What I Hope Baby D3 Never Unlearns

July 3, 2018

With my third grandchild due to arrive in less than a month (insert gasp of joy here), I’ve given some thought to what I’d like to teach him. But as I started contemplating my words of wisdom, it occurred to me that the most important things I want him to know aren’t things he has to learn. In all his pure, beautiful perfection, he’ll come into the world knowing them. But sadly, most babies outgrow what they intuitively know. So what follows is not a list of what I want Baby D3 to learn; it’s a list of what I want him not to unlearn . . . at least not too early. Baby D3, please don’t unlearn: *That people are good. I love that you will come into the world knowing this. Your utter faith in the fact that every smile you share will be returned will manifest your expectations. Your faith will uplift those around you, will remind them of their higher and better selves, will make them want to be worthy of your trust. Yes, you’ll learn too soon that some people...

Pulling Together Rather Than Tearing Each Other Apart

June 27, 2018

I was the funny one. That’s the sibling role I settled into at a young age. I was one of five children, and there was lots of jostling-about for bragging rights, so it was no easy task establishing my bonafides. My big brother, the eldest, was the smart one, the leader, the pitch-perfect musician. My oldest sister, number-two on my parents’ hit parade, was the little mother — the caring, maternal one who put everyone else’s needs and preferences ahead of her own. My next sister, Hurley number three, was simply a perfectionist in every way possible — class valedictorian, a prodigy on the piano and many other superlatives associated with an over-achieving middle child jockeying for her fair share of attention. I was number four, so humor and storytelling became my forte. (The pickings were slim by the time I came along, particularly amid such formidable competition.) My baby brother threw all the balls in the air and carved a new niche entirely, distinguishing himself in ...

Do You Have a Moment?

June 12, 2018

Moments. Those are what find their way into my novels. I'm frequently asked if my characters are based on real people. Of course, the occasional characteristic or physical trait of a friend or acquaintance might end up in one of my books, but for the most part, no. One of the joys of fiction-writing is to create a person from whole cloth, endowing the character with a decidedly unique set of DNA. But moments. . . Those I collect like precious stones as people cross my path, and they occasionally do make the cut. They're the moments I can't shake from my mind for one reason or another, no matter how much time passes. They resonate. They haunt. They inform. They encapsulate in a single anecdote a lifetime of wisdom, or angst, or perspective, or all of the above. For instance, there's the assault victim who shared with me that after her ordeal, her rapist muttered contemptuously, "Go clean yourself up." That detail -- so cruel, so searing -- found its way into the rape scene o...

The Writer as Hairdresser

June 7, 2018

A hairdresser with awful hair. That's what I challenge fledgling writers to think of when they ask for advice on writing an effective query letter. I often find that unpublished writers seem to have two sets of writing standards: one that applies to their novel and one that applies to the tedious business of trying to get their novel sold. I think that's a mistake. My short answer to the question of how to write an effective query letter (or any of the other document related to trying to interest an agent or publisher in your novel) is to convince the recipient that you're a great writer with a great idea. I think the former is particularly important. Great writers tend to make virtually any groupings of words sparkle. Whether they're writing emails, thank-you notes or novels, they're cognizant of engaging the reader. That doesn't mean being pretentious . . . just the opposite, in fact. It means respecting the reader enough not to squander the opportunity to form a connecti...

Stepping Out on William Styron

June 6, 2018

A confession: I’ve been stepping out on William Styron lately. I’ve finally gotten around to reading “Sophie’s Choice” (I know, what an idiot for waiting so long), and I’m totally in love with Styron’s lush and elegant prose. But I’ve got to pull away from it occasionally. I’ve seen the movie, and I’m clear that the Holocaust drama gets more heart-wrenching with every page. So after absorbing a few pages at a time about Sophie, Stingo and Nathan, I zip down the metaphorical street to check in with Michael and Kit in the memoir, “Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies,” or take a sharp detour by reading a chapter or two of “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think.” In other words, I’m reading all three (and a couple of others as well) simultaneously. I once considered such a flighty attention span nothing short of sacrilege. I mean, how was I supposed to do justice to the neurotic idiosyncrasies of Harry Angstrom if I was alternating chapters of...

