Your Horrible Life – Do You Have a Point?

August 8, 2014

Scared_Dog

Of late, I seem to be the recent recipient of every addiction/abuse/life nightmare story ever written. I realize people have tragic lives, and writing about them can bring about a large measure of emotional release and comfort. And yes, I do publish memoir – so I understand I’m a non-moving target. But for crying out loud – so many of these stories are simply too horrendous, and I find myself reaching for mouthwash and eye bleach. Many of these, I simply want to unsee.

Many of these queries have no other purpose than to horrify (mission accomplished) and cluck one’s tongue about how gruesome humans are to one another. My concern about these stories is…do you have a point? It’s one thing to flood the market with “Read About What Ghastly Shit Happened To Me” stories before readers tire of the sameness of it all. It’s the literary equivalent of the National Enquirer…and sure, they do have a large readership, but where those stories are sandwiched between the covers of a known quantity, your Lurid Lucy story stands all by itself – without benefit of a ready audience. And the queries I’ve seen seem intent on out-grossing each other.

“My story is about how I was abused at 7.”
“Oh yeah, well I’ll up that by telling my story about how I became a prostitute at 10 and addicted to cocaine.”

Oh dear GOD!!! Enough! I can’t handle it.

My problem isn’t necessarily what happened to these people (and my soulless heart breaks for them), but where they put the focus. If the nucleus is about detailing every inch of each horror, then what’s the point of the story? Is this violence for violence’s sake? Is it self therapy? Is it both?

I can appreciate anyone who comes through a tough life and finds unicorns and rainbows on the other side, but in order to get my attention, these stories have to have a point. A message. And that’s the problem with Gruesome Gandys…the messages always seem to be the same: Believe in yourself.
Never give up.
Praise God.

Whatever it is, it’s already been written about. A lot. And since there’s nothing unique about the message, it’s very hard to get readers’ attention, let alone an agent or publisher’s. The media and reviewers will invariably yawn because it’s a Been Thar, Done That kinda book.

Of course, some stories are very tough to read and a literary masterpiece. I think of our own book MOMMY, I’M STILL IN HERE. Kate McLaughlin unflinchingly writes about the ravages of bipoloar disorder that afflict two of her kids. I spent much of the book with my fist in my mouth. But I was also blown away because Kate never keeps the sole focus on the horrors – but about finding the light at the end of the tunnel and that bipolar disorder isn’t a death sentence, and people can go on to live happy, healthy, productive lives. I cheered. I huzzah’d. I jumped on furniture and fist-pumped the air. It was because of those horrors that I could rejoice in the sweetness of success. But the vital element was that the message was unique, and she had a clear point to make.

If you’ve had a horrid life, you have my blessings and hugs. If you want to write about those horrors, ask yourself why you’re writing it. Is it a form of therapy, or do you have a concrete message? If you have a concrete message, is it the same one that’s already been written about thousands of times already? If so, then how are you going to interest an agent or editor?

Lastly, the only way to know whether you have something that’s been done to ad nauseam or unique is to read books in the topic you’re writing about. You have to go from victim to analyst in order to determine whether you have a point, or whether you’re simply talking about your horrible life. And if it’s solely about your horrible life, please, please, please, don’t query me. I’m on heart medicine, yanno…

 


Hey…Who You Callin` Weird?

August 8, 2014

image


How to Determine if You’re a Writer…

July 24, 2014

writer-yourThus endeth the lesson…


Are There Too Many Painters in Your Cave?

July 14, 2014

alien

It’s been going on since the first cave scratchings back in Troglodyte days…unsolicited advice from “Helpful Friends.”

Trog: Dude, awesome rendering of last week’s Wooly Mammoth hunt…but you might want to re-draw Blorg’s broken foot mishap when the Wooly stepped on him.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Krog: Dude, cool drawing, but you might want to re-think those bushes. Looks more like green hornets.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Wog: Dude, amazing wall painting, but the sunset was more purple than orange…

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Slog: Dude…what is that you painted on the wall?

Grog: I have no fecking idea.

And this is what happens when there are too many painters in the cave. The original version is now an unrecognizable rendering that doesn’t reflect the painter’s vision.

I’ve seen this many times over the years, and it never ceases to send me running for the tequila bottle because these “Helpful Suggestions” tear away at the author’s confidence.

