show case, Writers Co-op, writing prompt

Go Ahead, Write It

by S.T. Ranscht

Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

I don’t write quickly. Well, except for those weekly 500-word book reports for Honors English in twelfth grade. I churned out each of those A-graded babies in 30 minutes or less before class — In ink. On college ruled notebook paper — while hiding in the cafeteria where my friends never thought to look for me. But since then? I’ve written slowly, deliberately, editing as I go, and editing again before I start writing anew when I return to any WIP. And then I continue to edit.

Now I’m heading up the Show Case Writing Prompt Challenge here, for the Writers Co-op. One prompt every two weeks, and I’ve committed to responding to every single one of them. Or maybe I should just be committed. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Writing for these prompts is a huge challenge for me because, contrary to what Carl Reed thinks, I’m not prolific, and I don’t have the luxury of time to write any of them.

  1. I still have a labor-intensive livelihood to attend to. (I’m plenty old enough to retire. I’m just not anywhere near plenty rich enough.)
  2. I spent many, many hours over a six month period last year re-writing the first part of a YA Sci-fi trilogy as a standalone with series potential so I could enter it in ScreenCraft’s Cinematic Book Competition last November. Obviously, this hasn’t impacted the time I’ve spent writing for Show Case this year, but it does demonstrate my inherent slowness as a writer. AND, it sets up a bit of a boast: Last week, ENHANCED made the cut to the quarterfinals. (Shout out to Victor Acquista, whose sci-fi novel SENTIENT also advanced to the quarterfinals!)
  3. I’m currently writing a full synopsis — ugh — in order to enter ENHANCED in another competition in March.
  4. I’m also working on a different novel I am completely in love with that I am determined to enter in this year’s ScreenCraft competition in the fall. It’s based on a short story I wrote three years ago, and I’m only on Chapter 4. Long way to go. Limited amount of time to get there.
  5. There’s a household to take care of. You know the drill: shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, et cetera.)
  6. And a dog.
  7. There are front and back yards screaming for attention. Get a yard guy, you suggest? See number 1 above.
  8. And there’s reading to be done. Lots of reading, and I don’t read for speed.

In other words, I’m a lot like you.

Here’s my pitch. We all have lives outside of Writers Co-op, and even outside of writing. But we also have a talented, thoughtful, caring community here that urges its members to push beyond whatever point they are at in their writing journey. We lift each other up with each interaction.

That’s been particularly clear around Show Case. The feedback is not only appreciative, but in many cases, critically helpful, prodding good writers to show flashes of brilliance. And maybe brilliant writers to show flashes of genius. Do you want a piece of that?

You can learn the prompt two weeks in advance, so you have some time to mull it over while you’re driving, shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or yard work, walking the dog or taking a shower. And by sharing these posts on other sites, I know for a fact that we have attracted some new readers, even though they haven’t submitted any of their own writing — yet. (I’m looking at you, Tre!)

Most of all, writing to these prompts is fun. It’s a chance to flesh out projects you’ve been working on for a while or take short, creative detours in directions you didn’t anticipate going. I never imagined that everyone would respond to every prompt, but I suspect each of you who has contributed to Show Case so far would agree that the exercise was stimulating and satisfying.

So shake off any hesitation you have and add your creative energy to Show Case. Start small or go big. You might unleash a new voice hiding in your brain. You might discover each piece you write feeds your growth as a writer. You might decide to compile all your contributions in a published anthology that brings you wealth and fame. But no matter what comes of your efforts, you won’t be sorry.

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Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Talking Writing with Orwell – Maybe

  • by Michael DiMatteo

I find myself reading Orwell quite a bit. Not so much because of his political stances, although I find his arguments on socialism wrong—well meaning—yet wrong, but more for his commentary and style. His is a conversational tone, as though we’re both sitting in a dusty wooden coffee shop imbued with the scent of the fresh brew, morning light coming through the windows and small bulbs providing their scant illumination. There’s only three of us populating the place this early in the morning; Orwell and I along with the barista standing at the empty bar with a white rag tossed over his shoulder, waiting.

