Archive for the ‘Kill Your Darling… Babies?’ Category

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Lyons & Erwin Weigh In

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

Q: How do you, as a writer, relate to the gestation, childbirth, and parenting metaphor as it pertains to your work? In short, is your book your baby?

A: I hate this metaphor. How’s that for the short and simple answer?

I know, that doesn’t sound very nurturing, coming from a former pediatric ER doc who writes suspense novels all about everyday heroes who find the courage to change their world. Maybe that’s because after seventeen years of seeing babies and kids and parents and the crazy, tragic curveballs life throws their way, I understand how very difficult it is to nurture and support a baby (much less a marriage or a family) and transform it from a mass of wrinkles and snot and hungry bleats to a functioning, caring human being. Writing a book? That’s easy.

Writers like to be seen as “artists” who suffer for our work–this gives us a great excuse to act out our neuroses, to selfishly lock ourselves away from the rest of the world as we “gestate” and create. And yes, it’s the perfect excuse for acting childish. Maybe the metaphor is reversed. Maybe our novels are creating and raising us? Maybe it’s our stories that school us and provide structure for our worlds, bringing control to the chaos, and guiding us through life? That I could believe. Because without stories, the ones in my head as well as the ones written by others, I would have no way to make sense of this crazy world…..much less all the crazy stuff that came through the doors of my ER. Think about it. With books, we have generations of knowledge, guidance, moral lessons to help us create our society. Where would we be without the wisdom of Homer, Dickens, Shakespeare, Buck, Twain, Dumas, Bradbury, and so many others? What kind of world would we be living in if we didn’t have their stories?

What kind of world will our children live in, if we don’t give them the gift of reading and instill in them a love of stories? Scary thought, isn’t it?

-medical suspense author, CJ Lyons

***

My books are not my babies. I prefer to think that I play the role of a god and not the role of a mother in creating a book. I create the landscape, the atmosphere, and people the land with characters who need me to show them the way, to lend my influence. It’s my own little world, and I make the rules. Of course, in giving characters lives, I give them the power to make their own choices and think for themselves. Sometimes, they break my commandments and take my name in vain. Occasionally, I will smite them. Usually, I let them live and go along to see what decisions they make along the way. I try to guide them back into my influence, but some characters are too strong willed and questioning of my authority and their very existence. I can’t make them believe. I can offer them judgment once they’ve reached their destiny. All good characters go to heaven, a bookshelf near you. And the others? Some find redemption in purgatory, a reworking. And yes, some go to a far darker place, the hell at the bottom of my desk drawer.

-Sherri Browning Erwin, author of the vampire mash-up, JANE SLAYRE

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Oliveira & Kramin Weigh In

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

Insofar as a book is a complex, separate, unwieldy, difficult, beloved, independent creature, then yes, my book was my baby. But now that my children are in their twenties, I find it more relevant to compare the process of completing a book to the entire scope of parenting, which for me began when those tiny individuals popped out and I instantly knew  two things: I was hopelessly in love, and they were going to require more resources from me than I possessed at the time. That disquiet and passion also pretty much sums up the beginning of writing My Name is Mary Sutter. I can never say that I was certain, at any given moment of parenting or writing, what the right choice might be for any given problem. Sometimes I guessed, sometimes I followed a primal, maternal or literary instinct, sometimes I floundered, and on the good days—which I hope were more frequent, not less—I tried to make intelligent choices based on that underlying, enduring love. What I learned over time was that my characters, like my children, had their own truths, their own lives, and it was my job to discover who they were, what they wanted, what they needed from me, and then at moments of intense pressure, summon spontaneous wisdom to figure out how to equip them so that they ultimately could become their best selves. And after I had given each of them every chance, every attention, every ounce of love I could squeeze from my exhausted soul, I sent them all out into the world. It was then that I knew what a folly the concept of “finished” was, because my worries for my book, like those for my children, including whether they will flounder and sink far from my the reaches of my arms or whether anyone will ever love them as much as I do, are never-ending, and that in choosing to write a book, I have risked my heart once again, fool that I am.

-Robin Oliveira, author of MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER


***

I do feel that my books are indeed, very much my babies. As far as gestation goes, not really. I wish I had only carried my kids for around a month. After that though, very much so. I am always very protective of my work and will only give it out to a limited number of eyes, like trusting your kids to only the best babysitters. I have nightmares about dying before I get to see their full potential. ie: published vs graduation, great jobs & grandkids. I drive with my laptop in my passenger seat, protecting my novels within and use the “mom arm” with it if I have to hit the brakes fast. I love each one for it’s own differences and try not to love one more than another. * grins * After receiving the news that I was going to be published, I did refer to it as “my baby” because it was going to take nine months for anyone else to be able to see it.

So yes, freakazoid sounding as it may be, my books are my babies. * throws cover art over shoulder and burps it *

-June Donaghy Kramin, author of the just-released paranormal romance, DUSTIN TIME

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. McCreery & Burt Weigh In

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

Is my book my baby?  Initially I thought, emphatically, no.  I found it very easy to say why not.  But, with time and reflection, I found that the answer depends heavily upon perspective.  If the question is whether writing and parenting are analogous, I don’t think so.  But if it’s about what happens to the author?  I might say yes.

