Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Stories, writing prompt

What an idea!

Photo by Tracy Lee, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Some years ago, after rejecting an author’s short story for the Book a Break Anthology, I received a reply in which she acknowledged that a weakness in her story was the idea itself. In actual fact, her idea wasn’t bad; there followed a discussion in which we agreed that while a poor idea brilliantly executed will always be better than a brilliant idea poorly executed, it’s better yet to have a brilliant idea brilliantly executed.  

I’m not sure how or when an idea strikes me as brilliant enough to be developed. The more that development proceeds, it will at some point, inevitably, stop seeming brilliant and turn into a struggle to find the words that will do the original vision justice. For that to happen, though, it had to come through all the previous stages of development unscathed – which means it must have been brilliant enough in the first place, right?

I currently have 72 files in the Ideas folder on my laptop, but the number of actual ideas is much higher because most of them are in a single document. They might run to a couple of lines or a paragraph; often they’re just a few words. Those that emerge from this survival of the fittest are rewarded with a document file to themselves; eventually, they may even get a folder.

The folder stage is reserved for the elite. By that time the text may run from 3000 to 20000 words. I currently have 16 folders, but half of them are gathering the substantial amount of dust that lands on my keyboard. That still makes eight active ideas to keep an eye on, by which I mean that any article I spot related to that idea will be read, sorted into the folder, and may lead to an addition or amendment to the text. But that’s a matter of minutes; at any given time there’s really only one idea bubbling away at the front – the others gently simmer further back.

Whether any of these ideas is brilliant is obviously debatable. And the point remains that it isn’t having ideas that’s hard, it’s doing something decent with them. But brilliant or not, all ideas start with a little spark in the brain that either gathers strength or fizzles out. Putting them in my Ideas folder means that some at least have a chance of surviving, sometimes emerging many years later, like Brood X (though rather less numerous).

As to where they come from, the sources are multiple, but I’m currently drawn to the zaniness one regularly comes across browsing the news. A few examples:

French police say they are building a case against an international gang of toy thieves specialising in stealing Lego – and they have warned specialist shops and even parents to be aware of a global trade in the bricks.

A mafia fugitive has been caught in the Caribbean after appearing on YouTube cooking videos in which he hid his face but inadvertently showed his distinctive tattoos.

In the flesh, Jeanne Pouchain appears very much alive and well. Convincing the French authorities of this has proven another matter. After being declared dead by a court, Pouchain has spent three years trying to have herself officially resuscitated.

A Welsh man has issued a public call to help find two Irish men who helped him return home from Australia in 1965 by packing him up and mailing him in a crate.

Whether any of these will be developed remains to be seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeanne Pouchain eventually makes it past the next couple of stages, reaching the point where the hard slog begins.

And you? How do you handle your ideas?

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Uncategorized

Yes, I’m at it again –

I haven’t gotten around to taking photographs. This isn’t my bookshelf. My shelves are worse. And I have plastic tubs on the floor holding additional books. It’s rather depressing, I do admit.

_________________________________________

At what? Being annoying? Sure, that’s a given, right?
But, actually, attempting to organize my bookshelves:

>Literary fiction v. genre fiction v. time-tested classics

>Favorites of any stripe, to lay hands on easily and read again

>Hodge Podge 1: Vetted, yet to be given a permanent home.

>Hodge Podge 2: Yet to investigate. (Keep or chuck?) I have a double-wide shelf of those.

____________________________

My house is a mess. I wish I could call it a glorious mess. No, it’s just a mess. I like to think workmen who enter think, charming disorder. They probably think, Who can live like this? Everywhere you look, books and more books. Shelves, piles, boxes of books.

I have a floor-to-ceiling shelf devoted to theater, film, graphics, history of costume, style, and performer bios. I’d better not acquire anything more in that way because it’s packed tight. I’ve made a rule: anything new, something has to go. That shelf is my arts real estate, period. I’m not hitting the library sales these days, because of my bad back and knees, so that rule hasn’t been tested yet.