We’re in the far corner and he’s sitting across from me on a comfortable wooden chair, hair disheveled as though just coming in from the wind. His legs are crossed wearing an all brown suit, a dusty white collard shirt underneath the jacket, and worn brown shoes with the creases of use over the top of them. I can’t tell if there are holes on the bottom but I’m guessing there are.

A barely bent hand rolled cigarette is held between the first two fingers of his left hand as we talk about the art of writing. Not politics, although even Orwell himself said that his writing is always slanted toward his political bias—that’s the only way he knows how to write—how to say something. No, we’re talking about the art of it all. How to form words into sentences, to make them actually seem more than popcorn on a string, to make the reader understand, a subtle nudge rather than a bash across the head with the dull side of the shovel. Better to explain through story than lecture directly for we remember stories, rarely lectures—at least the general public anyway.

We talk about his allotted lifetime—the period of authoritarianism and how he feels he was born in the wrong era. He should have been born earlier, in a simpler time and without the shackles his epoch is putting on him. I tell him that every time period has its shackles, the degree to which they’re applied only tempered by the present, his or mine, those in the future looking back thinking they weren’t so very restricting and they have it worse. The hubris of time, we both agree, and the arrogance of our own being to think it could not get better, or worse. He informs me that his time, the time of Hitler, Franco, and Stalin had never seen the like. Kings and queens could not be everywhere, least of all the monasteries, and because of that fact, life was more free. Easier to hide in the wooden homes and stone house countryside than the cities and towns of his modern era.

I agree, but remind him that there were sheriffs and men representing the king with a thousand eyes, even back into Charlemagne’s time – the Missi Domanici – and he responds telling me that even a thousand eyes can go blind if they’re paid enough. We both laugh realizing that life hasn’t changed all that much where money is concerned. I laughed so hard a bit of coffee from my cup spills on my jeans, Orwell remarking not to worry, it’s only coffee and that he’d like a pair to try on.

Somehow, I get our conversation back to the art of writing. He asked me if I read his work Why I Write and I respond that I did. He tells me that if I did read it, I would know writing with bias is a must, but more than that, the writer must understand his bias, have something to say, but resolve to say it with an artist’s eye. I respond by saying it’s easier said than done, and he laughs, his head tilting back just a bit as he does so, his hand making sure to keep his coffee cup steady, unlike me. He then looks me in the eye and tells me that’s the reason most writers give up; it’s too hard and only a narcissist and stubborn son-of-a-bitch sticks with it.

I want to laugh but can’t. There’s nothing particularly funny about that statement other than I think he just called me a son-of-a-bitch, which I probably am. He asks me if I take care to examine my sentences. I tell him yes. He then asks me how much care? I sit there for a moment, a bit perplexed by that question. How much can one obsess over a sentence I think to myself. If I obsess too much nothing will get written.

I tell him I don’t know. He asks me why I don’t know. I respond almost immediately, I don’t know. He then tells me that’s a problem for anyone doing anything worthwhile should know how much time they’re using up. It’s like spending money he tells me. One simply doesn’t spend money without having an idea how much they have left. They might not care how much they have left and spend it all, but they have an idea of what’s contained in their purse. The same, he tells me, now leaning forward in his chair a bit, legs uncrossed with feet flat on the ground, elbows on his knees and coffee cup still upright, should be true of the writer. You must be aware of the time spent on a sentence, he says, on a work, on a story—if nothing else, so that one doesn’t become lost in that time for to become lost means the work will never get done.
Spend your time as you would your money, he tells me, knowing how much you’ve spent and how much you have left for only then will you be able to move forward.

Then, he leans back and smiles, sipping his coffee, the smile still detectable over the cup, the corners of his mouth giving it away. I’m thinking about his notion of time spent. I can’t quite figure out what he means by it other than making sure I’m on some sort of schedule or else with no endpoint by which to complete, the work will be easy to set aside. Is that it? I have to think on it more, maybe then it will reveal itself.

A bell dings in the background signaling customers and two people walk in. I see them out of the corner of my eye as my back is facing the coffee counter and my chair is positioned so that my eye corner can see the door peripherally. Orwell doesn’t glance over—he couldn’t care less as he’s focused on me, as though studying me for some later work which makes no sense to me as I’m no one in particular, just someone who found himself talking with George Orwell. Then it hits me… that’s the difference. He is able to focus while I’m distracted by the slightest movement, as though a garden bird jittering his head about right and left, pausing only to catch the elusive worm and then, after wolfing it down, barely tasting it—if
birds can taste—he goes back to popping his head right and left looking for enemies that might attack either real or imaginary.

