Forget Heroes: Why Heroines Are Important

Photo by Tomás Peñalver

Photo by Tomás Peñalver

Today we’re thrilled to have Martha Conway with us. Her latest novel, THIEVING FOREST (Noontime Books), is the story of seventeen-year-old Susanna Quiner, who watches as a band of Potawatomi Indians kidnaps her four older sisters from their cabin. With both her parents dead from Swamp Fever and all the other settlers out in their fields, Susanna makes the rash decision to pursue them herself. What follows is a young woman’s quest to find her sisters, and the parallel story of her sisters’ new lives. The book explores the transformation of all five sisters as they contend with starvation, slavery, betrayal, and love.

Martha’s first novel 12 Bliss Street was nominated for an Edgar Award, and her short fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Quarterly, Folio, Carolina Quarterly, and other publications. She graduated from Vassar College and received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She has taught fiction at Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and UC Berkeley Extension, and is a recipient of a California Arts Council fellowship in Creative Writing. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she now lives with her family in San Francisco.

Martha tweets ten-minute writing prompts every morning on twitter (#10minprompt). Follow Martha on her website, her blog, Facebook, and twitter.

Forget Heroes: Why Heroines Are Important

There’s a joke I once heard that seems applicable to heroines: If the three wise men had been three wise women, they would have asked for directions, gotten to the stable on time, and helped with the birth.

I love that joke not only because it’s funny, but because it reminds me that you can get to work and get yourself dirty without losing your glow of distinction. The traditional hero tends to stand apart from the people he meets along the way, touching down only briefly on his way toward a larger goal. Heroines, however, can retain and even add to their luster by interacting with others; didn’t Princess Diana famously take off her white glove to shake hands with an AIDS patient? That gesture made her more human, but it also singled her out.

In the same way, female protagonists can offer a new dimension to adventure and quest novels, which is a personal connection to the people and communities they encounter. Although Susanna Quiner, the heroine I created for my quest novel, was a bit grudging when starting off on her journey (reluctance is common among heroes), I wanted to show her living with and learning from the communities she encountered. It was important to me not only that she became immersed in different cultures, but that each one gave her something she didn’t know she needed. I wanted her to be a character that developed and changed along the way—that’s the modern kind of hero or heroine. Elizabeth Bennett becomes a character who can love Mr. Darcy after family developments force her to let go of some of her own pride.

What surprised me, however, were my own prejudicial feelings that rose up every once in a while, which basically could be summed up as follows: “But a woman just wouldn’t do that then.” They wouldn’t leave the cabin, they wouldn’t embark on a journey without a man, they wouldn’t go anywhere without a gun. For some reason, the gun issue in particular plagued me. However, I was lucky that the story was set in a time when guns needed to be hand packed with powder and then lit (I still don’t get that), and if anything got wet, forget it. Since my novel takes place among rivers and swamps, in the end a gun seemed less useful than, say, a portable cooking pot.

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The Secrets to Writing the Best Holiday Stories Ever

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Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Have spooky decorations and giant grab-bags of candy put you in the mood to write a Halloween story? Or perhaps you’re skipping ahead to Christmas and writing a tale about the beloved Christmas icon, Krampus? No matter what you’re celebrating, holiday stories are a treat for readers and writers alike. You may feel like you’re throwing your best ideas away on a story that nobody would want to read for eleven-out-of-twelve months a year. However, during that short window when your story is seasonally appropriate, it’s like the feeling you get when you dig your box of leftover illegal fireworks out of your attic on July 1. Here’s everything you need to do to craft your own story for whatever holiday you want:

If you’re not writing a Valentine’s Day story in a candy-heart font, what are you even doing with your life?

  • Word choice: Use words like “spooktacular,” “Hanukkah-lamity,” and “equinoxious” to get into a holiday mood. These are a lot more versatile than you might think.
  • Font choice: Everyone knows that submission guidelines are relaxed for holiday submissions, meaning it’s cool to use Chiller for your Halloween ghost story. If you’re not writing a Valentine’s Day story in candy hearts, what are you even doing with your life?
  • Chow down: Halloween and Thanksgiving are food-based stories set during autumn, so make sure that all foods are candy, turkey, or pumpkin spiced. Combine them if possible.
  • More egg nog: Your characters should all be drinking egg nog because it’s delicious and good for the soul and every year it’s taken away far too soon. I don’t give a damn if you’re writing about Casimir Pulaski Day, no reader has ever said, “There’s too much egg nog in this story.”

