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Posts Tagged ‘library’

  1. This is How a Writer’s Mind Works

    November 20, 2016 by Diane

    Does this ever happen to you?

    You’re trying on a pair of pants, and the zipper gets stuck. It takes five saleswomen to get you out of the pants. And that’s not the end of it. You have to pretend to want to buy them, but everyone knows you’re too fat, or the pants too small. Whatever. It’s not a match made in heaven. So you browse the racks, and the salespeople watch. You make a selection. A pair of striped socks, and you pay for them. But when you walk out the door, the alarm goes off.

    And that’s not all.

    The security guy eating a hotdog at a wrought iron table outside the store is your nemesis from high school days, the boy who flipped burgers at the joint where you worked the counter. You’d turned him down when he asked you to the movies, so he wrote stuff about you on the wall of the employees’ bathroom, at least you think it was him. Fuck you Holcomb. Stuff like that. Not even a comma between “you” and “Holcomb.” And there he is, stuffing his face with a hot dog, when he hears the alarm go off. He tries swaggering over like a real cop, but he doesn’t have the coordination; he swings one side of his body and then the other until he’s right up in your face. You see him remembering. Or trying to. There’s something about you he recognizes, but he can’t place it.

    Does that ever happen to you?

    Yeah, me neither.

    Only in the fictional world in my mind.

    This is how a writer discovers characters.

    * * *

    At the library, I look around.

    A gaunt man wearing glasses, baseball cap, and blue windbreaker types secret messages into the computer, the cords of his neck prominent. A spy?

    A man with a rusty goatee and toupee scouts around, his eyes flicking from table to chair to corner to shelf. He spins on his heel and dashes off. A detective?

    A woman makes a bee-line for the newspaper rack. Her oversized shoulder bag, hanging diagonally across her body, bumps her thighs. Something heavy in that bag. A severed head?

    This is intrigue at its highest. The stuff of an anxious mind. Or a writer spinning plot ideas.

    * * *

    Crossing the street, I find a dollar bill. And another. And a five. What luck! Nearby, someone’s iPhone. Rats. The money has an owner. It’s an expensive phone, with a red leather case that opens like a book. Tucked inside, the owner’s driver’s license.

    A brunette, she smiles with perfect teeth.

    I’m a hundred yards from the police department. It’s Saturday, but the lobby’s open. The receptionist behind the bullet-proof window jots down my name and number. I try to slide the phone and money under the glass, but she stops me.

    “I’ll send someone out,” she says.

    A compact guy in uniform swings through the door, shakes my hand. He opens the leather case and exhales. “Whoa!” he says, inspecting the license. He uses an index finger to scroll through messages on the iPhone. “Looks like her husband is trying to reach her.”

    “I hope you don’t think I stole anything,” I say. “The money’s all there.”

    He laughs, but shoots a look at the receptionist.

    She nods, her eyes cutting to me. “I have her name and number.”

    He gives a thumbs-up.

    Later, I feel funny about the whole thing. I play what if games in my head.

    What if the cop notifies the husband? What if the husband is abusive, and the woman is on the run, in hiding? Now he knows where to hunt her down. What if the woman is already dead, and someone finds her body in a dumpster? My fingerprints are all over that phone. They’ve got my number. Me, a Good Samaritan, suddenly a prime suspect in a murder case.

    This is how a writer mines for story ideas.

  2. Beginnings: Drawing the Reader In

    January 11, 2015 by Diane

    Books and a coffee cup

    When I pick up a book, I want to know that I’m in for a good long ride, a vacation from the day-to-day grind. And I want the vacation to start from the get-go, not two pages in. So if the beginning doesn’t hook me, I abandon the trip.

    What keeps me reading? What compels me to pay money to carry the book home?

    The first paragraph.

    That’s it. Numero uno on the page. That’s my limit in patience as a reader. Unfair? Probably. Judgmental? Yep. If I was an agent, I’d probably be just as unfair and judgmental. As a bookseller, I give writers a whole page. But as a reader with stacks and stacks of unread books filling my storage shed, my time is limited. So…one paragraph. That’s it.

    What hooks me?

    The author’s voice. A strong image. The language. Intriguing dialogue. An intriguing character. Take your pick.

    If I’m not drawn in by the first few lines, I shelve the book.

