Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Time for Writers Idol


I'm off to Dennis LeHane's Writers In Paradise workshop in St. Petersburg at beautiful Eckerd College. Eight grueling days and nights of workshopping our writing and lectures and presentations and one-on-one training with best-selling authors like Andre DuBus, Stewart O'Nan, Laura Lippman, Tom Franklin, Sterling Watson, and of course, Dennis LeHane.
One of the unique features presented at the workshop is the Writers Idol spot, where the famous authors judge two pages of your writing. There are usually three judges and if two of them hold up their hands while your piece is being read, it means they found something wrong with it or just decided they didn't like it and are pleading with the reader to stop the madness. 
I've only been through it twice. The first time Ann Hood stopped the reading after a few sentences when she didn't like the way I called an amputee's stump a stub. Of course my name isn't on the two pages, but you still die in your seat when they raise their hands. The second time I made it through the first page until LeHane stopped it for having too much narrative and not enough dialogue.
 Anyway, below is my two-page submission for this year. It's from a short story and not part of the workshop. Elsewhere on the blog page is a poll to vote for when you think those bastards will raise their hands and humiliate me among my peers, despite it being anonymous. Seriously though, when the hands pop up it is usually for a good reason. So vote. It's free. I think I'll go two pages. My wife thinks they'll stop it after two words. I sense a lack of loyalty on her part.


Your Sister’s Wedding Reception

If you sit still on your mother’s yellow and brown paisley sofa, right in the center, and if your face is tan enough and you know you are the middle child, and quiet, then you can understand how you can be invisible.
It is December 1968 and the whirlwind of your sister’s wedding reception weaves about the backyard, the living room, the kitchen, the four small bedrooms and two baths. One of which hasn’t worked for four years.
Your house can accommodate the seven in your family easily, but there are a hundred guests in the backyard. That’s where the warm Florida sun is. That’s where thirty pounds of jumbo shrimp are and that’s where the makeshift tavern is, with enough Black Label beer, cheap liquor and cigarettes to satiate all the adults. With little supervision of the bar, no one notices the missing booze used to inebriate your seventeen-year-old brother, Ed, and his friend Bruce.
Your eight-year-old brother, Charlie, gets into the spirit when, with beer can in hand, he and six-year-old, Frank, march like drum majors on top of the endless rows of parked cars that line both sides of the long street. The neighbors see your little brothers, see the beer, watch as they dent the trunks of the cheap imports, but say nothing. It’s that kind of neighborhood.
You turn around, bored by your younger brothers’ adventures. Across from you, in the orange and green half-price sofa, sits Aunt Dottie, your parents forty-six year old friend who dresses and smells like a twenty-year-old and isn’t really your aunt but that’s what you call her. You have never seen her sober, and now, wedged between your brother Ed and his buddy Bruce, she is as drunk as you have ever seen her.
Eddie nibbles her ear as Bruce slips his hand between her arm and the Carolina blue dress to feel her up. They glance your way, but they can’t see you because, like you already said, you are invisible.
“What’d ya say, Auntie?” Eddie slurs.
“What?” Dottie slurs back, the ash on her cigarette dangling precariously over her best dress from the cedar closet of her double-wide at the Rocky Water trailer park where she lives with Uncle Marty, he not your uncle either.
“Ya wanna do it?” Bruce says. His hand snakes through the lace and silk like a confused gopher.
“It?” she asks.
“It-it.” Bruce says using all of his high school debate rhetoric to convince her. She stares dumbly through you, unable to see your nearly pubescent grin. It.
Eddie manages to work his hand in from the other side to join Bruce’s.
“It,” Eddie says, jerking his head toward one of the four ten by ten bedrooms. Charlie’s is first in the queue. “C’mon, damn it.”
Outside, guests drink, smoke, and laugh while avoiding your hundred-dollar aluminum pool full of rainwater, sporting some kind of green algae. Uncle Marty staggers from the horde toward the house, vodka and ice dancing in his Flintstones glass. The acrid odor of fresh-cut weeds floats in as he slides open the screen door, contemplates, walks through the kitchen, bumps the black Madonna statue, and stumbles toward you—and Eddie—and Bruce—and Aunt Dottie.
He stops by the sofa to stare at the roving hands. Dottie looks up and sucks the burnt filter of her Winston. “What the hell do you want?”

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How To Act Like A Best Selling Novelist

Danielle Steel's House

Despite your negative attitude and barely passable writing you have somehow managed to con both your publishers and your public and now hit the best-seller list every time you release a new book. You have reached that pinnacle of the writing world you’ve strived for since you typed your first double negative on to a blank piece of paper. Everybody loves you. You’re famous. Celebrities mention your books on talk shows. The public adores your continuing character, Deke or Zeke or whatever other masculine name you gave your private eye or rogue cop who never solves cases in the orthodox ways.
Now that you’re a big shot author, how do you act like one?
That’s why I’m here to prepare you for that day of success, how to handle it, and how you should alter your behavior befitting your new status in the writing world. I will guide you step by step through the maze of celebrity. I took Psychology 101 in college and I have a subscription to People so I know my subject.

  • ·         When doing radio interviews to promote your new book you must insist that it be on the morning drive program to reach the largest audience. Have in your repertoire of pat answers, “Well, (name of radio host here) that’s why I’m a best-selling author and you’re a radio DJ.”
  • ·         At book store signings, demand ten percent of all sales of your book that day and all the Barnes and Noble coffee you can drink. Be aware there may be a few in line who will try to sneak a Wal-Mart copy of your book they bought for half price, so you’ll need security to screen the cheap bastards. Here are some typical comments to write above your autograph:
To my biggest fan.
Best of luck.
All the best.
Many warm thanks.
James Patterson's House

  • ·         Remember at writing conferences, you are there to sell books and make money, not spend it. All your, travel, room and food expenses should be gratis. Try to let your dinner guest pay for the drinks. If they insist you teach a one-hour session to the poor schmucks, make the subject simple enough to keep the technical questions down. Success in Writing is a perennial favorite. After your class, there will be a line of participants waiting to talk to you about their manuscripts. Cut them off after a minute. A fake phone call usually does the trick.
  • ·         Whenever your novels are adapted for a movie, loudly tell the media you hate what they did to your masterpiece, that they didn’t stay true to the book. Stephen King is a good example to follow as The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining and Misery were all better movies than the books.
Stuart Woods House
  • ·         Once you have ten best sellers in the bag, have co-authors punch out four or five books a year with your name plastered across the cover so the ignorant will think they’re buying your book.  Big bucks, little effort.
  • ·         Write a book about writing despite not knowing what a dangling participle is.
  • ·         Demand editors leave in the 500 pages they want to edit out of your latest 1000 page manuscript. You are too important to have any editing on your books now except for punctuation and grammar.

  • ·         In your personal life, divorce your spouse of twenty years after your second successful novel but before your third. This will limit the alimony and settlement so that future mega-bucks coming in from sales afterward will go to you. Then you’ll need to marry someone fifteen years younger than you after a proper prenup. Have a child with this new spouse who you can spoil and dote over while ignoring your children from the previous marriage. This sounds harsh but you have to suck it up if you want continuing success. Then dedicate three books to the new spouse and one to the new kid. 
There you have it. Now go forth with the assurance that if you hit the big time you are prepared for chaos that ensues.

Your House