Orwell just sits there, bent forward in his all brown suit and worn shoes fully engaged in our conversation. He’s in the tunnel and trying to get me there too, but I’m not Orwell, just some wishful thinking writer. He notices. He leans back again and laughs just loud enough for me to hear. I ask him what’s so funny. He says everything is funny if only we would take the time to look. There are degrees of funny, but funny is there nonetheless.

I sit there perplexed again, my lesson becoming more complicated and my coffee colder as I’ve only managed a sip during this entire time. He then says if I am to be a writer of sentences, good sentences, I have to be immersed in what I’m doing, outside influences disappearing during the process, only me, my pen, and my paper—along with whatever is floating through my mind. I listen.

Then, he says I must remember one thing and one thing above all others. I ask him what it is. He leans forward again—then, sips his must-be-cold coffee and says, “Truth. Not the truth as you see it, but the truth. Period.”

I inform him that in my time, the word has little meaning. There is truth, there is perceived truth, and there is truth to power—whatever the hell that means, I tell him. I inform him that in the future, truth is determined by the person telling their version and the number of people willing to listen and accept. The greater number determines the truth.

He leans back and then asks me if I think it’s any different in his time. I inform him probably not, as that’s what I think he wants to hear. He tells me I’m only partially right. The government determines the truth too, either through their minions in the press or by their might—cuffs, jail and government coercion often determine the accepted truth too. He says he’s witness to it. I tell him it’s not much different in our time except the messages of truth have become distorted as so many have a platform now, their truths, even if they’re falsehoods will find followers—rabid followers who will never waver from what they’ve accepted as truth, no matter how false it is. He laughs again, and I wonder if I am sounding so naive it’s truly laughable. He tells me it’s always been that way—always—and will never stop. The difference is in the end, actual truth wins out—although it could take many years. I tell him that’s not very comforting. He responds by telling me few things are.

Then, as though a cloud descends, a white haze surrounds us. He smiles and tells me he enjoyed our talk. I ask him, the words tumbling out of my mouth rapidly as I know our time left is almost gone, if we’ll talk again. He says “Maybe. Depends on how much you read. I talk all the time there.” Then, one last laugh, and he’s gone as is the coffee shop, the barista, and the two people who I never really saw other than through the corner of my eye.

I sit up in my bed, thinking about what just happened. I don’t know whether it was a dream or some sort of divine intervention. All I know is that the residue of the encounter is imprinted on my mind. I swing my legs over the edge of my bed, my wife still lying there breathing deeply, and realize I have no choice.

I must write.

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book promotion, inspiration, wise-guy animals in pants, world-building, writing technique

You settle for the book you get – James Baldwin

Sly’s path across Europe. Hardly any stretch of this journey was planned. One thing led to another. Clockwise from Virgin Mary: Pedro, a runaway duke. An abused bear in a circus. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Sha-Sha, Queen Elizabeth’s pet monkey. Queen Elizabeth. John Dee, her royal astrologer. A rat, in the Prussian town of Hameln. A crackpot frog who believes he’s an enchanted prince.

__________________________

From a piece on Joan Didion by David L. Ulin:

“. . .  even the most apparently intentional career is a matter of serendipity. We get ideas and they stick, or they do not. “You never get the book you wanted,” James Baldwin once observed, “you settle for the book you get.” We set out to write something and end up with something else.”

I know that’s true for me. I’m haphazard in my goals for my characters, in the way I tell their stories, in the way I present the material. I meander through my plots. My telling is full of ‘by the way’ and, ‘that reminds me’. I elaborate on points extraneous to the action, but so much fun I want to get them, in comical footnotes.

My writing style is a reflection of the way I’ve lived my life. I could call it ‘Half-assed’. Many of my relatives would agree with that. I could call it ‘Anything Goes’. That puts it in a better light. I’ll stick with Anything Goes.

