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No Elvis Cadillac for you, Mom.

  • by Mimi Speike

Okay, I saw this yesterday. It sparked an idea for a post, so I jumped on it. Now I see it’s all over the web. You’ve read this already. No problem. I never intended to talk about Tarentino. I’m going to talk about me, and you, and our less-than-supportive families. Who ought to give us some respect, but mostly don’t.

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Maybe none of you obsess about your family the way I do about mine. Maybe you all had (relatively) normal families. (I know Carl is the exception.) I think about writing a piece, for Medium probably: Lies my father told me. He lied often, I only realized it after I was grown and my siblings and I compared notes. He bent reality to be what he wanted it to be. He told me when I was at Syracuse that my cousin had failed the physical to be drafted into the army. He was required to have an operation on his knee to make him acceptable. I understand now that he made that up to shame my brother, who was trying to escape the draft any way he could, and that bugged the hell out of Dad. Another of his fibs: he invented an abandoned wife and child for the creep boyfriend of my sister, to disparage him. (Joe didn’t need disparaging, believe me. His treatment of my Sis spoke for itself.)

The lies, the manipulation, that’s another issue, to deal with elsewhere. I grew up in my little bubble of misery. My brother seemed to be oblivious to what was going on and I resent him for it to this day.

My brother and sister do not read my work willingly. Nor do my nieces. I don’t twist arms. I send a chapter or two, with the instruction: don’t feel you have to comment, just tell me where you stopped. If that’s in the third paragraph, fine. That’s all you need to tell me.

The only meaty (dumb, but meaty) comment I’ve ever gotten was from my sister, who told me, I can’t understand this Shakespearian English. I change our modern word order a tad and throw in a few archaic terms and she calls it Shakespearian. Christ Almighty!

Oh, my brother told me: “I’m not a reader.” He told me this about fifteen years ago. I was stunned. Not a reader! He graduated from Harvard. All these years I had no clue. We were not close, despite being twins.

His wife, or ex-wife, they still live together, she claims to be a huge reader. Has she looked at my stuff? Not that I know of.

I’ve been on Sly and Celestine, Maisie too (in an earlier version), for forty years. I never informed any of them that I write until twenty years ago, anticipating the reaction: “Guess what my crackpot sister is up to now.”

My husband is solidly behind me, thank god. He’s a heavy reader, of nonfiction. He’s also the only person I ever met who owns more books than I do. He loves what I’ve written, though I know he doesn’t appreciate my finesse with words. He speaks English well, but it is is not his first language. He loves Sly for the history I build in. He’s all for history. Educate while you entertain. References to the Arabic origin of math and physics, super! More, he wants more of that. It’s never enough for him. He’s always ready to jump on a problem and research it for me.

My brother’s major complaint about me is that I’ve drifted through life, not making plans, kind of like the way I write, come to think of it. I believe this annoys him more than all the bad choices I’ve made with my life. He probably views my writing as my latest whim. A forty-year whim. Yeah, right. If he respects what I’m doing, he doesn’t show it.

If it makes me money, if I leave an estate of any worth, I’ve made up my mind. My nieces aren’t getting anything from it. I sent one of them a snippet a while back, with my usual instruction. She emailed me back: I’ve passed this on to my father. She’s a creative. She makes art. She’s studied acting, seriously, at a top acting school in NYC. I would have thought she’d at least be curious about what I’ve written. Apparently not.

Families don’t owe us a read, but it would be nice to be taken seriously. Does your family see you as a joke: Still wasting your time on that pipe dream of yours? Oh god, another story! This one’s about a mouse!

They don’t even visit my Facebook page, to look at the art. That’s easy enough to do. A friend of my niece, a cartoonist, visits and comments regularly. Not my one and only next-generation close relation.

She’s maybe gonna regret that one of these days. My money’s going to the folks who supported me, who encouraged me. I’m with Quentin Tarentino on that. I’ll leave money to my sister, with the understanding that none of it is passed on to Meda.

I’ll leave it to her friend the cartoonist, creating wonderful, fun LGBTQ-themed small publications, and doing community outreach, leading graphic novel-creation workshops in San Francisco at senior centers for the hanging-out retired, and in after-school programs, for kids. Any amount I’m able to bequeath, I may give it to Alex. He’ll put it to good use, I’m sure. Alex Leslie Combs, find him on Facebook. I admire his spirit, and his talent.

