In the United States, school shootings, gun control, and the potential of Roe v. Wade being overturned are occupying more and more space on news pages. So, I wonder if today’s CNN story After 100 days of war, Putin is counting on the world’s indifference by Nathan Hodge represents a plausible analysis of the future. Meanwhile, Biden is sending more missiles. That will help, but will it be enough?
Some analysts say that Ukraine will ultimately cede the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to avoid a protracted war, more lost lives, and continued destruction throughout the rest of the country. While I can understand why this result could happen, I hope it doesn’t. It would not only be a loss for Ukraine but a black mark for the rest of the world that could have done more.
The world did little when Putin stole Crimea. So it’s possible the world will slowly forget about the rest of Ukraine, or at least Luhansk and Donetsk because–short of risking a nuclear exchange with Russia, people will see there’s nothing more they can do short of adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. That won’t help Ukraine, though, will it?
If Russia is allowed to keep the Donbas region, will it be forced by a treaty agreement to pay reparations to Ukraine for the lives lost, infrastructure destroyed, homes and businesses lost, and people displaced? I suspect not–or perhaps a token amount that adds insult to injury.
I am by no means an expert on international policy, much less Ukraine. Yet I feel the need to say something here, fragile as it may be, to remind people that the war is still going on and that now is not the time for our indifference.
Reminder: “Winterkill,” a novel by Ukrainian Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, will be released on September 6 and is available now for pre-order. The novel tells a gripping story of how the Soviet Union starved the Ukrainian people in the 1930s — and of their determination to overcome. This genocide is known as the Holodomor.
Creating minor characters in short stories and novels is often a mix of intuition and expedient puzzle construction. The plot tells you what you need the person to do whether s/he’s a maid or a butler or a car salesman, your intuition tells you about the character’s demeanor, and applying our jigsaw puzzle skills leads you to the traits (and backup research) to make the character real within the scope of his/her role.
Obviously, a character with a recurring presence throughout the novel needs more substance than a bartender who doesn’t even have a line of dialogue. It’s important, though, not to box yourself in because you may need that character later–that is s/he may slowly get a larger role in a novel or its sequels and/or may need to become more than s/he appeared to be when the reader first met them.
For example, my character Pollyanna appeared more or less as a walk-on character in book 3 (Lena) of the Florida Folk Magic Series, was enjoyable to work with as a writer, and also was a hit with readers. So, she became the main character in book 4 (Fate’s Arrows). Each time she appeared, I added depth to the character making sure the new information about her didn’t conflict with what I’d said before.
We learned over time that she was a marine nurse at MASH units in Korea and Okinawa. We learned that when marines took karate courses in Okinawa (where Shotokan karate was developed) Pollyanna tagged along and–to the surprise of the men–became quite good at it. I used legitimate Shotokan strikes in Fate’s Arrows and that meant watching a lot of video instruction about doing them correctly.
This is one example of taking a character and adding skills or traits that weren’t necessary when s/he first appeared. In Pollyanna’s case, she was always an enigma to those who knew her, an approach to life that would later fit with her CIA association. Had she been a conservationist, woodcraft skills that weren’t required in her first scene could have been added in subsequent stories because the stage would have been set for her to develop in that way. You could say the same for many avocations or careers, as long as you didn’t box yourself in when the character first walked into the story.
Or, if you plan everything, then you might have created that walk-on character one way or another, knowing that you were going to use him or her in multiple sequels. That’s too tedious for me, but a lot of writers like getting everything nailed down before they begin writing.
Now, in my novel-in-progress, Pollyanna is again the main character and I am building her style and way of life by introducing the reader to the concepts behind Karate that would have been overkill in her first or second appearance. She has a Zen approach to life. That fits with Karate. So now I can add the concept of Bushido (a moral code) as well as the general precepts of Shotokan developed by Gichin Funakoshi that stress a unity of mind and body. That Pollyanna adheres to these approaches to life, not only explains why she does what she does, but makes her come across as a character of a lot of depth.
