Melody Carlson on Faking It

Melody Carlson is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than two hundred books for teens, women, and children. She and her husband enjoy an active lifestyle of hiking, camping, and biking in the beautiful yet mysterious Pacific Northwest, where she says, “A new story seems to lurk around every corner.”

Faking It

I never trained to be a writer. Not in the academic sense anyway. I wasn’t an English major, I never took a writing class beyond high school, I’ve only attended a couple of writers’ conferences (as a conferee). And although I’d always admired authors, I never imagined I could be an author. In fact, despite having published around 200 books, I rarely use the word “author” when describing myself.

If anything, I say I’m a writer, probably because it sounds less presumptuous. Because the truth is I always have this underlying fear that someone is going to say, “You’re not really a writer, you haven’t been trained as a writer, therefore you must be faking it.” And maybe I am.

But I suspect that, from the very beginning, life was training me to be a writer. I could never really make up my mind about what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” As a result, I sampled a lot of jobs. I taught pre-school for a while. I spent a year in a third world country as I considered missions work. I worked for an interior designer as well as an international adoption agency. I dabbled at several other varied and unrelated jobs. But like shopping for jeans, it took a lot of trying on before I found what fit just right.

Even when I got the irresistible urge to begin writing, I had no idea where it would take me. I only knew that I had to write or burst. Sort of like my grandma’s old pressure cooker. She’d leave it on the stove for too long and too high and the next thing you knew green beans all splattered all over the ceiling. That’s how I felt. Like all these words and stories and sentences and characters and settings were boiling inside of me. The pressure was growing and I needed to loosen that release valve and get them out.

And so, without any real direction or (as aforementioned) real training, I began to write—on a yellow legal pad since I had no typewrite or computer at the time. Why would I have authentic writing tools when I wasn’t an authentic author? Then I joined a critique group of “real authors.” Naturally, that made me extremely nervous. Not only had these women been properly trained they were published as well.

I remember feeling like a total fraud in their midst. I even tried to “appear” more author-like by wearing tweed jackets (but hadn’t I always liked tweed?) and then I added dangly earrings (didn’t that make a person look more creative?). And although I loved being in this creative group, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t belong. I figured that eventually these genuine bona fide authors would figure me out and cast me from their midst.

Instead, they were encouraging. And they were amazed at how quickly I could “spit out” a story and then another and another. What they didn’t realize (and I probably didn’t either) was that those stories had been bubbling and percolating inside of me for years. But even as I completed several novels (three for teens and one for women) I didn’t feel like a real author.

Perhaps that was because “real authors” got published. And all I seemed to get was rejection letters. And so I began to think if I got published, I would become a “real author.” To my stunned amazement an editor became very interested in my work. She even presented my novels to her publishing committee, but for one reason or another they “declined” every one, which only seemed to prove that I wasn’t really an author.

But then she challenged me to write a nonfiction book, saying, “I think I can get that published.” So, feeling even more like a fake (since I was a fiction writer) I threw together a proposal for a nonfiction book. And they contracted it. But even a contracted book didn’t make me feel like an author. And then I began to work for a publishing company, interfacing with REAL authors (ones with BIG names) and I knew for sure that I wasn’t one of them.

Even as I began contracting more books (novels this time) I questioned my authenticity. I didn’t consider myself part of that elite group—real authors. After all, I didn’t know the secret handshake. I still don’t. Even if I got a good book review, I simply assumed I’d dodged a bullet. If a book sold well, I thought I’d just slipped beneath the radar. Even when I began writing full time, I was pretty sure the gig would soon be up…I’d get caught eventually. The Book Police would show up at my door and say, “You’re under arrest for impersonating an author.”

But then I discovered something that’s helped to change my thinking. Lots of other “authors” feel the same way—like they too are “faking it.” So maybe it just comes with the territory. After all, I am a fiction writer. Most of what I write is “made up” so I guess I am faking it.

