Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Online Friends Not Forgotten

I always find an approaching new year somewhat funny. I live in the corporate world where we exist on the fiscal year rather than the calendar year. Sometime around June, now that’s the end of the year!
I find myself getting reflective because other people are simply being reflective.
One thing that keeps coming into my brain, are writers friends who disappear online.
People disappear online all the time. The job, the family, other interests that come up, it’s a difficult world to persist in.
When a writer goes dark, this is different.
People who love writing have an obvious knack with words. They express themselves with more emotion, and in their expressiveness, I feel I know them better, especially the writers with a natural voice flowing from their fingers as easy as they breathe.
I miss these people. It feels like a friend dropped off the grid. Sure, we’ll exchange email, but what I miss is the way they expressed themselves on any topic, really. This missing is like the occasional itch you can’t scratch.
That leads to wondering: do I do the same thing? I hope not.
As we head into the new (calendar!) year, let us all resolve to set aside some time to connect and grow. The world today is a shaky place, but our online friends are our friends.
Sometimes, the digital divide is not a divide at all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Humble Pie

Denial is not a pretty thing. As I write, snowflakes circle and drift earthward. A cozy, if somewhat alien, lap rug of snow is tugged up tight across the landscape. New paw prints lead from the garden shed to the deck, indicating a depth of four or so inches. What the hell. When did it become winter? Wait. Christmas was last week?

My yet unwritten Christmas missive begins, Contrary to the evidence you're holding in your hands, this letter is not late.


I seem to be floundering in a soupy concoction of denial and misplaced time management. Streams of liquid sunshine and unrestrained laughter float aimlessly down a lazy river. I'm draped across an inner tube, head thrown back, soaking up the shrill cry of a red-tailed hawk, the rugged skyline of pines, the scent of heat on water. I think I must be back in August somewhere. And, dang-it-all, I've lost my interstellar time traveler thingy.

So, no writerly wisdom or blinding wit to amuse you. Just an admission: Not only did I slip off the radar for awhile, but I managed to delude myself into thinking I hadn't. My apologies. I've missed you all.

But, most of all, I've missed that predatory focus that comes with writing.




Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Writing


How did you do over the holidays? Did you get any writing done? Or was it all eating, gift giving, eating, hanging with the family, eating, watching some football, and a little bit of eating?

I actually took some time and got 40 pages typed. As you know I write longhand first, then edit the manuscript while typing it in.

I'm really liking the story so far. I see areas that need improving, scenes that need to be written, but it's coming along well.

I've got almost 13k words typed in so far, aiming for something north of 75k words. It looks like I will have enough from the three notebooks, but I may have to expand a few areas otherwise.

Hopefully next week I'll return with a lot more words.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I got nuttin' today...

Other than to wish all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, a lovely holiday.

Big hugs and a hot chocolate from Germany,

JKB

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Objects in Mirrors

(Apologies for my normal Wednesday post appearing on Thursday, I had a computer go boom. Go boom is a technical term, by the way.)

A year of writing: that’s my summation. In addition to the mounds of hack writing at work, I started and finished two novels from Christmas to Christmas.

How did that happen?

Heck if I know! If I know anything, it is I'm having so much fun writing. And reading! I read twice as many books this year as last. Woo wee!

Woo wee is a technical term, by the way.

I would love to know how your year in writing went. Did you have fun? Were you inspired? Was the struggle between the day job and the writing job a burden? For the un-agented amongst us, how went the search for your professional book fan?

Have a merry book Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Patience Dear Writer


Last week I was excited because I was nearly finished with my latest novel. I could see the end and thought that it was only hours until the first draft would be complete.

Not so fast buckaroo. I worked feverishly on the final scenes right up until the last few pages and suddenly realized, I hated the ending. Instead of one big conflagration where the truth is finally revealed in an exciting finish, I had one sort of medium sized one, and another kind of small one. Not really a good way to end a book.

The last few scenes had taken almost 50 pages, but were a big letdown from the rest of the book. Instead of ending with a bang, the story slowly fizzled out and died. I was so disappointed that I almost wanted to put the story on the shelf and move on. This was the story after all in which I finally found my voice. This was the story with which I felt I would finally be able to get published.

