Redirect to Lisa Ahn’s Tales of Quirk & Wonder

Romans Building a Fort at Mancenion, by Ford Madox Brown

Romans Building a Fort at Mancenion, by Ford Madox Brown

I’m very happy today to be guest posting at my friend Lisa Ahn’s beautiful blog, Tales of Quirk and Wonder. I’m discussing my world-building techniques for her Be Inspired series. Lisa and I kept crossing paths as commenters on our favorite writing blogs, including Writer Unboxed. I always found her comments insightful. At about the same time she began gracing my blog with wit and wisdom, I started following her blog, and immediately wondered why it had taken me so long. Her posts are not just witty and wise, they are gorgeously written. Her Wing-Feather Fables are moving and thought-provoking. Do yourself a favor while you’re over there, and dig back into the gems in her archives. You will not be disappointed! So what are you waiting for? Head on over!

Appreciation for Betas (or Readers Rock!)

Question: If a book falls in the forest and no one’s there to read it, does it still stink?

Answer: Most likely.

Reading Girl on a Sofa, by Isaac Israels (1920)

Perverse Process: I know I’ve been lucky. I’ve had fantastic beta-readers throughout my journey. Not everyone has such good fortune. In my role as a moderator for the Writer Unboxed online community, I see it often. Writers are looking for readers. For what is a story without someone to tell it to? The problems come when writers seek said readers too early. No reader deserves to slog through first draft material. And let’s face it, early drafts typically suck. And yet novice writers almost always subject some poor undeserving reader (usually a close friend or a relative) to work that’s not ready to be shown. It’s part of the process. I did it too.

How those early readers of your amateur drivel handle their role can be critical, especially if the writer is sensitive, emotional or has a fragile ego. Feel free to laugh. Of course it’s a joke. (For those who aren’t writers and didn’t get it: We’re ALL sensitive, emotional, fragile souls—why else would we spend most of our waking hours exploring the emotions of people we’ve made up and then hope that others will connect with what we’ve found?)

Honesty Ain’t Easy: I said I’ve been lucky and this includes my draw of early beta-readers. When I finished my first draft, I didn’t belong to any critique groups and I didn’t really know any other writers. And yet some friends and family kindly offered to forge into the murk. A few gave up. A few avoided me afterward. A few pretended it had never happened (“Manuscript? What manuscript?”). But several brave souls either made it through or had the courage to tell me they’d stopped reading and why. To the reader, those who made it through were kind and insightful in telling me it needed work. But more importantly they also showed me there was promise. I continued to work because they kindled hope. It was a special gift.

B-Company Betas: Over the course of seeking a second round of betas, I had no idea how much farther I had to go, and for that I am grateful. After learning there was work to be done, I set about studying the craft and I joined an online writing community. Then I tackled revisions. I did fare much better with the next round of betas (as did they—the work was evidently and necessarily much more palatable). I learned from the first group that I might actually have something. From this next group I started to gain some insight into genuine reader expectations, as well as a bit of traction and enthusiasm for continuing to work (rather than just hoping everyone would say they loved it). I learned something unique from each reader in Company B. They were critical not just to moving forward, but to knowing I could improve it and being excited about it.

Brass Tacks Betas: I’ve written about how fortunate I feel to have connected with my editor/mentor Cathy over on WU (read it here if you haven’t). Because of Cathy and my evolution as a writer, the books all underwent significant revision before this next group of betas, particularly book one. Now we were starting to make them into what felt more like real books. Among the next wave of readers to hit the beaches were my writer friends. Now I was getting real critique (of the variety many of you receive in critique groups as you move along). Telling rather than showing, poor grammar mechanics, adverbs in dialog tags, and just plain clunky writing were all noted and polished.

Right Reader Revelations: After the Brass Tacks round of readers, I did another total rewrite and went into submissions for the second time. Throughout the process I’d been zeroing in on my Right Reader, and providentially I found several readers at this point to fit the bill (females—often younger/new adult females—who are voracious readers and favor epics with romantic elements). Now I felt like I was swinging for the fences. Although the submissions did not yield an agent, I did get a few requests for pages and some encouraging feedback. So no home run. However, the feedback I was receiving from the Right Reader betas made it clear I was solidly connecting with the ball. I felt more certain than ever that this was a story that would find an audience.