Guest Blogger ~ Kathleen Y’Barbo: Strangle Your Editor

Kathleen learned that her love of story could carry her off to places far beyond her small Texas Gulf Coast town. With a degree in marketing from Texas A&M, Kathleen is now a best-selling award-winning author of more than thirty novels, novellas, and young adult books. In all, more than 850,000 copies of her books are currently in print in the US and abroad. In addition to her skills as a writer, Kathleen is exclusive publicist for Books & Such Literary Agency. A tenth-generation Texan, Kathleen has a daughter and three sons.

STRANGLE YOUR EDITOR

Dear Aspiring Authors, Prospective Playwrights, and Wannabe Writers:

The first and foremost rule of good writing is to strangle your editor. Before those of you who clutch rejection letters to your chest get too excited, hear me out. Editors are wonderful, knowledgeable, frustrating, frustrated, underpaid, overworked, and your best friend when a book is launched. These are the human editors – the living, breathing folks who populate the hallowed halls of publishing houses from coast to coast. Drop your rejection letters, folks, because that’s not the sort of editor I’m suggesting we strangle.

Inside each writer, just to the left of the creativity spot and wedged tight against the spot where logic meets magic, is another sort of editor. This editor is mean, nasty, critical, opinionated, and the worst enemy your manuscript ever had. Okay, some of you may have met a few human ones who display these characteristics as well. I assure you, however, there is not a single editor alive – or no longer with us – who can do more harm to your writing than I. E., aka. your Internal Editor.

Each of us has an I.E. Each of us, unfortunately, listens to the nasty lass far more than we realize. Don’t think so? Well, what about the time you were typing away on a lovely story about a professional golfer who finds love at the local miniature golf course only to stop midway through the synopsis and toss the whole thing because the rule in romance is that professional sports figures are a “tough sell”. Did your sparkling plot begin to go dull when dear I.E. reminded you of that? Did you lose interest in what would have otherwise been a pretty good story and begin contemplating another with components straight from last months list of popular plots?

Doesn’t apply to you? Okay, what about this scenario? Brilliance of the greatest sort is flowing from your fingers, through the computer keys, and onto the screen, each word more perfect than the next until . . . oh my, the squiggly red line appears on the screen. Those of us who use “that program” know what I mean. You’ve misspelled a word. Now what? Two choices. Go back and fix the spelling or continue on and try to ignore the red line. Which will you do? In the instant – or longer –it takes to make that decision, there is a strong likelihood the flow of dazzling words has been reduced to a boring and uninteresting drip.

Questions come to mind – awful questions whispered straight from the mouth of I.E. herself. What did you mean when you typed that last sentence? Where were you going with that thought? Why do you bother writing a manuscript that’s not going to be sold? Why not do like your mother –or other significant friend or relative – said and get a real job?

Ever had those thoughts? I have. Can you get past them? Sure. The only cure is to shake the lovely Miss I.E. off your shoulder and get right back to work. Sometimes, however, it’s how we work that gets us into trouble.

I’m referring to the research junkie. I.E’s love research junkies. I would venture to guess that the research junkie is the best friend of the I.E. These are the writers who happily skip away from the computer – or navigate onto the Internet – mid-sentence to delve into the intricate differences in ladies’ undergarments in the seventeenth century rather than to complete the scene and research later. Have I caught some of you on this one? I confess I am guilty of this. Why wait to see what my latest research source says when I can come back to the scene once I have the information I need?

The next thing the research junky realizes, hours have passed and she’s discovered far more than she ever wanted to know about her topic. She may have discovered plots for three more books down one of the rabbit trails of research. But has she done anything to get that other manuscript – the one that sent her running for the research sites in the first place – in print? Probably not.