Plotting a way forward is not for me. I know from experience, a few pages down the road I’m going to change my mind about something major, so why bother trying to outline? I add a new character to fill a short-term need, then fall in love with him and have to give him more to do so I can keep him around.

Gato, who I wrote about recently for Showcase, is a fine example. I needed him on my ship for a specific reason. Then I found it useful to imply he’s in the employ of Francis Walsingham, the head of Elizabeth’s spy network. He’s a career criminal, a Spaniard pulled out of an English prison to keep an eye on the Spanish captain of the Santa Clara, a merchant trader sailing a regular route from Spain to the low countries. He gathers intelligence on Spanish build-up in the south and sells it up north, and on English intentions and sells it to Madrid.

At the end of book two, Gato, as a result of an incident on a beach outside La Rochelle, heads back to England. What I’m going to do with him up there, I haven’t a clue. I don’t have to deal with that for a good while. I have time for ideas to fester in my brain. I’m going to pull some yuks out of him one way or another.

I smile to think a reader, having finished The Rogue Decamps, well along in book two, having a feel for the way I operate, learning there are seven books in the series, will share my glee: How many loopy malcontents does she have in store for me?

I’ve made bunches of disastrous decisions in my life. You can bet Gato’s going to do the same. Everybody in my story makes poor decisions. Entertainingly poor, that’s my one and only goal.

Nobody in my tale is satisfied with what they have. They all want something else.

Gato wants to be seen as a gentleman. His aristocratic captain wants to have the lifestyle of his affluent cousins in Madrid; he’s the poor relation. My runaway ten-year-old duke wants to join a circus, where he feels safe for the first time in his life. My archbishop, slated for the church from an early age (he’s the late king’s illegitimate son), wants to be a playwright in Paris. So it goes.

I would have preferred to have lived life without the crisis after crisis I’ve been through. I wasn’t capable of it, due to some mental instability I freely admit to. Calm and collected I’ve never been. I’ve lurched through life as I lurch through my plots: sad circumstances strung together that I eventually manage to sculpt into a semi-presentable narrative.

Plots are overrated. I want atmosphere. I want style. I want to sink into the world I’m reading about, make myself at home in it. I want to care about the characters. Bring them to life for me or you’ve lost me.

Plot is way down on my list. I’m glad to find folks on Youtube who agree with me. Chris Via, this guy Sherd, of Sherds Tube, and, I’m sure, many others. I’m going to track them down, pick their brains, be amused, and be inspired. Better Than Food, this guy is fabulous also.

There’s a community on Youtube I knew nothing about until Rick Harsch posted his piece on social media. Thank you, Rick. I’m watching your channel as well.

I love the this-and-that of life. That’s what interests me. Hell, that’s what fascinates me.

Maybe it’s a coping strategy, a way to live with the horrible choices I’ve made. Some of that was the result of being a loner and an introvert. Until I met my husband twenty years ago, I’d lived life without a safety net. It’s warped me.

I’m a warped human being. I’ve long been aware of it. I’ve finally made it work for me, with Sly. And Maisie. And Miss Spider. And a host of other lovely loony-tunes.

Screw normal. Me and my kooks and creeps are fine without it.

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Uncategorized

Fixed Point: The Doorway

I unlocked worlds of mystery & magic 

age ten 

when I learned the technique 

of focusing my gaze upon a fixed spot 

until fidgeting monkey mind 

denied ever-shifting visual stimuli 

began to hallucinate  

transfixing images of its own 

at the limit of peripheral sight. 

Sometimes 

the fixed-point image itself 

if stared at long enough 

in offset binocular vision 

wavered, shimmered 

& transmogrified 

into something else. 

___________________

I never forgot the lesson. 

___________________

Weird worlds 

startling, protean 

trickster-like 

chameleon 

everywhere intermingled  

& coexistent with our own  

manifest themselves 

if you remain still enough  

to notice. 

___________________

Author’s note: Boredom is the goad to creativity. A vision, a poem, a life. 

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writing technique

What would you recommend?

I’m sorry to say I haven’t read Steven King’s On Writing. It seems that I should, because by most accounts it’s excellent, even for those who don’t care much for his fiction. I don’t think it matters that it doesn’t feature in this list of the top 10 books about creative writing – interesting as I’m sure they are, I’m afraid not a single one tempts me.

