Interview with Suspense Author, Joseph Finder

Joe_black shirtJoe writes thrillers–the kind that take you beyond gnawing your nails all the way to chompin’ your knuckles. This ability is what makes him a New York Times best selling author and winner of a gazillion awards. A couple of his books have been made into movies (High Crimes in 2002, and Paranoia in 2013). He’s one of my faves among the mainsteam authors, and an all-around cool guy.

Jump in and see for yourself:

Linda: It was mighty generous of you to allow us voyeurs a virtual peek at your desk, and, having done so, I’m honored to meet someone who has his own bobble-head. But the fact that you have a bat-phone fascinated me. I have to ask: How much did the Batman series influence your life’s choices?

JF: Wow — we’re starting with a question I can honestly say no one has asked me before. But you’d have a hard time finding any American male within my age range who didn’t want to be Batman or Superman. Batman is the obvious choice, because of all the gadgets. Most of us weren’t born on Krypton, but we can all drive a Batmobile (and doesn’t every guy really want to?). And I’m still waiting for that bat phone to ring. Yep, I read all the Batman comic books and watched the TV show, loved the groovy camera angles, the Bat Cave, and that bust of William Shakespeare in Millionaire Bruce Wayne’s library that had the button inside that opened the bookcase. Though I always wondered why he had to slide down a firepole. Rich guy like that, why didn’t he have some supersonic elevator?

photo04Linda: If I understand correctly, you turned down the CIA to return to writing. After reading your thrillers, I wonder: Was being a spy not exciting enough for ya?

JF: It would be more accurate to say I was recruited to the CIA — which had been my goal, because I wanted to be Jason Bourne. I wanted to be that guy, jumping between train cars and handing off secret messages in cafes. Instead, I discovered I’d be working at a cubicle, reading stacks of Soviet industrial production reports and economic analyses. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.   My fictional spy world is far more exciting.

Linda: Some time ago, you posted a review of Lisa Gardner’s release, Love You More. You’re both best-selling authors, but do you learn from her and her techniques?

JF: I hope I learn from everything I read. I think most good authors do, consciously or unconsciously. When I set out to write thrillers, I did this in a very systematic way: I read a selection of what I considered the best books in the genre, and I dissected them. I made lists, I outlined, I identified elements of structure and pacing  and character development, and I set out to imitate them. That’s how writers learn: from imitating the work they admire. At least, that’s what I used to tell my writing classes. There’s no shame in imitating someone’s style while you develop your own. And in the case of Lisa’s books, I pay close attention to the way she develops her characters, the emotionality, the family dynamics, and how she integrates them into a supercharged, highly suspenseful plot.

Linda: Putting the question a different way–do you still study the craft? Still pick up new ideas and tips about writing?

JF: Absolutely, and not just in the genre. That Lisa Gardner novel, LOVE YOU MORE, is a good example. That book is a model of some really sophisticated writing techniques: it shifts between first person and limited third person narration, and it tells parallel stories about two protagonists who get equal time on the page, only one of whom is a series character. It’s fascinating to see how Lisa uses this technique to keep her series fresh for loyal readers and accessible to new readers. Reading Lee Child is a great lesson (and reminder) of how spare prose can be while at the same time being elegant. I reread John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee’s novels from time to time to absorb pointers about character, and sometimes I reread James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler to remind myself how sharp the point of view can be and how you can get across the essence of a character in one pithy line.

Linda: To settle the outline/non-outline question right now–you’re an outliner. Some outliners know what’s going to happen on page 272 before they’ve written page 1. Others hit the highlights, and fill in the blanks as they go. How extensive is your outline?

