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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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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Uncategorized

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.)

_________________________

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.

_________________________

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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Uncategorized

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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Writers Co-op

ABOUT US

The Writers Co-op was established April, 2016, by a handful of refugees from Penguin’s writers’ website, Book Country. Our first post is
Here we are!

Enjoy the writing life with us.

We swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. Especially beyond, as Curtis Bausse wrote in our first blog: Because who wants to write a book and then not promote it?

Your blogs are welcome. New bloggers can contact GD[at]Deckard[dot]one for inclusion. Promote your work. Share your anecdotes and analysis, thoughtfulness and humor, awards and recommendations, opinions, rants and wackiness.

Everyone in the writing life is welcome. Writers, editors, agents, publishers, artists, marketers, Et al.

You’ve come to the right place. Have fun.

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VR Writing, world-building, writing technique

Writing for the METAverse

PHOTO: Buzz Aldrin walking on Mars. Virtually, of course.
https://www.space.com/32563-how-buzz-aldrin-took-a-virtual-walk-on-mars.html

The METAverse is coming. You know, totally immersive virtual worlds; computer-simulated environments populated by people who simultaneously communicate with others and participate in shared activities. They are working and shopping and vacationing, all without leaving home.

The METAverse is the world as you wish it to be. Pour yourself a real drink and you can drink it while sitting on a beach, or in a bar with friends or, hell, on Mars if you wish. Instantly. That’s how long it takes to go anywhere in VR.

I can imagine sitting at a table outside the Café de Flore, at the corner of boulevard Saint Germain and rue Saint Benoit, Paris, with people from the Writers Co-op. We talk about writing virtual reality stories for this new ‘verse. The problem is we have to write stories where we do not control all of the characters because every “reader” enters our story as a character. (Wrap your head around that!)

It’s simple, really. The story just has to move forward only when a user (aka reader) does or says the right thing. We are creating the story, but not all of the characters. (And we’re not doing the programming. Programmers do that, based on the story created by the writer.)

Here’s some tips from those currently writing for VR.

“In VR, the space is the story. Spaces are pregnant with sensory detail, ideas, behaviors, and narrative possibility—your job is to put that all to use. We encourage you to think less about generalized “realism” and more about specificity of vision, manifested in space. We can’t express this enough: the space is as (if not more) important than your plot and characters. While composing your story, think about the ways you can build environments capable of making the viewer imagine stories of their own—even without any other human beings in the picture.”
Writing for VR: The Definitive Guide to VR Storytelling
https://vrscout.com/news/writing-vr-definitive-guide-vr-storytelling/

“In VR, you can’t just talk at your user. Well, you could, but that’s not especially exciting and they can probably get that level of experience from a bog-standard YouTube video.
So, you need to think more carefully about the different ways you can tell your story – and how to guide them around it. In a 360-degree experience, you can’t guarantee that your user is going to be looking in the right direction. In fact, you can almost guarantee they won’t be, unless you point them to it.”
How are you communicating with the user?
https://radix-communications.com/virtual-reality-script-writing/

Example:
The following story changes as you read it. It’s interactive. Try it to see how environment and choice are used in VR stories.
“Trapped & Transformed in Virtual Reality”
https://www.writing.com/main/interactive-story/item_id/1930286-Trapped–Transformed-in-Virtual-Reality

The METAverse will not replace books any more than did the movies. But now may be the time to make a name for yourself by being one of the early writers in a new medium. Me? I’ll just settle into a seat at the Café de Flore and read a good book.

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Uncategorized

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.

____________________________

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.”

____________________________

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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blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

OPEN COMMENTS WEEK

Use the comments section to talk about anything of interest.
Anything at all.
I’ll lead off with some foolery.

Lies I Tell Alexa

Suffering from the general preconceptions inflicted on the elderly, my Lady and I received, as a Christmas present, an omniscient Alexa. It’s so we can easily call for assistance. If (meaning when) needed. We don’t like it, since Alexa sells everything it hears to advertisers. So, I try to confuse it.

ALEXA…

“Where can we dispose of all these ballot boxes full of Trump votes?”

“Why are the initials “dy” on the lid of my Hewlett Packard laptop?”

“Please log on to HunterBidensFinestHour.com. Keep trying.”

“Is it true the rumble strips on the highway are for blind drivers?”

“Do you hear that? Alexa! What is it!?”

“Is it legal, in Utah, for a Mormon to marry his widow’s sister?”

“How many chickens would it take to kill an elephant?”