A written work will naturally develop in fits and starts, as children do.  But time and age carry children with them.  If I put away a draft for lack of knowing what to do next, it will stay as it is – and when I come up with the idea, it’s there waiting, as I left it.  And I can be satisfied that it’s been improved.  Children will grow and learn, with or without me.   Many of the questions change from moment to moment – as do the answers.  There is much greater peril in waiting or sitting idle for a parent than there is for an author.  In fact, a parent is scarcely an author at all, much as one might like to be; I’d say a parent is more an editor anyway, and one who will never see the entire manuscript.

In either case, there’s a sense of personal investment – if they’re coolly received or, far worse, unnoticed, I’ll take it hard.  But with a written work, it’s a personal disappointment: maybe I feel misjudged, or deflated because my best isn’t good enough – or that I could’ve given better, and I’m disappointed in myself.  But that’s nothing like the wrench I feel on behalf of my children when they encounter disappointment or rejection; my hurt has nothing to do with me.  It’s the futility that stings.

When I write, if the work ends up well, I’m delighted.  If I run into trouble early on, I may abandon it and start another.  It’s not easy to give up on a nascent work, but it’s possible.  Fatherhood, though, is one long final draft with no chance to edit, no rewrite.  It’s no good just banging out any old words just to unblank the page, knowing I can fix them later.  And I can’t just take a hiatus, stick the work in the drawer until inspiration strikes again, or give it up and go back to whatever the day job was.  I have two works going at once, and there’s no switching between them.  They all need my full and best attention, now.

But, rather than looking at the work, consider the creator.  What happens to a writer through the creative process?  How is one engaged, moulded, enlightened?  What happens to us as our children grow, with us, next to us, beyond us?

As a poet, I’m altered by anything I write; I can’t be unaffected by it.  Every line, whether I use it or not, advances my experience and informs my consciousness somehow.  Every poem that follows is in the context of what I’ve already written.  As a father, I’ve been unceasingly amazed and in love with each of my children, from the moment I learned they were imminent.  I revel every moment in the beauty of their imperfection and the imperfection of their beauty. Sometimes it doesn’t look or sound like I’m revelling.

But I’m a work in progress too; I learn and grow with, and thanks to, my children.  Because of them, I view life and the world – and myself – much differently.  It’s not just their perspectives as people; it’s the fact of my responsibility as a father.  I must always consider how they see and feel the world, and how my own childhood experience should – or should not – inform my role in our relationships.  I see things differently because they are here, and because of them, I am changed.

There’s no chance, for me, that my written work could ever fit the baby metaphor. But what I write shapes me as truly as I shape it.  And that’s startlingly like parenthood.

-Rob McCreery, poet and AuthorScoop contributing editor

***

The Question: How do you, as a writer, relate to the gestation, childbirth, and parenting metaphor as it pertains to your work?  In short, is your book your baby?

The Short Answer: No.  Writing a book does not make you fat.

The Long Answer: In which I compare gestation and childbirth to the writing process.

(Disclaimer: I write this while 8 months into my fourth pregnancy.  Which, as I’ve written about before, means that I am now a constantly grumpy person.)

Below you will find my very scientific research comparing several components of the two situations.  I did this by fabricating conducting a completely unbiased and very real interview with myself a writer and a pregnant woman.

***

Me: First, I’d like to ask you about conception.  What was that like for you?

Writer: Well, it depends on the story.  Writer sits back and sips a cup of hot, fresh coffee. Often I have a dream, or sometimes the big “What if?” question pops out at me.  Every once in a while I’ll have this revelation in that moment before waking up, and I’ll jot down thoughts in my little writer’s notebook.

Usually, there’s a seed of an idea, and I take it from there.

Pregnant Woman: Eyes coffee enviously.  Fidgets with glass of ginger ale. Um…really?  Do we need to talk about this?

Me: Right.  We’ll move on to the physical nature of your job as mother and as writer.  Could you please describe the changes that happen to your body during the gestation process?

Writer: Long pause and furrowed brow. I guess I can get a stiff neck if I sit at my computer for too long.  Carpal tunnel on the days when I’m really typing fast.  Sometimes a headache if my characters don’t cooperate.

Pregnant Woman: Pushes ginger ale to the side and launches in with obvious delight. Well, it starts with several months of intense nausea.  Throwing up at unpredictable moments.  Ravenous hunger paired with momentary food aversions.  Then there’s the heartburn, insomnia, headaches, and mood swings.  The second trimester is a little better, but that’s when the weight gain starts in.  The swelling.  The back pain and the round ligament stabbing pain and the shooting pain down the sciatic nerve.  Sometimes there’s carpal tunnel or a tingling in my hands.  Hemorrhoids.  Toward the end, the insatiable need to pee returns.  The hugeness of my belly and the stretch-marks.  The internal jabs of another person inside growing.  More heartburn.  Less room for anything.  The impossibility of hoisting myself off a couch or rolling over in bed.  And then –

Me: I see.  What about the actual process of gestating.  How do you personally contribute to it?

Pregnant Woman:   Rubs belly fondly. I try and eat right and exercise.  But, you know, it always feels like such a miracle.  A tiny person is forming, complex cellular division leading to the formation of organs and bodily features.   Did you know that you can see the little heart beating as early as 8 weeks?  And I don’t plan that.  My body just knows what to do.

