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.