Al Lamanda here.
A friend of mine is a high school English teacher and he recently asked me to speak with some of his students that were bitten by the writing bug. Always happy to help a friend (a free lunch was involved) I went to talk to the hopeful next generation of authors. There was a total of thirteen (right there a bad start) in the group. Six guys, six gals and one I’m still not sure about.
So after my friend made the introduction we chatted a bit about my writing and I threw the floor open to questions. It kind of went like this.
Girl. “Can you tell us some of your secrets?”
Me. “If I told you they wouldn’t be secrets anymore, now would they?”
Girl. “Okay, maybe not secrets, but helpful tips.”
Me. “Buy low and sell high and never invest more than you can afford. Also, never discuss religion or politics with family at a holiday dinner table. It won’t end well.”
The I’m still not sure about person thought that was funny and burst into hysterical cackle while my teacher friend wore a look of sheer terror on his face.
Girl. “I mean tips on writing.”
Me. “Write a lot. All the time. Every spare moment, write. Write about anything you want. Writing is like anything else in life, you have to practice to get good at it.”
The girl gave way to one of the guys.
Guy. “Can you share some of what you’re leaned?”
Me. “Sure. Those little tabs that come with a loaf of bread, you know, the little square things, they are excellent for keeping your place on a roll of duct tape. Also, if you drive an older car and the headlights get yellow; don’t waste money on those treatments you see advertised on TV. Regular old toothpaste and a rag work just as well. Try it, you’ll see.”
Guy. “What does that have to do with writing?”
Me. “You never know. Also, you can rub a walnut on scratched furniture to cover the marks, and those bread tabs I mentioned are great for labeling all those wires behind your computer.”
Guy. “I’m confused.”
Me. “Join the club. It only gets worse over time.”
The guy sat and another girl had a question.
Girl. “When you said a walnut, do you mean a real walnut?”
Mr. “Yup. Another thing you should learn is that if you rip off a really long piece of dental floss, it’s perfect for slicing a cake into perfect triangles.”
Me. Yup. Cheese, too.”
Girl. “I love cheese.”
Me. “Hey, who doesn’t?”
The girl gave way to another boy in the group. He was a bit on the angry side.
Boy. “How about telling us something useful?”
Me. “I notice that your shirt is pretty wrinkled. If you toss it in the drier for five minutes with a few ice cubes you won’t need to iron it.”
Girl. “I hate ironing.”
Me. “Who doesn’t? Also you can light an uncooked strand of spaghetti and use it to light jarred candles without burning your fingers.”
Boy. “I mean something useful about my writing.”
Me. “What do you write?”
Boy. “Science fiction.”
Me. “What was your last grade in science class?”
The boy turned a shade of red and didn’t answer my question.
Girl. “I like that ice cube in the drier thing, anymore useful things like that?”
Me. “This summer, when you have that backyard barbeque, use a muffin tin to serve the condiments. They’ll all be in once easy to pass around place and cut down on washing dishes.”
The science fiction boy, visibly upset, wagged a finger at me.
My friend the teacher was looking out the window now and humming softly.
Boy. “I stayed after school to talk about writing, not muffin tins.”
Me. “And we are. You look like you play sports.”
Me. “So you have a lot of sore muscles and bruises. If you wet a sponge, put it in a zip lock baggie and freeze it, you’ll have a perfect ice pack that will never leak when you use it.”
Boy. “Okay, great, but can we please talk about writing now?”
Me. “Ah, but we are. You see I’m not trying to give you a hard time or sound like the helpful advice guy in the newspaper, but I do have a point to make. And that is to learn as much as you can about everything because you never know when you’ll use something you’ve learned in a story. Your hero or villain is trapped and has only a soda can pull tab as a weapon kind of thing. You like to write science fiction, but you failed science class. Even though it’s fiction, the science has to be grounded in reality or your story will sound false to a reader and it won’t get read.”
I saw a light bulb click on over science fiction boy’s head.
Me. “If you want to write a mystery, but no nothing about solving a crime then talk to the police about how crimes are solved. If your hero is a firefighter, how much do you know about fire and fighting one? Point is to learn as much as possible as it pertains to what you want to write about and you won’t hit a false note.”
Girl. “You’re saying we should write about what we know?”
Me. “What you know about your subject matter comes across in your writing. Before you write your story, do your homework and research on the subject matter so you have a sense of realism to your words.”
The group, even the I’m not sure kid was paying attention now.
Me. “Who is up for a little writing experiment?”
All in the group were.
Me. “Let’s try this. Each of you pick a topic you know nothing about and write a one thousand word short story. Don’t do any research, just write from the heart. Put it in an envelope and seal it. Mark it draft one. Then spend a few days researching the same topic and write a second draft using your newfound knowledge. Mark it draft two. We can meet again in a week and you can read your two stories and we’ll compare which one is better.”
All in the group happily agreed.
And as my teacher friend and I went to enjoy my free lunch, he asked, “That ice cubes in the drier thing really work?”
“Would I say something without researching it first?” I assured him.
Al Lamanda’s new mystery novel This Side of Midnight hits stores and will be available on line this July.