The Fourth Set of Ears

In his book On Writing, Stephen King writes about the importance of having one ideal reader. It’s my favorite passage in a book full of hundreds of compelling passages about the craft, because I’m fortunate to have one such ideal reader.

My son.

His are the fourth set of ears to hear the rough draft of my work. I first time I read the draft aloud—to catch glaring errors my eyes don’t see, to listen to the cadence of the language, and to ensure that the dialogue rings true—three sets of ears hear it: my own and those of my cats, General and Olivia.

The cats’ critiques are useless, though.

Not my son’s. His fourth set of ears listens to my second draft. My son has no problem telling me straight that a chapter is boring, hilarious, or creepy. He is as honest and unflinching a critic as you’d be lucky to meet. If his eyes glaze over, my next few days are spent in rewrites. When he begs me for “Just one more chapter”, I know I’m on to something.

And when my book is finally ready for the eyes of my editor, the boy who owns those fourth set of ears gives me celebratory presents.

The fourth set of ears gave me this skull after I’d finished The Pirate’s Booty.

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The fourth set of ears gave me this tiger after I’d finished The Crystal Lair.

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The fourth set of ears has been listening to readings of the third book in the Inventor-in-Training series. A few rewrites are in order, but he’s been asking for “one more chapter of your creepy book”, so perhaps it’s nearly time to send it to the editor.

I’m hoping for another present soon.

Letter to Santa

Santa-Claus-Pics-0316 (300x225)Dear Santa, Thank you for your continued generosity. However, you needn't bring any presents for me this year.

Three days before Christmas, and this writer's present has already arrived.

Ever since a little book called The Pirate's Booty made its debut to the world via Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and any indie bookstore willing to take a chance on it, the writer known to you as D.M. Darroch has suffered bouts of stomach pain, nervous insomnia, and hair-whitening anxiety. Truth be told, much of that was due to my battle with this Word Press blogging technology, but a very substantial portion was typical of newly published writers everywhere.

These are the words that go through my head on any given day:

1) Who do I think I am, forcing this drivel on the world? 2) He/She only said he/she liked it because he/she is my friend. 3) Darn it! Found another typo! 4) No one cares, because my story is simply not that interesting.

My husband often tells me he can't imagine what it must be like, living inside my neurotic head. It's a busy place, I tell him. A Grand Central Station of ever-changing emotions and self-doubt run rampant.

But tonight the happy train has arrived, dropping off a wonderful present in the form of a glowing review from Irene F. Starkehaus at the Illinois Review. Seriously, read this:

"The Pirate's Booty – Inventor in Training is kind of a refreshing change of pace...demands a slightly higher reading comprehension level and introduces scientifically challenging vocabulary so that the average seventh grader will need to keep a dictionary handy for quick reference – this is what good Young Adult books should demand of our children...

Angus's parents are my favorite part of this book because they are the complete reverse of that contemporary stereotype of parenting readers too often encounter in American pop culture. The Clarks utterly lack the dysfunctional skill set that we see is a requirement in modern YA literature. The first thing the reader will notice is that Angus's parents aren't bumbling, fumbling idiots and that will hit like a breath of fresh air for any adult who has grown weary of the literary eye roll that lives in the heart of most über cool YA."

So you see, Santa, I don't need anything else. But feel free to drop by for some cookies. The gingerbread is especially delicious this year.

Naughty Angus

Angus and Ivy have been plaguing me this week. I've been scribbling diligently for the past five days working on the second book in my Inventor-in-Training series. Angus has landed in a strange new world and I am so looking forward to sharing it with my readers. But the naughty twosome has not been playing nicely. I had planned how book two was going to progress. Organized, plotted, great stuff. I had worked out all the challenges they would face and how they would overcome them. But if you know Angus and Ivy at all, you know that they are willful children who do exactly as they please. They will not listen to the wisdom of their elders (me) and they are fouling everything up! If only they would behave like nice, well-mannered kids.

In a flash of frustration, a burning need to get away from the two of them, I peeked in to visit my good friend and illustrator Jennifer L. Hotes at her blog. In her recent post "Why I Read Books S-L-O-W-L-Y" she wrote:

Darroch captures the spirit of everyone’s favorite nephew in Angus Clark. He dares to dream, then duct tapes the parts together until something sizzles and pops. He’s the boy we love having over to our house to play with our children, but then need a long pull on the wine bottle after the door shuts behind him. 

And that's just it. I do love having Angus come play but because he lives in my head I won't be able to "shut the door behind him" any time soon. If he was any other type of child he would never have wound up in his current predicament. Why do I think he's suddenly going to start doing what I tell him? Guess I'll just have to trust him to clean up the lovely mess he made today.

Mess or Inspiration?

I've never been accused of being a neat-nik. I tidy things before having friends over and whenever my mother visits. I try to keep a handle on the level of clutter and dust so my son doesn't grow up in squalor. I'd rather do anything than clean. Life offers us a bounty of excuses to avoid housework and it would be a shame to waste them. But honestly, have you ever seen a mess like this one?DSC_0517 (640x424)

This is just one corner of my garage. So, my choices are:

1) Shriek at someone to clean it up. Shrieking is just not nice and I try to avoid it unless I'm having a really, really bad day.

2) Clean it up myself. On any given day I have a dirty pile of laundry, a sinkful of dishes, and people and animals waiting to be fed. We know I'm not going to take on the garage.

3) Use it in a story.

DSC_0518 (424x640)Aha! That's it! The light bulb of inspiration. This is Angus' laboratory in the garage! No need to ever clean it up. It's famous. And life just offered me one more excuse.