Tuesday, March 29, 2011


As the release date for IRREPARABLE HARM approaches, I've been thinking about the process of writing it.

In ON WRITING (a fantastic book), Stephen King shares his oft-repeated advice that the second draft should equal the first draft minus 10%. Variations of this advice abound---murder your darlings, leave out the boring parts, etc.

Apparently, it is common for a writer to write a long first draft that needs to be pruned (or, in some cases, shorn). I wouldn't know.

My first draft, of anything, is short. Too short.

My husband is my first reader for everything I write. And without fail, his remarks will include something like, "good thing you're not being paid by the word" or "this is all pitch and no wind up."

With regard to the first draft of IRREPARABLE HARM, he said, "This is good. I like it. It's way too short."

I, of course, always take his comments with exceeding grace. But, this time, I did protest.

"It's a thriller."

"I know, but it's all action. Everything is driving the plot forward."

Now I'm thinking maybe he's just a wee bit stupid and I need to find a new first reader.

"It's a thriller." (I say it slower this time.)

"It's too fast-paced. It's exhausting to read it. There's no downtime."

After several more iterations of this conversation, he pulled from the bookshelf an array of thrillers by different authors and flagged the "downtime" parts for me to see what he was talking about.

And, finally, I got it. Once I did, I had to concede the point. And, the second draft more or less equaled the first draft PLUS 10%.

It occurred to me that there are probably three reasons for my lean first drafts:

1. My undergraduate creative writing concentration was in poetry. When writing poetry, you are trying to convey with a phrase, or even a word, an emotion, a description, a memory, or what have you. Poetry is spare.

2. I've spent a decade writing as a lawyer. There's almost always a page limit. In brief writing, you aim to be direct and succinct. (And when all else fails, you play around with the footnotes and margins!)

3. I wrote most of the first draft while mothering a four year old and a two year old and finished it while mothering a five year old, a three year old, and a newborn. So, I wrote in short bursts, with the goal of completing a scene before someone noticed I had disappeared. My writing sessions usually ended when I heard crying. I knew I had a small window, so I got right to the point.

My point (to the extent I have one) is that writing advice is like anything else. You have to be open to it, use what applies, and discard the rest.

And, cue the crying! So that's it for now.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty busy with the IRREPARABLE HARM release, so check back for updates and a giveaway!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Raising Readers

Today, I interrupt my own endless fascination with my fast-approaching publication date forIRREPARABLE HARM to write about raising kids who read.

But first, a picture of our littlest "reader."

As former kids who read, my husband and I naturally filled our kids' world with books from the time the were born. We have bookcases, baskets, and bins overflowing with children's books scattered throughout the house. And a typical trip to our fantastic local library usually results in each of us leaving with an armload of books. (The boys make it a point to always pick a few for their baby sister.)
Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids sit down and pull out a book. Now that our five year old is reading fluently, he will often read to his younger brother or sister. (Not to mention, I am far from the only writer in the house! Both boys write their own stories---either themselves or by dictating to me or my husband.)

Okay, great, right? What's my point?

As the boys are getting older, I worry that they are getting the message that reading is boring and no fun. It's a chore, but if you just suffer through it, you will be rewarded.

How? By the seemingly endless parade of reading programs aimed at kids. You know, you keep track of how many books you read or had read to you during a specific period and then you turn in your sheet for prizes. (I'm not sure what those prizes are, because we don't participate.*)

Reading is its own reward. The prize for reading is being transported to another world or learning endless facts about dinosaurs that you can spout at our mother before she's even had her morning coffee. Getting a free pizza or trinket shouldn't be the pay off.

And, it turns out, my knee-jerk, no-fun reaction is supported by the research. Here's what Alfie Kohn's thought-provoking book, PUNISHED BY REWARDS, has to say about reading incentive programs:

"What rewards do, and what they do with devastating effectiveness, is to smother people's enthusiasm for activities they might otherwise enjoy."

The full discussion is really interesting and I encourage you to read it.

So this is why I am that parent. The one who won't let her kids earn the prizes. So far, they could not care less; they just want to read for the sake of reading. Here's hoping it stays that way!

* We did participate in a Read-A-Thon to buy a new chair and ottoman for the children's section of our beloved library. The rationale was the boys themselves received nothing but a thank you note and, as heavy users of the children's section, we were in agreement that the sad, well-used chair needed to be replaced.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Read an E-book Week and My Cover

Ahh, it's already Tuesday! We are well into Read an E-book Week now, but there's still plenty of time to celebrate. You could win a free e-reader or get a whole bunch of free or discounted e-books, including DARK BLOOMS (use code RE100 at checkout and it's free through March 12).

I have to run, but not without sharing the exciting news that I now have a mockup of the cover for IRREPARABLE HARM, which will be available as both an e-book and paperback next month!

Have a peek:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Both Genders Prefer Male Protagonists?

I just came across a blog post about a study (link is to the abstract) that concludes both male and female readers prefer reading about male main characters. I find this counterintuitive (as did the researchers).

I also suspect there may have been some flaws with the study, but I am a big believer in reading original source material. So, I am going to hold off until I have read the entire study before I speculate.

I will say this, by way of example only: I loved Chris Cleave's LITTLE BEE (literary fiction, female main character) and enjoy Jamie Freveletti's thrillers featuring Emma Calridge (female). But, I also am a huge fan of Lee Child (protagonist is Jack Reacher, male) and Michael Connelly (particularly the Mickey Haller books, male).

In fact, I would venture to guess my bookshelf is about evenly split between books with male and female protagonists.

What do you think?