Inspirational Beta: One of the Right Reader betas actually inspired this post. She’s an acquaintance I see a few times per year. Several months ago we got to talking at a party about our mutual love of Hunger Games and George RR Martin and she asked if she could read. I sent her book one, but rarely saw her afterward and only in mixed company. All I really knew was that after each of the first two books, she requested the next. What more could I ask? I just ran into her the other night at a chamber of commerce meeting. During the keynote presentation she saw me outside the dining hall at the bar (where else?). Her smile would’ve been enough, but she ran over and gave me a hug, and gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received: “I can’t wait until these books are popular so I can tell everyone I read them first.” I’m still smiling about it.

Let a Beta Be: If you’ve never used beta readers before, a bit of advice (besides striving to offer them work that’s ready to be read). Offer as few guidelines as possible. I usually say something like, “Just read it for flow and for feedback I’ll happily take whatever you’re comfortable giving, even general feelings.” Every beta reader I’ve had has given me something different.

I’ve had betas point out plot inconsistencies, help me change a few names, offer suggestion to keep elements in greater suspense. Betas have helped me make my MCs more likeable and my antagonists more despicable. I’ve even had a former teacher who did a complete line edit of the entire trilogy, meticulously marking and noting every single typo and grammar error (thanks Aunt Cindy!). A few have mostly offered enthusiastic encouragement—which is vitally important, believe me!

The Road Goes (Ever?) On: I’m not sure what will happen with the trilogy, but I am absolutely certain the books are vastly improved and that they continue to be a viable possibility because of my beta readers. I’m thinking most have honestly enjoyed being a part of the process. I’ve been amazed by the uniqueness of their perspectives and I love the process of distilling their various opinions to plot a course forward. I dare say a few of the earliest readers would be a bit shocked by what the books have become.

Couldn’t Builda Betta’ Beta Team: In the interest of personally and publicly showing my gratitude, here is a list of my fabulous Team Beta (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone—forgive me if I have!): Dan Brake, Marsha Carroll, Tawn Horton, and Amy Murray (Early Readers); Cindy Deane, Jenn Gardner,  and Colleen Murray (B-Company readers); Kim Bullock, Valerie Chandler, and Heather Reid (my Brass Tacks/Writer Team, aka The WU Mod Squad); Keaghan Cronin, Laura Kieda, Eileen Kochanny, and Deb Wagner (Team Right Reader). And last but oh-so-importantly, my lovely wife Maureen Donnelly Culp, who inspires and supports me every day, and without whom the trilogy would not exist.

I cannot thank you all enough for your gift. Whatever comes of the trilogy, you have not only helped to improve my manuscripts, you’ve made me a better writer and have brightened my life.

Your turn. Have you been a beta reader or had beta readers for your work? How has it affected you?

Carving My Niche

My Hue & Cry: Many of you reading have come to know me as a member of your online writing community. I’ve often written about how important community has become to my writing journey. I’m not afraid to use the word tribe when describing those I’ve connected with in the writing world. I don’t know quite where I’d be without the help and support of my tribe. Last week I struggled, and admitted to it in this space. The outpouring I received in response to my call was astonishing and humbling. It made me realize not only how much I’ve grown to enjoy this form of communication but how nourishing it is to my life as an artist. In our tribe, we take care of our own.  

Orange Appled: Even with my new appreciation for blogging, questions linger. One of the reasons I resisted blogging for so long was my belief that writers’ blogs had very little to do with cultivating a reading audience or finding one’s Right Readers. I felt as though the two—my future readers and my writing community—were a bit like apples and oranges: both desirable but entirely different. This seemed particularly true because my genre, historical fantasy, and my tribe’s primary home base, Writer Unboxed, seemed to have little in common. But it seems like the distinction is blurring over time. I’ve met more fantasy writers in WU than I would’ve dreamed possible two years ago, primarily though the WU facebook group.

Hitherto: While I was writing my trilogy, I had absolutely no idea who would read it—who my Right Readers might end up being. It might not be fair or wise, but I’ll admit I consider it a point of pride that I didn’t try to gauge the marketplace while I wrote it. I’m not knocking those who can find the pulse of the market and then tap into their creativity to serve it. But I don’t think the approach would work for me. For me a writing project has to start with passion, and I rarely feel passionate about anything in mainstream culture. I can’t recall the last bestseller I read or the last time I bought any music from a popular top twenty list, and I very rarely go to movies. But I know I’m not alone in the things I love.

