AN ADVICE COLUMN ON WRITING, FROM THE EDITOR IN ME TO THE AUTHOR IN YOU: K.I.S.S.

This is a writing advice column. If you don’t want my unsolicited writing advice, do not, I implore you, read on. Fair warning. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I belong to one or two Facebook groups, and recently, in one that is writing focused, someone asked whether a character’s thoughts always had to be in italics.

“Yes,” I responded, “that is standard.”

And then another member jumped up my butt to tell me how all kinds of “world-building” is happening now and people can do whatever they want!

Both are true.

But, listen, Author, even as you create new, far-out worlds, and that is so much fun for you, you have to judge a few things: Is it fun for your editor, your publisher, your agent, and your (hopefully) eventual readers? One piece of advice I might give you is that you have to tread a line between what you want from your book, and what your reader will want.

“I’ll publish myself!” you might yell back.

And yes, you could, and that is what is absolutely happening: lots and lots of people are publishing whatever they want with no feedback from anyone else, and publishing it anywhere they want, and I (me, personally) can just go scratch.

True, until nobody buys your book, or people buy it in a Kindle (or other) online format and you see by their page views that they don’t finish it, or it gets bought in paperback and never read, or they buy it, read at least some of it, and leave you a crap review.

I can promise you, the number of books that will be written that change all conventional rules (or just the ones that particular author doesn’t like or understand) and do well out of it will be small.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

You have to be especially educated about the rules to break them and do it well, in an effective way. And you need some of them anyway, because your reader (if you self-publish and don’t care about the editors and etc.) will need some rock to put his/her/their feet on, or they have no place to stand with the book. Yes, you could drug me, and wake me up in a foreign country with zero information, language, or money, and, depending very much on which country, I might make it out alive with an interesting experience that I enjoy discussing with friends, but few of us would choose that experience, and choose it multiple times.

Can I be annoyingly prescriptive here for a moment? I want to tell you that you have one job: to tell a good story.

All that other stuff that may seem super important to you is fluff to your audience, and could stop them from loving your story.

Another fair warning, this paragraph is about me, exclusively, my qualifications and my ability to be prescriptive in this way, and you can skip this if you don’t give a hoot:
I was lucky that I read every freaking thing I could get my hands on when I was a kid. If you read an earlier post about my Kindle Vella I mentioned that I read The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, when I was under ten years old, by which I mean nine, because we were in our old house. I was not a genius, but I was a precocious reader. I also read my way through The Bible quite a few times while I was bored in church. I preferred the Old Testament. I read The Stranger (Camus) in sixth grade, and it was very upsetting, and I became really overwhelmed by existential dread until I got a new Encyclopedia Brown. I also tried to write a book report on The Stranger, and my teacher admonished me and said my parents should be monitoring what I read. My parents did not monitor what I read, and my middle school had annual used book sale where kids collected books from their neighbors and gave them to the school for the high used book sale, and I bought a book of S&M pornography there in seventh grade because my parents did not monitor what I read, and the school did not monitor what I bought, and, to this day, I think both were the best thing, the not being monitored, not the porn book, which was a parody of A Tale of Two Citiesand about Marie Antoinette, I remember. I also remember buying complete collections of comic strips like Battle Bailey and The Lockhorns, and novels like M*A*S*H, and The Wide Sargasso Sea. For $20 bucks, which my parents would give me, I could get around 20 books, and I was done them in a few weeks. When I got to high school I was in advanced English, where we really took apart the books we read, and in college I majored in English literature, where we did so much more of that, and then, when I went to my MA writing program, my two teachers, Luann Smith for fiction and Chris Buckley for poetry, taught us how to write by making us read and analyze the writing of other well-respected really good authors like T.C. Boyle, Tim O’Brien, Philip Levin, Czesล‚aw Miล‚osz, Diane Wakowski, and Amy Hemple, among many others. I am long-time trained, by my educational experience and my own varied and precocious reading habits, to be very good at spotting what makes work work, and what makes it flop. This is one of the things that concerns me when I see a person on FB say, “Hey folks, I’ve decided to be an editor. I’ll do your book cheap because I’m just getting started!” And people hire them, because they’re cheap. Okay. You get what you pay for, but you may never know what you’re not getting. This is just to say that I am well-prepared, and probably have advice that is not fluff or uninformed. And “This Is Just to Say,” interestingly enough, is one of my all-time favorite poems.

You’re the author. Do whatever you want. And publishing it yourself is always an option.

