Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Elements of a Good Book

           I’ve been reading a great deal lately, mostly books within my own genre, but also some that are not, including young adult, women’s fiction, historical fiction and even some non-fiction.  Reading all of these has truly grounded me, reminding me why I enjoy thrillers so much more than the others.  I’ve never been accused of being a subtle person and so my taste in many things—music, food, pets, physical activities, cars, you name it—runs along similar strains.  I tend to be a little out there, a bit on the extreme side.  It’s not that I’m flashy or anything, because I’m definitely not.  It’s more because I seem to need more stimulation to really “feel” something, to understand and be connected to it.  I suppose it’s my way of buying into the whole bigger is better mentality I griped about in April.
When I tear it all down and analyze it, it’s easy for me to understand why.  For example, I like raucous, angst-ridden music because I am often both.  Big dogs are so much more fun to wrestle and hug than their smaller counterparts, not mention the intimidation factor when strangers come to my front door.  If I’m going to partake in physical activity, I want it to rock me to my core, because at my age, why else would I risk injury for a little fun?  After spending three years studying food and its preparation, I need something with a good punch, something that will make my taste buds sing.  And I don’t just think of my car as a means of transportation, but rather a form of entertainment, after all, anyone who knows me knows my car is my happy place.  (Yeah, it’s a damn fine car!)
When it comes to books, I can and do enjoy those that don’t knock me over with action.  As long as they have impact on a gut or emotional level, I’m probably going to like it.  But reading outside my genre did get me thinking about those parts of a book that resonate with me most and why I keep going back to those heart-thumping, emotionally draining thrillers I love so much.  So I thought I would tear apart the structure of a novel and see which elements I like most.
First and foremost, the story or plot needs to be explosive with gut-wrenching emotional elements.  I can look past mediocre writing if the story is engaging and entertaining.  And it doesn’t even necessarily need to be an original idea either, just told through unique characters.  Mostly, I need to be able to relate to the story in a personal way.  If the lead character has lost someone important in his life, I remember those same emotions from having lost someone myself and I can therefore connect with the story on an intimate level.  While I think themes can be important in the end, they should never be obvious and a story should never be forced around one.  Subplots should be used to make the characters more complex and draw a common thread through the main story line.  And I want to be taken on a journey, not necessarily to exciting new places I’ve never been, but rather on an emotional adventure.  I think, at its core, that’s why I read in the first place, to have an experience that would otherwise be dangerous or unwise for me.  I love bad boys, but I don’t really want to tangle with them in person.   
I would say characters are next in line in importance.  I love my friends and family, especially my dear husband.  He’s incredibly handsome and fit with broad shoulders and well-muscled through the chest and arms.  Dreamy really.  But we’ve been together for twenty-eight years and while we’ve recently rediscovered our passion, I sometimes need a spark from an unfamiliar source to ignite a fire in me.  This is why I almost always read novels with a male lead.  I need to fall a little in love with him so I know and understand him enough to be willing to go on a rollicking adventure with him.  This doesn’t mean he needs to be dashing and handsome, although that is never a bad thing as long as he’s not cliché.  What I do need is an internal weakness, a flaw or fragility that makes me sympathize and feel instantly connected to him.  I want to feel bad for him and understand his sacrifice, to root for him and hold his hand during his perilous journey.  I need to identify with him, to know I would have a similar reaction if I were in his shoes.  I don’t always need to like him or agree with his choices, but I do need to feel his fear and doubt.  I want his friends and family to give him a hard time and throw rocks in his way.  And I want his adversary to be legitimate in his opposition and to know that there is something strong binding them together.  While the opposition may be evil, I need to understand his side of the story and know that if I were him, I would likely do the same thing.  Characters need to be dynamic, rich and well-developed.  They need to jump off the page and change throughout the story, good or bad. 
Next up, the pace.  Even when the characters are charismatic and the plot explosive, if the pace is slow, I will lose interest and just give up.  I mean, the plot and characters may keep me there for a while when I otherwise would have thrown that book against the wall, but if the pace is a snore fest, I can easily forget how much in love I fancy myself and search for a new romantic interest elsewhere.  Each chapter needs to have its own hook, a reason to be drawn in and continue reading.  I need constant disturbance and conflict, action and reaction.  I need the main character to have a clear objective and know that he’s working hard in each chapter to obtain it, that a new obstacle will be thrown in his path every time.  And that a portal exists at the end of each chapter, one that will leave me so breathless that I want to step through it no matter how late the hour or how tired I am. 