Had she been a conservationist, I might now be adding in such concepts as a forest as a unit rather than isolated trees and how that impacts the environment, forest management, and the careful use of fire. I probably would have followed the concepts and researchers behind Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory and made them (like Bushido in Karate) an important philosophy of the character.
Needless to say, every “walk-on character won’t end up becoming the protagonist in subsequent novels. But it’s fun when this happens because, for the author, they are rather like a child who likes playing with blocks who ends up becoming an architect with, say, the viewpoint of (possibly) Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie Style and its influences from the natural world. Such influences might even become a part of the character’s developing persona.
When characters are involved, it’s easy for an author to feel like a parent.
I have no idea whether MasterChef and MasterChef Junior are what they seem or whether the contestants (especially the kids) are shown recipes when faced with cooking something they’ve never seen before. I suspect so, though that’s not talked about on the show. Whatever happens, I feel pretty inept in making meals like mac & cheese by dumping the ingredients out of a box with the word “Kraft on it.
My mother made it from scratch. My wife and I started out making a lot of stuff from scratch but slowly stopped doing that when it became apparent that buying all the ingredients for the scratch version costs more than the stuff in a box–like pre-made pie crusts, for example.
Somewhere around here, I probably still have a copy of my mother’s cookbook The Joy of Cooking. We do have cookbooks but seldom look at them because it’s easier to look up recipes on the Internet. Not that they’re certified by Gordon Ramsay and the other judges on MasterChef or Chopped.
Seems to me that as we get older, we get addicted to easy comfort food rather than spending the afternoon in the kitchen cooking something that would look good on an expensive restaurant’s menu.
I don’t think my wife and I are unique. I don’t know very many people who eat anything fancy unless it’s, say–their anniversary and they’ve gone out to eat. And usually, that means a place like Outback or Applebees rather than a place with any Michelin stars.
Perhaps the easy-to-find recipes on the Internet will keep all of us from becoming totally inept in the kitchen. Meanwhile, all I need are servants, We would eat a lot better. How about you?
My Vietnam War novel “At Sea” will be free on Kindle from June 1 through June 5.
Some people say the loved ones at home suffer more than their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents, and other family members who die in a war. Who suffers the most after a death is not a contest; no bragging rights here. The dead are gone: what they feel, or if they feel, is unknown to us. The soldiers who return with their memories of the horrors they saw and the family and friends of those who died will mourn the dead for years–perhaps a lifetime.
To my knowledge, I knew one person (Mike) who died in Vietnam. Others who served on the USS Ranger (CVA61) with me were also casualties of war. I think of them on Memorial Day. As I’ve written on this blog before (with nasty sarcasm) remembering the dead seems more important to me than making the rounds of bricks-and-mortar and online Memorial Day sales. (“Dad died, so now’s a good time to get 25% off a new riding mower.)
I found Mike’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial. I hadn’t expected the power and sadness of seeing his name there or, in fact, seeing the 58,318 names on the wall at that time. I visited the Tomb of the Unknowns when I was a child and as an adult, I’ve been to battlefields and cemeteries where the dead rest (presumably) in peace. Visiting these sites strengthened my respect for Memorial Day.
The intent of Memorial Day, which began as Declaration Day in 1869 to honor the dead from the Civil War, doesn’t officially extend to the widows, widowers, and other family left at home. Perhaps it should. Dying in war is often called “the ultimate sacrifice.” I’m not so sure. I think those who come home with mental and physical wounds, memories they cannot undo, PTSD, and a future that includes living as one invisible in a cardboard home under a bridge might be making the ultimate sacrifice by surviving. So, too, the family left at home.
We can think of them on this day for the losses they suffered but are seldom acknowledged for suffering.
I’m reading Alice Hoffman’s novel The Book of Magic, unfortunately, the last in a four-book series that began in 1995. As I read, everything I know from studying magic comes to mind rather like hearing an old song brings to mind where you were and the people you were with when you first heard it.
I have no idea whether thoughts of magic are stirred up in the minds of most readers or just those who’ve studied magic. Maybe this happens with people who study other subjects. If you studied kings and queens in college courses, does reading novels about kings and queens remind you of what you learned in college and/or what you saw when you visited historic locations? Or is it just magic?
