Setting: Where’s it at and what’s it smell like?

“O, give me a home where the buffalo roam. Or a chrome-and-glass condo where the TV is on. A chipped wooden bench in a broken down railway station, under a clear, open New England sky. Or an ornate hotel lobby, hushed, with velvety banquettes, the clinking notes of silverware and china from the dining room. A sudden, rushing downpour in the fall, or searing dry heat, or the squeak of boots in snow. The dusty interior of a pick-up truck’s cab, where the characters sit in silence listening to the engine tick as it cools.” – Sarah Van Arsdale in “Atmospheric Pressure: Using Setting to Create Atmosphere & Emotions,” The Writers’ Chronicle, October-November, 2018

When a character in the novel you’re reading cuts her finger, can you smell the blood?

First edition

For years, new writers avoided describing settings in their short stories and novels because they suffered through ancient novels in high school and college literature classes with thousands of dreary words of description. Description fell out of fashion. On the plus side, readers no longer had to feel guilty when they skipped multiple long paragraphs of description. On the minus side, readers were likely to end up with a cacophony of disembodied voices in a dark room–and they were lucky if the author bothered to tell them the room was dark.

So now, authors are (I think) learning that their stories are better when they engage the five senses. Van Arsdale writes that “Readers bend toward setting because we’re bound to it with our physical bodies, we feel the humidity rise without even checking the Accuweather forecast, or we smell the damp, cave-like earth as we approach a subway station.”

I just finished re-reading Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House.” Now there’s a novel where the reader definitely knows where the characters are at and what they and the house smell like:

“No Human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.”

Place settings can be somewhat ephemeral such as this one in Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale”:

“Winter then in its early and clear stages, was a purifying engine that ran unhindered over city and country, alerting the stars to sparkle violently and shower their silver light into the arms of bare upreaching trees. It was a mad and beautiful thing that scoured raw the souls of animals and man, driving them before it until they loved to run. And what it did to Northern forests can hardly be described, considering that it iced the branches of the sycamores on Chrystie Street and swept them back and forth until they rang like ranks of bells.”

Or somewhat more literal like this passage from Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”:

First edition

“They rode on and the sun in the east flushed pale streaks of light and then a deeper run of color like blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring planewise and where the earth drained up into the sky at the edge of creation the top of the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great red phallus until it cleared the unseen rim and sat squat and pulsing and malevolent behind them.”

There’s no need for ungainly paragraphs of description as Pat Conroy shows us in “South of Broad”:

“San Francisco is a city that requires a fine pair of legs, a city of cliffs misnamed as hills, honeycombed with a fine webbing of showy houses that cling to the slanted streets with the fierceness of abalones.”

Now here’s a passage from Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” which is a bit long for some of today’s readers, but the writing easily holds the attention of the adventurous reader:

“The finished clock is resplendent. At first glance it is simply a clock, a rather large black clock with a white face and a silver pendulum. Well crafted, obviously, with intricately carved woodwork edges and a perfectly painted face, but just a clock.
But that is before it is wound. Before it begins to tick, the pendulum swinging steadily and evenly. Then, then it becomes something else.

The changes are slow. First, the color changes in the face, shifts from white to grey, and then there are clouds that float across it, disappearing when they reach the opposite side. 
Meanwhile, bits of the body of the clock expand and contract, like pieces of a puzzle. As though the clock is falling apart, slowly and gracefully.

All of this takes hours.

First edition

The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with twinkling stars where numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played.

At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dress in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern.

After midnight, the clock begins once more to fold in upon itself. The face lightens and the cloud returns. The number of juggled balls decreases until the juggler himself vanishes.

By noon it is a clock again, and no longer a dream.” 

Growing up, I had more trouble getting through “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque than any other book I was assigned to read in an English class. It was more real than I could tolerate because the author made sure I could smell the blood:

First English language edition

“I lie down on many a station platform; I stand before many a soup kitchen; I squat on many a bench;–then at last the landscape becomes disturbing, mysterious, and familiar. It glides past the western windows with its villages, their thatched roofs like caps, pulled over the white-washed, half-timbered houses, its corn-fields, gleaming like mother-of-pearl in the slanting light, its orchards, its barns and old lime trees. 

“The names of the stations begin to take on meaning and my heart trembles. The train stamps and stamps onward. I stand at the window and hold on to the frame. These names mark the boundaries of my youth.” 