An Elan: (élannoun \ā-ˈläⁿ\ Ardor inspired by passion or enthusiasm.) One of the amazing things about the internet is its diversity. It may sound bass-ackward,  but I believe that very diversity can actually be a unifying force. David Byrne of the Talking Heads recently commented on the fragmentation of music through the diversity of satellite radio and the internet. He said, “It makes you a member of a tribe. And your taste in music ties you all together. That need is almost more important than the music itself.”   

In almost any artistic niche, one can become a member of a community. Through shared passion tribes are born. Just as with my tribe (we are all passionate about our writing), so too are there tribes built around epic fantasy, midcentury modern décor, and Lady Gaga, to name three of a million-plus unifying passions. Having an élan can be delicious, but sharing it only makes it all the more enchanting. And today any élan, no matter how unique, can be a shared experience.   

Seekers Who Are Lovers: For the sake of illustration, I’ll share one of my musical élans. I love The Cocteau Twins. I clearly remember the first time I heard their music playing in a funky little college record store (remember record stores?) in the late 80’s. It was instant attraction, but it only grew. In subsequent years, I sought out and bought all of their previous releases, most at import pricing, and instantly snatched up everything they did thereafter. Before the internet, finding rare cuts and import EPs was not so easy. All through those years I didn’t know another soul who felt that kind of passion for them. Their music is not an easily acquired taste (although over the years my wife has grown fond of them, thank God!). In fact, I know several people who dislike them. But it never mattered much to me. I love everything about them, from their overdubbed echo-laden ethereal sound to their unintelligible lyrics to their otherworldly album artwork. Heck, I even love their song titles. [Side-note: Each of this post’s subheadings is a Cocteau Twins song title.]

Treasure Hiding: At some point in my early days of internet browsing, I decided to search The Cocteau Twins, and (you guessed it) to my amazement, there is a large and thriving international community of ardent CT fans–to this day. They even have an annual festival in the UK (in spite of the CTs  having disbanded in 1996). There are remixes and rare cuts shared, and fan forums, and hundreds of videos, and so on. I don’t participate much, but the Cocteau Twins community makes me feel less alone and my élan  all the more enchanting. With the advent of the internet, treasures I once had to search out are now hiding in plain sight.

Atlas Dies Laughing: Back to writing. I mentioned my lacking when it came to preconceiving who might read my work. It’s actually worse than most of you know. I always enjoyed reading fantasy that featured elaborate world-building. So naturally, I built a fairly elaborate world for mine. But in the pursuit of my own passions and interests, I did things fairly uniquely.

For example, I’m not particularly fond of dragons, or any kind of intelligent non-humans for that matter. So I didn’t include any. Also, I am often put off by systems of magic in fantasy. They can feel like a cheap way for the hero to gain the upper hand. So I have no magic. I’ve also long felt that fantasy series with an overt delineation between good and evil were too simplistic. The real world is complicated. There is no black and white, only shades of gray. So I created antagonists with complexity and what I hope are relatable motivations. They believe they’re doing the right thing. They think they’re the good guys!

Turns out the joke’s on me. To many readers, all of these elements I neglected or rejected are the de facto definition of epic historical fantasy. The elaborate world I built fits into almost no one’s preconception of the genre I selected to explore.  

But I’m Not: I understand I won’t convert fantasy readers who expect dragons or elfin magic. And a large portion of the established epic fantasy community might reject the strong elements of romance in my work. But I’ve come to see my work’s uniqueness as a potential strength rather than a weakness. I don’t need to conform to anyone’s preconceptions regarding genre. I never had even the tiniest hope that the trilogy would be a bestseller. But those who do like a bit of romance for the MCs and complexity in their antagonists, and who aren’t so enamored of magic or dragons, might be all the more ardent about my work.

Cathy Yardley recently wrote a post I love called The Slow Writing Movement. Do yourself a favor and go read it. In it, she says, “I believe that writing means connecting with readers. I think that it’s important to know who you’re writing for. I think that this audience should be larger than simply yourself, although I think it can be considerably smaller than most would have you believe.”

