I’ll follow up with more, especially if you have questions. Feel free to comment, and I hope you’ll enjoy my book.
… a brief monologue on the ways that can backfire on you
Besides being a means of offering my excuses for missing deadline once again, this short list enumerates various ways promising something can get you into trouble.
- Most obvious and pertinent: Never put in writing the date your book will be available unless it is on its way to the printer. And not even then. Those of you who are alert will note the ‘update’ of launch info for FLYING PURPLE PEOPLE SEATER. I won’t bother you with excuses; there are some. It will be out soon.
- Never promise you will never do something. A certain editor I know vowed she would never go so far as to cross borders to see a performance she admired; guess where she will be next month? (correct if you said not in her home country)
- Never promise to house-sit or pet-sit when you don’t really know your own plans. (Was that the weekend you scheduled for minor surgery on Friday and were told you’ll be out of it from the pain meds for three days?)
- Never promise you will be there for the birth of a child (except your own, and then not if it is your spouse who is delivering). Do I really need to mention that babies are unpredictable?
- Never promise payback – whether it’s a favor, a visit, a loan, or revenge. Life is also unpredictable.
- Never promise to write an article from a certain slant. You never know when you will discover information – even during an interview with the subject – that will change everything you’re going to write.
- Never promise a friend or a family member that you will name a character after them or, worse, ‘put them in your book’.
- Following from #7 is, never promise (or brag) that you’re going to kill off your mother-in-law (or anyone real in your life) in your book. — We all do it; just don’t say so.
- Never put so many people or things in the plot of your novel that you can’t keep track of them. You’ll have things like boats with gunmen on them vanishing into thin air when they would have been in a position to turn the tide of battle, but you can’t have them there because that’s not how the fight turns out. (yes, that was a thing)
- And never, never, as the saying goes, put a gun on a mantelpiece in a scene unless someone is going to get shot.
That’s a saying that was taught to me by my screenwriting son. It refers to economy and purpose in writing. When you put an object or person into a scene, there’s a reason they are there. There has to be, particularly in any short writing, but even in novels.
Mysteries may be notorious for red herrings and misdirection, but that’s not what you’re doing if you are introducing stuff into scenes and not doing something with them. Ie, there is no reason for a gun on the mantelpiece in a young woman’s apartment, unless there it is going to be used. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels stalked. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels under siege by law enforcement. Maybe it’s self-defense, because she feels stalked and under siege by an ex-boyfriend. Maybe it just goes off and the bullet strikes her baby. Maybe she’s going to sell it, turn it in, clean it, or use it on the damn cat, but that gun needs to be used somehow. Or it needs to not be there.
Even 600-page novels have a finite number of ideas to convey, in a finite number of words. If you can’t deliver follow-up why something is on the page, if its being there doesn’t serve a purpose later on, don’t promise the reader that it does. Take it out.
Now I’ll go finish my book. No, that was not a promise, but I will.
REMAINDER (my newly-published novel) has as its background the first year of war following the events of 9/11. It was the year when we tried to assimilate the shock, realized we were in a whole new world, and attempted to pull together to cope, even as emotions tore at the fringes to rend us apart. It is one of the reasons, I think, that agents and publishers didn’t quite know what to do with it and so rejected it.
But I was intrigued by what we were going through, even as we went through it. We are a large family, and all the kids were in some form of school in 2001. We had a lot of holding and talking and loving and strategizing to do. At the same time, as any parent – particularly a mom – knows, despite everything, when the sun rises the next day (and it does), the laundry will need to be done, groceries will need to be bought, the car will need to be fixed, and (eventually) we will all need to go to school or to work. After all, they say a return to normalcy is the best way to get past a traumatic event. Maybe so, but there must be time for grief and adjustment, as well.
The people of Remainder have made their initial adjustments, and now they are learning that life does go on, and we must engage in it and cope with it. For people farther away from ground zero than New York or Washington, DC, the war could seem remote. Everyone had to decide for themselves how they regarded the war. Everyone had to decide how to incorporate the surreal with the real as they took up their live again apace.
REMAINDER is about what it’s like to face personal pain and local community trial while still reeling from blows dealt by a world gone mad. It’s about the path each of us finds through the mess we have to conquer in our own lives.
I started writing REMAINDER some time ago, and I left it alone for a while before the final edits. I was surprised to find I’d done a little foreshadowing of reality as I was writing. While I missed where it landed our country, I picked up on the the distrust, the suspicions, the diminishing of others in our midst. I failed to see how far it would take us. Maybe just as well, because I don’t know that I wanted to write that book. But my hope is that we will come back together to be a different, a better people. That is something the people in Remainder could show us how to do.