Crap, now what do I do?

I struggled with rewriting it for a day or two, but it wasn't working. I couldn't think of a better way to end it.

So I stopped writing. I did nothing on the story for almost three days. I let the story come to me.

The good news was, that it worked. On the fourth day, I suddenly thought of how the ending should be, and started hacking. I salvaged about half of the 50 pages, but the other half, had to go. You know what they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings. Those pages were hard fought, but in the end, they had to go.

I finished the new ending today, and it's exactly what was needed. I love it.

So I guess my message is, when the story won't write, add some patience, take a little break, and let the story come to you. Great stories cannot be forced. Sometimes they must be allowed to write themselves.

Have you ever been stuck on a story? How did you resolve it?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What inspires me is...

Jingle bells

So, as I sit here and copy/paste this into Blogger, it's about -10 C and snowing. People hurry through the streets with their noses stuck into their scarves, bundled to the eyeballs and over. But they'll still find the gumption to go to the Christmas market and drink some mulled wine.

I think winter is my favourite of seasons ... but not necessarily my favourite *writing* season. I like to see things outside my window, and with the sun starting to set at 3 pm I only get miserable and depressed. (And that's if the overcast snowy sky even lets you see the sun starting at around 8).

I think my favourite time to write is fall, when everything is golden and smells so nice.

You? What's your favourite season to write?

(and is it SNOWING where you are?)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Article and a Competition

Newsweek came out with an excellent article about how 'Celebrity' is the newest kind of art form. It sounds silly, especially when I write it like that, but the article really does make a strong case, and makes great points about how perhaps the power of film or the power of novels pale in comparison to the power of a celebrity storyline.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/226457

Currently I'm getting my novel ready for the ABNA competition on Amazon.com again. I did it last year and was fortunate enough to place in the quarterfinals with a novel I'd written around seven years ago. This time I hope to get a little further with my newest novel, which I believe is a bit more suited to the competition. Anyone else planning on giving it a go?

Hope everyone's doing well out there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Imaginary Conversations with My Main Character

Lexus: I wanted to talk to you about kissing Nate.
Anthony: Wait… what? You don’t kiss Nate.
Lexus: Exactly. I think at the end of the chapter, I should kiss Nate.
Anthony: No.
Lexus: Why not?
Anthony: Kissing Nate would be selfish.
Lexus: I’m kinda selfish.
Anthony: It’s not very smart.
Lexus: Hello? Brain damaged.
Anthony: Um…
Lexus: What is the real reason you don’t want me kissing Nate? You have to admit, some inappropriate suck-face at the end of the chapter with Nate is a perfect tension device. Plus, Nate’s cute.
Anthony: Fine. I don’t want my readers to think I’m trying to live my high school fantasies vicariously through the boys you are meeting on this undercover assignment.
Lexus: Bouhahahaha!
Anthony: Shut up.
Lexus: Bouhahahaha!
Anthony: God, you’re such a bitch sometimes.
Lexus: Oh man, you kill me. Sorry. Um, sweetie, your readers already think that.
Anthony: Again: shut up.
Lexus: And while we are here, let’s talk about some of your failed characterization.
Anthony: Wait… what?
Lexus: You just finished explaining how the world’s religions were gutted as a prelude to the war, yet I constantly say “Oh my God,” and “God damn!” and my personal favorite, “Sweet Baby Jesus!”
Anthony: Oh. I go into that in book four.
Lexus: Book four.
Anthony: Book four.
Lexus: You haven’t even sold book one yet.
Anthony: Nope.
Lexus: What book is this you’re on now?
Anthony: Book two.
Lexus: Let me see if I have this right. You’re working on a sequel when you haven’t even sold the first book. You may never sell the first book. In fact, the last book you wrote might be your first book and that is in a separate genre.
Anthony: Yup.
Lexus: Wow. No wonder you want to be a writer. What else could you do?
Anthony: Hey now! Don’t be ugly. I know many writers and they are all very smart.
Lexus: Yeah, smarter than you. That should tell you something.
Anthony: You’re being mean.
Lexus: I can’t believe you’re married. What does your wife see in you anyway? Obviously it’s not your intelligence.
Anthony: Hey!
Lexus: Oh, I get it. You’re a big squishy man-softie.
Anthony: Am not!
Lexus: Softie!
Anthony: Shut up! I do manly-man things.
Lexus: Softie!
Anthony: Enjoy your Nate kisses, you hussy. This childish conversation is over.
Lexus: Figured that one out all by yourself did you?
Anthony: …

