know this to be true. But I’m (almost) okay with it because if it’s what I need to do to get my book out there and be a career author, I’ll do it. Because I’m that determined and people can’t learn about my book if I don’t get out there and promote it. And hopefully someday I’ll get to where my knees don’t knock together at just the thought of getting up in front of a crowd. But for now? Yeah, I’m terrified.
Have a spooktakular Halloween! If you run out of candy, remember books make great treats!
We’re all about sharing here at The Ball, so let’s hear what spooks you about writing/publishing?
Congrats to Jessica McCann, winner of a copy of Keith Cronin’s book Me Again!
From the 2012 Debs…
The first ever #debdish happened on Twitter Friday afternoon and was great fun! For those of you who were so kind to chime in with questions and comments, thank you! We are so grateful! And for those of you who missed it, worry not! We are planning to try it again and promise to keep you posted.
Deb Erika has just finished reading Deb Rachel’s MWF Seeking BFF and loved, loved, loved it! She can’t wait to gush her heart out when release week arrives in just 50 short days! In other news, she is still working on her master plan to extract several pieces of prized candy from her daughters’ Halloween stash tomorrow. Stay tuned…
Deb Molly be at 57th Street Books next Friday night (11/4) from 6:30pm – 8ish, discussing the craft and process of writing & publishing with StoryStudio Chicago director Jill Pollack. It’s free, and there will be brownies!
Past Deb News
Deb Sarah has just released a beautiful trailer for The Bungalow, coming December 27, 2011 from Plume. Watch it here!
Friends of the Debs
Congratulations to Deb Guest Caroline Leavitt whose novel Pictures of You was named one of Bookmarks Best Books of 2011!
Deb Dish — Who is your favorite literary “monster?”
Deb Joanne – This should come as no surprise to our regular readers: Annie Wilkes from Misery. Maybe she’s just fresh in my mind due to recent posts, but that is one terrifying woman. She’s so prudish, but sociopathic at the same time, making her crazy-sauce extra thick and lumpy. *shiver*
Deb Erika has to pick the great white from JAWS (aka “Bruce” if you’ve seen the movie). Now please understand, Deb Erika is vehemently opposed to demonizing sharks because they are incredible creatures who get an unfair rap (thanks to this very book, I know), but honestly, Peter Benchley’s “monster” is not a shark at all, but rather a calculating, other-worldy beast that could be housed in almost any skin. It is its pure intent on destruction, its mindless hunger to feed and hunt, that makes it the quintessential “monster.” Now let’s go swimming, everyone!
Deb Molly Hands down: Lovable, Furry, Old Grover
Deb Linda I think I have to go with Black Jack Randall from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. A gentleman soldier on the surface, and a total freakin’ sadist beneath. Skin-crawlingly scary, and completely fascinating. Yeah, either him or Voldemort.
Anyone else have a favorite?
This week the Debutante Ball has the distinct pleasure of welcoming back Deb Alicia Bessette, from the Deb Class of 2010. She’s here with us today to celebrate the release of the paperback version of her debut novel.
Alicia Bessette’s first novel, A Pinch Of Love (also published as Simply From Scratch), became an international bestseller immediately upon publication. People magazine dubbed it “tasty” and Library Journal raved, “a strong, richly detailed debut novel, with a truly lovable heroine.” Alicia was born and raised in central Massachusetts. A pianist and freelance writer, she and her husband, novelist Matthew Quick, live in New England. For more information visit http://www.aliciabessette.com
[Wow -- husband and wife novelists! Talk about a creative match-up. Stay tuned, because Matthew has agreed to be with us in March to share the release of his next YA novel, BOY21.]
Here’s a little about A Pinch of Love:
Rose-Ellen “Zell” Carmichael Roy doesn’t cook, but she wears her late husband Nick’s camouflage apron every day. That’s her widow style. It’s been more than a year since Nick’s tragic death during a post-Katrina relief mission in New Orleans, but Zell can’t bring herself to move on.
Then, a postman’s error spurs her to enter a baking contest in the hopes of donating the grand prize to the hurricane survivors in Nick’s memory. After Zell’s first attempt at baking goes embarrassingly awry, she meets Ingrid Knox, her motherless nine-year-old neighbor, and the two forge an unlikely friendship that will alter both their lives forever.
Need a little more inducement? How about this: “Fans of Cecilia Ahearn’s PS, I Love You will find a lot to like here.” —Library Journal
Alicia took the Deb Ball Interview for us. Must have been fun to be on the other side of the questions this time.
Where do you love to be?
Outside. Especially in the mountains, near rivers and lakes, with trees all around. It’s always been that way for me. When I was little I used to talk to trees. I suppose I still do, in a different way. I feel most myself, most relaxed, most capable, when I’m on a wooded path, or a mountaintop, or a secluded riverbank. I’m all about negative ions, baby! Fresh air and sunshine might not be a cure-all, but they lift my spirits.
Do you have any phobias?
I have so many phobias. A lot of them are weird.