Reading by the Pool

May 31, 2018

I was reading a book at my neighborhood pool the other day when I noticed two little boys playing in the shallow end, laughing gleefully as they invented new water games on the fly, refining the rules with every round. After about an hour or so, they emerged from the pool, shaking chlorine-scented water from their ears as they joined their mom in a deck chair. She retrieved a book from her beach bag and began reading aloud to them. They nestled languidly against her as their limbs spilled over the sides of the chair. I couldn’t make out the words she read to them, but I detected her soothing voice as she turned page after page for the next forty minutes or so. The boys were entranced. And so was I. I loved seeing kids so utterly captivated by the written word, so lulled by their mom’s sonorous voice. No wonder they’d played together so easily, so effortlessly, in the pool a few minutes earlier. They were clearly accustomed to keeping themselves happily and harmoniously a...

Say What?

May 24, 2018

My BFF, Wendy, and I had an ongoing shtick throughout college. We’d be making normal conversation, then we’d follow the last sentence with, “she said.” We often added adverbs for fun. For instance, if I was trying to talk Wendy into going to a concert with me that night, I’d follow it with, “. . . she said hopefully.” We got crazy mileage and endless mutual appreciation out of this little verbal tic that made everyone around us roll their eyes. I can’t swear to it, but I’m guessing I’m the one who set this silly trope in motion. Why? Because I spend my life actually subconsciously adding, “. . . she said” after I say something aloud. It’s the writer in me. Conversation isn’t conversation, it’s dialogue. I spend so much time writing dialogue for imaginary characters that I can virtually visualize the quotation marks around my real-life words. Dialogue is my favorite part of writing, a way to fully immerse myself in a make-believe person and to bring t...

My Non-Advice for Aspiring Writers

May 21, 2018

I'll be among the panelists at an upcoming writers' workshop, so I'm brushing up on my advice for fledgling novelists. I'll trot out the tried-and-true adages: show, don't tell; read your dialogue aloud to road-test its authenticity; edit yourself mercilessly (don't count every word, but make every word count); be smart and strategic in submitting your work for publication . . . stuff like that. But I always feel a bit like a fraud when giving advice. I mean, what do I know? Yes, I've had a modicum of success in the publishing business, but maybe I'd have had way more had I played my cards differently. I certainly didn't follow a specific path; I just kinda bumbled my way along, learning by trial and error. The fact is that creative writing is an intensely personal endeavor. One-size-fits-all just doesn't apply, particularly considering fiction's inherent subjectivity. So maybe I'll try a different tack. Maybe rather than advising aspiring writers what to do, I'll advis...

Ouch. That One Got to Me

May 9, 2018

I frequently visit a news website that offers an engaging mix of political, cultural and editorial content. It’s a strictly digital publication, one of the earliest in the nascent days of the internet to try to charge for subscriptions. The subscription model flopped – too much content was available for free to motivate readers to cough up any spare change – so the site bit the bullet, dispensing with subscriptions and relying solely on advertising for revenue. Now, it’s trying again, offering free basic access to the site but reviving subscriptions and promising all kinds of goodies for the takers. Visits to the site are periodically interrupted by appeals to subscribe. Like the vast majority of readers, I’m guessing, I simply X out the “Subscribe now!” window and continue gorging on the free content. Until today. The ads usually emphasize the what's-in-it-for-you angle: exclusive in-depth features, expanded interactivity, columns and essays otherwise unavailabl...

Accent-uating the Positive

May 8, 2018

I write in a Southern accent. Well, not all the time. Only when I’m writing personal messages or social media posts. The twang evaporates when I write novels. I’m not talking about dialect or jargon or patois. I’m talking about nuance, inflection, affect. I just noticed it recently. When I’m writing professionally, I use things like exclamation points and adjectives sparingly. Less is almost always more, in my estimation. But in personal correspondence, my drawl comes through loud and clear. I tend to get so gosh-darn effusive that the words splat onto the page like water balloons. So why the difference? Why do I communicate so differently in my own voice than that of my characters? I think it’s because of my mom. She had a truly beautiful voice – rich, honeyed, sonorous. Not only was it the first voice I ever heard, but it was the voice that read to me. I still remember her lilting cadence when she read me “Madeline” as I snuggled against her on the bed....

© 2018 Christine Hurley Deriso