Recovering Orphans

I’m sure most authors have lots of bits and pieces of writing, scenes or chunks of dialogue that got cut from a story because they didn’t fit the tone or killed the pace or just weren’t really needed. Orphans, I call them. Pieces of writing that don’t fit into any existing work, or that were cut for whatever (often very valid!) reason. A lot of it is stuff you might actually like, that could be very well-written, but just not what was needed. They say authors need to kill their darlings, a reminder while editing that just because you love some thing you wrote doesn’t mean it belongs in the book you’re writing. But I’m not sure you have to kill them, per se. I think you can save them, tuck them away in a folder somewhere in the off chance that someday, somewhere, you’ll find the spot for that little piece that you wrote. You’ll find it a home, a forever home, and the warm glow in the pit of your stomach will leave you feelin’ fine.

I’ve got a couple of places I store such orphans. There’s a folder in Dropbox that has everything I’ve written related to Eddie Hazzard over the years. There’s lots of Word documents with a paragraph or two jotted down, an exchange between characters or the description of a scene or a crime that I want to keep because I like the idea. I also have a note on my phone of Hazzard lines, usually short bits of dialogue or a quip from Eddie that I particularly like (these often end up getting shared on Twitter for the #1LineWed hashtag game). Many, if not most, of those will end up in a Hazzard story someday. A couple of them I’ve actually written short stories or scenes in a book around already.

Below, I’ve decided to share an orphan that I really like, one that may someday fit into a book or a short story or…something. I hope you like it.

* * *

It takes a lot to get me to blink. I’m not a man prone to backing off from a confrontation, which has brought me sorrow and pain more times than I can count.

But it’s just not in me to back down from a fight. I can’t do it.

Which is how I found myself staring across a room full of people at my nemesis, one Maribelle Vander Grove. Her skirt was pleated and pressed perfectly, her white blouse was unblemished by wrinkle or food stain, not a hair was out of place on her head. Her whole demeanor put my carelessly rumpled self to shame.

“Well?” I asked, not breaking eye contact.

“Jane Seymour,” she responded evenly.

I broke away first and glanced around at the rest of the room. Ten other children, all aged about 12, sat there, staring back at me. “Is that, um, is that right?” I asked.

Joey Standlin, a skinny kid who managed to project an aura of pocket protector-ness even though he was dressed identically to everyone else in the room and wasn’t wearing a pocket protector, cleared his throat hesitantly. “Um, yes, Mr. Hazzard, Maribelle is correct.”

I straightened up from the defensive crouch I’d instinctively taken during my confrontation with the child. “Well, then, a point to Maribelle,” I said.

My name’s Eddie Hazzard, and I’m a private detective currently pretending to be a substitute teacher. My coffee is most definitely spiked.

 

Status Update

So, it’s the end of summer, and the beginning of a new school year. This time of year is always a bit strange for me. While most folks think of autumn as a time when things slow down as the weather grows colder and the trees shift colors, I tend to feel more energized. It probably has something to do with getting back to school and in front of the classroom.

Summer tends to be a bit of a doldrums for me, writing-wise. I think I maybe wrote 1,000 words the entire summer. I did do quite a bit of planning on a couple of works in progress, but I didn’t get a whole lot of actual words on the page, so to speak.

That being said, it’s the first week of the new school year for me, and already I’ve managed to get quite a bit done. I finally reformatted The Invisible Crown for the paperback version with the new cover and a few minor tweaks to the text here and there. I also formatted the paperback version of The Hidden Throne, though I’m still waiting on the cover for that one. I’ve also released a free ebook version of my short story, “Solitaire,” through the website Instafreebie. The idea is that the short story will serve as a way to pull people into the world of Eddie Hazzard and maybe convince them to buy the book. It’s only been downloaded a few times since I put it up, but it’s already translated to at least a couple of sales, so I’m happy about it.

So, what’s coming up? Well, The Hidden Throne is ready to roll as soon as it gets a cover. In the meantime, I’ve started work on a new Hazzard short story about his first case as a solo private detective. I’m also working on a young adult novel (it’s mostly planned out, though I’ve only written a few thousand words on it so far). Of course, there’s also editing and proofing of Hazzard Pay Books 3 and 4 to be done, and I’m still working on Book 5. Books 6 and 7 are in the rough plotting stage, too. So there’s lots of writing ahead, and my motivation seems to finally be kicking in again after the word drought of summer.

Running Out of Things to Write About

I worry sometimes that I’m running out of things to write about.

Not  in the books!  No, I’ve got enough material for the Hazzard novels to run through at least book #7, and plenty of material for short story fodder.

No, I’m talking about on here.  The blog.  What the heck should I talk about here?

I don’t want to do the usual, “Here’s what I think every writer should do,” or offer tips on how to write the perfect first page or craft the best dialogue or whatever.  Folks that wanna do that stuff?  More power to ’em.  There’s lots of new writers out there actively looking for that kind of blog post, looking for that support in getting started.  But I don’t think that I’m the best for any of that.  My usual writing method is, “Oh, this idea seems entertaining/cool.  I think I’ll jot it down and then try to build on it.”  That’s how most of the novels got started: a single scene popped into my head and wouldn’t go away until I wrote it down and then wrote down more stuff around it.

