About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Social Media Distancing

– by Sara M. Zerig

As you’ve heard, the world is on lockdown for something called COVID-19. As a result, some of us have more time on our hands to contemplate the unprecedented (in our lifetimes, anyway) social distancing orders. Others, like first responders and the medical and grocer communities, have less time for this. But never fear, everyone has time for social media.

Early in the melee, a friend of mine posted a brief but thoughtful article to her Facebook page about how this could be our worst hour or our finest, and how we conduct ourselves will be the determining factor. The piece went on to list suggestions on how to do this. I “liked” the article because I thought it was a beautiful sentiment.

Later that day, I scrolled through a battlefield of comments on my friend’s post. Why don’t we do all these things during flu season? … Please educate yourself on the differences between Corona and the flu … Fact check, please! [link] … Yes, fact check! [link] [link] [link] You get the idea. Suffice it to say, the point of the article my friend had posted was lost.

I get it. We all have our opinions, and we have the right to express them. Some of us have unpopular opinions and at times become overly passionate about them. Do NOT get me started on bicyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road among cars. It isn’t pretty. Social media allows for an easy and engaging way to spark spirited debates, and the internet provides debaters a wealth of sources to support each side. I usually find it entertaining. Lately, though, not so much.

It seems every time I log on, someone is telling me how I should think or feel about all things Corona, and shame is the theme. Shame on you, if you are gullible enough to believe social distancing is the appropriate response; shame on you, if you are so arrogant that you don’t. Shame on you, if you are so ungrateful that you are are daunted by having to homeschool your children – you get to be with them, while essential employees don’t. Shame on you, if you aren’t on a ventilator and have the gall to fear for the economy. And for that matter, shame on you if you don’t fear for the economy, you elitist snob. We’re not all independently wealthy, you know.

I don’t know why I find this so different from political posts. Those are also aimed at dividing people through ridicule of different perspectives. Maybe it’s because political debates have been the norm as long as I can remember, while social distancing is uncomfortably new. Or maybe my friend’s early post landed too well with me. Turning on each other at a time like this feels like an embarrassment to the human race. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift: I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.

Good news! I can practice social-media-distancing and spend that energy on more creative activities. And I’m gonna do it. Just as soon as I post this blog. Shakespeare is said to have likely written King Lear from quarantine (don’t challenge me – I will find three questionable sources for every one you send me saying he didn’t). No, I am not suggesting that my romance-in-fantasy-settings books equate to Shakespeare, but I can provide an escape for people who enjoy that genre. This seems like a more positive way to spend my time than scrolling through COVID posts.

This is not a blog telling you to quit social media and create. It’s just a thought. An idea. An update on what’s going on over here, from one quarantined writer to others who have my virtual support and online respect. As my twelve-year-old daughter says too frequently: You do you, boo. Imma do me.

Friendly wave from at least six feet away,

Sara

Sara M. Zerig is author of the contemporary fantasy-romance AoX Series. “Unearthed” now available in eBook format on Amazon for Kindle (and Kindle app), Apple iBooks, and Barnes & Noble for Nook (and Nook app).
View more posts: https://saramzerig.wordpress.com/

Photo by Thought Catalog, http://www.upslash.com

Standard
About Writers, book sales, editing, inspiration, Literary critique, publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

My First Story

 – by Adam Stump

When I chose to start writing fiction professionally (if that’s what you could call what I do–professional), I didn’t do so because I thought that I’d make money (I’ve made about $12), and I didn’t do it because I thought I was a good writer (I have yet to win my Pulitzer). I did it because I had stories to tell. If anything, I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing. These stories usually percolate in my subconscious for months or even years before I write them down. When I finally do write them down, they come out mostly complete and usually pretty good.

As such, after my decision to write a story to be published (by someone else), I chose a story that had been rolling around without any clear definition in my brain for quite some time. I used a lot of elements from my childhood in upstate New York as well as a story I had heard while I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember furiously clacking away on my keyboard as the story poured onto the screen of my laptop.

The recipe for that story was: One part nostalgia, one part adventure, and one part terror. I produced a story that I thought was one of the best that I had ever read. It truly was one of the best I had ever read, because it was exactly what I wanted to read.

That first story taught me a lot about writing. I was so proud of it that I sent it to several friends because I thought that they would enjoy it. They, in turn, tore the story to shreds (in my mind, anyway). As I picked up the proverbial pieces of my story (and morale) from the floor, I was in shock. I didn’t know how anyone else wouldn’t find the story to be the best that they had ever read.