This isn’t to say I’ve never tried. Sorting through my bookshelves the other day, I came across The Way To Write by John Fairfax and John Moat, with a foreword by the poet Ted Hughes. Fairfax and Moat, poets also, established the Arvon Foundation in 1968, becoming the first in Britain to offer a creative writing course. Today the Foundation offers a multitude of courses, events, conferences and workshops covering every aspect of creative writing.

I skimmed through the book. It came back to me, but the fact that I recalled so little meant I must have skimmed through it the first time, and hadn’t picked it up since. In the year it was published (1999), I was already too far on the quest to find my own ‘voice’ for the (rather underwhelming) tips to have much effect. And I’m of a generation that never knew creative writing courses. They were an American thing.

My opinion now? They help to avoid a lot of trial and error, but at what cost? For the voice to be truly your own, doesn’t it have to involve trial and error? Maybe I’m just used to stumbling along my own path, trying to learn as best I can, reading, analysing, trying things out, deciding for myself.

Later, I bought Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, moved to do so by the insistence of Jay Greenstein that no decent novel could be written without applying Swain’s advice to the letter. The book goes into very precise detail of plot, character, pace – you certainly get your money’s worth. But although I read it more attentively than the Fairfax and Moat, my Kindle tells me I stopped at 63%, and I haven’t been back to it since. Just too stubborn, I guess. I’ll do it my way.

All the same, to prove I didn’t come way entirely empty-handed, here’s the central take home message of Swain’s book:

A story is a chain of scenes and sequels. A scene is a unit of conflict lived through by character and reader. A sequel is a unit of transition that links two scenes. A scene must (a) provide interest by pitting your focal character against opposition and (b) move the story forward by changing your character’s situation. A scene is composed of a goal (possession of something, relief from something, revenge for something), a conflict (something that opposes the goal), and a disaster (real or potential, so the reader then wants to turn the pages to see how it gets resolved).

All good, sensible suggestions which (for the genre I’ve chosen) I should probably follow more closely than I do. It’s just that I find it hard to apply them consciously as I write. Of course there’s conflict, and goals and opposition, and every so often disaster, but I never set out thinking, ‘Right, this is the goal, and that’s the conflict – now, what’s going to be the disaster?’ Do I do it unconsciously? Perhaps. So much the better if I do. I certainly know when there’s not enough tension in a chapter, and a principle I have is to decide how the chapter will end before I begin it. But the rest is dictated by the overall arc of the story, in which there may be multiple conflicts and strands, and several balls to be kept in the air at once. The end result is never as neat as Swain’s technique would have it.

More inspiring than either of those books was Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel (1986). Less technical, more philosophical, it weaves Kundera’s account of his own writing with his views on what a novel should do: “A novel that does not uncover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral.” In those days I was still pretentious enough to think I could do that. I didn’t know how, but I liked Kundera’s assertion that the modern writer’s greatest asset is the ‘wisdom of uncertainty.’

I also loved the Paris Review’s interviews of writers, in paperback in those days, so I couldn’t afford to buy many myself. Now they’re online, though still for a steep enough price to discourage me ($125 for 8 issues, or $85 if you live in the US). To lure you in you get a full interview free – here’s the one of Kundera – and then a glimpse of the others.

Those sort of texts, by the writers whose level of skill I set as my aim, are still the ones I prefer when it comes to gaining an insight into the art of writing. Less about technique than the deeply personal way each one of them works. Perhaps this means I’m not the best placed to reply to a young writer who asked me recently what books I’d recommend to help her improve. Any suggestions?

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book promotion, book sales, marketing, Uncategorized

Promotion Commotion

I’m creating the backmatter for Maisie in Hollywood. Above is the final page in my book, a promo for Sly! The Rogue Decamps.

I’ll have to have Decamps able to be found on Amazon when book one of Maisie is printed and ready to sell. Like Perry, I plan to sell at book and art fairs and to try to get it into local bookstores.

