The Best Thing About Writing Fiction

This morning, author Lazarus Barnhill posted an article on the Second Wind Blog about why he writes fiction. He wrote:

”When you write about a controversial issue, you don’t have to make it the center of your story to express it fully.  You just work it in.  For instance, when I wrote The Medicine People, I dealt a lot with the quiet underlying bigotry Native Americans and Western European descendants still harbor for one another but never express out loud.  And while it was essential to the story, it didn’t overwhelm the novel.  Stories have the power to make an issue live in the mind of the reader the way a speech never can.

“And the best thing about being a fiction writer is, you don’t have to brag to get your point across.  The best writer is one whose reader gets absolutely lost in the narrative.”

When I began writing, I had a lot to say about the way we are manipulated to suit the needs of big business and big government, and that theme underlies my first four novels. Though that theme was important to me, I tried to make the story even more important so as not to overwhelm the readers. I used up that theme, so I don’t know what I want to say in my future books, which is perhaps why I haven’t been able to write — I don’t know what I want to say, or rather, why I want to say it. I tried to write a story simply for the story’s sake, but that manuscript is stalled halfway through. I do have a theme for that — freedom vs. security vs. responsibility — but the book is not a thriller, has no mystery, is more of an apocalyptic allegory, which is something I would never read, so I don’t imagine anyone else would want to either. The point being, I write fiction because . . . Apparently I have no reason since I am not writing fiction at the moment. 

So, why do you write fiction? What is the best about being a fiction writer? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing? How do you make sure readers get lost in your fiction?

Let’s talk.

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will meet for a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by — it would be nice to see you. You can find the discussion by clicking here. If you can’t chat live, we can chat on this blog.

A Writer’s Life (Guest Blog by Bestselling Author Michael Palmer)

I asked bestselling author Michael Palmer if he’d like to be a guest on my blog, and he graciously consented. (You can see an expurgated version of our email conversation here.) Need I say how thrilled I am? Most thrilling of all, instead of sending me an article he’d posted elsewhere, he wrote this piece especially for the readers of Bertram’s Blog. Please join me in welcoming Michael Palmer to the blogosphere.

I want to thank pat for inviting me to be a guest blogger……I will be writing the way I write e-mails and get out of creator’s block-relaxed with no consistent punctuation, no caps unless I feel like it…..what pops into my head is what you get

I tried blogging once-three times, actually, on amazon when I was pushing the first patient…..it felt like I was better off working on my book…..it’s a little like the hallowed book tour…..i could never figure those out……so much money, so little exposure (in some cities I have been to, the books weren’t in any stores)……it used to be you could combine a signing with a day of media work, but the papers aren’t all that interested any more (even in a fine fellow like me, with 13 NY times best sellers and a job taking care of doctors with drug and alcohol problems)……there are very few talk radio shows (I used to bop into a studio and talk with the host for an hour, even two-that was my favorite)…..the TV shows like good morning Cleveland are mostly gone……so on recent tours, I hit a town, stay in the best hotels, and spend the whole day before an evening signing racing (with an escort) from store to store, pounding flesh like a desperate politician and doing everything short of standing in front of a barnes & noble yelling “puleeeeeese buy my book!!!!”)……then, comes the signing-15 – 115 depending on how aggressive the events people are (often “kids” on their first job)….. now don’t get me wrong…..i’m incredibly grateful for what my publishers and the industry and the booksellers and the readers have given me……I live in the big house on the hill and love it up here (there, I said it and I’m glad) but I am also a realist……book tours are done many times because the publishers are afraid to tell their big ticket authors that there isn’t going to be one…..

It is always a painful moment for me when a new author excitedly says to me that they have their first book coming out and “what can I do to get people to buy it??……first I tell them to sit down, that they’re not going to enjoy what I have to say……then I tell them: THE ONLY THING YOU CAN REALLY DO THAT WILL HELP SELL YOUR BOOK IS TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK……authors do from time to time catch lightning in a bottle—but mostly it’s a matter of improving your skill, learning from your mistakes, and producing……

For my February release, the second opinion, I will not be going away from home…..a signing in Nashua, new Hampshire (I’ll be there on 2/20/09) or at the boston public library (3/3/09 – reception and talk open to the public) is really no different than a sweep through Denver (pray it doesn’t snow) or Nashville or Miami……there are so many cities……publishers budget funds for each book, and when those are gone, no more publicity…..would I rather have a two week tour away from my kid and word processor and favorite pillow, or a full page ad in the times??…..you can answer that one……often it’s either or, though not necessarily on the same scale……

So, I’m a writer, and I’m best off writing and “performing” locally……if I were more disciplined and less exhausted all the time, I suppose I could blog……but I would never be as good at it as JA Konrath or my friend Tess Gerritsen, who are both consistent and incredibly entertaining……

Writing books isn’t just about writing books…..the demands on our time are incredible even without book tours…..i have already apologized to pat a number of times for not getting this piece in to her…..in addition, I have just finished a piece for the hundred greatest thrillers of all time, and am on a rewrite of a serial thriller I’m doing a chapter in for charity with one more due in january…..then there’s the six advanced reading copies on my floor awaiting readings, talks scheduled at the local middle school (I never say no to schools) and also the senior citizens center (I don’t say no to seniors either) and more blurbs, with anywhere from 3-8 ARCs coming in each month (I’m a wicked slow reader)……finally, there’s my kid, and my increasing need for exercise, and a hobby or two, and the holidays, and oh, yes, the pressure and deadlines inherent in my new 4-books in 4-years contract……(write fast and steadily or prepare not to be paid…..

So look for me right here at my desk, and not on the road…..

I love traveling and meeting people and staying at **** hotels (the norm on tour), and eating at the restaurant of my choice, and cleaning out room service, and being treated as something of a celebrity……but, as it has been said many times in one form or another….WRITERS DON’T LIKE WRITING BOOKS, THEY LIKE HAVING WRITTEN THEM…..

Back to work

Have a great day…..

michael