Archive for the 'L Viehl’s Posts' Category
Friday, February 27th, 2009 by LViehl
One of the ladies in my neighborhood has recently started selling Avon, and dropped off a couple of catalogs for me to look through. I haven’t used Avon products in years, but while we were talking my neighbor must have noticed how chapped my face and hands are, because she gave me some samples of skin cream.
The stuff I always use hasn’t been working very well this winter, so I tried them out. Both were so great I promptly put in an order for full-size versions, plus a couple of things I found while browsing through the catalog to see what else was in the product line.
Would I have ordered the products if I hadn’t tried them first? Probably not. For one thing, I’m cheap, and I don’t like spending money on something that may or may not work for me. The pictures in the catalog are pretty, but I can’t rub them on my dry skin to see what they’ll do.
I also liked the samples of the cologne from the Mark catalog (Avon’s line of products for youngsters) my neighbor gave me for my daughter to test. My girl is a young teen, and while I don’t mind her wearing a little makeup or cologne, I don’t want her walking around looking like a hooker or smelling like an opium den. Having access to the samples allowed her to see if she liked them and me a little parental preview (and we also ordered a bottle of one of the sample colognes we both liked.)
I’ve been an advocate of giving free books and stories to readers for a long time, and it really works the same way the Avon lady’s free samples do. If a reader gets a free read and loves it, they’re going to buy more by that author. If they don’t, there’s no sale, but no resentment, either. Now that we’re all tightening up our budgets and trying not to overspend, the opportunity to try out something for free before we buy is more important than ever.
Giving people something to read for free is one of the greatest pleasures I have as a professional writer. To me every book is someone’s gift to the world, so each time I have a giveaway, it’s like holding my own holiday and playing Publishing Santa.
Today I have a book tote filled with six books to give away; one unsigned novel from every member of Genreality plus a signed copy of my latest release:
A Long, Hard Ride by Alison Kent
Heretic: The Templar Chronicles by Joe Nassise
The Stolen by Jason Pinter
Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand by Carrie Vaughn
Stay the Night by Lynn Viehl
Primal Male by Sasha White
If you’d like the chance to win this bag of Genreality free samples, in comments to this post name the last free story or novel that you enjoyed (or if you can’t think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, February 28, 2009. I’ll draw one name at random from everyone who participates, and send the winner the bag, the books, and a surprise. Btw, this giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, so our friends overseas, please join in.
Friday, February 20th, 2009 by LViehl
At just about every other publishing blog you visit, you’ll hear writers talk about their editors. You can tell because they immediately break out and shake their biz pom poms: “My editor is great!” or “I’m so lucky to be working with him/her” or “My book is so much better because of the work my editor did.”
Not all of this gushing is false. There are great editors out there. We’re lucky so many of them are as talented as they are. And yes, most of them do make us better writers. To all of those editors, I will say a big Thank You in advance, and ask you to leave now, because I’m not going to talk about you today.
For this post, I’m going to talk about the other kind of editor. The one no one talks about openly. The editor who is not so great, who isn’t a blessing, and who many times makes us seriously consider switching our careers to something easier, like cancer research.
Once you get into the biz, you will understand how vulnerable writers are when it comes to dealing with editor problems. Because editors have so much power over our books, our advance and royalty checks and, ultimately, our careers, pro writers can’t complain openly about them. What we do is talk privately among ourselves, although even then we’re guarded, because you never know to whom that conversation may be repeated, or where that complaining e-mail might be forwarded. The end result is that very little practical, useful information is available about editors.
Not knowing who you’re working with can land you in a business relationship that makes it harder to do your job, so it pays to do a little research on an editor before you begin working with one. The best person from whom to gather reliable information is your agent, who probably already knows from dealing with other clients’ problems which editors to avoid. If you’re acquainted with other writers who work with the editor you’re researching, ask if you can give them a call or get together at a conference and talk (although inevitably most will do the obligatory pom pom shake, a few tend to be honest, as long as there will be no record of what they say.) Be wary of anything that sounds like gossip or sour grapes. Pay attention instead to real facts and tangible evidence.