I’m still striving toward figuring out exactly who I’ve been writing for, but I’m starting to get a handle on it. With the help of my beta readers, Cathy, and my tribe, I’ve come to believe a niche of Right Readers exists, that it can be more easily cultivated than ever before, and that it’ll be large enough.

Grail Overfloweth: I harbor no illusions that the readers of this blog will be the readers of my books, nor even a significant portion of you. I’m sure a few of you might read, and even enjoy them, but still not be my Right Readers, and that’s all good. After all, just because someone might occasionally enjoy hearing a Cocteau Twins song, it doesn’t mean they’ll start collecting albums. Like the CTs, epic fantasy is a distinct taste, let alone adult epic historical fantasy with romantic leanings and no dragons or elfin magic.  

But I clearly see how much my tribe and this forum are contributing to my understanding of who my Right Readers are. And as my journey progresses, and my career continues to grow, the content here will undoubtedly morph and change, and its readership with it. In the meantime, I feel quite blessed to have you beside me along the way.

Hearsay Please: Do you see a niche for your work, or does it have broad appeal? How do you think you’ll find your Right Readers? Who are your Cocteau Twins? Are you fond of something no one else seems to know about or care for? If so, who or what?

Can I Entice You To Read On?

Openings have been on my mind of late. The topic seems to be haunting me, as such things tend to do once they are ingrained in your thoughts.

Everywhere I turn there are articles and discussions about the openings and opening lines of novels, and their importance. It came up on the Writer Unboxed facebook page yesterday, and I saw this article on the website io9 today. My friend and fellow fantasy writer D.D. Falvo has been featuring some of her favorite first lines as a regular Friday feature on her facebook page.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping score, I’ve recently begun a rewrite of book one of my historical fantasy trilogy. The goal of the rewrite is to capture readers and draw them in faster than any of my previous openings. Since I have three more completed books in the series that hinge on accomplishing this goal, I’ve been feeling just a wee bit of pressure to get it right.

But do I really care? I have written dozens of openings, most of them discarded, and evidently few of them have been worthy of further discussion. I’ve often thought the fuss over openings, and opening lines in particular, has been overblown. You see, I’m not one of those people who uses the opening page or pages as one of my criteria for selecting a book to read. These days, I usually find out about books online or through personal recommendations. On the rare occasions I make it to an actual bookstore anymore (the nearest one is over twenty miles away), I’m more of a back-cover-blurb and random-page-sampling kind of guy.

Well, perhaps just a little: I have to admit, when read the io9 list, and saw the opening to Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, I perfectly recalled first reading it and being blown away. My wife and I were both reading in bed, and I actually read the opening few pages aloud to her. I was just elated by the baroque power of the first person voice (I’m pretty sure my wife was less thrilled by the interruption, but still…). I’d owned the book for several weeks. I picked it up after reading her Sundering duology, which had been a recommendation of George RR Martin. I wasn’t too enamored by the cover, and there the book sat, on my night stand. Until I ran out of books to read, picked it up and read the opening—and couldn’t put it down again.

So before writing this, I started perusing my shelves and my Kindle this morning. Several of my favorites have great openings and pretty enticing opening lines. A recent favorite, that knocked my socks off, was Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy:

“I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survived, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself.”  

With that, I was not only sockless, I was all in. It’s one I could not put down (and highly recommend).

But I like wearing socks: They’re just so darn comforting and warm. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a sock weirdo, and rarely work without them on, even in summer. But I digress…

My point is, comfort is important to me. I am all for being wowed. But I don’t think it’s necessary. Intriguing is not the same as enticing. I don’t need clever to be drawn into story. I don’t need a hook to love a book (pun intended, if lame). All I really want is to experience the flavor of the voice. And to not be put-off by clunky prose or confused, of course. I want to feel a sense of impending conflict, but I also want to be comforted—for the first few paragraphs to assure me I’m going to enjoy reading what’s ahead.

Steven Pressfield is a master at this. Nothing too flashy, just solid storytelling from the first sentence—setting the tone for what’s to come. For example, the opening to Virtues of War:

“I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. The calling of arms, I have followed from boyhood. I have never sought another.”

Or this one, from Last of the Amazons:

“When I was a girl, I had a nurse who was a tame Amazon. Of course such an expression is a misnomer, as one of that race may be domesticated no more than an eagle or a she-wolf.”