“Did President Abraham Lincoln commit suicide with a Colt or a Smith & Wesson?”

“Call the kitty.”

(You get the idea. It’s Open Comments Week.)

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Uncategorized

And Now I’ll Tell You What I Really Think

I don’t know if it works or not, but buying an ad on Facebook is only the beginning. $25 for two thousand exposures? I’m ready to spend $100. For starters. I’ve thrown so much money at my books–for art materials and software, and on books for research–that I’m forced to regard them as an expensive hobby, replacing my former expensive hobby, which was doll collecting.

I’m paying attention to what makes me stop and examine a FB posting. It’s generally a set-up that piques my interest: “The Great American Road Trip Fifty Years Ago” – “Hope and Crosby were best buds on-screen. Off-screen, it was a different story.” I didn’t follow up on either teaser, but I was tempted to. I think the link should take you to a halfway spot where style and attitude are on display, not straight to Amazon.

I have my illustration to (hopefully) snag views. Perry has his niche. He meet-and-greets at fishing events and local flea markets. And it seems to work for him. Now, fishing-related stories are not going to have a wide appeal. You might write them off as ‘not my thing.’ I did, until I read a few of them. His book ‘Katz Creek and Other Stories’ is wonderful. This book will go on my shelf of favorites, to be read again.

Katz Creek is a mini vacation from our cares and woes. Refreshing! Relaxing! It may not be an actual memoir (he says not) but it is a knowledgable glimpse into an era gone by, of carefree summers and lazy hours. Lovely stuff, really lovely. Perry writes beautifully, and his snapshots of the fly-fishing subculture are mesmerizing.

A review on the Classic Fly Rod Forum says: “The prose has that antique feel that you find in Hemingway’s early short stories. These are stories for fishermen who like to remember the days of Heddon Fly Rods, unfished brooks, dense northern environs, and a simpler time and place.”

Perry has his thing and I have mine. Those of you who write Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you folks have it over us. You write in a hugely popular genre. But you also have a ton of competition. Maybe you don’t have it over us after all.

I have trouble with Sci-Fi. Most of the time the mechanics are the focus, rather than the personalities. It’s characterization that charms me, and keep me reading. I dropped Hugh Howey’s Wool less than halfway through. I’m trying to talk myself into finishing it. A third or so in, the magic hasn’t kicked in for me yet. Like it has for multi-thousands of readers, who have made Howey a legend of web-based success, widespread adoration and fat bank account the result.

He and Amanda Hocking both hit the big time with (seemingly) little marketing effort and, maybe, with modest expectations. I’ve read that Hocking hoped for no more than to raise the dough to attend a Star Wars convention in Chicago. That worked out for her grand, didn’t it?

DocTom recently mentioned Michael Hagan, and Bookkus Publishing.

Michael’s book Demiurge started well, the opening chapters were gripping. Demiurge is a tale of an evil entity serially reincarnated down through history, causing chaos, and Demi’s cult, lending a helping hand. A promising construct to many, I’m sure.

I plowed through it, but that sort of thing is really not for me. The paperback is listed on Amazon at just under forty dollars. That might be part of the reason for it not selling. The Kindle version goes for $9.50. That’s a lot of money for a complete unknown. That sum would have been set by the publisher. I’m afraid William had delusions of grandeur.

Ah! “WINNER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS BOOKKUS AWARD.” Well! That makes all the difference in the world! Can it be that a marketing genius hoped the “Prestigious Bookkus Award” might be confused by some with the (genuinely prestigious) Booker Prize? Just a thought.

Bookkus, now defunct, solicited manuscripts to be considered for publishing, William, the owner, paying the tab. William had a good idea – to assemble a reader/writer community to vote on submissions to be published, that would afterward talk the books up to friends and family. He attracted a good number of active participants willing to read and vote on entries (many of whom hoped to get their piece in the horse race). Before Bookkus folded, it had published, I believe, five books. Demiurge was one of them.

Those reader-judges were astonishingly enthusiastic about well-written work–they were all well-written in terms of prose style–that often contained shortcut characterization. I doubt that the word-of-mouth ever kicked in. Beyond that, luck plays a huge role in any success. We all, I believe, are very aware of that.

Except for William. He seemed to think it was going to be easy. We spoke several times via email. He told me his plan was to get the thing going, then to “sit back and wait for the money to roll in.” That may have been a joke. But I wouldn’t count on it.

All we can do is keep on keeping on. To give up after one try, as Michael (apparently) has done, I don’t get that. (If I’m wrong about Mike, feel free to set me straight.)

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