Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend: An audio preview

The first two chapters of the audio version of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend are available for preview here. The book is narrated by Matthew Brown, which seems apropos considering my UK pseudonym is Matthew Green.

I was initially worried that I would not like the narrator, especially given that the story is told in the first person, but the team at Macmillan has done a tremendous job in casting the role. I couldn’t be more pleased.

And I will have a chance to listen to the whole book soon. Macmillan is producing advanced listening copies of the book for distribution to booksellers, reviewers and at Book Expo America, so I’ll be able to give the book a listen before it’s actually published.

This will be helpful considering I never read any my own novels after they have been published. It’s too painful. I cannot help but continue to revise sentences and word choice in my mind.

I live in a tragic state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

But I am able to listen to my books on audio and enjoy them without the inner critic sounding off in my head, which is important considering how easily I can forget what I’ve actually written. Recently I was asked a question about a minor character in my first book, Something Missing, and I could barely remember who the character was or what role her served in the story.

It was a sign that it was time to give the audio version of Something Missing a listen again. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it is to realize that a reader has more knowledge about your novel than you do.

The many covers of SOMETHING MISSING

By reader request, the following are the various covers of my first novel, Something Missing. The book’s foreign rights were also purchased in Russia and two other countries, but I have yet to see the cover art for these yet.


US trade paperback and large print editions:

Japanese edition:

Korean edition (retitled THE VERY GOOD THIEF):

Germany edition (retitled THE GOOD THEIF):

US audiobook:

SOMETHING MISSING: The Korean edition

My South Korean editor contacted me last night to inform  me that my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING, was published in Korea a couple weeks ago and has been receiving very positive reviews in the press.

It’s so odd and so thrilling to think that my story, which published in the US in 2009, is now being read by people on the other side of the world. 

SOMETHING MISSING was sold to half a dozen foreign publishers, but the only translation that I have seen thus far is the German version, which is on my bookshelf.  My Korean editor informs me that a copy should arrive at my home soon, but until then, she sent along an image of the cover art.

It’s quite interesting.  Nothing like anything I would have expected.


A sequel to Something Missing: Martin Railsback, FBI tactical operations double agent

A reader sent me this NPR story about the FBI’s tactical operations team. For those of you who have read Something Missing, you’ll understand when I say that the story is so eerily reminiscent of Martin Railsback, the book’s protagonist, that I’m wondering if I worked for the FBI in a previous life.

something missing A few excerpts from the story:

When some people go away this summer, they may have no idea that somebody dropped by their house while they were gone. Hundreds of times each year, teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigation slip into houses and office buildings. Armed with a judges warrant, they seek information or plant bugs, and if all goes well, sneak away.

There are about 70 agents on about seven different teams. And these teams spend weeks watching the target to see who goes in, to see if there are any dogs. In the case of dogs, they will show a photograph of the dog to a veterinarian who is on contract. And the veterinarian, based on the weight of the dog and the type of dog, will prescribe just the right amount of tranquilizer and the agents will use a dart gun and shoot the tranquilizer into the dog. And then at the end of the break in...

They each have a specialty. One will just watch to see if anybody is coming once they’re in. One will take photographs of what the premises is like when they go in. If they have to move a chair, lets say, they put a tape where the chair was and then they move it back.

One of the most fun parts of writing Something Missing was the idea that I was inventing a new career. Legal or otherwise, Martin was making a living doing something that I was thought was completely plausible and yet, to my knowledge, never previously attempted.

Apparently the FBI was one step ahead of me.

But perhaps I have found an answer to the hundred of requests for a sequel to Something Missing.

Maybe Martin could bring his talents to the FBI tactical operations team.

As an outside consultant, perhaps, critical of the wasteful nature of their large teams and overly complex methodology.

Or maybe as an FBI double agent, exposing a corrupt tactical operations team by using his own similar but superior tactics against them.

Martin Railsback, the FBI watchdog.

To be perfectly honest, it’s probably not the kind of book that I could write.  Thrillers like the books I have just described are probably not in my wheelhouse.

A sequel to Something Missing (undoubtedly titled Something Found) would invariably deal with Martin’s struggle to relinquish his criminal career in order to bring love and family into his life.

But that book has yet to speak to me. It may never speak to me.

