About Writers, humor, inspiration, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Ten Things Writers Do That Cause Me To Sigh Heavily

Originally posted on Penguin’s Book Country by Carl E. Reed, March 21, 2012

In no particular order here are ten things writers do that cause me to sigh heavily:

1.) Use words that sound like the opposite of what they mean: Puissant doesn’t sound mighty, powerful or potent to this speaker of 21st-century Anglo-Saxon dialect and noisome immediately invokes the aural, not olfactory, sense (for me).

2.) Misuse words: Penultimate is not a synonym for “ultimate” (it means “next to last”, as in the number nine in a series counting up from zero to ten), and a semi-automatic weapon (fires one bullet every time the trigger is pulled) is not identical with a fully automatic weapon; i.e., a machine gun. For that matter marines are never soldiers, troops or dog-faces (I’m looking at you Stephen King!), they’re marines, Leathernecks, Devil-dogs, jarheads or grunts. (That last word applies if your marine is also an infantryman.)

3.) Write mediocre, albeit serviceable prose: Has this ever happened to you? You pick up a book and begin to flip through it only to realize almost immediately that there’s no there there; the writer’s voice is as homogenized and ennui-inducing as vanilla frosting on cardboard masticated by a muppet. For god’s sake stop writing in a defensive crouch! Get out there and say something on the page with all those words you’re time-sharing with the rest of the human race. You may fall flat on your face but I’ll respect you for trying; I truly will. Bullet-proof prose is boring prose.

4.) Litter your text with untranslated foreign words and phrases: A word or two here and there is fine but entire sentences? Paragraphs? As Isaac Asimov once remarked: “I’m flattered that you think I’m fluent in every language ever spoken by humans, including the dead ones, but please—don’t flatter me that much.”

5.) Characters who are forever staring off into the “middle-distance”: I swear to Harlan Ellison, if I ever read again of a character who “stares off into the middle distance” in order to communicate thoughtful reverie to the reader I’m going to fling the book off into the middle distance.

6.) Characters who are described as looking like famous people: “She had a raspy, Kathleen Turner-like voice; he was beautiful and energized as Ernest Borgnine on a bender”. Lazy!

7.) Insult your reader’s intelligence: Everyone else is smarter than you are. I thought you knew that? Never write down to your audience—despite the bad advice you may have been given by demographic-obsessed marketers, burnt-out grumpy editors and well-meaning friends and relatives urging you to “dumb it down.”

8.) Stop your narrative dead in its tracks by injecting too much back-story too soon: If I want to read a history book I’ll read a history book. I bought Demon Balls & Lost Sabbaths because I thought something was going to happen here . . .

9.) Over-use adverbs while under-using evocative adjectives and vivid descriptive nouns: Kill as many adverbs as you can while polishing those adjectives and vivid descriptive nouns. In the first instance, trust your reader—kill as many adverbs as you can bear to live without. If a character has just shouted or ended a sentence with an exclamation mark I probably don’t need an “angrily” speech tag to underline that fact. In the second instance give us more vivid, picturesque speech: Writing “she walked inside the house, threw her purse on the table and bent down to kiss the dog” is not a better sentence than, “she walked into the mildewed cottage, threw her satchel purse on the table and bent down to kiss her beloved beagle Bacon-barker.” Stop worshipping at the altar of minimalism—it’s a false religion with a blank-faced idiot god.

10.) Then suddenly out of nowhere!: The use of the word “suddenly” always reads as the injection of cheap drama and comical, amped-up surprise to me: “She was walking along the winding cobblestone path when SUDDENLY a black-masked bear jumped out of the bushes and demanded her Odor-eater shoe inserts”; “He sat there smoking when SUDDENLY an angel of the Lord appeared and smote him about the head and shoulders with a kielbasa.”

What are the things other writers do that drive you crazy?

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About Writers, Literary critique, Writers Co-op

Let’s Exchange Critiques!

Writers Co-op is about helping writers. We’re here to offer advice, resources, and experience about marketing, publishing, and the writing process itself. I’m sure there are other ways you can think of in which Writers Co-op can support its community, but I’m here to offer the one every writer needs even if they think they don’t: thoughtful, constructive, kind critiques.