My history is broken up. I have general history downstairs, and sixteenth-century history upstairs. I have a used-to-be linen closet of nautical-related fiction, history, biography. (Research for my pirate adventure in book two of Sly.)

Fiction sits here and there. I’m exasperated with myself. I’m trying to see if I have Sometimes a Great Notion. I have Cuckoo’s Nest; I know that for sure. Getting the fiction in one spot–I finally feel up to it. My back finally shows signs of recovering from an operation of a year ago. The pain of standing–I’m OK for five-ten minutes, then I have to sit–is suddenly diminished. So I’m in a clean-this-dump state of mind.

And, as you can see, I’m talking about it because that’s what’s on my mind right now, and it doesn’t take a lot of thinking. The burden of keeping this site going shouldn’t be entirely on GD’s shoulders.

There are topics we’ve talked to death. Fine, let’s move on. We all have our personal relationship with books. There’s an easy article. For instance: who are your major influences? What directions have they pushed you in? That would be very interesting. Also, if you were to read entirely outside your genre, what would you read? I’ve started (not gotten too far) with Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy. And Reading Jane Austen inspires me to read her novels in the order in which they were written.

But, know what? What I’d really like to hear is, why are most of you not contributing a piece now and then? You have nothing to say? I don’t believe it. Too busy? This shortie took less than an hour to write. (Neither was thinking-about-it time burdensome. I combined it with other activities.) You’re not interested in putting that much energy into this site? Maybe you’ve given up on your publishing dream. That I understand all too well.

Recommend a title I might be glad to know about. Ten years ago, Atthys Gage suggested I read E.T. A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, and I’ll thank him forever for it. Another intricate take on a wiseacre cat! It’s nothing like mine, but the flavor is embedded in my brain and will eventually color my approach in small ways. (I am not asking for books about cats. I am asking for things with exceptional style.)

How do we handle reviews? JoeTV, a screenwriter, the guy who gave Sly its first review, trashed it up and down, in and out, then, in subsequent reviews, walked that back. He used to have a page on Wikipedia. I can’t find it now. Do I have his name wrong?

That first horrible review sent me into a deep depression, for half a day. Then I reread a few of my chapters, and said to myself: This guy is full of shit. This is good. I don’t care if he’s a big, successful screenwriter. He’s wrong.

Good reviews I discount. It’s the bad ones I pay attention to. But you have to not let yourself be intimidated by them.

Courage, mon ami, le diable est mort!
(Courage, my friend, the devil is dead!)

I’ve had the phrase in my head for years. I’ve made it my mantra. I’d thought it’s out of Don Q. No! It’s from a work sitting on my ‘Favorites’ shelf for thirty, maybe forty years: The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade.

Does anyone think paying for a Kirkus review is a good idea? Is the name as respected as it used to be? I used to get that Kirkus catalogue–it doesn’t come anymore–and drool over many more wonderful books than I could afford to buy. They probably make more money selling their reviews. The question is, do the paid reviews carry the same weight?

I wish I had something meatier for you, like last week’s post on Surviving Trauma. At the moment, I don’t. Will you give me points for trying? I promise to do the same for you.

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blogging, book promotion, marketing, Podcast, Writers Co-op

PODCAST INVITATION

  • by Joseph Carrabis

This is a wonderful opportunity to help trauma survivors get their stories and work out to a wider audience.

For those who don’t know, Katie Koestner was on the cover of TIME Magazine at the age of 18 as the first person to speak out nationally and publicly as the victim of “date” rape. She is now the Producer and Host of the Dear Katie: Survivor Stories podcast.

My function is two fold. One, to find any creatives (not just authors) whose work deals with trauma and healing, and engage them in podcast conversations regarding their work and their lives post trauma. Two, to help find trauma survivors who’ll share their stories for the main Dear Katie podcast, review episodes before they go to air, edit, and make suggestions as necessary.