But imagining Martin Railsback going to battle with a team of FBI agents is certainly fun to imagine.

A lot of great news, but the vomit trumps it all

A few bits of great news: My fifth graders performed Shakespeare’s Henry V last night, using the original Old English, and did a masterful job.

Two friends and colleagues turned lyrics that I wrote into an actual song, the first time anything that I have written has been set to music, and it sounded terrific.

I received some potentially excellent news in terms of the possibility of Something Missing being made into a film.  In fact, I read a script and liked it a lot.

But all of these wonderful moments from yesterday pale in comparison to what happened just before I left for my student’s play:

My daughter, suffering from a nasty stomach bug, threw up vast quantities of strawberries, blueberries and milk all over the kitchen floor, managing to splash my shoes in the process, and I cleaned it up.

This was a big deal for me. I do not handle vomit well. In fact, the first rule that I tell my students on the first day of school is “No throwing up in the classroom.”

I explain that even if they just think they might vomit, they are to leap from their chair and run as fast as possible to the hallway, and if possible, the bathroom.

Anywhere but the classroom, because I do not handle vomit well.

And yet I managed to watch my daughter throw up all over the floor, and then, while my wife cleaned up the kid, I managed to clean up the floor without much trouble.

This is big for me.

Perhaps parents have a natural immunity to their own child’s vomit?

Maybe my daughter’s vomit is especially benign?

Or could it simply be that I am finally toughening up?

Lessons from Irving and Franzen

A number of interesting thoughts from John Irving and Jonathan Franzen from their appearance at The Connecticut Forum. John Irving’s favorite word is penis, and he claims it to be a very useful word when needing to cut through the chatter of an airport terminal in order to locate your lost child.

Jonathan Franzen credits Harriet the Spy as his first formative novel. This was unexpected.


John Irving believes that all novelists should write about what they fear the most.

In terms of my position on these matters:

I have no favorite word but now feel foolish for not having one. I shall begin searching immediately.

My first formative novel was A Wrinkle in Time.


In terms of writing what I fear most, my books would probably fall into these categories:

Something Missing: Fear of never being noticed

Unexpectedly, Milo: Fear of never being accepted

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend: Fear of not existing

Damn. That was much easier than I had hoped.

Does knowing the author make the book better?

I once wrote:

A book talk places the author in the position of salesperson. He can sell the product or sell himself. I believe the latter to be always preferable.

I have always believed that if I can offer an audience some insight about my life and a few laughs along the way, they will be more likely to read my book and like my book than if I had spent my time touting the book itself.

As a result, my book talks and speaking engagements tend to be storytelling sessions that do not focus so much on my books as they do on my life.

But I’ve often wondered if this is the best way to sell a book. While my choice of strategy is hardly new, I have noted over the years that some of the more prolific and best selling authors spend a great deal of time reading from their books while revealing little about themselves.

As a reader and audience member, I’ve wondered:

Am I the only person who wants to know more about the author than the book he or she is hocking?

NPR reported on a story that seems to support my position.

In an effort to get more attention for their band, record label Luaka Bop asked writer Chuck Klosterman to write a bio for the band Delicate Steve sight unseen.

Delicate-Steve The label’s President, Yale Evelev, wanted something different that would grab the music industries attention and get people to actually read it.

"I thought, since I'm really tired of bios for bands, wouldn't it be great just to tell Chuck to write whatever the hell he wanted as a bio for the band? So I wrote him an email and I said, 'Chuck, would you do a bio for Delicate Steve? You don't have to talk to the band and you don't even have to hear the record.' He wrote me back: 'I don't do bios.' And then, two minutes later, he wrote back again: 'Wait a minute. Do you mean I don't have to talk to the band or listen to the record? That's AWESOME! OK, I'll do it!'"

It worked.  NPR reporter Franne Kelley received the press release, noted the unusual bio of the band, and decided to check out the band.

The result was this story, which garnered Delicate Steve a great deal of free publicity.

Kelley writes:

“One of the reasons Klosterman was able to pull this off in the first place is that we NEED stories about music, and those stories really do change how we hear the music.”

The research backs up her claim.

Michael Beckerman, chair of the music department at NYU, has done research on this very subject.