I think I would pick the good use of dialogue next because ultimately, it is what makes the story ring true to the reader.  So let’s say you have a gripping plot, you’ve bonded with compelling characters and the pace is wicked enough to keep drawing you through each doorway.  If the voice and speech of the characters—used to show the action and not merely tell us what’s going on—is not authentic and timely, it falls flat and diminishes the effect of the message.  It tears away the layers of complexity the author has applied to the characters.  And it severely disrupts the flow and ease of reading the words, jarring the reader out of the narrative.  When I write, I say all my dialogue out loud, putting myself in the character’s position and let the natural responses come forward.  Dialogue has to be something people would actually say, in a way they would actually say it.  Most important, it must serve to move the story forward in some way.  No idle chit-chat.  Every spoken word must have a purpose and add to the momentum and stratum of the plot.  Nothing stops a story cold in its tracks like bad or stilted dialogue.  Yet on the other end of the spectrum, great dialogue is core to an even rhythm and flow. 
Speaking briefly about rhythm, I have an obsession with it.  I even dream about it at night with the sounds of words strung together in the fashion of a sentence continuously running through my head.  Not necessarily real words, but just the sound of them, how they flow from one to another and construct a cadence that feels and sounds like music.  I think this is important in writing.  Each sentence needs to feel as good on the tongue as it does to the ears.  Clumsy sentences can be jarring whether it’s dialogue or exposition. 
Lastly, for me anyway, is the writing itself.  Now, I love good writing as much as the next person, but it’s not the “be all, end all” for me.  In fact, I often find overblown, overwritten novels to be boring and telling.  They often exist for the sole purpose of good writing, a testament to skill and study, neither of which I give a damn about.  Just give me a good story, well-paced with interesting and real characters.  Tell me their story in simple, easy to read text.  I don’t have to or need to be impressed with a beautiful selection of words, as long as they are strung together in a clear, concise, and rhythmic fashion, I’m good to go.  I don’t really even want to be aware of the writing, only the story and characters and conflict.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I support My Local Library

            I’m finding it kind of ironic these days that I am trying to so hard to get published when I can no longer afford the small luxury of buying books.  I should say that’s primarily because I read probably forty books a year or so.  At twenty-four bucks a pop for a hard cover, that’s $1000 and since the decimation of my industry and business, that’s a lot of money that should be going to better uses, especially since there are alternatives.
One might say that buying a Kindle would allow me to purchase a wide volume of novels at a much lower cost, but then again if you knew me and how I feel about e-books versus the real thing, you’d know that I’m just not ready to go there yet.  Plus, if I won’t splurge twenty-four bucks on a book, I certainly won’t pay $115 on an ad-supported Kindle.  So what’s a reader to do then?  That’s easy.  I patronize my local King County Library.
            Actually, that’s a lie.  Sort of.  I do use the library, but from the convenience of my own desk chair.  I can access the entire library system’s stacks via the Internet.  I can search a favorite author’s name and see what titles pop up, then peruse the book flap copy and decide if it interests me or not.  Or if I’ve heard or read a book review and it interests me, I can search that title.  The library even offers me suggestions based on what I’m currently viewing or what I’ve already read.  I love that feature, by the way.
Once I’ve selected the titles I want, they are put on hold and when they become available, they are sent to my local branch just a couple of miles away from my home.  I receive an email notification as soon as the book has been placed on the hold shelf, complete with my name on a reservation slip which makes it easy to locate alphabetically.  And since everything is automated these days, I just scan my own library card then the bar code on the book and viola!  I have that book for at least four weeks though I can renew online, as well.
Now, like with most things, there are drawbacks.  For one, if a title is popular, as many of my selections are, I will likely have to wait a few weeks before that title becomes available.  But I know this up front as the info is supplied to me when placing the hold.  It will say something like my hold is the 25th hold on 50 copies, which means it might take me a month to receive that title.  I currently have one hold that says 297th of 195 copies and that’s after already waiting three months, so yeah, that one could take me awhile to get, but I’m patient.  I usually have about six titles on hold at any given time and a stack of at least that many books sitting on my desk, waiting to be read, so I can wait.  I’ve got lots to keep me busy. 