How many of us are fortunate enough to have a dedicated set of beta readers who eagerly await each installment of our latest Work In Progress? Who among us has even one friend to call on who will read the 400 page draft of our brilliant literary fiction with an editor’s eye, sharing their thoughts in enough detail to help us polish our work to a professional gleam? How often have you wished a real writer would take a look at what you’ve written and offer a little free feedback?

Of course, it’s possible you are absolutely certain what you have spent months writing in the solitary mental confinement of your favorite room or coffee house or poolside bar is absolutely perfect just as you’ve written it. *snort* Guess again. Don’t get me wrong, there are probably many positive things to say about your manuscript, but there are probably at least a few things that need clarification or further description or a little rewriting to maintain continuity and interior logic. Sure, it’s all clear to you — you wrote it. But if you’re looking for a critique, you’re hoping for an audience. If a member of the audience says it’s not clear or it’s confusing, you’d do well to pay attention.

So here’s the deal:

If you have a piece of writing you would like a member of Writers Co-op to critique, whether it’s a short story, essay, poem, novella, novel, or a portion or chapter of a longer work, attach it as a .docx or .pdf to an email and send it to me at stranscht@sbcglobal.net. Please put “Critique Exchange” in the Subject line. (Just to be clear, by submitting your work for critique, you are agreeing to critique the work of the person who critiques your work.) I will match you with a critique partner who groks your genre and is able to take on a critique at that time, and they will send you their work to critique while they critique yours. The writer who needs the most time to complete their critique will set the deadline for both of you. Writers Co-op expects you both to honor that deadline or Writers Co-op will have the option of disallowing further participation of the author who fails to meet the deadline.

Now, a few words about writing and receiving critiques. Write the sort of critique you would find most helpful. Like I said earlier, thoughtful, constructive, and kind work for me. Snark and sarcasm might be fun, but they aren’t actually helpful or kind, so please restrain those urges. As for receiving a critique, first coat your skin with Armor All, then consider Neil Gaiman’s sage advice:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ~~~ Neil Gaiman

We’re excited to invite you to take advantage of this service. You might even know other writers who are searching for this opportunity and would be grateful if you shared this post with them.

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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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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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Musing Upon Three Quotes

“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” 
― Anne Rice 

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” 
― Joyce Carol Oates 

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.  

— Ursula K. Le Guin 

_________________________________

Is there a through-line connecting these quotes from three great writers? (I refuse to use the condescending first-part phrasal adjective “female” or “woman” in this instance. If we don’t routinely wall off male writers into a genitalia-defined ghetto when referring to their words and/or works, why would I perpetrate such a wince-inducing, overt-labelling job here re: “women writers”? Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin: great writers all. Period, the end. So why remark on their gender in this extended parenthetical thought? To address head-on the cynical, tiresome suspicion from some quarters that I chose three women writers to comment on in order to demonstrate how feminist/woke I am. :::sigh::: What a time to be alive and posting on “teh internets”. Well, that’s the kind of post this is going to be: one part stream-of-consciousness, one part thoughtful musing, one part—hopefully—synthesis of disparate elements into a unified whole. Tell me if I’ve failed, won’t you?) 

Let’s take Anne Rice’s quote first: ““To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” Notice that she doesn’t insist the writer must make a fool of themselves; merely that one risks making a fool of themselves when they write. What could Rice possibly mean by this? 

Your interpretation may vary, but mine is as follows: There are a million, myriad ways a writer may face-plant in public. Errors of fact; mistranslations/misuse of foreign words and phrases; a question of style: writing that strikes one reader as “too flowery”, another as “too minimalist”; a theme that resonates with the writer and not the reader; vocabulary that is deemed either too high- or low-brow; metaphors that misfire and/or characters that seem eminently plausible, relatable and realistic to one set of readers, whilst striking another set of readers as wildly implausible, unrelatable and unrealistic. One simply cannot satisfy all readers all the time; not all art appeals to all people—for all time. (It might, but oftentimes—let us face hard facts here without flinching—doesn’t.) As an artist we must accept this discomfiting fact and therefore write with our “ideal reader” in mind—whoever we imagine they might be. But if we push boundaries with our art—if we dare to question certain perceived “eternal verities” of politics (political thought that falls outside the Overton window), sex (outside the heteronormative) and/or religion (especially as regards atheistic or agnostic thought—though this is rapidly changing: “unaffiliated” or “unbelieving/unchurched” constitutes a growing body of the American electorate) then we embark upon a steep uphill climb re: widespread acclaim and/or acceptance of our work. Or as Joyce Carol Oates has put it: “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.” 