From the NPR story:

Five years ago, he invited a group of people to listen to a piece of music in a church in Germany. He gave program notes to half of the audience that told them the piece they were about to hear was written in a concentration camp, by a composer who was sent to Auschwitz only days later, where he died. He told the other half nothing other than the composer's name.

"Afterwards," Beckerman says, "we interviewed everybody. And the people who didn't get program notes thought it was sort of a sweet, lovely, folksy, Eastern European piece. And the people who got program notes almost uniformly tended to understand it at as one of the great tragic statements of the century."

It would seem that knowledge of a piece of music changes the listeners opinion of it.

I would argue that the same holds true for books. Knowing the author changes the way that a reader views a story.

Liking the author as a person will go a long way in helping a reader enjoy a book.

While participating in an online discussion about my first book, Something Missing, a book rep for a major publisher said that while she initially liked it a great deal when it was published in 2009, she admitted that knowing me personally has changed the way she views my work.

Bookmark Blog_Something Missing I assume it changed for the better, but I was afraid to ask.

But the same has held true for me. Since publishing Something Missing, I have met a great many authors and gotten to know a few very well. In each instance, I have found that the way that I read their work has changed as I have gotten to know them on a more personal level. When I know an author, his or her books tend to take on more subtlety and nuance, and I am better able to detect those connections that the novels make to the real world.

And in every instance, I find myself liking the book more.

But I still wonder if I am in the minority. When I am delivering a book talk, should I be pitching product or person?

If a reader knows me and likes me and becomes interested in my life story, how could he or she not want to read my books?


Feminine hygiene products meet SOMETHING MISSING

Ever think that your feminine hygiene product could use a little more pizazz?

Kotex did, and that’s why they are sponsoring a design contest that allows you to “Make your Mark on the Future of Feminine Protection.”

I opted to design a pad, though I could have restyled “a period stash” or created an “inspiration board” as well. 

Unsure what either of these things are, I went with the pad. 

And while I was at it, I thought I’d throw in a little bit self promotion as well.

I think my publicist would be proud. 

Can you imagine if Kotex contest judge and “fashion visionary”  Patricia Field chose my pad design out of the millions she will surely receive?

Has there ever been a more captive audience?


Know thyself, or just read what festival organizers have to say about you instead

My appearance at the upcoming Connecticut Book Festival has been finalized for those interested in attending.  I will be speaking on Sunday from 10:00-11:00 AM at the University of Connecticut Greater Hartford Campus. 

I’ll then be signing books from 11:00 AM -12:00 PM.

More details to follow, including the schedules for the other authors appearing. 

In examining the The Connecticut Book Festival’s author website this evening, I notice that it describes me as:

“A writer and teacher who tends to deal with the quirky and/or rebellious individual, forced up against staid society.”

It’s so interesting (and enlightening) to hear someone else’s interpretation of my work.  While this description may not fit my upcoming book, it certainly applies to my first two books, as well as my currently unpublished novel (CHICKEN SHACK). 

And yet, had you asked me to describe some of the common themes throughout my books, I’m not sure if I would have said anything like this.

And yet if I were to ask my friends to describe some of the ideas that are important to me, the rejection of formality, convention and meaningless tradition would probably top the list.

The mind works in mysterious ways indeed. 

The headline should read: 99-year old Japanese poet finally gets off her ass

I know there are people who will hear about the 99-year old Japanese woman whose self-published book of poetry has become a bestseller and think that this is a heartwarming and inspiring story. Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

I guess that when you sell 1.5 million copies of any book (and particularly poetry), it would warm any heart.

But I can’t help but see this as a tragic waste. The woman did not begin writing until she was 92 years old, and while “better late than never” certainly seems to apply here, imagine what she might have been capable of had she begun writing earlier.

I’m not surprised that one of the messages in her poems is "Don't try too hard."

No kidding.

And please don’t try to tell me that she required 96 years of life in order to gain the experience and wisdom needed to write her poetry. The argument that a writer needs a certain degree of life experience before he or she can write successfully may have some truth to it (though I doubt it), but 92 years seems like a long enough time for anyone to begin writing.

Incidentally, my boss told me when I was 34 that I could not publish a book before the age of 40, citing that time-worn experience argument.

