A New Summer

This summer, I’m saying goodbye to a big project and starting some new ones. If you follow the AUTHORNOMICS Interview Series, then you know I’m no longer a collaborator. Instead, this summer I’ll be working as a research assistant to a history professor at Northwestern (which I hope will give me some crazy insights into writing fiction), I’ll be doing an internship with a New York literary agency, I’ll be soaking up all the fun Chicago has to offer, and I’ll be focusing on my own writing. Continue reading

Modern Fiction as the Five-Paragraph Essay

Over at AUTHORNOMICS this week, Les Edgerton talks about what it takes to hook a reader on the very first page, and he identifies the key element as creating conflict. From the very first page, he says, readers should have a sense of what the overarching problem of the story is.

During this first week of classes for spring quarter, I’ve been ruminating on how very much this applies to college as well. For the first class meetings, professors tend to put on a show: they wear their best clothes, put together their best power points, and prepare lectures to convince us students to stay in their class. And this week, I noticed a pattern in the lectures that were most engaging and most convinced me to stay in the class: they proposed some sort of central conflict that the professors hope to resolve by the end of the quarter.

The best example is my Middle Eastern Politics class. The professor started her lecture with a story: when she first started the class, she prepared the lectures expecting them to last for the rest of her tenure so she’d never have to prepare for the class again. After getting some feedback the first quarter, she reworked them a little, then taught the class a second time. By the third time she was teaching the class, she was pretty sure she had tweaked the syllabus and lectures to completion.

But by the third week of that third class, the Arab Spring had begun in earnest, and she found she was changing her lectures every day to keep up with what was going on. The problem for us in her class now, she said, is that there is still so much unfolding that her nicely worked course has been thrown for the loop. So by the end of the quarter, she hopes we’ll help her figure out what is important and what isn’t.

By presenting the conflict of “what is important in the Middle East?” she hooks us with something other than readings or a lecture list. Instead of being bogged down in the details of what we’ll be doing every day, we are given the promise of the overall goal. Perhaps it can be called an argument. Perhaps the best word for it is a thesis.  Continue reading

Need a Christmas Present?

A quick post to let everyone know about my work! You might notice that next to the “About” section, there is now a tab called “Books.” That’s where you’ll find a list of books that I’ve worked on. My contribution ranges from looking over a couple of chapters to doing copyedits to being the primary developmental editor. You’ll discover non-fiction, YA, romantic suspense, and fantasy–a little something for everyone. So just in case you need to do some last minute holiday shopping, why not consider getting an e-book worked on by yours truly?

The most recent book is Billy Purgatory: I am the Devil Bird. I’m really, truly thrilled to have been a part of it. It’s a book that is hard to categorize or even summarize (without giving away the good stuff). It’s an urban fantasy on epic proportions. It spans lifetimes and travels from one end of the world to the other. One minute you’ll be immersed in a single, hilarious moment and the next you’ll be thrown into a battle of life and death. The characters are all quirky, all crazy, and still they manage to be real. I got to read some of it before deciding to work on it, and let’s just say that by the end of the first page, my jaw was on the floor.

Billy Purgatory isn’t the only great book on my list, though, so if you’re looking for something to read, check out the other projects I’ve worked on!

Oh, and AUTHORNOMICS is also giving away a free copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents. All you have to do is comment! Check back next week for more writerly give-aways too (we’ve got some good stuff coming up).

Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, and happy other holidays!

I Made a Funny

Yesterday I had a conference with my creative writing professor, and he mentioned that one of the strengths in my writing is humor. This surprised me: I do not think of myself as a humorous person. I mean, I recognize the importance of humor in social interactions, especially in our culture, so I crack jokes occasionally, but I tend not to find mainstream American humor funny (I don’t like SNL!), and I certainly don’t try to be funny in my writing. Yet somehow it has become a tool I subconsciously use to deepen the story.

I said this to my professor and then mentioned it would be interesting to see if I can do it intentionally or if it is really just something that rises subconsciously. His response: it’s probably better if you don’t do it intentionally.

This made me think about all the things that come through subconsciously in writing. Trained English majors often think that books are written with themes in mind, or that authors know exactly what issues they want to bring up. But most of the writers I know don’t intend to write the themes that end up in their stories. We simply work with characters or a plot device or maybe one theme and write a story from there. Without our help, the themes spring up right and left so fast that English majors can’t wait to start essaying (okay, maybe that’s just a daydream of mine). One of my professors once gave the example of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: a simple children’s story, yet if you want to, you can pick all sorts of themes out of it. Imperialism (Goldilocks is the West imposing herself on the indigenous culture of the Bears),  a commentary on power structures (Goldilocks is the exceptional human whose gold hair could be interpreted as a sign of royalty while the bears are the peasants who live in a forest and work hard for a living), a critique of absenteeism (here the bears might be the ruling body, Goldilocks some other entity, and the house a country that is ruined because its rulers aren’t paying attention to it), etc. These are some pretty hefty themes, and they all come from a story of a little girl and three bears. Did whoever came up with the story mean for all these themes to be there? Did I mean for my stories to be funny? The fact remains that the themes are there, and apparently my stories are funny.

The lesson here, I think, is that after the writing is done, the reader will get what they will out of the piece. It doesn’t do to worry too much about whether they will get the ideas  you want them to; if you lay down the clues, they probably will, and they’ll probably read their own issues into the story without your help. In fact, I think the best literature (at least from an English major’s perspective) is writing of ambiguity, leaving enough room so that anyone can pull almost any theme out of there if they work hard enough.

PS Head on over to the AUTHORNOMICS interviews for a chance to win a book on writing and publishing personal essays!