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Negotiating Christmas

Last year, hubby canceled Christmas. This made me delirious with joy. Instead of busying myself with decorations, Christmas trees, cards, gifts, holiday candies and goodies (like I ever bake), I was able to focus entirely on writing.

This did not make me popular with the in-laws.

In fact, the Christmas card we received read, "This has been an interesting Christmas." And then it was signed. Nothing more.

On the other hand, I totally rocked in the writing scene. Two straight weeks of Christmas Break. Two straight weeks of unabashed writing from 7 am until 4pm, when hubby got off work. Oh yeah. AM totally doing the happy dance.

So, this year, guilt nibbles at my soul. Christmas isn't about making me happy...

Thus, I am dutifully planning Time with the In-Laws.

How do you negotiate Christmas? Still get your writing time in? Keep peace in the family?

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm So Excited


I am working on the final climactic scene in my latest thriller. Guess what that means? You guessed it. I'm soon going to have a first draft.

I am very excited about this one because I feel like I've finally found my voice. In case there are those of you who don't understand what that means, it's the unique flavor, or style of writing, that comes from you, when you are in your comfort zone. I'm sure there are better descriptions, but that's what works for me.

Some authors have a such a unique voice, that even if their name wasn't printed anywhere on the pages, you would still recognize their work. The ones that I can think of off the top of my head include, Shakespeare, John Le-Carre, and Tom Clancy. (Tom Clancy in the same sentence with Shakespeare?? I'm sure William is turning in his grave... )

So the final showdown scene takes place in San Francisco in the middle of one of the most famous bridges. Anybody want to hazard a guess? It's color is International Orange. It's about 1.6 miles long. It's considered a landmark. Anybody?

OK, you guessed it, the Golden Gate Bridge.

What's interesting about this bridge, is that the middle is actually a fairly safe place to meet someone, if you don't want to worry about snipers taking you out, or bodyguards jumping you. I'm not talking about the roadway, but the walkways on either side.

My protagonist sets up a situation where he rides a bicycle from the San Francisco side towards Marin, and the antagonist rides from the Marin side toward the city. They meet in the middle, and that's where the fireworks happen.

What happens? Ah well, you'll have to wait for the book.

How are you doing with your writerly voice? Have you found it yet?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The unforgettable and the unwritten

Toni Morrison famously said that if the book you really want to read hasn't been written, then you'll have to write it yourself.

No, it's not as easy as she makes it sound, of course. But I think there's a lot of truth to it. Many times I've experienced a faint disappointment with an otherwise entertaining story - a feeling that I might have preferred a different ending, or another middle, or else I would have changed the fate of the antagonist, or the protagonist's past, or another character's principal weakness, or what-have-you, in order to make the story more satisfying. I'm pretty sure we all feel like this sometimes, even though we might thoroughly enjoy the story while reading it (or watching it as a movie).

And I think this is the difference between the story that is entertaining, but ultimately forgettable, as opposed to the story that stays with you forever.

I do realize this is a matter of taste, but to me, some of the elements of an unforgettable story are: a protagonist that is likable and good, a hint of mystery, a plot that reveals layers and secrets and surprises, danger of the world-changing kind, but also friends and safe havens (fantsay fans, think of the safety and cameraderie of Elrond's house, or the cosiness of Gryffindor House) and then, a happy ending with justice served and no loose ends. And even with all of these things present, there has to be a certain story magic that brings it all together. That is the story I want to read.