Something Missing was published when I was 37.

I often say that the only reason I wrote the book was for spite.

Avoid ambiguity in the demise of a character

I don’t mind endings that make you wonder what might happen to a character had another scene been written or filmed. Both Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo end with the protagonist’s future in doubt. But at least you know that both protagonists will have a future.

What I despise are endings in which the existence of the protagonist in a subsequent scene is in doubt.

This is why the last episode of The Sopranos annoyed me.

Either kill Tony or don’t. Don’t avoid taking a position on the matter by creating some multi-layered scene that might be interpreted as Tony’s eminent death but might not.

This was a mobster show. Whack the guy or don’t.

This is why I didn’t like the ending to The Wrestler.

Yes, it’s very likely that the viewer is meant to assume that Randy dies at the end of the film, but again, his fate is ultimately left to interpretation.

Does he suffer another heart attack as he dives off the top ropes?

Possibly. Probably.

But aren’t there medical personnel on hand?

Didn’t he survive his first heart attack?

Kill him or don’t.

Ambiguity in the possible death of a character is an act of cowardice on the writer’s part.

The thing I do best

I was recently asked by an editor to describe my strengths as a writer, and after some fumbling about, I had to admit that I did not know. It’s a question that I’ve asked myself over the years, since so much of my success seems accidental.

I do not know the plot of any of my stories before I begin writing. Instead I choose a character and a place to begin and start tapping keys. While a story eventually emerges, it’s hard for me to take any credit since so many parts of my stories reveal themselves to me through the process of writing.

My books are said to be funny, but I never make any overt attempts at humor. In fact, when readers first told me that Something Missing was funny, I thought that they weren't reading carefully enough.

Even the occasionally clever turn-of-phrase is often stumbled upon as my finger connect with keys.

As a result, I’ve often wondered about what allows me to be successful as an author.  Is it simply persistence and blind luck, or is there something specific that I do that makes my stories successful.

Then I saw a quote last week by author Ethan Canin that summed up what I think I do best.

Canin said:

Don't write about a character. Become that character, and then write your story.

This is what I do well. This is how I write.

Inhabit the Character

Rather than envisioning a story, complete with characters, setting, conflict and themes, I simply imagine a character. I enter that character’s mind. I become that character, and then I begin writing.

As I wrote one of the final and most pivotal scenes of Something Missing, in which Martin climbs a set of stairs, prepared to meet his fate, I was inside Martin’s head, climbing those stairs with him, unsure of how the encounter would end. As the events unfolded for Martin, they unfolded for me as well, unexpected and surprising, because in that moment, I was Martin.

As I wrote the opening chapter to Unexpectedly, Milo and the word conflagration popped into Milo’s head, it popped into mine as well, without a hint of forethought or planning. Milo’s compulsions, a critical aspect of the book, came as a surprise for me, and they were delivered to me in the same way that Milo experiences his compulsions, suddenly and unexpectedly, because in that moment, I was Milo.

That is what I do well, and that, I believe, is why my writing career has taken off. For reasons that I cannot explain, I can occupy the mind of my characters with surprising effectiveness.

I am not the most talented writer. I have many weaknesses, some of which my agent and editor effectively conceal from the general public, and some that still find their way through into my stories. I am not the finest wordsmith, nor is my prose terribly sparkling.

But I can become the character, and then I can write his story.

That is what I do best.

Is it time for product placement in fiction?

A month after my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING, hit the store shelves, I began receiving the occasional but persistent email from readers asking and oftentimes accusing me of having made product placement deals during the writing of my book. It would seem that my frequent use of specific brand names in the book had struck a nerve and caused them to wonder why an author would choose to be so specific. Clearly, they had not read anything by Stieg Larsson.

I answered those emails with the assurance that my attention to detail and use of brand names was only an attempt to paint the clearest picture possible in my reader’s mind. But I also told readers that if Subaru had wanted to pay me for my mention of my protagonist’s Outback, I would not have complained.

A year later, at my first author talk for UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, a reader asked if I had ever considered contacting Smucker’s and working out an endorsement deal with them. The protagonist of that book, Milo, is saddled with the compulsive need to open jars of Smucker’s grape jelly, and so this particular brand of jelly is featured prominently in the book.