Which brings us to another quote of Joyce Carol Oates’: the second one referenced at the beginning of this piece: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.” This echoes Kafka: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Now, the quibble with such assertions is this: We’re not always in the mood for a paradigm-shattering, psychologically transformative piece of art, are we? Sometimes (most of the time?) we want our reading to be the equivalent of comfort food: nourishing, tasty, familiar, filling. (We’re being honest with one another, yes?) However— I think we can agree that the best interpretive literature (to use Prof. Laurence Perrine’s term) expands our storehouse of life-lived experience and thus has the knock-on secondary effect—if the writing is psychologically astute, richly drawn and compelling—of working to increase both our understanding of the internal and external worlds. Fiction is not a lie that tells the truth: It is the concretized (black letters) fossil record (captured on paper or electronic storage device) of transfixing hypnogogic visions (author’s imagination/subconscious) that allows others, upon reading (a remarkable, semi-mystical experience in which both hemispheres of the brain fire in tandem) to embody alternate lives (viewpoint characters) and thus witness at one remove (sensory impressions received, albeit not from phenomena in the real world) the result of various played-out stratagems and the consequences of certain thoughts, impulses and actions (plot). What we make of all the aforementioned constitutes theme + meaning.

Fiction is not a game. Not for man, the story-telling animal: It is a critical practice by which one person communicates to another something of compelling import and/or momentary divertissement/amusement. (“Once upon a time . . .” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times . . .” “Call me Ishmael.” “You’re not gonna believe what happened! I’m just sitting there, minding my own business when . . .”)

Lies? Truth? Irrelevant, as regards evaluating the efficacy and impact of well-wrought fiction (unless you’re a Victorian moralist). Nabokov had it right: What makes a writer great is the spell-binding quality of their prose: that ability to enrapture, enchant, seduce. A critic once remarked of Anne Rice: “You surrender to her, as if in a voluptuous dream.” Exactly right. Interview with the Vampire, Servant of the Bones, Pandora, Vittorio the Vampire, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Story after story from Joyce Carol Oates has found me perched on the edge of my chair: terrified to discover what might happen next to her characters if I continue reading; too breathless and engrossed to stop. Her writing raises my pulse rate—while I marvel at the assured confidence and deftness of her prose, and the probing intelligence behind it. Ursula K. Le Guin: a national treasure (now deceased; alas!): the kind of writer whose seemingly effortless prose and command of narrative compels reading of her fiction; whose formidable intellectual gifts of analysis, insight and plain speaking glossed by a lifetime of lightly worn learning (her essays) elicit wolf-whistles of awe and appreciation. God, I wish I’d written that! Thought that. Felt that. (But you didn’t—till you’d first read Le Guin.)

And now we arrive at Ursula K. Le Guin’s quote: “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” 

In a single pithy observation this quote of Le Guin’s (with its attendant subtext) encapsulates the terror and the glory of fictioneering—to say nothing of the alternating cycles of hyperbolic mania and melancholic despair a psychologically unmoored writer might fall prey to.  

I was going to write another thousand words unpacking what I meant to convey in the paragraph above, but for brevity and concision Le Guin’s quote really cannot be improved upon. The challenge facing the writer is to provide the telling details of their story in expertly paced and vividly concretized fashion so that the reader may—insofar as is psychically possible—inhabit a close facsimile of the world the author envisaged; moreover, the writer should have a tale worth telling (almost all do), to have something to say about it beyond the mere fashioning of plot (many don’t), and the hard-won mastery of craft acquired through a lifetime of practice in order to tell their story well (the difference—oftentimes but not always—between the professional and the amateur). The challenge of the reader is to have read as widely and deeply as possible in order to engage with story on its own terms: neither willfully misreading, nor misconstruing, a text into what it is not. If this process fails what are we left with? Miscommunication or hopeless muddle, mere “black marks on wood pulp” signifying nothing.