Please leave a comment if you or someone you know has written a fiction or non-fiction book, article, or story about surviving trauma. Include the title of the published work, the publisher, a synopsis of the story, and a link to where I can find it online.

Thanks.
– Joseph Carrabis

My own work in this area can be seen in the material listed below. Your work doesn’t need to mirror or echo my subject matter to be considered; it only needs to be well-written and deal with survivor issues.

Post Title – Producer, Dear Katie: Survivors on the Page Book Club; Editor, Dear Katie: Survivor Stories I joined the Katie Koestner organization as Producer, Dear Katie: Survivors on the Page Book Club, and Editor, Dear Katie: Survivor Stories.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, world-building

Writers, Escaping

Readers have long escaped into fictional worlds to avoid thinking about events in their real world. Writers do the same.
The difference is that as writers, escapism is our vocation. Instead of dealing with the here and now, we regularly choose to immerse ourselves in alternate worlds, fictional events and imaginary conflicts.
– Rachel O’Regan

But that’s OK.
It’s more than OK: it’s necessary. I mean… have you been following the news lately? We need books that ground us in the unvarnished reality of our present, and books that explore the more horrific moments of our past. We need dystopias to warn us and poetry to challenge us. And we need escapist fiction to give us a freaking break.
– Charlotte Ahlin

And writing is a therapeutic form of escape.
According to Gustave Flaubert: “It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself, to move in an entire universe of your own creating”.
– Zoë Miller

Personally, I acknowledge elements of escapism in my writing. No world of mine comes to mind where a character traps young children in a school room and shoots them with an assault rifle. In my world, police would immediately risk their own lives and save the children.
That’s escapism.

SOURCES
Rachel O’Regan https://www.lifeinfiction.co.uk/writing-as-escapism/

Charlotte Ahlin https://www.bustle.com/p/escapist-fiction-is-exactly-what-you-need-sometimes-you-shouldnt-feel-bad-for-reading-it-8092788

Zoë Miller https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/reading-is-a-therapeutic-form-of-escape-but-what-about-for-writers-1.3644528

The Uvalde Police Chose Dishonor
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/06/uvalde-police-robb-elementary-shooting-dishonor/661184/

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Uncategorized

Food For Thought


Here’s my chance to debut my cover for Sly. It’s not the final. I haven’t yet purchased the high-res images without the watermark. This crudely-thrown-together figure is two faces and five clothing items combined to make my ideal Sly.

Who knows? Should it be Eyes, William, or Eyes; William? Spirit, Francis or Spirit; Francis?

__________________________________________

They joke about writers cannibalizing their relationships for fun and profit, and sometimes as payback. Better yet is to cannibalize our own lives, lives we know from the inside out. I say, why the hell not? Use what you have.

My family is full of nuts. How many of you have a sister who was married to a predator priest who’d served time for altar-boy abuse? I do. To this day she has never admitted he might have been guilty of the crime. She says: “He said they were all trying to extract money from the church.” I’d been told of one accusation. I’m thinking: They all? What’s this they all?

Most everything I write in Sly, and now in Maisie, is rooted in my personal experience. I am the crazy old lady narrator in Maisie in Hollywood.

I have the brother who married money, and has spent his whole life leading the life of a grad student, with all the freedom to come and go that that entails. Meanwhile, his wife was the grad student. She finally got her PhD ten years ago, running through a large inheritance in the process. She’s down to her last two-three million. She had to sell her one-hundred-forty-acre family-descended property to revive her finances. But she’s still got the house in town. Nice, right?

We all have mountains of personal experience to assign to a character, and have a ball with, stretch it, twist it, as you would a slab of taffy. That’s why a book I discovered on Facebook really pushes my buttons. This is as bland a telling as I ever encountered. I’m tempted to buy the book to learn if the vapid storytelling continues down the same path. (Moonbeam Bay floats plenty of boats. The author is a USA Today Bestseller.)

