Uncategorized, writing technique

Mary Anne Evans

The love of my life, M, is reading George Eliot. She enjoys Eliot’s incredible vocabulary. On Kindle, M just taps a word to see its meaning and then sometimes throws the word at me. I didn’t know “casuist” is a word for one given to casuistry, or, excessively subtle reasoning intended to mislead. The casuists I know are all newsreaders but I didn’t know there was a polite term for describing them.

It made me wonder. In a world where news is spun and we tend to believe what we want to hear, I wonder if the words we no longer use don’t tell us as much about ourselves as do the words we use. My favorite example is the shifted meaning of the word, “alienation.” I once looked that up in a dictionary printed in the 1800s just to see if it was in there. It was but it was described as a form of insanity. Not now.

There must be a word for things we don’t want to see but who remembers that?

Hopefully, the more erudite among you can help me out here.
What words are no longer in use even though what they stand for still exists?

Standard
book sales, Uncategorized

Does Amazon Help You Sell Books?

Other than being the largest warehouse of books in the history of literate societies, does Amazon actually help writers sell books? Or are Amazon algorithms designed to maximize their profits regardless of the effect on individual authors and publishers?

I hear both from other authors. And there’s nothing wrong with maximizing profits. That’s how Amazon gets the cash to provide its services.
But, how well do they serve authors?

One author says, “The DAY I launched both titles there was someone selling paperback new and used copies of my books below my price. I had not sold or printed a copy (other than my own proof copies … which are still in my possession). There were simply no copies in existence.”
Now, how does that happen? Seems to me that copying and selling an author’s new book without paying the author is or should be illegal.

Other authors love Amazon. What has been your experience?

[Disclaimer. My own book, still available at retailers linked from ThePhoenixDiary.com, was on Amazon until they quarreled with my publisher.]

Standard
Uncategorized

So You Want To Be A Writer – Prof. Colum McCann

So you want to be a writer? Attend, then, to creative writing professor Colum McCann!

………………………………………

Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody,” said Rainer Maria Rilke Letters To A Young Poet more than a century ago. “There is only one way. Go into yourself.”

“This most of all,” he says. “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of night: must I write?”

…….

To hell with grammar, but only if you know the grammar first. To hell with formality, but only if you have learned what it means to be formal. To hell with plot, but you had better at some stage make something happen. To hell with structure, but only if you have thought it through so thoroughly that you can safely walk through your work with your eyes closed.

…….

A first line should open up your rib cage. It should reach in and twist your heart backward. It should suggest that the world will never be the same again.

…….

Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.

…….

You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.

A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.

Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again.

…….

Nabokov says that his characters are just his galley slaves – but he’s Nabokov, and he’s allowed to say things like that. Let me respectfully disagree. Your characters deserve your respect. Some reverence. Some life of their own. You must thank them for surprising you, and for ringing the doorbell of your imagination.

…….

And always remember that what we don’t say is as important as, if not more so than, what we do. So study the silences too, and have them working on the page. You soon find out how loud the silence really is. Everything unsaid leads eventually to what is said.

…….

Structure should grow out of character and plot, which essentially means that it grows out of language. In other words, the structure is forever in the process of being shaped. You find it as you go along. Chapter by chapter. Voice by voice. Ask yourself if it feels right to tell the story in one fell swoop, or if it should be divided into sections, or if it should have multiple voices, or even multiple styles. You stumble on through the dark, trying new things all the time.

Sometimes, in fact, you don’t find the structure until halfway through, or even when you’re close to being finished. That’s OK. You have to trust that it will eventually appear and that it will make sense.

…….

Plot matters, of course it matters, but it is always subservient to language. Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens. And how it happens occurs in the way language captures it and the way our imaginations transfer that language into action.

So give me music then, young maestro, please. Make it occur the way nobody ever made it occur before. Stop time. Celebrate it. Demolish it. Slow the clock down so that the tick of each and every second lasts an hour or more. Take leaps into the past. Put backspin on your memory. Be in two or three places at one time. Destroy speed and position. Make just about anything happen.

Maybe in this day and age we are diseased by plot. Let’s face it, plots are good for movies, but when over-considered they tend to make books creak. So, unbloat your plot. Listen for the quiet line. Anyone can tell a big story, yes, but not everyone can whisper something beautiful in your ear.

…….