Then, I re-read my story and saw that the critiques (that’s really what they were, not attacks) that my friends made were accurate, valid, and necessary. I performed my first ever critical revision on my first ever story. I shaved a couple thousand words of nostalgic description, I increased some characters, rewrote a few scenes, deleted some scenes, and (most shocking of all), I changed the name of the story.

The story was originally titled “The Storm Drain.” Can you imagine reading a story with a title like that? I can’t. My best friend and inspiration for writing, N.D. Coley, told me to change the title. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall. But he was 100% right. I changed the name of the story to “Keep Off the Grass.” It’s a line in the story, and he told me that the story had named itself. In retrospect, I agree.

After learning that I’m not the best writer in the world and that I need critical feedback and revision and even title changes, I produced a decent version of the story and began shopping around for a publication to publish this electronic packet of blood, sweat, and tears. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. I knew that I could self-publish, but I thought that this story was good enough to be accepted by someone else for publication–others would view the story as something worth sharing with their readers.

Every rejection letter that came back was virtually the same: “This story is just an homage to Stephen King’s Stand By Me,” a book I’ve never read and a movie that I’ve never seen. I didn’t even know the premise of the book/movie. I’ve since googled it and can see that the comparisons are valid. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that “Keep Off the Grass” is a good story. I’d also say that, for all the valid criticism, there are only so many plots out there when it comes to general fiction. I happened to stumble upon a plot that Stephen King stumbled upon, as well. The plot doesn’t belong to him or to me, but to the consciousness–the ethos–of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years and countless rejection letters to today. I opened up my email and the first thing that I saw was an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to share my story in his magazine. He didn’t say anything about Stephen King or Stand By Me. He said that it was a good story and he wanted to feature it in the upcoming issue of his magazine.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would follow from reading that email. I literally wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to pound on pots and pans and run outside screaming that I had been published. I felt even more elated than I did when I actually received my first acceptance letter way back when. Why? Because this is my first story, and it’s part of my story. It’s still nostalgic for me, even if it’s been heavily edited and gone through a couple critical revisions since the first time I sat down to my laptop to capture it in writing.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader. Have you written a story? Has it been rejected, but you still think it’s a good story? Keep at it. If you truly believe it’s a good story, keep sending it out. Don’t give up! I thought this story would be my first published story. It’s not. It’s a few years old now. If I wrote it today, it would probably be a different story. However, it is what it is. And it’s a success story. It certainly didn’t start that way. If you’re discouraged with your writing, don’t be. If it’s really good stuff, others will recognize it. As authors, we might have little control over the body of the story–maybe it’s the muse or maybe it’s the editorial team dictating the story–but we still control how the story begins and, ultimately, how the story ends!

Standard
About Writers

On Leaving the Safety of the Self

selfie

We live in a self-regarding – some might say narcissistic – age. The combination of digital cameras, selfie sticks and social media allows us to display as much of ourselves as we want to as many people as care to look at it. So it comes as no surprise that writing too is affected by this trend. As author Rebecca Watson puts it in this article, “Internet ubiquity has bred creativity. It has encouraged us to perform: to use our life material for effect. It’s not a coincidence that the rise of blog posts and Reddit threads has aligned with the rise of autofiction – where the author self-consciously feeds details from their life into the construct of a novel.” The technique was carried to an extreme by Karl Ove Knausgård, who to great acclaim turned the minutiae of his own life into My Struggle, six volumes totalling more than 3500 pages. A similar approach was taken by Ben Lerner, of whom Watson says that he chose to write autofiction “not out of passion for the genre, but out of an aversion to the ‘great American novel’, where the highest goal is to achieve a state of universality through a supposedly omniscient voice that believes it encompasses all experience. Lerner’s form is born of kindness. It admits that he, as a white man, can only write what he knows, that he cannot presume to know what he has not lived.”

Fair enough. But how can we not agree with Philip Roth: “Fiction is a way of asking… what if I was different than I am?” It’s a way of exploring other possibilities, other people; infusing them, I dare say, with traits and foibles and fantasies of our own, but freeing ourselves from the confines of the narrow world we inhabit. As Zadie Smith – who incidentally is a great admirer of Knausgård – puts it “what insults my soul, is the idea… that we can and should write only about people who are fundamentally ‘like’ us: racially, sexually, genetically, nationally, politically, personally.” At the risk of laying myself open to the charge of cultural appropriation, I can, if I want, write about a sweatshop labourer in Bangladesh or a Chinese multi-millionaire. Or as Jeanine Cummins did, arousing much controversy in the process, about a family of Mexican migrants.