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Between a Blog and a Hard News Cycle

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How Do You Know If You Can Say No to NaNo?

The Internet has mutated reasonable people into wannabe writers…We are blind to the harsh truth-light-radiating facts such as ‘half of self-published authors earn less than $500’, facts written about in newspapers by professional writers.

That’s Tom Mitchell (@tommycm on Twitter) writing an essay at Medium, War on #amwriting. I must thank my colleague in London, Sheila Bounford, for reminding me of it. It could have been lost in the Bavarian Ether: Mitchell’s article came out during our always intense Frankfurt Book Fair week in Germany.

Bounford joined us for Authoright’s half-day conference there for English-language authors. I moderated two of the panels during that afternoon at BuchMesse’s new Business Club — a true haven at a Book Fair that drew 270,000 people. Every one of them was in my train car from the Hauptbahnhof to the FestHalle/Messe, too.

The Internet on most days looks like a clothesline for all the dirty linen we once knew it was incorrect to display to the world.

And as our panelists took questions from the floor, I was struck, as I am time and time again, by how basic those inquiries were. So many members of the audience were asking what they should have known from their own research as would-be professionally productive writers (whether self-publishing or traditionally published). Of course, they weren’t doing any research. That was obvious. And that is the problem. We see it everywhere, in this world in which, per Mitchell, the Internet has “mutated reasonable people into wannabe writers.”

Everyone has decided that he or she has a book in them, right? Mitchell:

There’s lots of stuff we all have in us, a spleen for example, but decide not to share.

Mitchell won’t win, of course. We’re likely to see the spleens come out, too. The Internet on most days looks like a clothesline for all the dirty linen we once knew it was incorrect to display to the world. I was recently told by a regular reader and friend that it was great I seemed to be “sharing more personal stuff” about myself in my writing. I pulled back at once. I’m Southern. Bubbas don’t share. We’re better bred than that.

Grant Faulkner in his NaNoWriMo headgear

Grant Faulkner in his NaNoWriMo headgear

Mitchell’s special target in his essay is NaNoWriMo, which looms once more on the calendar’s horizon. I had dinner in Frankfurt with Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNo, immensely likable guy. We enjoy talking. He didn’t wear his horned helmet at table, just to answer the question I know is eating you alive. He’s aware that I have my qualms about kamikaze writing efforts, although many writers I respect think the NaNo dive-bomb is a good one.

As I told Faulkner, my worry isn’t about the NaNoWriMo month of November. It’s December. Mitchell says it well:

NaNoWriMo must be the worst thing that’s happened to literary agents since alcoholic lunches fell out of fashion. I almost pity the bespectacled bastards, receiving thousands upon thousands of unedited manuscripts, their December inboxes overflowing like knackered toilets, the only merit to the majority of these ‘novels’ being that they were completed quite quickly.

It’s not NaNo’s or Faulkner’s fault that so many NaNoWriMo participants ignore the instructions saying for God’s sake don’t submit your NaNoWriMo draft for publication (or self-publish the thing) in December.

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Flog a Pro: would you turn this bestselling author’s first page?

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Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

The challenge: does this narrative compel you to turn the page?

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

This novel was in first place on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for October 14, 2014. How strong is the opening page—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Do you think it’s compelling? Reminder: “compelling” is much different than “interesting”—it means that you are irresistibly urged to turn the page by what you’ve read. Following are what would be the first 17 lines of the prologue.

One

Los Angeles

The work van was a new Mercedes, white and high roofed, with the bloodred words TURNKEY LOCKSMITH hand-painted on its side.

At a little before 7 a.m., it was winding through the Hollywood Hills northwest of LA, the steady drone of its diesel engine briefly rising in pitch as it turned onto the long climb of Kirkwood Drive in Laurel Canyon. Two hundred feet below the intersection of Kirkwood and Oak, the van coasted to a crackling stop on the gravel shoulder of the secluded road and shut off its engine. A minute passed, then two. No one got out.

As the bald Hispanic driver flipped down the visor to get the sun out of his eyes, he spotted a mule deer nosing out through the steep hillside’s thick underbrush across the street.

