Author: D.A. Bartley

Does writing fiction expand the way you experience the world?

When I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors how writing fiction has altered or expanded their own views of the world, I expected to get some good answers. What I got went well beyond that. From serving justice to understanding our humanness, my fellow Miss Demeanors answered in ways that are both deeply thoughtful and utterly thought provoking. Alexia: Hmmm, had to think hard about this one. I’m not sure writing fiction has changed the way I see the world. I write fiction because of the way I see the world. I see a world full of injustice, where the bad guy often wins and evil often triumphs over good. In the world, you can do the right thing and watch helplessly as cheaters get away with it. The world doesn’t care if you’re a good person, bad stuff happens to you regardless. Life’s not fair and you have no right to expect it to be.When I write fiction, I change the world by making it operate the way I want it to. Good wins, justice prevails, hurts are healed. Writing fiction keeps me from despair.  Tracee: I agree with Alexia that writing is a means of controlling the – or […]

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How does writing fiction change you?

No matter how much you may dislike your antagonist, you know he or she must have at least one redeeming quality. In fact, the more redeeming qualities the better because then your character becomes messier, more complicated, and fundamentally more human. My favorite writers, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, are the ones who force me to see the infinite shades of gray in life. I like being reminded that even the most odious person has a mother who loves them, and, quite possibly, a very cute dog. It’s this bit of writing characters day in and day out that has altered my real life the most. Now that I write fiction, I find myself paying attention to particularly beautiful turns of phrase. I notice elegant and unexpected descriptions of people, places, and things. Still, day to day, it’s thinking about people in my writing that has changed the way I think about real life the most. First, as I already mentioned above, there’s the so-true-that-it’s-rather-worn bit of advice that no bad guy thinks of himself as a bad guy. Beyond melodramas, most of us don’t find someone twirling his mustache as he ties his hapless victim to […]

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How does reading fiction change you?

Reading changes me. From the moment I start a new book until the moment I finish the last word, I feel like I’ve been on a trip. What I take away after the book is finished depends partly on what I brought with me before I started and partly what I learned along the way. Let me say that another way, when I delve deeply into a world I already know, I’m more likely to focus on nuances, when I’m looking into a world I’ve never seen before, I suspect I’m like a kid in a toy store who stares at the brightest and shiniest thing. And then there’s the entire spectrum in between being an expert and a novice. Still, when I close the book, I see people, places, and even my own self with new eyes. People. When I read a phrase the describes something I’ve seen a million times and does so in a fresh way, I’m a bit awe struck. It’s like a little bit of poetry snuck into prose. The best writers do it all the time. We know exactly what they’re talking about, and yet they show us the extraordinary in the everyday. The […]

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Interview with Richie Narvaez

Today we’re lucky to have Richie Narvaez whose latest book, Hipster Death Rattle, will be published one week from today. (Go ahead and pre-order right now. We’ll wait until you get back.) Richie is a former President of the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the award-winning writer of Roachkiller and Other Stories. This is your first novel. How does it feel? Richie: Scary! I am living in terror waiting for people read it. I mean, some people have read it and seem to have enjoyed it, so I’m hoping that at least maybe five or six other people out there in the world kind of like it. But, yeah, it’s scary. And weird. You know what I don’t worry about? The classic, wilting Amazon review that says, “too many f bombs,” which really isn’t so bad because that becomes a selling point for some people. What’s this new book about? Richie: That thing! Yes, well, Hipster Death Rattle is about real estate and gentrification. It’s about New York City and culture. And it’s about a machete-carrying serial killer. And a little about real estate and gentrification. The basic thrust is a slacker reporter gets involved in […]

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Reading, Writing, and Empathy

If reading fiction makes you more compassionate, what does writing fiction do? Tomorrow, we’ll have Richie Narvaez here to talk about his debut novel Hipster Death Rattle. Richie’s kindness when I attended my very first Mystery Writers of America meeting is what inspired my choice of a topic for this week. He was the president of the New York chapter of MWA at the time and was so gracious. If a guy who writes about killing people can be so thoughtful, surely, maybe there is something not only about reading that allows us to better understand–and respond–to how other people are feeling, but maybe writing it does, too. I couldn’t be a bigger fan, so please join us tomorrow for a wonderful discussion with Richie, a prolific short story writer and winner of a number of awards for his first book, Roachkiller and Other Stories. His latest, Hipster Death Rattle, will be published on March 11, 2019. By the way, not only is the title and cover of his novel crazy cool, but the book is fabulous. For those of you who don’t have the time to delve into the distinction between genre and literary fiction, or, quite frankly, just don’t want […]

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Staying the Course with New Year’s Resolutions