Of course, the biggest drawback to borrowing from the library is that the book is not actually mine.  I can’t keep it and display it on my bookshelf.  But then again, I have so many books and not nearly enough shelf space that I am already stacking two rows per shelf.  That means I can’t even see half the titles I do have as they are hidden behind the forward row.
Conceding that, I do find the fact that the book I’m reading is not mine to bother me a bit.  So if I really, really, REALLY love that book, I will go out and splurge on it.  In the case of Greg Iles’s titles, I loved so many of them—thirteen total—that I had my husband buy them for me off Ebay which meant they were second-hand and I was not supporting my favorite author.
I do feel kind of bad about that, but what can I do?  I don’t typically like paperbacks though they are much cheaper.  And as in the case of Iles’s titles, most of them are not kept on the brick and mortar’s shelves so I would have to back order them only to receive a paperback.  So, for now, my method works for me.  When I’m back to earning some good money, I will start buying books again.
One thing I do love about borrowing books from the library is that I will often read books that I would not ordinarily buy, something that is outside my typical genre of choice, thrillers.  The last book I read outside my genre was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  It is a book of historical fiction set in Seattle (near where I currently reside) during World War II.  It is the story of a Chinese-American boy who falls for a Japanese-American girl just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and right before she and her family are sent away to an internment camp.  It flashes back and forth between the war years and 1986, when that boy is in his fifties and hears of the discovery of many personal belongings of local interned Japanese-Americans at the Panama Hotel in Seattle.
Definitely not my normal reading choice, but the fact that one of my favorite literary agent bloggers, Jessica Faust of BookEnds, reps the author and the story is set in Seattle, I was very intrigued.  And as I was reading, I found myself constantly using the Google Maps app on my iPhone to locate the streets in the International District that the author described.  I enjoyed his setting so much that I want to spend time exploring the neighborhood, including the Panama Hotel which still exists to this day.
This love of setting harkens back to my last blog post.  I would never have otherwise read this book had I not had the library.  I never would have considered actually buying this book because I don’t think I would have liked it just by reading the flap cover.  But now that I have read it and know how much I love it, I will buy that book and most likely any other Jamie Ford writes.  The library allowed me to open my eyes a bit more and fall in love with another author and said author will now benefit from that, whereas before, he would not have. 
I actually read a lot more books now that I have rediscovered the library.  The ease of use permits me to at least try to explore titles I never would have otherwise.  Now, I will admit, sometimes I don’t always like the titles I’ve checked out.  The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber, while in my genre and beautifully written, was way too slow for me, The Dead Don’t Dance by Charles Martin was too sickly sweet and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow, well, I found it so uninteresting I couldn’t even make it to page forty though it is an award-winning debut novel.  And though Karin Slaughter’s books are my friend, Lisa’s, favorites, I found, for the most part, that I just don’t care for crime fiction.  Then again, I did love Lisa Gardner’s Say Goodbye.  And I won’t even get into how I feel about Jonathan Franzen.  But the library did allow me to discover Michael Connelly and James Scott Bell, both of whom I love.  And I never would have found out that sometimes the very authors I love most don’t always write spectacular fiction.  Hey, they’re human, too.  Who knew?  
           So all in all, even when I do start raking in the cash again, I think I will most likely keep using my library card to discover new writers and new titles.  In the long run, I believe it will allow me to support those authors I truly love, whose books I really want on my over burdened bookshelf. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Setting: Better Real or Imagined?

            Many aspiring writers today lament the fact that the publishing industry is so much more difficult to break into than it was say fifteen or twenty years ago, that the rules are far different.  We even see this in how books are written.  For one, prologues are way out of vogue, or so I hear.  When I find a new book I like written by an author who has been around for quite some time, I go out of my way to hunt down every novel they’ve ever written in that genre.  It doesn’t matter if it’s fifteen years old or more.  If it’s good, it will survive the test of time and the changes the world has undergone since first written, even if it has a prologue.  What difference does it make what the first section of text is called, whether it’s a prologue or chapter one, as long at it helps build the story?  I certainly don’t care. 
