Tuesday, December 3, 2013


by Saralee Rosenberg

The latest trend on Facebook is sharing a list of things people might not know about you. I have declined this opportunity because the things people don’t know about me, I would like to keep that way. But the idea inspired a list of a different sort- the things most people don’t know about novelists. Everyone loves the behind-the-scenes story. This is ours:

1. Fear is our Faithful Companion We may not go to Hemingway extremes, drinking ‘til dawn in Key West, but we live with angst and neurosis as a natural state. Call it Woody Allen disease. Is our latest project good enough? Will it be our last published book? Is another writer copying us and hitting the bestseller list? Yet in spite of the self-doubt, we write on, ever hopeful that we are telling a story that matters and that readers will care. 

2. We Believe in Miracles; We don’t Rely on Them It is a misconception that a writer’s inspiration comes from lightning bolts or some divined intervention.  Instead, our best ideas may emerge while doing mundane tasks, such as stalking other author’s Amazon rankings. But mostly they come when we allow our characters to speak for themselves. When we let go of the literary leashes and give them free reign to act in ways we never envisioned. When we become less the writer and more the designated typist. It’s not that we aren’t clever and creative, it is that we often thrive when we get out of our own way.

3. Compassion for Characters  The most compelling and memorable characters are those with great imperfections. And just like our children, we love them none the same. We also care deeply about their challenges and invest heavily in their outcomes. Ironically, writers are responsible for the dire circumstances in which our characters find themselves. So, first we send them up the tree without a ladder, and then we wait to see how they get down. If they do at all… Hmm. Perhaps writers and parents are more similar than we think.

4. More Give Than Take  Writers are by nature a generous lot. Not all of us, of course, but most. We donate our books, time, energy and resources to help organizations, students and fellow writers. We blurb, promote and show up in support. We give advice to those who ask. We encourage those who feel dejected, rejected and subjected. Perhaps that it why our stories resonate. We don’t just write with emotions, we transfer them from our affected hearts.

5. We May Not Fight Fires but We are Brave  Even if it scares the crap out of us, we will explore the underbelly of fear, hatred, shame, despair and other emotions, hoping to uncover  nuggets of truth. We will also challenge readers’ beliefs, even at the expense of offending them. In fact our deepest desire is, in some small measure, to alter the Universe.

6. Boxers Have Nothing on Us Writers have always taken it on the chin from editors, agents and reviewers. And the criticism is a blow. A big blow. But today, anyone with a smartphone and a grudge can level us with a scathing review (sadly, they may not have even read our books). And it is no longer a missive between the writer and reader. Today these wrong-headed rants are there for millions to read on line. Fortunately, we continue the fight as a KO is not an option.

7. Truth Is Stranger than Fiction Our stories are made up but our facts are real. That is why we devote so much time to doing research. Yet it still surprises me how many readers confuse fact with fiction. They complain about unrealistic plots. “That would never happen,” they say. “So contrived.”  To which I say, a novelist’s goal is not to distort the truth but to honor it.

8. The NFL Isn’t the Only One with A Draft  I can only speak for myself, but I suspect I’m in good company. When I’m writing a new novel, I apologize to the trees in Oregon because I know I will waste reams of paper getting through the process. My drafts will spawn generations of other drafts that involve title changes, killing off darlings, and starting over so often, I’ll refer to the latest version as the anniversary edition. It’s not that I’m a bad writer. I’m a heartless editor. Regardless of how far along I am, if a story doesn’t keep me up at night then our business is done. So if per chance you love my novels and what to know when the next one is coming out, I apologize for the delay. I’m knee deep in paper and I’m not ready to hit send.

9. We Love Being Published, We Dread the Process   Due to a recipe of denial, arrogance and technology, the publishing industry is in the midst of major indigestion. Amazon was dismissed as a non-threat. Same with e-readers and digital publishing. And the demise of both the big box stores and the independents was not on anyone’s radar. Nor is there a solution to how to control marketing and distribution costs while giving a new novel a chance to succeed. What that means for the author is that it is incumbent upon us to write our best books and be ready to do most of the heavy lifting to create interest. It often feels like a losing proposition, and we wish that given our steadfast commitment to staying in the game, there was far greater love and support. Notice I said nothing about royalties. That is a whole ‘nother story.

10. We are Grateful  For those who covet novels as works of art. For those who discuss books and live for the conversation. For those who offer writers encouraging words and remain loyal in spite of disappointing sales. For those who post rave reviews. And mostly, we are grateful to those who find inspiration in our ideas and who grow or change for the better because of them.

You see, it is a daunting task to write a novel. And yet, once the mountain is scaled, we vow to climb another. And another. Our only hope is that you follow us there.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of four novels from Avon/HarperCollins. A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE and DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD. Her latest project, for younger readers, is THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM.


  1. Saralee, you often say things I'm thinking but haven't gotten around to articulating... And I don't believe I could do so with quite the same level of thoughtfulness. Thanks for a great post-Thanksgiving post!

  2. Wonderful, uplifting post. It's true--we are not alone! :-)

    ~Joyce Scarbrough

  3. You forgot to add that we go about our daily chores with minds full of imagined conversations. That we hear voices that are petulant, demanding, afraid and curious. That we tread worlds that are both strange and terrifying, dusting our writing with their scents and sounds. That we need to set aside time from our writing to day dream our worlds and characters into glorious 3D techinicolour reality. Authors have their feet on the ground but their heads in the stars.

  4. I remember when this kind of list made the blog rounds when blogging was all the rage - and, like you, I felt like I had already told everything I wanted people to know - lol!

    Nice list!

  5. What a great post! My favorite line: "We Believe in Miracles; We don’t Rely on Them." This is SO true!

  6. Glad to be reminded I am not alone....

  7. Awesome post! Every word rings true. Thanks for this, Saralee. I'll spread it around! xo

  8. Brilliant! I love it. Thanks, Saralee.