Again, I told the reader that the use of the brand name was not intended to garner any corporate attention or an advertising windfall, though I also admitted that it would have been a great idea had I thought of it soon enough.

The Wall Street Journal created quite a kerfuffle with a piece suggesting that it won’t be long before ads find their way into e-books.

With e-reader prices dropping like a stone and major tech players jumping into the book retail business, what room is left for publishers’ profits? The surprising answer: ads. They’re coming soon to a book near you.

I'm still reading books the old fashioned way, so I can't say for sure how I feel about the possibility of ads on an e-reader, but I can assure you that I would hate to see them on the pages of a pulp-and-ink book.

However, product placement might be a different story.

While I can’t imagine striking deals with companies before or during the writing of a book, I find myself wondering what would be wrong with my agent contacting companies like Subaru or Smuckers after the fact and attempting to make a deal?

If UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO is made into a film (it's currently optioned for film at this time), the producers will undoubtedly attempt to do the same, and even change the brand of jelly if necessary in order to make a profit.

Why shouldn’t authors also cash in when they can?

As I think about this idea, I find myself wondering if deals could also be struck during the writing of a book as well?

Consider this:

I am writing UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO. I decide that one of Milo’s compulsions will be the need to open jars of jelly in order to release the pressurized seals on the lid. I grew up eating Smucker's grape jelly, so this is the brand that I am inclined to use, but I contact my agent and inform her that jelly will be playing an important role in my next book, appearing multiple times and always in a favorable light. “I’m inclined to use Smuckers,” I tell her, “but the actual brand name is unimportant, so if you can make a product placement deal with a jelly company, go for it.”

Is there a problem with this?

Naturally, there would be a concern that an author might write a book with the sole purpose of product placement, or that the proliferation of product placement might somehow erode the creative process and bastardize stories, but wouldn’t those books stick out like sore thumbs?

Wouldn’t these authors be spurned as sell-outs?

Wouldn’t these stories ultimately be ignored?

Companies investing in literary product placement would want these books to garner favorable reviews and sell well, and as such, the use of product placement would need to be subtle and appear as a natural part of the story anyway. Over-the-top, ham-handed product placement would do these companies no good.

A brand of jelly was predestined to appear in UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, and if choice of brand name is arbitrary, why not make some money in the process?

I’m not entirely sold on the idea yet, but as a writer who frequently mentions brand names as a means of being specific, the idea of product placement and the profits that it might garner has a certain appeal to me.

Stieg Larsson’s books could have brought in a fortune on product placement deals.

Another fortune, that is.

An idiot with a difficult name

A surprisingly large piece about me and the book appeared in the New London Day on Sunday. There was a photo of my book on the front page of the paper and a reference to the story, which was a full page spread on the front page of the Daybreak section. Reading an article about yourself is a little surreal. You speak to someone for an hour or two and then wait to see what the person found interesting.  It also provides some insight into your own character, as seen through the eyes of another, significantly less biased individual.

For example, in this particular article, I refer to myself as stupid and an idiot.

I’m an excellent self-promoter. Don’t you think?

I’d like to think that these self-referential put-downs signal a lack of pretension and a willingness to be self-deprecating and honest, but perhaps it just means that I was correct in my assessment of my mental faculties.

I’m probably just an idiot.

The writer is kind enough to assert that I have a “self-critical” disposition.  This is probably true, but it doesn’t mean that I am any less of an idiot at times.

Oh, it’s also interesting to note that the S was left off my name once in the article, a depressingly common occurrence in my life.

Does this happen to everyone whose name ends with S?

Or perhaps only those in which the S appears to make a word plural?

Probably only when Dicks can become Dick. Right?

Like my name wasn’t tough enough to start.

Contest update

I now have three outstanding submissions to my biography contest, and there are at least two more being written at this time.  In case you first the original post announcing the contest, here are the important things to know:

1.  I need a new author bio and am asking readers to write one for me. 

2.  I am offering fabulous prizes to the person chosen as the winner.  These prizes include signed copies of both my books (SOMETHING MISSING and UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO), as well as the galley of my third book, once the book is completed, sold and the galley is produced.  In addition, I will also send you a signed copy of the German version of SOMETHING MISSING, which was re-titled THE GOOD THEIF because of an arcane German law, and of which I have more than a few copies.