In sum: The writer indeed risks making a fool of themselves when he or she sits down to write—especially if the chosen subject matter, characters described and/or over-all theme is decidedly iconoclastic or otherwise at variance with received wisdom and popular attitudes. And what a pity that oftentimes proves to be!—that great work, from great artists, oftentimes goes misremarked [sic], undervalued and genre-ghettoized until such time as an artist’s ideal reader rises up with the passion and critical acumen necessary to articulate the areté (ancient Greek: excellence in kind) of a given writer and their works. 

………………………………………………

Author’s note of 09-12-22: Since originally posting this article–to my sorrow and regret–Anne Rice has also passed away. Thank you for the books, Ms. Rice! And the warmth, generosity and incisive wit of your iconoclastic soul. You were here—you counted—we took note.

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Literary critique

Write Club

Apart from the online Book Country, I’ve never been in a writers’ group, simply because there isn’t one where I live. There was a time I thought I was missing out, but I’m not so bothered now. All the same, I’m interested to know how they operate, and when Shirley Weir, a contributor to one of the first anthologies I edited, said she was in a group from the UK’s Open University, I asked her if she’d like to write a piece about it.

In 2014, I completed my 3rd and final (so far) course on creative writing with the Open University (fondly known as the OU to its students). As writers and students, we were used to brainstorming with each other during the course, and quite a few of us wanted to keep in touch.

‘Why don’t we create our own writer’s group?’ suggested one bright spark.

And from that idea, Write Club was born. The group is a perfect example of a democracy with even the name being chosen by ballot, with fans of Chuck Palahniuk coming out on top.

Write Club is open to any OU participants past or present. The only other requisite is an interest in writing. Fiction, life writing, poetry, or something unique – any type of writing is welcome. Membership increases every year as more students start studying with the OU. The original committee, with a couple of persistent exceptions, has mainly given way to new members with fresh ideas. Changes for the better are always welcomed.

Socially, members meet in a Facebook group. It’s a relaxed group with daily prompts, but any writing is kept to short (mostly fun, but often dark) pieces. Members are supportive, congratulating fellow members on any achievement from having work published, to becoming a writer with the receipt of a first rejection. This group is also useful for passing on details of writing competitions and other tips.

Any serious writing is kept for the forums nestled on the OU student servers. These are secure and private. So, members can put in writing for advice or review, even if planning to submit elsewhere. There’s no obligation to use the forums, but peer review can be very helpful. To get the correct support, members are encouraged to include headings with abbreviations such as

  • BEG – Beginner,
  • INT – Intermediate,
  • ADV – Advanced
  • JFF. Just For Fun. -You don’t want any critique. You just want to brighten our day with your piece!
  • GF – General Feedback. You want to know if people like your piece, if they would read more, and you require some general opinion of areas of improvement.
  • GP – Grammar and Punctuation. You don’t want feedback on content or techniques, you just require grammar and punctuation feedback.
  • AF – Advanced Feedback. You are happy to receive an in-depth critique, with areas of underdevelopment highlighted, suggestions of improvement in various areas, and an analysis of the literary techniques you have used, and those you may like to consider, should they strengthen your piece.
  • FE -Final Edit. You have received feedback and re-drafted your piece several times. You would like one last check for the purpose of ‘polishing’ up, before submitting to comps or agents.

Although most of the groups’ interactions are in the online forums, we also meet up live once a month online.

We currently have six forums. The original for any short writing piece and announcements of activities, Novel Support, Poet Tree – a poetry forum, Children’s fiction, Non-Fiction and Monthly Meet Up Work-Sharing Space for any homework we give ourselves in the monthly live meetings.

Having a break between OU courses is no excuse for sitting back. Over the summer, the committee, steered ably by the amazing Cinnomen McGuigan, provides weekly writing tasks such as Cluster Club and Character Lab.

As well as our own forums, Write Club helps the OU Students Association to run a monthly online book club, where members chat for an hour a month and share thoughts on a specific read. The reading group uses a Goodreads group to keep book choices together.

It’s common taking part in writing courses run by other institutions (such as those run in the past by Iowa) to come across fellow WC members. And For NaNoWriMo and its camp, Write Club members often share a cabin together. (None of us snore.)