Sometimes it can be a little distracting when the author writes heavily about technology.  Take, for instance, Greg Iles’s Mortal Fear.  This was the author’s third published novel and his first away from the stage of World War II.  Iles’s characters utilized cutting edge computer technology for the time, that being 1997, but when you read it today, you’re likely to snicker knowing how outdated all that technology sounds.  So in that way, the written words are not timeless, though the story itself remains so.
            Earlier this month, author John Gilstrap wrote a post on The Kill Zone website called Terrors of Timelessness.  This came just days after the unexpected death of public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.  Gilstrap speculated that there might be a few writers out there who were not as elated by the news as most of us were.  Why, you ask?  Well, because they were in the middle of writing a novel with you-know-who as the arch enemy.  So if OBL is dead, all their efforts are for nothing, or at the very least, they will have to do a major rewrite.  Gilstrap’s point was that writing fiction grounded in reality “ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
            He used setting as an example.  Gilstrap wrote that his stories needed to be timely and current and because he had to produce one novel every year, to remain timely and current required that he never place his characters in a real setting.  He theorized that while some readers would likely recognize the particular location of a certain scene, most would not and so the reality of the location was irrelevant.  While I understand his point, I disagree to a certain extent.
Sure, when you include details grounded in reality, you run the risk of being inaccurate and therefore drawing a few readers out of the story because they know something to be wrong.  But when you’re placing your characters in a real place, a place you know well, perhaps even intimately, you are able to convey the subtle details that make that place so unique and often so well-loved.  Two of my favorite writer’s, Michael Connelly and James Scott Bell, often place their stories in LA. 
Now, I spent most of my life in Northern California, the Bay Area actually, but I’ve been to LA quite a few times and while I don’t know the downtown city streets at all or the neighborhoods of Topanga Canyon or Mulholland Drive, I have an idea of what they look and feel like and this imagery works well for me as I read.  It presents details that the author never included.
Same goes for Greg Iles.  He writes almost exclusively about his home state of Mississippi, most notably Natchez, where he has lived most of his life.  I’ve never been to Natchez though I’ve heard of its history and seen pictures of the antebellum mansions.  A city ripe with actual historical accounts offers lush layers that can be woven into an author’s characters and stories and Iles does this to perfection.  In fact, I was so infatuated with his description of Natchez after reading so many of his novels that I took a virtual tour through the city using Google Maps.  When Iles wrote about a particular street, I found that street and “drove” up it, scanning the homes and business along the way.
It’s just not the same with an imaginary setting.  There is no history to extract from.  There are no monuments to give the reader direction or a true sense of place.  It’s just an ordinary place much like any other and even if it is richly drawn, the fact that it’s not grounded in reality makes it kind of murky in my mind.  Yeah, I will keep reading and enjoy the story for what it is, but the setting is not as strong of a character as it would have been if it had been an actual place with an actual past. 
This does not relate to other kinds of fiction such as sci-fi or fantasy where half the written word is about world building.  Those kinds of novels start from scratch, as they should.  But in my genre—thrillers—the setting is often nearly as important as the major characters and while you can make up any setting just like you make up your characters, so often our characters are assemblies of who we are and those who occupy the orbits around our lives, so why wouldn’t you want to ground them in a world you know well, a place others can relate to on a personal level? 
No, not all readers will recognize the nuances of your setting, but then again, if it is a made up place, nobody would.  Not really.  I mean, how could they, if it’s not a real place?  If the setting is real, many will pick up on those subtle distinctions so why not allow them the pleasure of something familiar?  And it’s not always important for the writer to have an intimate knowledge of their story’s setting either.  My friend, Lisa Regan, set her first novel, Finding Claire Fletcher, in Sacramento, California, a place she had never been.  But Lisa didn’t need to draw on concrete places to flesh out the setting and as abstract as she was in pointing out particular locations, having intimate knowledge of the place myself made the story so much richer for me, not to mention easier for me to visualize.  It didn't matter that she had never been there.  I had and I knew what it looked like.
