Amy Sue Nathan and How Writing Is Like Applying Mascara

AmyMore than ten years ago I attended an elaborate fortieth birthday party.  A band, a bar, food, and a glamorous setting. The night was full of fancy clothes and fun times—including belting out eighties tunes with a karaoke machine.  When it was time to say goodnight, I walked over to one of my best girlfriends, who’d thrown the party for her husband. It was after midnight.

“I have to tell you something,” I said.  I held her elbow and turned her toward me. “I think you forgot to put on mascara.”

“What?” She touched her eyelashes. “Oh crap!”  She laughed. “Why did you wait ‘til the end of the party to tell me?  Why didn’t anyone else mention it either — or still? I mean, don’t I look different without mascara?”

She did. “I didn’t have mascara in my purse,” I said. “I didn’t want you to feel self conscious about it – you look great.”  That wasn’t a lie. But framing those very ‘done up’ eyes, well, she just looked like she didn’t have eyelashes.

We laughed about it then and we laugh about it still, a decade later and we’re both fifty (okay, she turns fifty in a few months). And every time there’s an event I give her the thumbs up – which means – yes, you are wearing mascara.

So, of course, any time I embark on writing a new story, MASCARA comes to mind (writer-brain, no apologies from me).

When it comes to story telling – how do you decide which details to reveal early on and which one can wait until later? What ruins the story and what adds to it?

Kurt Vonnegut said, “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

I like surprises, so I’m not sure I completely agree  – although things that fall out of the sky don’t work for me – so really – the signs are usually there if I choose to see them.  Maybe that’s what he meant.  I’ll never know!   I do know that I rarely leave for a party (or the grocery store) without checking my make-up. Twice.


Amy Sue Nathan is the author of THE GLASS WIVES published by St. 0Martin’s Griffin in 2013 and the forthcoming FINDING IZZY LANE in 2015. She is the founder of Women’s Fiction Writers, a blog dedicated to the authors, books, and craft of women’s fiction, as well as a freelance writer, fiction editor, and workshop instructor. Amy is an unapologetic chocoholic and even more importantly, the mom of two amazing adult children (which happens to be her current favorite oxymoron).


Amy Sue Nathan and How Writing Is Like Applying Mascara — 7 Comments

  1. Thanks for having me, Liz. I tend to want to keep things to myself, like tidbits are prizes to be handed out, but I figure Vonnegut knew his stuff. I don’t think he necessarily meant to be blunt, maybe just the dropping of hints. So I try to do that. :)

  2. I like lacing secrets and elements of surprise in my stories and I enjoy them in the stories that I read. However, you can’t just have something drop from the sky and completely change the story. That’s one of the reasons I do enjoy the revision process. It gives the author a chance to go back and place carefully laid clues. 😉

    Thank you so much for joining the cafe today, Amy Sue. I’ve long been a fan of both you and of

  3. I’m not sure I agree with Kurt either. I’m in the “only reveal as much as the reader needs to go forward” camp. It’s those little hints, tidbits and story questions that tantalize readers and make them want to keep reading to discover the truth. If they know everything upfront, there’s nothing to discover.

    Amy,thanks for being with us today and sharing your mascara story.

    • Thanks for having me, Jana! I’m thinking maybe Vonnegut meant that the reader might think he or she knows the story — that way they’re not preoccupied with wonder, no wandering mind, but still leaves space for surprises and changing their minds along the way. Hmm…

  4. Excellent post, Amy, but perhaps you should always have a tube on hand for those of us who forget? I remember asking a friend to let me know if I had spinach in my teeth. Silence from her all through dinner. And then I got in the car, and what did I see in the mirror? Yep, a big chunk of leafy green right up front there. Maybe she was blind?

    I like to hint, but there’s a fine line between frustrating readers with too much left unsaid and making them want to turn the page to find out what, when, and how. Still working on that figuring out that line…

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