Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ask the Novelist #3

Dear Bill,
Now that marijuana is legal in your state are you going to have a little . . . something . . . as you work on your book?
--A Fan Says "High"

Dear AFSH,
Chocolate and coffee. Dance with the one what brung you.


Dear Bill,
What do you think about MFA programs for writers?
--Still a Student

Dear SAS,
If it helps you become a better writer, that's great. If it's a stall tactic, might not be the best plan. In school or out, if you want to be a writer -- if you are a writer -- write. Daily.


Dear Bill,
Is it easier or harder to be a novelist now compared to forty years ago?
--Just a Kid

Dear JAK,
Yes! Easier because of computers and the Internet. Harder because there weren't as many of us all those years ago. Typing (you know, typing?, with a typewriter?) and then retyping discouraged a lot of would-be writers. And then there were trips to the library to go through card catalogs and reference shelves. (Ask your grandparents.)

Just keep writing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ask the Novelist #2

Dear Bill,
What's the one rule I have to follow if I really want to be a novelist?
--Rebel with a Laptop

Dear RWAL:
Write a novel. (And you might want to ease up on the italics.)


Dear Bill,
Should I just start writing my novel or should I make a detailed outline including coming up with back stories for all my major characters?
--Chapter One

Dear CO,
Either way or a combination of both or something completely different. Whatever works best for you. At some point you have to leave the outlining and--eek!--actually write the book. Unless you want to be an outliner, not a novelist.


Dear Bill,
What are your thoughts on all the vampire/dystopian novels these days?
Zombie Fan

Dear ZF,
I'm going to assume you mean you're a fan of zombies, not a fan of mine who is a zombie. I have no problem with vampire novels and such. I don't read them or write them because they just don't appeal to me. But neither does Jane Austen or Philip Roth or J.R.R. Tolkien or many, many others. Read what you like to read and write what you like to write! God has given you free will. Well, maybe not so much if you are a zombie.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ask the Novelist

Dear Bill,
What's the difference between a writer and an author?
--Wanna-Be Writer/Author

Dear W-B W/A,
Most simply put, a writer steals material from a variety of sources while an author plagiarizes material from a variety of sources.
Dear Bill,
I have the soul of a poet. What do I really need to live my dream?

Dear Gifted,
A trust fund.
Dear Bill,
Two quick questions. Will you read the manuscript of my novel? It's just over 1,200 pages. And how can I be sure to make some money with it?
--First Draft Done

Dear FDF,
No, and take it to your local bank, hit the teller in the head with it, grab some cash, and run.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Five Reasons Your Loved Ones Lie to You . . .

 . . . when it comes to critiquing your writing.

  1. Your mother loves you and doesn’t want you to feel bad. Again. (She’s never forgotten that little “incident” back when you were in grade school. The look on your face! Sigh.)
  2. Your friends are being (kind of) honest when they say what you wrote is great. (It is, compared to what they would write. It may not be, compared to what a professional would write.)
  3. Your family may not have actually read what you wrote. (You: “Did you like it?” Them: “It was awesome!” You: “What was your favorite part?” Them: “Buh . . . everything!”)
  4. Your good buddy/dear, dear friend fears jeopardizing your good buddy-ness/dear, dear friendship.
  5. Family and friends, less skilled in language than you are, may struggle for a polite way to say “stinks” or “blows” and so may just give your piece a hearty thumbs up. (A thought which now gives this author pause because his family and friends have given some of these blog items a hearty thumbs up. But they meant it. He can tell.)

A family member, friend, editor, or fellow writer who will offer you an honest, intelligent and informed opinion is worth more than his or her weight in chocolate-chip cookie dough.
Writers or not, we all need to cultivate the delicate art of telling a loved one the truth . . . gently.

Just keep writing.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Everyone Has a Backstory

Within the span of a few days not too long after my wife Monica died, two strangers told me to smile. No, not told me. Commanded me. And not just “smile.” But “smile!”

The first was a fellow I passed in a hallway at a retirement home. The second was someone at church handing out Sunday bulletins after Mass.

I had thought, all things considered, I was doing remarkably well during that initial crush of grief.

After each man spoke, I lifted the corners of my lips and pointed my face at him.


Shut up and leave me alone.

I don’t blame them. Apparently, I had looked “too” sad or serious and — ho, ho, ho! — everyone needs to smile more.

Well . . . yes and no.

Yes, generally speaking. I suppose.

No, not all the time. I’m sure.

As a novelist it can help you to keep in mind there are reasons your characters do what they do when they do it. Some writers create a short biography for each character, figuring out his or her backstory. Others writers “discover” those motives as the story unfolds and the characters themselves reveal bits of their past. (Yes, this sounds odd/spooky/nuts if it hasn't happened to you as a writer. I don’t think it’s uncommon. It is odd/spooky/nuts, and I speak from firsthand experience.)

Either method, or a combination of both, can work well. Learning the better way, or proper mix, for you is a matter of practice. Of writing. And that’s what you’re doing.

And when you’re not writing . . .

It can help to keep in mind that family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors and strangers have their backstories, too. Better to be a little slower to judge and a little quicker to show compassion. Even among those we know well, we don’t know it all.
Just keep writing.