These are not showy; they are perfectly in line with the character’s voices. But more than that, they begin the story. Things move seamlessly forward from these lines. They also both happen to be first person, as is Kushiel’s Dart. I think third person is a bit trickier, but I still believe the same workmanlike virtue can be achieved.

So I was stuck for a bit. I wanted what Pressfield consistently achieves for my own opening. I thought my previous opening line was clever. In fact, I was going for clever—swinging for the fences. But, after a couple dozen rejections, I’m ready to call it a swing and a miss. Not that I think it was bad. It just didn’t matter. Nor did the rest of the opening. I even had a few rejecting agents say the words, “The writing is strong.” But those same agents followed that line with, “But I just wasn’t drawn into the story.” The opening just didn’t do its job.

So this week I stripped all the clever away and focused on story, lopping off about the first fifty pages of the old version with the idea of getting into conflict faster and much closer to the inciting incident. I thought about what mattered to my primary protagonist for the new opening; how he felt, what was his conflict in the moment. Then I tried to speak in the now well-practiced voice of the series (one could only hope by now, right?). I just put something down. Just to get my ass moving. I’m leaving it for now, but it’s not set in stone. Lord knows it very well may change. And it’s certainly not a showy hook, but it set my mood for the opening scene and the story to follow.

I suppose it all begs the question: I’m usually not much for sharing my work before it’s done. I don’t know that I consider it bad luck or anything. But  sharing out-of-context work never seems to me to do it justice. And it can also come off as a bit desperate, like I’m seeking validation or approval. Having said all that, I’m sure this post has a few of you wondering what I came up with. And, since its only a few lines that will likely change anyway, I’ll bend my rule and share my new opening paragraph with you. Big whoop, right? Anyway, here it is:

“Everyone knew he should be riding to war, just as everyone knew his mother was the reason he wasn’t. After all, he was the Wulthus clan heir, the rightful next bearer of the futhark sword. But she had seen to it that he was not among the departing hosts. Thaedan loved his mother, but at the moment he hated her for it.”

 As I mentioned, the focus is on Thaedan’s conflict in the moment before the oncoming action sequence, written in the third person voice of the series. I’m not sure I love it, but I do feel it achieves ‘workmanlike’ status. Good enough to move forward with the work. In the coming weeks, I’ll have to decide if I feel it’s good enough to entice readers to read on.

What about you? Are you wowed by showy hooks? Is simply starting the story enough for you? How do you feel about socks? Or would anyone else care to share?

Labels: You Only Get Three

Hot Under The Collar: This past Wednesday was Independence Day in the U.S. For the resort area I live in, this is a high holiday—the highest day of the high season. Urbanites and suburbanites from nearby Chicago flock to the area to sun themselves, light off dangerous fireworks, and generally eat, drink and make merry. It’s like Christmas in July for our area business people.

I’ve shared quite a bit about the background of my writing journey in the past, most recently in the fun-tastic interview conducted by my friend Lara Schiffbauer for Motivation for Creation. But all you need to know for this post is that I started writing nine years ago, I shared that I was writing with very few others, and that I finished a draft of my epic fantasy trilogy in June of ’09. I have long struggled with publicly embracing my writer status. Since ’09, through beta readers and my online activity, most who know me have come to know of my writing life.

Which leads me to why I get uncomfortable on the Fourth of July. We have a neighborhood parade culminating in a party every year. Neighbors, friends, my wife’s clients, friends of friends, all come. It’s a pretty big deal. The kids decorate their bikes, dogs wear flag bandanas; we’ve had fire trucks, ponies, convertibles with waving Forest Springs queens, floats, etcetera. Like Christmas, it’s a time of the year when I am confronted with seeing quite a few folks I only see once or twice a year. And I’ve grown to dislike it. 

So, What Do You Do?  It’s an unavoidable question. Behind the weather, asking an acquaintance how they occupy themselves is one of the oldest and simplest forms of initiating social small talk. In the earliest days of people finding out you are a writer, you get a variety of reactions: eye rolls, feigned interest, flight, questions about whether you want it made into a movie, questions about what you think of the most recent hot book (in case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s currently 50 Shades of Gray), and so on. I was just beginning to get used to this variety, although it took me a while to openly admit I was writing epic fantasy (people immediately go to dragons and hobbits when they hear the two words used together). Then I finally crafted a quick summary of my work that most find acceptable if not interesting.

