My friend, Elwood Wendie, is between manuscripts and had some time to share his thoughts with us. Welcome back, Elwood! Oh, and EW insisted that I post his photo because he noticed that I usually put up the author's photo when I do interviews. So, here's the photo he sent me:
Very handsome likeness, EW. ;) The floor is yours...
Do Women Really Want To Be Told What To Do? -OR- How I Learned Not To Write
As a ghost writer, I don't actually write anything that's my own. But I wish I could. So I went to some writer's conventions and workshops. Much to my surprise, I never learned anything about writing. But I learned a tremendous amount about not writing.
And about women.
The fact that the conferences and workshops were full of women, should have made sense, because if we guys aspire to be writers we don't bother going to conferences or taking classes. We just write. Me, I was still on the fence about the whole thing. After all, I'm making a good living writing other people's books. Why mess with that?
Anyway, in one conference there was this lady talking, Nora something-or-other (no not Roberts, she doesn't give workshops. She's too busy making buckets full of money.) So this Nora was all Queen Elizabeth like (the second one silly, not the first) and she said, all regal like, "Write about emotion." And she made this twisty wave of her hand. And nobody wrote anything.
"What do you mean by emotion?" one lady asked.
"Yeah, can you define emotion?" prompted another.
A big argument broke out as The Queen offered some wisdom about digging deep into your emotional psyche and so forth. I didn't really understand it, but was hoping to catch on by listening in on the arguments. It got pretty rough in there. I couldn't believe they were actually questioning The Queen. Being a guy, I'm used to this sort of treatment from women, but I didn't realize women did this to other women. I really need to get out of the office more.
The Queen finally restored order and did her best to give a long-winded, but essentially empty explanation. When that failed it was followed by many more, pressing and at times rather ugly questions. At last she resorted to quoting her own work as examples. Not having read her vast lexicon of romance novels, I departed for greener and hopefully less sanguine pastures.
Down the hall I stepped into a large room filled with women sitting at round tables facing a single man of small stature at a podium. He exuded an encouraging level of indifference. Good. At least he wouldn't be asking me to dig deeply into my emotions. I think his initials were DM, but let's call him Ralph.
Ralph cleared his throat. The room was pin drop silent. The women held their collective breath. The only sounds in the room were the swishes of hair being tossed over delicate shoulders and the light rasp of imaginary crumbs being brushed off bosoms.
I could have sat in pleasant reverie all afternoon, even if no one spoke another word. To me it was a little slice of Heaven. Alas, Ralph cleared his throat again in a manner that indicated he was about to speak. After several minutes passed, he did.
"Write about emotion," he said.
Instantly, electric fire spewed from a thousand pens. The cacophony of scratching went on for long minutes while Ralph preened his impeccable tie and stared at the pattern of punched tin squares of ceiling tiles. I sat in motionless awe. Great preening, Ralph. I must have missed that day in guy school.
I had no idea what to write, so I didn't. After about five minutes my mind wandered and I began to contemplate the platinum shades of hair on a busty little blonde across the room.
"You!" his voice echoed in the palatial room "You're not writing."
Thousands of eyes glared in my direction as I melted into the floor. Gulp.
"No, I'm not."
"'Cause I don't know what to write."
"I said write about emotion."
"If I have to tell you, then you are not a writer."
"I...I really don't understand what I'm supposed to do," I protested.
"You must write about emotion."
"I really don't know how, but if you'd shut up for a second, maybe I could learn something from watching these women," I suggested.
"Leave!" His Moses finger pointed toward the door.
I rose on shaky legs and evaporated out the door. I passed the hall of the hotel and spotted the bar. I stopped in and ordered a double Scotch, no ice. After a few sips I recalled Guy School rule number 27. 'Never let on that you have no idea what you're doing. If you appear to be in charge, then you are in charge.' Obviously Ralph had learned that lesson well. It reminded me of FDR. Why, you ask? Because FDR wrote Guy School Rules Volumes, 6, 7 and 9 and it was he who said, "If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you can't." Actually, it was rumored that Eleanor wrote Volume 7, but let's not go there. I'll save that for another blog.
I tossed back one more of Scotland's best and then rejoined the throng of people moving from function room to function room. Standing room only in so many of the smaller rooms. However, I did manage to slip into one medium sized room where a man was pacing while waiting for the audience to settle into their seats. He reminded me of one of my son's Marine Corp drill instructors at Paris Island. But this guy was a Green Beret, and that would be Camp Something-or-other. Anyway, let's call him Ralph. He barked the room to order and presented his first slide, a tiger, proud and graceful.
"This is the publishing industry," he said.
His next slide was of a tiger pouncing on a gazelle.
"This is the publishing industry when it gets a hold of a decent manuscript."
Half the room laughed, the other half groaned.
"This could happen to you!" he barked. "Unless you do exactly as I say."
The room fell silent. One man gasped and snuck out the rear door. I wanted to follow him, but those two double Scotches finally kicked in. Instead I suppressed a giggle. Ralph glared and I bowed my head and contritely placed my chin on my chest.
"Drop and give me twenty," he ordered.
I collapsed at three.
With a huff he continued, ignoring the puddle of uselessness I presented on the floor.
"Write about emotion," he commanded the audience of mostly women.
Again, a thousand pens spewed electric fire.
Emotion, I mumbled to myself, you write sci-fi. How do you find emotion in sci-fi? I stared motionless at the nib of my pen contemplating Guy School rule #87, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Oh, wrong quote. That was Roosevelt, and Teddy at that. I always knew there must have been some way Eleanor learned what to do.
At least this Ralph didn't order me out. He just let me sit there and do nothing while all the women around me scribbled at least 60,000 words.
Slowly realization dawned. These men couldn't write. But every woman in this room could. And yet they liked being told by a guy how to do it. Ralph #1 was a big New York agent. He was following Guy School rule #42, "Don't do the work yourself, sell what somebody else does." Ralph #2 was following Guy School rule #8, "Orders won't be followed unless you shout them out with proper threats." Whoa. These guys were truly brilliant.
I've decided that writing on my own is too tough, so I'm sticking with ghost writing. Luckily most of my clients aren't women, otherwise, they'd be learning to write their own stories and I'd be out of work fast.
So my question to you ladies (and gents) is: Am I right? Do you really like being told how to write?