    So for fun, let’s look at some first lines together. I’m writing this at the library, seated near the fiction section. I’ll mosey down an aisle, close my eyes, and pull three books from the shelves (something I do periodically when I visit the library). Then, since I’m sharing my impressions with you, I’ll open each book without looking at the cover or the author’s name, and type the first paragraph. I’ll let you know if I’m eager to read on. Are you with me? Okay, here I go.

    I’m back now.

    Opening the first book. Ready? It begins:

    Trees thrashed in the storm, their trunks hard and black and rough as stone, their limbs bent beneath the weight of snow. It was dark out, night. Between the trunks, a boy ran and fell and ran again. Snow melted against the heat of his body, soaked his clothing then froze solid. His world was black and white, except where it was red.

    I’m in. Willing to read on. Why? Great description in the first sentence: the trees, their trunks, their limbs. The boy…who is he, and what is he running from? Questions I want answered. And I love the poetry of the last line.

    What’s the book? Let’s take a look.

    Iron House, by John Hart. “If you crave thrillers that are vividly beautiful, graphic, will make you bleed, try John Hart,” says Patricia Cornwell in the quote on the cover. If I had seen the cover and read that quote, I probably wouldn’t have opened the book. I’m not in the mood to bleed.

    So…more important than the first paragraph, for me, is the cover of the book. It tells me what kind of vacation to expect.

    Ready for book number two? Here goes:

    He calls her Sweetheart, Darling, Honey Pie. Martha calls him Reverend. Even now, as she watches him stretch out on the hood of the car, shirtless, smiling to himself, face turned toward the blistering July sun, Martha thinks: The Reverend is so damn young. The pay phone is hot against her ear and she smells someone else’s bad breath emanating from it. Martha is sweaty from heat and humidity, sore from too much acrobatic sex. And she wants a drink. God help her, she wants a cold beer, a chilled white wine, a vodka and tonic. Anything.

    Love this! The image of the shirtless Reverend stretched out on the hood of the car, Martha at the pay phone. This has a vintage feel. The writing has a literary vibe. The author engages my senses from the get-go (the smell of the phone, the sweaty heat, chilled wine). I want to know more about the two characters. I want to know why Martha wants a drink.  I want to know why she calls the man Reverend. And what’s up with the acrobatic sex? Hmm. Let’s check out the title of this book.

    An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life by Ann Hood. A book of stories. Sue Monk Kidd calls the author “an engrossing storyteller.” Well…with Sue Monk Kidd’s blessing, I’m definitely in. I’ll put this on my “for later” shelf. I can learn from this author.

    The second most important thing for me, after the cover, is the blurb.

    Two good ones so far! Usually I’m not so lucky. Let’s look at the third:

    The rain comes all at once when Detective Eddie Frank rolls the woman’s body over a steep cliff on a remote section of the coastal highway, just shy of midnight on a Saturday. The wind rattles his trench coat against his long legs as he watches the body bounce off an outcropping of rock on the way down, flipping head over heels, the green dress ballooning, then plunging into the swirling foam of the Pacific. He stands in the downpour saying “Jesus” over and over as the waves toy with it, hurling it against the cliff wall. He fights the urge to scramble down and rescue it, knowing it’s too late. Wants to drop to his knees and weep, knowing falling apart is worse than dying. He fumbles through a prayer, the sky cracking with lightning, and then drives home haunted by the image. The streetlights slash across his tense face. The windshield wipers work hard. Leaning into the steering wheel of the brown Coupe he wonders how he became a man who disposes of strangers under cover of rain.

    Wait, that’s mine! That’s my book! My unfinished detective noir novel! How did that get on the library shelf? Golly, I must have slipped it between two books.

    Well, I’ll leave it to you to tell me if you’re eager to read on.

  3. Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing a Blog

    November 23, 2014 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    When it comes to blogging, there are three questions that I’ve stumbled upon behind the writer’s curtain, and stumbled to answer, in my blogging adventure. So to all my fellow bloggers, I present Three Questions to Ponder.

    1. What are you blogging about?

    When it comes to blogging, the number one piece of advice I hear is this: stick to one topic. Build an identity. Focus on a specialty. Become the go-to person for whatever you’ve got.

    What am I focusing on?

    Nutty in-laws and nutty doctors and nutty dates and nutty stuff that I catch myself doing. But wait…I veer off into pep talks and mindful meanderings and short fiction— which have nothing to do with nuttiness–and then I trek off on a long tangent about rewriting, when I’m obviously not rewriting at all, but merely engaged in nutty activities to sabotage my rewriting efforts.

