The Art of Creating Memorable Villains Whatever Your Genre

Today’s guest is Lisa Alber, author of Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery. Lisa describes herself as “ever distractible,” and you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon, her first novel; she is currently working on the next novel in the series.

 This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars) 

Of her post today, Lisa says: “I write crime fiction, so I’m fascinated by villains in all their diversity. However, I notice that when we talk about ‘villains,’ we tend to think only in terms of genre fiction such as mystery, suspense, and thriller. I suppose I’m passionate about this topic because villains get a bad rap at times (in literary terms). The truth is that villainy pertains to all genres because all stories need conflict. A story is only as good as its villain.” You can connect with Lisa on Twitter and Facebook, and on her blog, too!

The Art of Creating Memorable Villains Whatever Your Genre I once had a wise-woman teacher who said, “Your story is only as good as your villain.” Being a new writer, the word “villain” confused me. It had me imagining serial killers and blood-sucking demons, which wasn’t my thing. I didn’t truly understand what she meant until I started thinking of villains as tricksters. In mythology, the trickster deities break the rules of civilized life. They’re often malicious, but not always. They exist to cause transformation. They upend. They are catalysts. This is why the better your villain (trickster), the better your story. Another way to think about it is that without a good villain, your conflict can go flat. This potential story flaw applies to everything from literary novels to high-octane thrillers to romances. No writer is exempt from creating conflict, and for conflict you need upheaval. And for upheaval, you need trickster energy. To get your trickster groove on, consider the following:

  • Villains are people too. Great villains are the heroes of their own stories. They have reasons for acting like total cads toward their romantic leads or sleeping with their sisters’ husbands or blackmailing their neighbors or killing their parish priests. They make total sense to themselves.
  • Get as personal with your villain as you do with your protagonist. Villains grow. Character development and progression apply to them too.
  • The best villains are unique in ways that are opposite of what you would think. They have secret depths. For example, Hannibal Lecter, serial killer extraordinaire, is uber-cultured. This is why tropes such as the cad with the heart of gold and the femme fatale with the secret tragedy work—because of the opposition.
  • Create a memorable villain in part by creating a bright and sparkling inner life for your protagonist. If your villain only incites you hero to think, Wow, that guy’s strange, then no matter how unique and trickster-y you’ve made your villain, you’ve got bunk. Give your hero a bunch of attitude about the villain. Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice is the classic example of this when it comes to Darcy. Continue Reading »

In Praise of Paper Books

spectatorflyleafI recently started rereading a book I bought many years ago – one volume of an eight volume collected set of The Spectator, a London daily periodical from the early 18th century. William Addison and Joseph Steele wrote most of the The Spectator’s 2500-word, witty and wise essays on serious topics of social value. A typical piece warns against the dangers of using “party lying” (i.e. propaganda) to advance a political cause. Another is an extended meditation on eternity. Several offer a serialized, detailed review of Milton’s works.

This may sound like somewhat hard going, but The Spectator is nothing if not eclectic. It includes comic short stories involving a good-natured but dim country squire named Roger de Coverley. You can find parody advertisements a quarter millennium before Saturday Night Live — for an elocution school for parrots or a dentist who offered to extract teeth from masquerade goers without removing their masks. And in one memorable exchange of letters, a prim young woman named Matilda Mohair wrote to condemn the unseemly practice of young men pushing women on swings as an excuse to catch a glimpse of their legs. Within a week, four other correspondents wrote, claiming to know Matilda and saying she was only objecting because she had crooked legs. One even said she was with child “despite her crooked legs.” It’s an exchange I could easily see happening on Twitter.

The Spectator was wildly popular in its time, with an estimated daily readership, in London’s fashionable coffeehouses and salons, of nearly 20,000 at a time when books were typically printed in lots of 500. Even before the daily issues stopped running, publishers were collecting the essays into an eight-volume set that was reprinted every few years for more than a century. It only began to fall out of favor in the late 19th century.

My volume is part of a small (duodecimo) leather-bound, illustrated set from the 1767 London printing. Because The Spectator was so popular, you can still find individual eighteenth-century volumes in good condition for about the cost of a modern hardback. This particular volume played a role in my own life. When my wife and I were courting, I used to read the essays aloud to her. She particularly liked one that explored the value of a garden — the essayist suggests using evergreens to create a winter garden and recommends using plants native to the area, “such as rejoice in the soil.” (By the way, reading your favorite works aloud is not a bad way to find a soulmate.)

