HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We LOVE debut authors! And we are always eager to introduce you. Today, Lucie Smoker, who lives with her husband and two sons on the great North American prairie. She won me over then she said she "turns caffeine into stories." A girl after my own heart.
A Book as Community
A Book as Community
More than plot and characters, a good book opens up a Pandora's box of fresh ideas to you, the reader. Set them loose in your mind and you hope to find some piece of wisdom, an attitude or a fresh direction for your afternoon jog ... but where do those fresh ideas begin? How do we make them explode on the page? Writers often portray process as an almost-magical event: scenes come to us complete; animated characters start talking; and 86,000 words later, a novel? Not so easy.
I can only speak for myself, but in my humble experience, writing comes out of community.
I meet people who inspire a twist, a smile, a snide comment—and yes maybe that comment comes out as part of a complete scene—but that smile was born from someone I met twenty years ago or last week. That plot twist may have come from an experience I had on a trip to Guatemala, a three-week research dive into drug cartels, or an article I read in the Quilting News.
To assemble all of these Polaroid-like moments into a novel, I have to have a vision, a plan. And I need some help.
“Inklings,” the most famous writing club from Oxford, sported CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Roger Lancelyn Green, and others reading aloud and then offering constructive criticism of the work. Such critiques from other writers can elevate or emaciate a scene, but the suggestions don't always feel good when you first hear them. No matter how tactfully it's presented, a critique can bruise your confidence. Thus, the Inklings often met on Tuesdays--at a local pub.
Lucie (far right) with members of her writing club at a conference.
My own local writing club also meets at a university, though not at the pub—at least not yet. We most often share techniques on the craft of writing, we read our work and critique. The ladies and one gentleman normally share everything they loved about that story or poem. Then if the scene didn't work, one of the ladies will gently say, in the nicest way possible, that maybe that story “wasn't my style” or perhaps they were just “waiting for something to happen.” Even sugar-coated, the negatives sting.
Maxine still participates at 103.
They say that Truman Capote critiqued like a subtle knife. My online club is my personal Capote. Everyone's anonymous. When I post a story in that critique room, I have already read their agreement stating that, yes, I do want to hear their honest opinions. I put up my scene and leave that page as fast as I can. A few hours later, I return to find that someone has either sliced and diced my story more efficiently than a set of Ginsu knives, left a recipe for the proper use of a semi-colon, or maybe garnished me with a tidbit of praise. I'm most grateful for the slicers. When I get over the shock, I actually take a good look at their suggestions. I learn something. My scene starts cooking.
The most resounding piece of critique I ever received was from a reader. Writers often invite strangers to read their works-in-progress and offer personal reviews. We call them “beta-readers.” One such reader, frustrated that I had not described the setting of a scene in Chapter 13 wrote:
“Lucie, I like the fast pace, but please, when we enter a scene, tell me what it looks like, what it smells like--and who is sleeping with who.”
My debut book DISTORTION would never have been the same without Sharon. We ended up meeting over lunch to discuss the story and characters. Other friends taught me how to shoot an AK-47, why skaters can execute a powerslide on a wooden porch, and what defines the mystical relationship between a twenty-something woman and her cell phone. When I look at the pages, I see my community.
Tell us your book-community stories. How did you help a writer or receive help with a book?
Lucie Smoker's imagination grew up at a Little House on the Prairie and at 221B Baker Street. Her best friends were her little sister Minnie, The Hardy Boys and the Count of Monte Cristo. Like them, her life followed a path of adventure, sometimes intrigue. Then she fell in love and found home down a long, empty road.
Distortion is a mystery about an artist who paints a crime scene in reverse perspective and turns a murder investigation backwards--onto her friends. The FBI asks her to spy on them, for her country. Adele refuses ... until someone starts killing them. Now she'll use the FBI, the clues--even her friends--to save them.
Distortion is out as of Oct 30 in all formats, Here's its Amazon page: