Sunday, October 14, 2012


No, I haven't developed a new language. I've been inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to come up with my own theme for November:  Brea Nap Taking Month (BreNaTaMo). I'm not expecting it to catch on like NaNoWriMo has, but that's okay. The concept is simple:  I vow to take a nap every single day in the month of November.

I know... that's a huge commitment to sleep, but I think I'm up to the challenge. As a matter of fact, I've been training for this my whole life. I like sleep almost as much as I love writing. Plus, isn't napping mostly a matter of forcing oneself to lie down on the couch, bed, or in the car? Body in bed. No excuses. There will be no, "But I have to pick up the kids from school," or "Dinner's not going to make itself." What are my priorities? In November, those priorities will be sleep first, everything else after that. BreNaTaMo is important!!! It will be up to me to balance out the sleep continuum; I'll be keeping the universe in balance by getting the z's those NaNoWriMo writers will be eschewing in the pursuit of their goal to put 50,000 words together in some semblance of a rough first draft of a novel in the month of November. It's a lofty goal. I'll be cheering them on.

Does that mean I won't be writing in November? No way. That'd be like asking me to stop breathing. I'll still be writing as much as I do every month. I fully intend to finish my latest work-in-progress in November so I can edit and revise in December and publish in time for Christmas.

So, while I'm not formally participating in NaNoWriMo I will be wholeheartedly participating in BreNaTaMo. Wish me luck! And if you know a writer who's taking part in NaNoWriMo, please wish them luck, too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who's Telling this Story?

I have to get something off my chest. It's a first-world problem to be sure, but it affects a major part of MY world, so I need to vent.

Let me set the scene... It's my lunch break. I just finished a book the night before, so I'm looking through the long backlog of titles on my Kindle to decide which one to read next. I settle on one with a cute title and a clever premise, sit back, and prepare to escape to another place.

The book is written in third person from the point of view of a woman who's just lost her job and has also just found out from her boyfriend that he's been cheating on her. She's devastated by this news, obviously. She's nauseated. She's stunned. I'm feeling really bad for her. Oh, what a horrible day! I'm feeling her pain. And then suddenly, without warning, I'm thrust into the head of the unfaithful boyfriend, who's despairing about his soon-to-be-ex-girlfiend's reaction to his confession. I think, "Whoa! Either this protagonist is a mind reader or the author forgot who was telling this story."

Reading on, it's obvious it's the latter. And after another chapter, it's obvious that it's going to continue happening throughout the book. That's a deal breaker, kids. The book, which I was just moments ago very excited to read, goes into the "reject" folder on my Kindle.

Disappointed, I nevertheless choose another, only to be faced with another book with an identity crisis. REJECT.

What is happening? If these were the first two books I'd recently encountered with this problem, I'd chalk it up to an unfortunate coincidence and go on my way, but it's, sadly, a common occurrence in contemporary fiction. An epidemic. I see it all the time. And as a reader, I'm fed up with being made to feel schizophrenic by writers who don't have a basic understanding of the fundamental concept of point of view. Who's telling the story? 

In To Kill a Mockingbird, it's Scout, the young girl learning some hard life lessons pertaining to human nature. Does that mean we never know what Scout's father, Atticus Finch, is thinking or feeling? Of course not. In many instances, we know by what he says and does. But we never hear his thoughts directly. We see everything through the filter that is Scout. If Scout doesn't see it, hear it, taste it, or feel it, then neither do we.

In The Devil Wears Prada, it's Andrea Sachs, the terrorized junior assistant to a high-maintenance  magazine editor. Is the despot in the designer label voiceless? No! But the only character we know as if we are in her head is Andrea. She is the lens. We never find ourselves sensing that the evil magazine editor is hungry... unless she comes out and says, "I'm hungry," or Andrea hears her stomach growl. Because the story is written from Andrea's point of view.

In other books, the person telling the story may vary per scene or chapter or section. For example, in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, sometimes beleaguered publisher-turned-investigator, Mikael Blomkvist, is the character leading us through the story. Other times it's the title character, Lisbeth Salander, who is our guide. But never both at the same time. We don't have Lisbeth's point of view in one paragraph and Mikael's in the next.

It's just like life. Unless you're a mind reader, you can't hear what your boss is thinking when you arrive late to work for the third day in a row. You may have a good idea based on the scowl on her face. Or you may know more definitely when she says, "Your tardiness is becoming a problem." But there's a big difference between those two things and experiencing what she feels in connection with your lateness. You can't feel her frustration, anger, or disgust. Your personal point of view doesn't allow for that, just as it wouldn't if you were the protagonist in a book facing her boss in a similar situation.
Decide who's telling the story--or that particular part of the story--and stick with it. Put the camera in that character's hands, and don't let him or her hand it off to any other characters.

Below are the top five reasons writers need to get a handle on this elementary concept:
  1. It's bad manners to make the reader invade the privacy of more than one character at a time. Okay, it's not. But worse than that, it's bad writing.
  2. It's psychologically uncomfortable. Some people may not understand why reading your story makes them irritable and in the mood to kick puppies, but I do. It's because you're constantly yanking the reader out of the story by switching from character to character every other sentence or paragraph. If we wanted to watch a tennis match, we'd tune into ESPN.
  3. You're robbing readers of their expectation of discovery. As a matter of fact, there's nothing to discover. You're telling us everything! Please, don't insult our intelligence. We can deduce what secondary characters are thinking and feeling, as long as you write well and let us know through exposition and dialogue. We don't need to have it spelled out for us by ping-ponging around in every character's head.
  4. It's exhausting and overwhelming to know every character's thoughts and feelings at once. One character's insight at a time, please.
  5. It's frustrating to constantly wonder, "Who's thinking this?" or ask "Wasn't I just experiencing this from the woman's point of view? Why am I suddenly privy to the man's thoughts and feelings?"
Writers. It's not enough to have a great idea for a story. You have to know how to properly execute the storytelling through the written word. That's what makes you a WRITER. That means you need to have a firm grasp of spelling, grammar, mechanics, and most importantly POINT OF VIEW. Yes, you do. Don't shake your head at me and say, "Oh, an editor will take care of that." Puh-lease. You obviously don't have one if your book is making it to the marketplace with such obvious problems.

Have mercy on the mental well being of readers everywhere and get a grip!

I'm the crazy girl sitting in her car on her lunch break, beating her Kindle against the steering wheel. Just kidding. I would never mistreat my beloved Kindle. I'm also the author of six books available exclusively on Amazon. You can find links to their pages and my Twitter feed and Facebook page on my website, My seventh book, which I am currently writing, had better be point-of-view error-free after this self-indulgent rant. I am fully aware of that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taking Risks

I'm not a risk-taker. The most spontaneous thing I do on any given day is to decide what to eat for lunch... at lunchtime, with no prior planning. The second most spontaneous thing I do each day is decide whether to drink my coffee black or with a little half-and-half. I'm not kidding. That's how much I like flying by the seat of my pants.

So I should have known that taking a risk with my writing had the potential to meet with undesirable results.

Plain Jayne is a modern-day adaptation of Jane Eyre that I wrote on a whim. A months-long whim, granted, but a whim nonetheless. And along with some really positive reviews, it's also bringing me some of the nastiest, most negative reviews my work has ever received.

But I'm not here to whine about bad reviews. Really. Honestly. I want to talk about learning to take risks, despite the very real possibility of bad--or in this case--mixed results. A risk doesn't have to be a complete success to be successful.

I'm grateful to Plain Jayne. It's a departure from the norm that has--for the most part--paid off. For one, it jerked me out of my comfort zone. It's important to do that every once in a while. Wouldn't want to get too comfortable, right? Comfort is for sissies!

In addition, Plain Jayne has brought two new, very special people into my life. Real people, not imaginary ones (although I do love Jayne and Lucas). I like making new friends, especially these two. They've greatly enriched my life, and I have Plain Jayne to thank for it.

Less overtly positive, it has taught me that not everything is going to be an unmitigated success. Oh, I've already learned that lesson in all the other facets of my life, but my writing has been something that hasn't faced overwhelming rejection and disapproval. It was time to get a healthy dose of it.