I’m researching promotional strategies on the web. Most of what I see might work for previously published authors with a following – and an email list:

  • Post a cover reveal – Run giveaways of ARCs – Send ARCs to major publications (For sure, in my dreams!)
  • Create bonus content. (For your hordes of dedicated followers, natch.)
  • Announce a title reveal. Have your book available for preorder in time for its cover reveal.
  • Build an author street team of volunteers to incite word-of-mouth buzz. (Again, in my dreams)
  • Create an inventory of book promotion images to promote the preorder and book launch. (This I can handle.)
  • Post fun photos of the book on social media. Publish posts on sites like BuzzFeed & Medium.
  • Your mailing list! Mailing list! Mailing list!

Screw it.

Carl has his path: Get your name known by submitting to anthologies. It seems to be working for him, and good luck to him. GD and Victor have also had success with anthologies and small publishers.

I’m searching for anthologies of humor. I see nothing that fits my stuff. One looked promising until I got to: maximum 700 words.

700 words are not enough to develop any appreciable characterization. I should try it, I guess, to see what I can do with 700 words. Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. I don’t want to write graphic-novel-style without the graphics.

Cover reveals on social media, do they work? I skim right past them. Does anybody pay attention to them?

Does anyone here have a substantial mailing list? How did you acquire it?

I’m counting on my eye-catching covers to drive sales. At an art fair, this may work.

I’d like to get a peek at that catalogue that book stores order from. I’m guessing a snappy title is your best bet there. Do you get to include a subtitle? How about a short description? *Sigh* Maybe the crucial piece of information is your name. Are you a known quantity?

Ah! It’s called ‘Books in Print’. I think I can get a look at it.

Speaking of titles, I’m googling titles of articles I’ve posted here and on Medium. A number of them turn up in a google search. The ones that don’t, maybe the wording is not individual enough, there are too many pieces called ‘And Away We Go’, etc.

I’ve just changed the title of this piece from blah to something more interesting.

I’ve known a lot of screwball characters in my time. I could work this or that name into a headline and have the individual folded into my story in a reasonable manner so it’s not an outright bait and switch. I might snag folks who’ve wondered, for instance, whatever became of that bad boy Richard Rheem?

Richard, a former lover of Andy Warhol, was my housemate for two years in Boston. Could I claim he inspired one of my slippery characters? He was sure he deserved more out of life than life was handing him. Yeah, he’d fit right in with my lovely bunch of malcontents.

I google him from time to time. I see a gelatin print of Richard, by Warhol, is selling on artsy.net. Asking price: $18,000! And photos from his days with Andy. I can’t find anything current. Is he still around? When I knew him he already had a couple suicide attempts under his belt.

Hey it’s just a thought.

My larger point is: we have to think outside the box, worm our way into widespread notice by any route available to us.

I’ll wrap this up: What else can I do to improve my chances of being discovered? I know, I know. Finish the damn thing.

This massive project overwhelms me. This is the way it goes with me. I start small, and my thing grows and grows. Sly, an eight-book series, started as a short story in 1985. I had drawn an image of a cat playing a fiddle for an illustration class. I decided it needed a story to go with it. Sly (his name at the time: Puss) was born.

That piece is long lost. I altered a well-known verse and explained the solid history behind it. (Many a childish rhyme was based on a real event.) I recall the verse. The story? Not so much.

Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle.
The cow jumped over Muldoon.
(A cow and a pig joined Puss’s attempt to obstruct an assassination plot. Muldoon was one of my villains.)

The little dog laughed to see such sport.
(Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was known as Elizabeth’s ‘lap dog’)

Cavendish ran away with the spoon.

A spoon was coated with a clear glaze of poison that would dissolve when dipped in a scalding-hot mug of a treat only recently imported from the Americas–chocolate. This was the method by which Cavendish intended to commit regicide. A Catholic cleric, dressed as a member of his household, wearing his livery, was to serve the beverage and take the fall.

Book four, A Dainty Dish, was eighty-percent written. It will be substantially reworked. Why? Because I discovered John Dee, Elizabeth’s royal astrologer. My conception of the assassination plot has changed radically.

It’s just as well. The cow jumped over Muldoon . . . maybe that gem is best forgotten.