Go for a lung shot, he thought as he imagined getting a bead on it with the new compound hunting bow his girlfriend had gotten him for his birthday. Track the blood trail down between the infinity pools and twenty-person funkadelic hot tubs before lashing it to the van’s front grille. See how that would go down with George Clooney and k. d. lang and the rest of the Laurel Canyon faithful.

He was feigning a bow draw when the elegant deer suddenly noticed him and bolted. The driver sighed, leaned slightly to his right, and depressed the intercom intercom button under the drink holder.


My vote and editorial notes after the fold.
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Celebrate yourself

photo by Luca Moglia

photo by Luca Moglia

When I was in the midst of writing my first novel, I gave up. I’d never written fiction before. I had never even taken a class on how to write fiction. I had no idea what I was doing, and I knew I would never get published. I explained all this to my husband.

“You know, even if you never get published,” he said, “It is a huge accomplishment just to finish an entire novel. How many people actually do that?”

And I thought, he’s right.

Sometimes in writing we can get so focused on what recognition and success look like in the world around us that we forget what success looks like to each of us, on our terms. Of course I want my books to be published; I want readers and reviewers to adore them and I want to sell a million copies. I’ve published three novels now, and pored over every review in every periodical and blog, compulsively checked my Amazon reviews and rankings, scrutinized my royalty statements, and done endless marketing and PR for my books, including once driving 1400 miles in seven days to visit 28 indie book stores.

But with each book I’ve gotten less and less invested in the outcome, because I realize that the only part of the whole process I can control is the writing. I have learned that there is great satisfaction in writing as well as I can every day, and in challenging myself to make each book better than the last, and in celebrating the accomplishments that matter to me.

Celebrating ourselves doesn’t come easily to many people, especially writers, who are often (stereotype alert!) smart, introspective, shy, and yes, insecure. All those adjectives fit me to a T. I am a nice Mid-western girl. I am polite. I often defer to authority (or at least I used to, before I became middle-aged and cranky). I am modest. Self-promotion makes me queasy, and I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention. But I have two daughters. I see how hard they work, and I see how eager they are to please. I want to show them that there is nothing wrong with cheering for yourself when you’ve earned it.

I sold my first novel when I was 47, on a day when I had such a bad head cold I couldn’t breathe. What I remember most about that week is going to the dress rehearsal for my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind competition, the day after returning from New York, where my agent had introduced me to several editors and publishers who, to my amazement, wanted my book. At that point I was so sick that all I wanted to do was sit propped up in bed with some Vicks’ Vapo-rub and a glass of orange juice. Instead, I had to go to the dress rehearsal, lugging cardboard scenery and a hot dog costume. When I arrived, my friend Steve pulled out a bottle of champagne. Continue Reading »

Interview: Ellen Edwards, Executive Editor at Penguin Random House

image001I have been with Ellen Edwards at New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House, since I became a traditionally published author. In an age where writers often lament that they do not get edited, I can firmly say that not only do I get edited, but Ellen’s sharp eye, brilliance, and insights have greatly enhanced my work. She is a master at finding the diamond in the rough, and like any great coach, she encourages me to grow and learn from each writing experience. My editorial relationship with Ellen has been one of the most positive aspects of my career, thus far.

I am honored that Ellen took time from her merciless editing cycle to answer some of my questions for those of you hoping to publish or already published with a traditional house. Even those of you who have gone an independent route, I think, will find some of her advice very helpful.

***

How many years have you been involved in publishing, and what were some of your titles?

I have been in publishing for 36 years, the last 16 of them at New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House. I specialized in romance for the first 20 years and am proud to have worked with Kathleen Woodiwiss, Catherine Anderson, Lisa Kleypas, Loretta Chase, and Laura Kinsale. Titles with NAL include WHISTLING IN THE DARK by Lesley Kagen, ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN by Mahbod Seraji, and FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW by Amy Belding Brown. Some current authors are: Monica McInerney, Jeff High, Stephanie Thornton, Simone St. James, Susan Meissner, Donna Thorland, Jeanne Mackin, C. S. Harris, Kate Carlisle, and of course Erika Robuck.

What changes over the years do see as positive for the industry? Continue Reading »

What You Pay for When You Hire a PR Firm

value-of-marketing-strategyLet’s say your book is coming out in several months, and you fall into the camp of those who want to put some time and resources into promoting it.  Knowing that that your publisher can’t commit to much more on the publicity side than mailing out galleys to a standard media list, you’ve decided to give it your all, to go ahead and hire an outside publicist.