So what stops me? Actually, as I grow older – and bolder – less and less. In fact the Chinese millionaire is a central character in Mystery Manor – I had great fun writing about his childhood in Guizhou province, where I’ve never been (though I spent many hours researching it).

We’ve touched on this topic before, notably in the comments to a recent piece by George Salis, Falling in the Name of Research. What interests me here is how far your own boldness goes. Assuming what you write is intended to be plausible (i.e. not fantasy, magic realism, paranormal etc), how willing are you to risk the leap into another person’s culture and experience? How far have you gone already, and do you too find yourself getting bolder? Is it simply a matter of self-confidence? My own conviction is that if you do enough research, you can go anywhere. But I’d have to think a lot before deciding that the character I need is worth that amount of research – and perhaps, after all, there are cases where no amount of research can be enough.

 

 

 

Standard
About Writers, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Muse

Above: Gilgamesh Tablet #11

We writers appreciate a good muse.

While researching to write a story set in ancient Mesopotamia, I came across a museum reproduction of a Sumerian tablet containing the oldest story that we have found to date. The epic of Gilgamesh, of course; and of course I bought it. It helps me to write when I can connect something tangible to the story.

This particular piece contains the first written account of the Deluge. It’s the tale of a man asked by his god to build an Ark so he, his family, and the various animals could survive a Great Flood that other gods were causing to destroy mankind. The -literally- funny part of this version is why the gods wanted to kill us all off: Human were too noisy and annoying. (Yup, this definitely rings true to me.)

Over the years I’ve collected other items to help ground my thoughts into a story. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/writing-charms/

What about you? Is your muse tangible? Or maybe it’s music? Or is it something else entirely?

Standard
About Writers, book reviews, inspiration, Poetry, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Probing Dhalgren

“Be glad you’re not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook: you’d be deadly dull.”

The first time I read Samuel R. Delaney’s masterpiece, I didn’t know a couple of things. In 1975, I was neither privy to writing techniques nor did I know that Dhalgren would become recognized as one of the most profound science fiction novels of all time. I was simply riveted by the setting and the characters. When my Lady gave me an unusual edition this Christmas, I re-read that story I remembered so well from 44 years ago. (It never occurred to me at the time that I would see the year 2020 either, but, that’s another blog.)

If you write sci-fi, then you must attempt to read, or re-read, Dhalgren. If the first scene grabs you, you will be reluctant to put it down 800 pages later. Disclaimer: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, you can’t understand Dhalgren until you’ve read it and once you’ve read it, you can’t explain it. But here are three clues.

Dhalgren presents reality on the edge of perception, before we process it. “Even if the quotidian surface sits on it a bit askew.”

+++Finally Dragon Lady called down: “You still okay…?”
+++“Yeah.” Kidd took a breath. “I’ll tie the rope around him. You can haul him up.” He slipped the rope from under his arms, pulled it over his head, but left it around one shoulder; he stepped forward on the oozy filth, stooped, and tugged a leg from where it had wedged between two blackened bumper plates.
+++“… is he alive?” Thirteen called.
+++Kidd took another breath. “Naw.” He pulled at the arm, got a grip around the chest, which was all soft against him. His own shirt front soaked immediately. Blood dribbled along his forearm. Standing, he dragged the body back a step. A foot caught, pulled free; the leg fell back against his thigh — his thigh wet, warm, to the knee. Dragging it, limp, reaching for the rope, he thought: Is this what turns on blood and blade freaks? He thought of Tak, he thought of George, hunted in himself for any idle sexuality: he found it, disconcertingly, a small warmth above the loins that, as he bared his teeth and the rope slid through his sticky hand, went out. “Let me have another couple of feet!” Well, he had found it before in auto wrecks, in blue plush, in roots, in wet wood with the bark just stripped.

In that moment before we process reality, censorship is not possible.

Often, the real world occurs on the edge of a dream.