Van Asdale writes that in spite of the author’s infatuation with his or her main character, s/he must bring that character “to a real place and time for examination. Bring the reader into the cab o the pickup truck; turn the radio on low. Or roll down one window, to hear the crickets, or those far-off traffic sounds. Watch. Listen. These details allow the atmosphere, and who among us hasn’t sat in a car late at night, talking, awash with emotion? This is what it is to create atmosphere, and to allow atmosphere to give rise to emotion. And that is, ultimately, the reason for digging your spade deeply into setting.”

I love stream-of-consciousness writing and interior monologues from characters who may or may not be reliable narrators. But even if you don’t want to tackle techniques on the cutting edge of fiction, you can still–with apt words and on-point sketches–find enough details about the setting of your story to immerse your reader into the center of the plot.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday to Indies Unlimited

“Seven years ago, the Evil Mastermind launched Indies Unlimited. Since then, we’ve had over 2.5 MILLION page views, been named as one of Six Great Blogs for Indie Authors in Publishers Weekly, and ranked as one of the top writing-related sites by Alexa.”

Source: Indies Unlimited – Celebrating Independent Authors

Indies Unlimited is the go-to blog for writers learning their craft and then learning how to market their work in competition with the one million self-published books released each year. Since the blog is run by volunteers, it’s obviously a labor of love, though I hate using that hackneyed old phrase to describe their work.

Even if you don’t have time to check the blog every week, a scan through their archive of posts will usually materialize what you’re looking for whenever you have a question or the need for a little inspiration.

I hope Indies Unlimited is going strong seven years from now.

Malcolm

 

Writing is like living in a fixer-upper house

“You know those people who buy fixer-upper homes, move into them, and live there while they renovate them? That’s what a story is like. You move into the story, you occupy it like a house, and you live there until it’s completely done.” –Thrity Umrigar

In an earlier post called About Waiting for Inspiration, I noted that serious professional writers work every day rather than sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. That post suggested things writers can do to make inspired story ideas more likely.

Likewise, there are things writers can do once they have a story idea that will make it more likely the plot will unfold. Better to let the plot and characters come to mind naturally rather that sitting down, staring at a blank screen, and waiting for something to happen.

I like author Thrity Umrigar’s fixer-upper house analogy. First, it paints a very accurate picture about what goes on during an author’s waking hours while s/he is actively working on a short story or novel. Second, it suggests one reason why authors often stare off in space or seem not to be listening while they’re around others. They’re physically in the room, but mentally they’re conversing with their characters or chasing bad guys through a bad section of town.

Unrigar adds that when you’re committed to a story, “That means you’re thinking about your story all the time, living with it, never letting it wander too far away from you. A story is like a newborn–you have to tend to it, feed it, be aware of it all the time.”

When you’re living in a house white renovating it, you’re on the scene 24/7. You not only notice what needs to be done, but think of new ideas that didn’t occur to you when you first walked in the front door. A story is like that. Authors don’t see every detail of every character, scene, description, and plot twist when they first think of an idea.

When you’re living in a fixer-upper house, it’s easier to see potential traffic flows, floor plan changes, and value-added features than it was while the house was something you might buy. When you see what your fictional characters see–or might see–it becomes more apparent whether they’re moving in the right direction or not, wearing the clothes that suit them, or adding to the prospective reader’s excitement by doing this or that or something else.

Seriously, when you’re committed to a story, it never goes away until you finish it–and maybe, not even then. Like the fixer-upper house that’s ready to sell, you have to resist the urge to tinker after it’s time to send your story or novel off to an agent, magazine, or publisher. It takes self-confidence to know when the story is truly finished and when the fixer-upper house is ready to list with a realtor.

Either way, living in the story and the fixer-upper house is a necessity.

–Malcolm

If you want to ‘Make em laugh,” you have to make them cringe first

In the musical “Singing in the Rain,” Donald O’Connor sings a song called “Make em Laugh” which features the advice from his dad who said he needed to be a comical actor.

I thought about this song while reading an interview with author David Swann on Daily Write. Swann said that he likes writing that’s similar to conversations at a funeral where laughter and tears form a strange mix. Swann mentions that “‘The writer Simon Brett says writers shouldn’t ask, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if A,B,C, D, happened?’ Instead, he says it’s better to ask: ‘Wouldn’t it be tragic if it weren’t funny if A,B,C,D happened?'”