Enter Plain Jayne.

"I wanted to tear my eyes out."
"Agonizingly slow."
"Too slow."
"Seemed to drag a bit."

Hmmm... I think I see a pattern here.

Now for a sampling of some of the POSITIVE things people not related to me have said in public forums about Plain Jayne (we don't want Jayne to get a complex, after all).

"Funny, entertaining book."
"A fresh read."
"REALLY good. And funny--so funny!"
"I didn't want it to end."
"I didn't want to put it down."
"Yet another well-written, engaging book."

And interestingly enough:
"Great with Tuscan Whole Milk."

Okay, then. I'll take it.

And you know what else I'll take? I'll take the criticism. I'll take ownership of Plain Jayne. I'm proud of it. I like it. I like the characters. I like the story. And I liked writing it (except for the times that I hated writing it). It actually felt good to do something different and challenge myself.

Plus, as the contradicting comments above clearly show, what one person hates is what another person loves (with milk, apparently).

So, whether it's with writing or any other part of your life that you're passionate about, learn to take some risks. Even if you stumble or fall down while doing it, no failure is a complete failure. It's not going to kill you. (Unless it's skydiving or cliffdiving or some other physically dangerous pursuit. In those cases, you may want to take fewer risks.)

If you'd like to see what camp you'd fall into ("Boo!" "Yay!" or "Great with Tuscan Whole Milk"), check out Plain Jayne and all my other books at And, please, feel free to give an HONEST review. My skin is thickening, and my pillow is very absorbent.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Jury's Out

Much to the delight of my husband, who's been called several times, my number recently came up for Greene County jury duty. At first, I was chagrined, but the more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to the experience. First off, it would get me away from the office for a day or two (or twenty); second, it's my civic duty, and I'm all about duty; third, it would be great experience and fodder for future fiction. Win, win, win.

I was particularly excited to run into some "characters." I live in the Ozarks, after all. We're overrun with characters. And the people I met at court would be great in an upcoming book of mine. Not any book in particular, mind you, but some book someday in the future.

My biggest concern about jury duty was forgetting to go. I've been plagued with nightmares of inadvertently dodging my responsibility since I accepted the summons weeks ago. The summons told me I needed to call the day before my scheduled service to see if the court still needed my group (Group 7). I've been telling myself for two weeks, "Can't forget to call. Can't forget to call." Sometimes, in the middle of the day, my stomach would drop, and I'd think, "What's the date? Did I forget to call? Did I miss my date?" A normal person would set an alarm on her cell phone and be done with it, but... who has two thumbs and isn't normal? This girl! I'd rather experience daily heart-stopping moments of terror and dread for weeks. Yes, that's much better.

Friday at work, I made the sort of arrangements normally reserved for vacation time away from the office, fully prepared to be gone for an unknown amount of time. It was sort of exciting! Okay, this is when I determined that my life is reaching an extreme level of lameness. But I've lived through some exciting times, and I have to say, I much prefer the type of boring existence I currently lead. I'm content with having the prospect of jury duty thrill me, because that means life is pleasantly dull, and nothing horribly stressful is going on.

All day yesterday, I repeated my "Don't forget to call" mantra. I had a dream last night about being arrested at work for shirking my duty after forgetting to go. And I've spent a lot of today looking at the clock, waiting until the magic hour of 5:00, when it was time for me to call and listen to the recorded message regarding group assignments.

Five o'clock arrived. I waited until 5:36 (because I'm cool like that). Then, with summons slip in hand, I dialed the first number listed. The man in the recording informed me that Groups 1-3 were to report on Tuesday, rather than Monday. Then, "Groups 4 through 14 are dismissed. Your service is no longer required."

What?! After all that, Group 7 is simply dismissed without ever reporting? Really? But I'm willing! And I really wanted the experience! And I've been fretting about this for weeks. Now, I'm dismissed? How anti-climactic! Someone really needs to instruct the Greene County Court in the ways of story arc.

Ah, well. I guess I'll have to be content with dealing with the usual characters tomorrow at work. Ho. Hum.

I live in Springfield, Missouri, and work with a bunch of engineers and geologists forty hours a week. Is it any wonder I was excited by the opportunity to serve on a jury? My fictional characters' lives are a lot more thrilling than my real life. Check it out for yourself. Links to my books' Amazon pages are on my webpage, You can also find links to my email, my Twitter feed, my Facebook account, and this blog from there. Don't be shy; drop me a note!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sneak Peek of QUIET, PLEASE!

Only the very final touches remain before publication of my latest book, Quiet, Please! I'm very excited about this, because it's something I've been writing off-and-on for a while, between other projects. Frankly, I thought it was going to be one of my "drawer books;" that is, shoved in a drawer (electronic, in this case), never to be seen by the public. It was very rough after its first draft, but it's matured over the months into something that I think is fun and that readers will enjoy. It's quite different from the original idea I had, which seems to happen a lot with my books, leading me to believe that I may be fickle. I guess there are worse things to be.

Is Quiet, Please! going to inspire people to solve the world's problems? Probably not. Will it help someone forget his or her real problems for a while? Maybe. Will it make people laugh? I hope so, since that's kind of the point.

Anyway, without further ado, here's Chapter One. I promise I won't make you wait much longer to read the rest. Enjoy!