And my best advice is to also think about the life your story will have without you, when someone is reading your book, and you are not in the room with that person to answer a question or explain. Will the life your book has, without you in that new home, be a good and celebrated one, or a sad and relegated one, or somewhere on the spectrum in between? I would truly like to see us all reach our writing dreams, and, therefore, my advice is because I care, and not because I am competitive with you or want to stop you, or fence you in. And I have to again give you the same piece of advice: you have to tread a line between what you want from your book, and what your reader will want.

Your story should be good, and, if it suits the story and the genre, maybe it should be complex. The mechanics, the things the reader has to do to reach that story, to get that ride or message or what-have-you, should not be the things that cause or add to the complexity.

K.I.S.S. It’s advice that serves me well, all the time, in all situations.

EPISODE (CHAPTER) 1: THE STOOP

The above image shows you what it looks like when you go into Kindle Vella (KV) to read. I read on my laptop or my phone. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad or tablet.

In my opinion, it is a bit strange, because it is trying to mimic a book page, but it ends up being long and thin.

But, I love it. It’s fun getting it ready, posting it. I love creating my goofy polls, which, honestly, no one is taking, but I am trying to make them anyway, just in case, and, also, because they give you a little insight into me.

In many ways, this is not the kind of book me, today, would write. I had the idea, I sadly must admit, quite some time ago, but being an adjunct I never had time to finish it. And that is why I started saying, “Finish your damn novel!” because it is what I say to myself, inside my head, all the time.

This book, frankly, was inspired by the book, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Bien, and not by The Godfather by Mario Puzo, though I read that too, as a kid, and loved it, but I was under the age of 10, and I haven’t read it since. LOL. No, this definitely was sparked by my O’Brien loyalty. I love that novel, and I taught that novel as often as colleges would allow me to, for over 20 years. O’Brien’s writing is some of the best. I would venture to say I have whole sections of the book memorized. And, of course, I’ve sold many copies of the book for the man.

(Small side story, I wanted to go to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, but I never applied, because my boyfriend begged me not to. My grad school poet friend applied and got in, and she told me that O’Brien came as a guest lecturer, and she and he were an item. I asked my friend to ask O’Brien to sign my book, but she refused. I don’t know whether or not her story was true, but I know that soon after our friendship fizzled because she would always make plans with me, and then cancel them because she brought some guy home from a bar. “Oh, Baby Di,” she would say, “I miss you, but I need to fuck Jake some more today. Can we exchange those theater tickets for next week?” More or less, she has what I really thought I wanted, a published book of poetry (or two) and a full-time creative writing gig. Her parents could not be persuaded to be interested in their children, and I think we shared that need for attention from some authority figure. In any case, I never got my book signed. I wonder if she got hers signed.)

This is not the kind of book I thought I would write, but have loved writing it and sharing it. It feels so different from me in topic and tone, but I do like my wordplay, and that definite feels like me to me.

I’m going to put in the first chapter here, in case venturing to KV is not your thing, and I’d love to know what you think. My biggest hope is that the book, though on a stereotype, the mafia novel, does not come across as “been there done that.” I hope I have freshened it up a bit.

Will releasing it on Kindle Vella first create any buzz for the eventual paperback? I don’t know, but I really am loving the process, and I hope Simona finds herself some readers.

To see the book on KV, click here.

Last week’s chapter/episode was called “Waking the Dead,” and it was the first chapter where Simona, the mother of Angel (who is, of course, Simona’s son) is alive, and we both see and hear her, the priest, Father Vuono, and Angel’s father, Remo. This week the chapter/episode is called “Waking the Living.” Can Angel get his shit together to do what his boss needs him to do? His Uncle Chickie is sure gonna try to get Angel to do just that.

Ornaments

PETS PAST:

One of the first things I like to have on my tree is a remembrance of pets past. Bebe was a tiny Yorkshire terrier that my father bought my mother for her birthday when I was 16. She spurned my mother and moved into my room, and later moved out when I moved out, and stayed with me until I had just nudged past 32. She was a great woman: feisty, in control, discerning (obviously!) and she liked me best. I made that heart when I was 16 out of an aluminum tray. NOT high art, but the love is there all the same.

PETS PRESENT:

This one is for my current dog, Oliver. When he was a puppy-still (just over a year old) he came from an over-crowded hi kill shelter to the DELCO SPCA and then to a foster, and then us. I bought a pack of wooden ornaments for Sophie to paint as a craft, and this one she was supposed to paint Oliver, but he, spay terrier puppy mutt, got it and chewed it up. This is self-decorated by Oliver then, as he is still a snazzy puppy mutt almost 8 years later.

AN OLDIE BUT A GOODIE:

This is is one of the first ornaments I eve bought for myself when I had my first tree in my apartment. It is from my beloved and dearly departed Pier 1, and it is made of some sort of reed or palm, and is a Santa head shaped like a half moon. I was deeply into all things moon in those days, so I am sure that is part of what attracted me to it. I though it was folks-arty, which I am, and a clever interpretation of Santa. And I have had it now… well… since the 1980s!