Ahead, he could see the taller buildings. Smoke had gnawed away the upper stories. Stealthily, he descended into the injured city.
It does not offer me any protection, this mist; rather a refracting grid through which to view the violent machine, explore the technocracy of the eye itself, spelunk the semi-circular canal. I am traveling my own optic nerve.

Note the slip from third person into first person.

The story is show-no-tell to the point where the reader knows no more than is seen through the eyes of the main character, who struggles to understand what he is experiencing.

The smoke was so thick he wondered if the glass were opaque and he only misremembered it as clear–
Well–” Madam Brown pushed open the cracked door– “what do you think of the Richards after your first day on the job?”
“I don’t think anything.” Kidd stretched in the over-thick night. “I’m just an observer.”

In the end, each reader is left with their own thoughts about Dhalgren. “I would never presume to say what they meant,” Ernest Newboy, the poet, says when asked what poems mean. To me, Dhalgren is epic poetry in prose.

And that’s all I got; three clues and an ongoing fascination. What did you take away from this novel?

Standard
About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A Year In Review

 – by Adam Stump

Looking back over 2019, it was a pretty successful year for me, as a writer. I had eight pieces of fiction published and edited several works, including an anthology that spent a month as the #1 bestselling anthology on Kindle (I wasn’t the sole editor, or even head editor on that project, though). 

However, when 2019 was chugging along, it certainly didn’t seem very productive. Eight published pieces doesn’t even equal one per month, which means that there were far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. To add insult to injury, my family of six spent 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?) homeless because our previous house was filled with toxic mold and chemicals. In the first two months of 2019, my family lost our health and nearly all of our possessions due to contamination. We literally lived out of a garbage bag suitcase that contained two outfits each.

But we got through it. We received a lot of support and encouragement from a handful of very good, very true friends. We were able to stay in two rooms of a home that belonged to people who started 2019 as acquaintances but ended 2019 as family. We were able to put a down payment on a safe house that was free of mold and other toxins. I was able to remodel said house (some projects still aren’t completed–just ask my wife), and we were able to move in and start replacing some lost possessions (we still don’t have dressers and lamps or bookcases in most rooms, but that’s ok).

Through all of this, I carried my laptop with me and faithfully clicked away at the keyboard, sometimes at 2AM while my family slept. I definitely produced more than a dozen stories during 2019. Some of those are some of my best (in my opinion), but all have a different feel to them than the stories I wrote in 2018 or even the ones I’ve written so far in 2020. They’re raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic. They’re not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family. However, those stories allowed an outlet for the terror, anger, and frustration that I felt so that my family didn’t have to experience it.

Looking back at that time, I can honestly say that it was not just productive, but therapeutic. I would never want to relive 2019, but I’m glad that I lived it once and that I made it through. In hindsight, it was just as bad as it seemed while living through it, but it produced a phenomenal amount of personal growth.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.

In retrospect, 2019 was like living through the testing of purgatory, but the benefit of going through purgatory is that it purifies you for heaven. I’m a stronger person and, I believe, a stronger writer because of 2019. I hope that my readers will feel the same way and be encouraged to keep writing their stories. On the other side, I think that they’ll be glad that they did.

Standard
About Writers, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark dies at 92 in Naples

NEW YORK (AP) — Mary Higgins Clark, the tireless and long-reigning “Queen of Suspense” whose tales of women beating the odds made her one of the world’s most popular writers, died Friday at age 92.

Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, announced that she died of natural causes in Naples, Florida.

“Nobody ever bonded more completely with her readers than Mary did,” her longtime editor Michael Korda said in statement. “She understood them as if they were members of her own family. She was always absolutely sure of what they wanted to read — and, perhaps more important, what they didn’t want to read — and yet she managed to surprise them with every book.”

Widowed in her late 30s with five children, she became a perennial bestseller over the second half of her life, writing or co-writing “A Stranger Is Watching,” “Daddy’s Little Girl” and more than 50 other favorites. Sales topped 100 million copies and honors came from all over, including a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from France or a Grand Master statuette back home from the Mystery Writers of America. Many of her books, like “A Stranger is Watching” and “Lucky Day,” were adapted for movies and television. She also collaborated on several novels with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

Mary Higgins Clark specialized in women triumphing over danger, such as the besieged young prosecutor in “Just Take My Heart” or the mother of two and art gallery worker whose second husband is a madman in “A Cry in the Night.” Clark’s goal as an author was simple, if rarely easy: Keep the readers reading.

