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, 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, blogging, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

On Falling in the Name of Research

by George Salis 

The act of writing a novel elicits a series of revelations punctuated by epiphanies. I will share with you two major eureka moments that occurred during the writing of my debut novel Sea Above, Sun Below.

Connected to the myth of Icarus and other vertiginous tales of yore, my novel features a group of skydivers who fall, metaphorically and literally. I’m afraid of heights but I felt like I needed to skydive in the name of research for my novel. As it happens, I loved the surreal experience so much I would do it again. Strapped to my instructor, we waddled to the plane’s open door, and he stood on the edge while I dangled unfathomably high above the earth and with fear I reached out to grip the metal portal, but the instructor gently pried me from even that precarious perch, and then the insensate suck, the slip from everything into nothing, and I realized this was it, that I was truly falling, skydiving, and the wind felt as though the sky wanted to make my mouth and lungs home, palate-scouring, and the seconds were drawn out into a brief infinity, an eternal moment. From there, the world below struggled between a two-dimensional illusion and the reality of three.

Yet, for all that that’s worth, I was fairly surprised to discover, once my feet were on the ground and I was back at my writing desk, that my skydiving description was quite accurate before I had conducted my research and so I ended up adding only a single sentence afterward: “Up here, while the wind became a chorus of tragic furies, the sun detached from the sky, letting the earth revolve like an orrery.” This is one example in which I learned to trust my own instincts, my own imagination. Was skydiving worth the effort, the confronting of fear? Absolutely. Research still has many benefits and can be a delight in and of itself. I should add that while the experience of falling conformed quite uncannily with my predescription, as it were, I did add a plethora of details from my experience within the skydiving hangar, such as the almost anachronistic bowling balls littering the hangar floor which I learned are used to push out air from the parachutes while folding them back into their packs for the next fall. So, aside from personal development, research can give you all those minute details which enhance a fictional scene, but if you cannot afford to go to Japan, for example, then you should rest easy knowing that you have the power to evoke your own germane version of the country.

Also, do not underestimate academic research, which is often less expensive and no less simmering with potential details, for one’s picture of a place or person will always be incomplete and eventually all that’s left for you to do is continue writing.

Mentally juggling and tallying the oftentimes ambiguous constituents of a novel in one’s head, even with the aid of notes and miscellaneous marginalia, can cause a daunting dizziness. To lessen the vertigo, I offer this lesson: I learned that it’s much more manageable to write each chapter as a short story (with chronology being far from a priority). There are certain aspects the short story is known for, yet there is no reason such aspects should be exclusive to it: an ensorcelling first sentence; a strategic entrance into the very story of the story; a self-containment that can feel like a certain tightness, which is not to suggest that you should avoid digressions (they can be, as Ray Bradbury said in defiance of Shakespeare’s Polonius, the soul of wit); an immediacy of image or action or development; and it allows you to weave your novel as if it were a tapestry, depending on the type of novel you are writing. I’m enamored with stories within stories, stories besides stories, in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights or Cloud Atlas, so my novel contains around ten different threads which were written with the mentality, the focused lens, of the short story, connected thematically, genetically, and more. An additional benefit to this method/perspective is that while you work on your long project, you might be able to send out some pieces of it for potential publication. Before Sea Above, Sun Below recently came out as a whole through River Boat Books, I was able to publish ten pieces from it, and in a few cases I received edits on the stories which ultimately helped the final vision.

It is worth noting that you should rage against my advice as you see fit. By all means, do the opposite of what I say if it works for you. Or better yet, use your finger to write your novel in the fog on a mirror; spin around quickly ten times before you sit down for the day’s quota; whisper your sentences backward to yourself; write your dreams then dream what you wrote. Who truly knows what will help?

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the editor of The Collidescope and is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.

Standard
About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

Need To Know Basis

James Tiptree, Jr. — aka Alice Sheldon — wrote a story back in 1974 called “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.” It’s a tale about memory. Scenes from a life play out one after another: a boy on his first duck hunt, failing miserably; a young man in his first, eager sexual encounter, failing miserably; a man back from war proposing, finally, to the woman he loves, failing miserably…you get the idea. Framing this jumbled litany of humiliation and disappointment is the gradual realization that all of these memories are playing out in a sort of repeating loop, observed by — perhaps even instigated by — some unknown presence: alien researchers perhaps? Or even just alien sightseers, feeding on the memories of the long gone inhabitants of a dead world? Because the earth is dead, a burnt out cinder. All that remains are memories. 

But — and here’s the gut punch — the only memories left are unpleasant ones. Only the horrible stuff, incidents our protagonist would rather forget. Instead, he gets to live them out again and again.

A hellacious vision. Thanks, Alli.

But still, a fascinating premise. Sad memories, painful memories, seem to have a disproportional staying power. Enjoyable memories can linger as well, but they are less vivid, less intrusive. It seems like we have to go looking for those, we have to coax them to the surface. But deeply unpleasant memories find us. We have no idea when they might swim into sudden focus. It’s like they’re always lurking in the shadows, just around the next corner.

There’s a good reason, of course, why we would be predisposed, genetically, to have a better memory for the unpleasant things. After all, unpleasant things are often dangerous things, and it’s an adaptive advantage to avoid danger. If a situation feels unpleasantly familiar, you’ll tend to shy away from it and not repeat it. As for joyous memories of good times, well, it’s nice to remember them, but it’s not usually a matter of life or death. Lack of joy might kill you in the long run, but it’s only a gradual death and it won’t necessarily interfere with your ability to pass on your genetic code. 

But danger? That can kill you right now, the immediate termination of your particular configuration of base pairs. So we avoid unpleasantness. It’s baked in, a survival skill.

And to avoid it, we have to recognize it. We have to remember. If I were an alien, researching the former dominant species of an extinct planet, I might focus on exactly that: what drove their worst memories? What were they so afraid of?

***

So how does this concept relate to stories? Does this predisposition explain why we have such an appetite for tragedy, for conflict-driven narratives? Such a fascination with crime and horror and dystopian futures? Could be. I’d admit that there are other factors. Catharsis plays into it — and the guilty thrill we might feel at experiencing someone else’s misery while knowing it isn’t our own. But it isn’t hard to see how these pleasures might have their roots in the original preoccupation. Suffering fascinates us because it’s important to our survival. We rubberneck the freeway accident because, at some level, we know that could be us. 

And if it might kill us, we need to know about it. 

***

Footnote:  It feels worth mentioning that some of our most persistent personal memories are of rejection and humiliation, which might not correlate directly with situations of danger or physical threat. We don’t, as a rule, die of embarrassment. But being rejected or humiliated, at least publicly, can be correlated with social ostracism, which could be almost as bad as death. In terms of passing your genetic material on to the next generation, it could be exactly as bad as death. The process of natural selection really doesn’t put a priority on our happiness. It’s only concerned with us surviving long enough to procreate. 

***

Another Footnote: I would accept that being joyless might be a hindrance to finding companionship and a partner for procreation. But this seems to me a very modern view of our mating relationships. While romance isn’t very new, it’s pretty new compared to our time as a species, and there’s good reason to believe that marriage probably developed more as a practical arrangement and didn’t necessarily require having a winning personality or a great outlook on life. Fortunately, we’ve progressed beyond that point, mostly — but that’s a subject for another time.

 

Standard