Chapter One
     What am I doing here?
     Not literally. I know that. I’m labeling, cataloging, and shelving books, activities that are almost as natural to me as breathing. What’s unnatural is everything else about this situation.
     I’m in a bright, airy library that’s painted in vibrant colors with cheerful murals depicting children who are reading (and looking unnaturally happy about it, in my opinion). But that’s not the strangest thing about what’s going on. The strangest thing is that I, a professional, highly educated librarian—a librarian for adults, I might add—am in charge of this place. What’s most alarming, though, is that in a week, this place will be flooded with kids. “Strange,” I can handle. Kids… I don’t handle them as well.
     I’d better figure it out, though. And quick.
     Anyway, I’m up to the challenge. Aside from the fact that I don’t have a choice, I can do this. Maybe. I mean, they’re only kids, right? It’s not like they’re going to know that I’m terrified of them. Huh-huh. Or that I’m not at all confident in my ability to do this job. Huh-huh-huh. To them, I’m merely another—gulp—teacher. As long as I look the part and act the part, they won’t know that I’m a bundle of nerves inside.
     I obviously fooled the school’s principal, Renalda Twomey. That, or she made a bad decision after being twenty minutes late for my interview and hardly paying any attention to my answers. I didn’t fool her harried secretary, that much I know. I could tell by the wide-eyed, panicked look on her face when Ms. Twomey interrupted me halfway through my answer to her third question—which was technically more about whether I liked her purse than about the job opening—to say that I was hired.
     As an explanation for her sudden decision, she added, “I like you, Kendall; you’ve got spunk! And you’re just cute as can be! Those kids are gonna eat you up!” in her heavy North Carolina accent.
     I tried to take that as a compliment and block out all mental images of the children picking my bones clean on the first day and leaving them on the floor in front of the shelf that holds the Berenstain Bears books.
     The secretary, who had introduced herself to me as Sam Kingsley while I waited for Ms. Twomey to arrive, interjected, “Okay, but… Ms. Dickinson, how does your previous experience in…” she consulted my resume, “…the Kansas City Public Library system relate to or prepare you for a job in a public school setting?”
     Her mention of my former employer immediately made me break into a cold sweat. Vaguely, I answered with a bright smile and wide eyes, “Oh! I dealt with kids all the time at my old job.” And co-workers who behaved like them.
     “Did you work in the children’s section?” she persisted, her voice pleasant but her eyes informing me she wasn’t going to let me get away with that lame answer.
     I gulped and admitted, “No, not specifically. I filled in often, though. And…” Here, I had to fight my natural instinct to be completely and brutally honest about myself. “…I love kids. Love them! They’re so… cute and… young.”
     Ms. Twomey saved me then. “Oh, Sam, stop givin’ the poor girl the third degree! Whitehall Elementary needs a librarian… and fast.” Turning to me, she confided, “Our current one is retirin’. And she was super-experienced, but… we need someone younger, I think. That’s what I’ve been sayin’, anyway. But all the other applicants are… well, old! And I don’t want to have to hire another librarian in another coupla years, when one of those old people retires.”
     I pretended like it wasn’t at all ironic that a person who’s not a day younger than sixty would call anyone else who’s still active in the workforce “old.” Nor did I point out that it’s illegal for her to discriminate based on age. Instead, I saw my salvation in this disorganized, seemingly clueless mess of a person and nodded enthusiastically.
     Pouring on the Southern accent a little thicker than mine really is, I enthused, “Exactly! And let me tell you, I’m here to stay. Came here to be closer to my parents, so I’m not going anywhere.”
     Ms. Twomey grinned at Sam as if to say, “See?” and directed warmly at me, “Well, anyone with such good family values is a winner in my book. We’ll see you back here on the first Monday in August. That’s when teachers are supposed to come in to get their rooms ready and stuff.”
     After that declaration, she rose from behind her desk and grabbed her purse from the floor, where she’d dropped it when she rushed in, profusely apologizing for being late and muttering something about slow service at the hair salon.
     “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to a meetin’,” she announced.
     Sam very obviously rolled her eyes and asked, “How long will you be gone?”
     Waving off the question, the principal stayed focused on digging for something in her purse. Coming up with a lipstick, she replied while applying it, “M-dunnoOne, two hours?” She replaced the lid on the tube and said, “Don’t wait up for me, Mom.” Then she smiled naughtily at both of us and swept from the room, leaving behind the cloying smell of Aqua Net and Red Door perfume.
     Sam stood and leveled a chagrined look at me. “Sorry about that. If I don’t ask at least one legitimate question in these interviews, it doesn’t get done.”
     I smiled brightly at her. I didn’t care. I had a job! And I didn’t have to go into any detail about why I had to leave my other job. Generously, I said, “Don’t sweat it. I kind of noticed she has an… unconventional management style.”
     Bluntly, Sam corrected, “She’s an incompetent buffoon. And she drives me crazy. I’m counting down the days to her retirement.”
     “When’s that?” I inquired, trying not to laugh.
     “Probably never. Because God hates me. Come on, let’s go back to my desk and get the employment forms you need to fill out. I’ve got some of them here, but you’ll have to go to the district main office to do the rest.”
     Since that day, she’s been really nice to me, showing me around the school and introducing me to the other teachers (the ones who are here already). But I’m not letting her get too close. I mean, standoffish isn’t in my nature. But I haven’t accepted any of her offers to go to lunch or grab drinks after work. Work friends are overrated. I want to have a life outside of work this time around. I have no idea how I’m going to do that, but I’m sure I can think of something to do with my spare time that doesn’t involve hanging out with the same people I see all week at work or playing Skip-Bo with my parents in the evenings.
     Fortunately, I have some experience with this reinvention thing. And this time around, it won’t even be as difficult as it was nine years ago.
     We moved from Colorado to this tiny town before my junior year in high school. The move was a godsend. Suddenly, I was the exotic newcomer from “out west.” This preconception made it fairly easy for me to lay the groundwork for going from geek to chic. In Colorado, I couldn’t buy friends, but nobody in North Carolina knew that. And if ever I made a misstep in my transformation, all I had to say was, “Oh, well, that’s how everyone does it/says it/thinks in Colorado," and it suddenly became a trend. It. Was. Awesome.
     But it only lasted for two years. Hardly anyone, including myself, stays in this town after high school graduation. It’s basically an outpost for professionals who work in Charlotte but want to live and raise their families in a smaller community. I stuck around a little longer than my classmates, because I went to college at UNC-Charlotte, where my parents are professors. But as soon as I had that university diploma in hand, I tried to find the farthest-flung job openings in libraries across the country. I wanted to be a grownup. I wanted to prove my independence. Biggest mistake of my life.
     Since returning from Kansas City with my tail between my legs, I haven’t run into any of my former classmates from high school (thank goodness), and I haven’t actively sought out anyone, either. Friends weren’t my motivation for coming back. What brought me back here was family. My parents, more specifically. I needed to reset with a safety net under me. I moved into my own place with the knowledge that if I couldn’t find a job, they’d open their house to me in a heartbeat, just like they did more than twenty-five years ago.
     This job has saved me from the ultimate defeat—moving back in with my parents—but I need to remember some old tricks if I want it to be a permanent solution. And I do. I’m sure the terror level will lessen with each passing day. Right?
     Anyway, I don’t have to change everything about myself this time around. No, I merely need to do a bit of research and observation and figure out what this whole “teacher” thing is about. Maybe I’ll watch some classic movies about the sort of teachers who inspire, like in Dangerous Minds. Yeah… I’ll be bad-ass, leather-sportin’ Michelle Pfeiffer. Or maybe not. I guess elementary students here in the sticks don’t need that sort of direction. Perhaps I should consider channeling “Jess,” from New Girl. People are constantly telling me that I remind them of Zooey, so why wouldn’t I be a teacher like her character on the show? Ooh! Maybe I’ll meet a hot, rich, single father who looks like Dermott Mulroney and date him for a while, too. Yes… I like this plan…
     During my daydreaming, I’ve somehow managed to put away all the books that arrived this morning. I collapse the box they came in and carry it behind the counter, where I’ll store it until I have a chance to take it out to the recyclables dumpster later. Then I pull out my weekly schedule and study it, as if I don’t already have it memorized.
     What’s most daunting to me is that while the rest of the teachers each have 25 to 30 students in their rooms each day, 100 to 120 students will come through the library on any given day. I’ll have to learn all their names and pretend that I like them. I think the latter part of that challenge is the harder half.
     I wish I liked kids. And maybe I will when this is all over, if these kids are nice enough not to make me hate kids even more. Not that I hate them. I don’t. That word conveys too strong an emotion about them. I’m almost totally indifferent to them. I don’t ooh and aah over babies or the cute, funny things that older children say or do. Most of the time, I don’t give any person under the age of 21 any thought at all.
     Maybe it’s because I don’t remember what it feels like to be a kid, so I have no empathy for them. It seems like I’ve been a grownup forever. As a child, I was precocious, and as I grew up, I was always mature for my age. Being an only adopted child, my parents took me everywhere and included me in everything they did until I was old enough to stay home alone. Since they’re academics, I was privy to dinner table conversations that ran the gamut from the weather to the political climate in third world countries. I learned early on how to hold my own in these conversations, but I was lost when it came to playground debates about Barbie versus Brattz. The point is, I met political activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel at one of my parents’ dinner parties when I was eight and had more to say to him than I did to any of my classmates in the lunchroom on a daily basis. That meant I had to actually study pop culture like another school subject to avoid being a complete outcast.
     So, I flourished in college. By about the third week of the fall semester my freshman year, when all the lightweights had dropped out and those of us who were serious about learning were left, I knew I was in my element. This was an atmosphere that encouraged intellectual debate and exploration. Sure, there were the fraternities and sororities that seemed more interested in partying, but there were as many of us—if not more—who cared about academics. I was no longer a minority. I didn’t have to waste time boning up on reality TV stats.
     Naturally, I chose one of the most notoriously nerdy majors:  library science. Technology was making it more interesting than ever, and I couldn’t think of any other career I’d rather pursue. The idea of being surrounded by books all the time for the rest of my life was thrilling. I’d never run out of knowledge to soak up, and I’d be ensuring that same knowledge was accessible to the masses.
     It wasn’t until I got my first real grownup post-graduate job in the Kansas City Public Library system that I found someone with like interests who also made me feel that spark of attraction.
     But anyway… with less than a week to go before school starts, I’m way too busy to think about him.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action... (Or Not)

Obvious statement of the day: I'm slightly behind the curve when it comes to literary marketing tools. That's also the understatement of the day (I love multitasking). So, I'm sure book trailers aren't new devices in the ever-growing and -changing literary world, but it wasn't until recently that I started seeing these things everywhere.