JF: Yes, I’m an outliner, although “outline” suggests something a little more formal than what I do. After writing POWER PLAY without an outline, I realized that I need a map that tells me where I’m going, with a few major plot developments along the way. I know where I’m starting; I know where I’m going to end up; I know a few of the major reversals and surprises along the way. (The motto “Surprise, Reverse, Reveal” is posted on my computer monitor.) I like to compare it to taking a drive, say from Boston to Albany. I have a map, but as long as I know the stops I need to make, I’ll let myself wander a little along the way. Whereas if you outline too comprehensively, it’s like driving across country with your navigation system on. You hear that damned voice telling you every single turn to make, and after a while it can make you crazy.

Linda: One time, you wrote: “Alfred Hitchcock was wrong. Writing about your fears doesn’t always make them go away. Sometimes it just makes them worse.” What prompted this revelation was your experience being closed up in a casket as research for Buried Secrets. (Yowzah! Even your post on the research was a nail-biter!) Is this the most extreme research you’ve ever done? If not, what is?

joe 2JF: No, the most extreme research I ever did was going to Moscow to penetrate an organized crime ring as research for a novel. I had a source who was an undercover agent there and agreed to bring me to a meeting. A few hours before I was supposed to show up, at a midnight gathering, my source called me and said, “Leave Moscow as soon as you can. They think you’re CIA, and they’re planning on killing you.” No joke. I left the country real fast.

Compared to that, being locked up in a steel casket was tame. At first it seemed restful — I felt like I could almost take a nap — and then it hit me where I was, and I began to hyperventilate, and I yelled to be let out, but they couldn’t hear me. Then the panic set in . . . Eventually they heard me pounding. That rush of fresh air was cool and sweet.

Linda: What draws an author to write thrillers? To imagine the horrid things human beings can do to each other, and put them on paper?

JF: We write what we like to read. And it’s not about horrid things — it’s about mastering suspense and fear. Why do we like ghost stories, or scary stories in general? Because it gives us a vicarious sense of adventure that helps relieve the dullness of our conventional lives, and it also gives us a feeling of control, of mastery, of having gone through something frightening and having reached the other side. Those of us who write thrillers are storytellers in exactly the same way as primitive hunters sat around the flickering fire in their dark caves and told each other tales, thousands of years ago, if not longer. Stories unite us. Stories are what make us human. And way back in prehistoric times, the storyteller was considered to have a magical gift. They were even feared. And here we are on Twitter.

Linda: Is there a point where you’d draw the line and say, “I’m not going to depict that, even in fiction”? What is that point for you?

JF: Sure. Having had a daughter, I’m unable to write any scene involving the death of a child. I can’t read about the death of a child. I made the mistake of watching the movie Rabbit Hole, which was beautifully acted and written, and simply unbearable. That was a nightmare for me. I won’t write rape scenes. And even if there are scenes in which violence happens, I tend to pull the camera back and away, as it were. I think that violence can be more powerful if it’s rendered subtly. I have made the mistake of having a family pet — a Golden Retriever — killed in Company Man, and I still get emails and letters complaining about that. I felt bad about it, but I also felt it was necessary to show exactly how dangerous and scary my protagonist’s stalker was.

Linda: Where do you get your ideas for your stories? For your characters?

high_crimesJF: Ideas for stories come from everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. A female friend tells me she discovered her husband’s driver’s license in the back of a drawer, and it has a different name on it . . . and that led to HIGH CRIMES. I hear  stories from people, I read articles and think, huh, what if . . . Truth is, I’ll never have enough time to write all the stories I have ideas for.

paranoiaAll my characters come from real life, although the Jungian principle applies: every character I create is probably some version of myself, because I’m the one making them up. But Nick Heller, for example, came from a conversation I had with an old friend who used to be CIA, and now does what Nick does — he’s a “private spy.” Nick shares some attributes with him, but I think he’s also got a lot in common with Adam Cassidy, the protagonist of PARANOIA, and Jake Landry, the hero of POWER PLAY. Nick is a wish-fulfillment version of myself.

Linda: What would you consider the high point of your career?