3.  The deadline for submissions is Friday, August 13.

4.  Send all submissions and any questions you have for me to  I am willing to answer any and all questions pertaining to my biography in order to assist in your submission.

5.  Please keep submissions under 250 words.

6.  You may enter as many times as you’d like. 

In looking through the submissions thus far (one from a friend and two from people who I have never met), one thing has become apparent:

I am not the complex, multi-faceted Renaissance man who I thought myself to be.  While each submission is written in a unique style and do not resemble one another in the slightest, they all say basically the same things about me as a person.  Not just the basic facts about my family and my hobbies and my books, but they are also eerily similar in describing those ethereal elements and subtle nuances that make up my essential character.

Apparently, I’m a lot more transparent than I had once imagined. 

Oh well.

I hope you’ll consider entering the contest.  If all works out well, I will be submitting the winning entry to my publisher as my official bio, though I may take some literary license if necessary.

But even if my publicist rejects the entry, which I don’t think will happen, this has already been an interesting exercise in self-discovery, as disappointing and humbling as it may be.

And I’ll get rid of another one of those German editions of SOMETHING MISSING. 

Honestly, what am I expected to do with six copies of the damn thing?

A contest! Everyone loves a contest! And there are fabulous prizes, too!

Okay, I have a contest, and hopefully enough of my readers will be interested to make it worthwhile.

On August 25, I will be appearing at WORD in Brooklyn, NY as part of my book tour for UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO.  As part of the promotion for the event, WORD has created a webpage that provides the details about the appearance

Included on WORD’s website is a short bio of myself, which was written almost two years ago when the promotion for SOMETHING MISSING was just beginning.  In looking at the bio now, it’s looking a little old and decrepit.

Here is how it currently reads: 

MATTHEW DICKS is the author of Something Missing. He teaches elementary school and in 2005 was named West Hartford’s Teacher of the Year. He also owns and operates a DJ company that performs at weddings throughout Connecticut when he isn’t shaping the minds of his class of fifth-graders. He lives in Newington, CT, with his wife; baby daughter, Clara; Lhasa Apso, Kaleigh; and two enormous, slightly insane house cats, Jack and Owen. For more information, please visit Matthew’s website at:, and check out his blog at:

Please note:

The bio mentions Jack, a cat who sadly passed away last summer.

It mentions the name of my dog, my cat and my daughter, but not my wife.

It does not mention UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO at all.

I’m thinking it’s time for a refresh.

This is where you come in. 

Write a brand new bio for me.  Whether you are my best friend or a reader of my books who I have yet to meet, take a stab at crafting a new biography for use in my promotional material.  Include any information that you feel is pertinent.  Be creative.  Be unique.  Use this blog as a source of information about me, as well as any other sources that you may find online.  I have been interviewed by a number of new outlets and you should be able to find lots of odd bits and bytes about me if you look hard enough.  Feel free to ask me questions through email if you require more information.  The more originality, the better. 

If I love your submission, you win!  And if I really love it, I will submit it to my publicist for use as my new bio.  No promises.  I may take the liberty of editing your work a bit, and I may be tempted to combine two or three bios into one uber-bio, but I will attempt to use as much or all of the winner’s work as possible, and I will give you full credit for your work here on the blog.  

Oh, and of course, there are prizes. 

If your bio is chosen as the winner, I will send you signed copies of both my books (SOMETHING MISSING and UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO), as well as the galley to my third book, once the book is completed, sold and the galley is produced.  In addition, I will also send you a signed copy of the German version of SOMETHING MISSING, which was re titled THE GOOD THEIF because of an arcane German law, and of which I have more than a few copies. 

Good enough to get you to participate?  I hope so!

Here are the details:

The contest begins today and ends on Friday, August 13. 

Send all submissions and any questions you have for me to

Please keep submissions under 250 words.

You may enter as many times as you’d like.  Send a sappy entry, a silly entry, a serious entry and a sublime entry.  Quadruple your odds of winning!

Please refrain from any profanity in the bio.  Not that you ever would. 

And I think that’s it. 

Any questions?  Please post here.