But as you research firms and see the 5-figure price tags for most campaigns, a lump forms in your throat.  Your advance was modest.  You know you can’t begin to estimate how much, if anything, your book will generate in sales.  At the same time, you’re learning that the gist of what a publicist does is build press lists, write elevator pitches, send emails, make phone calls, mail galleys and coordinate interviews when opportunities arise.  All of which seems pretty straightforward.  You figure that if you had the time and the nerves, you could probably handle much of this yourself.

What’s more, the publicists you’ve interviewed have been honest, explaining that there’s no guarantee about the number of media appearances you’ll get or where they will be.  NPR? The Today Show?  Highly unlikely, but it’s always worth a try.

Why, then, does the average monthly retainer for a respected PR firm run between $3,000 – $7,000 with a minimum commitment of 2 – 3 months (according to this Writers’ Writer’s Digest article by Mari Passananti, who has done her research meticulously)?  And — especially given that nobody can predict the connection between publicity and sales — what exactly are you getting for this price?

First, quite simply, you’re buying his or her expertise.  Sure, you could subscribe to a service like Muckrack and download lists of reporters.  You could sign up for HARO and SourceBottle and respond to requests if any good matches come up.  But how do you know whom, exactly, to contact on a given list, what to say to them, when or how?  Chances are you don’t.  But your publicist does, and has many years of experience working with the press along with a solid understanding of the nuances involved: How to get reporters’ attention amid the hundreds of requests they get each day.  How to talk to them.  How to interpret what they say.  What reporters want and need, how this differs from one publication or outlet to the next and what makes a pitch into something a reporter can actually use.

Second, you’re buying sweat equity.  Lots of it.   Continue Reading »

Two Pages Tell a Story

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By Hana Carpenter (Flickr CC)

Today’s guest is Yona Zeldis McDonough, the award-winning author of six novels, most recently You Were Meant for Me. She is also the author of twenty-three books for children and she’s the editor of two essay collections. Of today’s post, Yona says: “I have written six novels and I want to share some of what I have learned along the way.  Writing a novel is a like being a long distance runner—you have to have endurance. I believe what I have to say on the topic will be useful to other writers.”

“With a deft, sure touch, Yona Zeldis McDonough explores the ways families are formed and how love can take you by surprise. An absorbing and soul-stirring novel.” — Christina Baker Kline, #1 NYT bestselling author of Orphan Train

Yona lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband, two children (18 and 23), and “two small, yappy Pomeranians.” You can find her on Facebook and on her website where she loves to connect with readers.

Two Pages Tell a Story

I started my writing career by writing short fiction, and the short story remains a form I still love to read and write. Writing a piece of short fiction offers its own particular kind of joy to its author: a story is like a baby you hold in your arms. You can see every little bit of it at the same time; you can keep it close to your heart. It communicates with you simply and directly. It is, in a word, a seamless whole.

But a novel is a whole different animal. If a short story is a babe in arms, a novel is like a grapefruit balanced on the back of an ant. The load is enormous and progress is predictably slow. A novel is big, unwieldy and sprawling; you can’t hold in your arms; in fact, you can’t hold it at all. Instead you have to shape it, direct it, beat it into submission. And unlike a story, you can’t sit down and power your way through it. No, a novel requires the endurance, stamina and patience of the long distance runner. Only the most devoted and patient practitioners will succeed and thrive.

Yet I had a novel I wanted—and needed—to write; how was I going to overcome the obstacles inherent in the nature of the form itself and get it done? I wasn’t looking for a magic bullet—I knew that nothing could replace the hard work and sustained concentration that novel writing required. I was just looking for a little boost along the way, something to help get me through the forest and out into the clearing.

I thrashed around for a while and stumbled on to the answer almost by chance. Continue Reading »

Gender Bias: Fact or Fiction?

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By Flickr’s Michael Coghlan

Lest you think I’m a “man-hating feminist,” let me assure you I am not. In fact, I like to think that in my day-to-day life mine is a pretty equal world—all things considered. But when I hear things that make me think that women aren’t equal (for whatever reason), I pay attention. And we’ve all seen the tweets about gender inequality in the publishing industry: the rumors (and more) that men are more published than women; that more men’s books are reviewed than women’s books; even that there are better roles for women than men in movies.