JF: Oh, tough one. I hope the high point of my career hasn’t happened yet. But up until now, I’d have to say  winning the Thriller Award for KILLER INSTINCT in 2007. A tremendous honor, especially coming from my peers. Then there was going to the Hollywood premiere of “High Crimes” — that was pretty cool. And that call from my editor, Keith Kahla, telling me that PARANOIA had hit the New York Times bestsellers list – my first hardcover bestseller.

~~~~

Joe has a new one about to release: Suspicion. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. It’s available for pre-order, but the release date is May 27.

SUSPICION_Dutton

Posted in Authors, interviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Interview with Author/Philosopher Billy Coffey

Under Billy Coffey’s black hat is a head that got screwed on straight the hard way, and I’m sure he’ll tell you it still needs tweaking now and then. But under that ol’ hat, I found a man who has his priorities right: God, family, community, work. His wife is his photographer, his children are his inspiration, his friends are loyal–and his work? Well, it took off and it’s going strong.

This country philosopher is no stranger to pen and paper. He wrote his first story at age seven: a five sentence tale about a boy who prayed that God would rid the world of asparagus. Gotta love it.

In researching him for this interview, I discovered a few “Billyisms” that speak volumes about him and his writing abilities as an adult:

“Life with a writer isn’t all bubble gum and cotton candy.”

“Wisdom doesn’t lurk, it dances.”

“Macho manliness trumps stupidity every day of the week and twice on Thursday.”

If you’re on Twitter, chances are you’ve seen him around. Here’s an opportunity to get to know him better:

Linda: When you were seventeen, you had an accident in the sixth inning of a game, ending your baseball career dreams. How did you get hurt?

Billy: It was a tear in my rotator cuff the doctor said had actually begun years before. My throwing strength had deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t pitch anymore, so I was switched to shortstop for a while and then to second base.

I was in the field that inning when the batter hit a ground ball past the pitcher. I caught the ball behind second base, which meant I had to make the throw sidearm to my left while all of my momentum was still going to the right. The pressure was just too much for my shoulder to take. It felt like someone had stabbed me in the arm with an ice pick.

Linda: For a while afterward, your Amish grandmother and Mennonite mom must’ve bruised their knees praying for you as they watched you deteriorate emotionally from the loss of your dream. But your “Come to Jesus” moment came not long after your injury in an incident that was too miraculous to be coincidental. [For the full testimony, click here.] Does that time in your life influence your writing today?

Billy: Oh, yes. I think it influences everything today, but my writing especially. It helps give me a perspective of hope I might otherwise not have, and I try to weave that into every story and post I write. If that time on the mountain taught me anything, it’s that every moment is not only a teachable one, but a holy one as well. I realized I had tossed away years of my life focusing on the things that didn’t matter. Since then, I’ve tried to live each day by focusing on the things that do.

Linda: You credit your kids with the title of your blog, “What I Learned Today,” when they turned your question around on you: “What did you learn today, Daddy?” You wrote:

What to say? That I didn’t learn anything? That at a certain age a person tends to feel they know too much and have neither the time nor the inclination to know more? That despite what I’ve told them, ignorance most definitely is bliss?

From what I’ve read in your blog, your attitude has shifted a bit. Are you better able to answer the kids’ question now?

Billy: I make it a point to learn something every day now, even if that something I learn today just reinforces what I learned yesterday. I don’t think ignorance is bliss anymore; it can save you from a lot of worry and fear, but it also leaves you blind to the beautiful things in life. I still get that question tossed to me on a regular basis, and I am better able to answer it. Not necessarily because I know more, but because I watch and listen more. If I want to teach my children anything, it’s that curiosity is an amazing gift that should be used often.

Linda: In your agent, Rachelle Gardner’s blog (Rants and Ramblings), you wrote about a friend who loves to climb and his most important lesson, which he calls “The Middle Rule”:

“When you’re climbing something,” he says, “it’s the beginning and the end that are easiest. In the beginning you’re full of hope. You think it’ll be easy. And when you get to the end you have this rush, a sense of accomplishment. But the middle? That’s the toughest. That’s when you look down and realize you’ve come too far to stop, and you look up and think you’ll never make it. It’s easy to get stuck in the middle of a climb.”

Do you have any advice or encouragement for those of us who are in the middle?

Billy: You’re going to look down just as much as you’re going to look up, and neither is a bad thing. It’s important to pause every once in a while to see how far you’ve come. That knowing can be motivation enough to keep going. And it’s important to take a peek upwards every once in a while too, because you need to see what’s coming.

My advice: focus as much as you can on where you are. That way all the slips you’ve made along the way won’t matter as much and what’s ahead will be easier to face. And my encouragement is this: don’t hate your climb. It’s easy to get frustrated when it comes to writing. Everything comes so slowly and may not even come at all. But the mountain you’re on gives you two things a lot of people lack—it gives you a purpose, and it gives your life meaning.

Linda: Finally, I loved the post “How to Take a Punch.” In it, Charlie says: “A man never knows what he’s made of until he gets punched.” I wasn’t surprised by the fact you found the statement philosophical, but now that you’ve been punched, can you tell us what you’re made of?

Billy: I don’t mind saying I got the snot beat out of me that night, though I did manage to get a few shots in myself. All those things you hear in the Rocky movies about boxing making a man out of you are true. It really is a metaphor for life. I didn’t mind the fact I was bloodied and swollen by the time I was finished because of this one simple fact—he never knocked me down. He was too experienced for me to possibly hope to beat, and I was mature enough to know that. Not kissing the canvas became my goal. So yes, I can tell you what I’m made of.

I can take a beating and still smile at the end.