The reason for staying to finish the writing, as opposed to changing the character, correcting the typo, or doing the research is simple. Anything that interrupts the flow of your manuscript is in danger of calling out the Internal Editor. Once that scoundrel is out of her cage, you’re going to have a time getting her back in, especially if she really likes you and wants to stick around. Beware if you are one of her favorite people – a perfectionist.

I.E’s love perfectionists. Perfectionists wear letter sweaters from I.E.U. Perfectionists – and believe me you know who you are – beg and plead with I.E. to sit on their shoulders and whisper into their ears while they type. When I.E. says, “Don’t use that word,” the perfectionist runs to the thesaurus. When I.E wants to know if they really had Colt revolvers in 1875, the perfectionist runs to the encyclopedia. When I.E. says that medieval painters make lousy heroes, the perfectionist turns her maker of masterpieces into a master of the sword.

What’s wrong with listening to dear I. E., you might ask? Doesn’t she keep us from making mistakes, misspelling words, or possibly writing something that won’t sell? Yes, actually, she does all those things and more. She also stops the flow of creativity, keeps you from writing something original and fresh, and just plain makes you forget where you were going and what you intended to do in a scene. She also steals your voice and forces you into cookie cutter writing that will have human editors rolling their eyes.

So what to do about I.E.? If only you could turn her off like you do the feature in “that program” that creates the squiggly red or green lines. Ignoring I.E. is tough but it can be done. First, literally turn off your computer’s editor. Get rid of those red or green lines. Perfectionists, this is where you promise yourself you’ll use that little check marked box to spell check just as soon as your writing day is done.

Second, if you need more information on a topic and are fighting the urge to race off and find it, stop and place a big, fat, bold X in the spot and go on typing. If X isn’t your letter, then pick another, but keep your fingers moving until you’re done for the day. When the work is done and it’s time to fill in with your brilliant research material, just use the “find’ function on your word processing program to locate each spot where material is missing. Finally, make a promise to yourself that you will get the entire story down before you unleash your editor. To put it less than nicely, do as a friend of mine once stated: “Barf it out now and clean it up later.” Write now – write it all – then edit. Cut half the manuscript if you must. Change the plot, the characters, or even the voice, but save these changes for the second draft.

So, for those of you who’ve been listening to the whispers of a muse called I. E., I offer this final caveat. Take a chance and wing it. Close your friend the Internal Editor back up in her soundproof cage and dare to write – just write.

If you’ll strangle your Internal Editor, you just might write a manuscript that will acquire a real editor – the human kind.

This Wild West adventure just might be the life she was meant to live.

The future is clearly mapped out for New York socialite Eugenia “Gennie” Cooper, but she secretly longs to slip into the boots of her favorite dime-novel heroine and experience just one adventure before settling down. When the opportunity arises, Gennie jumps at the chance to experience the Wild West, but her plans go awry when she is drawn into the lives of silver baron Daniel Beck and his daughter and finds herself caring for them more than is prudent–especially as she’s supposed to go back to New York and marry another man.

As Gennie adapts to the rough-and-tumble world of 1880s Colorado, she must decide whether her future lies with the enigmatic Daniel Beck or back home with the life planned for her since birth. The question is whether Daniel’s past–and disgruntled miners bent on revenge–will take that choice away from her.

Give Me Some Hope ~ Guest blogger Tina Ann Forkner

Tina Ann Forkner is the author of the newly released, Rose House, in which she takes readers back to La Rosaleda, the fictional town that was born in Tina’s first novel, Ruby Among Us from Waterbrook Press/Random House. Tina is also a freelance writer for the popular gospel music publication Homecoming Magazine. She stays busy serving on the Laramie County Library Foundation Board of Directors in Wyoming where she also lives with her husband and her three children. Learn more about Tina at her website.
NJ: Be sure to leave a comment for Tina and be entered in a chance to win a copy of Rose House.Give Me Some Hope!“In general…there’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” -Anne LamottThere is a certain novel that I could not wait to read. The book received rave reviews describing it as powerful and engrossing. It became an instant bestseller and when I finally bought my own copy, I just knew I was in for a moving and uplifting reading experience.