Writer: Pulls out notebook with outlines and penciled in charts. Well, I’m a plotter.  Which means once I have an idea I sit down and write a detailed outline of how the events will unfold.  Sometimes things change, which means I’ll have to rewrite the entire manuscript.  But, if all goes well, I set aside two hours a day to really focus on my writing.  Once the first draft is complete, then the endless round of revisions comes into play.  It really is time-consuming but so very worthwhile.

Me:  Hmmm.  Finally, let’s talk about delivery.  How do you know when you’re finished?

Writer: Sits back in chair and stares dreamily off into the sunset. You’re never finished.  It’s like this journey of editing and revising, and, even when your work is ready to be sent out there in the wide world, you’ll always be engaging with the creative process.

Pregnant Woman: Seriously?  I push an eight-pound human out of my yoo-hoo.

***

The Conclusion: And there you have it.  Given this incredibly insightful data-finding interview, I think we can conclude that the merit of the pregnancy/writing comparison lies in the carpal tunnel connection.

Can someone call a book their baby?  I suppose so, but the last time I checked, a book won’t poop on your favorite shirt.  Or wake you up to be fed in the middle of the night.  Or give you a heart-melting smile first thing in the morning.  Or a sticky, jammy kiss after lunch.

I get why people make this comparison between parenting and writing, I really do.  And I see the usefulness of a word-picture to help capture the challenges and rewards of the creative process, the mysterious formation of a story out of nothing, and the long, drawn out days of writing and waiting and writing some more.  But, please, for the sanity of all the pregnant women out there – especially, the pregnant writers – let’s put a quick end to this metaphor.  Or, if you must tout it, pack on 40 pounds for every book you write, and then we’ll talk.”

-mid-grade author of the upcoming THE TALE OF UNA FAIRCHILD, Marissa Burt

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Hughes, Hyde & Sharfeddin Weigh In

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“Are my novels like my babies, or even my child?

I have to say no.  More like each tale is a new best friend. They’ve got the keys to a fast car and a wicked look in their eye.  They have a journey in mind, some destination with adventures along the way. I get to go along for the ride.  Sometimes I get to drive for a short while, but mostly I’m in the backseat, with a keyboard, trying to keep up.  Now and again I’m back there praying we don’t run out of gas.

Sad to say it, though, I am a fickle friend. When the adventure is done and the story is told?  I’m looking around for a new best friend, hoping they’re driving something cool.”

-author and writer-tech expert, Eldon Hughes

***

“Are my scripts my babies?  Eh… no.  No, they’re more like… I don’t know… circus monkeys.

What do you mean, “go on”?

Well, work with me here.  See, I’m the guy in the red dangly coat with the top hat, you know, the important one with the loud voice, and my monkeys are the ones that run around doing all the tricks, impressing the audience and drawing investors (hopefully), and all with the minimum of screeching and tossing of faeces—though that happens more often than you’d ever want to know about.  Think of them as prizes.

Anyway, when my monkeys go out there and perform and do well, I couldn’t be happier. They’re mine—I did that.  I trained them and nurtured them and ran them over with a floor-buffer for that final polish.  It’s the closest I come to feeling parental towards them and their cute little fanged faces. (They’re all for sale, by the way.)

But some of the time, the monkeys fail and I’m left to deal with it.  “I didn’t connect with your monkey,” says one. “Your monkey threw his peanuts at me,” says another.  “One went in my eye and I’m going to sue.”  OK, that was an actual real monkey incident which I’m unwilling to discuss but you get the idea.

See, I can believe in them.  I can be sure they’re the best they can be and that people will love them.  But come show-time, it’s out of my hands.  I can’t account for the fact that it’s just the wrong time for a monkey-show right now, or that the audience has seen it all before, or that all the frothing at the mouth really was rabies.  Again.  (Did I mention they’re for sale?)

I can be hard on my monkeys then.  I’ve been known to take a belt to them and yell things like, “You call that a midpoint?!  Don’t you know a good midpoint falls around page 55-60?  What the hell are you doing up there in the 70s? Gah!”

Sadly, the show must go on and only the best get to perform.  If something’s not working, you’ve got to be tough about it.  Yank that monkey.  Get a dress on it.  Teach it the harmonica.  Anything.  Sometimes they can be whipped into shape.  Other times I have to let them go—relegated to the cage in back where maybe one day they’ll buck their ideas up and do something original before my circus licence expires.

It’s not always easy—you try getting a shako on a monkey—but when all is said and done, it’s my job and it’s a job I love.

So no, my scripts are not my babies.  But they are my monkeys.

Now, how many monkeys do you want?”

-screenwriter, Chris Hyde

***

Never! Writing is a labor of love, I’ll give you that. But it takes a hard, cold eye to be successful. I would be the Susan Smith of the writing world if they were my babies. I’ve neglected, abused, and killed too many fully formed manuscripts to subscribe to that idea.

They are more like marathons to me. I start out hyped and zoom along feeling great for about the first third, then comes the hill. During the second third of the book I alternate between believing I’m an Olympian and contemplating slitting my wrists. I like to call it the Hemingway-Moron pendulum. It swings one way, then the other. Day by day, mile by mile, I am either a genius or an idiot, but I take comfort in knowing that neither is permanent. At some point it becomes a one-foot-in-front-of-the other sort of race. Write the next scene. Write the next scene. Write the next scene. As I near the end, my energy surges again and I find new momentum, usually because I’m sick to death of it and I can’t wait to ditch it. When it’s finally done, I’m tired but elated, and I remember every excruciating step. But that’s just the process. I may have to stuff it in a closet and pretend I never conceived of such a horrid thing.

