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Hello, writers. Many thanks to the brilliant and charming pico for hosting Write On! last week, and for covering a topic that I've ignored too much, endings.

Teh Guru always told us that the two most important lines in a work of fiction were the first and the last. The first, of course, has the job of attracting the reader. The last has the job of staying with the reader.

(I don't do very well with endings.)

Last week I was in New York visiting my agent and my publisher. This was my second time visiting a publisher. The first was back in 2006, just before Pickpocket was published, and the overwhelming impression I remember is Wow-- Editors are people.

Before that, I probably had some image of grim-faced folk sitting at high desks, quite possibly clad in judicial robes, and banging gavels all day as they judged writers worthy or unworthy of publication.

But they don't seem to think in those terms at all. At least, they don't talk in them. When they say that something “isn't right for” them, they apparently actually mean that. There doesn't seem to be any setting for “Good heavens, this person has no business trying to write at all!” At least, not that I've seen or overheard.

Whereas we take their reaction to our stuff as a judgment. Rejections leave us thinking that we totally suck and we're fools to try to write at all. Then when the exact same manuscript that garnered rejections sells, we feel like maybe we're okay at this writing gig after all... even though the writing itself hasn't changed.

On last week's trip, I was struck by how differently publishing folk talk about books than writers do. We tend to think in these terms:

Will it last? he says.
Is it a masterpiece?
Will generation after generation
Turn with reverence to the page?

 Archibald MacLeish

(By the way, for a terrific last line, click through to the poem.)

Publishers are a bit more market-conscious than that. They have to be. Publishing is a business. Out of a plethora of good stuff that's being offered to them, they have to guess what readers will actually buy.

I won't say more than that, because I don't know more than that, but it does seem to me that it's a bit like choosing a book to read... you're not condemning what you don't choose, but you're picking what's right for you.

This is why I keep telling people to go to a bookstore and figure out where the stuff they write is shelved. It helps give you an idea of where you fit into the market. If you're writing something that doesn't fit into a readily available niche (a genre-crossing book, for example) then you're facing a tougher sell. Not an impossible sell, but a tough one.

Since the above ramble doesn't lead easily into a tonight's challenge, try this one:

Using one of the following scenarios:


- A callow youth and his/her stout companion, weary from slogging through the Endless Swamp, have arrived at the Startled Duck, where they hope to get a room for the night.

- Belinda sees Lord Postlethwaite-Praxleigh (pronounced Puppy) leaving the ballroom on the arm of her rival, Adelaide, who isn’t even capable of appreciating all he went through in the Peninsular Wars

- Goodwife Thankful Goodheart is feeding her hens and minding her own business when she sees that awful Agnes Addlepate giving her the evil eye.

Write a scene that contains the line

“Look out! The turnips have gone feral!”


Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
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