At a point I felt so turned around wondering if my writing was accomplishing anything I could have written “he went to the store” and if readers were left with the impression someone made it to a store that would have left me in a state of wonder. So when I had the opening two chapters of Flowers on Concrete discussed in a writing class I took in Seattle simply hearing that people were following the story was an incredible feeling. One of the highlights was a guy said he was reading in bed and gave the two chapters to his wife. “Honey, you have to read this.” Kind of a privacy breach since these were works in progress but I didn’t complain or mind. There were also some lowlights, some of which helped me take a fresh look at my writing and see where I could make improvements, but others that I took as confirmation. One lady’s remark I recall giving me chills. At these open talks people are rarely snarky (it’s not the internet; we’re face to face) but there are also writers who won’t blow smoke because they don’t want that from others when it’s their turn. They want help improving their writing. So I believe the woman was trying to kindly point out a problem when she said, of the opening chapter, “To me, it sounded more like someone fantasizing about dying than someone actually dying.”
I couldn’t say “That’s exactly what I wanted you to think!” because at these discussions the writer is supposed to just listen. But the payoff for chapter one comes shortly after the amazon free sample (in chapter seven) where (spoilers) you discover Trey has nothing more than a sprained ankle and a bloody lip. In my mind, for what that’s worth, chapter one is full of clues that Trey is fantasizing dying, as he says, “I’m very good at pretending,” but I’ve always heaped maybe unjust credit to one of my favorite lines from the whole book where Trey is taking in his supposedly final view of the world, describing the beautiful day, and says, “The clouds couldn’t have been more cloudy.”
Faulkner says “Kill your darlings” which is a piece of writing advice writers seem to all interpret differently. Some writers, I suspect, use it to clear out obstructions for potential readers, which can be a wise application and I’ve probably done that. Even a line I love if it’s too jarring to an overall read, if it will potentially take readers out of a story, then what’s to love about it? It does more harm than good. But in other cases it’s your darlings that give your characters life.
Flowers on Concrete is filled with Trey saying quirky things that reflect his odd way of perceiving the world. If the book has them the first chapter has to as well. And the book opens with Trey attempting to delude himself of an alternative reality, as he is prone to do, and I can’t tell readers he’s doing that if he’s not telling himself he’s doing that, so I have to drop hints. This reader got the hint but assumed I was failing to convey something I wasn’t actually trying to convey, something that wasn’t occurring. I kept her in mind during rewrites, but I don’t think I changed it enough to make that much more clear. You can’t please everyone, or try to, or you end up not pleasing anyone, worst of all yourself. The answer at a certain point is that you leave the readers behind who aren’t going to permit certain things and you move forward. You wish them well and thank them for reading but you move forward. You hope other readers’ interest is piqued enough to read on and get to that later payoff. “The clouds couldn’t have been more cloudy” was the first line another reader pointed out that made him chuckle, so that was plenty for me to get beyond Faulkner’s famous, vague writing rule.
Chapter one of Flowers on Concrete can be found here at my blog: https://myfreesentences.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/flowers-on-concrete-chapter-one/
The amazon free sample as well the kindle version of the book for purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MC28L3C
The print version will be available soon. Links below this are from wordpress. Thank you for reading!