Over recent years, if there is one thing that has kept me writing through my ‘imposter syndrome’ spells, it’s Write Club. I’ve belonged to a couple of local groups, but one gradually died out and the other survived only until lockdown.

But Write Club keeps going. An online group, lockdown holds no problems for it. When members leave, there are always new students joining. And new members bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

When I struggle to write, the daily tasks keep me going. Many are just a matter of writing a few quick sentences (Sundays are six words). It makes the difference between writing (however short) and not writing. I love contributing to this and reading the other contributions.

With so many members, work in progress will always find someone in the forums ready to advise and encourage. Even when I think a story is finished, I’m grateful for suggested improvements which help me improve my technique.

But perhaps the chief advantage of Write Club is that I can be quiet for months, but when I come back, it’s still there going strong.

Over the years, group members have contributed to a number of charity anthologies, held together by a few dedicated members. Participation is as always voluntary, but there are plenty of members happy to contribute.

The next anthology Where’s the Manual? And Other Thoughts on Parenthood is in its final stages. Profits from it will go to Homestart and Save the Children.

Already published anthologies are:

The Other Side of the fence: Real Social Housing Tenants

The Gift

Generations

Footprints and Echoes

2020 Together: An Anthology of Shorts (published to support NHS Charities Together)

2021 Still Together (published to support NHS Charities Together)

I was in on the ground floor of Write Club and although I haven’t put as much time into it recently as some members, I still take part when I can. My own books are written under the pseudo name of Sam Speed and currently are

Flora the Fearless

Three short stories and a novella of a feisty octogenarian.

Dinosaur Diet

A not so cosy murder mystery first in the Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives series.

With Jurassic Justice, 2nd in Dawn’s Dinosaur Detectives, due out shortly.

Shirley-Anne Weir

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editing, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Purple Prose

Screen enough stories for publication, and the feeling that you know something becomes hard to shake. You read too many stories. The stories are bad, or good, or very good. Why? Bad stories, forget those. But good or very good? What detracts from the author’s best efforts to tell a very good story? I have the feeling that one culprit is purple prose.

Purple prose is prose that is too elaborate or ornate. Another way to explain this is: The extravagant phrasing of tedious prose really hardly ever enhances the mostly mundane meaning.
For those of you who winced at that, all I meant to say was that purple prose kills the clarity.

I see it too often. Here’s an example that glitters with purple prose.

Saphira’s muscled sides expanded and contracted as the great bellows of her lungs forced air through her scaled nostrils. Eragon thought of the raging inferno that she could now summon at will and send roaring out of her maw. It was an awesome sight when flames hot enough to melt metal rushed past her tongue and ivory teeth without harming them.
Note that I’m not talking about style. That’s Christopher Paolini’s style. But it’s still purple prose.

Let’s read that as the editors at Reedsy.com would have it, without the color purple.
Saphira breathed heavily, her nostrils expelling warm air. Eragon sat and marveled at her power. It was amazing that Saphira’s fiery breath could melt metal, yet she was immune to its harm.
[https://blog.reedsy.com/purple-prose/]

Don’t be afraid to tell your story without embellishment. If you edit unnecessary superlatives out of your work and what’s left is the story you want to tell, that’s very good. All that glitters may be mere distraction.

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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!

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About Writers, book reviews, humor, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Of Burning Hotness & Tightly Curled Monkey Paws: Bad Sex Writing

You’re a writer—committing words to paper or electronic storage media—in the hopes that others might later read, and vicariously enjoy, the fruits of your labor. So when an award comes your way embodying recognition from your peers for demonstrable excellence in execution of the craft—popped champagne corks, streamers, and confetti all around, right?

Not so fast.

What if the recognition that comes your way is for writing some of the most descriptively awful, tortured-metaphor, laugh-out-loud-funny sex scenes ever committed to print—    then how would you feel?

Such is the position two 2019 novelists find themselves in: Didier Decoin and John Harvey. Britain’s “most dreaded literary prize”—the Bad Sex Award—was, err . . . awarded . . . to these two gentlemen for the creation of grammatical hydra-headed monsters of such overwrought metaphor, mangled syntax, and ”    wait . . . what?!” disorienting narrative description that awed judges truly could not decide upon a winner between the Gallic or the Anglo-Saxon contestants. They co-share the prize.