In case you're more clueless than I am about these things (and bless you, if you are), a book trailer is similar to a movie trailer, only for a book. Wow. Is it any wonder I'm a writer, with such apt descriptions as that? To be more specific, the ones I've seen have combined written text with actor depictions of certain parts of the book, narrated by the author. If you ever took a literature class in college, it's sort of like a fancy book talk. In this case, the author's delivering the book talk, telling you about the book under pictures and video and text.

I hated book talks.

While I've been processing my thoughts on book trailers, I've been avoiding bringing up the topic with Smart Guy, sure he'll suggest I do one. Narfity narf narf. So imagine my surprise when he sent me an email late last night that read, "What is with 'book trailers?' Remember when you just bought a book because you heard it was good?" Then he sent me a link to one he'd run across. I was relieved that he sounded less-than-enthusiastic. That means we're on the same page, so to speak.
What is happening to us, the reading public? As readers, have we become so lazy that we can't even READ a book description to decide whether we want to read a book? As writers, do we have to turn everything into a cinematic experience to drum up interest? Who is the audience for these trailers? Readers who don't really like to read? Are we tricking people into reading books? "Look! Reading this book will be just like watching a movie!" No, it won't be. Reading this book will be just like reading a book. And if you don't like reading books, then... you won't like reading this one, either, no matter how you found out about it.

Okay, I'm being intentionally obtuse to prove a point, an annoying habit of mine that drives my friends and family crazy but that amuses me greatly and wins me many arguments. At least, it annoys people enough that they let me have the last word, which I usually interpret as "winning."

To prevent you from thinking I'm a complete idiot, though, I'll admit that I do understand what the purpose of a book trailer is. It broadens an author's marketing reach. Selling books is all about exposure. Most of the challenge is making people aware that your book even exists. You gotta blitz your potential readers. Bombard them with tweets, Facebook posts, posters, billboards, print, TV, and Internet ads, and now... book trailers. People are bound to see at least one of these forms of marketing. In theory.

The book trailer Smart Guy directed me to last night will remain nameless here, because I'm going to give my very blunt opinion of it. It was awful. It's not that it didn't look professional, because it did. I'm sure the author shelled out a ton of money to produce it. It looked like she did, anyway... for the most part. There were some questionable film shots used for certain parts of the trailer that didn't seem to correspond with her description of the plot, but the film quality was good. In other words, it didn't look like she recorded it on her cell phone. It was disturbing that I never saw an actor's face--there were a lot of hands doing things--but I guess that was in keeping with the literary tradition of allowing potential readers to use their imaginations. Very artsy.

The worst part of the trailer, though, was the author's description. It was rambling. She was sitting at what appeared to be her kitchen table, her laptop in front of her on the table. And while she may have had a rough script, I suspect there was a lot of ad-libbing going on. The director probably said, "Keep it casual, like you're talking to your next door neighbor about real people, not book characters." I wish she had ignored that advice. The two-and-a-half minute trailer could have been condensed to a minute, easily. As a matter of fact, I stopped watching about ninety seconds into it.

In spite of all that... I sort of want to read that book. I would have preferred taking thirty seconds to read a blurb about it on Amazon, instead of cringing my way through a minute-and-a-half of an author gushing about characters like they're her best friends and watching incongruent film shots featuring people with no faces, but I didn't run across a book description on Amazon, did I? This is the first I've heard of this book. And that's just it, isn't it? The trailer was the format that reached me first. And I didn't even have to watch the whole thing to decide I was curious enough to read it. So... it worked.

I'm fully aware I shouldn't admit this, because it means that a certain someone is going to use my own admission against me in an effort to convince me to do one, despite the fact that he seemed as perplexed and skeptical about them in his email to me. It's another tool in the toolbox and blah, blah, blah.

But when I visualize myself in a book trailer, I want to cry. As critical as I was of the author in the most recent trailer I watched, she came across a zillion times better than I would. I look like a writer. I look like I sit on my ass 95% of my life and stare at a computer screen, too absorbed in imaginary lives to care about things like skin care and haircuts and a balanced diet. And because I express myself in written form most of the time, I've pretty much lost my ability to speak coherently. I'm constantly mentally editing, which produces pauses and backtracks in my speech that make me sound like the village idiot.

Plus, as gooberish as she sometimes sounded when talking about her characters, she was cool and composed compared to the way I'd be. Since I fall in love with every male lead I've ever written, I'd sound like a giddy teenager while describing them. I'd be exposed as the pathetic dork I really am. I benefit greatly from people seeing as little of the real me as possible.

No, the book trailer would NOT be a good marketing medium for me. Hear that, Smart Guy? Not good.

Now, I need to go buy that book.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Readers Want to FEEL

A book is not a screenplay. Well! I'll take "Obvious Crap" for $1000, Alex.

Yes, you THINK that's obvious, but you'd be surprised how many writers of BOOKS don't understand that concept. You know why? Because they're already envisioning their books as movies.

Hands up who hasn't done that. (My hand is down, just so you know.)

But one of the biggest mistakes a fiction writer can make is to say, "This scene is great, because it's exactly how I picture it on the big screen." Oh, boy. Too bad the rest of the world isn't privy to the pretty pictures in your head. Actually, it's a really good thing the rest of the world isn't privy to the pictures in my head most of the time. But anyway...

Do I envision my books playing out like a movie in my head when I write them? Yes, of course. We are a movie-watching society. Our brains have been trained to work that way. I even go so far as to decide which actors would play my characters if it were a movie. Because that's just fun. But it would be a major mistake to treat a book like a screenplay during the writing process. That's because screenwriting purposely takes the emotion out of the equation.

A talented screenwriter recently told me that a true screenplay doesn't contain anything in it that you can't see on the screen. So, you can give stage directions, such as, "Jane frowned," but you can't say, "Jane's stomach dropped to her feet, and she felt like all the happiness had been sucked from the world." You can't say that, because you can't SEE that happening onscreen. You shouldn't write that in a book, either, because it sucks on sooooo many levels. But the point is... screenwriters write to show, because moviegoers need to SEE what's happening. Plus, actors will provide the emotional interpretation.

Books don't have the luxury of talented actors providing the translation of actions into emotions. That's the author's job. It starts with setting the scene with physical descriptions, but that's only the beginning. If a writer describes the action in a book like a passive observer, the reader will never relate to the characters. And what's the point of that? 

Books are nothing without feeling. And there's no way I can truly know how a character is feeling by "watching" him or her go through a bunch of stage directions. You may know when you read, "Jane frowned," that she's unhappy about something; however, a writer's goal is to make the reader feel what Jane's feeling, to describe what it feels like to be unhappy. Unfortunately, we all know. But not everyone can put it into words and make someone else remember how it feels, even when he or she is feeling far from unhappy (because they're reading a good book). But it's absolutely essential that the writer makes the reader feel what the character is feeling so that he or she can relate to that character.

Yeah, it's fun to imagine my novels being played out onscreen by beautiful actors who will meet me and want to be my best friends (sorry... those positions are already filled). BUT I gotta write the books first. Because I don't write movies. I write emotions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chop, Chop!

Here's my typical book-drafting process:
  1. Come up with brilliant idea.
  2. Obsess about brilliant idea.
  3. Create incredibly elaborate world around brilliant idea.
  4. Immerse myself in incredibly elaborate world based on brilliant idea.
  5. Decide brilliant idea is crap.
  6. Rethink entire idea.
  7. Find one detail that fixes it all.
  8. Re-immerse myself in imaginary world.
  9. Write, write, write, write, write.
  10. Despair when I get to end of story and realize I've written 105,000 words, nearly twice the number of words in an average chick lit novel.
Oh, dear!

Time to be ruthless. Time to hack and slash. Time to make that backspace key my bitch.

Only... I love every single word! How do I choose which ones can stay and which ones have to go? More specifically, how do I choose which 15,000 words aren't going to make the final cut?

