10 Reasons I Don’t Want to Be a Bestselling Author

1. I’ll have to purchase a whole new wardrobe from somewhere other than Wal-Mart so people don’t accuse me of wearing my false modesty like a neon sign.

2. Jerry Bruckheimer will want to add explosions to the movie adaptation of my bittersweet love story.

3. I’ll be the guest who gets bumped from Letterman when his lovefest interview with Julia Roberts runs long.

4. Struggling authors will hold quarterly “Hate Stephen Parolini” days to coincide with the receipt of their royalty statements.

5. An interviewer will ask me questions like “Did you know you had written a bestseller?” and “What’s your secret to writing a bestseller?” over and over again until I finally lose the very patience that helped me to complete a novel in the first place and I’ll snark my response to her and ask “What’s your secret to asking such inane questions?” and then she’ll get all huffy and accuse me of calling her “insane” and when I correct her and say “No, the word was ‘inane’ and I was referring to the questions” she’ll get even huffier and yell “So are you calling me stupid?” to which I’ll reply, “Not, ‘stupid’ per se, but possibly ‘vocabulary-deprived’” and I might giggle a little at that but she’ll have already started swinging the microphone toward my head and when it lands with a dull thud against my skull I’ll fall limply to the ground (all the while, chiding myself for having fallen in collusion with an adverb) and wake up days later in the hospital with temporary memory loss and blindness that last just long enough for readers not to care about any subsequent books I might write.

6. I’ll have enough money to afford a new laptop. This will trigger a six-month season of writer’s block while my muse considers whether or not she wants to move from the old one.

7. People will ask me all kinds of questions about my writerly influences and quiz me about famous authors and their books and stuff. I can only get away with saying “I like Tender Is the Night even though it lacks the brilliance of The Great Gatsby and occasionally reads like Fitzgerald’s thinly-disguised memoir” so many times before people will realize just how under-read I am.

8. I’ll never be able to go to the grocery store again without being swarmed by adoring fans. Er…wait, I’m an author, not Robert Pattinson. No one knows what I look like. Cool.

9. Everyone I know will ask me “So, which character is based on me?” and when I offer a generic response they’ll be immediately disappointed that I didn’t say “the beautiful protagonist” and will think instead that they were the inspiration for the shrill, selfish, tramp and then they’ll stop talking to me. Which, I suppose, could give me inspiration for another character in my next book.

10. Oh, yeah. I have to write another book.

Unexpected Things

So, yeah. About the roaring silence.

Sometimes the best-laid plans…etc.

Life has sent a few (significant) unanticipated challenges and changes my way recently. And these things aren’t about to go away. So… I’ve had to make the difficult decision to re-direct my energies from this site to the Real Life Stuff.

I’m well aware that the way to build an online audience/platform is through regular, uninterrupted blog posts. And that just isn’t going to happen here. Not for a while. But rather than shutter everything and write it off as a fun three-month experiment, I’ve decided to leave the blog right here. When I have a writing window, I’ll finish one of the many posts waiting in the “drafts” folder and let you know about it through Twitter or Facebook. But… don’t hold your breath. (Well, you can if you want. Just don’t blame me when you expire.)

I’m not happy about this. I like it here. But you know how life works, right? Of course you do – because that’s what you’re writing about. Maybe one day you’ll read all about my current life challenges… in my novel.

Thanks for all your comments and kind words.

Live well. Write often.

See you… sometime.

How Do You Write What You Don’t Know?

[Note: Stephen is currently collecting data on what it's like to experience a great deal of pain (for use in some future work of fiction, of course), so this post is gonna be short. He's really counting on a couple of you providing the bulk of the post in the comments section. Bring on your wisdom.]

Okay, here’s the question of the day: How do you write a scene where a character experiences something you’ve never personally experienced? I mean things like shooting an innocent man. Jumping from a speeding car. Standing on stage in front of 100,000 adoring fans. Facing your greatest foe. Kissing someone who is not your spouse. Being told you have a terminal disease. Learning that your teenage daughter is pregnant.

Dying.

Yeah. These aren’t little things. Perhaps you’ve experienced some of them. (If so, you have my sympathies. Particularly if you’ve done the whole dying thing.) But I want to know how you approach the situations you haven’t experienced. And I’m not just talking about how you calculate the number of times you roll on the dusty ground after leaping from the car. I’m talking about the entire experience – especially the emotions that accompany the drama.

Does the loss of a favorite pet give you enough familiarity with ache to write a believable scene about the loss of a lover or a friend? Does the bitterness you felt toward a co-worker who took the last donut give you enough raw material to write a scene about a man who discovers his employees have been stealing from him?

Okay, floor’s yours. Talk amongst yourselves. Tell me what you know.

[Swallows pain pills, climbs into bed, closes eyes. It's called research, people.]

