Why write? Because of stuff like this

“Good” Augusta didn’t make it into the book, because writing wouldn’t let me.

There’s this thing that happens after a writer has spent a year — or two — grinding out a book. People read it.

Some are nice. They’re polite and kind. I appreciate that. Then there are the people who want to tell you what you should have done with a plot or character, instead of what you did. I smile and say something like, “That’s an interesting idea.” Or try to explain, if I’m in the mood, why I did it the way I did. I frequently want to say, “You can do that when you write your book.” But I don’t.

Then there are the people who want to tell my about a typo. No thanks. Three and a half years later, I’m still losing sleep over the missing “she” in my first book that changed. “God, she was an idiot,” to “God was an idiot.” Not much I can do about it right no

Writers like to talk about their books. At least I do. It’s not so much my massive ego as me wondering if the stuff I tried to do worked. I spend a lot of time with those characters and words, because I want people to get what I’m trying to say.

The other night I was talking to someone who was reading my most recent book, BAD NEWS TRAVELS FAST.

He made a reference to a line I’d written about Augusta.

I love my little hometown, but I knew the line he wanted to talk about. It’s one I threw in while I was whipping through the scene the first time. The two characters were unhappy. It was raining. I would have liked to have given a warm friendly nod to my town, but sometimes the writer has no control, and Augusta ended up in a scene where everyone was miserable:

He drove down the tree-lined hill, Augusta’s ancient wooden houses sagging in the rain. He turned onto Route 27 to go north. The houses gave way to peeling clapboard triple-deckers and vacant storefronts, convenience stores and old men walking dogs. The pot-holed bumpy road and gray little city depressed him.

When I write, I try to get the story down, then go back and work it over. I can change a word dozens of times trying to get it right. I’m not sure how many times I went back to this passage, thinking I needed to fix it — say more, or less, or something different. But every time I said, “I’ll just let it sit for now.” It ended up staying. It just felt right and, while it’s not perfect writing, I ended up kind of liking it.

I wasn’t really sure, though, if anyone would see what I saw in it.

When the reader brought it up, I braced for something negative. It didn’t come. He recited it, almost word for word.

Want to know what the point of writing is? That’s it.

About Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at maureenmilliken.com. She hosts the podcast Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.
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8 Responses to Why write? Because of stuff like this

  1. Regina Gross says:

    To Ms. Milliken,

    I read your comments about writing, and I would like to offer my praise on your description of Augusta. When I read the passage, I could imagine the scene and feel the same as your character. I think your description appropriately captures the character’s depressed feeling and allows the reader to be a part of the same experience. Well done.
    Sincerely,
    Regina Gross

    He drove down the tree-lined hill, Augusta’s ancient wooden houses sagging in the rain. He turned onto Route 27 to go north. The houses gave way to peeling clapboard triple-deckers and vacant storefronts, convenience stores and old men walking dogs. The pot-holed bumpy road and gray little city depressed him.

    Like

  2. GrannyF says:

    As I read the paragraph, I just knew I had driven down that very stretch of road in Augusta (a city which I too love and treasure spending time in whenever I can). I remembered the sagging houses – no other way to describe them – and the air of depression on a rainy day.

    Like

    • Maureen Milliken says:

      Thank you! Augusta has a way of getting dark fast. Maybe because it’s in a valley. But I think it’s a really interesting city and I hope to get more of it into future books.

      Like

  3. You can put the ‘she’ in when they do the second edition.

    Like

  4. Also, there is a way around it. On your website offer a free copy of your next book to anyone who can find the ‘intentional’ mistake that you put in the book.

    Like

  5. Deborah Dyer says:

    Actually Maureen, on an irreverent note, you may have executed an all time great “Freudian” slip. Love your books.

    Like

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