It’s not a throwaway thing to tell you the truth. It’s not a throwaway thing, to tell you the truth.

Punctuation matters. In fact, sometimes it’s the life or death of a sentence. Hyphens. Full stops. Colons. Semicolons. Ellipses. Parentheses. They’re the containers of a sentence. They scaffold your words. Should a writer know her grammar? Yes, she should. Don’t overuse the semicolon; it is a muscular comma when used correctly. Parentheses in fiction draw far too much attention to themselves. Learn how to use the possessive correctly as in most good writer’s work. (Oops.) Never finish a sentence with an at. (Sorry.) Avoid too many ellipses, especially at the end of a passage, they’re just a little too dramatic … (See?)

Grammar changes down through the years: just ask Shakespeare or Beckett or the good folks at the New Yorker. The language of the street eventually becomes the language of the schoolhouse. It’s the difference between the prescriptive and the descriptive. So much depends, as William Carlos Williams might have said, upon the red wheelbarrow – especially if the barrow itself stands solitary at the end of the line.

…….

Research is the bedrock of nearly all good writing, even poetry. We have to know the world beyond our own known world. We have to be able to make a leap into a life or a time or a geography that is not immediately ours. Often we will want to write out of gender, race, time. This requires deep research.

Yes, Google helps, but the world is so much deeper than Google. A search engine can’t hold a candle to all the libraries in the world where the books actually exist, live, breathe, and argue with one another. So go down to the library. Check out the catalogues. Go to the map division. Unlock the boxes of photographs. If you want to know a life different from your own, you better try to meet it at least halfway. Get out in the street.

Talk to people. Show interest. Learn how to listen. You must find the divine detail: and the more specific the detail, the better. William Gass . . . [is an] American author who says quite beautifully that a writer finds himself alone with all that might happen . . .

…….

. . . In the end there’s only one real failure – and that’s the failure to be able to fail. Having tried is the true bravery.

…….

Sometimes . . . you just have to have the cojones to wipe the whole slate clean. Occasionally you know – deep in your gut – that it’s not good enough. Or you’ve been chasing the wrong story. Or you’ve been waiting for another moment of inspiration.

Often the true voice is not heard until long into the story. It might be a year of work, hundreds of pages, or even more. . . But something in you knows – it just knows – that everything you have written so far has just been preparation for what you are now about to write. You have finally found your north, your east, your west. No south, no going back.

…….

Gogol said that the last line of every story was: “And nothing would ever be the same again.” Nothing in life ever really begins in one single place, and nothing ever truly ends. But stories have at least to pretend to finish. Don’t tie it up too neatly. Don’t try too much. Often the story can end several paragraphs before, so find the place to use your red pencil. Print out several versions of the last sentence and sit with them. Read each version over and over. Go with the one that you feel to be true and a little bit mysterious. Don’t tack on the story’s meaning. Don’t moralise at the end. Don’t preach that final hallelujah. Have faith that your reader has already gone with you on a long journey. They know where they have been. They know what they have learned. They know already that life is dark. You don’t have to flood it with last-minute light.

You want the reader to remember. You want her to be changed. Or better still, to want to change.

Try, if possible, to finish in the concrete, with an action, a movement, to carry the reader forward. Never forget that a story begins long before you start it and ends long after you end it. Allow your reader to walk out from your last line and into her own imagination. Find some last-line grace. This is the true gift of writing. It is not yours anymore. It belongs in the elsewhere. It is the place you have created. Your last line is the first line for everybody else.

…….

(The following quotes taken from the full article found here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/13/so-you-want-to-be-a-writer-colum-mccanns-tips-for-young-novelists?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Bookmarks+base&utm_term=225927&subid=22099271&CMP=EMCBKSEML3964 )

Standard
Uncategorized

Pulp Fiction: The Golden Age of Genre

 

 

 

Okay, gang, we seem to be a little light on new blog posts at the moment (notwithstanding Kris’ grand-slam right out of the analytical park last time at bat here in Story Country), so I’ll throw this out there for those interested in watching, not reading, something new. PULP FICTION: The Golden Age of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Adventure. Please comment afterward as the spirit and/or jarred (or should that be “jaded”?) intellect moves you. . . .

Heigh-ho, The Golden Age!