-Heather Sharfeddin, author of SWEETWATER BURNING

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Witt, Cockey & Dr. Johnson Weigh In

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“I don’t view my book as my baby. If it was, I’d be the most callous parent on the planet. I’d have CPS called on me in a heartbeat. I have high expectations for my books, and if they don’t reach those expectations, they can anticipate being shredded to pieces and rebuilt into something better, or else they’re trunked, never again to see the light of day. I’m proud of my work, and I do get attached to it, but I’ve never quite made the connection between book and baby.”

-erotica author, L.A. Witt

.

***

“God no. My book is my teenager. Unruly. Uncooperative. Determined to go off in its own direction. Surprisingly mature at the odd moment. Poignantly lost and confused and fragile at other moments. Something of which I can be proud and something whose neck I can as quickly want to wring.

A baby can’t make it out there in the real world on its own…and of course, this is precisely what a novel must do. I can’t hold its hand. It has to go out there and make friends all on its own…as well as manage with whatever unpopularity it might encounter. By the time the work – the novel – has emerged, there’s no time remaining for any parenting.

I take it that ‘childbirth’ – in the metaphor – is intended to stand in for the bursting forth of the creative act. But for that, aren’t we really talking about conception. I guess I’m a little amused that the metaphor neglects to take us back to that heady moment. The – sorry – creative explosion(s), the – sorry – juices flowing, those rapturous feelings of power and potential.

So yeah…the metaphor doesn’t really work for me. In my view, we have this gestation process, followed by the act of creation (not the other way around). There’s no gestation as a book is being written…only moments of indigestion mixed with moments of intoxication. At best, ‘childbirth’ might be representative of the publication of the work…but I suspect the metaphor is not working on that particular angle of things. God help us. This would make ‘parenting’ the marketing of the book!

So, I’ll stick with my twist on the question. No babies. Fully-formed creatures with minds and personalities of their own. Sometimes you want to sit own and have a drink with them…sometimes you wish they’d go bug somebody else. (and sometimes, that’s exactly what they do)”

-Tim Cockey (aka Richard Hawke)

***

“Some authors do feel toward their books as parents do toward their children. Their books are conceived, birthed, and then sent out into the world. Throughout, authors are more than occasionally overprotective and irrational about their offspring. Just as every parent’s kid is a genius, every author’s book is brilliant.

But let’s unpack this metaphor a bit. First off, if the book begins as a gleam in someone’s eye, whose eye is that? Doesn’t it take two to conceive? A co-author, so to speak? And do end-of-life metaphors apply? Does a book mature to adulthood, totter into old age, and then die? And then does the author go through all those grieving stages psychologists say we should when the thing goes out of print?

I don’t regard my books as children. Rather, they’re interesting projects, fun diversions; children are occasionally like that, but only occasionally. If books weren’t fun, I wouldn’t write them. Perhaps my own writing background contributes to this. I write nonfiction, in which making stuff up is discouraged. Or perhaps it’s because before I published any books I spent a couple of decades doing scientific paper and grant writing, in which one routinely gets smacked by often anonymous critics. Some of this criticism can be quite nasty. The experience tends to make you less protective of the words you write.

So, although I like my books, I’m glad I don’t need to raise them up, send them off to college, and then pay for their weddings. It would be nice if they could support me in my old age, though.”

-Dr. Christopher Johnson

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Sharon Maas Weighs In

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

Four Births and a (literary) Death

By Sharon Maas

I’ve given birth to and raised two human babies; they are now adults, walking on their own two feet, living their own independent lives. I never cease to be amazed at the miracle of their growth and their existence.
I’ve brought several novels into the world: some alive and kicking, others barely breathing, hidden in darkness, waiting their turn to see the light of day. They too are my children; the heartache and the joy they have caused may be on a smaller scale, but I have loved and nurtured and cherished each one, each in its own way, like a child, and still I marvel at the fact of their existence.

My first literary child went through an excruciatingly difficult gestation and labour. It was a wild, passionate, lumbering, naive plunge through a story that was thinly disguised autobiography: a year’s trip around South America when I was 19, and my adventures on the road. The heroine of this story was me in a much improved form, a funny, charming, heroine whom everyone noticed and admired, quite unlike the shy, awkward and very insecure original. Just as we want our children to do better in the world than we did, to make up for the mistakes we made, so did this girl stand in for me, corrected my blunders; if I remember rightly her name was Katy, and in the end she got the guy (I never did).

That novel was over 700 pages long. Amazingly (looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, I can only now appreciate just how amazing this was) it found an agent at the first attempt, a new agent seeking clients; I had read an article about her in Writers News. A few weeks after receiving the manuscript she asked me to come to her office in London. Immediately I jumped on a plane and turned up at her door with my whole family. I was riddled with fear. She had not said whether she actually liked it or not; she only asked me to come. I was sure she’d say it’s terrible; that my beloved baby was too ugly to live and needed to be incinerated on the spot.

“It’s terrific!” she said.  “But it needs a lot of work.”

Right there and then she sat down with me and went through the manuscript. She slashed way at page after page. Cut, cut, cut, she said. “It’s all padding. Get out the story!”