But time marches on, and as I said, most now know of my writing. So what’s the problem, right? Well, it’s sort of hard to describe, but I have a feeling many of you writerly types out there will get it. So please bear with me while I set this up.

You Only Get Three Things: A very good friend of mine was my first beta-reader outside of family. After he finished the trilogy, we spent a whole day discussing the books. It was wonderful. He was one of the first to make me realize this writing thing was serious shit—like my life’s calling. During that discussion, I was bemoaning the aforementioned reactions to telling people socially (eye rolls, et al), and he said, “you’ve got to make it one of your three things.” I raised my brows and made one of those inquiring Scooby Doo noises.

My friend went on to explain his theory about how your social image is a reflection of you viewed through the prism of three, and only three, labels—if you’re lucky. Some folks only get one or two. To demonstrate, he gave me his and mine. His were: 1) Gay with Longtime Partner (always a powerhouse, as far as labels go); 2) Stewardess (his own name for his paying gig of airline attendant); and 3) Jewelry Guy (he’s actually a talented jewelry designer, but since his family is in the jewelry biz, he only gets ‘guy,’ and not ‘designer’).

He said mine at the time were: 1) Mo’s Husband (in our social circle my wife has, and always will have, the better and more visible image); 2) Carpenter (I have a pretty good rep here); and 3) Lumber Guy (even though we previously ran a business that did more than just sell lumber, this is what sticks—this guy knows about, and can procure, lumber). My friend insisted, beyond the closest circle of friends and family, these three are all the labels society is willing to allocate. Trying to add a fourth is impossible. To add new one, an old one has to go.

So the idea is to use what little influence you have on your own labels to make at least one of your three into what really describes your heart’s desire. I started telling people I was a WRITER, dammit–actively seeking to make it one of my three (hoping Lumber Guy would drop away, which it pretty much has). And I actually did it! Over time, and with some effort, I am now known as a writer.  In most of my circles, it’s pretty much become one of my three (if not number one). Again, you might ask: What’s the problem?

The Well-Meaning Inquisition: Let’s get back to the Fourth of July. Here came the folks I only see once or twice a year. They see me, sort through the labels they recall, find the one they feel is most interesting (or meaningful to me if not interesting to them), and say, “So, how’s the book coming?”

Don’t think I don’t appreciate the effort. It really is well-intentioned, and I’m glad it’s become the most prominent of my three. But am I really supposed to tell them I just finished a third revision of my book three, and that I’m excited by some of the rejection feedback I’ve recently gotten on book one, and am gearing up for yet another rewrite of the opening? Or that I have been getting some pretty good feedback from betas on my fourth manuscript, which is a prequel to the trilogy they’re probably uninterested in?

They want me to tell them the book is done, and soon to be published! And, since I finished a draft in June of ’09, they’ve heard me talk about how I’m still plugging away for four Fourths now (you don’t often get to say, “for four Fourths,” and have it make sense, btw). I understand they don’t really want details, and anything I tell them culminates in “still not published.” Then they give me sad eyes. Or phrases like, “Well, hang in there,” or “At least you still have carpentry, right?”

What Do They Know? That’s just it. They know one, two, or three of my labels. It’s very superficial, but it’s not their fault. I only know one, two, or three of their labels, too. They can’t know that my writing journey has been the greatest of my life, and that the past year has been one of my proudest. They don’t know how close the work is finally getting to being ready, how I now have a column in the Writer Unboxed newsletter, or how prestigious WU is. They don’t know I’ve met so many wonderful friends in the writing community, how I feel so appreciated and supported. They can’t know that my gut is finally telling me this trilogy might really find an appreciative audience—that it might not only be enjoyed by readers, but will affect some of them, leaving them moved and thinking big thoughts after reading the final page.

And since I can’t find a way to easily explain all of this in the allotted time—at least not without their eyes glazing over—when they ask, “So, how’s the book coming?” my answer is a smile and a simple, “It’s coming along. Thanks for asking!” Then I ask them if I can refill their drink or fetch them another beer, and I get the hell outta there.

How about you guys? What are your three things? Is WRITER one of them? How do you handle, “So, how’s the book coming?”