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Books

One of my first theatre mentors used to be my boyfriend. We saw a lot of shows together. A performer, director, producer, he spent his off-time going to shows because he loved them. I loved sitting next to him, sensing what he liked and what he didn’t, what moved him and what bored him, what struck him as original after 30 years of watching and creating for the stage.

He says the one question he has as he takes his seat and the lights go down–what he wants the playwright, the director, the actors to answer–is:

“Why am I sitting here”

In other words, What are you going to do with my time? My heart? My brain? My station in life in these two hours? How does it matter, this experience?

It’s a big question to answer when you’re writing content, creating for an audience, asking people to indulge you your words and hoping your words will in turn indulge them.

To help me answer that mother lode question, this is what I ask myself:

What do you know?
What do you want people to know?
What do you NOT want them to know?
What do you have to give them?
What do you want to receive?
What’s true?

“True” doesn’t mean you have to tell a true story. It means you have to be true to what the story or the content wants. Be true to all of those other questions that come before it in the list. Be true to your characters, your impact, your knowledge or the value you’re offering.

It means don’t be UNTRUE. Don’t make up stuff you don’t know to sound smart because you think what you have to give them is not enough without it. Don’t dump everything and imagine your reader wants to pick through the sludge to find the good bits.

What’s true?

Be true to the message. True to your relationship with the audience, whatever that may be. True to your relationship with the material. And then be lean.

A lot of talk goes around these days about being authentic. This is where it counts. What of yourself do you want to keep. What do you want to give away. What matters?

You’ve got our attention. Lay it on us. Make us pleased we’re sitting here.

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I grew up with my nose in a book. A lot of books. So many books that my grandmother would get mad at me for not playing with my brothers on weekend beach trips in the RV.

But my brothers had nothing on Jondalar and Ayla. The Clan of the Cave Bear series was infinitely more interesting than seaweed and sand dunes. And I saw my brothers all the time. There were five in all.

One memorable summer, David and I joined our grandparents on a drive through the Southwest. My mom had taken me to the used paperback store to fill a box for the trip. An escapist herself, she knew the value of a box of unread books. From that box, Marguerite Henry’s stories about horses got me from our doorstep to the edge of the Grand Canyon.

The metal RV stair squeaked as we each stepped out. We took in the view, restless after all that driving. I looked up the canyon, down the canyon, across the canyon.

“Is that it?” I asked.

My grandma about threw me into it.

The hole in the ground was nothing like Stormy, Misty’s Foal. That story had its fingers dug into me, gripping, alive, waiting for me to find out if Misty would live through her harrowing birth. I calculated how long I’d have to stand there till I turned on my heel and went back to my book.

I was driven to distraction.

This summer I’ll be driven to distraction again. But not by books. I’ll be road trippin’. And tweeting. Blogging and chatting real time with hundreds of new friends.

The news is just about out, where I’ll be headed. It’s so close to public, I can see its outline. And there’ll be so much good stuff going on, I promised my grandma I’d keep the books at home. So maybe, people, you’ll tell ME stories. Of what you’re reading, what you’re doing, and what’s driving you to distraction…? People, place, thing…road.

Got a favorite story from the road?

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!

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