See what you or your agent can find out about the editor’s track record in the industry. How much experience does the editor have in your genre? Has the editor been jumping from house to house every couple of years? Is the editor overloaded? (Finding out how many writers the editor is already editing is important, as an editor who is handling fifteen writers is going to have more time to work with you than one who is juggling thirty.)
After you receive “the call” and you have that follow-up conversation with a prospective editor about the offer and what the publisher expects of you, you can use that as an opportunity to ask how much the editor can do for you and your books. Be polite but direct – and if the editor isn’t enthusiastic, won’t offer any specifics, or becomes defensive, that’s a big red flag.
Once you’re in a working relationship with an editor who you will never cheer for, you basically have two choices: 1) request another editor be assigned to you (and it’s best to let your agent handle this) or 2) tough it out. What you choose to do really depends on how tolerant you are, and how willing your publisher is to accommodate you. It’s stressful enough trying to write and publish and promote without battling a difficult editor at the same time, so if you’re already struggling, you don’t need carry the additional weight of a strenuous business relationship. If you can do so without endangering your career, I recommend getting out of bad situations with an editor by asking for reassignment.
If for whatever reason you can’t get away from a problematic editor and must instead put up with him/her (and this is what I’ve done in the past) then you need to protect yourself. When your editor behaves in an unprofessional manner, it will likely be verbal (because editors are just as wary about records as writers) and over the phone. Keep a record of all things that are said to you (you may want to start an editor diary.) If the editor continues to be verbally abusive, you can defuse the situation by having verbal contact with your editor only when your agent can be present as part of a conference call.
Also, collect evidence in the event you need to prove the editor has been behaving inappropriately. If the editor is foolish enough to lie or be abusive to you in writing, make copies and forward them to your agent, as this may be all you need to make the switch to working with a new editor.
Two types of editors you should never tolerate:
Substance abusers – don’t work with editors you know to be alcoholics or drug users. These people are in the grip of addiction and cannot be relied upon to do their job. Substance abuse in the workplace is not romantic or understandable, nor should you tolerate it for one second.
Physical abusers – no one, and I mean no one, in this business has the right to lay a finger on you, ever. An editor who tries to have inappropriate physical contact with you or to threaten you with it through sexual harassment is a danger, and needs to be reported and removed from their job before they hurt you or someone else.
As scary as those two types of editors sound, thankfully there are very few of them in the industry. Based on my experiences and what I’ve heard from other writers, the most prevalent types of problematic editors are those who lie, and those who are indifferent. Writers have to rely on whatever their editors tell them as the truth, and an editor who you catch in a lie can never be trusted again. An indifferent editor is almost as bad as having no editor; instead of getting the help and feedback you need, you’re left out in the cold to fend for yourself.
An editor who is a liar may seem like the worst of the pair, but it’s very simple to deal with them. This is a person who you can’t ever trust, so don’t trust them with anything confidential or important. Also, it’s best to set up a system of verification — in other words, whatever the editor tells you has to remain meaningless to you until you verify it with another, more trustworthy source, like your agent.
I think the indifferent editor is tougher to handle because trying to work with them is like having a meaningful conversation with a brick wall. The classic hallmarks of an indifferent editor are 1) they don’t return your phone calls, 2) they don’t answer your e-mails and 3) they refuse to provide feedback, advice or any reasonable support.
Before you judge an editor as indifferent, be sure you’re not behaving like a pest — few editors have the time to return three or four phone calls or a half dozen e-mails per week, and you’re not the only writer they edit, so the time they can spend giving you feedback, advice and support is likely limited. But if you’re only making the most necessary contact and still get no response, chances are your editor is indifferent to you, and that’s probably not going to change. Rather than confront the editor and make a bad situation worse, first talk to your agent and get their advice on the best way to handle it.
Now let’s talk about the other ways you the writer may factor into the problem you have with an editor. That’s right, you may be the real problem, not the editor. It’s easy to blame someone else for our career woes, and why not the person who was so directly involved with our work? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a writer say, “My book would have done so much better if I’d gotten some support from my lousy editor.”