The conceptual can be cool, don’t get me wrong, but the familiar is more comfortable and relatable and in the end, I want my readers to be able to relate to all my characters, including the setting, which is every bit as much of a character as the protagonist or antagonist.  So I would be very interested in hearing from some of my readers.  Do you prefer the stories you read to be set in a real location or a fictionalized one?  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Point of View & Writing Style

            I’ve had a few discussions with other (aspiring) writers in recent weeks regarding point of view (POV) and style and it seemed to me that the two were related and interwoven in a significant way.  First off, I should mention that my novel is written in the first person.  When I started writing, I began in the (close) third person which, in my experience, is how a great majority of stories are told, so it seemed natural to write that way.  I’m sure I’ve read quite a few first person narratives, but I must say I was never really aware of it, that is until I read the young adult novel, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.  YA is not my usual fare, but I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  Now, I realize Twilight is not exactly literary fiction.  Not even close.  It’s simple and told in a straight forward voice—an uncomplicated juvenile voice at that—but it struck me as very honest and relatable to its audience—mostly teenagers and young adult women.  While reading, I was actually aware of the voice which I had never really paid all that much attention to before in most of the books I read.  I found I enjoyed the first person POV and being in the protagonist’s head.  I felt close to the action and embroiled in her emotions, however corny and anemic the story might be.      
There is a major drawback to the first person POV, however:  the reader only knows, sees, hears or feels what the protagonist knows, sees hears or feels.  That can be rather limiting and make it difficult to tell a complete story.  Two of my favorite authors, Greg Iles (The Devil’s Punchbowl) and Michael Connelly (The Reversal), solved this dilemma by writing in both the first person and close third person, alternating the voices between chapters.  This worked well for them, as well as for my dear friend and critique partner, writer Lisa Regan, in both her novels, Finding Claire Fletcher and Aberration. 
I considered this technique and decided against it because I really needed my reader to be fully engaged in exactly what the characters—both the main character and his victim—were feeling.  It was, after all, the victim’s reaction to the main character’s crime that made the main character reconsider his path.  And the victim’s journey is just as important as the main character’s.  They could only truly find what they needed through each other.  Third person felt too remote and detached to accomplish that.  Not exactly what I was going for since my story is so wrought with emotional turmoil.  At one point, I actually considered changing half my story to close third person POV but my critique partner strenuously advised against it.  And I did not have a character to rely on who could conveniently supply large amounts of information such as a reporter, a shrink, a private investigator or someone else in the know.  I had only four characters to do this.  One of them dies early on and another is physically absent for a large part of the story.   
So I rethought how I would tell the story and decided that the only way to truly deliver on the pain and agony of the main characters was to tell it from their perspectives.  But I’d only read a handful of multiple POV novels before and most of the time, those perspectives were differentiated with a change in font type on the printed page (Iles & Picoult).  Visually, it provided a good kick to the reader, letting them know a different person was narrating, but I think the writing itself should do that and the difference in voice should be obvious.  And having too many voices can be confusing, so while I knew I could not tell the whole story through just one character’s perspective, I did not want to have more than two at any given time. 
I decided the best way for me to show who the narrator was, was to simply put the character’s name as the chapter heading and allow the reader to associate a name to the voice.  I tried to make the two voices sound and feel different so even if the reader happened not to glance at the chapter heading, they could automatically feel and hear the difference.  This was important because I did not always alternate characters between every chapter, yet I did not want to make the chapters overly long, so I relied on my writing style to naturally differentiate the voices.  This, in turn, brings me to my other topic:  Style.
I have an online friend who offered me advice on style after reading a few chapters of my manuscript.  In his humble opinion, though I had A style, I had not yet found MY style.  Well, I disagreed wholeheartedly and while I am open to constructive criticism and felt he was not purposely unkind, he was a touch condescending and that was what put me off so much.  He used my opening line on chapter one and rewrote it, but to me, it was all about the words and how pretty they sounded when strung together.  And while they were pretty, they made absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially when you consider the voice of my character. 
He is an “everyman,” your average Joe, trying to make the right choices in a complicated world.  And what struck me right off the bat about my friend’s advised revision was what so many agents warn writers against:  do not let your writing get in the way of your story.  In other words, if the average reader has to work too hard to discern a meaning from a single sentence, they will grow frustrated, bored or weary and simply put the book down forever. 