The thing that delights me most about this particular book, though, is the inscriptions written in the flyleaf by the book’s previous owners. Continue Reading »

A ‘Logic Model’ for Author Success

Logic cube“Managing our career.” “Managing our expectations.” “Managing our resources and time.” All these “management” terms being applied to the writing life — with good reason — can make it sound like we might actually need an MBA to reach our goals as writers.

In fact, in this age of the “writer as an entrepreneur” responsible for a growing share of the work required to not only create but also to sell a book, adding management skills to our repertoire of abilities is not at all a bad idea. Which is why a group of smart thinkers at GrubStreet — the Boston-based writing nonprofit that happens to be my in-town writing family — have come up with a tool to help writers become more strategic without having this task become yet another item on an already-overflowing to-do list.

And it happens to be based on a classic non-profit management tool.

Fascinated by the concept of applying a real-life management system to the often messy and unstructured process of writing, publishing and promoting one’s books, I asked authors Katrin Schumann and Lynne Griffin, who together lead GrubStreet’s Launch Lab program where this tool is taught, to walk me through it.

Called the “Logic Model” (sound like an MBA course offering? read on….), its goal is to help writers make the best decisions about where to focus their creative energies and efforts when it’s time to launch their books.

Katrin and Lynne explained that often, as launch time approaches, authors get overwhelmed by thinking that they have to do “everything:” Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, ad campaigns, bookstore talks, conference panels, media articles, email newsletters, book clubs…you name it. But inevitably, this kind of effort is depleting. We wind up doing too much, including things that don’t match our unique personality, skills, or career goals.

The Logic Model frees us from this by helping identify what our goals really are and where our true interests and strengths lie, allowing us to then develop a framework for deciding which areas it makes the most sense to focus on when launching a book.

It starts by dividing the thought process into three categories: Continue Reading »

An Agent’s Role in Shaping an Author’s Career and the Second Book

Maze at Chatsworth gardens (tiltshift)

photo by Gavin Wray

Today I want to talk about the literary agent’s role, not just in selling an author’s book, but in shaping their career. It’s a more nebulous part of the job description, beyond the editing, negotiating and contract work that comprises the nuts and bolts of the job. I’ve also found it to be both the most exciting and the hardest part of what I do.

I love thinking alongside an author about the direction in which they want their career to go. Thinking long term is an important part of the initial conversation an author should have with their agent as you want to be on the same page, and while of course that path isn’t set in stone, it’s a good idea for an author to have a general vision which she can share with her agent at the beginning.

I still believe in the old-fashioned way of growing an author–book by book, review by review, and fan by fan. And to that end, an agent’s job really begins after she’s helped edit the book and placed it with a publisher. It’s her job to then foster a relationship between the author and the editor, and in turn that editor’s publicity and marketing department, which means making introductions, setting up meetings at the appropriate time before publication, and actively participating in the outreach (either blurbs or advance reviews/conferences/festivals/film contacts/bloggers etc) along the way.

With long-term thinking in mind, an agent also has to work strategically alongside the author about what book two (or three or four) is going to be. That can sometimes involve a tough-love conversation when an agent doesn’t think that follow-up book is strong enough. I once heard an editor say (rather glibly, I might add) that everyone can write one good book but it’s the ones who continue to write better and better books that separate the good from the great. I don’t think that’s the case. I certainly can’t write one good book and I am guessing neither can she (those that can’t, teach and all that), but it is something that writers struggle with. Continue Reading »

The Thrill of the Write

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Photo by Flickr’s Storm Crypt

Recently I read on Kirkus about novelists “who do really funky research.” Like Jodi Picoult who spent time in a prison. Susan Minot traveled to Uganda to get to know girls kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Peter Rock explored an underground shelter used by former members of a New Age religion. Ann Tyler has written: “I write because I want more than one life.”

It made me wonder. What would I do? How far would I go? My just-finished work in progress is about the Vietnam era, and it’s been tough. A girl coming to age, watching young men she cares about grappling with going to war. It’s been hard, not just to hear about and think about all that went on during the war (I’ve interviewed vets, read lots of books, and watched tons of video footage), but it’s also been tough to get into the mind of young soldiers, particularly those who’ve come back with PTSD.

I’ve struggled and (consequently) so has my main character. She’s never seen combat and neither have I. Once when I was a kid I was living in unstable Uganda and a guard shoved a machine gun into the Land Rover I was riding in, but that’s the closest I’ve come to a wartime experience.

My next WIP is about an adrenaline junkie who does extreme things for a thrill, to make himself feel more alive. I made a list of things I would might think about doing to research that novel.

1. Visit a warzone. If I did, would there be any way I could truly feel the feelings of being a combat troop? Or what it would feel like to be there day in and day out? Although it would bring me closer, I’m not so sure it would achieve more than a glancing view . . . like being a tourist or voyeur into a life. Unless I actually picked up a weapon and was in combat. No one wants me in their platoon. Trust me.

2. Go bungee jumping. Earlier today I saw a terrifying video on Facebook—and by me, I mean my husband (I was too afraid to even watch). A bungee cord snapped as an Australian woman was bungee jumping over the Zambezi River. It took forty minutes before she was rescued, after she floated downriver through rapids and white waters. I don’t want to do that. The truth is I’m as chicken as they come, scared of anything that might cause me bodily harm. But I wonder. I saw cliff jumpers in an IMAX presentation once when I was on a field trip with one of my kids. I had to cover my eyes and peer through my fingers. I’ll cross these two things off, too. Continue Reading »

Dear Soon To Be Published Author,

photo by Evan Leeson

photo by Evan Leeson

Yes, I’m talking to you. The one over there, not meeting my eyes for fear I’ll see the self doubt and despair that have begun to edge out your sense of purpose and confidence.

And you, there in the corner, looking everywhere but at me, afraid to believe that your time is almost here. It is. You’ve been working hard, for long years, carving out time, pouring your heart and soul into your work, perfecting your craft, and, maybe most important of all, not giving up. So yes, your turn is coming. It’s just around the corner there where you can’t see it, but it’s heading your way. It might be here in two months or maybe two years, but it will be here. Unless you give up. Then it will never arrive, so whatever you do now, don’t give up.

 

I would like to sneak in before the crowd and be the very first to congratulate you on your impending publication, so CONGRATULATIONS!!

 

However, since I probably won’t be there when you receive the actual news, I’d like to take this moment to share a few survival strategies with you, ones that have served me well over the years.

 

  •  If you’ve been searching for professional validation, a sign that all your efforts have not been in vain, being published will feel wonderful. It will shift something in your internal landscape, un-pop a highly pressurized cork and your long held in elation will finally have a chance to bubble free. You will cross a threshold that you can never uncross—you will have entered the ranks of Published Authors. Whether or not you go on to publish a second or third book, you will have done something that many aspire to, but few actually achieve. Nothing can take that achievement away from you.
  •  You will experience a series of firsts—first phone call offering representation, first phone call with an offer of publication, your first contract, your first check, the first time you hold the physical book in your hands. All of these are huge milestones, so be sure to take the time to savor them. I mean, really savor them. Let the weight of all the dry years, the lonely years, give resonance to the sweetness of your victory. This is hugely important and something that even well-seasoned authors don’t do nearly enough.
  • Remember, you have not left all your problems and heartaches behind. You have simply leveled up and traded one set of problems for a new set. But also remember, you eventually overcame all those obstacles to getting published, so these new problems can also be managed.
  • As your actual publication date draws near, anxiety may very well be your new BFF. Relax. This is normal. Accept it and don’t feel anything is wrong with you because of it. It is simply the nature of publishing, of a career in which you are actually in control of very little.
  • Find—as soon as you are able—a way to separate the act of writing from the business of publishing.
  • Avoid developing the ego-surfing habit if at all possible, or ditch it as soon as you are able. Unfortunately, this will often be right after you’ve just seen something that will devastate you.
  • When you wake up in the dark hours of morning, or toss and turn unable to sleep for the fears and insecurities nipping at your toes, find a way to pour that into your writing. Let it feed your work and give it urgency. I said urgency, not desperation. One is born of plumbing the authentic emotions that you feel and the other is drawn from the fear of having to feel them again. Continue Reading »

The Importance of Letting ‘Em See You Sweat

Furman Stories TEDx stage“Let me tell you a story.” That’s how my talk began last month at Furman University’s TEDx conference. The topic was “Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.”

