Why is a Writer Like a Janitor?(A Lou Sylvre flashback post)

Lou Sylvre Gay Romance Happy Endings Hi, Authors Speak readers! I’m Lou Sylvre, and this is my first monthly post here. In case you don’t know me, I’ll post my bio and some info on my books at the end of this post—and I’ll tell you right here and now I’ve got a novella releasing this coming December or January, and it’s very dear to me, even though it’s not all my “usual.” It’s just, occasionally, when I write something I feel down deep that I’ve somehow pulled off writing a really good read, and I believe readers will find Falling Snow on Snow to be just that.

Talking about “writing a good read” puts me in mind of a post I wrote and shared on Love Bytes reviews back in January of 2015. The title, in fact, was “Writing a Good Read: Five Keys and a Pipe Wrench.” So the mystery of this new post title is solved—writers and janitors carry keys and may on occasion need a pipe wrench. Mostly, this post is for those of you who are looking to either start a writing career, or those of you who are writers and, like me, appreciate the addition of a new tool or a reminder about one you already have in your utility belt. But I’m hoping readers can enjoy this too, for a couple of reasons. First, sometimes it’s exciting to reflect on a book you did or didn’t like and be able to see what the author did that produced that result. Also, sometimes readers turn out to be writers, too.

So, from the original post, here’s all this:
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First, I’ll define what I believe the term “a good read” means.

Number one: A good read is a book that captivates a reader so that they finish the book, and when they do, it has satisfied something in their minds or hearts. They might have cried, or laughed, or gotten angry in the course of it, but they end up glad they read it, and most likely would want to read more about the characters or from the author. In order for the book to meet this criteria, it will have to meet the others.

Number two: The story makes sense. Brief anecdote—when I had children, my former mother-in-law bought me a cup that said, “Because I’m the mommy, that’s why!” Funny, and occasionally it works in parenting, at least for a minute, but if you find yourself explaining developments in your novel with the words “It’s fiction and I want it to happen anyway,” chances are you’ve made a jump that won’t work. I don’t mean it can’t happen in the story, but very likely you need to figure out what you need to do to make it happen in a way that makes sense. By the same token, the saying (immortalized in a pop song a few decades back), “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to” does not translate well to “It’s my book, so I can do what I want.” This usually arises later in the process during beta reading or editing. Don’t misunderstand—you can certainly think that, even say it. But then if you want the book to be a good read, you’ll probably need to change your mind and do a little more work.

Number three: The characters make sense. No, really. Your characters can be quirky—in fact to make them seem real they should have at least some characteristics that could be called quirks. They can be likeable or loveable, but that can’t be all they are because that doesn’t make sense to anyone who has met a few humans—inconsistencies R us, right? Most stories will have a definite ‘bad guy.’ Sometimes a villain, sometimes a well-meaning or confused character who causes trouble for the ‘good guys.’ Sometimes it’s a group, or a thing, or an idea that fills the role. But even here, the ‘bad’ has to have something more—sorrow, possession, an unbreakable oath, a need to wreak havoc in order for their offspring to survive, or whatever. Again, to seem real, it cannot be flat as a two-dimensional plane, or it’s not interesting. There has to be a why, and most of the time some secondary whys, for everything anybody does in your story.

Number four: The world (or universe) of your story must make sense, too. Everyone’s heard about the pitfalls of world-building. It doesn’t just apply to speculative fiction (sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, magical realism), but to every story, even if it’s written in real time, real place, real buildings. Why? Because your story never happened there. Your characters never lived there (even if they are based on people you know or real historical characters). In spec fiction, you have to be very aware of systems to make them all work together—if there’s magic, how does it work, where does it come from, what does it cost its user. If it’s a medieval town but they have a flying machine or flush toilets, fine, but make them have a sensible system. The farther you get away from pure sci-fi or fantasy, the fewer systems you must devise. Instead, though, just as importantly, your storyline and characters (which represent a system) must be incorporated as seamlessly as possible with the systems already in place.

I probably could go on about that, but I’m belatedly remembering that my post is supposed to be about five keys and a pipe wrench. Mind you, I propose these only as my own opinion, but I’m pretty sure that if you sincerely apply them (tweaking as necessary), they will at least help you get that book written, and make it a book you’re happy to put your name on.

1st Key—Never, ever, ever read those books that have titles that go something like Two Million Reasons Your Book Won’t be Published, or What’s Wrong with Your Writing. Hey, be real. We’re hard enough on ourselves. These books may purport to have good advice for you, but what they really do is drive home to you, consciously, that you don’t write well enough to be published. Subconsciously, they’ve got you rehearsing how to do things in a way that will end with a negative result.

2nd Key—Think small when planning your book. Start with a narrow premise you’d like to explore, a character or two whose story you think needs writing, a single storyline, or even just a start. This makes it possible for you to outline quickly and get to the writing. Believe me, the characters will multiply, as will twists, turns, and subplots.

3rd Key—Start the writing early in the process. Yeah, this might be called Key 2B, but I think it deserves a place of its own. The only way to begin to learn to write is to begin writing, so the longer you put it off, the longer it will take to learn. And, you’ll probably find that the longer you put off writing the story you want to turn into a book, the harder it gets to make that start. By “write” I don’t mean outline. Yes, do a broad outline, but right away pick a place to start writing—no this doesn’t have to be the beginning—any scene that calls to you. If you know how, you can kick start it by storyboarding, or just do a rough outline of the scene. You should be able to do that within an hour at the most. Then right away, put words on a blank page. It doesn’t have to be good! Just write it and don’t stop until the scene is on the page. Then do another one the next day.