~~~~~

coffeyI just finished reading When Mockingbirds Sing. If you haven’t read that one, put it on your TBR list. Little Leah lives the life of a modern-day prophet at an age when she’s not old enough to fix her own meals. Her words, given to her by the Rainbow Man, affect her family, her best friend, and the entire town.

Billy weaves the tale in such a way that you never know what’s going to happen. He teases you from the very first, starting with “what’s that ‘blanket-covered object’?”

This one will not only keep you engrossed, it will make you think. For writers: read it twice. Once for the story, again for the technique.

Posted in Authors, interviews | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Price Has Been Paid

And the Invitation Has Been Offered

easter

Blessed Day of Resurrection

Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

Who on God’s Green Earth?!

I got my hair done yesterday–a body wave to bring life back to this straight, stringy, uncooperative mess. All the antibiotics and other meds pumped into my system from December 2012 through March 2013 messed with my hair somehow and made it moodier than ever. And since it was rarely in the mood to do what I wanted it to, I tried to make what it wanted to do work. Sometimes it did, but not often.

So, after Paula finished working her miracles, I felt pretty. Rare occasion these days. Since my hair was done and my makeup had survived an extensive process involving shampoo, water, and a variety of chemicals we won’t get into here, I decided to go shopping for an Easter dress.

I found some dresses I liked, and early in the process, while I was still feeling pretty, this is what I thought I’d look like when I tried them on:

dresses

Okay–maybe not just like that. Those ladies are slender; I’m not anymore. I’ve gained back most of the weight I lost while I was sick, and while I’m not seriously fat, I do have a few pounds more than what I’m supposed to have for my age and height. Not bad, but a few.

So I had high hopes as I mussed my perfect hair trying to pull that unforgiving material over my head. I had my fingers crossed as I smoothed it over my hips. Then I looked in the mirror.

Who on God’s green earth thought spandex was a good material for women’s clothes? Seriously. I’m ready to flog him. Surely it’s not a her. Any woman who would do this to another woman is just cold and deserves a punishment far worse than flogging–like gaining 50 pounds and living the rest of her days in a mirrored house dressed her own designs.

Imagine this in red spandex:

I was totally demoralized. Totally.

Didn’t change things, though. I needed something for Easter.

