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For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.
I nearly forgot a career milestone this month. It’s the tenth anniversary of my first book with Mira Books, my current publisher. The Lightkeeper was a seaswept, Beauty-and-the-Beast-style romantic epic that takes place on the Washington coast in the 1870s. The setting is literally the ends of the earth, on the Long Beach peninsula at the mouth of the Columbia River, an area notorious for raging seas and terrible shipwrecks. The original title of this book was The Edge of Forever, a title I still love (and a tribute to the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”), but The Lightkeeper is probably stronger and definitely more straightforward.
The Cape Disappointment lighthouse still stands. When we visit this area, we love to stay at the dog-friendly Lighthouse (where else?) or the Klipsan Beach Cottages. A walk through Oysterville is a trip back through time. Every time I go there, I feel like writing stories misted in spindrift. It’s a place where I find myself writing better than I can.
This book has one blooper that I know of–there’s no way the characters can be drinking marionberry cordial, since marionberries weren’t introduced until the 1950s. Thanks to alert readers, that will be corrected in future reprints.
Happy 10-year anniversary to me and Mira Books!
I used to really not like Donald Maass, an author, literary agent and lecturer on the art and craft of writing. He had a habit of saying things that annoy writers, like, “Who cares?” and “How can you make this matter more?” Why didn’t I like him? Why did I get annoyed? Because his insights and questions, outlined in his books and workshops, forced me to work harder than ever on my novels.
His directness forces a writer to take a cold, hard look at her own work. And painfully often, to spot its weaknesses.
Then, as I internalized the lessons in Don’s books and workshops, I noticed a deeper understanding of craft, and I started liking this guy. A lot. I used to be stuck in a quandary about some of the most fundamental aspects of the novel–stakes, antagonists, theme, premise. Particularly building high stakes and creating a compelling antagonist. I used to think my books were lacking in that area. There’s no fate-of-the-world-hanging-in-the-balance. No evil overlord or great battle of good v. evil. Then, reading Writing the Breakout Novel, I had an epiphany: These elements were all present in my fiction. I could make the reader believe it by using techniques of craft like building high human value–making the reader care deeply about my characters.
Donald Maass’s upcoming book, The Fire in Fiction, further explores the concepts that consume a fiction writer. He offers practical methods of bringing passion to fiction writing—every day, every page. The book is slated for publication in 2008 by Writers Digest Press.
He also discusses a topic near and dear to our hearts–how to write not just one terrific book, but to build an entire body of work with consistent quality.
“You know how some novels by your favorite authors disappoint?” he asks. “You wonder, did the author rush or have a bad year?” Not only does he pose these tough questions. He has some answers for us.
“Then there are other writers whose every book is a powerhouse,” Maass observes. “Every novel feels passionate. How do such authors stay on top of their game? More to the point, how does passion find its way on to the page? What does ‘passion’ mean when you’re creating characters, or building the world of the novel?”
Field’s End, an affiliate of the Bainbridge Library, is bringing us an exclusive preview of The Fire in Fiction on Saturday, October 13 at the Bainbridge Pavilion. Both the book and the workshop are geared for professional, published novelists…and for fiction writers who are on their way.
All of Maass’s works have guided writers through the process of making a career out of creating fiction. The Career Novelist addresses the writer’s journey from creative dreamer to published pro. Writing the Breakout Novel and The Breakout Novel Workbook contain practical advice for marrying good writing with good storytelling, elevating craft to the level of art.
Maass is one of the most well-read professionals in the industry, and his books cite techniques from a range of writers, from Barbara Cartland to Margaret Atwood to James Patterson.
“I’m a literary agent in New York City,” Maass explains. “I opened my agency in 1980, after working as an editor. Today my company represents more than 100 novelists and sells more than 100 novels every year to major publishers here and overseas. I…teach workshops all over the country. I’m a past president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc., the national trade association for literary agents. I’m also a fan of the Northwest. My wife [independent editor Lisa Rector-Maass] is from Vancouver, B.C. I spend a lot of time out here.”
He’s been a library patron from birth–or maybe even before that! “My mother is a librarian. She worked at Yale University most of her life, but in retirement she works part time at her local town library. Now, my mom is proud of me but doesn’t completely get what I do. One day the head librarian at her library asked me to come give a talk on getting published. I did, and the place was packed. It was the largest turnout they’d ever had. My mom stood in the back, beaming. I’ve written seventeen books, have sold hundreds of others to major publishers, run a multi-million dollar business…but it was a talk at the local library that finally convinced my mom that I’m for real.”
So join us, if you’re in the area. Registration info and directions are here.
Maybe he’ll annoy you. But–no maybe about it–he’ll make you a better writer.