I’d spent almost a year prepping for those 16 minutes. Writing, editing, and rewriting my talk. Memorizing it and rehearsing it morning, noon, and night for months till my husband, my dog, and my best friend had just about memorized it, too. A kind friend even gathered 30 generous souls in her living room to listen to it, so I could get the feeling of an audience in my bones. Then there was picking out the right thing to wear, a particularly arduous undertaking for someone like me who hates shopping and basically wears the same thing every single day.

It all came together beautifully. When the day finally arrived, sure I was nervous. But as I stepped onto the stage, the audience looked up at me, the camera started rolling, and voila! the presentation went perfectly.

Boring, right? There’s no real story there. It’s just a bunch of things that happened. Who cares? Plus, it sounds kind of like bragging. And like maybe I’m hiding something. Could it really be that simple and straightforward?

One thing is for sure: the party line is always boring. Why? Because there’s nothing for us to be curious about, nothing to anticipate. No inside intel we could use, no surprising revelation, no unexpected moment, nothing that takes us beneath the suspiciously smooth surface.

If only! But it’s so tempting to tell it that way. Even though it then comes across as just another version of that sugar-coated story we’ve all heard a gazillion times: “I had a goal, I worked hard, I succeeded.” Yadda, yadda, yadda, in other words, the party line. And we all know that when it comes to party lines, the defining factor is that at best they’re a gross oversimplification, and at worst, a downright lie. One thing is for sure: the party line is always boring. Why? Because there’s nothing for us to be curious about, nothing to anticipate. No inside intel we could use, no surprising revelation, no unexpected moment, nothing that takes us beneath the suspiciously smooth surface. And that’s not what we come to story for. The surface world? We’ve got that covered! Because that’s what the surface world does, it covers up the far more messy, challenging, juicy, and intriguing world going on underneath. We come to story for a glimpse of exactly that: what goes on beneath the surface.

Which can be really hard to write about, whether it’s fact or fiction, because it’s crazy scary to step out of “never let ‘em see you sweat” territory. But that’s what stories are about. Sweating.

So, what if instead of the tidied up version I just told you, I went on and revealed . . . the truth. (This is really hard.) Continue Reading »

Why the Where Matters (Part I)

sense of placeI was not gifted with a Sense of Direction. North often feels West, and South usually feels down-ish. To make matters worse, when I travel in a new place, I forget to pay attention to landmarks. I can never remember if I should turn left at the river or at the white shack. Is the white shack even on this road? Wasn’t the river on my left earlier this morning? The next thing I know, I am lost.

I was born without an internal compass, but I also often find myself lost because landscape and landmarks do not interest me. People interest me. The road maps on their faces and veined hands, the direction of their posture, the location of their piercings or birthmarks, the foundation of their sadness. People hold my attention, but landmarks? Who cares! Setting schmetting!

It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, when my writing partners nudge me about the “where” of my story. As in, Sarah, where’s the Where? They are lost. Without Setting, stories feel blurred and gauzy.

The problem? When I consider Setting in my writing, I feel ho-hummy. Setting feels boring like chess or physics. Like Pokemon or cricket (the stick game, not the insect). Like economic policy or bridge (the card game not the architectural structure). Like baseball. Wait . . . you know what? Baseball used to be boring, but then my son started playing, and after sitting through nine thousand innings in 40-degree Seattle drizzle, I now love it. Because I understand it.

So I set about trying to understand Setting, and I am now a Setting evangelist. As such, may we please scrap the term “Setting” and instead use “Sense of Place”? It’s such a lovely term, Sense of Place . . . a lot of people think Flannery O’ Connor or Eudora Welty invented it, but no, I did.

OK, then. Let’s talk about why Sense of Place is so powerful and important.

Sense of Place Orients the Reader. The specific place doesn’t matter (it could be Augusta or Anchorage or Antarctica) but the reader cannot feel like the story takes place Anywhere or Anyplace. I have never heard a reader long to be more disoriented, more uncertain of where she is. A reader must feel tethered to a story in order to willingly tumble into it. The writer must create the Sense of Place that tethers the reader.

