Archive for September, 2010

I tend to think of  a book as a guided tour in which a character interprets everything for me. Between the pages,  I’m in new, uncharted territory and I’m relying on the POV person to convey the setting, the plot, the action, and the characterization of the story.

The character’s voice is everything for me.

Sometimes that voice takes me on an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind trip.

The voice in SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick was so powerful, I didn’t want to leave the protagonist’s world.

I snagged an ARC of this one at TLA convention last April. Lucky me for me, an editor pointed it out.  Check out the book’s opening lines, in which protagonist Amber Appleton makes her remarkable first appearance:

Lying down, shivering on the last seat of school bus 161, pinned by his teensy doggie gaze, which is completely 100% cute—I’m such a girl, I know—I say, “You won’t believe the bull I had to endure today.”

My legs are propped up against the window, toes pointing toward the roof so that the poodle skirt I made in Life Skills class settles around my midsection. Yeah, it’s the twenty-first century and I wear poodle skirts. I like dogs, I’m a freak. So what? And before anybody reading along gets too jazzed up thinking about my skirt flipped up around my waist, my lovely getaway sticks exposed, allow me to say there’s no teenage flesh to be seen here.

Amber is one heck of a tour guide, huh? Her voice hooked me right away. This character is so quirky, insightful, complicated and…warm. I was drawn to Amber in a way I can’t adequately express.

In short, reading this book was a singular experience for me. All because of one character’s voice.

I spent half the book laughing  out loud and the other half  with a big, fat lump in my throat. I RARELY cry actual tears while reading a book, but this one made me bawl like a baby. I’m not even kidding.

Amber Appleton’s voice moved me.

I wanna know, what voices move you?

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. It’s almost as warm and sweet as this book.

Browse the bookstore shelves for books on the craft of writing.

Better yet, run an internet search with the terms “writing advice.”

Go ahead, Google it. There are only 102 million hits, right?

Yeah, lots of “advice” to be found in all corners. (Don’t even get the librarian in me started on ‘evaluating authoritative sources’…) It’s hard to process all the information on the shelves and in the digital ether.


But here’s the thing: so far, the best advice I’ve gleaned can be boiled down to two things: read and listen.

That’s it. Really.

1. Read well.

You can’t write remarkable, satisfying, fearsome, awe-inspiring, gripping, gutwrenching, exceptional fiction or non-fiction unless you read a lot of breathtaking stuff. You can’t tell a good yarn unless you’ve steeped yourself in story.

Anyone who says you can is full of bad gerunds.

2. Listen well.

Listen to other writers. Listen to agents. Listen to editors. Listen to critique partners. Listen, even when you don’t like what they have to say.

And REALLY digest their criticism. Not just praise. Compliments do nothing for you.  But sharp appraisal? That drives you to the edge. It tests your endurance, your persistence, your willingness to learn, and your ability to process feedback. (I’m preaching to myself on this one, kids)

Tough jabs push you to your limits. They make you better.  

If you don’t listen, if you don’t pay attention, you won’t grow. And you won’t get requests and acceptances.

But hey, if you’re too busy to read and too talented to listen, there’s always PublishAmerica.

Hungry for more? Work out your writing frustration and try this recipe for Aggression Cookies. They’re pure buttery oatmeal goodness.