The juxtaposition of laughter and tears has for centuries been a storytelling technique that makes em laugh. In a theater, or at a play or a reading, those in the audience want to laugh because they can’t help it, but they look around first to see if anyone else is laughing. When you have a book in your hands, you don’t have to check out the mood of the rest of the audience.

I can’t help but think of the scene in the movie “Cat Ballou” where the drunken gunslinger (Lee Marvin) stumbles into a funeral, blows out the candles, and sings “Happy Birthday” to the dearly departed.  Of course, the movie was a spoof just as “Blazing Saddles” was a spoof. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to think of the reactions of “every day people” to a drunk at a funeral. Maybe it’s gallows humor. Or, maybe some of us are flat nuts.

Writers, I think, are among those who see the tension of putting things together that “don’t belong together.” Laughter arises out of that tension. So do tears. And perhaps, so does a new way of looking at the world.

I enjoy watching movies or reading books where my sense of what I would do with the plot or the dialogue at one point or another lets me guess what the next line in the dialogue really needs to be. I’m disappointed when I’m wrong, but not because I like being right. I’m disappointed because I see that an opportunity was lost to drive a point home toward laughter or tears. The resolution to the tension of opposites that could have been there has been left out, rather like hearing the first part of the “shave and a haircut,” ditty without hearing the “two bits.”

Since people tend get very nervous when I say, “What’s the worst that could possibly happen?” or “What could possibly go wrong?” I say those things a lot because people are so superstitious about hearing them. As a writer, I have a license that allows me to scare people and watch their reactions. What I see, makes me a better writer.

I’m very superstitious, but not about those questions. So, I know how thin the line is between reality and fate, humor and fear, and belief and astonishment. Without shame, I exploit how thin that line is. Since I’m and old writer, I can tell you that’s an old writer’s trick that might help you when you’re trying to make em laugh.

Malcolm

 

 

If you were God, what would you do next?

Most people are scared to answer that question. In fact, they’re down right superstitious about even hearing the question.

Those who do answer the question tend to say either: (a) I would smite so and so, or (b) I would create world peace. Smiting a bad guy is easy. Creating world peace is easier said than done because there are too many variables involved for a mere human to deal with.

Okay, here’s where you find out that’s a trick question.

Those who aren’t writers often say that within any given novel, the author is a god. S/he can smite everyone who needs smiting and decree world peace without having to worry about the mechanics of it.

There are risks of acting too God like while writing a novel or a short story. Presumably, God (Himself and/or Herself) doesn’t have to worry about bad press whenever He or She manifests and Act of God. Human beings, being what they are, tend to believe that if an Act of God occurs and it’s bad, it must be their fault. They sinned, and so an Act of God paid them back.

If a writer puts an Act of God into his/her story, chances are nobody will believe it and the author will be paid back with a slew of one-star reviews on Amazon, and God help him or her if the book sells well enough to attract the attention of critics who will say, “The book was a wondrous sweeping saga until the last chapter when the good guys were trapped and suddenly–without warning or proper foreshadowing–a tsunami kills all the bad guys.”

Critics and readers alike will say, “I hate it when that happens.”

Basically, critics and readers don’t want the author to play God as s/he writes because the resulting story is unsatisfying, outside the reality of the novel, an example of the author writing himself/herself into a hole and cheating to get out of it, and other nasty criticisms.

Readers, frankly, are never willing to say that the author moves in mysterious ways and let it go at that. Authors who move in mysterious ways are variously bad, experimental, sinful, crazy, or tetched. Critics and readers typically want more order than authors want. They want the books they read to be safe and to fit within the world as they see it.

The bottom line is, the author can’t play God and has to let the story unfold however it unfolds. If you–as the author–step in and take any action whatsoever, it has to be sneaky and impossible for critics and readers to detect.

So, the author’s answer to the question “If you were God, what would you do next?” is “Little to nothing.”

That’s the reality of being an author. You have the power, but you can’t use it.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Too much interior monologue will kill a good story

“Interior monologue, in dramatic and nondramatic fiction, narrative technique that exhibits the thoughts passing through the minds of the protagonists. These ideas may be either loosely related impressions approaching free association or more rationally structured sequences of thought and emotion.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

True stream-of-consciousness fiction can yield a lot of exciting passages about a character’s inner life (which s/he may or may not confuse with reality) as well as plot-advancing impressions that mesh well with the story line.