If only I had that story to read today! Or, as Toni Morrison says, if only I would just write it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

International Agent Appreciation Day

Hey guys!

Today is International Agent Appreciation Day! Brain child of my online buddy Kody, IAAD is designed to offset some of the real negativity that agents get on a day-to-day basis. Agents in general have a very difficult job, and all this negativity just can't be...beneficial. I mean, think about it. They don't get paid unless their writers do! They have to be the bad guy in most all situations, as their writers want (well, most of them do!) their full, unvarnished opinion on most every aspect of their writing process.

So, what makes MY AGENT Marlene Stringer so fantabulously perfect?

**insert fangirl squee here**

So, so many things. She tells me the full truth, she gets back to me in split seconds, she is always funny, warm and her normal awesome self. She doesn't treat other writers that have her as an agent differently than me (and believe me, writers with the same agent do talk!), she answers her queries punctually, she treats writers trying to break in with warmth and sincerity, she tweets pubtips that, if you're following her and have no agent, will help you get one. Guaranteed.

If she's behind, she'll tell you. She has a real life, and she still manages to do everything for everybody. I don't know how she does it.

But a few special things. She does NOT give up. We've been subbing my first novel for a while. And she is still every bit as supportive of my book, my talent, and my career as she was when she first took me on. She doesn't drop her writers. And she sells. Good golly gee, does she sell! In her first year of being on her own, she's done an amazing amount of sells! Debuts, second books, series...the woman is a selling machine.

She sent me powdered donuts and a pregnancy book that actually helped me with my fear of labour. I mean...MAN. *LOVE FEST*

(But as they say, you don't have to take just MY word for it. Check out the other surprises for my lovely agent!


I know you're asking yourself: all very well and good, Jen, but honestly, what does this have to do with me? If you're currently querying and you need to know a little more about an agent, it's quite likely you might find their name in this massive LOVE POSTING HERE.

Ha! See? Just helped you with querying! Quality agents FTW!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

-30-

Ah, winter. A man’s fancy turns to the end of things.
When I think of a good book after the years go by, I can always remember how it ended, rather than how it began (The clever beginning of The Hobbit being a fine exception).
Someone once said a good beginning in a book will keep you reading, but a great ending will sell the next book.
I believe this is true. When I was ten, or something like that (we’re talking decades here, folks), I read Cities in Flight by James Blish (the older omnibus version). To this day, I marvel at that this collection of stories, a great bit of science fiction by a wonderfully talented author.
If you ask me, after all these years, how the book began, I can’t really describe it to you. Ask me how it ended, well; I could talk about that at length. Cities in Flight has such an awesome ending, I believe, if I can recall correctly, it moved me to tears. I was in awe. I was hooked. I was humbled. I wanted more.
Ben Bova is another author of speculative fiction who does the great ending, and I can think of several others.
When perusing writing blogs, one always comes across mounds of advice on how to start your story, but we don’t come across many examples of writers sharing their endings. Which is understandable, who wants to give away the ending to the novel they just slaved over? It’s hard enough putting the ending in a synopsis. Why, how could I give away the mystery’s ending?
But I digress. What are some of the endings to novels that stuck with you, that made you buy the next book, made you ponder and think?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dating Woes: Relationship Building

Pardon me while I'm distracted by the concept of relationships. How does one go about dating in this day and age? I'm not talking about the tweeners or the college sceners. I'm talking about adults, in their 30s, 40s, or older. How do people pick up the pieces of their lives, insulate themselves in resilience, and tackle the dating game?

To put this question in perspective, I spent two hours helping one of my husband's friends fill out his e-harmony profile the other night. I love this man. If I weren't happily married, I would snatch him up faster than you can gobble down cheesecake. He's that yummy. He's also 44, super active, intelligent, and highly organized. He loves his dog and his cat, is generous to a fault, and uses his sense of humor to mask his sensitive side. Although he's certainly logical, rational, and suspicious of emotional outbursts, he's intuitive beyond belief. He would, undoubtedly, kill me for pointing that out. He's a man's man, you know.