I’m Good at Drawing Frogs

When I was 10 years old, I liked drawing almost as much as writing. And though I dabbled in the drawing of reptiles, particularly snakes (which are actually a bit more complex than one might assume, despite their limbless design), I became particularly adept at frogs. If you wanted a drawing of a frog, you came to me.

I enjoyed drawing frogs. I mean, frogs are definitely the sort of creature boys ought to draw if they draw at all. Well, frogs and spiders. (Though if you ask me, spiders are more about math that art. Can you count to eight? You can draw a spider.)

But I also liked horses. Now before you accuse me of being all girly (no, I did NOT sew my own G. I. Joe clothes… I manufactured them – please, make note of the distinction), I’d like to add that my love for horses came from watching The Lone Ranger on TV (a totally masculine show because the protagonist is a cool cowboy who wears a mask), and not from falling in love with Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague (although, yes, I did read it – purely for research purposes).

It was only natural that I would attempt to combine my love for drawing and my interest in horses.

Only one problem. I was a frog specialist.

My first attempts at drawing horses were disasters. If you know anything about horses, you know that words like “sleek” and “majestic” define their shape, whereas, frogs are all about “bulbous.”

I quickly became frustrated and disappointed and nearly stopped drawing altogether. I thought that all artists would naturally be able to draw anything they wanted.

Nope.

Thankfully, in the midst of my pre-adolescent pencil-and-paper angst, someone asked for a picture of a frog. I drew it. And it was good. Damn good.

Meanwhile, I bought a book called “How to Draw Horses” or something like that. I studied it. I practiced. And I improved. Had my interests not suddenly shifted to All Things Sports, my horse drawing ability might have soon eclipsed my frog drawing skill.

Okay. Segue here.

When I first started writing, I became quite good at instructional copy. Curriculum, sunday school lessons, things like that. I enjoyed writing instructional copy (in part because I was good at it).

I also loved reading novels.

Do you see where this is going? Of course you do. I wanted to write novels.

My first attempts were pretty awful. They were… bulbous. I almost gave up writing when I realized how far off the mark I was.

But then someone asked me to write curriculum. For money. Real money.

So that’s what I did. And over time, I added all sorts of non-fiction writing to my resume. I became an editor and discovered I was good at that, too. Then I worked my way into editing fiction (which is what I do almost exclusively today). The whole time, I never stopped trying to improve my fiction writing.

Here’s the perfect place in my over-long post to reveal all the amazing novels I’ve written and published. Except I’m still working on that. I think I’m at a place where my novel writing is as good as (or even better than) my non-fiction writing, and I might just be a better writer than editor. I guess we’ll see soon enough (“soon enough” meaning as soon as I finish the current w.i.p. and start doing just what you’re doing – submitting it to agents).

The point of all this? Simple: Find out what you naturally write well; write lots of it; and, if possible, get paid. Meanwhile, keep getting better at what you love.

Someday, you might just become adept at drawing horses.

Well, that’s it for today… I’ve got a few frogs to draw. Gotta pay the bills, you know?

See you next time.

The Last of the Contest Entries

Just in time for the weekend, the last of the entries from the “First and Last” contest. (And, yeah, my short story, too.) Once again, thanks to everyone who participated. If you still haven’t read the winning entries, click here. Next week it’s back to regular blogposts, so be sure to come back to see what wisdom and nonsense I come up with.

Tanja Cilia titled her short story “Time, and Again”:

It was the best of times… no, really, the very best of times.  I’d married the handsomest man on earth, and I was pregnant.  We’d just moved to an old town-house, complete with antique furniture.

Idly, I twisted a knob on the bureau – and something clicked. A tiny drawer sprang open and a stack of old papers, tied with yellowing ribbon, fell out.

Hey!  That’s MY handwriting.   Weird.

The date on the papers is 1984. The squiggles crossing the t and the curls at the ends of the y and j are unmistakably mine. But…  I never use blue ink, because it reminds me too much of the school homework I loathed so much.

In those days, no one had made concessions for my dyslexia.  When, in my very last year at school, I had a teacher who understood what the matter was… it was almost too late.  Almost, but not quite.

She tutored me privately and taught me how to read, from scratch.  Eventually I got a job at an English-language newspaper.  I soon became their top accredited journalist.

The keyboard is the logical extension of my fingers. But for private use, I always use “nice” colour inks like aqua and lilac and preach…. curiosity got the better of me, and I felt compelled to read what’s written…

April 12… The day Ms Debono drove me home after I had twisted my ankle. It was the day before my sister’s wedding, and I was the hobbling bridesmaid!   Hey!  The name of the teacher as given here is Miss Camilleri.  But she could not drive…

I felt dizzy. I took the papers down to the kitchen and cracked open a bottle of fizzy water.  I took one sip, and forgot all about it.