It’s something I acknowledge—it’s there—but to be honest, I never really give it much thought on a daily basis. I certainly never let it preoccupy my time. And it would never, ever discourage me from writing. And so I’ve never considered blogging about it… until three things happened, three things that brought it into focus, that made me want to find out more.

Those three things.

  1. My latest WIP. One of my beta readers was an Army veteran who was incredibly helpful in my research about the Vietnam War. When I gave him my manuscript to read, he said, “This is the first book I’ve ever read that was written by a woman.” The first book he’d ever read that was written by a woman. (He’s over 70, and he’s a big reader.) That was troubling enough. But what he said next really gave me pause: “I’m afraid I won’t be able to relate.” Because it was written by a woman.
  1. A casual comment by a friend. We were talking about one of my main characters—a man—and she asked me, “How would you even know how to write from a man’s point of view?” That surprised me. She surprised me. How would I know? Are male writers asked the same thing? Do you think Jeffrey Eugenides’s friends ask him how he knows how to write from an intersex POV? How would he even know how to do that? I never answered my friend, by the way. Not because I was offended. But I just didn’t know how.
  1. Something I read about Gone Girl—the movie. No, this post won’t become about Gone Girl. In fact, I’ll just come out and say it: I wasn’t a huge fan of the book or the movie, but that’s not the point. The point is that the article about Gone Girl (on Forbes.com) made me like it a whole lot more. That Gone Girl has an abundance of strong female characters—characters with real substance—and the story passes the Bechdel Test, which is (surprisingly) unusual in today’s movie industry. (That said, I do find other aspects of the novel/movie problematic for feminism and our world in general.)

A movie passes the Bechdel Test if it “features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.”

What’s the Bechdel Test?

I’ll admit I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test until I read the article. So I looked it up. It’s not without its critics, by the way, but according to Wikipedia, a movie passes the Bechdel Test if it “features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.”

There’s a test. Hmmm. My first thought was to wonder if there was a similar test for male characters (more about that later). My second thought was how ridiculous. Continue Reading »

Pre-Writing: Discovering Your Character’s Secrets

Alice Popkorn, Flickr Creative Commons

Alice Popkorn, Flickr Creative Commons

I know a lot of you out there are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, and while you’re not allowed to begin your story until November 1, you are allowed to do pre-writing on your project, and frankly, I think pre-writing is highly undervalued, so I thought I’d talk about it this month.

The reason I’m a big believer in pre-writing is because until I have a glimmer of understanding of my character’s emotional landscape and internal settings, I don’t know what sorts of story events will challenge them. I don’t understand what sorts of interaction will push them to their limits, make them question everything, make them dig deep or lay them bare.

In the pre-writing stage, we’re gathering the materials and ingredients we will use to build our story. Pre-writing is where we discover the character’s juiciness and crunch, their texture and heft.

I get that some people do this in early drafts, and I use to be one of them, but more and more I have begun to take the time to learn this in pre-writing and thus save myself a number of unfruitful drafts. The other thing that can happen is that if we don’t have enough knowledge of our characters so we can truly challenge them, we run the risk of the story petering out. My archives at home are full of stories that simply ran out of gas. One of the biggest reasons stories peter out is due to not enough conflict or depth. If you dig deep enough, there is conflict to be found in the recesses of your character’s psyche. Pre-writing can help figure that out early on to help avoid dead ends and running out of juice.

If the question is Why should the reader care? the answer is often hidden in the backstory.

Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape.

The backstory is what clues the reader in to why THIS event is so cataclysmic for THIS character. Why this hurdle has the potential to flatten her. Why this relationship is so critical to her well being. Why this situation she finds herself in will force her to grow or change in terrifying new ways.

Of course, the challenging part is once we know all this backstory, how do we weave it into the unfolding story as seamlessly as possible. The key to this is through the way the characters view the world—if they are optimistic or pessimistic, trusting or cynical, driven or lazy. It shows up in how they react to and interact with others. It informs and colors all their relationships—both with the people and the world around them. For example, some people relish interpersonal conflict, others avoid it, while some placate or respond in a passive aggressive manner. Do you know how your character responds to interpersonal conflict? Do you know why she responds that way?

In the pre-writing stage, we’re getting to know the intimate contours of our characters and hauling up the ingredients we will use to build our story. Knowing these sorts of things can really help you avoid floundering as you write the first draft.

If you think about it, we all have traumas and wounds, some small and some large. We begin accruing these at an early age and some of them have the power to greatly color how we view ourselves and our place in the world. Just as a physical wound leaves scar tissue, so too do our psychological and emotional wounds.