GD writes about his experience in Viet Nam. Perry writes about his lifelong love of fly fishing. What pastures of plenty do you have in your past, that you can make hay of, that will enable you to write a story no one else could have written?

New writers frequently worry that their idea will be stolen. It’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. Write something no one else could have written. Develop a signature point-of-view, and a signature style. If you can’t do that, what kind of writer are you?

Hmmm. I suppose Kay Correll has done that.

Develop an interesting point-of-view.

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

This Space Not Reserved

If you drop in from time to time to see what’s being discussed, feel free to stir up a discussion of your own. If you have author privileges, put your post in “Draft” and I will post it on Mondays – on a first-come-first-posted basis. If not, email it to me at
GD(at)Deckard(dot)one
(If you replace the parentheticals with “@” and “.” you’ll have my address. If email-collecting spam ‘bots see it, hopefully the code will thwart them.)
Enough ifs.

This weeks’ commentary is completely open. Open comments week ocurrs when nobody can think of anything to post. Personally, I’d like to hear that Sue channeled Matsuo Bashō to write a haiku, or Boris became apprenticed to Mel Brooks, or that Perry fly fished with Lee Wulff. Or see a link to a new Space Cowboy song. Or watch a Youtube of Victor plugging his latest novel on the Tonight Show, or one of Curtis in Africa accepting an award for his charitable contributions. Or Mimi’s creations becoming NFT art.
But enough ors.

Comment on whatever aspect of writing you care to.

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marketing

Marketing

Of the Co-op’s stated goals when it was established six years ago, Curtis Bausse says, “Well, I think we’ve done pretty well on the whole. Still struggling with the marketing side, but who isn’t? And as Carl says, there’s more to come, so maybe one day we’ll crack it. One can always dream….”

Why do writers find marketing so difficult? Is it, really? Or are we just that bad at it? I suspect both. Asking me to market my book is like asking me to the moon for lunch.

Traditional publishers that pay royalties and advances have a system. They list your book in their “release ad” in Publishers Weekly and other magazines and provide tip sheets and advance selling materials to their sales forces, who go out into the field and talk to booksellers and librarians; send catalogs to libraries, bookstores, specialty outlets & schools; put your book on the web; send out review copies to review sources and advance reader copies to booksellers; and show your book at conventions for librarians, booksellers, and teachers. They provide metadata about your book to Amazon and other online bookstores, as well as getting it into the pipelines of wholesalers. Most promote new books on social media. They may even take out ads, create giveaways, help organize online or physical tours, write and send press releases.

This is the point to ask oneself, can we do all that? No. Some of it? Yes. Should we try? Probably not. Traditional publishers have honed their marketing. Doing “all that” must be required or they would not have spent all that money doing all of it.

So how do we crack book marketing? Sometimes, problem solving begins with listing what we do know, or can find out, then coming up with some/any idea to try, to see what we can learn from the effort.

I know that advertising with Google ads doesn’t work.
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/jousting-windmills/

I know that books are not a commodity, in the sense of candy bars or beer, because, like houses, nobody buys a six-pack. Books are sold one at a time like cars and if the buyer likes it, they may come back in the future for a new one from the same dealer. Unfortunately, one book makes too little profit for an author to open a dealership unless that author has a ton of books out there. Steven King or Clive Cussler have their own book dealerships. Amazon does.

Not to compete with Amazon, but to copy what they do well as well as we can, I wonder if authors shouldn’t form independent book clubs where, together, we sell our books. A club’s webpage could be here on the Writers Co-op website. Members could link to the club’s page from their own website and social media. The club could include independent publishers and would offer a wider selection of books for readers to browse. Our advantage over Amazon is that, being small, our books wouldn’t be lost in a digital storm. And members would keep control over their books and keep all profits. What do you think?

What other ideas can we kick around?

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Uncategorized

Writing Contest Rant

I recently entered a short story writing contest–one of these where you write 1500 words to a prompt.* I had no expectation to win; I was just having a good time.