This is when I spend about a week or two deleting a word here or there on each page. Then I graduate to full sentences ("Oh, that's redundant, I guess"), and eventually, I progress to paragraphs. Pretty soon entire chapters are gettin' the ax! Everything must go! It can get pretty gruesome.

I've learned the hard way over the years to save the 105,000-word monster before I start hacking off its limbs. That way, if I get too carried away, I can resurrect the beast. Or at least part of it. I know I've truly made the right choices for the story if I can cut something I loved but that didn't add to the finished product. I have to say, though, it's even better if I can find a way to make the parts I love indispensable to the plot.

And if everything goes well, the briefer version ends up being twice as good as the original. Verbosity does not necessarily equal quality. So often, less is more. And nothing feels better than finally figuring out where to cut, where to condense, and where to keep the original brilliance, as-is. Those are the kind of days that remind me why I love to write.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I recently took a rare weekend off. It. Was. Awesome. Between my day job, my writing, my editing side job, and marketing my books, I've been working upwards of 18 hours every single day for weeks. It's like I forgot how to relax. More accurately, I thought that if I let up on the pace, I'd get lazy and not want to work again. Ever.

Courtesy: Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC
That's me on the left. Yeah...!
So this weekend (which I've dubbed the BEST WEEKEND EVER), I treated myself to a Drop Dead Diva marathon (thank you, Netflix). If you're not familiar with this show, I highly recommend you acquaint yourself with it. Heartfelt thanks to a friend who wouldn't shut up about the show and made me curious enough to spend my entire weekend on it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And I remembered there are lots of other things I like to do when I'm not writing. *Gasp!* Writing is NOT the end-all and be-all? That may be true. Now before anyone gets all judgey-judgey or starts thinking I'm losing my passion for hanging out with imaginary people, calm down. I have a reasonable explanation for this seeming break with my personality. Decompressing is important, even for someone like me, someone who uses writing as a means of decompressing. It's been so long, though, since I've taken any extended breaks that I'd almost forgotten my favorite off-hours activities. Here are my top five:

  1. Watch British period pieces. Oh, yeah. There's nothing like a good viewing of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow to recharge the batteries. Or better yet, Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth. Unfortunately, I rarely have five hours to devote to decompression, so CF often loses out to more snack-sized bites of fine acting. I hear he's terribly broken up about this, but there will be plenty of time for us to hang out together later.

    Photo Courtesy: BBC
    Really, Colin. Stop giving me the stink-eye.

  2. Play The Sims3. Mostly, I build epic houses. But every once in a while, I create Sims based on the characters in my books. Hmm... doesn't seem as much like "taking a break" when I admit that. But trust me when I say it's fun for me.
  3. Host game nights or movie nights with friends. Again, this is a big time commitment, so I don't get to do this as frequently as I'd like, but there's nothing like acting ten years younger (at least) and laughing until my sides ache. Not to mention, it's always fun to be with real people for an evening. At least, it's a nice change of pace.

    I think green's my color.

  4. Read Chick Lit. This may seem a little too closely related to writing Chick Lit, but it's nice every once in a while to let another author figure out how a story is going to work out.
  5. Goof off on Facebook. If I have to embrace the forum, I might as well enjoy myself. I've met some really fun, funny people. I like interfacing with them. And they're sort of real, right?
Wow. I sit on my butt a LOT. No wonder it's started to closely resemble the size and shape of my couch. You know what? Don't judge me.

Anyway, the point of this weekend was to get some rest and hit my reset button. I was relieved to discover I still know how to do that. And I hope tomorrow I'll be equally relieved to discover I'm okay with getting back to work.

Check out my website for all things Brea Brown (at least the stuff related to my writing). There, you'll find links to my Facebook and Twitter pages. You can also point and click your way to buying all my books from there, so you'll have something to read the next time you take some time away from it all. Happy reading!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Marketing is Hard

At the risk of whining... I'm tired! And this is coming from the woman who can write for eight to twelve hours straight, barely coming up for air, food, and bathroom breaks. In other words, I don't shy away from hard work. I know how to put my nose to the grindstone. But this marketing stuff is grueling! "Hey, everyone, look at me! Love me! Follow me so you can read my tweets about nothing! Tell everyone you know how awesome I am!"

Yeah. I don't feel awesome.

I feel like someone's been keeping me awake for a scientific study and then asking me to do Sukoku while playing Scrabble, filling out logic puzzles, and balancing my checkbook. I've always prided myself on being a good multi-tasker, doing lots of things at once but never any one thing really well (isn't that the definition of "multi-tasking"?), but in this case, I'm supposed to do it all at once while maintaining a quality of work that has heretofore not been expected of me. I mean, even in journalism, I was told "You get the idea" so many times regarding fact reporting that the pressure to perform well eventually lessened to tolerable levels, even for my Type-A personality.

Unfortunately, "You get the idea," doesn't fly in marketing. Because unless you cram yourself down people's throats 24/7, they don't get the idea. See, I'm not very good at "cramming." I had an unfortunate experience with one of my kids at Thanksgiving one year and have avoided force feeding at all costs since then. You don't want a bellyful of me? Okay. Fair enough. Moving on. I don't want anyone puking on my Facebook page. (Please hold while I have a traumatic flashback.)

Anyway, in the past two weeks, I've joined the ranks of tweeters and designed and published a website, all at the constant urging of someone who knows a lot more than I do about marketing. In the meantime, I've also blaarghed, edited a book for a fellow writer, published my latest book, and started editing and rewriting one of my other books. In addition, I've sort of held down a full-time brick-and-mortar job. Please, don't ask me where my kids are, however. I have no idea.

It's fine, though. I mean, sleep, food, and personal relationships with real-life people are overrated anyway, right? This is my dream we're talking about. It's not going to happen by magic. The stories (a.k.a., "myths," perpetuated by marketers) about success and fame landing in the laps of undiscovered authors, are sort of like the stories about people winning the lottery. And anyway, even those people had to play to win. So, I'm playing. I'm playing hard. And until now, only a few people had the misfortune of listening to me bellyache about it. I thought it was time to spread the wealth. After all, there's plenty to go around!

All griping aside, though, I understand that marketing is a necessarily evil. And I'm not doing it all by myself. I have some generous individuals behind the scenes doing some things for me that I just don't have the time or desire to do. I don't know what I'd do without their support. And by that, I mean putting up with me. What they're doing to get the word out about me is also pretty freaking fantastic and humbling. That way, I can focus a little more on what I do want to do: writing.

Because I LOVE writing. I mean, I'd totally marry it if I could. No offense to the guy I'm already married to. I think he'd understand. He'd probably welcome it, at this point, come to think of it. "Hey, Writing, she's all yours. Good luck with that. Uh... word to the wise: never let her Fancy Cakes supply run out. Ever."

Would it be great if I could drop the full-time day job to focus on writing? Heck yeah! I think that would make a world of difference. Can't do that, though, until I get my name out there and sell more books. Or find a fairy godpublisher to make all my dreams come true. Until then, I'm stuck in go-go-go mode, switching hats often and hoping I don't bathe my laptop or put a diaper on the dog we don't have. Because that would be awkward, at best.

Fire up the Keurig!

If you want to contribute to my dream, buy my entire catalog of published books on Amazon. Or you can start with one. Or two. Or you can send me a personal check. I also accept cash. If you're in more of a social mood than a spending/giving mood, pop onto my website. There, you'll find links to my Facebook page, my Twitter whatever-you-call-it, and my email address. It's really quite amazing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The F-Word

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but... people use the f-word a lot nowadays. Christian people. Non-Christian people. Flawed people. Happy people. Sad people. And my imaginary people have been known to use it, too. Apparently, several readers think my imaginary people use it too much.

"What is [Brea Brown's] obsession with the f-word?" Someone recently posed that question in a review of one of my books on Amazon. She's not the first one to criticize my books for it, either. I'd probably make more money than I do on royalties if I had a dollar for every time a reader said something to the effect of, "I liked the story, but the potty language was a turn-off."