What else? Continue Reading »

How to Make Somebody Hate Reading

Hurts like the dickensHere’s how to make somebody hate reading: 

Send them to an American high school.

The end.

Hmmm – in proofreading this post, it seems a little short. So maybe I should elaborate.

I’ve seen some statistics floating around the web claiming that one third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds about right, based on how few adults I encounter who still read for pleasure. And when I think about how literature is taught in most high schools, I’m not surprised.

Some background: I grew up loving to read. My parents were both writers and readers, and the library a block away from my house quickly became my second home. But the high school English curriculum did its best to kill my love of reading, and years later, I watched it try to do the same to my teenage daughter.

How? By forcing kids to read books in which they have absolutely no interest, and then analyzing and dissecting those books in a way that A) almost no student will find relevant, and B) completely sucks any possible enjoyment out of the act of reading.

The argument, I suppose, is that they’re trying to teach them to appreciate literature, not just enjoy it. But I think that puts the cart before the horse. Why not try to get them to enjoy books first? Then, with their interest piqued, they might show an interest in a deeper level of study.

Note: I’m not saying there should be no courses that study literature in greater depth. But I feel that level of study should be offered at a voluntary level, for the few who are actually interested. It’s the way literature is taught in required English classes that I’m ranting about.

It was the best of books, it was the worst of books

So what am I bitching about? First of all, the choice of books. The Grapes of Wrath may be a “great” book, but let’s be honest: it’s also a colossal downer. And I suspect most Americans my age have read A Tale of Two Cities and Moby Dick for one reason and one reason only: they were forced to. Continue Reading »

Should You Read About Writing?

photo by decor plans

photo by decor plans

A writer friend of mine recently moved offices, and in doing so, had to downsize his book collection. He purged several dozen books about writing. Offering them to a group of us fellow writers, he wryly noted, “Take what you want, but remember, if reading books about writing was enough to make someone a successful writer, I would have been published long ago.”

Whether or not writing can be taught at all is an ongoing debate; whether or not one can learn it from books is too. I know many writers who absolutely swear by books on the topic that they feel helped them make a major leap forward in their writing, and just as many who’ve never read a single writing book and do amazing, wonderful work.

As to whether you should read about writing… well, that’s your own choice. There are certainly writing-focused books out there with great content, and I hope people will share their favorites in the comments. But there are plenty of coal-knobs out there with the diamonds, for sure.

So when you’re looking at how-to books on the writing craft, just keep two things in mind:

Most books about writing are written to sell books about writing. One of the books I picked up in my writer-friend’s book purge absolutely insisted that editors at publishing houses no longer edit, nor do agents really have much time to do so either, and only books that are pretty much 100% ready to publish will be successfully picked up for representation and sold. This certainly isn’t my experience; I have yet to hear from a fellow novelist whose publisher, large or small, didn’t give at least some creative input to the manuscript, and I do hear plenty of stories from those whose novels underwent major rewrites after they were bought by the publisher, with positive results.

And who were the writers of this book, whose premise was that editors at publishing houses no longer edit? Why, funny you should ask. They were freelance editors who had once worked for publishing houses, but now sold their editing services and led editing workshops for aspiring writers. Hmmmm. Mighty coincidence, that.

Now of course this principle has exceptions. Continue Reading »

Love Every Word

loveveryword-neoformix04022014Everyone who writes likely has a favorite book (or a hundred). And within those favorite books are favorite passages. My most often-revisited books fall open to specific pages, the ‘good parts’–those which hit an emotional high, or which spark a resonance within me, or even those that had me so completely enraptured in their literary spell that I forgot myself. I have re-read those passages so many times that they have become a part of my writerly being, and the best I can hope as a writer is that someday, someone’s well-loved copy of my book will fall open to a certain page.

Those ‘good parts’ provide important lessons. I am currently revising a project that has been in progress for more than a decade. I have set it aside for years at a time, unable to find the secret magic that would make it what I believed it should be. But this time around, I finally feel like I’ve found the work’s soul. The magic secret was to set only one clear goal in editing–to treat every passage, every sentence, every word, as a ‘good part.’ This requires looking at the work from the ‘inside,’ not the ‘outside.’