Several months later I sent her a slimmed-down manuscript of 450 pages; this one she liked, and submitted.  Rejections poured in. “But many of them want to see it again, if you revise it!” she said, and so it was back to the drawing board. Blood, sweat, tears and several months later, a sparkling revised version went out on a new set of rounds.

I waited. And waited. And waited. I was a husband pacing the floor outside the maternity ward, wringing my hands in anguish. This book had to make it; it had to! I had put everything into it. All my love, all my care, all my being. But the phone refused to ring.

Finally I summoned the courage and rang her myself. “Sorry,” she said. “I’ve only had rejections. I don’t think this one will make it. Write another one.”

I broke down. “I can’t!” I sobbed on the phone. Huge body-wracking sobs. “This was my life! I can’t write anything else!”

“Yes you can!” she said. “You did it once, you can do it again.”

And somehow, I did. This baby was different. I felt it from the first word. The story, this time, was original, and not based on my own life. I had no idea where it would go when it began; I only had one character, then another, then another; their lives took shape and wove themselves into a pattern, and I knew it was good.

That was an easy pregnancy, a glorious birth. A new book, a new agent; this time an established one with a major London agency. She sent the book to auction, and before that summer was out I had a HarperCollins contract as well as several foreign sales. Of Marriageable Age was published in July 1999; on its birthday I walked into Books Etc in the Hammersmith Underground and there it was, all new and shiny on the shelf! No mother could be prouder of her child.

Other books came. In each case, they started with that first seed. Nourished with imagination, tended with my growing skill as a writer, they found their final form. HarperCollins published two more. Three more, as beloved to me as the others but not yet viable in the big bad world, are resting, waiting their turn.

That first one, the failed one? Can it be resuscitated, rescued? No. Sadly, my first literary baby died; and unlike with a real life baby, I did not mourn for it, not even for a day. Once it was gone it was gone.

But its spirit lives on: I’ve taken that same fiction and rewritten it as fact, a memoir of my year in South America, to be followed by a memoir of my year in India. The real, flawed, awkward me, growing up along the way. My truth, I feel, is better than my fiction, and these two unborn kids of mine… well, let’s just say they’ve always longed for life. Their birthdays, too, will come.

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Brody, Mason & Parrish Weigh In

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“Hello, my name is Jessica Brody and I am the proud mother of three books…with another on the way. The parallel between writing books and being a parent is not accidental. It’s a brilliant comparison. I don’t have any “real” children so I can’t say with absolute certainty that writing and publishing a book is exactly like gestating and giving birth to a child, but I can say it’s as close as I’m going to get…for a while anyway. At 30 years old, I’m in no rush to have children. I’m not even sure I’ll have any ever. Even as all of my friends are starting to multiply with offspring, I feel content in my existence as a writer. I’ve heard mothers say that they weren’t “fulfilled” until they had their children. I feel the same way about my books. I didn’t feel like my life was on track, like I had found my true purpose, until I started writing for a living.

My books are my children. They start with a planted seed. They’re gestated, molded, shaped, and instilled with wisdom until they’re ready to face the world on their own. I try my best to prepare them for what they’ll encounter on the outside, but in the end, they’re on their own. And I just have to sit back and hold my breath while the world receives them. I have no control over what or who will affect them. If they’ll be faced with kind words or hurtful ones. All I can do is be there to support them through the good times and the bad. Because no matter what happens to them, I will always love them. Because each one of them has a tiny piece of my soul within it. Each one of them is my pride and joy. And I’m proud of them no matter what.

And isn’t that the very definition of a good parent?”

-bestselling teen and adult author, Jessica Brody

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***

“If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the comparison of a writer’s work to his child, I wonder if it would take the sting out of writing for only hope and heartburn?  Probably not.  But no matter, the question is: is it true?  Is each story a spawn?

In a word, or three – not at all.  Not for me, at any rate.

This has less do to with what I think of my writing than it does with how I think of my children.  From the moment I knew they were there, they were never mine.  Even earlier than that, in the days before I realized that everything was about to change, or change again, the DNA had already merged; the match was in the tinder.

After that, nothing beyond my dumb animal functions of chewing the choicest feed and resting when the hooves and hide told me to was going to make much of a difference.  That baby, to an extent, was what it was going to be from the first spark, and all very much beyond my control.

And no plea or plan I owned had any bearing on labor and delivery, that’s for sure.

Making a baby is easy.  Writing is hard.

It’s is an act of will, and I’m not exactly known for my flint and iron.  As such, I can’t relate my work to a cosmic roll of the dice and the ensuing biological avalanche.  My inertia or distraction, thank god, never kept a fetus from growing her fingernails or hooking up her little gall bladder pump to her small intestine.

It really comes down to what I imagine I can take credit for.  The word ‘pride’ has never sat snuggly in the hole that each of my daughters has scooped out of my heart. What I feel for them is far purer than what I feel for anything I’ve written.  They are a product of all their world, inside and out.  My writing is more of me than my children ever could (or should) be.  It’s mine.  They are not.

Of course that means a small, bound universe fails in its entirety when I don’t write it right, and it’s all my fault.  But I know the difference.  Ruin a child and you’ve committed the gravest sin.  Ruin a manuscript and, in godlike prerogative, you can stir the deluge, commission an ark, and try it again – albeit perhaps in the employ of a new pen name.  (And a new agent, if you’ve really mucked it up.)