Otherwise, get to work!  Be original.  Be amusing.  Be informative.  Be unique.  I want a bio that tells a reader who I am but also stands apart from the standard author bio.  So kooky, quirky and utterly bizarre might be just up my alley!

Now get writing!

How to write like a simpleton

One of the joyous aspects of becoming a published author has been watching people in my life take a crack at writing as well. If that idiot can do it, maybe I can do it.

I agree.

Today was an especially busy day in this regard.

In the span of three hours, I met with a friend about a novel that she is writing, spoke over the phone to a friend about the YA novel that he is now revising, and reviewed a possible Op-Ed piece for another friend via email.

Quite a bit of writing suddenly going on around me.

In discussing my friend’s novel, she explained to me that one of her struggles has been with deciding upon a theme of her book. She has several excellent, insightful ideas in this regard, and she’s not sure in which direction to take her story. Each of her choices are broad, complex and worthy of a novel, but in terms of making a decision, I was little help.

I was forced to explain to her that I am a simpleton when it comes to these things as literary as theme.

Do each of my novels have a theme or themes? Of course.

But did I have any idea what those themes were as I began writing?

No way. I was clueless.

I am simply a slave to story. My focus is upon character and action. Nothing more. So far, it has seemed to work out well.

SOMETHING MISSING is the story of Martin Railsback. When I wrote the book, I had no thought about what overarching themes my novel might contain. I simply followed Martin through the course of a few weeks, documenting his actions and recording his words and his thoughts. I didn’t even know that Martin was obsessive-compulsive until other people began reading the manuscript and commenting on his condition. I just thought he was just being Martin. Any theme that ultimately arose in the book was simply a function of the character and his story, and it had nothing to do with any predetermined plan on my part. I take no credit.

UNEPXECTEDLY, MILO is the story of Milo Slade. When I began the book, I thought that I was writing a novel about the struggles of separation and divorce, but once again, I was wrong. I was writing about Milo Slade.  Nothing more. And his story veered off in a decidedly different direction than what I had originally envisioned. The themes that ultimately arose from his story were far more complex and satisfying than what I had originally considered, and once again, they were unintended and unplanned.

When I began my still unpublished novel CHICKEN SHACK, I wanted to write a book about independence, inner strength, and the ability to survive and thrive despite the abandonment of family and friends. Then my wife and agent read the first three chapters of the manuscript and both commented on how much they liked the fact that I was writing about the importance of family, and specifically about the relationship between brothers. I thought that they were both crazy. My protagonist, Wyatt Salem, and his brother, Jeremy, could not be any more different, and reconciliation between the two of them seemed impossible. But by the time I finished writing Wyatt’s story, I had to admit that Elysha and Taryn had been correct. It was a story about family, and specifically, a story about brothers. And oddly enough, they knew it before me.

I explained to my friend that the last thing I think about when I am writing is theme and suggested that she do the same. My job is to focus all of my attention on the characters and simply watch as their story unfolds, attempting to document as much of it as possible, as accurately as possible.  In describing this process, I explained the origins of the most recent chapter of my current manuscript, one that she particularly enjoyed. My thought process went something like this:

I need a bully in this story. Yeah. A bully. Someone to be mean to Max.  And I think I’ll have that confrontation take place in a bathroom. Yeah. A bully in a bathroom. Let’s see what happens.

That was it. My fingers began striking keys and I was off. A few thousand words later, the chapter was done.  Character, action, dialogue, done.

I know. I sound like an idiot. But it’s how I work.

And while I’m beginning see a possible theme emerge in this new book, I’ve only written about ten thousand words so far. There’s no telling what might happen next. To assume anything at this point would be foolish.

So I’ll do what I have done for each of the previous books. I’ll be a slave to the story, worrying about nothing else but my characters and the things that they say and think and do. When the manuscript is finished, I will read it, and with luck, certain themes will become evident to me. As I revise, I’ll look to highlight and strengthen these emerging themes, but their origins will be entirely organic, born not from me but from the story.

Story dictates theme, at least for me. Theme never dictates story.

I think that when theme dictates story, the author often finds himself with a club in his hand, battering the head of the reader with his own thoughts and ideas rather than spinning out the story that he was supposed to write in the first place.

Either that or I’m just not clever enough to start with a theme.