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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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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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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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, editing, Freedom of Writing, Literary critique, marketing, Publisher's Advice, show case, Welcome, Writers Co-op

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

The Writers Co-op Show Case allows any writer to receive feedback about their writing. Click “SHOW CASE” for details.

The Rabbit Hole anthology is accepting submissions for our fifth annual publication of speculative fiction. Click “THE RABBIT HOLE” for submission guidelines.

Your blog may be featured here. You, your writing, editing, marketing, or publishing would be of interest . Keep it around 1600 words max and submit it to GD(at)Deckard(dot)one.

Got a question about anything related to the writing life? Feel free to ask it in the comments section.

The Writers Co-op includes fiction authors, poets, editors, illustrators, magazine and book publishers.

You are most welcome to join us.

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show case, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Thanks, Guys!

Today I am 79 years of age and three quarters of a century is time enough to have the things that young men dream of.
New Year, GD Deckard, The Quantum Soul

That is the first line in the first short fiction of mine to be published and on this day it is true.

“Well, my old friend, it certainly is time for you to relax and look back on a full life.”

Bidziil Zahnii looked at Maxwell as if his doctor misunderstood where babies came from. “Now is the time to look forward, Max.”

At seventeen, I decided to become a writer. But not then. I didn’t know enough. Figured I’d know the answers to life’s big questions when I got older. Imagine my surprise when sixty rolled around and I still had no clue. Oh well, I did have experiences so I started writing, making up the big answers as I went. Douglas Adams had already demonstrated that an answer of “42” is good.

The best thing about writing is there is always something to look forward to. I awoke this morning thinking about the insight-full criticisms others here have given me on a piece that I put in Sue’s Show Case. I made the changes.
Thanks, guys! You have made the opening of my WiP balanced. I look forward to finishing it.

P.S. I would have written a more useful blog but it’s my birthday and I don’t have to.

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Uncategorized

OPEN COMMENTS WEEK

Use the Comments section to talk about anything at all concerning the writing life. Here’s a few ideas.

You
Your writing
Editing
Publishing / publishers
Marketing
Review a book
Tips, tricks, and tools you use
Story ideas
Your own favorite caracters
What readers want
The book industry
Sources of research
Authors who influenced you
What your significant other thinks of your writing
Give an elevator pitch on your latest book
Legal matters that writers need to be aware of
The different tools amazon has for writers
Audio books
Podcasting
Your favorite quotes
Share your writing bucket list
What you are working on now

“This is a site where we swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. …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

401

No, not the Web Error 401. This is post number 401, meaning, 400 blogs have been posted to date on the Writers Co-op. So let’s look at post number one and judge how we’ve done. Here it is, from APRIL 26, 2016, by Curtis Bausse. How do you think we have fared over the years?

co-op stuff

The first post. And to me has fallen the honour. Seriously, it is an honour. Firstly, because it’s a vote of trust from my fellow co-operators, secondly because this post is the first of a long, rich and innovative series (no point starting a blog otherwise, right?). As more posts come, this one will slip out of sight and mind, but it will always remain the first, the one in which the Writer’s Co-op became public. So thank you, Amber, Atthys, GD and Mimi for putting your trust in me.

Let me begin by explaining. The five of us ‘met’ on Book Country, a website where writers post their work for peer review and critiques. Though lately it’s become very sleepy, it’s not a bad site, and it has a discussion board where I’ve found many a useful piece of advice. And some time ago a thread was started by GD Deckard, in which he wrote the following: I’m thinking of a site that new writers can use to promote their books. How, exactly, depends on what the writers themselves want. Writers are creative people, so together we could come up with creative ways to help one another that we might not think of on our own. How would you like to see a Writers’ Co-op work?

Well, it took us a while, but here we are – The Writers’ Co-op. Five people who write in different genres but who all share a similar commitment to the craft and the graft of writing.

watchmaker_2_1_0_rectangle

The craft…

Building Stonehenge

and the graft

But why come together? What can this site do that a personal one can’t? Well, as GD says, for a project like this, many minds are better than one. And the method is in the title – cooperate. This is a site where we swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. Especially beyond. Because who wants to write a book and then not promote it? That’s like a painter working for years on a picture, then turning it to the wall. So here in the Co-op we try things out, see what works and what doesn’t, and tell each other about it. And not just each other, obviously. We happen to be the five that started it off, but we don’t intend to stay whispering in our corner. The Co-op welcomes anyone who’s willing to invest a little time and effort into promoting books worth reading.

What can you expect to find here? Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I do admit the innovation bit could be a challenge, but we’ll try our best, I promise. There’ll be anecdotes and analysis, thoughtfulness and humour, awards and recommendations, opinions, rants and wackiness. We don’t expect to work miracles and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But what we do take seriously is writing itself. Which means we’re also keen to help writers explore whatever path might lead somewhere interesting, and help readers find good writing. If that sounds like a programme you could tune in to, you’ve come to the right place. Drop us a line, tell us what you’re up to. Maybe we’ll end up travelling the path together. Whichever one it turns out to be.

path2
path1
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About Writers, editing, Stories, writing technique

Show Me

While screening stories submitted to Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, it occurred to me that editing means the opportunity to find new stories to share with others. What does that mean? It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.