Here’s another slice of reality: editors are in the business to edit books. That’s their job description. They are not responsible for your personal success, financial situation or bestseller status. They can influence those things to a certain degree by helping you in other areas, such as getting you cover quotes, or asking for better marketing or higher print runs, but they can’t wave a magic wand and make you into a star. If they could I’m sure they would, and their jobs would be a hell of a lot easier.
Editors are also not required to be your friend, hold your hand, tell you everything is going to be all right, and listen to your latest list of problems or descriptions of your unhappy home life. Most of them do anyway, because they know only too well how much pressure we’re under and how tough it is for a writer to succeed in today’s publishing industry. Still, there are some who just cannot spare the time or the emotional room to listen to writer bullshit. This is not personal; this is how they handle working with us.
Before you decide your editor is the problem, take a good, long, hard look at yourself. Are your expectations of your writer-editor relationship realistic? Do you regard your editor as the enemy, or a co-worker? Are you cooperative or combative? Do you always blame your editor for your lack of success? Are you doing absolutely everything you can to make things work out between the two of you? Instead of always thinking “What has my editor done for me?” once in a while ask yourself “What have I done for my editor?”
I’ve worked with a lot of editors at different publishers; about a dozen total since I turned pro. Most of them have been great to work with and have made me a better writer. Some were just okay. Only two were problematic and one was a nightmare. Still, that’s a 75% success rate, which I think is pretty good considering how often and randomly I’ve been shifted around due to publisher personnel or imprint changes. For the record, I’ve never asked to be reassigned to another editor — in the beginning of my career I was too afraid to say anything, and now I just outlast them.
All writers want is a great editor who is a dream to work with and who will be our partner in success. So the next time you find yourself looking at a prospective editor, working with one who isn’t so great, or trying to decide if you should make a change, be sure you are or you’re willing to be a great writer who is a dream to work with and who can be a partner instead of an adversary. Because in reality, that’s all most editors want, too.
Friday, February 13th, 2009 by LViehl
It figures I’d get the Friday the thirteenth post. It’s just my luck.
Right after I sold my first two novels I found and joined a local writer’s critique group. I did this because I’d never actually met any writers in person, I thought I could use some other opinions on my work, and the notice at the library said the group was open to any sort of writer.
The group was a nice bunch of middle-aged people, but during the first meeting I discovered they all wrote literary fiction. Still, I presented my contribution to the meeting, an alien birth scene that I was asked to read out loud (they required you to read whatever you brought to be critiqued.) I thought it was okay because it was an open group.
I noticed after my reading that the open group looked a little like a herd of deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming high speed passenger train. I thought some humor might lighten up things, so I told a funny story about one jackass of a doctor I’d worked with in the past, and how he had inspired one of the loathesome characters in my book. The meeting ended shortly after that.
The lady who ran the crit group called me the next day to tell me not to attend another meeting because I’d been voted out of the group. When I asked why, she said, “Well, dear, we really don’t know how to critique your sort of writing. Also, that man who was sitting next to you last night is a doctor.”
At my first national writers conference, I received an invite to one of those exclusive highbrow publisher parties attended by the serious movers and shakers in the biz. I was extremely nervous, so I asked one of the authors who had come from my city what I was supposed to do (she had not been invited, but she had five books in print, so I figured she knew.) She told me to hand out bookmarks to everyone at the party and tell them all about my book, because that’s what all the new authors were supposed to do.
Yes. I believed her.
At the party I only handed out about ten bookmarks before I realized no one else was doing this and stopped, but the damage was done. I’d bookmarked at least three senior editors from major houses, and a superstar bestselling author whom I’d looked up to since the seventh grade.
Shortly after that disaster, a friend offered to send my latest manuscript to a friend of theirs who just happened to be at the time one of the hottest bestsellers in the biz. The friend couldn’t promise anything, but she was pretty sure the Hot One would like my work and I’d get a nice cover quote out of it.
