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Yes, I’m at it again –

I haven’t gotten around to taking photographs. This isn’t my bookshelf. My shelves are worse. And I have plastic tubs on the floor holding additional books. It’s rather depressing, I do admit.

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At what? Being annoying? Sure, that’s a given, right?
But, actually, attempting to organize my bookshelves:

>Literary fiction v. genre fiction v. time-tested classics

>Favorites of any stripe, to lay hands on easily and read again

>Hodge Podge 1: Vetted, yet to be given a permanent home.

>Hodge Podge 2: Yet to investigate. (Keep or chuck?) I have a double-wide shelf of those.

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My house is a mess. I wish I could call it a glorious mess. No, it’s just a mess. I like to think workmen who enter think, charming disorder. They probably think, Who can live like this? Everywhere you look, books and more books. Shelves, piles, boxes of books.

I have a floor-to-ceiling shelf devoted to theater, film, graphics, history of costume, style, and performer bios. I’d better not acquire anything more in that way because it’s packed tight. I’ve made a rule: anything new, something has to go. That shelf is my arts real estate, period. I’m not hitting the library sales these days, because of my bad back and knees, so that rule hasn’t been tested yet.

My history is broken up. I have general history downstairs, and sixteenth-century history upstairs. I have a used-to-be linen closet of nautical-related fiction, history, biography. (Research for my pirate adventure in book two of Sly.)

Fiction sits here and there. I’m exasperated with myself. I’m trying to see if I have Sometimes a Great Notion. I have Cuckoo’s Nest; I know that for sure. Getting the fiction in one spot–I finally feel up to it. My back finally shows signs of recovering from an operation of a year ago. The pain of standing–I’m OK for five-ten minutes, then I have to sit–is suddenly diminished. So I’m in a clean-this-dump state of mind.

And, as you can see, I’m talking about it because that’s what’s on my mind right now, and it doesn’t take a lot of thinking. The burden of keeping this site going shouldn’t be entirely on GD’s shoulders.

There are topics we’ve talked to death. Fine, let’s move on. We all have our personal relationship with books. There’s an easy article. For instance: who are your major influences? What directions have they pushed you in? That would be very interesting. Also, if you were to read entirely outside your genre, what would you read? I’ve started (not gotten too far) with Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy. And Reading Jane Austen inspires me to read her novels in the order in which they were written.

But, know what? What I’d really like to hear is, why are most of you not contributing a piece now and then? You have nothing to say? I don’t believe it. Too busy? This shortie took less than an hour to write. (Neither was thinking-about-it time burdensome. I combined it with other activities.) You’re not interested in putting that much energy into this site? Maybe you’ve given up on your publishing dream. That I understand all too well.

Recommend a title I might be glad to know about. Ten years ago, Atthys Gage suggested I read E.T. A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, and I’ll thank him forever for it. Another intricate take on a wiseacre cat! It’s nothing like mine, but the flavor is embedded in my brain and will eventually color my approach in small ways. (I am not asking for books about cats. I am asking for things with exceptional style.)

How do we handle reviews? JoeTV, a screenwriter, the guy who gave Sly its first review, trashed it up and down, in and out, then, in subsequent reviews, walked that back. He used to have a page on Wikipedia. I can’t find it now. Do I have his name wrong?

That first horrible review sent me into a deep depression, for half a day. Then I reread a few of my chapters, and said to myself: This guy is full of shit. This is good. I don’t care if he’s a big, successful screenwriter. He’s wrong.

Good reviews I discount. It’s the bad ones I pay attention to. But you have to not let yourself be intimidated by them.

Courage, mon ami, le diable est mort!
(Courage, my friend, the devil is dead!)

I’ve had the phrase in my head for years. I’ve made it my mantra. I’d thought it’s out of Don Q. No! It’s from a work sitting on my ‘Favorites’ shelf for thirty, maybe forty years: The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade.

Does anyone think paying for a Kirkus review is a good idea? Is the name as respected as it used to be? I used to get that Kirkus catalogue–it doesn’t come anymore–and drool over many more wonderful books than I could afford to buy. They probably make more money selling their reviews. The question is, do the paid reviews carry the same weight?

I wish I had something meatier for you, like last week’s post on Surviving Trauma. At the moment, I don’t. Will you give me points for trying? I promise to do the same for you.

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Food For Thought


Here’s my chance to debut my cover for Sly. It’s not the final. I haven’t yet purchased the high-res images without the watermark. This crudely-thrown-together figure is two faces and five clothing items combined to make my ideal Sly.

