We think about this idea of assembling the pieces. We put a lot of kind of new colors on our literary palette today. You know, we're thinking about the image selection process. Figuring out kind of emotionally what you wanna say about your character and then finding that literal embodiment. Thinking about psychology as a place, as a setting, this inhabitable zone for your reader to spend 20 pages of an essay or 400 pages of a memoir. You know, in that writing that narrative Stockholm Syndrome. Like tipping your hat to the idea that the reader's a part of this you guys are in it together. You might be Fred Astaire and you might be a pretty good dancer, but she's better 'cause she's doing it backwards and wearing heels. Use those things as this a way to forge that necessary camaraderie 'cause more often than not the books that stay with us stay with us because of the bond that we have with the main character. Not always but if you think about the stories that mean something to you it's t...
hat person, it's what she did, it's what he did, it's what she didn't do, it's what he didn't do that stay with you long after you, when you shut the final the final page. I've been watching a little bit of the Gymnastics from Rio as I'm sure some of you have and we've been hearing this phrase stick the landing. That's very important for us as creative writers to remember. Readers will forgive some mistakes along the ways but don't make it at the end (chuckles) 'cause that's the last impression they're gonna have of you and your skill level and the entire emotional trajectory that you've gone on. You wanna find some sort of emblematic image. The great Margaret Atwood talks about the ending of a story feeling like an unexpected inevitable. How cool is that? We arrive at this destination, we arrive at this image and we didn't see it coming at all but we say, of course. Of course this story ends this way there's really no other way for this story to be. Think about your endings. We talked a lot about the beginning image you know, I made the argument that there's no such thing as a page one unless page one is in utero. Please don't do that. (laughs) But what you're saying on page one is this is the first impression and I'm putting this first impression here because it's so compelling. There's no way you're not gonna read this and you wanna put the same pressure on yourself with your closing image as well. The ending of a story, ending of a memoir, ending of a novel is the longest white space in the world. Oftentimes, how your characters feel moved in the page will directly correlate to how your readers feel moved as she's ending the book and if we've actually made her feel something. You know, whether it's something plangent over here or something ebullient over here it doesn't matter what emotion we're trying to get at. The point is, we've made her feel something and it has the opportunity to linger long after she shuts the book down and continues to continues to think about it. 'Cause I don't think great endings shut a life down. I think great endings imply some sort of future to come and various readers will see various avenues of the life to continue after the fact. Finally, we come full circle to this idea of your imagination. This idea that nobody else on earth has an imagination quite like yours. That it's the ultimate currency that you have on the page and I really hope you take this to heart. Write the stories that only you can write. Your life experiences, your family of origin, your context right now empowers you to write a story that I'm not capable of writing, that Drew's not capable of writing. The story that planet earth has taught you and that's what you should share with us. The singular vision. This vibrant organ, this vital organ this imagination that is entirely yours gets to get synced up in this kind of nourishing transaction with the imagination of the reader and that's such an exciting opportunity that we have. You know, we talked a lot about letting these genre ideas fall by the wayside. I don't think you should think about whether you write sci-fi, I don't think you should think about whether you write crime, I don't think you should think about whether you write fantasy. I think you should think about writing character driven fiction or character driven non-fiction. As long as there's an embodied brain and as long as there's an embodied heart there's no such thing as genre, it's about a human. It's about a human doing something. Doesn't matter what that something is so long as you're being true to that person's kind of singular vision of his or her worlds moving forward. In a sense, that really ties back to that quote that we started with with Picasso too, right? The chief enemy creativity is a good taste. Writers don't follow trends, writers set trends so don't be thinking necessarily about what's popular right now because by the time your book comes out it'll be two years from now, right? Be thinking about what's next, be thinking about the story that only you can write and that stuff will be timeless it'll be timeless because it transcends any demographic divisions, it transcends gender divisions, country divisions, education level, whatever. That's the plight of being alive right now. Us trying to make sense of what's happening outside. We can do that in an essay, we can do that in fiction, we can do that something set in 2100, we can do that in something set in 2BCE, we can do it with something set today in Seattle, Washington and as long as the heart and as long as the imagination and as long as the brain feels free to express itself like only your programming can do I cannot wait to become your fan. It's biologically impossible for me to become your mom (laughs) but I can't wait in two years or three years to spend $30 to buy all your books. So thanks for spending today nerding out with me, this has been really fun. Thank you for driving sir.
We needed you here.
You made it easy. We have some questions from online. Do you wanna wrap up with--
Let's do some questions.
Three questions. All right, how do you decide the first tone for the book? And then, how do you decide the new tone after what the publisher said? Like to keep everything honest, to yourself but trying out what you were told.