So how did your character’s wounds and scar tissue skewer her belief about herself? Her role in the world? How others would always perceive her? Does she leap into the fray or hang back, needing to be pushed or nudged? If so, what does it take to push her?

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A Reader’s Manifesto: 12 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has

As I gear up for the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference next month (woo hoo!), I thought it might be helpful to revisit some of the basic story tenets that I’ve been writing about here for the past two years (sheesh, time doesn’t fly, it vaporizes!) Often these tenets don’t come from the writing world, but rather, they’re set by what your reader’s brain expects. Writers sometimes balk at this – after all some of it flies in the face of what is taught in the writing world. Besides, it’s easy to believe that story doesn’t need to be learned. After all, no one ever had to tell you what a story is when you’re reading one. But you have to admit, when it comes to writing a story, suddenly it isn’t quite so clear. Why is that?

We’re hardwired to come to every story tacitly asking one question: what am I going to learn that will help me make it through the night?

One of the main reasons is because what actually hooks a reader is very different from what we’ve been led to believe. It’s even very different from what seems logical, clear and obvious – which is that readers are hooked by the beautiful writing, the clever plot, the fresh voice, and so on and so forth. All those things are great, no denying it, but they’re not what readers come for. Those elements simply give voice to it – they’re the surface, the conduit. Readers come for what goes on beneath the surface. We’re hardwired to come to every story tacitly asking one question: what am I going to learn that will help me make it through the night? We’re looking for useful intel on how to navigate situations we haven’t yet been in, and new ways of looking at those we have. As a result, there’s a set of specific expectations by which we unconsciously evaluate every story — expectations that have nothing to do with being able to “write well.”

But articulating what, exactly, we’re responding to when we read a story isn’t easy, because it’s not something we had to learn, the same way we didn’t have to learn how to enjoy chocolate or how to feel pain when we skin our knee. Being enthralled by a story just happens. It’s not something we think about, because it’s part of our standard operating package – we roll out of the factory with this wiring already in place.

The good news is that we can decode what we’re wired to respond to in every story we hear. We can learn what triggers the surge of dopamine that biologically pushes the pause button on real life, letting us get lost in the world of the story. And once we do that, we can create a story that lures a reader in as surely as a trail of crumbs in the woods.

Here, then, is a reader’s manifesto – twelve hardwired expectations that every reader has for every story they hear, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Meet these expectations, and readers won’t be able to put your novel down. Continue Reading »

We Are All So Weird

3768314626_542d324691_mI am so weird. In fact, if I wrote a list of all the ways I am weird, you’d be reading until January. And that list would only include the weirdness I recognize. Add to that list the things my husband and children find weird? You’d be reading until 2017.

As for you, my friend? You’re weird too. Maybe you’re not quite as weird as I, but let’s face it; you’re pretty weird. I know this because each and every one of us humans is weird. We all think weird thoughts and do weird stuff and like weird things. I know, I know. You didn’t know that I was weird. Or that Jay, the guy you work with, is living in some kind of fantasy world, believing he can re-win the affection of his one true love. Nor did you know that Anastasia, the woman who lives in the apartment above you, kind of likes it kinky. Or that Harry, the guy who works in the deli department, actually has a secret other life, one where he assumes the identity of a powerful wizard. You didn’t know any of that because humans are all quite good at concealing at least 90% of their weirdness, at least in public. I, for example, wouldn’t dance with my cat in public, cradling him like a big, fat, bad-breathed baby, while singing “Sweet Little Kitty Kitty Face,” a song I made up. No I wouldn’t. If I did, you might think I was weird.

But that’s just goofy-weird, right? What about our darker weirdnesses, the thoughts and fantasies and habits we conceal from 100% of the world, maybe even from ourselves?  I understand why we are so worried about revealing our weirdness, but it makes me sad that we are. It also makes me grateful that we have fiction.

With fiction we can explore our true selves in the privacy of someone else’s–Jay’s or Anastasia’s or Harry’s–story. As we are privy to the darkness, failure, and moral ambiguity in the lives of fictional characters, we feel less isolated in our weirdness. Fiction normalizes weirdness. With a good piece of fiction, a reader reaches the end and thinks, Yes, this author has told the truth. He has told a truth about me. About something I thought no one else felt.

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