Who knows? Should it be Eyes, William, or Eyes; William? Spirit, Francis or Spirit; Francis?

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They joke about writers cannibalizing their relationships for fun and profit, and sometimes as payback. Better yet is to cannibalize our own lives, lives we know from the inside out. I say, why the hell not? Use what you have.

My family is full of nuts. How many of you have a sister who was married to a predator priest who’d served time for altar-boy abuse? I do. To this day she has never admitted he might have been guilty of the crime. She says: “He said they were all trying to extract money from the church.” I’d been told of one accusation. I’m thinking: They all? What’s this they all?

Most everything I write in Sly, and now in Maisie, is rooted in my personal experience. I am the crazy old lady narrator in Maisie in Hollywood.

I have the brother who married money, and has spent his whole life leading the life of a grad student, with all the freedom to come and go that that entails. Meanwhile, his wife was the grad student. She finally got her PhD ten years ago, running through a large inheritance in the process. She’s down to her last two-three million. She had to sell her one-hundred-forty-acre family-descended property to revive her finances. But she’s still got the house in town. Nice, right?

We all have mountains of personal experience to assign to a character, and have a ball with, stretch it, twist it, as you would a slab of taffy. That’s why a book I discovered on Facebook really pushes my buttons. This is as bland a telling as I ever encountered. I’m tempted to buy the book to learn if the vapid storytelling continues down the same path. (Moonbeam Bay floats plenty of boats. The author is a USA Today Bestseller.)

GD writes about his experience in Viet Nam. Perry writes about his lifelong love of fly fishing. What pastures of plenty do you have in your past, that you can make hay of, that will enable you to write a story no one else could have written?

New writers frequently worry that their idea will be stolen. It’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. Write something no one else could have written. Develop a signature point-of-view, and a signature style. If you can’t do that, what kind of writer are you?

Hmmm. I suppose Kay Correll has done that.

Develop an interesting point-of-view.

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

This Space Not Reserved

If you drop in from time to time to see what’s being discussed, feel free to stir up a discussion of your own. If you have author privileges, put your post in “Draft” and I will post it on Mondays – on a first-come-first-posted basis. If not, email it to me at
GD(at)Deckard(dot)one
(If you replace the parentheticals with “@” and “.” you’ll have my address. If email-collecting spam ‘bots see it, hopefully the code will thwart them.)
Enough ifs.

This weeks’ commentary is completely open. Open comments week ocurrs when nobody can think of anything to post. Personally, I’d like to hear that Sue channeled Matsuo Bashō to write a haiku, or Boris became apprenticed to Mel Brooks, or that Perry fly fished with Lee Wulff. Or see a link to a new Space Cowboy song. Or watch a Youtube of Victor plugging his latest novel on the Tonight Show, or one of Curtis in Africa accepting an award for his charitable contributions. Or Mimi’s creations becoming NFT art.
But enough ors.

Comment on whatever aspect of writing you care to.

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Writing Contest Rant

I recently entered a short story writing contest–one of these where you write 1500 words to a prompt.* I had no expectation to win; I was just having a good time.

The winner was announced today, and I read it to see what a winning short story was like. It was terrible. I couldn’t follow the plot. Poorly drawn characters. Key elements not explained. Bad word choices. It was like a low-quality kids’ story. And they didn’t even write to the prompt. I’m guessing it was written by somebody for whom English was not their first language.

I considered leaving a comment like this in the Comments. But the other comments were glowing, so I decided I couldn’t rain on that parade. Thus I’m dumping on you folks.

It made me angry, and also sad. I just had to get this off my chest.

Here’s my question. What should you do with bad feedback like this? I know the Oreo game, but I had nothing good to say about it. No redeeming features.

*The prompt was “happily ever after” and my story was about a couple who discovered that this meant forever and ever–and they got tired of each other.

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Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Find a Critique Partner

A critique partner is a good idea. It’s hard to read your own story with an impartial, critical eye. Sue Ranscht and I are currently reading each other’s WiP to provide one another with outside perspective and mutual support. I can only hope that my critiques are as useful to her as hers have been for me. Thanks to Sue’s honesty, I’m re-writing my set up. She pushes me to write deeper.