I struggled out of the dress and donned my “real” clothes–made of denim and cotton. My hair flopped in my face; my mascara had smeared. My face looked pasty pale in the mirror.

I no longer felt pretty as I slunk back to the clothing racks and looked for a larger size or something not made of spandex or a spandex blend. I lowered my hopes from looking fabulous to “maybe no one would puke at the sight of me.”

A couple of the dresses I’d tried in the size I thought I was turned out not to be so bad in the larger size, but I was beginning to understand how Mom felt in the ’50s and ’60s, even though she’d never had to deal with spandex. I needed/need a floor-to-ceiling girdle. Or a whalebone corset. Or a return to the days when women wore bustles–I’d be right in style without having to put one on.

One of these days, fashion will go full swing, and we’ll return to those sensible shirt-waist dresses popular when I Love Lucy was still fresh on the airwaves. Okay, maybe not all fashion will return to it, but at least it could be an option again. And they’d be made of cotton, or a 70-30 cotton blend that doesn’t wrinkle.

Yeah. That’s what I want.

Who’s with me?!

 

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , , , | 20 Comments

What’s the Subject? Grammar Oversimplified

Confused womanFor many of us, if we were ever required to do it at all, it has been ages since we’ve diagrammed a sentence. I actually have a book on how to do it on my wish list in Amazon. Even if we don’t know the particulars of diagramming, most of us remember the bare-bones basics: Subject, Verb, Object. Stripped of their verbosity, most sentences contain these elements.

I want to share with you something that I see frequently in my work as an editor, and show you the short-cut way of figuring it out.

Expressed/Implied Subject

One of the most common sentence construction errors I find involves participle and gerund phrases. Let’s start with what those two dubers are:

Petting her cat, Patricia stared idly out the window. –petting her cat is a participle phrase; the subject of the sentence is Patricia.

This sentence structure is a tool for authors who want to show their character doing more than one thing at a time. You don’t want to overuse it because “-ing” words are climbing high on the “don’t do that” list. But the “-ing” form is not the only construction of the participle phrase:

Doused by the water balloon, Casey laughed.–doused by the water balloon is the participle phrase; the subject of the sentence is Casey.

Both phrases before and after the comma pertain to the subject–which makes this structure different from a gerund phrase, which is the subject:

Petting her cat soothes her.–petting her cat is the gerund phrase, making it the subject of the sentence.

Can you see the difference? In the sentences above, the participle phrase modifies the subject; in this last one, the gerund phrase is the subject.

I haven’t noticed a lot of problem with the gerund phrase, but the participle phrase tends to confuse people. Grammarians will tell you not to misplace or dangle your modifier, which is great if you know what a modifier is and how you lost it or left it dangling in the first place.

So here’s the trick: Figure out the subject of the sentence.

Petting the cat, it purred in her lap as Patricia stared out the window.

Can you see what’s wrong with this sentence? The implied subject of the first part of this sentence is Patricia; the expressed subject of the second part of the sentence is “it”–making the expressed subject of the entire sentence “it” (referring back to the cat). So, how does a cat pet itself?

A sentence with this construction should have only one subject. The subject of this sentence should be Patricia. So here’s the quick fix:

Petting the purring cat, Patricia stared out the window.–petting the cat is the participle phrase, Patricia is the subject, purring is an adjective in this case, and cat is the object of the petting.

Try this one:

Walking from room to room, the house seemed quiet.

This one’s trickier, because it’s intended to be in a deep POV. The implied subject of the first part is the unnamed character. The expressed subject of the sentence is the house–and if the house itself can walk from room to room, you have entered the Twilight Zone.

The oversimplified version of what I’ve been trying to say is this: Who/What is the expressed subject of the sentence, and is it the same as the implied subject of the first part of the sentence (the participle phrase). If they don’t match, fix it.

Caveat: These are not the only sentence structures you can find a participle or gerund phrase in. These are just the structures I find most often when editing.

