Today I have Leslie Daniels, author of Cleaning Nabokov's House, on the blog for a guest post & giveaway. Enjoy!
When Barb Barrett walks out on her loveless marriage, she doesn’t realize she will lose everything: her home, her financial security, even her beloved children. Approaching forty with her life in shambles and no family or friends to turn to, Barb must now discover what it means to rely on herself in a stark new emotional landscape. With only a questionable business plan in hand, Barb is determined to reinvent herself. She moves into a house once occupied by the literary genius Vladimir Nabokov, author of the notorious Lolita. She discovers what could be Nabokov’s last unpublished manuscript and from there begins a personal journey that is deliciously romantic, darkly comic, and wise. Written in elegant prose and illuminated by sharp humor and wit, Cleaning Nabokov’s House offers a new vision of modern love and a reminder that it is never too late to find loyalty to our truest selves.
Writing Tip #1: Please oh Please Don’t Bore Me
I know what I am supposed to write here. I have read plenty of author-plugging-new novel posts. I am supposed to tell you how I fell in love with my characters, how they possessed me and ran away with my life, to suggest that you too will be captivated, blah blah blah. I won’t. I won’t because it’s boring.
To me, boring someone is criminal behavior; you are robbing them of their time. If someone corners me at a party and begins to bore me, I experience it as a kind of mugging. If he or she has nothing interesting to say, that’s fine, don’t talk! Have a canapé.
Writing is the same. My first demand of a book is that it interest me, and I am impatient. Dull first sentence? Dull opening scene? Why? Why does the writer permit himself/herself to bore me, the reader? If we were back at that party, I would say, “Can I get you something from the bar?” And leave his/her ass behind, parked in the corner to bore someone else.
Because I’ve been a literary agent, fiction editor, and taught writing, I get asked for writing advice. I am usually nice (I hope). Here I am going to be fierce.
You want my best writing advice? Don’t be boring. We, as writers, are in the entertainment business.
If you want to cut the boredom from your work, edit out the blah blah blah parts. All that filler, that fluff, that puff? Take it out. Are you afraid there will be nothing left? Do it anyway.
Delete the “He crossed the room.” Throw away the ““Oh really?” she said.”
We don’t care. If it’s not interesting, edit it out. Don’t get seduced by your characters, cut dialogue! Furthermore don’t coddle them, let bad things happen (plot).
Hit your manuscript with a stick to shake out all the useless words. See what lands on the floor in my writing room: “very,” “nearly,” “sometimes,” “always,” and “it,” “it,” “it,” “it,” “it,” and yet another “it,” all over the floor like an ant infestation.
The words above represent fear of commitment to specifics. Fearful equals boring.
If a writer is boring on the page, she was scared to trust the reader with her deeply private good stuff.
She shot down her good ideas as too weird, too specific, too outrageous, too revealing, too controversial, too unbelievable. Those ideas are exactly what I, as a reader, want.
Get yourself in trouble. Write into the areas that cost you. Write dark. Write in shimmering beauty. Write in despair. Give the reader all the “special” stuff, the stuff you are saving up. Don’t hoard. Hoarders pay a whopping toll at the Pearly Gates.
Fine writers all have intense interests. They may be passionately political. They may have extraordinary taste in clothing (though most do not). Their interests are deep and specific, not casual.
In Cleaning Nabokov’s House, I wrote about having the guts to be yourself. A divorced and despairing woman on the brink of 40 opens a house of ill repute to serve the passion-deprived women of her town. The staff, or “sex workers” are from the male varsity crew team of the local university. My interests often hover around love, sex, death, food.
But it doesn’t matter what mine are, what are yours? You too have intense interests. Use them in your writing. Your deep interests define you.
What I want as a reader, besides what fascinates you, the writer, are your secrets. I want the moments of absolute privacy, the ones you alone know. I want on the page behavior only you know. What would you be doing that you would instantly quit if someone walked in the room?
For me it could be this: I dance in the kitchen. I will dance full out wild to the same song over and over again. If anyone came in the room I would stop instantly, hideously embarrassed. I believe that it is my truest deepest self, the wild woman who dances in the kitchen all by herself. That’s what I try to bring to the page: the world that I alone know.
And that’s what I seek as a reader. I long to read about other private worlds, worlds that will never be visible to me. Please put that stuff on the page. Put the weirdo moments of human behavior that are unobserved, obsessive, beautiful. Let me have them, your deep secret truths, woven artfully into your work.
And don’t worry, no one is in your kitchen watching you rock out. Writing is magnificent because it allows you to share your truth with the world in a completely private way: in your characters, in their behavior and observations, in the scenes you build.
I want to read the part of you that Googles the first guy you slept with in college, the one who grabbed a fistful of your sophomore belly when you were sitting nude on the edge of his bed, and held it to say, Look, you’re fat.
On the page I want your glee at discovering he is now a sump pump guy in the outskirts of Atlanta, driving a truck with Mister Waters on the side and his phone number.
You can print that number. He won’t sue you; he only reads porn.
Write for revenge. Write to seduce the reader¬ in me. Write to make me laugh and cry at the same time. Write to make me suck in my breath, gasp at your beauty, audacity, freedom, your individuality. Do it. Whom are you saving it for?
Thanks for stopping by Leslie!
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