It’s not that I long for my relations’ praise. Anything they say, I would discount it. I have serious doubts about their literary judgment. I merely hope that, after a lifetime of missteps great and small, I am finally doing something admirable with my talent, that I was never able to exploit to my satisfaction.

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About Writers, book promotion, Uncategorized, writing technique

A Heroine’s Journey

  • by Mike Van Horn

I just started reading “The Heroine’s Journey” by Gail Carriger. I opened to the Intro and read this:

Here is the Hero’s Journey in one pithy sentence: Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honor.

Here is the Heroine’s Journey in one pithy sentence: Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others on to victory, together.

This brought tears to my eyes; then I laughed out loud. The heroine’s journey is the way I write my stories. Her second sentence could be a blurb for my trilogy.

Hey, I even have a heroine—singer Selena M, who sings real songs. My stories are told from her perspective.

I’ve been so frustrated trying to cram my stories into the framework of the hero’s journey, and they just don’t fit.

I write science fiction. The standard sci fi trope is to fight the nasty evil aliens who are out to invade Earth and destroy humankind. Ray guns and blasters and dogfights in space using World War II tactics. Stories like this no longer grab my attention.

My heroine Selena is a renowned singer who’s reluctant to sing her most meaningful songs because they make her feel vulnerable. She rescues an injured alien whose spaceship crashed on her hillside. The alien is also a singer, who ran away from home because she wasn’t allowed to sing her heartfelt songs, and set out with friends to explore the galaxy. The two help each other recapture their passion for singing.

A theme of my trilogy is Selena’s efforts to come to terms with her singing. How to honor it as the passion of her life. How to balance performing with flying off into space. How to perform her music on other worlds.

On this journey she forms multiple partnerships. With the alien that crashed. With two other women; they become the Three Spaceketeers. With several powerful men, including one modeled after Elon Musk. With a raunchy country singer and a brash New York agent. With two aliens who rescue her when she’s marooned in deep space. She trains a small AI device to develop a personality so it can be her companion when she’s alone in space. All of these help her on her adventures, help her when she’s in a jam, and saves her life multiple times.

Her antagonists are not bloodthirsty alien monsters but officious government bureaucrats who want to grab the alien technology for themselves. She doesn’t kill them; she outsmarts them.

She strides around with good friends, and they prod each other to victory. Yes, I like that! Heroine’s journey.

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I explore several ideas in my stories that I may share with you in future posts:

— Why are aliens friendly? What happened to the hostile aliens?

— If aliens come to Earth, what do they want?

— What do aliens look like? Not too humanoid, not too weird. Why? How does convergent evolution play out?

— Why haven’t alien races spread throughout the galaxy, including Earth?

— Do the aliens evolve higher and higher intelligence?

— How does one plausibly leap between stars?

*   *   *

Mike’s trilogy includes:

— Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard

— My Spaceship Calls Out to Me

— Spacegirl Yearning

He’s now working on “book 4 of the trilogy”:

— Alien Invasion: There Goes the Neighborhood

Check these out on galaxytalltales.com. Available as ebooks and paperbacks.

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Uncategorized

Why, I Write!

by Scott D. Vander Ploeg
[This essay derives from a prompt: “Why I Write,” which I’ve slightly altered.]

Yes, I do. 

George Orwell tells us that it is important to know the background of a writer in order to understand his or her “emotional attitude,” which influences the subject matter the writer chooses and is the impetus that sends the writer forward in writing. He also says that he knew he would be a writer when he was just a child.

I did not. I did not know what my future might be, and instead opted to chase crawdads in the creek with my best friend, Brian. We spent our days playing a great variety of games, some we made up ourselves. My emotional attitude was all about play. Writing came much later, but it is all about play, too.

I recall an early love for reading, and as a means to impress my eighth-grade teacher, Ms. Oleanor, I tried wading through The Brothers Karamazov, knowing little about Russia or that each character had around five different names. I wrote for her a short story that involved a Formula I race track and a very tall pagoda (liked that word) that toppled over onto the contestants.