Easy fix, right? Stop using profanity in my books. Not so fast. But I will offer this explanation for why the characters in my books use "salty language:"

First of all, I don't have an obsession with the f-word or any profanity, for that matter. What I am, obsessed with, however, is realistic characters. You won't find the f-word in any descriptive passages in my books. You will find it in dialogue and exposition that can be attributed to characters, though. You know why? Because real people talk like that.

It's true! I wouldn't lie to you. I like you, even if you think I'm a foul-mouthed, dirty pirate hooker.

I'm sure some of the dismay about bad words in my books stems from the fact that many readers have mistakenly perceived my Secret Keeper books to be Christian fiction. Please see blog post "I'm a Christian WRITER , but not a CHRISTIAN Writer." I used to think this wasn't my problem. Now I'm beginning to see that... it's kind of a problem. Because fans of Christian fiction see the word "Pastor" in my book descriptions and make assumptions I can't live up to. Then they post lukewarm to poor reviews, because they want characters who say "Gee whiz" and "golly goobers" and "fiddlesticks," and that just ain't gonna fly for most characters in my books. I think it's fake and silly and ridiculous to hold fictional people to a standard that just doesn't exist anymore.

And anyway... they're just words! Words that we as a society have attached negative connotations, for sure, but man-made words nonetheless. We as a society need to learn how to put on our big girls' and boys' panties and stop making it everyone else's job to protect us and our children from those things that may be distasteful to us. No more banning American literary treasures from school libraries because they contain the n-word. Rather, let's teach our children that all language has context. The intent behind the language is far more important than the word itself.

Plus, I'm a word nerd, and I can't help but be fascinated (not obsessed) by a word that can function as every part of speech in the English language. It can be used to express just about every sort of emotion, too. Joy: "Eff yeah!" Anger: "Eff you!" Sadness: "Oh, eff..." Frustration: "Eff me." You get the idea. I think it's a funny word, and I think it's equally-amusing how much stock some people put in it. Do I make it a habit to use it around my children? Negative. It's not a polite word, and anyone who knows me knows I'm all about manners. (*cough, cough*)

But I do use that word in my books. Do I do it to shock and offend people? No. I use it--and other profanity--to lend credibility to my characters and my stories. Perhaps I should put a disclaimer in the front of my books: "Warning! This book contains realistic characters who say bad words when provoked. Please turn back now if this will offend your sensibilities."

I understand that a minority of people choose not use profanity. If you're one of them, good for you! I'm sure you have wonderful, altruistic reasons for abstaining. For example, I've heard people say it displays a lack of intelligence and suggests a narrow vocabulary. I will have to politely and without any curse words disagree with those people. But that's a debate for another blaaaaargh post.

Today, I simply wanted to address the seemingly endless number of readers who feel the need to tell the world what a great writer I'd be and how much they would have enjoyed my books if only I'd make my characters a little less realistic and a little more one-dimensional. My mom reads my books. If that's not motivation enough to keep it squeaky clean, then that's a pretty good indication my characters are never going to conform to some people's strict ideals regarding decency. And if anyone ever writes a critical review citing language as their only reason for not liking one of my books, with the aim of receiving an apology from me, they'll be disappointed. But you know what? That's life!

If profanity doesn't offend you, check out my books. I publish them exclusively on Amazon. It's the bleepity-bleep best place to get e-books. I bleepin' love it! Also, come visit me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. I'm pretty good at controlling my potty mouth in most posts and tweets.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

PLAIN JAYNE Publication Day

I'm getting cocky. Second Pub Day of the summer for me, and it might as well be just another day. I mean, I haven't had diarrhea once. I even left my house to have brunch with some friends, which means I couldn't sit at my computer and hit the "refresh" button on my sales reports. Or obsessively monitor Facebook for encouraging comments from readers, friends, and family. I hit that "publish" button like I was hitting "send" on an email to a friend. No biggie. Plain Jayne is out there for all to see. All 93,000 words of it.

cover image copyright 2012 by Laura Sellars
Yeah. It's really long. I'm sort of worried about that. I mean, readers of my books often say, "I didn't want it to end," but you want to elicit that response. You want to leave them wanting more. You don't want to have them continuously checking to see how much further they have to go. "Is it over yet?" is not something you want them asking themselves. We'll see if I've pushed the envelope too far with this one. Obviously, I think every word in the book is necessary. I think the story's complete and that every chapter has a purpose. I hope readers agree.

If they don't, I'm sure they won't be shy about telling me. Very publicly. And none-too-gently. What did one reader recently say about The Secret Keeper Confined? "It felt like a book-length epilogue." Ouch. In my defense, it is the second book in a very character-driven series. It's not supposed to be action-packed. But still... Ouchie. Shake it off, Brown!

Today, though, I feel good about Plain Jayne. I didn't even panic when I found out AFTER publication that there are a few other books with the same title. Same spelling of "Jayne," and everything. And I thought I was being so clever. Hmmm... Ego alert! Where's Smart Guy when I need him to knock me down a few pegs and tell me to keep working, keep tweeting, and stop resting on my laurels (and stop using cliches)? I'll have to settle for having boogers wiped on me and Pop Tart pieces sneezed into my face. It's almost as humbling.

Anyway, all kidding aside, I'm really not taking Publication Day for granted. I'm currently closely monitoring sales and wondering how long it'll take for the first reviews (for better or worse) to come in. I'm nervous, hoping I didn't forget something huge or overlook a bunch of typos. Brunch was a lovely diversion, but as soon as it was over, Pub Day was the first thing on my mind again. I've tried to work on my next book in the pipeline, but I have the attention span of a hyperactive dog in a rabbit hatchery. Every encouraging comment I get on my author Facebook page is greatly appreciated. I sort of need a hug. I'm as needy as ever.

The good news is, I have a lot to keep me busy, if I'll only focus. And this Pub Day will pass like all the others. And I will have survived. It's only fiction, after all. Can you imagine if I had a really important occupation? I'll pause here for the collective shudder amongst family and friends. Yeah. Writers are so weird.

Wanna spend even more time with me? You know you do. "Like" my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, or drop me an email. My chick lit is available exclusively on Amazon, to the chagrin of the six NOOK users out there who keep trying to persuade me to give up my cushy exclusive Amazon benefits and publish on NOOK, too. Probably not gonna happen for a while. Sorry. In the meantime, you can download Kindle apps for FREE and read my books on your PC, Mac, smart phone, or tablet. I hope you will!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Plain Jayne" Sneak Peek

I can't wait another second for everyone to get at least a glimpse of the book I'm about to publish, so here's Chapter One of Plain Jayne. Enjoy. The rest isn't far behind.

Chapter One

   Permanent pause. That’s what’s become of the moment I first saw the burned-down ruins. I’ll forever be standing there on that roughly-asphalted and pot-holed road, clutching the slick polyester of my graduation robe, feeling and seeing my hair tremble in time with my knocking heart and ragged breath. 

   Up there is where my window used to be. The night before, my hot pink polka-dotted curtains probably reached through the broken glass, as if trying to get away from the flames devouring them. I’m sure the aluminum siding framing the window burned white-hot, warping and melting. And black smoke competed with the orange flames, as both desperately sought oxygen. 

   There’s a poem in there somewhere, or at the very least, a haiku. If it hadn’t been my gutted house, my dead family, I probably would have sat in the grass verge next to the road and scrawled some words to add to the bulging accordion file that served as my writing portfolio. Maybe I’d have run home and eagerly shared the new scrap with my mom. Or, if she was too busy, I would have pestered one of my sisters, neither one of whom understood my zeal for the written word but both of whom humored me, nonetheless, when I was bursting with inspiration. 

   But it was my family. It was my house. Gone. Forever. 

   That doesn’t mean I didn’t eventually write about it. My family, however, will never read it.


   Exactly twelve years after my high school graduation and the fire that killed my entire immediate family in their sleep, I nervously fidget outside the office of my brand-new editor at Thornfield Publishing in Boston. If someone wrote this detail into a book I was reading, I’d laugh and put the thing down. Twelve years to the day? Really? The coincidence is too hokey, too cheesy, too… twee, as the English say… to be believed by someone with even the most willing suspension of disbelief. And if I were to write another book based on my life (continuing where I left off in the book currently being published), I’d change this detail to make it more believable. I’m pretty sure any editor worth his or her salt would force me to change it, anyway. 