I was so excited when I called my editor to ask if it was okay to send the manuscript. The editor told me – and this is verbatim – that I couldn’t get a quote from the Hot One because we didn’t write in the same genre. And what cover quote did I get on that particular novel? Why, one from an Amazon.com reviewer.
Those are just three instances of bad luck that I’ve had in the biz. There are many more stories I could tell you. I was such a trusting soul, and I really didn’t know anything about publishing when I signed my first contract. I always put authors and editors and publishers on pedestals, too. They were my heroes through all the lonely years I spent pursuing publication. I was so excited about meeting and working with these people. Publishing was my dream, so of course all the people involved in the business would be as wonderful as all of the books I’d treasured.
I was forgiving, too, so it took a couple more years for me to recognize that my dream had become a nightmare.
Whether I was criminally stupid or just a magnet for bad luck, I had a very rough time of it. I didn’t give up right away, either. I tried other crit groups, but I never fit in with any of them, and since the first I’ve been kicked out of three more. I did the conference thing for a couple of years, but all I got out of it was a front row seat to pettiness and pointless behavior, two knee injuries – one that put me in the hospital – several upper respiratory infections, and one really horrible dose of food poisoning. I’ve not had any luck with finding that amazing editor every writer dreams of, but most of my editors got stuck with me because of some imprint change or hiring/firing situation, so I really can’t blame them for not living up to my expectations. I probably haven’t lived up to theirs.
All this bad luck or whatever you want to call it confused me. I knew I was meant to do this thing, and yet I couldn’t get the hang of all the other-than-writing stuff I was supposed to do as an author. No matter what I did, it never seemed right. I didn’t fit in. The harder I tried, the more I seemed to screw up, and the despair over that began to suck all the joy out of writing. I was so miserable at one point I gave up, stopped doing all the author stuff, and got a day job to prepare for the inevitable.
And then something rather wonderful happened. I rediscovered the reasons why I chose to pursue publication. Not for the glam, not for the fame, and not even for the money. I worked to have my writing published because I love to write stories, and I wanted people to read them. That’s all that mattered to me in the beginning, and after going through all that misery, it was all that was left that I wanted to hold onto.
That next year was absolutely amazing. I got my game back. I sold eight books in eight weeks. I quit my new day job. Nightmare over.
I might have spent the rest of my career in blissful isolation, but by then I knew I wasn’t the only oddball in the biz. I’d heard enough horror stories to know that plenty of writers at every stage of the game were ignored, ridiculed, taken advantage of, excluded and otherwise treated badly. I wanted to do something about that, something to change the way things were. To find those writers and to talk shop, pass along what I’d learned, learn from other writers, laugh through the miserable times and party through the good ones. Even if I simply let them know that they weren’t alone, that would be enough. Because back when I was going through hell, I would have sacrificed a limb to know one writer like that.
And finally, I did something right. I decided to be that writer, and made a place in publishing for myself where I did fit in: Paperback Writer.
I still have some bad luck now and then (at the moment I’m wearing a pink T-shirt that reads “If you think this looks ridiculous, you should see the cover on my new book”) but I use it now to let other writers know how to deal with it. Maybe I’m pushing my luck by joining Genreality, but the other members haven’t talked about kicking me out yet, which after the first week is always a good sign.
Truth is, I think I’m quite lucky, even if it took a lot of misfortune to bring me here. Because this is where I do belong.
Friday, February 6th, 2009 by LViehl
If prostitution is the oldest profession, then surely storytelling takes second place. For as long as humans have been able to gather and speak, I think there has always been some imaginative soul to distract them from their troubles by telling a bunch of interesting lies.
Those first storytellers were important to the tribe. They entertained them and gave them hope, and by doing so kept them from thinking too much about their reality, which was mainly being hungry, cold, scared, sick, and in constant peril of losing their lonely place in the universe. Hope is one of the most powerful motivations for survival there is. We already know that storytelling is the foundation of history and religion, why not human civilization itself?