So what makes a story appeal to a wide variety of readers? Common themes help, of course, because more readers will identify with the story. But I suspect the real key is participation. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit in an audience and listen to a comedian or a lecturer? The lecturer may tell you interesting things but the comedian will draw you in and make you participate. Would you rather laugh or be lectured?

Yup. I’m talking “Show don’t tell,” my favorite explanation of which remains the quote by Russian novelist Anton Chekhov.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Show don’t tell” entices the imagination. That lets the reader participate in the story.

Writers have used many creative ways to draw readers into their stories and the ‘Net is full of examples. Chekhov’s is an immersive description.
Some are half-thoughts that invite the reader to complete the image.

“She said only, ‘He spent the night rocking my world.'”

Or juxtaposed images that show something of the character’s character.

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.”
-Steven Wright.

What is your favorite way to show the reader your characters, to draw then into your world?

Me, I favor dialogue. It can allow the reader to imagine the details.

“You had a vibrator?”
She nodded. “I pulled a lot of guard duty. You know how boring that is?”

It’s not enough to tell a reader anything. You have to show them something.

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editing, Writers Co-op Anthology

Thoughts on Editing and Rabbit Hole V?

By Tom ‘DocTom’ Wolosz

How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a…editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember, with charity, that his intentions were good.

-Mark Twain. Letter to Henry Alden, 11 November 1906.

First you have the writer who can write but can’t spell. Then you have the editor who can spell but can’t write.

-anonymous

Well folks, Curtis Bausse is currently putting the finishing touches on Rabbit Hole IV, and we hope to have it published in October.  Since this was the first time I’ve ever edited an anthology, I thought I might offer some thoughts on the experience. Especially since this will all lead to the question: “Will there be a Rabbit Hole V?”

           Let me start by thanking Curtis and Atthys Gage for all their help and hard work on RH IV.  They read through close to a hundred submissions, helping with the accept/reject decisions, and also were kind enough to edit some of the accepted stories.  I definitely learned one thing from them — it is very important to have feedback from multiple sources in making these decisions.

            Why? Well, each reader sees stories in their own unique way.  I can say that among the stories included in RH IV those we all agreed on initially constitute a distinct minority.  But there’s nothing wrong with that! With the publication of an anthology, we seek to engage a diverse readership, and you can’t do that when only one editor makes all the decisions.  I’d say that each of us saw stories we liked go to the reject bin, just as each of us got some of our choices approved (I should also point out that there were no intense disputes — we discussed, agreed, and moved on). The result is like a candy sampler, lots of delicious variety. It’d be a pretty poor sampler if all the candies were the same, eh?

            Another reason for multiple input is we are all apt to look at different aspects of writing. I, for instance, tend to read the story for plot, for ideas.  The result is that I end up ignoring a lot of the mechanicals of writing on a first run through.  In at least a couple of cases I was all in favor of a story based on concept, only to be alerted to the fact that the writing was particularly sloppy, or the overall structure was poor.  After re-reading I came to agree that the amount of line editing required would be enormous, so into the reject bin it went.  On the other hand, there are stories that are quite nicely written, but go nowhere, or are simply stories you’ve read a thousand times before with nothing special about them.  Again, these get weeded out when a few people are contributing to the decisions.

            So having three editors working on the decisions makes a big difference.

            Some other thoughts on editing:

            I am mainly a line editor. If a story has major structural flaws, has pages of extraneous material, etc. I just vote to reject it.  My guiding principle is that it is the author’s story, not mine.  I try, in small ways, to help make it better, to make it as presentable and polished a work as possible, but I don’t try to rewrite it.  I have some small experience with editing extremes, both from reading through stories by friends that appeared in independently published anthologies like ours but where no actual editing appears to have occurred (typos, etc., by the dozen), to dealing with an editor so impressed with their own credentials that their orders to rewrite character, plot, etc. where like bolts tossed from on high by Zeus himself.  Let’s just say I find it best to be in the middle.  Offer helpful advice, but if it’s rejected just remember that my name isn’t under the title of the story. Also, never demand, and never, ever argue with the writer (it’s their story!).

            Let me end this by just stating that the above is my personal philosophy. There were no bad experiences editing RH IV. Working with my co-editors and all the writers involved was a real pleasure.

            Last thought (I can hear your sighs of relief!). If there is an RH V, a theme is okay, but it shouldn’t be too restrictive.  While it might sound cool, a very, very, specific theme is literally asking writers to come up with a story specifically for this anthology — which basically pays nothing.  I think the result is fewer submissions than might otherwise be received, with many of them ignoring the theme totally.  Remember, a broader net catches more fish.

            Okay, so think about it. Should there be a Rabbit Hole V?  If so, I’ll be happy to take on the editing chores again, but I will definitely need two volunteers to read submissions and help make decisions.  Also, they should each expect to be asked to edit three or four of the accepted stories (the anthology generally contains about thirty stories, so I’d be doing twenty-two to twenty-four of them). 

            Thoughts? Comments? Volunteers?

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