Do you think that question is in regards to that story I told about my last book? Yeah so I wrote a story that's got eight points of view and it's about technology and it's about our digital lives intersecting with our analog lives and I have some very strong feelings on the subject. It was very hard for me not to be smug and it was very hard for me not to be glib at times and it was very hard for me not to sort of treat my characters as though they were zoo animals and I was walking through the zoo being like look at that one, look at that one which runs antithetical to everything that we've been talking about today. (chuckles) My editor very wisely said you need to be more earnest. If you're gonna tell these people stories do it sincerely. You know, there are our ideas, there are our hypotheses and then we put that on the page and then we only have proof when we execute a draft. So when I finally had proof, he was right I had made a tonal misstep and I needed to authentically inhabit that, so I delineate between tone and voice. We talked earlier about voice being defined as personality type of the narrative so I give the word voice to the story but I give the word tone to the author. It's how an author is choosing to inform a moment. So if somebody's gonna slip on a banana peel I can tonally make that really funny or I could tonally make that the most devastating moment that's ever happened to that person. It all depends on how I decide I wanna spin that.
Good. How do you know through which character's eyes to tell the story? For example, through the victim's eyes, of the mugger oh sorry, through the eyes of the mugger, the victim or the all-knowing third person. For some stories, it's so obvious for others it's not so obvious.
Yeah, for sure, I mean think about Gatsby might be the most obvious example. Gatsby couldn't narrate that piece he wouldn't have been able to tell us the truth that's what he had built his whole life on. So we had to find another way into that story. So I think we've talked a lot about being relentless explorers or reckless explorers and I think point of view oftentimes works the same way. My fourth novel was a book called Fight Song and I wanted to tell that book very badly in the second person which is a you voice and I tried it, draft after draft after draft. I'm a big believer that if I'm going to abandon my ideas I'm gonna give them every chance to succeed. So by the time I do have to say that's not working I know that I've given it my best shot. So I did seven, eight, nine drafts in second person and then said to myself, it doesn't work then I'd change it into the third person. So point of view I think, should be just as up for grabs in the revision process as characterization would be your plot or image so make sure that you're not just getting fixated on well I wrote it in the third person this way. It's told from the mugger's perspective and I've already done that and that's the way it's gonna stay. Well, what do you gotta lose? Spend a month, try it in a different point of view and see if any of that bears fruits. So again, it comes back down to being limber and being willing to do the work.
Final question, do you have any tips on writing fantasy books?
I mean I wouldn't say I have any tips directly for fantasy I sort of was just talking about shattering any kind of genre related expectations and to let that hit the floor. Whether you wrote magical realism, whether you write surrealism, whether you write noir, whether you write fantasy as long as you're interested in the rigorous work of occupying a mindset, occupying a consciousness that's not your own I don't think genre should necessarily really matter that much. It really comes down to making sure that it's character driven and as long as you've got a real deal flesh and blood, warts and all human being on the page that transcends any genre. It all comes back down to people, right? The buzz word that we used earlier it was empathy. That's what we're trying to establish. That might be the most important thing that literature is capable of. Maybe, literature could actually teach us empathy because it makes us occupy a thought process that's not our own. It makes you look through another person's heart or spiritual beliefs, what if you were pro-choice and you have to read from pro-lifer standpoint for 300 pages it's not gonna change your mind but at least you can kind of see that side of the argument a little bit more, that's empathy. Being willing to extend grace and courtesy that's not right in your wheel house, not inside your purview. Maybe it teaches us to be better citizens of the world, teaches us to be more open-minded and bring more empathy back into our personal life. I really hope that's possible. Do you guys think that's possible? (audience murmuring) Let's hope so, we need all the empathy we can get right now. (chuckles)
Yep. Josh, where can people follow you? Online and stay in touch with you and track ya.
Very good question. I make myself very easy to track down here's a Twitter handle here. I run an editorial business called Decant Editorial. If anybody wants to track me down and ask some questions about a work in progress I always make myself available. I'm a huge, huge advocate of community building. I don't know if you guys watch any competitive cooking shows but I have noticed that there are two distinct camps in competitive cooking shows. Let's say they're competing and somebody has chopped a bunch of garlic and the person next to them doesn't have any garlic. The no garlic haver says, can I have some garlic? There are two basic responses to that. One person is gonna say, absolutely not. You can't have any garlic, this is a competition. This is my advantage therefore I'm gonna keep all the garlic for myself. I will hoard my garlic. The other personality type says I don't need an advantage, I'm so comfortable with my own abilities that I will readily share my garlic with you and we'll see how the chips fall. I feel like from a community building standpoint it's so important for us to be generous with what we know. Let's be the sort of people that always share our garlic 'cause it's such a better way to go through life than being a crabby garlic hoarder. (laughs)
That's fantastic. Any final thoughts, Josh, as we wrap up?
I mean I think allowing yourself to make a lot of mistakes you know, embracing the trail and error model and I think you should be a promiscuous reader. I think you should read the stuff that you like and I think you should read outside your wheel house. I think you should read widely and I think you should read good books, read the best books that you possibly can. Take in the quality calories. Don't have time for the empty calories. Interact with the best art that you can, learn from the artists who have come before you who are sharing their garlic based on the legacies that they've left behind on the page. Then contribute to the conversation and start putting your own books out. Like I said before, I can't wait to check them out.