Now that we’ve established how incredibly ancient and cosmically important my job is, let me tell you how it all began, thirty-five years ago, when for the very first time I was paid money for telling stories.
Before there was goth, punk or grunge, there were the disenchanted children of the early seventies who had no name for their angst. I admit, I was their unacknowledged princess. We didn’t want to wear platform shoes, wrap-around skirts, or dance to the disco music all of our friends loved. We went barefoot, dressed in black before it was cool, and stayed locked in our rooms as we gleaned wisdom and understanding from the likes of Sylvia Plath and Paul Zindel. We weren’t even friends with each other – that would make us too much like those little jocks, rah-rahs and glee clubbers at school. No, we had to suffer alone, in artistic solitude. No one understood our pain.
In between composing rather bitter blank verse about How Sorry Everyone Was Going to Be When I Was Dead and scheming to run away on a Greyhound bus to New York City (where I would immediately be given a rent-free loft apartment, make a large circle of friends who would wear only black and chain-smoke and drink instead of eat or work, and read my amazing poetry to the adoring masses who would naturally think I was better than Sylvia Plath, etc.) I wrote short stories. They were the lies I told myself, the heart-rending sagas of pure-hearted, highly intelligent and infinitely desirable teenage girls who looked exactly like me – well, a bit taller and with no acne – and who were always getting in and out of ironic situations only to die, tragically but beautifully. After which Everyone Was Really Sorry.
Telling stories to other people is always fun, but one can only lie to oneself for so long without getting bored out of one’s skull. In time I started writing different stories, where the girl was not me, or was sometimes a boy, or occasionally a radiation-mutated dissident or an exotic alien life form. The tiresome ironic situations morphed into highly-unlikely adventures in faraway places, and although the story themes remained staunchly on the dark side, I didn’t always end them with the tragic but beautiful death scene.
My mother, who bills herself as my very first fan, actually could not stand me writing back then. She refused to buy me the typewriter I desperately needed (too frivolous) and complained about all the filler paper I went through which I should have been using for homework instead of “that stuff” (simple wasteful.) She would also duck her head into my room on regular basis and tell me to quit writing and go out, get some fresh air and play. This offended me to no end; I was an extremely mature thirteen-year-old, immersed in exploring alternate realities and working up the nerve to begin writing my first novel. I did not play.
After a few months of this (and once getting grounded for being fresh to Mom during one of her lectures about the evils of staying indoors and writing) I decided I needed to prove that I was doing something important and worthwhile. At school one of the English teachers had posted a notice about some writing contests being held by a local arts festival, and from her I obtained the necessary application to enter the short story contest.
I spent a week polishing the best story in my collection, took it to school and typed it up during typing class, filled out the application, stole some postage stamps from Mom’s desk and mailed in my submission. It was a terrific feeling, finding the termerity to do all that by myself. I think it also gave me the final push I needed to move into the next phase of my work: writing my first novel, which I started the next day.
Weeks passed and I forgot about the contest, until one day I got called down the front office, where the English teacher who had posted the notice informed me that I had placed second in the short story category, and that I would be presented a ribbon and a check at the art festival’s awards ceremony.
There was just one little problem.
“You checked off the wrong box on the application,” the teacher told me.
Busted. “Does that mean I don’t win?”
“No,” she admitted, “but technically speaking, you shouldn’t have.”
I already had a game plan for that. “I’m sure they won’t care.”
Upon hearing that I had won a writing contest, Mom told me only that she didn’t have time to take me to the awards ceremony. She changed her mind when she found out there was prize money involved.
“We can use it for groceries,” she said, as firmly and proprietarily as only a single mother of five making minimum wage could.
On the day of the awards, I put on the dumb blue dress Mom had bought me from Sears when I made the Junior National Honor Society (it made me look stupid but also a little older) and we went to a lovely beachfront art museum that was all glass windows and steel beams. There, in front of a crowd of about two hundred, I walked up to claim my prize. First place went to a man who was old enough to be my great-grandfather, and third went to a scowling forty-something lady who eyed me like I’d stolen her glory.
