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Archive for September, 2016

How’s this for a real-life horror story:

Long ago—sometime after dinosaurs roamed the earth, but not THAT long after—I wanted very badly to watch Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer.  Okay, that’s not the scary part.  Here it comes… wait for it… there were no such things as Netflix, on-demand cable, YouTube, Blu-Rays, DVDs, or even… <shudder> VCRs!!!  Are you scared yet?  Wait.  It gets even scarier.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the stop-motion animated classic (which many of your children or even perhaps you, yourself, have never seen) was only broadcast once a year!  And if you didn’t watch it when it was broadcast, you missed it.  There was no DVR, no instant rewind, no way to watch Rudolph once the moment had passed!

Imagine if Star Wars, Episode 7, The Force Awakens were only shown once EVER (or at least only once that year) and if you didn’t see it that very night, you would never see it (at least not that year).

Oh, the horror!

Well, when I was eleven, missing Rudolph was a terrifying prospect.  And one December evening, on the very night when Rudolph, Hermey (the elf who would be a dentist), Yukon Cornelius, and the Abominable Snowman (a.k.a. “Bumble”) were to sing and dance and otherwise cavort on television, my parents had devised the heinous plot to… wait for it… do our laundry!  That’s right, children—instead of listening to the voice talents of (among others) Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman, I had to go to the laundromat with my family and sort and fold clothes.  (Yes, dear readers, it’s true.  Once upon a time, people—or most people, at least—didn’t have washers and dryers in their homes.  Terrifying, but true.)  How could my mom and dad do such a thing?  What a nefarious plot!  What a negligent oversight!  What a crime against children everywhere!  I had, of course, seen Rudolph every year since 1964, but what about—dare I ask—1971?  How could they even dream of depriving me of the Red-Nosed One in 1971???

I was involved in a Christmas play that year (as I recall, I was portraying Balthazar), and I had been to play practice that evening.  But even the play director had the good sense to end practice early so we could get home to watch Rudolph.  (Not kidding.)  So as I walked home, that evening, I realized to my horror that I would arrive home BEFORE my family left for the laundromat.  In other words, I would have to go with them and miss Rudolph!  What was I to do?

Well, there was, of course, only one thing to do.  Being the clever child I was, I concocted a brilliant, foolproof, and devious scheme… As far as my mom and dad knew, I wasn’t going to be home in time for laundry.  So, I decided to hide in the bushes outside our apartment and wait until the family had departed on their Bataan Death March to the Rudolph-less Dread Dungeon of Dryers.  Then I would sneak upstairs, plant myself in front of our twelve-inch, portable, black-and-white television, and revel in the musical splendor of “Silver and Gold” and “The Island of Misfit Toys.”

The only problem with brilliant, foolproof, and devious scheme—well, perhaps not the ONLY problem—was that I was discovered skulking in the bushes.  And needless to say, my parents were very disappointed—not because I had shirked my family duties, but because I had been deceptive.  You see, being one person short while slaving over laundry would have unfairly increased the workload on everyone else, but that was nothing compared to my dishonestly.  Whether I spoke a lie out loud or not, I was lying.

I believe in the Atonement.  I know I have been forgiven for this youthful act of treachery and deception, but (obviously) I still remember it.  I doubt my parents remember it, but I certainly do.  I take great pains to be clear, concise, and honest with everyone.

So perhaps that is why I think there is a special place in Hell for those who unrepentantly “practice to deceive.”

When I receive a phone call from someone (speaking in a barely decipherable accent) claiming to be from Microsoft support or the IRS, I feel like screaming into the phone.  (I did laugh at one woman claiming to be from the IRS, and she promptly hung up the phone.  Imagine that!)  There must be somebody who is taken in by these vultures, otherwise they wouldn’t bother to frighten people into allowing them access to a computer or a bank account.  In fact, it must quite lucrative for some of these cretins.

Then there are the emails.  I receive more than fifty emails per day from vermin claiming to represent MetLife, Burger King, Finger Hut, etc.  I’m not even going to mention the emails that advertise women and other products aimed to ensnare lonely, desperate men and boys.   The effort that goes into bypassing spam and porn filters is mind-boggling.  No, scratch that.  I DO understand it.  There is so much money to be made in bilking the gullible, the fearful, the lonely, and the desperate.

And you can’t really opt out.  Once the rats discover that your email address is viable (because you clicked on an “unsubscribe” link) your email address will be sold and distributed to the thousands of other digital vipers.

A particularly nasty place in Hell…

So, how does this relate to writing?

Have you ever read a novel, get to the end, and realize that the author cheated?  I’m not talking about red herrings—real life is full of red herrings and distractions.  I’m talking deliberate deception, when the author does NOT give you enough clues to solve the mystery—when you, as the reader, get to the “big reveal” and say, “No way.  That can’t be right.  What about the scene where…”  And you, as the reader, turn back and reread the scene in question, and you say, “Nope.  It says right here that…”  And the end result?  The author has broken your trust.  You probably won’t read anything else by that author.

Now, if you say, “No way,” and you go back and reread the scene in question and you recognize the clues the author gave you… Now that is a really cool reading experience.  You’ll finish the book and determine to reread it so you can spot all the clues.

My wife and I recently enjoyed watching all three seasons of “Granite Flats.”  Now that we’ve experienced the “big reveal,” we’re anxious to re-watch it with my parents so we can revel in spotting the clues while my hapless folks miss seeing them.  “Ha-ha!  Isn’t it obvious?” we’ll think, enjoying the same story from a new perspective.

One of the most important pieces of advice that I give to prospective authors is, “Be honest.  And never cheat.”  Your work (and the reader’s experience) will be the richer for it.

An extremely gratifying compliment I received from an anonymous Amazon reviewer for my latest release, “The Sweet Sister,” said, “The twists in the story also gave me food for thought for a few days after I finished it. I probably thought about the book for longer than it took me to read it.”

So, bottom line?  Be honest, and never, never cheat.  Let there be mystery.  Let there be magic and wonder.  But never cheat.  You might sell one book, but you won’t sell two to the same reader.

 

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The Sweet Sister has received enough nominations to be named an official nominee for a Whitney Award for 2016!  Thank you to all who sent in nominations!

We do the dance of joy!

And then… we wait.

Finalists will be announced in February.

The-Sweet-Sister-Cover-Art

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