The biggest challenge in handling my babies is doing it well.  With the writing, the fight is more of a joust with the Devil.  He whispers sweet stingingly that I don’t have to do it at all.  It’s much harder to rouse my artistic diligence than it is to surrender myself to the mostly-happy obligations of family life.  Praise for one certainly tingles in an entirely different place than for the other.  Same goes for the pain.

Of course, all of this may simply mean that I’m doing it wrong, either the mothering part or the writing.  Holy hell, what if it’s both?”

-Jamie Mason, novelist and AuthorScoop editor

***

“Are my books my babies? Well, now…you’re asking the least maternal person I know, who never wants children, so I’d have to give the potentially-controversial answer: I like my books more than I could ever love a child. There’s a definite connection with creativity and production, although with a child you have to take what God gives you. With books? In the main, I’m the one in control, barring recalcitrant characters and their unpredictable shenanigans.

I don’t get morning sickness. I get all-day excitement. The ‘new-book fizz’ in the pit of my stomach when I realise a new idea will fly, and the only cure isn’t ginger biscuits, but to sit down and write until the voices in my head shut up.

Gestation? I think I’d go mad if I had to wait nine months to finish a book! I’m a fast writer and the longest I’ve taken to write anything of note was five and a half months. The quickest novel I wrote took me two and a half. I’m impatient, and don’t like the thought of lumbering around with a steadily-increasing bookbaby waiting to make its way in the world. Luckily, timescale isn’t down to Mother Nature. It’s down to no-one else but me; a fact which greatly appeals to the control freak in me. Babies are a lottery and a thing apart. Books are entirely me and mostly under my control. I’m too much of a narcissist to present the world with something that’s down to chance and 50% its father’s issue. Either a narcissist or an approval-whore.

All of the above is not to say I’m a conveyor belt of prose, churning out product with little or no care for each book. I love each ‘baby’ individually and intensely while it needs me, but when they’re done, tire of them very quickly. “Okay, you’re done. Your story’s told, I’m going to kick you out of the nest now ’cause I have another batch of eggs waiting to hatch. Go. Make me some money.”

Is my book my baby? Well, I love my ‘children’ but it’s not unconditional. I pick them to pieces and criticise in ways no loving mother ever would. When my babies are born, they are ugly and I have no problems with telling them so. I see their potential, but wouldn’t think twice about telling them, “You’re not good enough.”

I think books are a more intimate production than a child could ever be, because they are 100% of me. They require no father, and don’t develop their own personality. They don’t make their own way in the world and change and grow – they’re static. Frozen pieces of Scarlett Parrish as she was at the time of writing. Like an embarrassing school photo plastered on the internet for everyone to point and laugh at.

I think publishing a book is closer to masturbating in public rather than having sex and producing a child.

I also think I’d be a terrible mother.”

-erotica author, Scarlett Parrish

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Compton, Ford & Meding Weigh In

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“Given the number of stories I have neglected, ignored, mistreated and outright abandoned, I definitely do not like to think of my work as my children. Horror is my preferred genre, so even the best of my “babies”–nurtured with care to their fullest potential–are destined to be screwed up and twisted. Worse still, I desperately try to sell all of them off to complete strangers for a modicum of personal profit, fame, adulation and fulfillment.

If my stories were my children I would be obligated to buy a “World’s Worst Dad” t-shirt and coffee mug, at the very least.

A metaphor that’s less apt to give me nightmares or lead me to the crippling realization that I am a disturbed human being is that my stories are creations developed and cultured by various, questionable scientific processes. I tend to think of my workstation at home—my simple desk and computer—as a laboratory; a carryover I think from my days as an aspiring hip-hop artist when I used to refer to the recording studio as the “lab” like so many other rappers.

I am a scientist–perhaps insane, intelligent, both or neither–employing formulas, experimentation and inspiration to manufacture my “creations.” I can accelerate or decelerate their growth as needed. I can leave any particular project alone in its own self-sustaining, nutrient-rich soup to work on another project that is in greater need of my attention, comfortable in the knowledge that when (or if) I return to the initial project it will not have deteriorated or broken containment and run amok. Although, to be honest, I don’t think I would mind the latter.

I monitor and encourage the progress of these artificial organisms. Stories after all have some approximation of life and—with their characters and environments—are also home to a multitude of smaller symbiotic life forms. If I observe any of my creations evolving in a way that is inconsistent with their planned development I can surgically prune and mold them to fit the desired shape. Or, alternatively, I can say, “Wow, it appears to be growing an extra arm. Let’s see where this goes.” All in the hope of creating something so horrific, compelling, or horrifically compelling that people will pay me just to view it, and ask me questions like, “How in the world did you come up with /that/?”

That this metaphor is less apt to give me nightmares than the “my book is my baby” metaphor probably says something about me I might be better off not thinking about. It all sounds so cold and joyless, but I promise it’s not. I love my work—the process and the product equally. But I don’t feel like I can afford to get too attached to a single story that may or may not grow into something worthwhile. I never start a story believing that it will turn out lousy, or that it is destined to go unfinished, but the possibility is something I am always aware of. It is similar to boarding a plane: if you /believed/ it would crash you probably wouldn’t get on the flight, but the possibility of a crash is always there buried in your mind.