Which I had, because I hadn’t entered the student category at all. My story had won second place in the adult category.
As the award presenter handed me my ribbon and a check for $25.00, she peered down at my face and asked, “How old are you, dear?”
“Eighteen,” I lied without a hitch. What was she going to do, ask me for ID?
After the applause I marched down and dutifully handed over the check to Mom, who took a picture of me with the big ribbon pinned to my flat chest. Then we got the hell out of there before anyone could talk to us or mention how young I looked for an adult writer. The best part was Mom stopping by Royal Castle on the way home and celebrating my win with a box of burgers and milkshakes.
Mom kept looking at the check as if she thought it were fake. “I didn’t know you could make money for doing this stuff. Too bad you didn’t win first place. That old guy got seventy-five bucks.”
“Maybe I could write something better next year,” I said, very carefully, “if I could get a typewriter like a real writer uses.”
Mom did spend my $25.00 for groceries that week and part of the next (things were so much cheaper in the seventies.) But a month later she also bought me a used Royal Academy typewriter, upon which I wrote my first five novels. While definitely humble, my first sale fed my family, saved me from writing everything in longhand, and illustrated beautifully that I was doing something as important and worthwhile — even if I had to lie a little to prove it.
Friday, January 23rd, 2009 by LViehl
It’s 5:04 a.m. here. I am sitting in the middle of a blizzard with a mostly-dead guy. I’m cold, I can’t feel my toes and we’re about to be hit by an avalanche. But it’s important that I be here. This is the moment when he will say everything that needs to be said, and I’m going to write it down. I’m ready, I’m listening. And my mostly-dead guy opens his eyes, looks up at me and says,
“Where is my horse?”
Horse? What horse?
“The one I just rode into battle three days ago,” he tells me. “The stallion I raised myself as a boy, and trained, and made my friend and constant companion. The horse I have traveled nowhere without for the last thirty years.”
Oh. That horse. One of the biggest problems with being a novelist is keeping track of an almost infinite number of little story details. Especially the ones I don’t like. Like this horse.
At this moment the logic problem of the horse doesn’t concern me. I am writing this scene, not editing it. Still, I make a short notation in the margins of my draft: [horse where?] for when I do my daily edit later. Now I’m ready to hear the man’s last words.
“Another thing.” My mostly-dead guy pushes himself up out of the snowdrift. “Why am I wearing all this armor?”
That one I had an answer for. “Because you just came from the battlefield.”
“I’m wearing metal armor.” He waits a beat. “In winter. In the middle of a blizzard.”
“It wasn’t snowing during the battle. This just started a couple hours ago.” That doesn’t seem to impress him. “Do you know how long it took me to find three reputable sources with decent descriptions of what you guys wore back in the day?”
He kicks some snow at me. “It’s cold. I need some furs. Or a woolen cloak.”
I have read about a hundred and fifty books on this man’s culture, time period and occupation. I should know what he wears under, over, and around this armor of his. By now I should be able to make his armor. But I don’t know how his people dealt with wearing it in extreme climate conditions like this blizzard, so I make another notation in the margin: [armor – winter – storm – outer furs/cloaks?]
“You’re strong,” I assure him. “You can take it. Now, about your last words. I was thinking you could maybe say something about how this isn’t the end, you’ll never be defeated, and you’ll go into hell fighting every inch of the way. Something like that.”
“I’m not fighting going to Hell,” he argues. “Jesus, woman, I’m freezing.”
“I don’t mean literally. You can’t go to hell. You’re the hero.” Honesty makes me add, “And you can’t use Jesus as an expletive. He’s not one of your deities.”
“Oh for Gods’ sake.” He holds his head with his ice-encrusted hands. “Where is my horse?”
With my luck? The horse was probably in my backyard eating my rosebushes with the three runaways we caught on New Year’s Eve. But no, that’s my reality, not his. ”He’s dead.”
He gives me a stricken look. “You killed my horse?”