My approach to plot and dialogue is best described as, “Throw stuff at the page and see what sticks.”  There’s nothing wrong with that; I think it serves me quite well.  But that’s not exactly inspiring for other writers, is it?  “I just write stuff down until I’m done writing it down, and I think most of the words are in the right order,” does not a poster slogan make.  Though maybe…

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Nah.  That’d be silly.

The Diversity Question

Okay, deep breath.  We’re wading into some tricky waters here, but they’re waters we’ve gotta cross.  We need to talk about diversity in fiction.

Let’s start with the statement that diversity is a good thing.  If you don’t accept that premise, you probably won’t get much out of the rest of this post.  The goal with diversity in fiction is to try to create a cast of characters that’s more representative of the world outside your door.

Now, that being said, there’s a challenge there: I’m a straight white male.  My family is so WASPy, we practically buzz when we talk.  I am a tiny bit Cherokee (and, in fact, I have my official Cherokee Nation ID card, reflecting that heritage), but you wouldn’t know it to look at me.

So, the question is, how does a straight white guy write characters who, well, aren’t that?  I’ll be the first to admit my experiences are vastly different than those of a person of color or someone who isn’t straight.  I worry about rendering their experiences authentically, about creating characters who feel true and not cliche.  I worry that I don’t have the right or ability to tell stories about people of color or LGBTQ individuals.  And I worry that if I do write stories about people who have such different experiences than I do, I’ll do it wrong and misrepresent people’s experiences.

At the same time, I feel like it’s important to tell stories about people who are different than me.  I don’t want my stories to feel monochromatic.  I want people to feel like they’re represented and reflected in the tales I tell, and I want my stories to feel representative of the diversity of society.  To achieve this, I’m asking for help: from people of color, from LGBTQ individuals.  Anyone who wants to help me keep the voices and experiences in my stories authentic, who wants to help me make sure I do right by folks, let me know.  I need beta readers for this stuff, folks.  My main cast is predominantly people of color, and I want to be able to have them feel like real people, not caricatures.

As an individual with a hell of a lot of privilege, I feel like I’ve got a responsibility to use that privilege to boost others.  There are already enough stories about straight white men out there; help me tell stories about the rest of our diverse population.

 

Handwriting vs. Typing

According to research, there’s a huge difference in the way our brain processes handwritten things versus typed.  I know lots of authors prefer to handwrite their first drafts, then type up the edited and revised story.

Not me.  I always type my stories.  Part of it is that I type much faster than I write.  When I handwrite things, I have a difficult time keeping up with my thoughts.  Words tend to pour out of me in quick bursts, and trying to write it all down by hand only ends in things left unwritten and lots of hand cramps.

On the other hand (no pun intended), when I write poetry or songs, I always write them out by hand.  The few times I’ve tired typing a song instead of handwriting it, the lyrics have turned out absolute crap.  Of course, this means I end up with snatches of lyrics and ideas for choruses written on random pieces of paper and stuffed into pockets or my backpack.  But that’s the price I have to pay to chase my muse, I guess.

Discipline and Inspiration

A lot of my writer friends like to treating writing like any other job: there are deadlines, quotas to meet, specific goals to achieve.  And I get that.  If you just keep endlessly working on the same book forever, you’re never going to get to publish it any move on to something new.  But I also feels like it gives short shrift to the creative aspect of what we’re doing here.

Everyone decries inspiration as a fickle, fleeting muse, as though waiting for it to make an appearance is a form of weakness in a writer and a sign that they’re not a True Author (TM).  As if the only way to really, truly being a professional in the field is to spend each day putting words on the page, some good and some bad, and then going back and editing them to make them all polished gold or something.

That strikes me as a bit disingenuous.  Each of us started writing because we were struck with some bit of inspiration.  Maybe it was just a scene, or a character, or even a word or phrase.  Maybe it was a line of dialogue, or the brief description of an action or something.  We all started from a place of inspiration, not a place of discipline.  And while I think it’s great that some writers can crank out words every day without concern for whether or not they’re good words (or they’re words that can be fixed in editing), I’d still rather take my time, maybe not get something on the page every day, and make sure I put down the right words the first time ’round.

And maybe that’s arrogance on my part.  Maybe I’m not being as clear here as I’d like to be.  Writing about writing is always fraught with hand-wringing and sounding full of yourself.  “The Process,” y’know.  I always roll my eyes when creative folks talk about their Process.  It sounds so pretentious.  And I’m sure talking of inspiration sounds that way, too.  It’s a lot more down-to-earth to talk about being a writer through the self-discipline of writing.  You sound like a human, or like anyone could do what you do if they just built that discipline themselves.

But I’m not sure that’s true.  Maybe it’s a bit elitist, but not everybody can do everything, even with discipline.  I could practice every day, hire the best trainers and go through intense regimens, and still never be a better basketball player than LeBron James or Michael Jordan.  I could push myself to practice for hours a day, doing riffs and runs and arpeggios, and never be as good a guitar player as Prince was.  Those are (or were) all highly-disciplined people who spent years honing their crafts, but they started with the inspiration.  I’m just saying maybe we shouldn’t discount that part quite so much.  Discipline without inspiration is just so much hard work for nothing.