Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

What Readers Want vs What Writers Must Do

You can see, right above the title of this post, what this blog is “about”. And, you can definitely help me decide the balance of those three broad topics by taking a brief survey

Today, I’ll write about Readers (and their Relationship with Writers).

What do Readers want?

That’s a question writers are asked to consider when they attempt to build an audience, whether through social media or more traditional efforts.

In a previous post called, So, How Do Writers Find Readers?, I said this:

“Some of the wildest relationships in the world are between authors and readers.

“Lately, writers have had a new horde of ‘experts’ yelling at them about how to hook-up with readers.

“Personally, I don’t think any two books (except the pulps in various genres) have the same history of attracting readers.

“It seems that, just as Mary wants Jim but Jim needs a wake up call and Mary doesn’t want to seem forward and Jim, well you get the idea; seems that authors need Relationship advice, not Marketing advice.

“Readers have relationships with authors, always have, and today’s publishing scene is begging authors to build relationships with their readers, like never before.”

Still, writers have needs that readers don’t, and vice versa.

To help readers understand the needs of a writer, I want to share a few quotes from an article on Curator by Rebecca D. Martin.

The article focuses on J. K. Rowling’s newest novel The Casual Vacancy and the whole issue of what the fans of Harry Potter Expected

As always, I urge you to read the whole article but, early on, Rebecca Martin says:

many of her devoted readers wanted to know where the magic—overt or otherwise—had gone. The expectation was understandable. She had done Middle Grades fantasy so well before. Why wouldn’t she produce the same again?”

Then, she boldly states the main point:

we readers tend to think writers, in general, owe it to us. We may concede the right—nay, the duty (dangerous word)—of the creator to push herself, test new ground, blaze new artistic trails. But the reality is that, having done something well once, the writer must do the same again. We expect that he do it over and over and over.”

I suppose Rowling induced some of her fans’ criticism by writing so many Potter books, yet, as Martin says:

“Let’s…give Rowling a hearty congratulations, too, not only for her work at crafting another story, but also for pushing herself to branch out, with all the risks and imperfections involved in attempting something new.”

Martin also considers other authors’ readership challenges:

“Charles Dickens…wrote and wrote and wrote. He wrote what he knew would sell….But he also wrote about what interested him, including essays that weren’t all that well done or well received, because he cared to experiment with his craft. The reading public held expectations of him, and only sometimes did he answer those expectations with his ever-scribbling pen.”

“This nonconformity in writerly habit, whether it’s one exemplary novel in a lifetime or many books with varying reception, stymies us. Our criticism is implicit in the seeming oddity of Marilynne Robinson’s long pause between writing the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Housekeeping and the winning Gilead…”

“We are befuddled by why E.M. Forster ‘stopped writing fiction at the age of 45. He lived quietly for another 46 years and continued to write essays, short biographies and literary journalism—but no more novels’.”

Martin, herself a writer, gives a number of other examples, then asks the question:

“Experimenting with form and content, pushing ourselves outside the comfort of predictable perfection in order to create new and maybe—hopefully—better art: Is this not what we, as creative people, do?”


As a reader

Do you expect writers to do things they may not care to do?

Do you judge the newest book by what that author did before?

Are you willing to let the writer do what they feel they must do and judge each book (even in a series) as a unique creation?
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The “Self”-Education of Writers . . .

I must begin this post by making it clear that many fine writers have completed what’s considered a full education—appropriate degrees and banners flying high.

Yet, many other fine writers have tasted the fare of society’s brand of learning and decided, sometimes seemingly “against their will”, to set their own sails on their own ship of pedagogy.

I, for instance, tried college three times—thrice found it wanting—am still a devoted learner

Many are the writers whose education—beyond that which is learned from living fully and authentically—comes from reading other writers—their creative fiction, not books about how to write.

From the previous post, How To Read Like A Writer—here’s a quote of me quoting Maria Popova who’s quoting Francine Prose from her book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them:

Concerning writers reading to learn how to write—”…the connection has to do with whatever mysterious promptings make you want to write. It’s like watching someone dance and then secretly, in your own room, trying out a few steps.”

“You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading.”

“The only time my passion for reading steered me in the wrong direction was when I let it persuade me to go to graduate school….I left graduate school and became a writer.”

And, concerning authors who stopped their schooling, FlavorWire has an article called, 10 Famous Authors Who Dropped Out of School.

Harper Lee who dropped out during her junior year of university.

Augusten Burroughs, dropped out at age 13.

Charles Dickens, forced out of school at 12 to work long hours for little pay, returned to school, yet many feel his early working days color his writing.

Jack Kerouac dropped out during his freshman year from football injuries.

