June 28, 2012
I read a fantasy book one time that was magnificent. It was the first in a series and the series went on for six books. I devoured each one, couldn’t wait for the next to come out; however, (you knew there would be a “however”) at the end of the last book the author either lost her mind or just wanted to piss off her readers, because she didn’t deliver on any of the promises she had made through six—count them—six books.
I’m big on preaching that there are no rules to writing, but in fact, there are rules and this is one you don’t want to break. You never want to promise your readers something and then not deliver.
However—yes, another however—like all rules, this one can be broken. But there is only one way I know of to break this rule and get away with it. If you’re not going to deliver on what you promised, give them something better.
Let me try to sum it up. I do this best by telling a story. We have to go way back to my 50th birthday…
I’ll never forget my 50th birthday. It was going to fall on a Friday that year, and on Sunday my wife hinted at a surprise. She said that “something special” was planned. At that time we had been married 33 years (yes, do the math. 50 minus 33 =…I’ll wait.) So when you’ve been married that long, “something special” really is something special.
On Monday morning I got the wink, the one that infused me with a glimmer of hope. Tuesday at lunch she flashed me the smile, her most seductive one, the one that could lure a priest from his vows.
I worried that she might have been doing this to keep me on my toes. She does that sometimes…but I decided to risk it. I found myself doing the dishes more often, fixing her tea with that extra special touch. Running her bath water, and making sure it wasn’t too hot.
Wednesday and Thursday were more of the same. By the time Friday arrived, anticipation hit a fevered pitch. I came in the house for my afternoon cup of coffee and she gave me the raised-eyebrow look—you know the one—then she tossed her hair with a quick turn of the head.
Oh yeah. I knew what she had in mind. I was whistling a happy tune. The only thing that worried me was that my birthday is April 1, so a surprise of a different nature could have been in store, though I’ve never known my wife to be that cruel.
The Night had Finally Arrived
I made reservations at our favorite restaurant, took off work early, and got ready. We were almost out the door when the phone rang. It was Animal Control about a rescue. Damn! I had planned a lot of things for that night, but driving to East Texas to rescue a pig was not one of them.
We changed into work clothes and made the drive. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s suffice it to say that the directions we got and the drive itself are enough material for a separate post. The story picks up when we returned to the sanctuary. My wife, Mikki, being an “instant namer” bestowed the name “Petey” on this new pig before we got home. Petey was fortunate. Not all of the animals escape with such an ordinary name.
But that’s about the only thing Petey had been fortunate about. According to the vet, Petey had been down a rough road. Someone abused him early in his life, more than likely breaking his jaw, resulting in a deformed mouth, crooked teeth, twisted lips…you name it. But whoever did it wasn’t done with him. Next they left him out in the swamps of East Texas, most likely as alligator bait. As luck would have it, a fisherman spotted Petey stranded on an island and coaxed him into his boat, though the fisherman said it didn’t take much coaxing.
It seemed as if Petey was doomed to have a cursed life. When we got him to the sanctuary, the other pigs didn’t take to him. He was attacked by all of them, even the smallest in the group. For those of you who don’t know, females run the pig society (as if that’s a surprise) and Coco, the old sow who ran the group in the front of the property wouldn’t let him come near them. Coco was old, but she was fierce, and had a mouth as big as a hippo. At least it looked like that when she went to bite. So we fenced off a small section to keep Petey isolated until we could get him introduced properly to the group.
Within a few weeks, with my wife’s help and Petey’s own perseverance, he became accepted. Soon after that he even made friends with Coco. I think Petey wore her down. When she attacked he side-stepped and went about his business. Before long, Petey and Coco were inseparable.
About six months later, Petey moved in with Coco, sharing her room in the barn. Two years later, when Coco got sick, Petey stayed with her night and day. If she couldn’t leave the area, Petey didn’t, and his companionship seemed to comfort her. Coco perked up whenever Petey was around, and for a little while each day she had extra spunk. He stayed with her until the end.
When Coco left us, Petey moved in with Oprah, the new grand damme. Oprah seemed to be in good shape, but we had come to realize that Petey had a way with sick animals, so we wondered. It wasn’t long before we started noticing things, and not long after that we had to take Oprah to Texas A&M for tests. They removed an 18 pound tumor from her uterus. Three weeks later, she left us. Loyal Petey stayed with her to the end, too.
When Oprah was gone, Petey lived by himself. But then, about six months ago, he moved in with Cool Pig, an old male who was blind and deaf. Cool had been here ten years and had taken care of himself quite well, so we were surprised he let Petey share his room. Before long we found out why—Cool Pig had cancer, but once again, Petey stayed with him.
I don’t know whether the pigs chose Petey, or he chose them, but somehow the message got through. They needed help and Petey was there.
Petey is back by himself now, and he is enjoying every day. He has trouble eating with his crooked mouth, and he won’t win any beauty contests, but he is the sweetest guy on the property. “Sweet Pete” my grandkids call him, an appropriate name.
Last week Petey moved into Pearl’s house. She is fourteen now, and recently started limping. I’m guessing Petey knows something we don’t. But I’m not too worried; she’s in good hands. Or should I say hooves.
I don’t regret missing that “special” surprise for my fiftieth birthday. It would have been nice, but Petey has given me far more than that for the past ten years. And in the process he has given comfort to several of our favorite pigs when they needed it most. He’s like a traveling nurse, and it works.
So what does all of this have to do with writing?
If you remember the story, I had been anticipating a special surprise all week. And there isn’t much that could take the place of one of those surprises. Spaghetti and meatballs come to mind. Mikki’s lasagna. A big plate of sfogliatelle. You see where I’m going with this.
If your reader is expecting something to happen, based on clues or hints you put in the story, you need to do one of two things:
Deliver what was promised
Deliver something better.
Nothing else will do.
If you want to know my take on how I fared—getting Petey was better than all of the possibilities I mentioned. He’s a gift that has continued giving for the past ten years. I only hope that when his time comes, there will be someone like Petey to help with his own transition.
Ciao, and thanks for taking time to stop by,
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos.
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”