  What is it about May 23 that brings about such massive change in my life? Is it fate? Is it destiny? Is it the result of a curse? Or is it merely what it seems to be:  an eerie coincidence? Anyway, maybe I’m being too dramatic or putting too much stock into today’s meeting. 

   Or maybe my friend, Gus, is rubbing off on me, even though last night was the first time I’ve seen him since graduate school. As much as I love him, I’d hate to think I was turning into him. He gets all a-twitter and sees signs and omens at the slightest provocation and flaps his hands and croons, “Oooooh, creepy!” about 50 times a day, for occurrences as mundane as his Burger King order ringing up as an even dollar amount. He has a regular tarot card reader and psychic, despite the fact that he sometimes has trouble paying the rent on his postage stamp-sized studio “apartment” in a trendy part of Beantown. Let’s just say that staying with Gus is bringing back many of the reasons that graduate school was such a stressful time in my life. 

   Back then, I thought it was simply the nature of the beast, but having been long-distance friends with Gus for the better part of the past five years, I’ve had an epiphany since reuniting with him last night:  he’s one high-maintenance drama queen. It makes for some hilarious Facebook status updates, but it can wear a girl down to be in the presence of the real Dupuis.

   We parted ways for the day at Starbucks a few minutes ago, and I’m still shaking. I have a feeling it’s not from the half-caff latte I drank, either. I knew from earlier research that the publisher’s offices were less than a mile from Gus’s apartment. All I needed was a verbal refresher and maybe some landmarks so I’d know I was on the right streets. But he turned it into a recitation that ended up resembling something close to a game of Twister with an auctioneer. 

   “So… You’re gonna go out there and then you’re going to make a right at the light… right at the light, right at the light, right at the light…. Going straight, going straight, going straight… past the fruit stand, which is not a fruit stand in the winter, but it is right now…straight for a while, straight for a while…” 

   So far, it sounded a lot like his love life in college. 

   Then he startled me with a loud, “STOP! At the butcher’s that looks like a bakery—I totally thought it was a bakery for, like, the first three years I lived here, until this one day, there was a hog-pig-thing hanging in the front window, and I was like, ‘Huh? What does that have to do with cupcakes?’ Anyway, you’re gonna cross the street there, because… well, trust me, this is the easiest place for you to cross, because they’ve got all these shrubs they’re growing in the middle of the street, in the median-like—probably some environmental effort, which I’m all for, but sheesh! Sometimes it makes it hard to get around. Then when you get to the other side, you’re going to walkwalkwalkwalkwalk, past the shoe repair place—the nice one, not the crappy place—past a ton of law offices, a church, a church, and another church…” 

   At this point, he paused to suck in a huge breath, and I almost told him that I’d look it up on my phone, but then I noticed he was actually sweating, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was going to all this effort for nothing. Plus, I had to admit it was impressive how he had such a vivid recall of all the places in his neighborhood. 

   “Now you’re almost there; you just have to wait at two more crosswalks, and don’t be confused when there’s a Starbucks at one of the intersections—you’re not walking in circles; it’s a different one; this one’s so much better, though, or I would have taken you there this morning, because then all you’da had to do was walk next door and voila! Thornfield Publishing! Where your future awaits!”

   I smiled weakly at his enthusiasm, feeling gray and lackluster next to him. “Okay. Got it,” I fibbed, giving him the thumbs-up. 

   Grabbing his messenger bag from the back of his chair, he stood, giant coffee in hand, and said, “Now, I gotta scoot. My new boss is about to flip her lid at what she calls my ‘little tardiness problem,’ and when I joked, ‘No one’s complained ’til now, little missy,’ she said she did not appreciate my familiar tone, so I guess I’m on some sort of probation and woooo, Mama, I do not want to test this girl’s temper. You can tell she’s one of those people who keeps such a tight rein on her emotions that someday she may surprise the heck out of us all and poop a diamond during one of our story idea meetings! And if that’s the case, I wanna be on her good side, if you know what I mean.” Suddenly, he tilts his head and smiles, “She kinda reminds me of you, come to think of it.” That makes him laugh so hard that he rocks forward at the waist and almost spills his coffee. “Oh, shit. Now I really gotta go. Good luck! I’ll call you on my lunch break—if I get one—to see how things went. Ta-ta!”

   And he was gone, leaving a residual shaking in my hands and the faint scent of cologne probably inspired by David Beckham or someone equally sporty-yet-metrosexual and costing about $100 an ounce.

   As soon as he was out of sight, and I was sure he wasn’t coming back, I plugged in my current location and the publishing house’s address into Google maps and got some straightforward walking directions. It told me that my walk would take less than fifteen minutes, but I left the Starbucks with thirty to spare, not wanting to be rushed and panicked if something kept me from getting there that quickly.

   Big mistake. I would have rather rushed than sit out here with too much time to think about what might happen behind that huge wooden door with the brass nameplate pronouncing the room beyond to be the professional domain of:

Lucas A. Edwards, Ph.D.
Senior Editor
Editorial Arts


   I talked to my agent, Tullah, this morning, before my hair-raising coffee shop tête-à-tête with Gus. She was extremely supportive and encouraging, although something she let slip has been nagging me ever since:  “And so what if he’s not thrilled about this new assignment?” 

   When I’d questioned the statement, she’d laughed nervously and played dumb. “What? Oh! Nothing. Sorry… I have you confused with another client. My bad. Listen, Jayne, I have to go. Big… meeting.” Never mind that it was four a.m. in her west coast time zone and hardly prime time for “big meetings.”

   Now only a wall and a door separate me from someone who’s pissed off at me before we’ve even met, for reasons I’m not even clear about. And this someone is most likely a person who’s used to getting his way. And despises anyone who prevents that from happening. Crotchety old crone who farts dust, probably set in his ways, always on the verge of retirement but never leaving, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. 

   Yeah, I can tell by the nervous look of his administrative assistant that he’s a real piece of work. Her face looks frozen in apprehension, like she spends so much time wearing that expression, it’s taken up permanent residency on her face, at least when she’s in this building, behind that desk, waiting for His Nibs to outline his latest demands. He probably shouts them at her, too, standing uncomfortably close, breathing his halitosis into her face, daring her to make even the slightest grimace, even when the spittle starts to fly.

   I’m wincing sympathetically for the young woman—who introduced herself earlier as Sally—when the door swings open as if by remote control. Nobody comes forward, but Sally glances at the open door and then says pleasantly to me, “You can go in now, Ms. Greer.” As I pass her desk, she asks, “Are you sure I can’t get you a glass of water, a can of soda, anything…?”

   I stop and look down at her, trying to interpret the motivation for this repeated offer. Is it my imagination or does she look like she’s pitying me? Like she’s mercifully offering me what could be my last beverage… ever?

   Well. There’s absolutely no need for that. I’m a strong woman who can take care of herself. I’ve done nothing but that since I was eighteen years old. Buried my parents and my little sisters. Worked my way through college and graduate school. Beat out sixteen other applicants for a special fellowship in London as part of my post-graduate work. Waited tables and delivered pizzas. Scrubbed toilets, picked up trash, and schlepped popcorn at a movie theater so that I wouldn’t have to touch the money my parents left me, money that I want nothing to do with, anyway. 

   So if this Mr. Edwards (or Dr. Edwards, I suppose) thinks he’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever faced, he’s sorely mistaken. Maybe. And his intimidation tactics are wasted on me. Mostly.

   As I enter the office, which I notice right away is surprisingly devoid of the expected dusty books, autographed author photos, and ostentatious, cut-crystal awards, he turns slowly from the window, where he’s been standing with his back to the door, looking intently at something outside on the street way below.

   “Ms. Greer,” he says flatly, giving me a half-hearted wave.