William Faulkner dropped out at 15 and again at 22.

Mark Twain was forced out of school at 12 due to his father’s death and the need to work for the family.

George Bernard Shaw, dropped out at 14 and once wrote, “Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

H.G. Wells, out at 11 due do his father’s injury.

Jack London, out at 13.

Can you share others in the Comments?

Did you also drop out of school?
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Author Interview ~ Linda Urbach

I must admit, I’m feeling very good about publishing this interview with Linda Urbach. It’s the first time an author has visited this blog who’s had someone say this about her recently published book: “A lavishly textured sequel to a timeless literary masterpiece.”

Read on :-)


Linda, when did you begin writing and can you remember how it felt, inside, back then?

I first started writing in the third grade. It was a poem about Halloween. And every line rhymed. The next writing I did was for a Junior National Scholastic short story competition in the 4th grade (It was the story of a sardine who gets separated from his family).  I won first prize (A $25 savings bond).  My mother typed the story for me and I always had the sneaking suspicion that she re-wrote it and that’s why I won a prize. The next year I also won a prize in the same contest. Still, I believed it was my mother’s typing that somehow elevated my writing to a prize-winning level.

I think I was always writing in my head from a very early age. Putting down on paper gave me a sense of control of my young life, which of course, was an illusion.

Linda, please tell us what your goal for your writing is?

My greatest joy in life is entertaining people, in making them laugh. My goal in writing is to entertain and amuse myself in addition to as many people as I can. In other words, I write to write and I write to be read, hopefully by lots and lots of people.

I *love* that one of your writing goals is to amuse yourself :-)

Have you had any “formal” training in the art of writing?

I majored in English Lit in college. I took some fiction writing courses at the New School in New York. But I think my greatest training came from reading. Reading anything and everything.

Well then, I must ask, who are your favorite writers and why are they favorites?

Oh, so very many. But let me just focus on one of the greats: Charles Dickens. Nobody tells a tale or creates a character like he does. They live on long after you’ve closed the book. Read any Dickens and you’ll see what a master storyteller he was. Dombey & Son is a particular favorite of mine.

Where and/or how do you get your ideas for writing?

I used to get the ideas for my writing for my own life experience. I published two novels of contemporary fiction under another name (Expecting Miracles and The Money Honey under Linda U. Howard, published by Putnam’s). But to be honest my life wasn’t that interesting so I got my idea for my recently published novel, Madame Bovary’s Daughter, from, where else, but reading Madame Bovary, the great classic by Gustave Flaubert. In reading the novel I couldn’t help but feel terribly sorry for the poor unloved daughter. Her mother cheated on her father, bankrupted the family and finally poisoned herself without ever giving a thought to her daughter.

Folks, I urge you to click that link up there for Madame Bovary’s Daughter!!

So, tell us, Linda, what’s your normal revision or editing routine?

I put down my first thoughts and it’s like reading gibberish. I make a point to try and get as far into the story as I can in just broad, rough strokes. Then I go back and put it all in English. Then I look at it and think, who wrote this garbage? That’s when the revisions really get going. My big concern is getting the whole story down before I start ripping it apart. Because I really rip it.

I love it–“Then I go back and put it all in English.” :-)

So, what are you ripping into now?

I’m currently working on a novel entitled Sarah’s Hair, the story of Sarah Bernhardt’s hairdresser. Sarah Bernhardt was the Lady Gaga of her times (1870’s Paris).  She made a name for herself on the stage and took her wild personality and unbelievable talent on the road. She toured all over the world. Pascale, her hairdresser had her hands full, not only with Madame Sarah’s wild head of hair, but with her unpredictable temperament as well.

Oh, my, that sounds absolutely like a Must-Read!!

Thank you, Linda, for taking time away from your schedule to let us have a peek at your writing life :-)


So, dear reader, go check out Madame Bovary’s Daughter. And, I can’t help but reproduce a post Linda did right after her book was published:

J’ai la dépression, bigtime.
Posted on July 29, 2011 by lindahoward

What do I have to be depressed about? The book is out. Well, that’s just the point.  It is out. It’s done. It’s over. People are either reading and liking it or not reading it and “liking” it.  Giving it away as birthday presents or library donations.  Using it to stabilize a wobbly end table.  Taking it on public transport to impress fellow passengers and then dropping it into the nearest trash bin. I mean, you just don’t know what happens to your baby once it’s out in the world. You can follow anxiously behind, tweeting, retweeting, friending, unfriending, linking in and linking up and you still have no control over what will happen to le bébé Now, are you as depressed as I am? I hope so. What’s the cure for post partum depression?  Ooooh! Oooh! Je suis enceinte avec un autre livre! *

* I am pregnant with another book!
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