If you are considering critiquing another writer’s work – but, you know, you hesitate to criticize another writer’s work – here are some tips to get you thinking in a useful direction.
Read thoroughly. Don’t skim or speed-read. Surface-level feedback (“I liked it!”) sucks as useful.
Consider using a “compliment sandwich” approach. Start your critique with positive feedback, then offer any criticisms or suggestions, and conclude with additional positive input.
Use clear, specific language.
Make suggestions, not mandates.
Don’t let personal preferences cloud your judgment. Easier said than done, but try.
Practice striking the perfect balance between praise and being constructive.
Watch your tone! Email is notorious for giving the wrong impressions.

Sue has offered to connect you with a writing partner, right here on the Writers Co-op. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2022/04/24/lets-exchange-critiques/

It also helps to find a writing partner if you stay in touch with people in the writing life. Browse these links.
https://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php
https://www.agentquery.com/
https://www.critiquecircle.com/landing
http://winebird.com/
https://www.critiquematch.com/
There are a ton of other such sites, but I have zero interest in those that charge a fee for use, exist mainly to collect personal data, or don’t strike me as currently active.

The easiest way to get a writing partner, of course, is to email a piece of your work to stranscht@sbcglobal.net. You are thereby agreeing to critique the work of the person who critiques your work. But that’s why they’re called a partner.

NOTE: The image at the top of the page has nothing to do with this discussion. I just liked it.

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About Writers, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

CONNECTIONS

A story can emerge into consciousness when we connect the dots in unexpected ways. Dead people have to outnumber the living. Can you put your sock on the wrong foot? What are the odds a computer will develop intelligence on its own? How in hell can a meat sack travel the interstellar distances between stars -maybe, we’ll just have to ride our planet and see where it takes us? In a society of adamantly diverse groups, can any be right, or are there universal truths to unite us? If you survive a nuclear war and the radiation doesn’t kill you, how do you not starve to death? How many NGOs are strictly for profit? Is slavery really immoral or simply economic? How do we personally change when we go from a normal life into a real war? Are we essentially a stupid species, using up our planet’s resources, knowing all the while this has to end badly?
That these are all story ideas, I know, having written each of them. Writers think the damndest things.

My condo overlooks a golf course here in Southwest Florida and early this morning, while watching the caretakers keeping it smooth and green, it occurred to me that a really challenging golf course would be one that is not maintained. Connect that thought to determined golfers, years into a post-apocalyptic world, and you have a story, maybe sad, maybe satirical, maybe uplifting -the writer decides.

How we connect our thoughts, the bridges between them, can build any story. Mimi Speike creates charmingly delightful illustrated works, Carl E. Reed slams the senses with intellectually-pointed outrage, Curtis Bausse has given us intricately devised detective stories, Perry Palin uses his sense of nature to inform his characters of their own nature. Connecting what we know in unexpected ways may be close to a definition of creativity and that applies to any genre.

What were you thinking, just before a story idea popped into your awareness?

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Apple Pie in the Sky?

I’m not writing about Maisie. But ya gotta look at a picture, OK?

It’s a problem, isn’t it? What can I say that hasn’t been said multiple times, or that isn’t more me-me-me?

I could talk about Maisie forever, but you may not appreciate it. I’m doing my best to come up with alternative topics. GD is keeping his end up, and Sue is doing a marvelous job with Showcase.

We have a (possibly, don’t recall the name) new presence on the site. KMOSER56 has copied my last piece to the site ‘It’s All About the Journey.’ She writes on a range of topics, and has done so for quite a while. Archived material goes back to 2010! She’s given me an idea. I don’t recall if I’ve tried this before. Maybe I have, but I’ll try again.

I’m exploring what sites might be open to posting some of the writing-related articles I’ve written, and also what sites are dedicated to fiction. (I’ve placed all of Maisie on Medium, chapter by chapter, and snagged few readers. Medium is not the place for fiction.)

I’ve googled ‘Where to publish short stories.’ I have a list of sites to explore. I also came across a list of one hundred chit-chat blogs.

In terms of short stories: Wattpad, forget it (YA audience). Commaful, possible. Inkitt? StoryWrite? Several more I’ve never heard of.

Commaful looks promising: (These are comments by someone on one of the sites I visited today. (Once again, I didn’t bother to jot a name.)

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Stories on Commaful are in a unique format that people have called the multimedia fiction movement. The term multimedia fiction refers to fictional writing that involves more than just the written word, commonly some form of visual or audio. The most popular type of multimedia fiction is the picture book.

The Commaful Format: I am used to reading prose, not a picturebook layout. After trying it out, my opinion has changed. I think the format is one of the most genius features about the site.

The Audience: The site is growing very quickly. I don’t have real analytics about what the audience is, but my personal experience is that the audience is relatively young. I suspect this will change as the website continues to grow.