Perhaps I'm a little prejudiced, but it would take a very special woman to deserve him, understand him, complete him. And as I'm glancing through his matches, I'm thinking maybe this really was a ridiculous idea. I'm stunned by the number of women who can't live without their "teachers" (what the heck does that mean?) or their yoga instructors. (Just an FYI for all you e-daters out there: Nothing spells cult or crazy like someone who is ultra dependent upon someone else -- AND who includes that tidbit in her profile.) Of course, my friend is just as honest as he is generous, so his profile is the real deal. I'm not certain that is true of the ones I've seen: It seems that many women are actually typing in the profile of their latest harlequin romance heroine. Pardon my cynicism.

Which brings me to novel writing: ultimately, good writing is about relationships. Whether we couch it in terms of romance or war buddies or detective partners, we are exploring the minutia of relationships. These relationships certainly entertain -- but they also teach the reader how to negotiate the rocky paths of her own life, to enhance the strengths, endure the strains, to determine the worth of time, energy, and effort expended in a relationship. (This is, of course, not to be confused with the various forms of pure escapism.) Without the exploration of worthy, gritty, engaging relationships in a book, the reader feels no pull, no connection with the text, no reason to read further. After all, a kick-butt plot can only keep a reader entertained so long.

Donald Maass prompts writers to explore the various sides of a character, to reveal the heroic but also to unveil the less savory aspects of human nature. As writers, we should make Hero X face the least desired facet of his personality or show Heroine Y that the very thing she despises in others resides in her own heart. This complexity not only feels more honest, more realistic, but it resonates with readers. And once these fully developed, dynamic, round characters interact with one another, the relationship quotient reaches another level. Sparks must fly. Chemistry, compatibility, and chaos -- or their opposites -- ensue. Reader is hooked. Writer is exhausted but happy.

Now...back to those matches...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Listen to Goldilocks


How do you know when your descriptions aren't too wordy, aren't too short, but are "Just Right"?

If you remember the children's tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, she had to decide a similar issue when she tried the different bowls of porridge. The first one was too hot, the second too cold, and the third one was just right.

So what is it, that makes a description, "Just Right?"

Let's look at some examples.

Goldilocks rounded the corner and saw a strange house by the river.

It's a little short don't you think? It's not very interesting, and doesn't tell me enough detail to make a good mental image of the house. What kind of a house was it? Was it a big house? Was it a small house? What did the river look like? Was it fast moving? Was it lazy and slow?

In this description the porridge was too hot. (I know it's stretching, but bear with me... no pun intended) It doesn't contain enough detail to describe her experience. One quick touch and then you leave, not really knowing what the porridge tastes like.

How about this one?

Goldilocks rounded the bend in the grass-lined black dirt path and a house with three windows jolted into view. The left window was about 6 feet square, with stripes of white metal separating it into 2 foot squares vertically and horizontally. The middle window was about 4 feet square and it also had stripes of white metal separating it into 2 foot squares. The last window was only 2 foot square, and had no stripes. Each window was separated from the other by about 8 feet, with green siding in between. The roofline curved down at the edges to make the house.....

Are you bored yet? I sure am. Yes there is lots of detail so that you can see exactly what the house looks like, but is it really necessary? Do you really need to put all these details up front?

No, you don't. It makes for a very boring part of the story, and one that a lot of readers find themselves skipping over, because they don't need to know every last little detail. They want to find out whether Goldilocks is going to be eaten by the bears or not. This is an example of the porridge being too cold. While an extreme example you get the idea.

OK, so let's try one more.

Goldilocks rounded the bend in the grass-lined trail, to find a strange looking house blocking her path. A rounded roofed structure seemed to melt into the hillside except for three odd shaped windows of varied size. She walked up to the first window, cupped her hands around her eyes, and peered inside.

Is that better? I'm not saying it's perfect. I only worked on it for a couple of minutes, but here's the point. I only tried to show only what was different. Everyone knows what a house looks like, there is no need to describe every detail, unless there is something about the house that is different. In this case the house was built into the side of the hill.

