This recent heatwave has sapped my writing fizz.

All I want to do is loll in the recliner with a glass of cold, sweet tea nearby and watch television while the sun bakes the earth. And it feels like that is all I have done. I think my brain has sweated so much, all my good ideas wilted.

My writing is more prolific and better done when I’m outside. Something about the energy of nature sparks the urge to write. Today, my husband saved my broiled brain and flagging enthusiasm. He bought and put together a small portable desk, so lightweight I can lift it with one hand. When the day isn’t 95 in the shade, I can sit on my porch with the fan blowing and write comfortably. Thank you, Brett!

Now, tell me where you like to write. Do you have special nook, or do you seek different spots? Must you clean your writing area, align your materials, stretch your fingers, stare into space, light a candle . . . ? What do you do before you settle down to write?


Let’s Bore Readers to Death

Ten ways to kill your story, and quite possibly, your career.

  1. Choose a worn-out, generic title. Maybe no one will even bother to pick up the book.
  2. Create a soft protagonist who doesn’t have enough grit to take action.
  3. Open with a long sentence about the weather that has nothing to do with the story.
  4. Open with a long description of the room where your character is, especially if the room has nothing to do with the story.
  5. Open with a long narrative of your character’s background, including when and where his grandparents met, especially when it has nothing to do with the story.
  6. Record every bit of dialog spoken, along with descriptive little tags for those bits. Be sure to include bits that have nothing to do with the story.
  7. Ramble.
  8. Add filler.
  9. Repeat  yourself.
  10. Whatever you do, tell us what’s going on with lots of passive description, but never, ever engage us by showing the action.

If  you follow these ten easy steps, no one will finish your book or want to look at anything else you write.


In Defense of Fiction

I’ve had some interesting experiences lately. I met a wealthy old recluse who chose to leave his fortune to his brother’s only grandchild. Then I attended the bizarre funeral of an eccentric old woman. Teary-eyed and helpless, I observed as a middle-aged woman came to grips with unexpected widowhood. In addition to this I traveled across the country with a band, watched a little girl escape her captor, and in New York City, I saw a woman too scared to cross the street to her husband. As if that weren’t enough, I served as a small town assistant pastor where I discovered a recently murdered choir director behind the church organ, then had the dubious privilege of identifying the perpetrator.

So…what have you done this year?

Did I really participate in these occurrences? You bet I did! Did they actually happen? Of course not. So, am I unique or something? No more so than you. In fact, if you really wanted to, you could fall in love with the man or woman of your wildest dreams; you could discover gold in the Klondike. Or take a trip to Scotland. Maybe you’d rather sit on the front porch and churn butter.

If you really want to, it’s possible to engage in any adventures you choose. Easy, affordable, and you can be as comfortable as you like. Pick up a novel and participate in a life beyond what you know. Find a ghost, swim the English Channel, travel back in time to the War Between the States and meet General Lee.

Open your mind and suspend your disbelief. Life offers so much more than daily existence in the familiar.

Someone recently said to a writer friend of mine, “But these are lies. Why do you write what isn’t true?”

I’ve also heard, “I don’t read fiction because I read to learn.”

If you feel this way, think on this: what story from your childhood made you happy? What did you read to your children at bedtime and do you think they remember it? What is your favorite movie?

Do you realize one of the greatest teachers of all time taught his lessons by using invented stories? He called them parables, and he used them because he knew it’s as easy to learn from “make believe” as it is from the real thing. For some people, it’s easier because they remember it longer when it’s in the context of a story. And you don’t even realize you’ve learned it because you had such a good time.

Read one of the Laura Wilder “Little House” books, and after you return from the 19th century to this time and place, list how many details you learned about pioneer life. Or pick up an old romance novel by Lucy Walker and learn about the land and people of Australia while you cheer on the girl and the man with whom she falls in love.

Fiction is a viable, noble art form with the unique ability to take us to another time and place, give us a whole new body, change our gender, our race, our social status and provide us with adventures we’d never be able to have otherwise. And that’s something no nonfiction article or how-to book can do.

Rejection Isn’t Fatal

When I first began writing, rejection of my work surprised me. I was so full of myself that I thought those golden words were perfect.

That first rejection was a pink slip of paper smaller than a postcard. On it were printed a few reasons why the editors turned down the writer’s work. My checkmark bloomed on the box next to the ever-popular “Doesn’t suit our needs.”

Looking back, I’m not surprised it came back to me. The story was dull and silly. I misspelled the editor’s name. I enclosed a few poems along with that story. To add insult to injury, I also told her if she didn’t want anything I’d sent, please pass it on to another editor who might. Arrogant little cuss, wasn’t I? I was also young and inexperienced.

A few years later, when I began writing with serious intent, those rejections letters continued to stun and to sting. Why didn’t those editors tell me the reason they returned my work? Finally, I sought out a writers group. (There was no such thing as online support groups back then.) I listened and learned. Soon, my rejection letters became actual correspondence and not just impersonal forms. They pointed out the flaws in my work. I noticed something important: Every editor and agent mentioned the same type of flaws no matter what I sent to them.

It was time to take a fresh look at how I executed my stories. So I studied writers whose work I loved; I dissected why a particular character or a certain turn of phrase appealed to me, and why others left me cold. I learned how to overcome my weaknesses and turn them into some of the strongest parts of my stories.

One day I took an SASE from the mailbox. I opened it, pulled the letter up long enough to see it was a short story rejection, shoved it back into the envelope and returned to the house. I was going to throw the stupid thing away, then stopped. I keep my rejection letters. They are proof that I’m working. I took that letter completely out of the envelope so I could file it. There, at the bottom, an editor had added this handwritten note, “If you’ll change the age of your character, I think we have a sale here.” Sometimes it happens that way. Be sure you take a good, close look at all your rejection slips. You might be missing something. You might be missing more than you realize.

When I finally stopped throwing myself face-first onto the bed and squalling my eyes out, when I ceased ranting about being misunderstood, when I quit sulking because those stupid blind people in New York City didn’t know their head from a hole in the ground . . . when I finally opened my eyes and my mind and, yes, my heart to listen, I learned. Rejection was the best teacher of all. If my first story had been accepted, I might have gone through life writing silly, insipid little stories for drab little publications and never learned the art of being present in the scene and tapping deep into the psyche of my characters.

Embrace rejection when it comes. Realize acceptance will happen . . . when you are ready.


Why 1986?

Some people wonder why I set In Front of God and Everybody in 1986. There are a few reasons, but today I’ll mention only one.

The original concept for this series was a collection of books about the quirky and interesting people who live along an old dirt road in the Ozarks, Rough Creek Road. I wanted the stories to be rural in flavor and tone, and to show a life that many may remember but few of us will ever see again. In the mid-1980s, the farm crisis began to rear its ugly head. Farmers lost  livelihood, land and homes that had been bought or built by great-grandparents or even longer ago. I had wanted my readers to honor the folks like my family and friends who faithfully had worked the land, raised the cattle, milked the cows and continued to find time to love each other and enjoy life until farming was no longer a viable way to earn a living.

My lead character in these stories is a child, and I wanted to tell the stories through her young eyes, watching with both humor and confusion as the old and familiar changed, not only around her but the world at large. I started the evolution simply, with new neighbors.

These days, the vision for that series has changed to meet a different market, and perhaps for the better. Only time will tell.  But, for those of you who were curious why I chose not to set my story in the 21st century . . . now you know at least one reason, and maybe it’s the best reason of all.