The Importance of Focusing on the Reader

Renowned stupidity expert, Walter B. Pitkin, author of A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity (Simon & Schuster, 1932), estimated that four out of five people are not very bright when it comes to common sense and ordinary living (that’’s over four billion people today). I’d like to say I’m a bit more optimistic. I’d like to, but I can’t. As Mr. Pitkin asked and replied, “Can we find as many intelligent acts as stupid ones in any given period or region? No.”

I’m afraid I’ve fallen into that “four out of five” category. But my bouts thankfully affected no one but myself. For instance, I visited the local college student store to buy books for a friend. I noticed students milling about, wearing lost and frustrated expressions, miserably unable to find what they searched for. I, genius that I am, immediately located what I needed and made my way to the cashier. I climbed up two flights of stairs to purchase the books, while contemplating my brilliance.

“It’s wonderful to be smart!” I announced to no one in particular. I reached one arm over the opposite shoulder and proceeded to pat myself resoundingly on the back. As I patted away, I looked down and admired my very chic sandals; I picked up speed, taking two steps at a time. I felt exceptionally nimble and athletic while I sucked in my stomach. (Insert theme from Chariots of Fire here). All was splendid. Then …I fell flat…on my face, onto the hard concrete stairs. What is the likelihood of falling while walking up the stairs? 100% when thinking and acting like an idiot.

I can’t write when stuck in that moronic frame of mind because I grow blind. I lose sight of the reader, of the story, and the big picture, and think only of myself. “This scene will work because I say it will. Plus, look how beautifully it’s written.”

I take moments out when writing to ask, “Who am I writing this for?” It’s okay to write for myself, but so much better to think of others. The writing road is already a lonely one. It’s like baking a lemon meringue pie and eating it all yourself. Boring. And fattening. But when it’s shared and enjoyed by all, it’s like a party, fun and less predictable. Plus, you’re more apt to eat just the right amount. Once I took myself out of the picture, writing became more enjoyable, more creative, I hope, in the quest to tell a story that someone else would want to be a part of. Isn’t that why we write?

Writing What You Know

The first draft of MURDER AND OTHER UNNATURAL DISASTERS was really terrible. And it had a terrible title. And it was terribly dull. Why all the terribleness? Because all I did was spit out background information…on my life as a new lawyer with a new job in the only movie studio in Orange County, CA. I dozed off several times during the writing, but I kept saying, to no one in particular since most of my writing time is spent alone, “This is important stuff. I lived it, so it must have been.” NOT.

I shuffled the background material around a bit and gave it a new title and sent the manuscript out to literary agents. I was either ignored or rejected by all, but one generously provided a comment. Big name New York agent said that the only thing he liked about the manuscript was the title. Naturally, that put me into a deep funk and I swore off writing forever. After all, I wrote what I knew, and isn’t that what writers should write, even in fiction?

Two weeks later, I was rarin’ to go. The need to write can be overpowering, quashing the ego and the primal urge to vacuum the house and paint door jams, which sometimes pops up when one must write, but one feels slightly unsure. And most especially, I now knew that I needed to keep background material to the bare minimum. I had to write something that made me constantly ask, “What comes next?” I confessed (to myself) that my own legal life was not the stuff that dreams are made of and that no one was interested, not even myself. But I could possibly create a legal life that would be far more fascinating (or so I hoped) than anything I’d experienced. To do so, I asked myself the constant question, “What would I never do?” And hence, my heroine was born.

About one hundred drafts later, I was done. How did I know I was done? I sat behind the keyboard and discovered there was little-to-nothing to change in the manuscript. I’d started in March 2012 (this was the draft riddled with background information) and ended in November 2014. Along the way, I learned and re-learned and wrote and re-wrote. It was one of the most wonderful, hair raising, tantrum inducing, yet exhilarating experiences. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into that first manuscript. But it was worth it.

The Two-Minute Interview - Author Katie O'Sullivan

I’m very pleased to welcome author Katie O’Sullivan today to talk about her latest romance novel, CRAZY ABOUT YOU.

Who are you? Tell us about Katie O’Sullivan.

Katie: I live on Cape Cod with three teenagers, a husband, and large demanding dogs who weigh more than I do, but follow me around the house like small whiny children. Actually, my oldest is off at college and my middle child is in college-search mode right now. Part of me looks forward to the upcoming empty nest, and another part of me dreads it. So, typical mom stuff, plus I just started a new part-time job, easing my way back into the 9-5 work force in addition to writing, editing, and various volunteer positions.

Yikes! Three teens and big dogs make completing a book a bit of a challenge. Yet you managed to do so beautifully. What’s your book about?

Katie: The story centers on a driven scientist focused on saving the world, and an impetuous woman who’s trying to live life to the fullest without getting emotionally involved. Both of them need to learn to trust others, with their hearts and with their lives, in order to find their happily ever afters.

I’m a big fan of happily ever afters and big moments. When is the moment that matters most in your book?

Katie: Like the tag line on the front of the book says, “…it’s the dead body that changes everything.”

I love that! Where is the setting?

Katie: Provincetown, Massachusetts, which is at the outermost tip of Cape Cod.

How did you come to write this book?

Katie: Would you believe, an environmental article in Scientific American captured my attention and made me want to learn more about the climate scientists who study our oceans. From there my imagination took over wondering about their personal lives and loves, and how they balance their passion for the environment with family and friends.

It’s incredible where the germ of an idea can start. Which character is your favorite?

Katie: My favorite character in the story is Chase Anderson, the hero, because he undergoes the biggest transformations during the course of the story, starting off as totally work-focused and learning how to lighten up and let others into his life. But I also think I had the most fun writing Tony Lenzi’s character, which was the one that changed the most from first draft to the final book. He was totally one-dimensional without motivation in early drafts until he found his voice and “told me” what was really going on.

I really enjoy watching a character grow. Why would readers want to read your book?

Katie: Ooh, I’m kinda bad at self-promotion, but I also feel I’ve written a fun, fast-paced read where the characters are engaging and the story has enough little twists to keep you turning pages. Also, the environmental issues I’ve written about are all real and important, and I feel like having them sprinkled into a romance novel helps people learn about ideas like these in a non-threatening way. Climate change is scary, but it’s part of our current reality.

Thank you, Katie. It sounds like a fun, intelligent read! That’s the way I like my romance novels.

About Katie O’Sullivan:
Katie O’Sullivan lives with her family and big dogs on Cape Cod, drinking way too much coffee and inventing new excuses not to dust. Living next to the Atlantic influences everything she writes, including her YA series about the mermaids who live near her beach. A recovering English major, she earned her degree at Colgate University and now writes romance and adventure for young adults, and something steamier for the young at heart.

Buy Links for CRAZY ABOUT YOU:
Barnes & Noble
The Wild Rose Press