I’m not trying to write literary fiction.  I don’t want to challenge the reader, as my friend suggested.  I write for the average reader who just wants to be taken away for a few hours here and there.  And I don’t write to impress anyone, least of all myself.  In MY humble opinion, overworked writing is like people who speak just to hear themselves talk.  My motto is “Just tell the freakin’ story already!” 
So while I do think style is very important, you have to write like you’re the person experiencing the events in your story, especially if told in the first person.  Trying to be eloquent for eloquence sake makes the novel all about your writing, not the story.  And in most cases, nobody even wants to be aware of your writing and style.  They want the writer to disappear and the character to emerge.  Now, that’s not say that a character cannot be overburdened by excessive introspective narrative.  In some cases, that’s who the character is, but in my case, it was not.  Nor do I think it the case in most adult thrillers. 
I recently followed an online recommendation and read—or tried to read anyway—The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber.  I must admit it was beautifully written.  The voice practically sang the words.  But the author took too long in getting his point across and moving the story along because, frankly, he just used too many words, and while they were lovely, it was just way too much. 
It reminded me of that moment in the film Amadeus, when Mozart asked the King what he felt the problem was with his latest opera, The Marriage of Figaro.  The King said quite simply, “Too many notes!”  (I disagree with the King on that point, by the way.)  It was the same with The Book of Air and Shadows.  While I enjoyed the written word, I got bored waiting for the story to progress.  I get that the protagonist—and the writer—was very bright, and I’m no slouch myself, but I have only so much time to read and if the author is not going to get a move on, then forget it.  I’m just going to put that blasted book down and never pick it up again. 
So while I appreciated the effort my friend took in advising me—though not his method—in the end, it made me see how important style relates to the POV.  First of all, I had to keep my novel around 85,000 words or so, as no agent or publisher wants to take on anything from a new writer much longer than that, so I had to convey a semi-complicated plot in easy to understand language and voice while doing so in as few words as possible.  I wrote like I was the protagonist, like I was just sitting there, perhaps by a camp fire, telling my story, trying to keep my listener interested. 
Agents constantly advise writers to read in the genre in which they write.  And I do.  In fact, that’s practically all I read, though I do break it up from time to time so as not to get burned out.  What I’ve noticed is that none of the writers I read—Connelly, Bell, Iles, Crighton, Brown, Clancy, Grisham, Follet, Gardner, Cross, Flynn, just to name a few—ever overwrite, either their narratives or their dialogue.  They tell a straight forward story in plain English.  And my favorites on that list write primarily in the first person, so while some people think that writing in first person POV is taking the easy way, I think they write for the reader, not themselves.  I don’t believe they write the way they write because it’s easy or hard—to challenge the reader or not.  They write that way to be interesting, to entertain, to keep the reader involved, and to express a voice.  I’d like to think, like them, I write for the reader.  Not for me.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Thoughts on Writing vs. Publishing

            Last Friday in her blog, literary agent Rachelle Gardner pondered the link between the desire to write and that of being published commercially.  It was followed by an interesting question:  Are the two inseparably connected in the writer’s mind and if they are not, how do you know you should keep writing if you do not intend on seeking publication?  Like many of her awesome posts, it was followed by many comments, but in this case, nearly one hundred readers chimed in on exactly why they write. 
            Some of my readers may already have read my post from a month ago where I explained exactly why I write, but Ms. Gardner brought up a very interesting correlation and I wondered if other writers were as pulled toward publication as I was.  First of all, when I started writing my novel, The Mistaken, I never even considered the publishing end of it.  I just woke up with a story rattling around in my head.  It came to me after hearing a song.  The lyrics made me wonder what would drive a good man to do something really terrible, something completely out of character, and could he ever find his way back to the man he used to be. When I linked the possibilities to certain experiences in my own life, I tried to answer that question with a scenario and bam!—a novel was born. 
            Unlike many—or even most—writers, I suspect, I have not spent my life with the desire to write.  I don’t have drawers full of stories and characters and made-up worlds.  That is to say, while I do love to write, I was never compelled to write before I started all this.  And while I was writing my novel, my only goal was to get the story down and enjoy the creative process. 