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Bedraggled Bird

All right, yes, I admit it. This post is little more than an excuse to announce the publication of a new short story. It’s called Windborne, and it is appearing in Strange Fictions Zine, Friday, April 28, 1:30 EST. Oddly precise, I know, but I guess that’s just the way it is with online zines.

It is a little disingenuous of me to call it a new story. Windborne is at least 12 years old. It was the first story I ever wrote, at least since my college days. I never particularly wanted to be a writer, at least not of fiction. Songs were what I wrote, lots of them. I sang them with several rock bands, then by myself, then only for myself. My musical career traced a long and squiggled line, but that line had a decidedly negative slope.

After that, I got married, had some kids, and settled into a life where my only creative impulses were realized in idiosyncratic woodworking projects. And that was fine. If I was experiencing any great lack in my life, I wasn’t aware of it.

Then, one afternoon I was standing on Moonstone Beach. The kids were playing in the water by the big rock. There were a lot of people there. It was windy but warm. I was standing on a flat rock near the runoff. The wind was blowing full in my face, rifling my clothes. It was one of those winds where a sudden gust can jostle you, knock you off stride—almost, if you let your imagination unreel a bit, lift you up off your feet and into the air.

That’s where the story was born. I stood there, buffeted by the sea wind, and wrote the whole thing in my head.

Later that evening, I wrote it out for real. I showed it to my wife. She liked it. I’m fairly sure I didn’t show it to anybody else for a good—oh, I don’t know—maybe six or seven years.

The first time it showed its face in public was on the Book Country website. Some of you remember that site. Writers posted stories or excerpts from novels, and then everybody did critiques and reviews, made suggestions. Mostly people played nice, but not everyone was above getting petty and personal at times. And that was okay too. If you write for public consumption, you have to get used to the idea that not everyone is going to find it wonderful.

Windborne (and yes, I know the title needs a hyphen, but I didn’t like the way it looked) was the first thing I posted, along with several chapters from my then fledgling novel, Flight of the Wren. Wren mostly got ignored, but Windborne inspired a pretty spirited response. Mostly folks liked it, but there were a few who really didn’t. I didn’t save any of the reviews, but I remember the gist of the critical ones:

“What’s the point of this?”

“This seems unfinished. Is there more?”

“Your protagonist has no character development.”

And, of course, everyone’s favorite:

“Show, don’t tell!”

Pretty standard stuff, and not entirely unfair (though the idea that there might be more to the story always mystified me. How could there be?) In truth, Windborne is a slight thing—a brief, troubling dream with a rude awakening. If there’s a character to be studied, it is the character of the crowd (maybe). If there is a point, well, your interpretation is as good as mine. In case anyone wonders, I made no substantial revisions between the Book Country version and the one published today. I might have smoothed a few ruffled feathers here and there, but it’s essentially the same bird.

Anyway, I hope you like it. If nothing else, it might stand as a message of hope. Twelve years isn’t a lifetime in the publishing world, but it’s a fair chunk of time. This tiny winged thing, after riding the winds for what must have seemed like an eternity, finally found a welcoming shore.

Standard
About Writers, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Writing for Fun

“These silly writers let their imaginations run away with themselves.”
– Nicole Kidman as Satine in Moulin Rouge!

It being Monday morning, I naturally selected my “writing cup” for morning coffee and thought about my WiP, only to remember the online game I had been playing over the weekend. I had promised people there I would write a song for our pirate guild. Well, why not call that writing? Toulouse-Lautrec painted posters of ill repute. Marshall McLuhan and his anthropologist friend Edmund Carpenter knew peoples for whom living is itself art. Why should a writer limit expression to a book-yet-to-be-published? Why avoid the fun of being silly?

This is ingame (silly) writing.

The Pirate Song

Against convention we rebel,
To sail the sea of briny foam.
We drink with demons straight from hell
And chase their asses home!

Chorus:
The waves be drunk and so are we,
The moon be high and so are we.
We’re sinful dirty pirates
And we’re sailing to be free!

We’ll blow yer ship to smithereens,
Board yer women & belay yer men.
We’ll sink yer bloody brigantines
And haul yer treasure to our den!

(Chorus)

So flee the hull that flies the skull
Or Davey Jones will pick yer bones.
Cannon balls and boarding brawls
Are winsome cheers to buccaneers!

(Chorus)

I can’t be the only writer who also writes just for fun.
What about you?

Standard