    Hmm, is there a focus here?

    And should writers write about the writing process? Some experts answer with an emphatic, “NO.” They say, “Nobody wants to read about your writing process except other writers. You want to attract readers.”

    This advice comes from people in-the-know. Like Janet Reid, a literary agent whose informative and witty blog I recommend to all writers who want the skinny on seeking representation.

    On the other hand, I hear, “Go ahead, blog about writing. You’re a writer, share what you do. Readers want to know.”

    Oh yeah? Says who?

    Another blogger. Who has thousands of followers.

    Things to ponder.

    I was beginning to wonder, as I swiveled ‘round and ‘round in my swivel chair behind the writer’s curtain: is my lack of focus a detriment to readership? I decided to go to the source for an answer. Ask my readers to weigh in.

    So I’m asking.

    “Why on earth are you reading my blog?”

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that you’re reading. But why did you land here?

    The problem is, I don’t know who I’m writing for, so how can I know what to focus on? Which leads me to question number two…

    2. Who is your ideal reader?

    And just who is my ideal reader? My artistic aunt? Absolutely. My trombone-playing pops? Yep. My singer/songwriter sister? My mother the craftsperson? Okay, anyone beyond my family? What about that guy who blogs about weird stuff in Florida, who wrote that humorous book Lost in Spain? Is Scott Oglesby my ideal reader?

    I decided I needed to narrow it down; find my ideal reader. So I went on a scouting mission to where readers congregate: the library. I saw the Japanese man with the giant scissors clipping his junk mail into miniature pieces. I saw the balding guy hunched over the computer checking out porn. Are these my ideal readers? Unlikely.

    My ideal reader, I mused, must be somewhere in the age of forty to eighty, probably female, with a good sense of humor, a creative streak,  an anxious personality, and a desire to improve herself. Someone who…

    Wait, that’s me!

    My ideal reader is me!


    So, if the ideal reader is me, why blog at all? Why agonize over rewrites and rewrites of rewrites? Why not just write whatever the heck I want whenever I want, print it, and read?

    Which leads me to question number three…

    3. What is your goal as a blogger?

    Another piece of advice I hear from those superpowers-in-power: writers need a platform. Something to stand on so you can shout out your stories to the gathering crowd. But first you’ve got to attract a crowd. And if you don’t have thousands of followers (as those all-knowing ones are quick to warn), a publisher won’t even look at your work.

    Yeah, well, who needs a publisher, when there are so many self-publishing opportunities out there?

    Hold on. The sad truth of the matter is, if you want others to read what you write, and to buy whatever book you plan to publish, you need followers. Even in days of yore, wandering storytellers needed other bodies to gather ’round the campfire and listen.

    So blogging seemed to me like a good place to start.

    Now, maybe ten people are following my blog, including me. And if one-tenth actually forks over the dough to purchase my book (the one that I’m blogging about rewriting but not actually rewriting)—if one out of ten buy my as-yet-to-be-completed bestseller, that means I’m blogging for one person.

    Which comes back to me.

    The ideal reader.

    I rest my case.

    Except this particular ideal reader is picky and critical and hard to please. I’d rather be writing for someone who is less obsessive, easily amused, and non-judgmental. Like my family. And those other unknown followers.

    And, oh yes, Scott Oglesby.

    Takeaways this week:

    If you’re a beginning blogger, and can’t figure out what to write about, start writing whatever you want. Blog your bloggin’ heart out. Do it for you. Yes, I dare to make such a statement. With a qualifier: post the good stuff. The stuff you would read. Because we all know there’s plenty ‘o stuff in our pile ‘o stuff that ain’t worth posting. Of course, I could be spouting nonsense because I want to feel good about giving myself free-rein. Hmm. More to ponder.

    Let’s be honest: if you’re looking for your ideal reader, look in the mirror. Chances are you’ll find him, or her, peering back.

    Realize that I might be wrong about all of the above. You might have an ideal reader who is nothing like you–which could make it tricky writing for them. And maybe, maybe, blogging willy-nilly won’t draw any reader, ideal or not. But I’ll bet doughnuts to turnips that if you keep at it you’ll find your niche, settle in, and become that go-to person that your ideal reader goes to.

    Want to take a shot at writing a book while blogging? I recommend How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir. She covers the gamut: from deciding on a focus, mapping out the book, building a website, and building a following. For even more information, visit her website:

    A great resource for platform-building: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino. For both fiction and non-fiction writers.