You see, I’m a creative person.  My job—the one that helps pay the bills—is to create beautiful spaces for people to live or work in.  But when the economy took a big old dump on the building industry, my pipeline to creativity all but dried up.  It’s slowly coming back to life, but the last three plus years have been a drought with little opportunity for me to create though the need to do so remained firmly in place.  For the first two years, I used cooking and baking as an outlet, but that only took me so far.  With nowhere else to go, my creativity unleashed itself in my desire to tell a story.  And so I did exactly that. 
But normally, when I help create a beautiful, functional space for people to live or work in—or to help builders sell an idea of a lifestyle—the end product is used and enjoyed.  It serves a purpose.  And I know that someone is enjoying what I slaved over for days, weeks or months.  There is a great deal of satisfaction in the end use of my product.  But what about writing?  What is the end use of what I created, of what I’ve written?  Well, of course, the end use is reading it.  And while I do get some satisfaction reading my own words, I would garner much more if others were to read it, as well, hence my desire to be published.
            Now, that’s not to say that writing doesn’t serve a purpose if it is not read by someone else other than the author.  There were a plethora of valid reasons given by Ms. Gardner’s many commenters.  Some said writing made them a better person or that they just liked to do it, while others—many, in fact—refer to writing as a calling they cannot ignore, that it gives them a sense of fulfillment they cannot find in any other way.  For some it is simply a creation of art, an expressive outlet for their sole benefit.  Still others referred to it as a means of self-exploration and a few of those even used writing as a way to deal with their inner demons and release their frustrations while avoiding professional counseling.  I can relate to this last group.  My own demons figured substantially into my story. 
            But a great many writers expressed the sentiment that “words are worthless if not read.”  One even equated writing without ever being read to cooking a feast only to be thrown away before it was eaten.  Another said it was like creating a piece of art that no one will ever look at and what’s the point then if nobody else will ever see it?  He said he “could not separate the writing from the need to have it examined.”  I’m definitely with that guy.  I’m not saying I need people to gush over my work, though I do hope people enjoy it.  And while it would be great to actually make some money, I don’t even consider that element in my reasons for seeking publication.  Neither do I need to see my name in lights, so to speak, to have my nom de plume splashed across fancy cover art.  I just want an outlet for others to read my words.  I want others to get some enjoyment out of the story, to be thrilled for a few hours over a few days time.  I even think the theme of my book—forgiveness—might benefit some in a way. 
            I know there will be many people who do not like my story, who think it is too violent, or improbable, that a good man would never be compelled toward vengeance, to be so driven by personal demons as to commit a violent act, especially rape, if it was not in his character.  But I can tell you personally that is not true.  I even think it’s possible to find redemption afterwards.  My need to express these issues coerced me to write my story.  My desire to tell the story somehow makes sense of certain life experiences.  And while I have battled my own demons and won in the best way possible, the need to have others recognize the fight as worthy is undeniable. 
In my comment on Ms. Gardner’s post, I equated the experience of writing a book and wanting to see it published to pregnancy and childbirth. You spend months—maybe even years—growing this germ of an idea into something that has shape, something that has life, something that has a name, an identity.  Then you labor over bringing it into the world, crying over the pain it causes you.  The urge to bring it to publication is very much like that urge to push.  Undeniable.  Useless to fight against.  Because you want everyone to see just how beautiful your baby is, how much time and work and effort you’ve put into it.  You want to hold it in your hands and smile as you present it to the whole wide world.  This is my creation.  My baby.  It was hard.  But it was so worth every tear.  Every extra pound.  Every frustration.  So, please, come take a look!
To me, publication is more than just validation that a writer can actually write words that someone else wants to read.  It’s having a voice.  It’s a platform—widely accepted and utilized—where an author can say, “This is what’s important to me and this is what I have to say about it.”  It’s a documentation of our personal history, whether fiction or not, a way to process our life, our experiences, our world, and hopefully give others enjoyment or enlightenment at the same time.  It’s a way to share and bond and live again.  But you have to put it out there first, as scary as that may be. And it is really, really scary, especially when there is so much rejection along the way. 
           I may never be traditionally published.  In fact, chances are, I never will be with the way the publishing industry is changing.  But I also find value in the pursuit.  It’s a dream that pushes me out of bed every day.  It gives me purpose.  And I may be discouraged on my road to publication, but I will never, ever give up.