Everybody knows what windows look like. They can be different shapes, but unless it is important for the story, you don't need to describe what they look like. In this case I mentioned that they were odd shaped. Maybe later if it becomes important I can say they were triangular, or circular, or shaped like Mickey Mouse ears, the point is if it's not important to the story, you don't need to spend a lot of time or words describing their structure.

I'm sure with a little more work I can make the description lots better, but the changes would also depend on the flow and mood of the story.

So what do you think? Was Goldilocks onto something?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Me, Worry?

It's snowing here today. Light and steady, and we'll have a few inches on the ground by nightfall.

And of course, this worries me.

And so it begins, this most worrisome of seasons. And there's a lot to worry about. There's heating bills, and electricity's going up. Yep: 30% in January. (Thanks, PP&L.) There's the Christmas bills - no speeches today on how our materialistic society has defiled the holiday - just gonna keep the mouth shut and the Visa handy. Then there's the snow itself... Ugh! And which family member has to drive in it, and who do I have to worry about right now? And so on and so on.

Funny how differently children see December!

I suppose the argument is that worrying does provoke (some) people to act to improve various bad situations, and that's the reason why this state called worry exists in the first place.

But for myself (and I'm guessing a lot of other people) this normal response to threatening situations can go a little haywire. We can over-worry, and about things we really cannot help anyway, and it feels miserable!

So...

Are you a worrier? Do you feel that, overall, worry has a positive or negative effect on your life? Does it prompt you to act at all, or is it just undirected, pointless fear?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Revision repose

Revision repose is (a word I just made up) the book that does not want to be edited. You love it; you’ve written all 60-90k of it; it’s hawt – but needs revision to be the book that you know it could be. Have you ever had that?

I’m currently having this with a book I have finished myself. I love it; the idea is cool, the premise is fresh, and there’s a twist that blows my mind. So why can’t I get through a couple chapters without feeling like I want to take a screwdriver to my eyeball?

Neil Gaiman said of The Graveyard Book that he couldn’t have written it 13 years (or however long) ago because he simply wasn’t good enough to pull it off. I definitely feel this statement – I know the book is special, but I think I’m talking myself out of it daily, the revision. So instead of doing 2-4 chapters daily, as is my wont, this book languishes in revision repose with one chapter, if I’m lucky. I hate it.

I can only take comfort in the fact that I’m getting ½ to 1 chapter a day finished. It’s all I can do. I had originally planned to have this revision done at the end of December (to give to betas in January, and Super Agent at the end of January) but HOLY COW. It really messes with me!

You? Have you ever had a book that languishes in revision repose? What did you do? Give up or soldier on?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Babies vs. Chimpanzees

I just read this incredibly interesting article from the New York Times about how babies might have the innately ability to 'help' someone.

The articles runs about 2 pages, but, at least for me, loaded me up with a few ideas into some stories. The writer of the article does a lot of idea jumping, and it was fun to try and keep up.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01human.html

Hope everyone's doing well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It’s Shameless the Way We Flirt

I used to dislike writing at the local coffee shop. I found it too distracting. Bit by bit though, I learned to tune out the mindless chatter and listen to the delicious dialog going on around me in shameless, literary voyeurism.
One thing I learned is I was hardly (scandal!) the only man (and the occasional woman) to flirt with the seventeen to twenty-two year-old nubile baristas.
I love listening to flirting almost as I love flirting itself. Because we are verbal, biological creatures, it is my observation that some of the best saucy dialog comes from flirting. If it’s one thing I do so very much love, it’s saucy dialog.
Here’s some recent dialog from the coffee shop:
“God, I need some coffee, badly.”
“Oh? How badly do you need the coffee?”
“Very badly.”
“I think the price of coffee has gone up today.”
“What? No, it didn’t.”
“Yes, twenty dollars a cup.”
“Get out.”
“Do you want the coffee or not?”
“For twenty dollars, I want a lot of coffee.”
“We have free refills if you drink it at the shop.”
“I bet.”
“Would you like a muffin with your coffee too?”
“Only if it has butter on it.”
“I can melt some butter.”
“I’m sure you can.”
Delicious, I tell you.
In this era of run amok political correctness, some people avoid flirting even when offered the opportunity, and this is a shame. For the barista and her regular customer, the exchange, which descended into thinly veiled innuendo, left each with a smile on their face.
Flirting. Mostly it’s harmless, sometimes it’s not (such as the time I wooed The Wife Unit). I feel flirtatious dialog is sometimes the best dialog. We’re born to flirt. Some of us are good at it, some of us are not, but regardless, a good pair of flirts makes dialog come alive.
Give me flirty dialog!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Un-Crafting Boredom