Story Trailers: I’ve never seen my writing shared nicely to Instagram as a video before. With a tap of a button, I had a pretty awesome story trailer that I could share to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Diversity: Not a huge library of stories yet, but I’ve come across a several LGBTQ and minority focused stories already. That’s more than I can say about many other sites. There are occasional sightings of bestselling authors. There are readers and writers from all backgrounds, age ranges, sexuality, and experience.

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I’m going to give Commaful a tumble.

Maisie is not a short story (you know that by now, right?)
but it does, with a bit of tinkering, work as a serial.
I’m going to explore that angle.

Apple Pie in the Sky? Maybe.
But I won’t know if I don’t try.

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Writing is a Refuge. And, thoughts on Magical Realism.

We all have our reasons for writing. I’ve long told people that I write because I have stories to tell. But writing is also a refuge from my frequently frantic existence.

I’m googling Tennessee Williams, having been intrigued by posts on Facebook promoting Follies of God, by James Grissom, a series of interviews with Williams and people he worked closely with. Tennessee has said:

“Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory.”

“I’m only really alive when I’m writing.”

“. . . living at a tilt against reality, because reality is simply too much to handle.”

Here’s the quote that first caught my eye:

“I once dreamed of escaping to magical places: Movie sets; fairy kingdoms; lovely homes with lovely people. I wanted to escape the abuses, the taunts, the grinding, onrushing tide of meanness that rolled over me all through my early years. I never got to the magic castle I insisted was deep in the woods, but I escaped through words, through images on a screen. Every day–and you need to remember this–you can sit before the pale judgment and strike words on its surface and escape and rise and find the magical places you wanted. The magical places that are within all of us broken, desperate people.”

Williams was born into a turbulent household. His father, a drinking, gambling father with little patience for his sensitive son, traumatized him and his sister Rose. He found his safe haven in writing. Poor Rose was given a prefrontal lobotomy in an effort to alleviate her increasing psychological problems.

His writing was a therapy for him. He wrestled with his demons in work full of grotesques, but also full of humor and compassion for the weirdos, the brokenhearted, the misfits, the losers, for those of us who can’t always cope.

My writing is also a therapy. Every one of my characters has a large portion of me in their makeup. I’ve slammed my upbringing through them, I’ve commented on my ongoing relationships, and I’ve softened my judgements of my own less than delightful traits by explaining them to myself through the lens of my weirdos, in whom I don’t fail to find redeeming qualities, though I admit many of them are creeps and scoundrels. Adorable creeps and scoundrels.

I’ve been telling people I write Magical Realism. But I honestly don’t know what to call it.

Magical Realism is a narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into a seemingly realistic world. 

Matthew Strecher (Who dat? I googled him: Professor of Modern Japanese Literature and Chair of the Department of Liberal Arts at Sophia University in Tokyo) defines it as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe, that is not explained, but treated as a normal occurrence.”

I have been under the impression it includes some kind of social or political relevance. Maisie is pure escapism.

In the end, what does it matter? That I am able to pigeonhole Maisie, position her in the literary landscape, that is. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to sell her to an agent or a publisher, the folks who insist on slapping a label on everything.

Tell people you’re writing about a talking mouse, they think Disney. Tell them it’s fantasy, they think wizards and dragons. Tell them it’s magical realism, they probably think Harry Potter, at this point.

Will anyone be debating whether Maisie is Magical Realism? I don’t think so. I hope folks are going to consider it absurd fun, featuring a character they care about.

I care about her. I live in her world. It’s a lovely world. I don’t want to live anywhere else. The real world is full of disappointment. Maisie never lets me down.

I write because it’s the best game in the world. I write because it’s a space I feel at home in. I write because I love the craft of writing.

Like–probably–most of you, I can’t get my family to read my work. I send them a chapter, hear nothing back, and think: I’m doing what you couldn’t do in a million years, you creeps. And you’re not smart enough to realize how good it is.

Does being dismissed deflate me? Not a bit. It strengthens my resolve. I’ve tried my hand at many a creative endeavor. I feel writing is the one area in which I’ve done outstanding work. It has improved my self-esteem tremendously.

I’m a pantzer. I start my tales without knowing where they will go. I create my characters, fall in love with them, and write to work out their destinies for my own pleasure, and to satisfy my own curiosity.

I don’t write because I hope I’m going to make money out of it. I write for the joy of it.

How about you?