4th Key—Remember you’re really not the boss, at least not all the time. Your characters will have things to say, and they will want you to write what they want to do. At least part of the time, you’re going to have to do it if you want the story to move forward—and momentum is a precious commodity in novel-writing. Likely, you will also realize that your characters have a pretty good understanding of what the story needs. Yes, they’re sometimes like berserk little children and you have to take their privileges and put them in time out (please don’t tell Luki Vasquez I said that), but they need play time, too.

5th Key—Trust your editor to be good but not perfect at their job; trust yourself to be good but not perfect at your job. This key is the only one I’m giving that’s not related to spitting out that first draft of your first novel. It’s for later, after the publisher has accepted your book, or you are at the stage in self-pubbing where you’re ready for the editor. (Yes, it will happen if you want it to and you do the work.) What I mean by “their” job and “your” job is that a good editor knows how a story works, how a sentence works, and lots of stuff about grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. That’s their domain. If they say your story doesn’t work because something’s missing, it probably is. Or if they say your main character isn’t likeable, he’s probably not. Grammar is a grayer area, because in fiction sometimes an author writes in a way that isn’t exactly proper for voice or effect—and most experienced fiction editors will recognize that. It’s your job, as author, to determine whether that’s the case with each edit, no matter how small. It’s your job to know whether their suggested fix will have a different meaning than what you’ve written, because meaning is what the story is about, and that’s your domain. Take edits seriously, think about them, and respect your editor’s work and know-how. Your book will be a lot better for it when it makes it debut.

The pipe wrench— Most people probably know that a pipe wrench comes in really handy for plumbing. But not everyone knows how much a pipe wrench can do when you use it like a hammer, either tapping or pounding as the case requires. The name of this particular pipe wrench is “just write,” and it’s the most versatile, useful item in your toolbox. Key 1 reflects this, but the pipe wrench continues to be awesome throughout the process of the novel and throughout your career. You’ll get mysterious “writer’s block.” Your muse will go on strike. You’ll get negative comments from a beta reader and think you write sucky, so why try. Etcetera! In all cases, get out the just-write pipe wrench and put words on a page. It’ll smash the self-worth bugs, it’ll put the criticism down to size. Scare the muse into suiting up and showing up. Break the clog blocking the pipes into smithereens and let them flush away.

That’s it for my advice. Really. Enough, don’t you think… Thanks for reading! Thanks for writing. Keep doing both!
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Oh yeah, here’s a little about me, Lou Sylvre, too.

Some of my books:
VJ 6 cover banner

My bio, the short version.
Lou Sylvre loves romance with all its ups and downs, and likes to conjure it into books. The lovers on her pages are men who end up loving each other—and usually saving each other from unspeakable danger. It’s all pretty crazy and very, very sexy. How cool is that? She is the creator of the popular Vasquez and James series of M/M romantic suspense, which can be found at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and many other online vendors. A spinoff series began with the A Shot of J&B. She blogs at sylvre.com, is @sylvre on Twitter, and loves to hear from readers on Facebook or at lou.sylvre@gmail.com.

One place you can find my books
At Dreamspinner Press: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/searchresults?q=lou+sylvre

My latest book, the cover and blurb.
A Shot of J&B 400x600 Six years ago, Brian Harrison helped save the life of Jackie Vasquez, and he’s never really forgotten him. After the rescue, Brian ended his employment with Jackie’s uncle Luki and left the US for England, aiming to distance himself from the confused feelings—not lust, but not brotherly—that then sixteen-year-old Jackie engendered. Now Jackie has become a man, and when they meet again by chance, lust with a dose of D/s rope kink is definitely on the list of possibilities. As they get to know each other, though, lust shows every sign of growing into love, deep and true.

When Jackie moves to London for graduate studies in criminal psychology, he and Brian hope they’ll be able to enjoy each other’s frequent company. But they haven’t factored in the claim Brian’s police job with Scotland Yard will make on his time, especially when the “Gaslighter crimes” sap investigative resources. An abandoned aide dog named Soldier leads to a breakthrough clue, and a chain of discoveries fall like dominoes. As Brian rushes to beat the criminal’s game before it escalates to true terror, he comes to an undeniable conclusion: Jackie Vasquez, the man he loves, is in mortal danger.

A tiny excerpt from my current WIP, Blackmail and Roses, sequel to Finding Jackie.

Jackie took three steps out of the LAX terminal and then the heat blasted him from all directions. The pavement baked him from below, all the surrounding structures radiated like oven walls, and the sun threatened to broil his freckles black. But it was the wind, the devil-born Santa Ana that splashed red in his eyes and stole his breath.

Jackie remembered a time in LA when the Santa Anas had seemed like the touch of some blessed god, in that October when he and Josh had first wandered into the warm, dry City of Angels after a damp summer on the Seattle streets.

“Damn,” Josh had muttered. “I hope it doesn’t blow like that all the time.”
But Jackie had just shook his head, not said a word. True, he wasn’t in the habit of talking much back then. Hurt boys often don’t, he’d since learned in his psych classes. But that time his silence was one of incredulity. Jackie had loved the rough, subjugating caress of those hot winds, would have stood for days and died inside them if he could have.

But that was before he’d seen their cruel side. Before he’d seen them weave a spell of apathy and violence on even those people who sometimes cared. Before he’d seen them spin the heads of friends around until they faced each other with fists and knives. Before he’d seen them launch bullets in back alleys. Now he knew they sometimes stripped the last inhibitions from the minds of drunks, the clothes from shaking young bodies, the last vestiges of hope from desperate hearts.

Thanks for reading! Your comments are welcome, should the notion strike you. I hope to see you next month.