I’m afraid of insects getting tangled in my hair. I’m afraid of very crowded places (such as Versailles palace at the height of tourist season, which I had to leave in order to avoid full-blown panic). I’m afraid of paper near my eyes; if someone comes running at me waving concert tickets or a birthday card or a newspaper all up in my face, I freak out.
If anyone reading along feels like sharing a phobia in the comments section, that would make me feel less alone!
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
The occasion of this interview. I was a Deb in 2010, the year of release of my debut novel. Now it’s out in paperback. To think I’m writing and making a living from it makes me so happy.
Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
One storyline in A Pinch Of Love that was edited out concerned a mountain lion. The big cat appeared in and around the town of Wippamunk, and some of the main characters — the good friends who support the narrator, Zell, through her grief — caught glimpses of it. If you read the book closely, you’ll find vestiges of this storyline.
I still think about the mountain lion. What her secrets were. What she wanted. Why she was there. I suppose she symbolizes something, both in my book and in my life. I’m not sure what yet. Maybe someday I’ll figure it out.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Persist. Stick-to-it-itveness is the most important quality a writer can develop. You might craft phenomenal sentences, you might be adept at self-editing, you might take criticism like a pro. But if you quit after the first disappointment — a rejection, a bad review, poor sales, whatever — none of those skills will amount to anything.
In 2007 I was rejected by eleven creative writing MFA programs. Eleven. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so low. In 2008 I racked up more than one hundred rejections from literary agents for a novel I was pitching. I reached a new low and spent a few months crying. Eventually I scraped myself up off the floor and started working on the novel that would become my debut, and an international bestseller. The moral of the story is, if the world tells you your writing isn’t ready, it might not be. But that doesn’t mean it won’t ever be.
Keep writing. Keep going. Believe. You must! Persist.
Alicia has agreed to give a free copy of A Pinch of Love to some lucky commenter — HOORAY! Now would be a good time to share your phobias. Come on, spill!
Not that those kind of scenes aren’t hard…er, difficult…to write. The first sex scene I wrote was nearly impossible for me to complete. Sure, it was because I was giggling so much tears were streaming down my face, but still. It’s tough to write when you can barely see the screen.
(You can see why it’s best if I’m alone when I write.)
The scenes where you kill a character are rough emotionally. (Well, except for this one jerk in my drawer novel. I actually enjoyed offing him. Yeah, I can be a bit bloodthirsty when the occasion warrants.)
But, truly, for me the hardest scene I ever wrote was because it was technically difficult. It’s group scene in which nobody is who they really are, and most of them think the others are somebody else, written from the POV of the one person who knows who everyone actually is but doesn’t want to let on to the others.
Clear as mud? *grin* Yeah, it was even confusing to me while I was writing it. It took a lot of tweaking to get it to where the reader wouldn’t get hopelessly lost on the page.
(Um, at this point it might help you to know the main characters in In a Fix are “aura adaptors,” who can alter their energy to take on someone else’s appearance. It leads to some…er, interesting…situations.)
For this particular scene, the dialogue tagging alone was murder. I mean, dialogue tags should basically be invisible, shouldn’t they? They should just lie there and do their job without shouting “YOU’RE READING A BOOK!” at the reader. It’s frustrating as all get-out to make the tags behave when each character has at least two name-identifiers at any given moment. Total headache.
Then there was making sure the characters exhibited the proper ratio of their own traits to the traits of the people whose auras they were projecting.
All the while forwarding the plot. Oy.
It’s enough to make a writer…
Did I eventually succeed? I suppose time will tell. If I get a bunch of “what the hell?” hate mail after the book comes out, I’ll be guessing I didn’t.
Have you ever had to deal with a case of mistaken identity, either in your writing or in real life? Do share!
Alternatively, do you giggle when you write love scenes? Or, heck, when you read them? Please tell me I’m not the only giggler in the group.
Writing non-fiction is an interesting beast. Most of the time, I’d venture that my job is a bit easier than that of a novelist. I don’t have to dream up complex stories from my imagination. I’m not required to keep straight the details of fictional families. It’s not my job to create the perfect ending. I deal in truths, telling what happened, plain and simple.
And yet, because I write memoirs, the people I write about are real. I can’t hide behind a veil of fiction. The characters’ names might be changed, but they knew who they are.
This is, in my opinion, the hardest aspect of writing a memoir. You feel an obligation to honestly and accurately portray real-life people but–here’s the kicker!–you want to do it in a way that doesn’t offend them. An easy task if the person is your lifelong bestie. Less so if you’re just not that into her.
I went on a few less-than-stellar dates during my year of friending. There were 52 outings, after all. You can’t expect them all to be winners. In each case, nothing was wrong with my dinner mate, per se. We just didn’t click. And those dinner dates were the scenes in MWF Seeking BFF that were the hardest to write.
While writing MWF, my rule of thumb was that I was allowed (encouraged!) to make fun of myself, but not of other people. My book is meant to be funny, but not mean-spirited. So when I sat down to write the scene of a very awkward first friend-date, I had a tough go of it. I wanted to communicate what the dinner date felt like from my end–including the uncomfortable realization that we had not one thing in common–without defaulting to “she was weird.” Because, well, maybe I was the weirdo.