Week three is always the toughest for me. The first week, I glide on intention and hope. Week two? I can muscle through with determination, but by the time week three hits, temptations beckon. Whether or not I keep my resolutions—to do “x” or quit doing “y”—depends on how I get through that third week. So, I’m dedicating this Week Three of January 2019 to staying the course to victory. I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions since some time in high school. As a teenager, I made very serious ones. They were almost always too difficult for me (learn Russian, this year) and were usually inspired by who I thought I should be (lose ten pounds) rather than who I was. It probably goes with saying that I was rarely very successful. Still, I kept making resolutions diligently every year. No, I haven’t mastered Russian (ya ochen’ plokho govoryu po russki) and I don’t think I ever lost that ten pounds (I decided to stop weighing myself). In fact, it’s been years since I set those as goals at all because in the midst of all that falling short, I refined my process for resolution making. That’s the good thing about failure, it’s a great teacher.  I […]

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Suggestion 3: Don't Let the Demons Win

I’m sure there are writers who don’t suffer from self doubt. There may even be some writers who never write a terrible sentence, let alone a terrible paragraph, or a terrible entire middle of the book. If you are one of these writers: good for you!  I’m not.  A variety of demons live in my head. Some whisper, some shout, some just drone on and on. I used to fight with them, but I’ve discovered that simply identifying them for who they are and accepting what they say lets me get on with things. Somewhat counterintuitively, my acceptance has softened their voices. When Overwhelmed Ophelia (that’s what I call her) screeches there is no possible way I can make all the PoV changes I need to make before my deadline, I accept her anxiety because it’s realistic, but I remind myself that I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. Here’s what my wise (and very kind and supportive) fellow Miss Demeanors say on the subject of those pesky writing demons: Paula: Writing really is rewriting for me. Because for me, the first draft can be an angst-ridden slog. But once I’ve pounded out that first draft, I can relax a little and enjoy the process of making it better. Now I have […]

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Suggestion 2: Plan Your Re-write Attack

This is hard. Even writing about it is hard. I’m not going to lie. When you have eighty thousand words, give or take, and editorial pages critiquing what works and what doesn’t, making a plan can seem overwhelming. Don’t let it be.  For me, there are four basic steps to the rewriting process.  Step 1: Check the calendarCount the number of days you have until your deadline. Be honest about how many days in the week you can work. Is Sunday impossible for you? Take it out of the rotation. Is there a family wedding? Be honest about how much time you can sneak away from family obligations. There is no right answer, there is only a truthful one.  Step 2: Attack the big stuffBy “big stuff” I mean the major plot issues. In Blessed be the Wicked, my editor had wanted a minor story line to become more central. She was completely right. I ended up writing a handful of completely new chapters developing the relationship between Abish and her brother. I had always adored her brother and I knew Abish and her brother John were close, but none of that made it into the first version of the book. My editor was right to push […]

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Suggestion 1: Get honest feedback

If you’ve written the perfect book, congratulations! You’re done. If you’re like me, and you haven’t written the perfect book, here are my suggestions for managing feedback. You must take time to process, but you don’t have time to wallow. Remember: right now I have twenty-five days. Step 1: Take time to digest. When I get comments, I read through them once and then set them aside for a day or two. I let my subconscious process what’s there. I don’t judge myself or my editor. I just take it all in like a neutral observer. Step 2: Get detailed. After my self-imposed time out, I go through the comments again. This time, I underline sentences, circle words, scribble notes in the margins. I do this as many times as I have to in order to understand the critique. There may be big themes like pacing and PoV. There might be issues like the number of characters or the setting. Perhaps–maybe–your dialogue sounds stilted. Whatever is there in the comments, make sure you understand it, even if you don’t agree with it. Step 3: Decide what resonates with you. I happen to think my editor is right on over 90% of her suggestions. That leaves less than 10% to be ironed out. If that […]

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The Art of the Rewrite

 “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”  This oh-so-famous Ernest Hemingway quote has been on my mind lately. You write, polish, revise, and edit. Then, you pass on your manuscript to another human being. The moment of truth. If you have a publisher, this is when you get your comments. If you’re breaking into the business, it’s when you hear back from your beta-reader, freelance editor, or agent. No matter where you are in your writing journey, it’s the time when you see your book in the harsh light of day through someone else’s eyes. Why am I obsessing about the Hemingway quote right now? Because I just got comments back for Abish Taylor #2. I have exactly twenty-six (26!) days to incorporate my editor’s thoughtful critique into my manuscript. There aren’t any shortcuts. No app. No Ted Talk. No podcast. Just me, her critique, and my computer.  As I’ve been contemplating the art of the rewrite, I realized I do indeed have something resembling a process. It’s not perfect, and it certainly may not be for everyone, but because I’m in the middle of crunch time, I’ll share what helps me not only get through rewriting, but actually helps me (pretty much) enjoy the process. Feel free to take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. For those of you who are […]

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