Give It a Comma

We’re still talking subjects here, so bear with me. This one is a little trick to help you remember whether you need a comma with “and.”

What’s the subject here?

Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks and wished Mark would help her.

If you said “Lydia,” you get to advance to the next level.

So, what’s the subject here?

Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks, and Mark helped her.

If you said, “That’s a compound sentence, and you’re trying to trick me,” you’ve hit the nail on the head. So, can you tell me why the second sentence has a comma and the first one doesn’t?

The subject of the first sentence example is Lydia. She scrubbed and wished–she’s the subject of both sentence parts surrounding the “and.”

The subjects of the second sentence example are Lydia and Mark. The subject of the first part is Lydia, the subject of the second part is Mark. You stick the comma before “and” because you’ve got two subjects thrown together in one sentence.

Let’s play with this some:

Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks and rinsed them in the current and wished Mark was with her.

Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks, rinsed them in the current, and wished Mark was with her.

Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks and rinsed them in the current, and wished Mark was with her.

All of these are right. The subject of the sentences is Lydia, but you’ve got her doing a list of things: scrubbing, rinsing, and wishing.

In the first sentence, the activities are separated by “and,” and no comma is necessary since the same subject is doing all the action.

The second sentence uses a comma to omit the first “and,” emphasizing the list of activities. According to the Chicago Manual of Style (the book publisher’s Bible), lists of three or more things (activities in this case) are divided by a serial comma–including a comma before “and.” If you’re ever in doubt, strip the sentence down to its subject and verbs. If it turns out to be a list of activities, use the comma, even before the “and.”

The third sentence is a subjective use of the comma. I’m sure there’s some technical term for it, but use of the comma here is more artistic than standardized. Since the first two activities are related, they aren’t separated by a comma. But the third, the “wish,” expresses a mood, a desire, an internal emotion that the author may want to emphasize as separate from the rest. Putting the comma there separates that phrase from the practical to the wistful, illustrating a difference in tone for that part of the sentence.

Another way to write that last sentence is with a participle phrase (going full circle here):

Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks and rinsed them in the current, wishing Mark was with her.

Wishing Mark was with her, Lydia scrubbed the clothes on the river rocks and rinsed them in the current.

The construction of these last three examples, which emphasize the “wishing Mark was with her” part, is entirely up to the author. Personally, I like the one without the participle phrase best–and if you use the participle phrase too often, you may have to change it.

Bonus construction:

Lydia scrubbed the clothes and Mark rinsed them.

There’s no comma in this sentence because both parts are short. According to CMOS, that’s fine–but also according to CMOS, if you want to put a comma there, you can. Doncha love it?

Recognizing your subject helps in your sentence construction and comma placement. It isn’t “Grammar 101,” which indicates a college level course. It’s “Grammar School.” I’m sure you remember all this; you just needed a little nudge to the gray matter. Glad to help (assuming I did).

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Sailing Out of Darkness, a review

sailing out of darknessNormandie Fischer is at it again–illustrating the complex heart of the mature woman. Hers aren’t the novels of first love and high hopes for the future. They aren’t aimed at fresh-faced youngsters looking for romance–and a husband, children, and a house with a white picket fence. They’re aimed at women who have already been there, and wear the tarnish to prove it.

After years of marriage and raising two children–now adults–Samantha “Sam” Ransom got tossed out by her husband and caught by her childhood friend-turned-lover. Big Mistake #2.

Her remedy is to get away from everyone and everything, so she heads to Italy, ostensibly to visit her daughter who is studying there, but primarily to sort out the question many women face as they mature: How could I be so stupid?

By the time she’s faced with a new possibility of loving and being loved, the only conclusion she has reached is that she can’t trust her own judgment. Best not to climb out on that limb a second time.

As always, Normandie’s portrayal of the kind of pain and confusion a rejected woman bears is spot on. Her promise of hope and healing through reliance on God and His grace is also spot on.