“He died in battle.” Only I remember that he didn’t, actually, but there is no way I’m rewriting that blasted battle scene again. “Wait. He’s alive. He ran away during the fighting.”
He shakes his head. “I trained him not to bolt, remember?”
Now I do. I put way too much about this horse in the back story, I can see that now. Note to self: next book, no horses. “Then he was captured by the bad guys.”
“No one else can ride him but me.”
“It’s just a horse. Who cares what happened to him? Get over it.” But in my heart I know he’s right. The characters who bicker with me always are. “Look, I’ll have your nemesis steal him, and take him back to the city, and spend the rest of his life trying to tame him so he can ride him. Naturally he’ll never succeed.”
He gives me a stony look.
“Then in a couple of years, I’ll have your horse trample him to death.” He doesn’t react. “And I’ll describe it in minute, painful detail.” No response. The last of my patience evaporates. “Or I could give the horse to the barbarian hordes and let them roast big chunks of him over a fire. They’re always hungry and not too particular about what’s for dinner.”
“Keep pushing.” I show him some teeth. “You’ll find out.”
“Give him to my enemy,” he says at last.
I make my third notation [horse captured by enemy, taken to city, is never tamed, tramples enemy to death] “Done.” I smile. “Now, about those last heroic lines before the tons of snow fall on your head.”
He glances around him. “Where is my sword?”
Terrific. Something else I forgot. “You dropped it during the battle.”
He touches his belt. “And my daggers?”
“The guys who picked over the bodies after the battle stole them.” What is it with this man and all these stupid little details? “You don’t need them. We have to move on now. Your last words are going to be . . . ” I roll my hand.
“I need to kill myself.” As I start telling him how much that sucks, he lifts his hand. “All of my brothers-in-arms just committed suicide to avoid capture and dishonor. You read the research. You know it’s what we do. Give me a blade.”
“You’re not being captured,” I yell. “You’re going to be buried alive. Honorably. Any second now.”
“This is what you do to your hero? After you give his horse to his worst enemy?” He sniffs.
For a guy who was only supposed to appear on five pages of my manuscript he’s really getting mouthy. And interesting, damn him. I have to put my foot down. “You’re not the hero. You were the hero.”
He folds his arms. “I want my sword.”
Sometimes for whatever reason, characters won’t cooperate. But a good writer can always get around that. You just have to think outside the box – and occasionally that means giving them exactly what they want.
“All right, all right. Here’s the sword.” After it appears in his hand, I watch him position the tip at the center of his chest. “Excuse me. When did I tell you that you could run yourself through with it?”
His expression turns stubborn. “I must.”
“No, honey. You can act like you’re going to do it, but if this whole idea is going to work, there can’t be any wounds on your body. Other than, you know.” I gesture at his side.
“Tough.” He wraps his hands around the hilt.
I can see he’s determined to do this thing. Which is exactly what I want. “Any last words?”
“I do not surrender to death,” he tells me. “I take refuge in it. And someday, when I find the means, I will return to this world. I will have my revenge.”
“Perfect.” I make the sword disappear, and he smacks himself in the chest with his empty fists. “Thank you very much.”
He scowls. “You tricked me.”
“Uh-huh.” In reality, I haven’t tricked him at all. Throughout this scene I have not been talking to a real man. I’ve been reconciling what I write with what is produced by the part of my brain that invents and perpetuates the constructs I think of as my characters.
In essence, I’ve been arguing with my own imagination.
I get busy packing up my dictation gear when I remember I still haven’t dealt with the armor situation. The perfect solution to that and another story problem pops into my head. Fortunately I don’t have to make another notation – I just have to tell him to do it.
“Take off your clothes.”
“It’s a weird thing people do sometimes when they get hypothermia,” I tell him. “They feel hot and take off their clothes. I’m not making this up. It was on the news. It happened to that guy who got lost with his family in the woods like two or three years ago.”
“It’s forty below out here,” he shouts.
“Now it is,” I correct him. “It won’t be forever. And they have to find you naked, right? So strip.”
I love having the last word. Even with myself.