After this magnum opus, I went fallow in my literary efforts, and wrote the required assignments without great lust for the work. I wrote a senior thesis on censorship, and learned how not to develop a research paper. When I attended college, at Purdue U, as an English major I was in a minority among the throng of engineers and sciency types. In my junior year, I wrote fluffy features stories for the college student newspaper, the Purdue Exponent. Other college writing? Well, of course essays and term papers, and when I look back on these I’m embarrassed by the level of mechanical error. I clearly did not think correctness was all that important. It is not lost on me that as an English composition essay teacher, I would be correcting student writing, and that if I had been my student, I probably would have failed myself. Cosmic payback.

My own college English composition course experience was dismal. For instructor, I had lucked into getting a real professor instead of a TA, Dr. Leslie Field. He was a Thomas Wolfe scholar, and smoked a pipe in class, leaning back, long legs extended, while he regaled us with stories about drinking with the great author himself, and his time as a soldier in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Field’s pedagogic strategy was mimicry—read essays then write in the style of that author. It was an old strategy. I later learned this was a fairly mindless way to generate compositional expertise. He first assigned us to read a series of essays by none other than George Orwell—“Shooting an Elephant,” “A Hanging,” and “Politics and the English Language.” We read these and he told us what we should understand from them. We nodded our heads. Then he had the audacity to assign us to turn in our first essay of the semester.

I was flabbergasted, gob-smacked, and describable by lots of other funny sounding words that denote complete and utter dismay. I had no idea what to do, what to write about, and the damned thing was due on the next Monday. I looked around for the equivalent of an elephant in “must” that needed shooting. The former corn fields of West Lafayette, Indiana, were not offering anything comparable. I sweated proverbial bullets, finally drafting something that could best be described as “lunatic,” about my dorm living conditions, and worried about flunking out in my first semester. Surprisingly, he liked it, and I got a solid B for the sheer wackiness of my idea.

And I really loved new words. Don’t recall where the advice came from (Mortimer J. Adler?), but it was that we should keep a note card as book mark, and when we see a new word, write it down and find a synonym definition to write next to the word. If the word pops up again, we are to play a game to see if we can remember it, and then check on the card. I did this with the somewhat fusty Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and added a couple dozen new words to my tacit vocabulary. I remember Stowe used the word “vociferously” several times.

Still, I was not much of a writer. I was a vociferous reader, and a pretty good teacher, even though I did not take up the quill myself.  It is impossible to completely avoid hypocrisy, I believe, but I made the effort. In one advanced writing class, I told the students that if they found places to submit their writing, I would write and submit along with them. My student, Patricia, had found that the regional NPR radio affiliate, WKMS, out of Murray, Kentucky, would accept contributed essays from the listening public. She sent one in, it was accepted, and she drove to Murray State U to record it. Then it was my turn. I did it, too. It was good fun. She quit after writing a few, finding it to be too much work and hassle. I kept going, recording around 120 such 3-4 minute spots. The following, heavily edited and excerpted, is my 22nd radio commentary, from June 12, 1999:

It was with great surprise that I nodded my head when I was recently introduced to a stranger with these words: “This is Scott—he’s a really good writer.” I had never before been assigned that label. I did not know how to wrap my mind around it—a vocation, an occupation, an obsession? In any case, I found the moment absolutely delicious. My chest expanded in egotism. In spite of the prevailing anti-intellectualism and the pop culture of distractions, as a people we tend to admire our writers. We grant them a special status in our secular hierarchy, as though they possess special wisdom, sages who open their hands and reveal words the readers try to snatch away, like when the young “grasshopper” Kwai Chang Caine tried to snatch a rock from his master’s palm in the television series, Kung Fu. I yearned for that kind of attention….

I want to tell stories and be the guy who magnetically attracts others to listen, the fellow who is always ready with a joke, always the one who must be invited to the party. Judging from the novels and movies about writers, such as in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, publishers would probably disagree and think the authors are a burden and a curse. Ironically, the industry depends on writers, though it doesn’t always treat them well.

Lastly for you listeners, I write now because I just can’t stop myself. Robert Frost was asked why he wrote poetry, and replied that it is because he had one hell of a good time doing it. Yes, it is something that is fun to do—for those who have acquired a taste for it. It is work, hard work, but it is fun work (for me). This is fun in a deep and meaningful sense, a way to assert my essential humanity. Words and word-play are a manifestation of an internal dialogue between me and myself, the auto-pilot Bloomian stream-of-conscious that runs on a loop in the mind. Writing provides an inner game of signification that is the difference between the dream of life and the sleep of death. I am the words I am, the “I am” of who I am, or as Popeye says—“I yam what I yam!”

