A crucial lesson I learned early on in my attempts at writing fiction is that every character is you–and not you. Characters have parts of you inside of them because you wrote them. But they are still not you. Chris Abani once said in a workshop that readers will always wonder if your characters are you–even if your main character is a Chihuahua. There’s not much to do about this wondering except write the characters you want to write with complexity and empathy.
Congratulations! You’ve published a book, and people are lining up to buy it. Now begins the trickiest part of an author’s journey: signing your own book.
You’ve read an excerpt, charmed the crowd. You’ve perfected the swooshy drama of your signature. Uncap your Official Signing Pen. Take a seat.
Lined up at your signing table are:
- Your high school Home Ec teacher, whose class you nearly failed.
- Your own former students, one of whom you nearly failed.
- Another professor’s students, attending for the extra credit, or else they’ll fail.
- All of your mother’s law partners.
- Your father, who can’t believe his sweet child grew up to write this grim book.
- Several strangers who wandered over when you read the dirty parts.
What do you write? Best Wishes? Keep Laughing? Every inscription seems too generic or too clichéd, especially for a writer. Oh no, did you really just write the word Awesome? Wait, does your beloved mentor’s name have one “n” or two? Does this pen have an eraser? Great, now you’re smudging.
I’m at that stage in editing my second novel where I’m confronted with my own bad habits. It’s much like cleaning out your closet only to discover you still own not one but three pairs of those chunky clogs that were popular in 1996. How have they hidden this long? And what were you ever thinking?
In reading my draft, I noticed a character rolling her eyes more than once. I ran a search on the word “roll” and discovered I had 17 separate eye-rolling incidents, most of them from that one (really fed up, apparently) character.
I was also horrified to find twenty uses of the word “fool”—and I should clarify here that my novel is in no way about the courtly entertainments of the seventeenth century.
My choices were simple: I could either beat myself over the head with my manuscript, or I could drag other writers into the literary equivalent of that fifth-grade slumber party game, where you all tell your most embarrassing secrets. I chose the latter—and the results are below.
The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and over the coming months I will also invite other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets.
We also ask contributors to the series to tell us about their favorite pets from literature. Here’s what Alan told us: “I’m a tough guy from a tough place and I write tough stories. But a little pig breaks me down. In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur has found out he’s destined for the farmer’s chopping block and his new spider friend Charlotte says she’ll think of way to save him—and Wilbur, unable to sleep, says, ‘Charlotte, I don’t want to die.’ It’s just too real, too painful—I cry every time I read it. Wilbur is filled with so much innocence and beauty and humility and I don’t want him to die. I want to hold him in my arms and tell him the truth that he’s a very special pig and everything will be okay.”
We hope you enjoy Alan’s essay.
—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief
My dog Mazzy Maebelle Heathcock is a nine-month old black lab mix—a mix of what, we’re not sure, though part black-lab part bunny is my guess. She’s a pound puppy, and we feel very fortune to have her in our family. Mazzy is pure love. She is warm and cuddly and my wife and three kids love her as much as I do.
If you need to hug something, Mazzy is there for you. If you need a warm wet tongue on your face, Mazzy will always accommodate. If you need someone to attack an intruder or intimidate your neighbors, Mazzy is not the dog for you. She loves everyone. She even loves our eighteen year old cat, Kitty Sue, who, at her age doesn’t love much of anything anymore. But ol’ Mazzy does her best to snuggle up with Kitty and make friends. Mazzy is a good dog, and though she chewed up a pair of my Cole Haan shoes she’s been a pretty great pup.