I turned to June 5.  That was the day the brakes of our car didn’t hold, and we ran into the car in front of us.  Yes… here it is, “car crash”.  Oh, no!  It says we were in the ‘new’ Getz Malibu…  but the car had actually been dad’s old Triumph Toledo.

My husband returned from work, and walked towards the kitchen. I began to tell him what had happened – and then I glanced at him.

He was not my husband.  I saw the puzzled look in his eyes. And when I looked down at the papers, the pages were blank, and… The bottle was empty.

Because I am a fan of creative symmetry, the very first entry I received will be the very last one presented here. And it’s a good one from Kelly Sauer:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday.

Maybe it isn’t really Thursday, Annie thought, dragging her aching body out of bed. Maybe it was still Wednesday night. The crash was nothing but a nightmare. The sun had to rise today. It was her wedding day.

She groped in the dark for a light switch, tripping over a pile of clothing and stumbling into the wall beside her closed door. She flipped the switch.

Oh great, the power was out. Of course. Her digital clock wasn’t glowing.

Annie rubbed a hand over tired eyes. The darkness was so thick she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face.

She scrabbled through her bedside table drawer for a flashlight. She tried flipping it on. Hmm. Batteries must be dead.

Frustrated, she pitched the light across the room. It hit the alarm clock off her dresser, clattering to the floor.

The clock radio began to play.

“…80 degrees and clear for you today, with mostly sunny skies…”

Annie froze at the sound, then pitched forward, passing from one black world into another.

———-

Her cell phone was ringing. Where had she left it? Her head was spinning. She opened her eyes into darkness, pulled from unconsciousness by the urgency of the identifying tone.

“Jase?” She croaked into the mouthpiece. Why was she croaking? “I can’t see.”

“I’m coming! I’m here!” She thought her apartment door was coming down in the other room. Her ears were ringing.

Someone burst into her room, hitting her leg with the door. Then he was beside her, his touch piercing the isolating black.

“Please help,” she pleaded. “The sun didn’t come up today…”

———-

She was four months late for her wedding. The sun did rise that Thursday. One of her bridesmaids attended her in a silver frame at the front of the church.

Too many tears, Annie thought, leaning heavily on her father’s arm for her walk into Jase’s arms. But she could see them. The tears. The camera flash. Those who loved them. The look on Jase’s face. The tie he was wearing. She couldn’t quite see the color yet.

She stepped toward him. After weeks of blackness, she’d forgotten what colors she’d chosen for her wedding.

Sunlight streamed through cathedral windows across the aisle, bathing Jase in light, drawing her smile.

Ah. She chose the blue one after all.

And, finally, because I thought it would be fun if I had to write a story, too, I asked you to suggest first and last sentences for my own short story challenge. I chose “The striped cat glared at me” for the first line and “The rain washed it all away” for the last line.

Here it is.

The striped cat glared at me.

Horatio.

That was his name.

He was sitting in a circle of sunlight on the carpet, a statue in a spotlight.

“You want me to feed the cat?” I’d asked.

“Yes, if you would,” she’d said. “You do know the cat has a name, right?”

“Of course.”

“And…?”

“And I prefer to call him ‘cat.’”

She didn’t say anything. But I saw disappointment in the turn of her lips.

***

The next day I was sitting on her couch. She was beside me, smelling of cinnamon and sipping a glass of merlot, her body humming along with Sia’s “Breathe Me.”

We’d been friends for a long time. Shoulder-crying friends. Best friends. But something turned in me and before I could deny it, I realized I was in love with her.

That’s exactly when Horatio jumped onto her lap. Somehow, she kept from spilling the wine. I think she laughed.

I said words I wish I hadn’t. Words that weren’t true. Yet out they came, pressed by panic into an uncertain moment where they could do the most damage.

“I hate that stupid cat,” I said.

She hugged Horatio tighter and he purred.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean that. I love the stupid cat.”

“He has a name,” she said. Then she drank the rest of her wine.

***

After a week without words, she invited me over to watch a movie. Breakfast at Tiffanys. Not our first choice. But we were lazy. Do you know how it ends? The taxi ride. The cat. The engagement ring tossed on Holly’s lap. And all the while it’s raining and you’re wondering if she is going to give up a chance to be with the man who loves her.

“Where’s the cat” Holly asks, frantic.

“I don’t know,” says Paul.

And that’s exactly what I was thinking. I don’t know. Our relationship was at a crossroads. Did she see it too? I was afraid to ask.

As if cued by the closing credits, the night sky began sheeting water against her living room window. When thunder boomed Horatio leaped onto her lap.

“Horatio,” I said, and it was a sigh.

She turned to me, smiling. But this was a new smile. One that would lead to a kiss.

Suddenly, there was no more uncertainty.

The rain washed it all away.

Some of you might be disappointed I didn’t write a science fiction or fantasy story. But look closer. See the ending? It is a fantasy after all.

Okay, kids. Nothing more to see here. Get back to work.

See you Monday.