I dissertated in 1993, a work on thematic self-reflexivity in the poetry of John Donne. I read up on Donne and Donne criticism for years, and started to put together an extended essay in the previous summer. It failed. I learned the next spring that my dissertation director, Dr. John T. Shawcross, was planning to retire. It was push-time. I began writing as soon as the spring semester concluded in early May, and by mid-August had around 180 pages drafted. Generally, I would go to the college and work in the evenings, finishing at two or three in the morning. I began submitting chapters and with revising, and completing the draft, it grew to 340 pages. While this may seem rather plodding information, what I want to convey is something that I was surprised to learn: that there was great joy in the act of sustained writing. I loved it. I was so caught up in my writing that it accompanied me when I drove home. One time, at 3 a.m., I realized I was blowing through a red stop light at a major intersection, completely captivated by thoughts of what I had just drafted. It was all-encompassing and I was all in. I found joy in writing. Since then, I write when I can, because I love doing it.

In an effort to better inform the other faculty, who also had dim understanding of what we taught, and the staff and advisors, I started writing humanities “nuggets”—brief explanations of literary or artistic things going on around us. I sent these via the email system at our college. After the first few, I realized these nuggets might have a home in the local newspaper. The newspaper’s editor agreed and I began a column, writing articles of just a couple hundred words on a weekly basis. I kept them light and friendly. After writing a hundred of such, I retired the column, though the editor wanted me to continue (it was an unpaid gig).

The take away: When asked why I write, like Orwell I can come up with several reasons. I think the better question is why in the world wouldn’t I write? It is such serious fun to play with language, to orchestrate the essay, to paint with words—when I am thus engaged, I am at my very best. To me, writing is simply the most intense playfulness I can find. In the middle of the Twentieth-century, Jean Piaget studied how children play and from what he learned developed theories about education, his genetic epistemology. The process approach to teaching composition that I was led to use in some ways derived from this.

In my study of the varieties of literary criticism, I was attracted to phenomenological or reader-response theory. It may be more of a sociological brand, but in some ways I think play-theory, because of its similar interactive nature, appeals to me even more. In 1938 a Dutch historian and cultural observer, Johan Huizinga, wrote an investigation of the way that mankind is involved in play, titling his work Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. The Latinate first words of the title mean ‘mankind playing.’ With a nod to his idea of playfulness, I give you, Homo Scripturam, ‘mankind writing,’ or for me in particular, Homo Scribbler.

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You Are Invited

To formally join the Writers Co-op, simply submit a blog of up to 1600 or so words. The subject can be anything having to do with the writing life. Feel free to promote your own work. Or share an insight. Or opine. We’re easy.

Once your blog is accepted, we’ll post it on the first open Monday or Thursday. And, we’ll grant you author’s rights, allowing you to write, upload photos, and edit your own posts. Thereafter, you can put blogs into the draft section and they will be published on a first-in first-out schedule.

We are adults who write, edit, publish & market books. We believe strongly in supporting one another’s work. We have no formal set of rules. Just good people.

Submit your initial blog to
GD<at>Deckard<dot>one

And, Well Come!

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About Writers, inspiration, Writers Co-op

Hobby Anyone?

That’s a photo of Vladimir Nabokov chasing butterflies.
Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Dostoyevsky gambled, Tolkien was a conlang* wizard, Tolstoy played chess, and Franz Kafka amassed an extensive collection of pornography.

Mark Twain, friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, obsessed over science and technology. He even patented three inventions of his own.

Why? Flannery O’Connor suggested, “Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. Any discipline can help your writing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” I couldn’t agree more.

That may be why E. E. Cummings painted daily, creating 1,600+ drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors. Other writers who used art to better visualize included Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath. And of course, our own Mimi Speike comes to mind.

What about you? I use photography to “see” things I might otherwise not glance at twice.
What’s your hobby?

~

*conlang is a word used here in an attempt to pay back Carl E. Reed for constantly making me look up words.

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