Readers in search of saucer-eyed, hand-to-mouth diversion may peruse this link for further details:     https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/dec/02/bad-sex-award-twosome-prize-goes-to-didier-decoin-and-john-harvey  

I considered re-posting some of the passages quoted in the Guardian article here so that drive-by readers may get a feel for the exquisite excrescence of the award-winning bad writing thus recognized by Britain’s Bad Sex Award, but . . . no.     :::shudder:::    Just . . . no. . . .

Once you’re done reading the article, however, let’s regather here and discuss. Have you ever written a sex scene in your fiction? How did it turn out? What is your opinion of sex scenes in fiction, generally? Are they necessary? (Let’s exclude, for purposes of this discussion, “one-handed books”—explicit erotic fiction primarily targeted at cisgender men: “I never believed this could happen to me: I hawked my wad of chewing tobacco onto the macadam, took a swig of whiskey from my flask, slung my reflector vest away, and stripped down to my tightly bunched gray underwear before wading into the writhing, moaning mass of naked women softly trilling my name:  Ebenezer, Ebenezer . . .”)

David Foster Wallace once notoriously dismissed John Updike as “just a penis with a thesaurus”. Are there writers you think take things an explicit passage too far? Perhaps offend by tone, subject matter, and/or authorial voice? Obsessive “sex focus”?

On the other hand, do you think there is something to be said for writers who dare to write against the grain of “contemptible bourgeois morality” and Puritanical prudishness? Are there writers you think handle sexual passages well? Do you regard titillation and/or sexual arousal as a legitimate aim of literary or genre literature? (After all, we applaud the writers who best evoke the senses when they write, so why should sex—an essential part of the human condition and a most poignant and transfixing experiential phenomena—remain “off-stage” in literature?)

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About Writers, book promotion, book reviews, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

How to Prepare for Negative Comments on your Creative Work

Aristotle is quoted as saying: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

I have been fortunate, so far, in receiving largely positive and constructive feedback on my first published novel, “Unearthed.” I of course know that no creative work can appeal to all audiences, though. Somebody, somewhere, will not care for your writing, your painting, your music, your recipe, etc. I know people who don’t even like chocolate … and I mean … it’s chocolate.

Like many authors, I felt some anxiety when publishing my novel. I had three beta readers and multiple rounds of edits; I was happy with the result. But I haven’t been living in a cave. I’m on social media, and I read the comments on public posts. I felt I should steel myself for the negativity that seems to thrive on the internet.

Here are my tips:

  1. Make a list of popular things you don’t enjoy

The beauty of this step is that nothing is off limits. Allow me to demonstrate: Fortnite, Game of Thrones (I really tried), every song by Drake, bicycle shorts, calamari. The fact that I don’t care for these things won’t (and shouldn’t) stop them from being successful. Except for whoever designed bicycle shorts. They should be stopped.

  • Read the 1 and 2 star reviews of your favorite novels

This is an eye-opener. One of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning, received a review titled “Seriously?!” that opened with: “I am mind-boggled that, at the time of this review, this book has over a 4-star rating.”

Another gem from a review of J.R. Ward’s work: “The characters are the most awfully cliched stereotypes I’ve seen since … actually, no, they ARE the most awfully cliched characters I’ve ever read.”

Yikes. I read other reviews that are overly critical (imho) of story line or character development, but these snippets stand out in my mind for obvious reasons. Fortunately, these authors continue to turn out successful novels and connect with audiences who enjoy their work.

  • Watch Jimmy Kimmel clips of “Mean Tweets” on YouTube

This is a hilarious segment that highlights the most scathing comments on Twitter, read by the celebrity target. It’s brutally funny and frighteningly enlightening. Celebrities respond in various ways and some surprise you.

That’s it. Three easy steps that cost you nothing but a little time. For me, this was the perspective I needed before sending “Unearthed” out into the cruel, cruel world with my eyes wide open. I sincerely hope I never receive a Kimmel-worthy review of my work, but if I do, I’ll remember that I’m in good company with every other creative talent out there—and keep writing.

Escape mundane reality with “Unearthed”—a fun, fast-paced contemporary fantasy romance.

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