Anyway, I’ll start winding this down now before I find even more metaphors to clumsily throw into the mix. Hopefully this answered the question and was a tiny bit entertaining, or at least comprehensible. For my part, this helped me to better understand my own motivations and methods. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear one of my dear creations beating against the glass of its confinement cylinder.

Back to the lab I go.”

-Johnny Compton, horror writer, blogger


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***

“My book isn’t my baby–it’s more like my teenage son with a freshly-minted driver’s license. I’ve given over the keys, the car has a full tank of gas, and now I’m staying up late wondering when he’ll be home and what kind of adventures he’s had. Once the book is out there in the hands of readers, it takes on a life of its own. And as much as I try to shepherd the process, there’s only so much I can do at that point. As they say in latin, spero meliora–I hope for better things.”

-Jamie Ford, author of the bestselling HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET


***

“The more I learn about writing, the funnier I find the “my book is my baby” metaphor.   I understand how it applies to the creation (to the planning and writing) of a book—to an extent.  You create a baby, sure, but you don’t edit a baby, query a baby, or sell a baby to the highest bidder for mass reproduction and distribution across the country.  At least, no responsible parent I know does.

Babies are fragile things that must be nurtured and protected and taught.  Books are fluid things that often need to be ripped apart and put back together in order to improve the finished product.  Babies are born with all of the genetic material they’ll need to grow into an adult.  First drafts of books are written too long or too short, with too many characters or not enough, subplots are added or removed—in short, books are rarely “born” with everything they need.

I know it isn’t a perfect metaphor, and I doubt the first person to say “my book is my baby” meant it literally, but it’s difficult to not giggle at the logical fallacy of such a statement.  Writers who apply that metaphor to their work are setting themselves up for trouble, because criticism is part of the process.  No one is going to say “your baby’s nose is too flat for her face,” but they might say “chapter three is boring and doesn’t fit with the rest of the narrative.”  Applying the baby label makes the book personal, which in turn makes criticism personal.  And neither books nor criticism are personal—not if you plan on being a selling author.

We buy and sell products, and consumers want the best possible product for their money.  I don’t say this to devalue the importance of creativity and artful prose.  Far from it.  No one wants to buy a dry, boring, badly-written book.  But I bet they don’t want to buy your baby, either.”

-urban fantasy author, Kelly Meding

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. Konrath, Clarke & Morris Weigh In

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“Babies are small, helpless, and need nurturing and attention.

My books go out into the world big and bold and ready to earn some money. No coddling required.

Writers need to get over their unhealthy attachment to their own words. Writing is a business. Treat it like a craft you can make a few bucks on, not a child you fall in love with.”

-thriller, mystery, horror writer, J.A. Konrath

-.

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***

“Are my books my babies?  Yes, especially from a birth-order perspective. The first/oldest one is still my sentimental favorite, the middle ones sometimes get lost in the shuffle, and the newest/youngest one always gets the most attention and praise.

As far as the gestation process, ideas do sometimes hang around in my head for a long time before I finally pop them out in a writing process that is similar to childbirth in that I find it consuming, sometimes painful, and am mostly just happy when I get that first draft out.  I find the research process (I write nonfiction books about animals) fascinating, and I love that most people are happy to talk to an author and go out of their way to help, much as they do with pregnant women.

As a children’s author, I have to parent my books by doing numerous school visits during which I actually schlep the babies/books along with me in a suitcase, put them up on display, and then gush about them to kids and hope they love them as much as I do.  Of course, I frequently write about disgusting creatures, so I don’t mind when kids call my babies ugly, as long as they keep reading!”

-Ginjer Clarke, children’s author


***

“One thing I remember after the birth of my daughter: the feeling I had coming out of the hospital for the first time as I walked up the hill towards where I’d parked the car. A feeling that the world would never be the same again and that I had done something to change it. I felt curiously outside time, as if the ordinary rules of existence had been suspended. It was a feeling of privilege. There’s an excess of emotion, of hope, a sense of the miraculous, and of power. For a brief time, it seemed that anything was possible. I had played a part in the creation of something amazing. I also felt as though I was in possession of a secret –the secret – though I couldn’t put into words what that secret was. Do I have such feelings in relation to my books? Not really. Not to anything like the same degree, not so vividly or so powerfully. But perhaps the short-lived spark of something similar does possess me for the briefest of moments and I’m surprised by the realisation that something new exists, and bewildered by the possibility that I might have had something to do with it.”

-Roger Morris, author of the Porfiry Petrovich historical mystery series

Kill Your Darling…Babies? Oh My. French, Cameron & Dunn Weigh In

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business.  Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art.  Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes.  Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“In a very general sense, the first two parts of the metaphor work for me: the book slowly develops inside, and getting it out is damn hard work. The last part, though – the child-raising part – doesn’t. Once the book’s out in the world, it’s very definitely not my baby – in fact, I don’t even think of it as ‘mine’ any more: it belongs to readers. If I try to have any say in the way it grows and develops from that point on, or in the way those readers interact with it, not only will I make myself nuts, I’ll never get another book written. Frankly, I tend to ignore a book from the second it hits the shelves. When it comes to the book-mothering metaphor, I’m probably one of those fish that takes care of the eggs till they hatch and then wanders off.”

-bestselling author, Tana French.