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Freedom of Writing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

OPEN COMMENTS WEEK

Use the Comments section to talk about anything at all concerning the writing life. Here’s a few things that crossed my mind as I posted this.

A writer using only approved words and phrases writes propaganda.

If you think you cannot forge your own life, you haven’t met my rangemaster. Lou grew up behind the Iron Curtain. To make a long story short, he decided to come to America. He walked across Europe, worked on a ship for passage to America, and lived in a boxcar in Florida until he met a guy who gave him a job on a shooting range near me. Today, Lou drives a new Corvette and owns the shooting range. I admire Lou.

Jobs that can be done from home can be automated.

Empirical science, the real science that allowed us to land on the moon, is based on observation and measurement. One cannot observe or measure the future. “Science” predicting the future is just someone wanting something from you.

A writer committed to “show-don’t tell,” to quote Thornton Wilder, “…believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it.”

Our solar system has so far moved 1 trillion, 627 billion, 700 million miles through space in my lifetime. I was outside looking up on a clear night during so little of this trip that I am personally embarrassed to write stories of interstellar travel.

“This is a site where we swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. …So here in the Co-op we try things out, see what works and what doesn’t, and tell each other about it.”
– Curtis Bausse, First post, April 26, 2016

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Uncategorized

My Life of (C)rhyme

Above: The cover of one of the genuine ‘Miss Spider’ books. This is the (surely) beloved Miss Spider. David Kirk has a dozen-plus books out. The rhyme is charming, and the art blows me away. The images are gorgeously composed.

__________________________

Any sort of writing is a challenge, but to write verse is double the struggle.

I want my verse to rhyme exactly, not almost. My prose storytelling is written in a conversational voice. My verse is as well. I want my language to be natural, though flavorful, and my story progression to make total sense, while hitting my rhyme-sounds without undue manipulation of sentence structure. (Except for breaking lines apart to cue pauses.)

The snippet I show below was trying. The rest of the six-hundred words came fairly easily. I’ve worked on these few lines for the better part of two days. I’ve had many versions of the ‘Bettie Page’ area, tried to convince myself they were good enough, and failed.

Miss Spider has been on a dinner date with Woodie. They’ve seen Peggy Flea’s show at the Cobweb Club. He’s looking forward to a night of romance. So is she, but she plans fun of a nastier character.

This piece is close to finished, in two days. I have other things I’ve worked on for two decades. When I can’t solve a problem, I put it aside, and hope to come back to it with a new approach to the area in question. I generally throw out the problematic lines so I can’t refer back to them and have my thoughts heading down the same dead-end path. I still have rhymes that I wince over in many of my pieces. I regard them as place-holders, until a better combo pops into my head.

I write narrative verse, telling a true story, with a plot. I want my rhymes to be perfect sound repetitions, and I want them to be surprising, not low-hanging fruit. To achieve this goal, I do resort to structural gymnastics. Some of my rhymes land on the one word of a two-part phrase. In the direst circumstances (not here) I have my crucial syllable skulking in the midst of a multi-syllable word, requiring the line to be treated as prose, the match making itself known in the reading.

Where necessary, I pad my meter with interjections: Ha. Whoa. Hey. Lord, Lord. As I do in my fiction, I inject myself into the proceedings. This gives me additional ways to lay my hands on a solution, and adds a bit more fun.

Sometimes I can’t find the words to say exactly what I’d like (or need, even worse) to say, and I resort to make-do second-best. That never works. I can’t kid myself. In the end I rip down the structure I’ve labored over and start anew.  

My idea here is to mimic the look and feel of the popular ‘Miss Spider’ series for children: smiley-face cartoon bugs (I’d have a hard time identifying Miss Spider as a spider, expect for all the legs), a landscape format, high-gloss cardboard stock with rounded corners. The art is rendered in bright primary colors. As far as mimicking the look perfectly goes, I’ve already shot myself in the foot. (I love the idea of Miss Spider ending up in Bettie-Page-style peek-a-boo underwear, catching unsuspecting parents by surprise. The series is aimed at very young children, who would need to be read to.)

The original has no footnotes. No sidebars. And certainly no Miss Spider in corselette, garter belt, and mesh stockings. Nor does the genuine Miss Spider have a brass bed furnished with hand cuffs, awaiting her fling of the night. (Spider females eat the male after mating. This is her strategy for seeing to it that the process goes smoothly.)