Indulging in curiosity is a favorite pastime of mine. Unfortunately, I haven't been gifted with nine lives, regardless of my kitty avatar. Fortunately, this habit has resulted in a great many bizarre experiences -- which result in excellent story fodder.

Well, except for the fact that since truth is often stranger than fiction, all of life must be edited for logic and probability factors. That is, the stories we tell must make sense -- even when life often doesn't.

Like most of you writers out there, I'm a people-watcher as well. Back when I was a geeky little kid, I was the girl sitting on the bench in the mall watching people go by. I was mostly interested in observations on human behavior. (And it is true that if you stare at a person's feet, they'll become uncomfortable and try to hide them.) One thing I've learned by all of this watching is that people bore easily.

The Boring of Humans: It's true. With the advent of civilization, where humans were less likely to spend 24/7 on survival issues, humans learned the craft of boredom. There are many ways to become bored, but the one I found most enlightening was via other humans. If you watch a group of two or more people for long, you will start to see the slightly glazed over looks, the desperate glances around the room, the tapping of feet.

  • Distractions: Unless the story relates to them personally, humans will often start thinking about the coffee pot left on, the price of oil, that strange little girl across the way, watching so intently.

  • Ping-Pong Stories: Worse, humans don't listen particularly well. This is because they're often bursting with a "return-serve" story that is so much more interesting than the one they're listening to. You can tell, too, since they're practically vibrating with the need to spill.

  • Long-Winded Speakers: Sometimes, it's not the listener's fault. There are story tellers who never wind down, who never allow for reflection or interaction or reciprocation. These are the bane of any hostess, since all her guests flee in fear.
Why does any of this matter to the writer? I believe that writers are but the reflections of society and God: we comment upon the broad themes of existence, just as we seek to create. We weave the two acts together into a tapestry of literary art, and we pray that we resonate with our readers. We can only do that if we don't bore them.
Crafting the Un-Boredom:
  • Time for Identifying: Regardless of the fact that we're now "civilized" and few of us contemplate the need to survive on a minute-by-minute basis, we humans are still hard-wired to survive. We listen to stories because we want to find that bit of truth that will help us negotiate our way through this chaotic, confusing, sometimes cold life. This equates identifying: we need to see ourselves in the books we read. If we can picture ourselves as the hero/heroine, we're better invested in the meat of the message -- whether we're vampires or cowboys, zombies or English Lit professors.

  • Time for Reflection: High action, all the time, doesn't seem to fit the concept of "boring" -- and yet, if there is no relief from the tension, readers don't have the opportunity to reflect on the message, find themselves in the plot, or understand the survival tidbit. It's overwhelming. The oddity is this: when writers pull back and allow for a moment of downtime, humor, or even observations on life, readers can respond more fully. We can find the real-world application to our plight in life, become more fully invested in the storyline, and engage once more in the text.

  • Time for Interaction: This is a bit more difficult for a writer to consciously achieve. But it's vital for writers to remember reading truly is a communal event. Survival information is not meant to be hoarded but shared. And when humans find the information they need, they can't help but pass it on to friends, family, and future in-laws. Remember how many of your "new book" experiences come via recommendation? After all, how did Twilight become a phenomenon? It certainly wasn't because readers kept their reading habits secret...
We must pique the curiosity of our readers, but we must also engage them, draw them in, and allow them the opportunity to find themselves in our work. It's occurred to me, time after time of meeting some writers, that we are, at times, the center of our collective universe. Some of us think that we write for ourselves. This couldn't be further from the truth: it's not about us. It's about the reader.