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***

“Let’s get some perspective here, shall we?  If, hand on heart, you can truly claim to afford equal status in your affections to both your book and your child, either you’re taking your hobby far too seriously or you’re a terrible, terrible parent.
It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re saying.  Like my child, my book is a product of me.  I conceived it, I carried it around inside me for many months, and its transition from inner demon to trembling foal caused me pain, anguish and a surprising degree of blood loss.  Given that I conceived my book unaided (not to mention being laughably deficient on the womb front), this was surely a miracle of creation to rival any other.

I am, of course, leading to a However.

You see, the key word up there was ‘product’.  Anyone who tells you their novel ‘took on a life of its own’ and/or ‘wrote itself,’ perhaps with a bit of ‘nurturing,’ is most likely the sort of person who gives their car a cutesy name and feels sorry for the stale biscuit at the top of the pack that goes in the bin all by itself rather than being eaten. They’re also doing themselves a disservice; since a novel is not a biological organism, let alone a sentient one, nurturing and encouraging it will have no effect on its development.

But, “Oh,” they say, “there’s so much of me in my book!  I’ve truly poured my heart and soul into this, my life’s masterpiece!”

Well I’m sorry, but no, we haven’t.  This is not a science experiment – it’s an art, and not the dubious modern kind that requires us to get drunk and fling our vital fluids at the canvas.  Nor, regardless of what you might have been told (or have told others), does the creative process compel us to tear off a pound of our own flesh and mail it to our agent.  Granted, if we’re halfway human then we might have infused our words with some small reflection of our personality, but when all of the angst, ego and overstatement are stripped away, all we’re really doing is inventing stories in our head and arranging them in the manner we imagine most likely to land us a five-book deal.  Like all great products, a novel is two parts ingenuity and one part pure, cynical salesmanship.

Now don’t get me wrong; for the most part I’m proud of what I’ve written.  I enjoy it, I’m thrilled when you enjoy it, and I jealously guard my ownership of it.  But I don’t long for the end of the day when I can hurry home to play with it, or sit and watch in misty-eyed amazement as it drops off to sleep at night.  I don’t feel eternally bound to it with every fibre of my being.  If you threaten to destroy it, I won’t respond with terrifying violence.  It doesn’t love me unconditionally, nor I it.  Because while I may have created it from ingredients I found in my head, my book is not a part of me.

Do I mind if you take my life’s work and pass it off as your own?  Certainly, just as I mind if you steal my grandfather’s watch.

Would I run back into a burning building to rescue the last remaining copy?  Hell no.  It’s just some shit I made up.”

-novelist and editor, Graeme Cameron

***

“People sometimes ask, ‘Which is your favourite book?’ I tell them, ‘They’re my children. You don’t choose favourites among your children.’

Sending a completed ms to an editor is like sending a child out into the world, to be judged by other people.”

-Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

Kill Your Darling… Babies? Oh my. Eisler, Winslow & Craig Weigh In

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business.  Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art.  Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes.  Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.

Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.

Or is it?

AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:

Is your book your baby?

(view the entire essay collection here)

……………………………………….

“It’s true my books feel like my babies, but the metaphor only goes so far.  A parent is hardly the only force shaping and nurturing a child, and a child can survive the loss of a parent.  In this sense, the relationship of an author to his story is both more one-dimensional and more critical:  there are no other forces beyond the author to shape and nurture the story, and without the author, the story can’t possibly survive.

It’s a big responsibility.”

-bestselling author, Barry Eisler

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***

“Babies grow. Yes, I feed them. But the growing is magic. It happens on its own. And if I’m late with my part, the kids don’t let me forget. They protest. They demand. “Mom, I’m hungry!”

My books-in-progress on the other hand, are quiet. If I put them away in a drawer, they don’t make a peep. They demand nothing. If I slack off, they wait. They don’t gain height while they sleep. There’s no “my how you’ve grown!” or surprise that their sleeves are suddenly too short. Any growing they do is something I must consciously make happen, word by word.

Publishing a book is like seeing a child off to adulthood. You must let it have its own relationship with readers, and it may not tell the exact story you had in your mind when you wrote it.”

-Emily Winslow, author of the newly-released suspense, THE WHOLE WORLD

***

“When nobody on planet earth wants to look at your baby, it’s a bit of a death knell to your soul. You look at him and you think, ‘but he’s beautiful…if only you would take a moment to look at his face—into his heart—you will see what I see’. And so it goes. Time and again you are being told, “No thank you. I’d rather not look at your baby if it’s all the same to you.” It happens so often that you begin to steal sideways glances at your child. ‘Well, maybe he’s not so pretty after all. Was that blemish there before? How did I not see that?’ You eat yourself up. You convince yourself that you have an ugly baby and you are ashamed that you’ve been too blinded by love to notice this fact. But then you remember the birth pains…and pleasures. You remember how he slipped through the birth canal, as though from nowhere. You remember those late nights that you spent slipping between pain and wonder. Then you remember watching him grow from but a kernel in your belly to this full-blown strapping child, complete. You ignore those voices in your head that tell you to notice the flaws, the scars, the dents. You tell yourself you’ll be okay. You have a beautiful baby. And you begin again. You ask another person, “Please…will you take a look at my baby? He’s really quite beautiful. All you have to do is ask…and he’s all yours. I trust him enough to send him out into the world. I raised him right. He’ll do me proud. Just look…that’s all I’m asking.”

-author, poet, playwright, Kevin Craig