In prior attempts to revise this work, I had edited it with various specific goals in mind, all of which had to do with the work as seen from the outside. I was editing to reduce its scale or simplify the overall structure in order to make it ‘acceptable.’ This editing approach was the product of fear and uncertainty. The first (admittedly bloated and awful) draft was roughly 300,000 words. I cut it down to 220,000 and sent it to rather shocked beta readers. I cut some more. I watched other writers’ reactions when I mentioned it was down to 200,000 words, and I became focused on length. I was looking at the work as a product, something to be fit into a package. And it wasn’t fitting. I tried to make it fit, by breaking it into two volumes. But then there was no satisfactory ending to part one. I tried streamlining the plot, cutting characters, but the story lost its heart.

Now, I am doing what I should have done from the beginning. Continue Reading »

How Seth Godin Saved My Career: Lessons a marketing guru taught a literary novelist

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Photo by Flickr’s neubda

Our guest today is Deborah McKinlay, author of some half dozen, nonfiction, humor titles, and the author of two novels The View From Here (Soho Press, 2011) and That Part Was True (Grand Central, 2014), a NYT Book Review editors’ choice on February 16th, and one of Parade Magazine’s “Ten Books You’ll Love For Spring.” It has been optioned for screen by the BBC independent film unit.

From New York Times Book Review (Feb 9th, 2014): “When the British author Deborah McKinlay takes us to ‘the depths of the English countryside, in a house that was an advertisement for the English countryside,’ we recognize that a Lively voice — à la Penelope, that is — will be reporting with wry detachment and affection.”

Deborah wanted to write this post because she “managed to find a happy middle (as a writer) after a long, dry patch (I won’t say ending because it’s a long road) and think some of my experience might resonate with people, and hopefully encourage them.” She believes there are a lot of mid-career, mid-life, authors who are feeling pretty lost in the current, increasingly slippery, publishing landscape. They started their careers in one world and find themselves suddenly in another.

Connect with Deborah on Twitter @yourauntlola.

 

How Seth Godin Saved My Career: Six lessons a marketing guru taught a literary novelist

In May 2010, Garrison Keillor wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the sad demise of traditional publishing – a charming piece, tied up with some winningly written nostalgia. I am a great fan of Mr Keillor’s, I read it nodding. I went on nodding until I was whomped by the following epiphany: I am not Garrison Keillor; a successful, established, fabulously talented author with a New Yorker background, whose op-eds are published in the New York Times. I was, in fact, a mid-life, mid-career writer, scary broke and a single parent. Luckily, these last two facts rubbed together enough to make some sparks. I figured that if the world was changing, it probably wasn’t smart to sit around nodding with the Old Guard. I decided to find out who was riding the forward wave. It was Seth Godin. These were the lessons he taught me:

Join the conversation: I stopped treating the internet as either a postcard substitute, or a portable encyclopaedia. Given that what I do best is write characters, I invented a Twitter persona and started to tweet as her – I still do. One advantage of this was that I could do it anonymously at first, but the secondary appeal was that by tweeting samples of my writing, rather than processes, or other people’s writing, I found some readers. I now have a way to connect with them and, importantly, to figure out who they are. (Not always, as it happens, who I thought they were.)

His advice is, ‘Do anything that won’t knock you out of the game.’ I repeat this to myself regularly – it stops me agonising over semi-colons. I write, I edit, I take a hard look and, if it’s good enough not to embarrass me, I ship. I am often surprised by what sails.

Find a tribe: Seth Godin’s definition of a Tribe is a group who unite around a leader, but don’t simply follow – they share ideas and purpose. I stopped just looking for an audience and had a go at connecting with people who would find each other. I focused my Twitter energy on getting retweets, rather than new followers. Then, I figured that novels might also benefit from some ‘shareable’ aspect. That Part Was True tells the story of two people who correspond about, among other things, a love of cooking. In the rewriting I consciously expanded the cooking element. It is the part of the novel that readers comment on most, contact me about most and ask me to write about most – it’s ‘shareable’.

Ship: I heard Seth Godin say in an interview ‘I ship’. His advice is, ‘Do anything that won’t knock you out of the game.’ I repeat this to myself regularly – it stops me agonising over semi-colons. I write, I edit, I take a hard look and, if it’s good enough not to embarrass me, I ship. I am often surprised by what sails. Continue Reading »