When I think of “too much interior monologue,” I’m not bashing well-written stream of consciousness techniques in spite of the fact that readers who don’t like literary fiction will hand out one- and two-star reviews for such novels on Amazon. When an author’s protagonist thinks about the situation s/he is in, that’s interior monologue.

Naturally, it’s normal and relevant to think about the situations we’re in. On the other hand, when this thinking does on for hundreds of words in multiple places in a novel, then it is likely to ruin the story. Writers are told that most of what they put in a novel should advance the plot. Overused interior monologue doesn’t advance the plot: instead it puts the plot on hold.

I just finished reading a novel with an interesting plot. A protagonist with a history of panic attacks which s/he manages with prescription medication (as much as possible) undergoes a traumatic experience before being put into an unrelated but more dangerous situation where her life and the lives of others is at risk.

I’m not going to identify the novel or even count the number of words in it and compute what percentage of it is plot-stalling interior monologue. My impression, though, is that 40% of the novel is interior monologue along the lines of. . .I need to keep my self from screaming. . .I need to relax. . .maybe I didn’t see what I think I saw. . .can I trust person XYZ. . .maybe if I told my story and/or got certain people to trust me, they would believe me and/or help me.

Stop Talking to Yourself and Do Something!

A little bit of this is fine. But when it goes on and on and on, there’s really nothing happening. Yes, maybe this would happen in real life, but writers are also told that writing fiction that copies real life–as a 24/7 video camera might view it–is bad because a lot of that real life stuff is trivial. In the novel I just finished, the character’s fight to keep her panic under control and her considerations about what may or may not be happening can be conveyed to the reader much faster.

When I see excessive amounts of interior monologue, my first thought is that the writer doesn’t really have enough depth in the plot to make a novel. That is, there are two few events and dialogue passages to sustain a book-length story. So, the interior monologue pads the length of the book out to the minimum number of words the author or publisher feels are necessary to call the book a novel rather than a short story, novelette, or novella.

I liked the plot of the novel I just finished. I liked the satisfactory ending and the fact that the protagonist’s experience ended up making her a stronger person ready to take stock of a lot of decisions about her life that had been stalled. I think it’s a shame, though, that the story was dragged down by the interior monologue instead of being pushed forward with a greater number of plot elements.

Dan Brown’s “Teaching Moments” Come to Mind

Dan Brown and others who write novels about ancient secrets with a modern twist to them are often criticized for stopping the action through the insertion of a lot of exposition in which one character tells another character what the ancient secrets are all about. This is a slick way of telling the reader what those secrets are about. If you were going to write a spoof of such books, you’d have one character pull a knife on another character and then–so to speak–freeze the action while the character tells somebody else why all this matters (for, say, a thousand words) and then go back to the knife fight.

That really tears apart the pacing of the action. It’s also very frustrating to the reader. Excessive interior monologue has the same negative impacts.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and other magical realism and fantasy novels.

Book Bits: Robert Hastings, Saudi Theaters, Psychobabble,’Spy of the First Person’, Roy Moore

My Facebook author’s page has been hogging many of the authors and publishers links that I used to include in my Boot Bits feature. I won’t promise to fix that until the cows come home, but for now, here are a few links:

  1. Obituary: Robert Hastings – “Robert Hastings, publisher at Black Spring Press, died November 30, the Bookseller reported. He was 52. Hastings founded Black Spring Press in 1985 to “breathe new life into neglected classics.” Its first publication was a reprint of Anais Nin’s D.H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study, and the press subsequently produced work by Julian Mclaren-Ross, Patrick Hamilton, Nick Cave, Charles Baudelaire, Kyril Bonfiglioli, Carolyn Cassady and Leonard Cohen, among others.” Shelf-Awareness
  2. New TitleThe Dangerous Power of Psychobabble: Ramblings of a Disillusioned Psychotherapist, by Rae Franklin – In this self-help book, Rae Franklin, a retired state-licensed, nationally certified psychotherapist, dives in headfirst to deconstruct five of the most destructive psychological myths permeating modern-day society. In the midst of her deconstruction, she offers pointers for raising psychologically healthy children and tips for healing ourselves.
  3. QuotationI always felt and still feel that fairy tales have an emotional truth that is so deep that there are few things that really rival them. – Alice Hoffman
  4. Film News: Saudi Arabia is lifting a 35-year ban on movie theaters, and Twitter is thrilled, by Jarrett Lyons – After decades of being banned from Saudi Arabia, national authorities have announced that movie theaters will once again be allowed in its borders in a landmark decision. – Salon
  5. Book Review: ‘Spy of the First Person,’ Sam Shepard’s poignant goodbye, comes to the page, by Jocelyn McClurg – “It’s hard to think of an affliction crueler than ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that, over time, renders its victims helpless. And so there’s something beautiful about the slender, cryptic, almost hallucinatory volume of prose that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard, who died of ALS complications at age 73 on July 27, left behind as an epitaph.” USA Today
  6. Journalism: How Washington Post journalists broke the story of allegations against Roy Moore, by Libby Casey – “Post reporters Stephanie McCrummen and Beth Reinhard describe how the story started with on-the-ground reporting in Alabama and locals in the Gadsden area sharing memories about Moore’s past. Through dozens of interviews and weeks of fact-checking, what started as a tip became a story that could shake an election.” The Washington Post
  7. Interview: Judith Flanders (Christmas: A Biography), with Lily McLemore – “Ultimately, my research showed that Christmas isn’t so much wrapped up in nostalgia, as nostalgia is a major part of the holiday. It is a way of creating a collective illusion that life was once better—an illusion we need, one that lets us believe we can get back to that state once more.” – Book Page
  8. PublishingLittle Brown Scrambling to Meet ‘Obama: An Intimate Portrait’ Demand, by Jim Milliot – “One of the early hot books of the holiday shopping seasons appears to be Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza, the White House photographer during Obama’s two terms. The $35 hardcover, published by Little, Brown, features hundreds of photographs plus a foreword by the former President.” Publishers Weekly
  9. Writing Tips: Is It Too Late to Start Writing After 50?, by Julie Rosenberg – “Today, I am over age 50 with a full-time career in a demanding corporate role. It may seem to some like far from the ideal time to write a book. In fact, several family members and friends told me that I was nothing short of crazy when I mentioned my book idea.” Jane Friedman
  10. Feature Story: Adam Gopnik: ‘You’re waltzing along and suddenly you’re portrayed as a monster of privilege’, by Hadley Freeman – “The New Yorker essayist on his latest memoir, At the Strangers’ Gate, and the problem of writing about happiness.” The Guardian

Book Bits is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal short stories and novels.

 

I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had 

  1. Neglect everything else.

“It starts with a simple fact: If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Which is probably why so many of the writers I talk to seem preoccupied with time-management. “You probably have time to be a halfway decent parent and one other thing,” David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, told me. That can mean mustering the grit to let other responsibilities languish. As he put it in short: ‘Neglect everything else’.”

Source: I Talked to 150 Writers and Here’s the Best Advice They Had | Literary Hub

After getting past a really strange writing process John Irving advocated, this feature story has a lot of food. I quoted the first item on the list because I think we find it hard to neglect everything else. For one thing, everything else is easier than writing. Plus, the other stuff usually has deadlines and measurable results like, say, getting the yard mowed and not missing your doctor’s appointment.

Unless you’re a professional writer, freelance or novelist, you probably don’t have firm writing deadlines. Novels often take forever to write. So it’s easy to put off writing that novel while doing other stuff that can actually be crossed off a TO DO list.

We say our writing matters. If so, it’s got to be near the top of the list of things we actually spend time doing.

–Malcolm

Should Authors Use Chapter Titles? 

“I ran across this question recently in a Facebook group, and noted there was a lot of opinion on it. Some authors are vehemently opposed to using chapter titles, while others adore them. So, what’s best?Well, the simplest answer is that it’s entirely up to the author. However, chapter titles do tend to be more prevalent in certain genres, so if that’s one you write in, you may want to adopt them.”

Source: Should Authors Use Chapter Titles? ‹ Indies Unlimited ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

R. J. Crayton provides tasty food for thought about the use of chapter titles, noting that some genres tend to use them more than others. I tend not to use them because I don’t like to tip off readers about what’s coming up.

