This morning I was flipping through Crimspree Magazine and came to an ad by Echelon Press. I was stopped still when I saw the jacket of a novel by Robert Goldsborough. Except for the cigarette in the woman’s mouth, it is the same jacket on the the large print edition of This Dame for Hire. Clean Feet Design is credited for my book. I wonder if Clean Feet knows they’ve been used at least twice. I guess so. I hope they get paid for this.
I think somebody did an article, either on the Internet or in a magazine, about this practice. I don’t know why but I keep thinking Sarah Weinman did it on Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. Has anybody else come across this with a book they’ve written?
I got an email from someone I’d told that I was no longer writing. This is what he wrote to me in reply: “If you are genuinely happy without the writing, more power to you. I don't seem to be able to shake the bug and am hard at work on a book about my father.”
The annoying thing about this is that this man self-publishes and seems to only write about himself and his family. No fiction. He’s retired. He doesn’t take in that my writing was my career, my job. And clearly doesn’t get that my life’s work had nothing to do with a bug. Yes, I’m grouchy. I would write him a scathing letter except that he’s married to my favorite cousin.
Which leads me to something I was thinking about yesterday. I used to have this saying on my bulletin board: “I think there’s truth in what you say.” The late Edward (Ned) Stewart told me to say that, or a version of it, when talking to my agent or an editor. This was because of my prickly personality. I know this comes as a shock to some of you, but, yes, I did have an abrupt style once upon a time. But all that isn’t my point.
Remembering that sign led me to the other sign I had on my bulletin board. “Advance the Story” in big black letters. They are important words. And I wrote by them. Most of the time.
No matter what kind of novel you’re writing the main thing is to advance the story. That should be your goal. If it is, it will keep you from going off on tangents, doing set pieces, throwing in a dream that bores the hell out of readers, ruminating on the weather, the scenery, the silverware or any other thing that has no business being there. Unless it’s a sentence or two, but even then if it doesn’t move the story along, drop it.
I want to read a well-written book, but I’m not interested in pyrotechnic writing.
I just finished Richard Price’s Lush Life. He doesn’t waste a word. There’s one dream the book could do without. It didn’t tell me anything and didn’t advance the story. It was slightly irritating because it was a page and a half long. But if you’re Richard Price you can get away with it. Almost.
I suggest that you take a piece of white letter-sized paper, turn it so it’s horizontal and in black magic marker write ADVANCE THE STORY and pin it up where you can see it as you write.