The winner was announced today, and I read it to see what a winning short story was like. It was terrible. I couldn’t follow the plot. Poorly drawn characters. Key elements not explained. Bad word choices. It was like a low-quality kids’ story. And they didn’t even write to the prompt. I’m guessing it was written by somebody for whom English was not their first language.

I considered leaving a comment like this in the Comments. But the other comments were glowing, so I decided I couldn’t rain on that parade. Thus I’m dumping on you folks.

It made me angry, and also sad. I just had to get this off my chest.

Here’s my question. What should you do with bad feedback like this? I know the Oreo game, but I had nothing good to say about it. No redeeming features.

*The prompt was “happily ever after” and my story was about a couple who discovered that this meant forever and ever–and they got tired of each other.

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About Writers, editing, Writers Co-op, writing technique

What IS a Good Story?

While working with editors to screen stories submitted for publications, I find many are rejected because the submission is not a story. It is a scene, a statement, a monologue, maybe a rant. Sometimes, the rejected submission is beautifully worded sentences that literally have no point beyond themselves.

It is not true that any account of a series of related events or experiences constitutes a story. I know that is the definition of a narrative. But for our purposes, it is no more a story than is the space in a building between two adjacent floors. We need stories with conflict, or tension, or surprise, or extraordinary characters or character behavior, or controversy, or mystery, or suspense, or -you get the point. Something that interests a reader and draws them in. And, will give readers reason to buy the next issue of the magazine or anthology.

Google “what makes a story good” and you’ll get thousands of returns. Many writers and teachers of writing offer useful advice for crafting a story. But that advice is useless to the writer who has no story of interest to tell. Editors reject stories with form letters that say nothing. But among themselves, they share reasons such as,
“The writing is good, but the story is uninteresting.”
“A boring telling – no effort is made to pull the reader into the story.”
“I’m sure this entertained the writer more than me.”
“Uninteresting with a predictable ending.”
“No. Not a story.”

Obviously, we all know a good story when we see one. Maybe I’m attempting to categorize an observable element although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters. But if someone could succently state what a good story is, they would be helping all of us to get more work published.

What do you think?

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Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Find a Critique Partner

A critique partner is a good idea. It’s hard to read your own story with an impartial, critical eye. Sue Ranscht and I are currently reading each other’s WiP to provide one another with outside perspective and mutual support. I can only hope that my critiques are as useful to her as hers have been for me. Thanks to Sue’s honesty, I’m re-writing my set up. She pushes me to write deeper.

If you are considering critiquing another writer’s work – but, you know, you hesitate to criticize another writer’s work – here are some tips to get you thinking in a useful direction.
Read thoroughly. Don’t skim or speed-read. Surface-level feedback (“I liked it!”) sucks as useful.
Consider using a “compliment sandwich” approach. Start your critique with positive feedback, then offer any criticisms or suggestions, and conclude with additional positive input.
Use clear, specific language.
Make suggestions, not mandates.
Don’t let personal preferences cloud your judgment. Easier said than done, but try.
Practice striking the perfect balance between praise and being constructive.
Watch your tone! Email is notorious for giving the wrong impressions.

Sue has offered to connect you with a writing partner, right here on the Writers Co-op. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2022/04/24/lets-exchange-critiques/

It also helps to find a writing partner if you stay in touch with people in the writing life. Browse these links.
https://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php
https://www.agentquery.com/
https://www.critiquecircle.com/landing
http://winebird.com/
https://www.critiquematch.com/
There are a ton of other such sites, but I have zero interest in those that charge a fee for use, exist mainly to collect personal data, or don’t strike me as currently active.

The easiest way to get a writing partner, of course, is to email a piece of your work to stranscht@sbcglobal.net. You are thereby agreeing to critique the work of the person who critiques your work. But that’s why they’re called a partner.

NOTE: The image at the top of the page has nothing to do with this discussion. I just liked it.

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