Fortunately, Crayton doesn’t suggest a return to old fashioned chapter titles of the sort that were (a) long, and (b) spoilers, such as: Chapter Three – Where Bob Learns That When His Ship Goes Down Near Cuba, There Are Real Sharks in the Water.

Indies Unlimited offers another good post for writers.

–Malcolm

How to become a famous writer

Years ago, ruffians from the English department posted a gag flyer on school bulletin boards showing a hopeless oaf pictured with the quote: “Yesterday I couldn’t even spell ‘writer.’ Now I are one.”

For me, that flyer began a long-time distrust of high school and college English departments. The reasons run deep and belong in another post. Suffice it to say, English departments aren’t high on my list of steps to take in becoming a famous writer. Instead, I suggest the following:

Don’t Write Good.

Readers don’t like good even though many of them claim them have to have read “the good book” and that they adore every novel that features people who helps the homeless or who starve their families while donating time and money to the Salvation Army.

What readers really want is bad. Why do you think they liked The Da Vinci Code? “Christ, you’re telling me Jesus was married? Where can I get my copy?” They like heroes who use unnecessary force (as seen on the show “24”) because those tactics bring the kinds of results that generate closure to readers fighting for simple answers that work in a complex, politically correct rules.

It goes without saying that readers also buy books with back-cover blurbs like “Nymphomaniac Defrocks Beloved Priest in Forgotten Monastery” and  “Shy Housewife Kills Terrorists in Downtown Chicago with Illegal Weapons Stolen from Wimpy Cops.”

Commit a Crime

Writers with platforms sell books. If you threw your mama from a train, you have a much better chance of writing salable books than a hapless MFA-graduate whose “platform” is (a) writing good, (b) An MFA, and (c) A resume filled with angst-ridden poems and short stories set in an unbelievable universe where angst-ridden stuff actually gets onto bestseller lists.

A criminal record shows prospective agents and publishers you know how to catch the public’s attention and produce a novel that will sell 50,000 copies or more and attract options from Warner Brothers and 20th Century-Fox. What you don’t want is a novel that might attract options from the Hallmark Channel because it produces material from authors who write good.

Caution: Judges and lawmakers generally won’t allow a person to profit from a crime. If you write a novel called How I Threw Mama from the Train, your earnings will be confiscated if you really threw your mama from a train. Write about something else, using your fame as a criminal to get the attention of agents, publishers and readers. Your stuff might sell if you write good even though writing bad is better.

Become a Movie Star

If you’re a movie star or a famous Hollywood personality who looks like a slut or a stud on the red carpet, you can become a bestselling author even if you’re illiterate. How? Ghostwriters, darling. A sure way to get a publisher’s attention is by “writing” a memoir or novel based on a true story that dishes out plenty of scandal about your co-stars, lovers, and agents. The public adores stories that tell them their favorite stars aren’t really as pure as the driven snow. A bonus for movie stars is writing a book about an issue even if an expert writes it for you. Do this, and you’ll soon be testifying at Congressional hearings even though you probably know less about the issue than the average man or woman on the street.

The famous movie star approach also works for famous senators, representatives, governors, politicians and other idiots who are smart enough to understand that readers want your name on their coffee tables even if they never read a word of the drivel between the covers.

Plagiarize, Get Caught, Repent

Create a novel with a compelling plot, multidimensional characters, and a jaw-dropping title that, under normal conditions, will probably sell only one hundred copies.  Not to worry. This novel will have a secret weapon, and the big payoff comes when the secret is discovered: you’ve stolen thousands of its words from famous novels. When people find out, you’ll deny it, of course. Your readers will hate you. As your crime becomes harder to deny, you’ll claim “fair use.” That won’t work, but it may keep the wolves from your door for a while.

Finally, you’ll issue a news releasing claiming that Satan told you to do it and that your heartily sorry and never meant to harm anyone. You’ll refund the money you’ve made off the book and check yourself into a rehab center. Several years will go by. People will forget you. That’s when you strike with a book written in your own words. Readers will buy it like hotcakes because folks love repentant sinners who reform and start walking the straight and narrow. Even the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah will love you.

Your English teachers will never share any of these secrets with you. That’s okay, because nobody really needs those people as they much one needs oneself and a plan for success that really brings in the big bucks.

Malcolm