OH PHO YOU DIDN’T!

This is an ornament that someone gifted to me because of my love of Asian food in general, and I was going through a heavy pho period at the time. OMGosh I love pho. I love the Asian custom (at least in China and Vietnam) of having soup as breakfast. I love soup for breakfast!

I have to tell you a funny pho story. You may not know this, but pho is actually pronounced FUH. Someone once razzed e about it. “Oh! You’re one of those people who has to say Eeee-ron instead of I-ran, aren’t you? And so you have to say FUH instead of FOE like a normal person.” Hmmm… yes, for better or worse, I am the person who cares about the pronunciation, and if they say FUH in Vietnam, then so will I.

In any case, the funny part is when we lived in the San Fernando Valley there was a restaurant name Pho King.

Do you get it? You do if you pronounce it correctly. ๐Ÿ˜‰

SOPHIE’S FAVORITE:

This is an ornament I bought for Sophie, for her future grown-up tree. It is on of her favorite (and one of my favorite too!) foods: cotton candy! What’s not to like?

RAPUNZEL:

Sophie was still teeny when I bought this, handmade on Etsy, to help with her Rapunzel obsession. Sophie wore a blond braid on her head every day for two years after seeing Disney’s movie Rapunzel. We all really liked that movie actually, except for the song, “Mother Knows Best,” which I love but can never get out of my head! In any case, Rapunzel is a one of the more girl-power Disney films. We looked it a lot, and Sophie’s preschool was so nice about letting her attend in her blond braid and tutus every day.

DA-NA-DA-NA-DA-NA-DA-NA- DA-NA-DA-NA-DA-NA-DA-NA… BATMAN!

When Dave and I got together he already had some ornaments of his own, and this was one of them! Batman, scaling the tree in the center of Gotham. We also have the Millennium Falcom, R2D2, Spiderman… and that tells you a lot about Dave right there. LOL. He also owns some creepy elf-like decorations from the 1960s that should have probably stayed in the 1960s. I’m just sayin’….

A GIFT!

I have a wonderfully talented friend who has made me many ornaments over the years. This year she sent me some of her handmade jewelry for my birthday, and she’d put them in boxes she made from old cards. This one was so adorable I stuck a hanger on it and added it to the tree!

NO NO NO NOTORIOUS!

This was also from the same friend. RGB was a hero to both of us, and we went to the 1/21/2017 Women’s March on Washington together. My friend and I met in 1974. Yeah. She’s that friend.

BY THE SEA:

When we were living in Delaware, we were only 9 miles from the beach. That was amazing. One year I bought a wreath at the Holly festival there that had this little guy on it. I love him. And I miss being by the sea. I hope to someday be able to look out of my house directly at a body of water. It’s one of my dreams.

WASHINGTON D.C.:

When we decided to leave Delaware, we went looking for a place we’d feel comfortable in terms of our values, and a place that had a good (better) school situation for Sophie, and the Los Angeles area had that and two family members too. However, looming large on the list was also D.C. I love D.C. It is lively, fun, into politics, which I am too, and feels like it may be more open to diversity than where we were at the time. One wonderful thing D.C. has is free stuff! Yes, you have to pay to park, but the museums, the National Mall, and the National Zoo, all free, and all fabulous! AND, we always used to rent a weekend at a hotel in December: holiday markets, Zoo Lights, and all the politicians are gone, so the hotel rooms are cheap! Cheap hotel, free admission! You just need to drive there and pack food to eat in order to have a truly inexpensive vacation! It’s almost 100% walkable (for those of you who motor on your legs at all). It’s a great time of year to go, and a fun city in general.

TINY FINGERS:

Last in this post (although there are so many more ornaments on the tree) is one of Sophie’s mittens from when we first met her in China. We only have one, and this mitten, I remember, was waaaay to large for her teeny-beany fingers. I love it.

Many of my friends have trees that are worthy of Neiman Marcus, gorgeous, shiny, color-coordinated displays that they change and upgrade every year. And they are lovely, and make me feel luxurious whenever I am able to visit them.

My tree, has always been the same: a live tree, usually fat as Santa, and short, with ornaments gifted or collected or created over the years that may have no connection to one-another… aside from me. My tree always gives me that Crotchet-family feeling of warmth, and enjoying our “not much.” I think I may have often had meager Christmases as an adult, to be frank, but they have always managed to have a tree, and something good to eat, and something good to drink.

I absolutely love Christmas. It is my favorite holiday.

What do you have on your tree?