As a Women’s Fiction writer, Normandie knows the heart of women–which earns her another five stars!

~~~~~

Want to share this post? Click to tweet:

Another 5-star Review of *Sailing Out of Darkness* by @WritingOnBoard on 777 Peppermint Place! http://wp.me/peDqs-1Dt @LindaYezak

Posted in Authors, Reading, Reviews of exceptional books | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Hearing Voices

voicesWhen you’re awake at three a.m. agonizing over your manuscript, whose voice do you hear? What is it saying?

If you’re hearing your characters working out their tough scene, you’re in good shape. If you’re hearing the encouraging cheer of someone who supports and believes in you, you’re in really good shape.

The voice that makes me most angry is the one that whispers “you can’t do this.” The best way to shut that voice up is to prove it wrong.

But then, there’s the voice that says “you shouldn’t do this.” Great advice if you’re planning something stupid, but if you’re not—then what?

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you already know I’m having trouble with Corporate Ladder. It went rogue not long ago, and I needed to decide what to do with the intense scene I’d written too early. It was a good scene, a logical progression from what I’d built in before, but it was too intense for the first quarter of the novel. I reread it yesterday and decided to yank it out and save it for later.

As I read it, I heard voices in my head. Familiar voices–people I know whose advice is usually sound. They were saying what they always say when I work on Corporate Ladder: “don’t.” Hearing these voices may be one of the reasons CL has been a work in progress since 2009 and never a completed manuscript. The other reason is that it’s my first serious work, and I want to do it right. I want it to be, not just good, but exceptional.

But it’s a dark drama. Not noir, but dark and rough just the same. Whenever the topic is the impact of sin on a person’s life, the work will never be sunshine and flowers. It’s a tough, serious subject, and it’s far more difficult to write than I thought it would be, primarily because keeping the main character sympathetic is a challenge.

My voices say that it’s too dark to match my brand, my image, my sunny disposition. According to the loudest voice in my ear, it isn’t a matter of whether I can write it–of course you can, says she–it’s a matter of whether I should. “People don’t want to read dark novels these days. They want to be entertained and uplifted.” And, though the voice never actually says it, there’s always the hint of disapproval. “How can this possibly glorify God?”

That one gets me every time. I asked a fellow author about this and have treasured his response ever since:

Darkness only serves to contrast the light. We live in a culture that celebrates the gray, that muddies the waters, and such. Exposing the darkness in fiction is a time-honored tradition among warriors of light. We shine the light that deepens the shadows and exposes the corruption for what it really is. Shadows hide best under overcast skies. Sunlight makes them look darker.

Whenever I worry about writing Corporate Ladder, I go back and read Michael’s response. It helps me push on.

Recently, though, I read a book by someone whose blog I used to follow, back when I had time to read a lot of blogs. His posts were always so charming and thought-provoking that I thought his book would be charming and thought-provoking too. Well, I got the second part right. It was hard to read what he’d done to his wonderful cast of characters. What I thought would be uplifting brought me down.

That reading experience got me to wondering whether the voices in my head are right. My friends and readers won’t expect something like this from me–which brings other voices to my mind, those that say, “no one will buy this anyway, and those who do will be disappointed in you.”

Negative voices are horrible things, those that tell you “can’t” and “don’t” and “shouldn’t.” Sometimes, though, these negative voices are right. They’re the ones that warn you not to take the curve at ninety miles per hour, not to take the leap when the fall is farther than you think and the landing is hard and painful. Stubborn people floor the accelerator or dive head first. They’re either fools doing foolish things with tragic results, or they’re geniuses, and the results reflect what they’ve believed all along.

When you’re talking about something as subjective as a manuscript idea, how do you know who’s right if you don’t try? And if you’re wrong, and the landing is hard and painful, at least it’s not deadly. Nothing can stop you from trying again. Just brace yourself for the I told you sos.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Personal, Writing, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments