This is my grandma. Her name is Louise. She’s ninety. She lives in Florida for most of the year, where she’s the grande dame of her retirement park, and tours the grounds on her motorized scooter. She volunteers at a secondhand store called The Mustard Seed, and enjoys getting first dibs on new donations. She crochets blankets for shelter cats, and afghans for the Hole in the Wall Gang. Once a week, she and her friends at the park get together for what they call “study group,” where they drink wine and tell (mostly dirty) jokes. (And she likes creepy dolls and hoards cheese and chicken, but those are stories for another time.)
She also reads. A lot. In fact, part of the reason I love reading is because I grew up seeing her with a book (or a National Enquirer) in her hand all the time. The guest room in her Connecticut house had a big bookshelf in it, which was packed with suspense and romance novels, her faves. And we’re talking the classics, Sidney Sheldon and Judith Krantz and V.C. Andrews. I was always eager to sleep over, so I could stay up all night in the guest room, perusing. (In this case, “perusing” meant looking for the dirty parts.)
Now, my grandmother gets her books from the lending library at the park. She gave me an earful about it when we had our weekly phone convo this Sunday. Here are some highlights:
- I can tell within the first ten pages whether I’ll like a book or not. Why don’t writers know to make those first ten pages good?
- I don’t need a whole paragraph telling me about a girl’s dress and how it was pinned. I just skip over those parts. Though I know the author needs to fill out the book somehow.
- Do people “self-publish”? Is that what it’s called? Because I’ve come across a few of those in our park’s lending library, and they’re terrible! The last one I read, I counted eight characters within the first two pages. I had to write them all down to keep track of them. Too much work!
I think Louise missed out on a career in publishing. All of these things (the importance of a strong opening, the elimination of unnecessary exposition and characters, the need for good editorial feedback) are among the advice I’ve shared with clients over the years, and employed in my own writing.
And if these words of wisdom weren’t enough of a gift, my grandma also left me with this joke…
An eighty-year-old woman just lost her fourth husband, and was relating his obituary to a newspaper reporter. The reporter asked what her husband did for a living.
“He was an undertaker,” the woman replied. “My first husband was a banker, my second husband was a circus ringmaster, and my third husband was a preacher.”
“That’s quite a variety,” said the reporter.
“Well,” said the woman, “I had one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!”
More good advice (and good humor) from Louise to come. Stay tuned!