Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Why I Write

Last week, an author shared on social media that they received an email from a new fan. It wasn’t an “Oh, I discovered your book and loved it; I am going to buy every one you have ever written or will write in my lifetime” missive. Instead, it was an “I bought your book at the dollar store and loved it” message.

The author stated that he/she was “miffed” and didn’t know if they should be offended because that’s all the public thinks his/her book is worth and other thoughts along those lines. 

I responded that it all depends on an author’s motivation for writing in the first place. Others responded with similar comments, but there were a few people who said they would be miffed as well and that they would not be happy if their hard work was not valued any more than that. 

After reading that discussion, I thought I’d share here why I have chosen to be in the “writing business” (as a teacher and later professor of composition, as a paid columnist, as a free-lance writer, as the author of a textbook for which I receive no royalties on any sales, as a blogger, and now as an as-yet-unpublished novelist) since graduating from college just over 40 years ago.

First, I write because I am absolutely passionate about the craft of writing. I could expound on this for pages, but in short, I absolutely love (and I use that word intentionally) every aspect of writing prose of almost any kind.

Second, I’ve always know that whatever writing skills and talent I have come from God. I’ve never thought otherwise. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized that my love for the craft was not accidental; instead, it was instilled by Him as well. As a result, it would be wrong (the Bible clearly says so) not to follow that strong pull and/or to not utilize those gifts. 

That’s it. That’s why I write.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention that I write in order to be published or to earn money.

Oh, I hope to someday have a book published and to maybe have a little “fun money” as a result, but do I expect either to happen? Not really. I don’t even think about that. 

I write because I can't not write

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Let's Get Real About Fictional Characters

This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, events, and incidents in this book are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Unless you’ve never read a fiction book or you’re one of those people who don’t read anything before page 1, you’ve read this disclaimer before. The legal folks kept on retainer by publishers require such notices, and justifiably so. I mean, we live in a culture where people file lawsuits (and win!!) because the hot coffee they ordered at a fast food drive-through was, well, hot!

But I digress. Back to every published novelist’s emphatic denial that they have -- to even the slightest degree -- based any of their fictional characters on a person they know or have observed.

I’m calling “bull” on the whole disclaimer. 

As Solomon so wisely said, “there is nothing new under the sun”. And, of course, that applies to fictional characters. Given the time and background information needed, I’m confident you and I could successfully play a fictional-character version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. In other words, I am sure we could analyze the traits of every novel's characters and trace them back to the “actual person(s)” encountered in real life by the very first author who “created” such a character. 

I’ll even be so bold as to claim that, if authors were completely honest (or connected to lie detector machines that zapped them with every falsehood), they would confess that the similarities between their novel’s mean-spirited protagonist and their snippy sister-in-law are not exactly “coincidental”, either.

I’ve never been a trendsetter, but I’m willing to be one. To that end, here’s the disclaimer you’ll find just before the opening chapter in my first book:

This is a work of fiction. The legal team of XYZ Publishing requires that I state that unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, events, and incidents in this book are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 

There. I've stated it. But the truth is that every single character, event, and incident in the book you’re about to read has at least an inkling of a person, event, or incident I’ve witnessed in real life. 

If you love a character and recognize yourself in him/her, thank you for being part of my life. If you’re offended because you recognize yourself in a less-than-positive character, well . . . 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Fact or Fiction?

Other than short stories and a novel written in 5th grade that has long since disappeared, the writing I’ve done throughout my life has been nonfiction. In grade school and high school, it was summaries, reports and essays; in college and grad school, my writing time was consumed by essays, research papers, and my thesis.

As a high school English teacher and later a college professor, I spent countless hours writing lessons plans, student guides, worksheets, assignment sheets, quizzes and tests, notes and memos, and reports required by administrators. All of it — every single text — was non-fiction. Not a single short story or novel in the mix.

When I retired three years ago, I decided it was time to resurrect my longtime dream of writing a novel. My children were raised, my free time was no longer consumed with grading essays, and it was my time to write.

With two storylines in mind, I attended several well-respected writing conferences, where I was able to pitch my ideas to a few agents and even an editor or two. 

All but one were encouraging. But when they asked about my writing background and learned about my nonfiction writing experience, they urged me to write a nonfiction book instead.

Their position was that nonfiction offers a greater chance for a new author to be published. And though several gently tip-toed around it, one very bluntly stated that at my age, I didn’t really have the time for the longer learning-curve I would face as a fiction writer.

And so, I’m ashamed to admit, instead of making a decision between fiction and nonfiction and then forging ahead, I’ve done nothing.

But 2021 has been a year of doing things and even of abandoning comfort zones, I’ve decided that I’m done sitting around dithering.

And so, on September 1st, I began writing a book that I hope you’ll some day be able to find in your local book store or on amazon. 

But where? In fiction . . . or nonfiction? Hmmmm . . .