Scene: Miss Spider and her date, having enjoyed Miss Peggy Flea’s show, are returned to her apartment. This is the text for a two-page spread (of a projected twenty-four page book).

This is my most difficult section for intricacy of phrasing. I think I’ve solved my problems with flow. If I haven’t, I would appreciate it if you would let me know, and I’ll continue to fiddle with it.

__________________________

They’re ensconced on her couch.
She croons, “Cuddlebug, you into games, babe?
Sit tight. I’ll be back in a few.

“Close your eyes, hon,” she calls from the next room,
“until I give out with the cue.” There’s a pause.
Then a shrill, gleeful, drawn-out “taa-daaaaaa!

Woodie’s stunned.
(So am I.)

Mae’s a sight to behold, in . . .
let’s see now . . . in thigh-high boots . . .
French corselette . . . crotchless panties.

Lord, Lord.

The boy’s dumbfounded, people, wigged out.
He is floored.

Bettie Page,* eat your heart out.
Miss Spider, petite as she is, gotta say it.
This chick has you beat.

She’s got eight shapely legs.
Long-long legs.
In mesh hose hooked to a garter belt.
Hey! I wore one of those.

No shit.

Curious, ain’t cha?
You’re dying to know more on that, I should think.

Here ya go. See below.**

*  Bettie Page was an American model who gained notoriety in the 1950s for being photographed in naughty underwear.  

** Pantyhose wasn’t always a thing. Dancer Ann Miller invented it in the nineteen-fifties to facilitate quick changes. In fifties Florida, we wore garter belt and stockings to church, and on any fancy occasion. A garter belt was uncomfortable at any time, twice as bad in the Florida heat. The pre-pantyhose years were also the pre-AC years, at least for folks of modest income.

__________________________

I have a scene in The Rogue Decamps in which my archbishop (who writes verse) tells the King of Haute-Navarre: “if you see me with my head bowed, I’m generally running rhymes through my head, looking for a match that works for me.” This is what I do. I know that behavior well.

I cannibalize my life. There’s a bunch of me in every one of my characters.

I have Celestine, I have Gaudy Night, I have five or six short picture books in progress, giving glimpses of Sly’s childhood. All these are verse, and they all have plenty of those ‘placeholder’ words that nag at me, that still need work. I’m frequently running possibilities through my cranium, looking for that Aha! solution.

I live with my cast of whackos 24/7. I’ve lived with them for decades. And they still fascinate me. Bear that in mind when give you another post on my critters. It’s a compulsion.

That’s my best, and only, defense.

I will be submitting Miss Spider’s Dinner Date to Rabbit Hole V. The theme of the next issue is Just Plain Weird. I figure this qualifies. Whether or not Rabbit agrees with me, I’ve got the start of another series.

And another paper doll.

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book reviews, Literary critique, show case

USEFUL CRITICISM

Toxic Positivity Is Very Real, and Very Annoying.
Psychologists say forcing ourselves or others to be positive can be harmful to our mental well-being and our relationships. This is because practicing false cheerfulness— which they call “toxic positivity” —keeps us from addressing reality.
Details here.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/tired-of-being-told-cheer-up-the-problem-of-toxic-positivity-11635858001?mod=wsjhp_columnists_pos1

Specific comments about another author’s work can be truthful, helpful and painful. Sacrificing truth to prevent pain is not helpful. None of us want that. We work hard to improve and we have all winced at positive but useless comments.

Criticism, as the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary work, has a wide history. There’s Formalist criticism, Gender criticism, Marxist criticism, Psychoanalytic criticism, Russian formalism, Reader Response criticism, even Critical criticism. And we don’t have time for all that.

I suspect that trusting the author who asks for criticism and truthfully giving what help we can competently offer, will work most of the time. Sue Ranscht’s Writers Co-op Show Case allows just that. Check it out if you’re looking for criticism &/or are willing to criticize another author’s writing.

Of course, the real fun in criticism is when you don’t like an author and can say things like, “If you think he’s good now, you should read his writing from two or three years ago.”

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