“You want to turn the page,” she told The Associated Press in 2013. “There are wonderful sagas you can thoroughly enjoy a section and put it down. But if you’re reading my book, I want you stuck with reading the next paragraph. The greatest compliment I can receive is, ‘I read your darned book ‘til 4 in the morning, and now I’m tired.’ I say, ‘Then you get your money’s worth.’”

Her own life taught her lessons of resilience — strengthened by her Catholic faith — that she shared with her fictional heroines. She was born Mary Higgins in 1927 in New York City, the second of three children. She would later take the last name Clark after marriage. Her father ran a popular pub that did well enough for the family to afford a maid and for her mother to prepare meals for strangers in need. But business slowed during the Great Depression, and her father, forced to work ever longer hours as he laid off employees, died in his sleep in 1939. One of her brothers died of meningitis a few years later. Surviving family members took on odd jobs and had to rent out rooms in the house.

Clark had always loved to write. At age 6, she completed her first poem, which her mother proudly requested she recite in front of the family. A story she wrote in grade school impressed her teacher enough that Clark read it to the rest of the class. By high school, she was trying to sell stories to True Confessions magazine.

After working as a hotel switchboard operator — Tennessee Williams was among the guests she eavesdropped on — and a flight attendant for Pan American, she married Capital Airways regional manager Warren Clark in 1949. Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, she raised their children, studied writing at New York University and began getting stories published.

Some stories drew upon her experiences at Pan American. Another story, which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, “Beauty Contest at Buckingham Palace,” imagined a pageant featuring Queen Elizabeth II, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco. But by the mid-60s, the magazine market for fiction was rapidly shrinking and her husband’s health was failing; Warren Clark died of a heart attack in 1964.

Clark quickly found work as a script writer for “Portrait of a President,” a radio series on American presidents. Her research inspired her first book, a historical novel about George and Martha Washington. She was so determined that she began getting up at 5 a.m., working until nearly 7 a.m. before feeding her children and leaving for work.

“Aspire to the Heavens” was published in 1969. It was “a triumph,” she recalled in her memoir “Kitchen Privileges,” but also a folly. The book’s publisher was sold near the release date and it received little attention. She regretted the title and learned that some stores placed the book in religious sections. Her compensation was $1,500, minus commission. Decades later, the novel would be reissued, far more successfully, as “Mount Vernon: A Love Story.”

For her next book, she wanted to make some money. Following a guideline she would often suggest to other writers, she looked at her bookshelves, which featured novels by Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and other mystery writers, and decided she should write the kind of book she liked to read. A recent tabloid trial about a young woman accused of murdering her children gave her an idea.

“It seemed inconceivable to most of us that any woman could do that to her children,” Mary Clark wrote in her memoir. “And then I thought: Suppose an innocent young mother is convicted of the deliberate murder of her two children; suppose she gets out of prison on a technicality; and then suppose seven years to the day, on her 32nd birthday, the children of her second marriage disappear.”

In September 1974, she sent her agent a manuscript for “Die a Little Death,” acquired months later by Simon & Schuster for $3,000. Renamed “Where are the Children?” and released in 1975, it became her first bestseller and began her long, but not entirely surprising, run of success. She would allege that a psychic had told her she would become rich and famous.

Clark, who wrote well into her 90s, more than compensated for her early struggles. She acquired several homes and for a time owned part of the New Jersey Nets. She was among a circle of authors, including Lee Child and Nelson DeMille, who regularly met for dinner in Manhattan. She also had friends in Washington and was a White House guest during the presidential administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Barbara Bush became a close friend.

Married since 1996 to former Merrill Lynch Futures CEO John J. Conheeney, Clark remembered well the day she said goodbye to hard times. It was in April 1977, and her agent had told her that Simon & Schuster was offering $500,000 for the hardcover to her third novel, “A Stranger is Watching,” and that the publisher Dell was paying $1 million for the paperback. She had been running her own script production company during the day and studying for a philosophy degree at Fordham University at night, returning home to New Jersey in an old car with more than 100,000 miles on it.

“As I drove onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, the tailpipe and muffler came loose and began dragging on the ground. For the next 21 miles, I kur-plunked, kur-plunked, all the way home,” she wrote in her memoir. “People in other cars kept honking and beeping, obviously sure that I was either too stupid or too deaf to hear the racket.

“The next day I bought a Cadillac!”

– from the Naples Daily News, February 2, 2020

Standard