Giant Steps- Writer to Author (repost from typepad)

If only someone had told me years ago...

I started out the way most people do, with a keyboard (substitute binder, journal, scrap of paper, you get the picture) and just started typing. I was thirty-something at the time, just plugging in my first computer, and the words came so easily. It was like a dam had built up over the last three decades and the water came crashing down through the valley, taking out everything in its path. Words flowed. I had no frame of reference for sentence structure, outlining, plot, point-of-view, adverbs, pronouns, blah, blah, blah. All that stuff was at least a decade behind me in the last English class I took. When the keys finally cooled off I had a rambling 100,000 words stream of consciousness that only Jack Kerouac would have been proud of. Or maybe Forrest Gump. I could not figure out what to do with it. So I threw it in a box, backed it up on disk, and locked myself down in a hermit's wordless cave...

and I read.

Five years later, through no fault of my own, the writing bug bit again. I went back to the old story, my bread and butter, perfect that sucker and get it on out. I was a crime writer back then too, but my crimes were against the rules of grammar. I plodded through six months of rewrites. The story morphed into something that had no resemblance to the original. I still had little clue what the secret code of the word entailed.

and I read some more. The common theme of my reading became the Masters of Crime Fiction. Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Andrew Vachss, Rudolfo Anaya, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard...

Eventually I abandoned that project, "Back to the box with ye!" and started on what would become my first completed novel, unReQuiTeD, a psychological thriller set on the post 9/11 NYC landscape. Aside from my reading, my research for the book came while I was standing at the corner of 30th and Broadway, looking down the corridor at the two pillars of smoke rising into the air. The smell of the island for months afterward. The harrowed looks on the faces of my friends who'd narrowly escaped. The flowers and pictures of the firefighters from the station next to where I lived. The overwhelming feeling that I would wake up one day and everything would be back the way it was.

I wrote the book. I did the second draft, and the third, and the fourth. Still I had no concept of what constituted good writing. I know that my prose is biting. It is at times breathtaking. It is flawed...

It is salvageable.

On a lark I went to Killer Nashville, a mystery conference in, you guessed it, Nashville. There I met one of my heroes, the inimitable Michael Connelly. I was critiqued by Hallie Ephron, the great crime critic for the Boston Globe. I met other writers who have struggled with the same problems and ignorance that I have. We know we want to write, The ideas veritably (sorry Hallie!) burst from our heads. We needed someone to show us the way.

I don't know that I'll ever be a best selling author. The odds of even getting published are astronomical. But I feel like I've been shown the way. The pen marking on my chapters leaped off the page at me. The problems of tense and POV, language and characterization, are clear to me. I have a way, now I just need to follow it to be the best I can be. If that's not good enough, well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.


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Comment by jKathleen on February 18, 2008 at 3:41pm
Gosh haven't we all been there. You are obviously on your way. The way you wrote this piece was entertaining and held me right there until you finished. Best of luck. And Thank you for the encouragement.

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