It usually starts small…“Oh, I loved your book, but you might want to change the _______(fill in the blank).”

Once the author gives power to that suggestion, the “Helpful Friend” realizes he/she wields some power, and offers more “Helpful Suggestions” to “improve” the book. It’s about this time when emails come to me asking whether these “Helpful Suggestions” have merit.

Hmm.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You and your editor spent countless hours poring over your manuscript, discussing intent, nuance, pace, flow…the whole enchilada.
  • No one knows the inner workings of your book or your soul better than your editor. She is your head cheerleader, chief bottle washer, and overall den mother.
  • There is no better, stronger advocate than your editor, and the last thing she wants to change is your voice or your story, or have you wake up one day wondering, “Holy crap, who wrote this?” Eeeek.

Your “Helpful Friends” didn’t take this journey with you. They’re imprinting their version of what they think you should have written…and here’s the thing: Opinions are like belly buttons…everybody’s got one. It’s a fact that you’ll never satisfy every reader, and if you give weight to every critique that comes your way, you’ll be special ordering a designer straightjacket post haste – along with changing your book into something that didn’t come from you.

I know it’s hard – because you adore your friends – but resist the temptation to listen to their every comment. By the time they read it, that book of yours is in granite. It can’t and won’t be changed. The time to elicit offers of critique is when you’ve just completed your manuscript, and you’re asking for beta readers – not when they’re reading your galley proofs!

If you run into some “Helpful Friends,” and believe me, you will, smile politely, grit your teeth (because unsolicited critiques are a pain in the ass), thank them, and put those comments where the sun don’t shine. The literary ship has sailed, and you don’t need the aggravation of wondering if what you wrote is good. It is. Have faith in yourself and your editor that you got it right.

Don’t be Grog. Don’t allow too many painters into your cave.

 


Writerly Humor…

July 9, 2014

If we couldn’t make jokes and laugh at the silliness of what we do, we’d go looney. On the other hand, that explains quite a lot in my case…

preposition me


Happy Fourth of July, America

July 4, 2014

image


Taking a Pulse on Your Writing

June 27, 2014

pulse

You know, there are all kindsa milestones: Getting married, having babies, having bestselling books, rescuing errant beagles. But I never considered having a heart attack as one of those milestones. I don’t recommend it. I spent this past Wednesday in the ER with one such offender. After rotting in the ER (where I got amazing care), they moved me to a room and did a heart cath – which scared the ever-lovin’ SHIT outta me. But they drugged me so much, that I’m sure I belted out my high school locker combo and my shoe size. The upside was that I didn’t need a stent, so my arteries appear not to have abandoned me. Yay. But now I have a buncho pills that will be hitched to my side for life. Meh. For someone who doesn’t take so much as aspirin, this is a real buzzkill.

I know there’s nothing worse than a reformed anything…ex-smokers (even though I never smoked) and the formerly overweight drive me particularly crazy…but I’m convinced that had I paid attention and taken better care of myself by getting yearly lab tests to measure my cholesterol, I wouldn’t have had this little reminder of my mortality. So if you avoid doing the doctor thang (“I’m too busy,” “I’m fine!”) take note and get thee to the doc and have your labs run. This shit really is a silent killer – or, thankfully, in my case, a silent “Hey, dumbass, take care of yourself.” The alternative is definitely unpleasant.

And it’s the same with writing. It’s so easy for a story to get away from us. Sometimes it’s a good thing because we can go off in directions that we hadn’t considered before. Other times, it’s as bad as ignoring going to the doc for checkups. I’ve been going round and round with one particular author for a couple months now. I think it could really be cool, but I have the distinct feeling she simply doesn’t have a good pulse on what she wants her story to say, so there’s no direction. Just like when the doc says, “Pricey, your enzyme levels just went up again,” (insert Pricey swearing here), your writing is challenging you to check its literary enzymes as well.

You gotta be present at all times, or you may end up with something that requires electricity, a mile’s worth of wires, some bells and a whistle, two paddles slathered with gel, and a brave soul who will yell, “CLEAR!” You are the heart and soul of your story, so be very clear and confident about its direction.

I will say that the ER went very quiet when it was determined that I was, indeed, in possession of a heart. Who knew?


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