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A piece of fiction begins with words on paper and gives the illusion of reality. You have an envelope of imposed imagery that contains characters and shapes their world. Readers must be swept into that magical place called suspension of disbelief. They know the story was conceived by some writer, but willingly accept its truths.

I love fiction—love to write it, love to read books of fiction, love to see fiction on the movie screen. I can’t imagine a world without the yellow brick road. No Dorothy, no Oz. No Casablanca, no “Here’s looking at you, kid.” No Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts’ smile. No little pig herding sheep, no Spidy flying through the canyons of the city. No Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger on Brokeback Mountain. No Dennis Haysbert fighting terrorists. And ohmigod! Where would we be without Dennis Quaid’s grin and Tommy Lee Jones in a thousand guises, world without end, amen? Remember Hepburn and Bogy on The African Queen? A movie, you say. Yes, but that movie began with words. James Agee wrote the screenplay, adapting it from a novel of the same name by C. S. Forester.

At twelve, I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by her sister Charlotte, plus anything I could find by Jane Austen. Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sir Kingsley Amis, Jack London, John Steinbeck and Stephen King; Edith Wharton, Edna Ferber, Anne McCaffrey, Roberta Gellis, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Suzanne Brockmann, and Linda Howington Howard. All were and are masters of fiction. (I just reread this short list of authors I love and it should be much, much longer.)

What, exactly, does this detour into nostalgia have to do with writing? Take a look at my first paragraph: “Fiction begins with words . . .”

Scenario: A writer is hacking away, creating characters, settings, and points of view. Designing scenes, orchestrating hero and villain, weaving in threads of danger and seduction, she leads her characters up “Aristotle’s Incline,” devising a black hole or two. Finally, she rescues and transports them to the earned ending that will give her readers closure.

Wait. In the middle of everything, her previously submitted novel comes home for a fast edit with the editor’s “suggestions” illegibly scribbled in the softest of No. 2 pencils. “I’d like the corrected manuscript on my desk by Friday,” Ms. Editor writes in a cover letter. “This gives you three days. I need to know the MS will be waiting when I return from vacation in four weeks. BTW, how about a short tagline giving me the complete concept for your next novel? Just a sentence or two.”

Clueless, you cobble together a garbled version of your worst nightmare and dispatch concept and edited MS via FedEx.

Taking a well-deserved two hours off for a nervous break- down, you collapse in bed and wake to the cheerful voices of your husband and children. He has picked the kids up from school and made supper. All is well with your world. The editor from hell can kiss your grits and eureka! You have awakened with a terrific idea for a new novel, happy ending and all.

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