So, yeah. As a memoirist (oooh! I’m a memoirist! I’ve never said that before…) the hardest scenes are those where you open up about someone you might not particularly like. Because that person is out there, and will likely be reading your book. Her mother might be reading, too, or even her husband. And defaulting to mocking or bashing said real-live person doesn’t mean you’re a braver or funnier author. It means you took the easy way out.
How do you handle writing about real people in your work? What if the subject is someone you don’t like?
I wrote the first draft of The Princesses of Iowa in a very methodical way: I made a chapter-by-chapter outline, listing one or two plot points per chapter, and then gave myself something like two weeks to write each chapter. Easy, right?
Well, sort of.
The problem was that I knew what was coming, and what was coming was big: there was a chapter, about two-thirds of the way through the book, that was going to be really, really awful for my protagonist. And I had no idea how to write it.
I was completely terrified. Not only was it a terrible, wrenching scene, and not only would it put my protagonist through hell, but also I was pretty sure I wasn’t a good enough writer to write the scene. It needed to be powerful and terrible without being melodramatic or even cheesy. I didn’t want it to sound like an After School Special. And with every chapter I finished, I grew more terrified, because I was that much closer to The Chapter. Like Grover, I wanted to nail the pages together so I’d never get there.
And then I got there.
So naturally, I got all kinds of crazy about writing. I did everything I could to avoid writing the chapter (I can’t possibly write until I’ve hand-washed every square inch of the kitchen floor!) until finally I got tired of myself and my procrastinating brain. Labor Day was coming up, and I made a deal with myself: I could do whatever I wanted until then, but over the three-day Labor Day weekend I would lock myself in my house and I wouldn’t come out until the chapter was written.
At the time, I lived in this weird little house in the mountains outside Albuquerque, with just my dog for company. I stocked up on the essentials: beer, this particular green chile dip that you can’t get outside New Mexico, apples, ice cream. I turned off my cell phone, lit some candles, cranked up the music, stretched out on my gorgeous little loveseat, annnnnnd… I wrote.
It was hard going, for sure, and it took me all night (literally — I think I finished at 5 or 6 in the morning), but I did it. In less than my allotted three days, even! I have this very clear memory of meeting up with some friends to go to the zoo that Monday, and I felt so accomplished and proud of myself that I may as well have successfully run a marathon.
The most amazing thing about that chapter is that it exists, nearly unchanged, in the final version of the book. I re-wrote every other chapter a million times, but the only changes I ever made to that chapter were for continuity purposes — as I changed the book around it, I had to tweak some details of the chapter to match. And even now, when I read it, I think of that long night alone in my little mountain house, with my candlelight and my folk music and my determination.
And even now, I’m proud of myself.
Bartender! Pour me a scene, on the rocks.
Now I can’t confirm this (darn you, Google!) but I have a very clear memory of reading somewhere (Danse Macabre, maybe?) that Stephen King felt the bathtub scene in The Shining was the hardest scene for him to write, that he freaked himself out so much he repeatedly had to get up and walk away from the page.
Would you believe I had to do the exact same thing to get through a certain scene in Little Gale Gumbo?
(Well, only without the, you know, terrifying hallucination of someone being seduced by a decomposing body thing.)
Now the truth is that there are a lot of reasons why a scene may be hard to write. Like Mr. King’s experience, the scene can feel be a bit too real. Or maybe it goes on too long because you simply can’t contain it.
In my case, the hardest scene I think I’ve ever had to write was the scene where Jack and Dahlia first meet in Little Gale Gumbo. Now when I say hard, I mean it was hard when I started the novel, hard when I went through subsequent drafts, and hard in the eleventh hour when I was allowed one more pass before handing it over FOR GOOD to production. And even then, I was still fighting my way through that darn scene!
Why? It wasn’t as if I didn’t love these characters (I did!) and it wasn’t as if I didn’t want them to fall deeply in love (Ditto!), so why was it like pulling teeth to get ten lines of their dialog onto one bloody page?
Er, I think I just answered my own question.
For those of you who have read Little Gale Gumbo, you know that we first meet Jack and Dahlia twenty years after they were high school sweethearts. We spend a good deal of the start of the book aware that there is a passion between them that has never quite been extinguished, a passion that has held strong for twenty years, and through a number of other relationships, including Jack’s previous marriage. So when the story takes us back to witness the first time they meet, we know we can expect fire.
No pressure, right????
Now we all know introductions are hard. They’re hard in life, they’re hard in literature. They’re awkward, hurried, often times even grossly inaccurate. But let’s face it: they matter. A lot.
What’s more, I knew this one would have to be a quick scene. Jack and Dahlia would intersect at the condiment stand in the high school cafeteria. There wouldn’t be time for introductions. There wouldn’t be time for a languid building of tension.
There’d only be time for Le Smolder.
Well. Eventually, the scene came together.
And for that matter, so did Jack and Dahlia.
So what about you all? Ever had an introduction scene you couldn’t nail for the longest time?