It was the saddest book I have ever read.

I don’t mean it was sad as in poor craft. The author is an amazing novelist and the book is still a bestseller more than a year later, but I found many parts of the book difficult to get through because they were so deeply sad.

I haven’t always been like this when it comes to reading. There was a time when I didn’t mind books with characters who never managed to redeem themselves. When I was an English Major in college, I had to read more tragic novels than I could keep track of. Back then, I didn’t always like those stories and didn’t always agree with every book’s message, but I felt I was learning something. Titles weren’t assigned to bring reading pleasure anyway. They were assigned to make students think.

I still like to read challenging books at times, but more and more I find myself wanting to be inspired. I want to be challenged and I want to read for pleasure. It’s not that I want to sacrifice real meaning or to become an escapist, but I would like to read a well-written book that shows how a little bit of joy can sometimes come from pain. I have found that feeling in books like What the Bayou Saw, by Patti Lacy and The Passion of Mary-Margaret, by Lisa Samson.

I am glad the CBA is turning out such well-written books these days and I’ve noticed a few more hopeful books in the ABA than before, but not as many as I think readers would like to see. I’m grateful for the growth I have seen in the CBA in the last decade because I cannot read books that have no redemption anymore without feeling let down. I think it must be my age.

I am only in my thirties, but I’m no longer sheltered. I am now fully aware of the fact that tragedy lives outside of those novels my professors made me read. My innocence has been whittled away and as result, reading sad truths in fiction that never get resolved is just too much for me. I want to read a book that deals with tragic circumstances and still ends on a high note, like Dogwood, by Chris Fabry.

I don’t need a book that will simply make me feel better, but I do want to read a book that inspires me to be better. Likewise, I want to write the same kinds of books.

I don’t mind taking my characters to difficult places, as I did in Ruby Among Us, as long as they don’t all stay there. I took them again, or they took me, to some hard places in Rose House, too, but this time I tried harder to inspire hope. Not only did I do it for my readers, but I needed a high note too.

Back when I read the bestseller I mentioned, the one that had such a sad ending, I found no high notes anywhere. As the characters gave in to the hardness of their hearts, I was forced to relive the powerlessness of some heartbreaking journeys I have been on in real life. I almost put the book down because there seemed to be no promise of a hopeful ending. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a happy ending, but a hopeful conclusion would have been nice. When I turn the last page of any novel, I want to be inspired and not simply be forced to reflect on things that are sad.

Some authors have the talent to beautifully capture the human experience. Sometimes they capture it too well for me. As a reader, I don’t mind going through the pain, but only if I can find a grain of hope in the story.

I don’t mind facing truth whether I am writing a novel or just reading one, but when a book forces me to come face to face with life’s painful realities, I want the story to motivate me to act upon its truths. I want a novel to spend less time on trying to shock me and a few more pages on giving me some hope.

Rose House

A vivid story of a private grief, a secret painting, and one woman’s search for hope

Still mourning the loss of her family in a tragic accident, Lillian Diamon finds herself drawn back to the Rose House, a quiet cottage where four years earlier she had poured out her anguish among its fragrant blossoms.

She returns to the rolling hills and lush vineyards of the Sonoma Valley in search of something she can’t quite name. But then Lillian stumbles onto an unexpected discovery: displayed in the La Rosaleda Gallery is a painting that captures every detail of her most private moment of misery, from the sorrow etched across her face to the sandals on her feet.

What kind of artist would dare to intrude on such a personal scene, and how did he happen to witness Lillian’s pain? As the mystery surrounding the portrait becomes entangled with the accident that claimed the lives of her husband and children, Lillian is forced to rethink her assumptions about what really happened that day.

A captivating novel rich with detail, Rose House explores how the brushstrokes of pain can illuminate the true beauty of life.