Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Challenge

Every writer, no matter how gregarious, struggles with self-promotion. Most of the time, it’s not so much that The Writer is a shy creature, skittish as a cockroach confronted with sudden light; nor is it because The Writer is ever so humble and self-effacing. On the contrary, most writers are thrilled to discuss their work with others, because we are constantly amazed that anyone would find our stories interesting enough to merit discussion.

We just don’t know what makes them interesting.

Ask a writer what makes their novel great, and they’re likely as not to launch into a meandering monologue about the character they fell in love with, the feeling of losing the world to the page, the research they have painstakingly integrated into the story so that you, the reader, don’t realize how much work they had to do, to find out exactly what a certain street in San Francisco Chinatown looks and sounds and smells like after dark. We have no idea what other people find compelling about our work. We only know what we like about it, and it’s not usually the same thing others enjoy.

I was recently challenged to find a brief excerpt from my novel that is so fascinating, the person reading said excerpt would have no choice but to read the rest of the story (this challenge was issued by my publisher, who would actually like to sell some books). I felt it was important to find a strong section—and so I short-circuited my usual impulses to choose a segment that included my favorite character (not that I have a single favorite...the others would revolt if I chose one), or my favorite description, or a section that I’d read over and over after I’d written it, and proclaimed it great. I can’t trust myself to be objective.

It is not my tastes that matter in the selection of such an excerpt. It is the tastes of the reader. The section must be something universally interesting, something that begs the question: “And then what?” So, I tried to look at my oft-reread and revised manuscript with a reader’s eyes, and choose a segment that ended somewhere I wouldn’t want to stop.

Here’s what I chose.

An excerpt from Broken Angel by S. W. Vaughn

Gabriel reviewed a mental checklist of his captor’s expectations. Lillith’s life depended on his performance here and now. Don’t kill your opponent. Don’t disfigure your opponent. Draw out the match. Shirt off. Goddamn it. He had to display the inked horror Jenner branded him with. He shrugged free of both shirts and dropped them in a crumpled heap on the nearest bench, ignoring his opponent’s antagonistic snort. He looked at the ring, the announcer, the spectators, and remembered the last unspoken rule . . .

Don’t lose.

A cheer rippled through the crowd. The sound crested even before the announcer reached the center of the ring, and Gabriel’s heart sank. Tonight he served as the star attraction—fresh meat. The woman in the cage held up a hand for silence, but the din swelled before it settled into a dull roar.

She smiled, dazzling. Paused for effect. Raised the mike.

“And now, the main event!”

Cheers and jeers, applause and catcalls. A thin film of sweat coated Gabriel’s palms. He rubbed them on his pants.

“House Ulysses welcomes back to the ring . . . Eddie of Dionysus!”

Flash of white teeth. Feet charged up wooden stairs, pounded across the mat. Cheers and jeers—more cheers, less jeers.

They liked Eddie.

“And introducing the latest addition to our fine stable of fighters. Please welcome to the arena . . . Angel!”

Gabriel’s feet carried him forward and up. Step, step, step, into the searing flood of spotlights. Hands fisted at his sides, determination etched on his face. He forced himself to cross to the center with measured gait and proud posture.

Dimly aware of the awed hush that befell the crowd, he faced his opponent and waited. He would let Eddie make the first move.

Don’t lose don’t lose don’t lose.

The announcer retreated with an appreciative wink. A buzzer sounded.

Eddie moved.


Today's Zen wisdom: Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.



Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Oh, man, SW. You have me salivating. I adored this book and can't wait to re-read it with all the changes you've made to it. Especially holding the print book in my hands. (you know I love print books - www.printambassador.com)

Angel is one of my favorite characters, too, and you chose a fantastic excerpt. He's the perfect battered hero.

But I miss all the characters - even Jenner, the scariest man on the planet. I'll never forget the first day I read the Broken Angel manuscript and the insidious fear that enveloped me around bedtime. I couldn't stop thinking about Jenner. And yet, as time goes on through your riveting series, I grew to love him as much as the other characters. Talk about making an indelible mark on my life. Wow. Unforgettable scenes and people; chilling action and suspense; and a story that will invade your brain and never leave.

Thanks for this! Will you print some excerpts with Jenner next?

Marta Stephens said...

Hmmm SW, this takes me back to that early draft I read, what ... two years ago? I recall not being able to put it down. Can't wait to read the finished, PUBLISHED version! You're so right. It's nearly impossible to be objective about our own work, but this was perfect. This scene has that WOW ending: "Eddie moved."

Love it!

s.w. vaughn said...

Thanks, guys...

^inadequate comment^