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Short and Shorter

The front cover of book three of Maisie in Hollywood. I have broken a twenty-thousand-word maybe novelette/maybe novella into three parts, each part a short story with plenty of room for illustration in a forty-page picture book.

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I never wrote short stories until I landed here. And I never thought about them. I have my seat-of-the-pants theories about what works. What with the feature Showcase, I figured I’d better read up.

I just finished The Art and Craft of Fiction by Michael Kardos. His comments apply to fiction in general, but are especially meant, says he, for short stories.

His (and my) CYA strategy: “The rules are, there are no rules.”

He quotes Flannery O’Connor: “It’s always wrong to say that you can’t do that in fiction. You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.”

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Short stories are the name of the game around here: Showcase, Rabbit Hole, and these weekly commentaries. Yes, I think of these weekly posts as short stories also. I try to entertain.

Showcase asks that you keep to under a thousand words. That’s not room for any real story. You can write a scene, give a glimpse.

The key to any fiction, but especially to short fiction, is: relevant detail. Also: an entry point that bypasses unnecessary preparation but still affords the reader a solid footing in a shape-shifted world. “Don’t be coy,” says Kardos. Establish your framework, and the story’s stakes, in the first paragraph. Provide a reason to care about your character from the first sentence.

Fantasy is a thing unto itself. The key to fantasy is fake believability. I bolster my screwball storytelling with a wealth of plausible, and not terribly plausible (sounds good, but don’t think too hard about it) detail. There are other ways to handle it, but this is what draws me into a piece. Any other approach, for me, is hit-or-miss.

Here’s something that I have written about recently. On themes: “Stories are narratives . . . themes derive from these narratives, not the other way around.” Write with a theme in mind and you may find yourself preaching.

This book is full of good advice, most of which we already know. I’ll cut to the chase.

You can’t do a lot in a thousand words. Something has to give, but do it artfully. Trick endings are almost always a mistake. The story ought not to be an elaborate setup for a punch line.

I have established characters, that you may or may not have met. Sly (a talking cat), Maisie (a talking mouse), several others. I know my people from long association. I already care about them deeply. And I think that comes through.

On a live recording, Nina Simone led into a rendition of ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ with: “This is a show tune, but the show ain’t been written for it yet.”

I treat short stories the same way. Any shortie I’ve written is either an extension of another piece, or a try-out for a future more ambitious project. I either already have a character well developed, or I’m kicking one around, and have an idea where I want to go with it.

Kardos includes fifteen stories in his book. These are true short stories–four to seven thousand words–more room to develop plot and character than in our flash fiction (under a thousand words) on Showcase.

They were all chosen with an eye to illustrating his various points. I read the first one, ‘This Is what It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,’ and I was blown away, by his handling of characterization, particularly. Sherman Alexie (who knows the name? Not me) grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He knows his people well. He’s won all kinds of prizes, fellowships, you name it. (All these writers have.)

The two names I know in this collection are John Updike (I like ‘A&P’ very much), and Tobias Wolff. His ‘Bullet in the Brain’ – I didn’t care for it. Tobias Wolff! Am I out of my mind?

Sorry, Professor Wolff, I am not beguiled by prop people whose function is to take a bullet to the brain so that brain fragments can dance around a cranium while a long-forgotten childhood memory comes flooding back, no matter how enchanting the prose.

I did like most of these stories, just not with the intensity I felt for Phoenix, Arizona. A few of them irked me, in ways large and small.

Those of you who write a story on short notice, to a prompt, out of nothing–my hat is off to all of you. I have years of contemplating my characters, and such a range of material that I can (so far, anyway) finagle a piece to answer any challenge.

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About Writers, reading, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

And the Best Books Ever are…

The bestselling single book of all time is estimated to be Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote with 500 million copies sold. (Major religious and political texts not counted.)
But Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time with over 2 billion books sold.
And JK Rowling is the world’s highest-paid author at $1 billion.
Oh, and we shouldn’t forget Enheduanna, who started this madness. She is the first known author, born in 2285 BCE. People were reading her poetry before there was a Bible.

But when I try to choose a “best,” I think the best book is a very personal choice having nothing to do with copies sold, monies paid, or literary acclaim. It’s the book that did what great books are supposed to do. It changed me. I saw the world a bit clearer after reading Catch 22, understood people better after reading The Will To Power, and saw science fiction differently after reading Dhalgren. Not that I’m stuck with those viewpoints. I’m still reading.

What about your favorite book(s)? What ones had a significant impact on you?

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