All Good Fiction is Excruciating


I am heading to my high school alma mater later this week to talk to the students about writing.  The classes are working on writing short mysteries so the teacher asked me to talk about building tension in a scene.  To me, whether I’m writing a love story or a murder mystery, the one thing I aim to do is make my writing excruciating. When I say “Make it excruciating” I don’t mean write something so bad that no one could possibly read it.  Though, believe me, I have  written my fair share of excruciating prose that, for the sake of humanity, will never see the light of day.

By excruciating, I mean, I try to remember to slow down and take the time to build a scene, build the tension and stir up the emotion.  For me, a satisfying scene resembles a balloon that is inflated to full, then inflated some more and then just when that balloon could not possibly hold another ounce of air, and one more puff of air.  Now, the balloon is stretched so far that you cringe and move ever so slowly for fear it will pop.  Then, and only at the moment that the balloon is inflated to its absolute limits, you produce a long, sharp, glistening needle. Ever so slowly, you bring that needle closer and closer to the balloon.

Now that’s excruciating!

Does the needle pierce the balloon with a violent pop? Does the needle pierce the balloon through both sides and the balloon remains in tact?  Or, at the very moment the needle is about to puncture the balloon, do you let it go and watch it sail aimlessly around the room until it hits the floor?  Don’t ask me, it’s your balloon.



Predicting the Future of Publishing

I was recently asked what I thought about the future of the publishing industry.  Here is my response:

Historically, authors needed a publisher because it was the publisher who had access to a printer and the ability to take the financial risk required to outlay the upfront cost of a print run.  In this new age of print on demand and ebooks, authors no longer need a publisher to get our literary works out into the world. That’s great!  But as indie authors know, the challenge comes not only in creating a book but in finding an audience with which to share it.  Today, traditional publishing houses still hold the monopoly on access to the large and powerful media outlets.  The New York Times, for example, will not, by their own rules, review an independently published book.  I’m sure they have this policy to stave off the massive wave of offerings that would flood their review department otherwise.  Moreover, many book stores, large and small, only sell books that they receive from a certain small list of distributers who only sell books from a certain small group of publishing houses.  So, today, the playing field is massively weighted against the indie author.  And even those famously self published books like “The Martian” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” only reached their best-seller status once they were picked up by one of the large publishing houses and given the access and exposure that comes with traditional publishing.

But the playing field is slowly shifting. The indie world is figuring it out. More and more quality works are discovered outside of the closed circle of the traditional publishing world and indie authors everywhere are using social media to gain traction in the market.  Many book bloggers today have only hundreds or maybe a few thousand followers as compared to the Millions of NYT readers.  But every day that those reviewers offer honest and useful critiques and recommendations, their audiences steadily grow which in turn boosts book sales for indie authors.  It is an exciting time to be a self-published author.  And I think the future looks brighter and brighter.

Check out the whole interviewI