   Okay, so I missed the mark on the “old and crotchety” bit. He’s decidedly young-ish and… un-crotchety-looking. He’s quite the snazzy dresser, too, in his gray three-piece suit, one piece of which (the jacket) is draped over the back of his chair, therefore revealing what appear to be solid-looking arms in a white dress shirt and a broad chest covered by a dapper vest. If it weren’t for the scowl on his cleanly-shaven face, I’d say he was quite handsome. If you like that brooding look. Which I don’t. Not really.

   Now he sneers, and I see he has nice teeth, although they’re wasted on someone who can’t even muster a smile when meeting someone new. Fake it for me, okay, Dr. Edwards? Just this once. And then at every meeting we have after this, you can show your true colors.

   A stickler for manners, I step forward and reach out my hand, forcing him to either shake it or offend. 

   “Dr. Edwards,” I return his curt name-only greeting. 

   “Nobody calls me that,” he says shortly without offering an alternative. He seems to consider not shaking my hand, but then he takes a tiny step toward me and gives me one of those cold-fish handshakes that men are so fond of giving to women. I make a point of grasping firmly and pumping our hands with feeling. He withdraws as soon as possible and waves me in the vague direction of a grouping of chairs and a sofa centered under a hideous light fixture made of deer antlers.

   When he sees me warily eyeing the chandelier, he mutters, “Gift from Tom Ridgeworthy. Supposed to be a joke, but it’s kind of grown on me.” 

   He turns his back to me as he searches his messy desktop for something, so he doesn’t see the shocked look on my face at his mention of one of the most successful writers of political thrillers today. He didn’t say it in a name-dropping manner; as a matter of fact, the nonchalant way he said it made it sound as if he wouldn’t be surprised if I told him Tom Ridgeworthy had given me an equally-bizarre gift once, as if everyone’s received a gag gift from the bestselling author. 

   He eventually finds what he’s looking for and, pen, notebook, and iPad in hand, crosses the room, choosing the seat opposite me in the grouping that would be cozy if it were in the office of someone a bit cuddlier—like Ebenezer Scrooge.

   “Well, then,” he says, his attention on the touch screen of his little toy as he swipes and taps away with his long, graceful fingers. “Here we are.”

   I think he’s stating the obvious, at a loss for anything else to say, but then I realize he’s arrived at his iPad destination. Turning the gadget around so that I can see it, he shows me a screen with a lilac and yellow book cover. The title of my book, The Devil I Know, rests in the center of the cover, the words nestled in the slender pale arms of a faceless woman.

   In response to my wrinkled nose, he says, “Not to your liking? What about this one?” With a swipe of his finger, a different book cover slides onto the screen. This one is mint green with the title in hot pink letters between the tire marks left behind by a 1950’s-style convertible driven by a red-haired woman in a yellow headscarf, which trails behind her in the wind as it appears to be coming loose from her hair.

   “Uhh… Hm.” I try to figure out how to diplomatically phrase the question that’s on the tip of my tongue after seeing both cover designs. 

   “These are simply some preliminary designs.” He swipes to the next one. “No?” he asks again, as I barely glance at a cover that features a rearview mirror with pinky fuzzy dice hanging from it and the eyes of a woman in dark Jackie-O sunglasses in the reflection.

   Before he can continue with this nightmare slideshow, I say, “But… those… don’t have anything to do with what happens in my book.”

   He looks surprised. “They don't?”

   I narrow my eyes at him. “No.”

   Puzzled, he turns the iPad around so he can look at the images right-side-up again. “Well, I… Hmm… Interesting.”

   I chuckle nervously. “Of course, you’ve read the book, so you know that. Right?”

   When he continues to stare at the fuzzy-dice version, I prod, “Right?!”

   Startled, he looks up at me and blinks. I think the animals who donated their body parts to his light fixture must have worn the same expression in their final moments. Imperiously, he answers after he recovers his usual bored look, “Well, yes. I’ve… skimmed… the first few—”

   “Chapters?” I finish hopefully for him.

   “Pages,” he corrects weakly. 

   “You’re kidding!”

   Instead of responding, he redirects my attention to the horrible cover designs. “You’re right; these are hideous. As soon as our meeting’s over, you can bet I’ll be having a stern talk with the folks in Art Design. These covers are absolute shit, no matter what’s between them.”

   I tense. “What do you mean?”

   He sets the iPad aside and scribbles a note on his pad of paper. “I mean, I’ll make sure they know I’m not happy they wasted my time with such irrelevant covers.”

   “No. Not that. Although… they’ve wasted my time, too.” When he simply stares blankly at me for pointing that out, I continue, “No, what I was referring to was your comment about ‘no matter what’s between’ the covers. As if my book deserves a nicer cover than those, in spite of its inferiority.”

   He waves away my claim and says irritably, “What? I didn’t say that. You’re putting words in my mouth.”

   I sit back and regard him skeptically. “Yes… I must be,” I pretend to concede. “Since you’ve only skimmed the first few pages, you wouldn’t be able to make a fair judgment of it, anyway.”

   “I’ll have you know,” he replies, puffing out his chest, “that I’ve been in this business nearly twenty years and can spot a bestseller from the first sentence!”

   “Impressive,” I say, finding courage from somewhere previously unknown to me as I boldly state, “Then I guess you’ve read all you need to read of my book. And you know it’s a winner.” At least, that’s what everyone’s been telling me for the past few weeks.

   “It has potential,” he allows smugly. I want to punch his square jaw.

   Instead, I snap, “Oh, do tell!”

   Returning to the blasted iPad, he pulls up some text, which I immediately recognize as the middle of the first chapter of my book. Using a fancy feature, he circles in yellow one long sentence.

   “Your sentences are too damn long.”

   “I will not dumb it down for any reader,” I instantly bristle.

   Ignoring me, he continues, “In emotional passages such as these, short, brisk sentences are more powerful. They make the reader read at the same pace that the protagonist is thinking. Or even breathing. Think about it:  when you’re upset, do you feel in long, prosaic sentences? No. You think like this:  ‘I hate this fucking asshole. Who does he think he is? When can I leave?’ I know I think in short bursts when I’m angry or annoyed.  ‘I can’t believe this. Saddled with a no-namer. She writes fluff, for fuck’s sake!’ See?” He looks up at me and holds my eye contact, as if we’re talking about nothing more emotional than the price of unleaded gas.

   I blink in a way that probably makes me look insane. But I honestly don’t know how to respond to what he’s said to me. To my chagrin what finally falls from my lips is a lame proviso about the version of the book to which he’s currently referring. “I’ve changed a lot since that version. I tweak it all the time. I like to tweak.”

   “Not anymore, you don’t,” he informs me. “From here on out, you don’t touch a damn syllable in this manuscript unless I tell you to.”

   “Anything else?” I snip.

   “Yeah. Since you’ve pointed out I don’t have the most current copy, you need to email that to me by the end of the day. Preferably by 2 p.m. Or if you have a copy with you,” he nods toward my ever-present laptop bag, “you can leave it with Sally on your way out.”

   Dismissed, he effectively says by standing up.

   “You’re going to actually read it?” I ask caustically, taking my cue from him and rising from the sofa. There’s no way I’m going to let him look down on me.

   Disgusted with my childish question, he sighs and answers, “Of course I am. It’s my job, isn’t it? If you get it to me by two, like I’ve asked, I’ll have my first run-through completed by the end of the day.”

   “How gracious of you.”

   Maybe it’s my sarcasm. Or maybe it’s the traitorous wobbling of my voice when I say that. Either way, he seems to soften. 

   “Listen. Ms. Greer. Don’t take it personally, alright? Your manuscript doesn’t fit into my usual genre. And I’m a bit annoyed that I have to divert attention away from my other authors—who are established writers with proven selling power—to hold your freshman little hand.” When I say nothing, he finishes in the same patronizing tone, “Surely you understand.”

   I loop my laptop bag over my head and drop it from such a height that I grunt when the weight settles on my shoulder. “Totally,” I tell him in a stone cold tone of voice as I walk alone to his office door. Then I make sure it’s wide open before I turn back to him and loudly say, “And you are an asshole,” before stalking from the room with my nose in the air.