In Man in Search of Himself,” physicist Jean E. Charon wrote that works of art communicate via an innate knowledge shared by artist and viewer in a language that “awakens unconscious resonances in each of us.” At a deep level, I think, we recognize connections between what we know, think, and feel and the material we’re seeing on the page of a novel or nonfiction book.
If an author is writing the truth, the reader intuits that truth even in fiction and that awakens many memories. In a 2021 interview in The Writer, Hoffman said, “I don’t purposely pursue magic – it’s just part of the prose that I write. I grew up reading fairy tales and myths. For me, magic has always been a part of literature as a reader and as a writer. Magic doesn’t have so much to do with plot as it does with voice. For instance, you can tell a story in a realistic way, and if you’re Hemingway, it’s great, and it works. For me, magic is about the way the story is told rather than the story itself. It’s not a hocus-pocus influence in the plot. It’s more the tone of the story, the way the story tries to draw you in and create a fictional world. I’d like to add that I think the most important thing for beginning writers is to find their own voice.”
I agree with that. Since I do, Hoffman’s work resonates with me more than a novel that sets out with an overt plot involving magic rather than a story in which magic is one part of the characters’ lives. Those of us who write magical realism see magic as a normal part of life, a life that might otherwise be just as logical and rational as most of the people we meet.
For me, the shared knowledge with an author, as Charon sees it is strong when the subject is magic and less strong–to nonexistent–when the subject is black ops and police procedurals.
Like influences like, people say. They may be right.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” The audiobook, narrated by Wanda J. Dixon, received an Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine.
According to police, Ramos bought his guns legally. That means completing the six-page ATF Form 4473 Firearms Transaction Record. The form appears thorough, though opinions about its scope vary. However, it’s missing the first question that must be asked: Whatwell-regulated Militia do you belong to?
That’s what the Second Amendment requires even though many groups from the National Rifle Association to the U.S. Supreme Court would have you believe otherwise. And so, this form is mute about the first thing it should ask.
Some have said that membership in the state’s national guard should suffice even though historians say that a national guard is a form of militia that the founding fathers didn’t like. Immaterial, inasmuch as there are many things in today’s laws and court decisions that the founding fathers wouldn’t like: their real or suspected opinions are not part of what constitutes legality other than the Constitution itself which, on this matter, states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
That seems clear to me.
But the government, in its misguided view, believes we can ignore one-half of the amendment. If membership in a legally constituted, government approved and recognized milia, including the national guard, were required to purchase a gun, would the mass shootings stop? Probably not. But I think there would be fewer of them. And that would be the beginning of a real solution.
According to CNN, citing the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 213 mass shootings this year so far. CNN’s tally says that Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, represents the 30th K-12 shooting in 2022 and that it is the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
We lead the developed countries of the world in these shootings. Perhaps we should consult the wisdom of other countries. Or, correctly interpret and mandate our own Bill of Rights.
“What has shifted over the years is that I take a lot more time off from writing. As a younger writer, I was really adhering to the mythology that, in order to be a writer, you have to write every day. As I’ve continued to age and trust that the writing will be there, I’ve moved into a space where I feel like if I don’t write for a couple of months, that’s fine. It doesn’t scare me at all.” – Ada Limón in The Atlantic
If you’re a newspaper reporter, documentation writer, a freelancer on a deadline, or in any other situation where you are working for somebody else, then you might need to write every day. Otherwise, you probably don’t.
Writing professors and other gurus have for years sounded like a broken record on the “write daily” mandate because (supposedly) if you don’t, you’ll lose your talent and skills, be treating writing as an occasional hobby rather than a job or avocation, heading for the gutter, turning to drink, and other horrid outcomes. I think that’s nonsense.
But, if you don’t think it’s nonsense and want to write every day, that’s wonderful as long as it’s working for you. I tend to rebel against absolutes and other “necessary” writing habits. For me, such absolutes are harmful because they clash with the way I view my avocation. If such rules clash with your personality and your art and craft, ignore them.
We are unique individuals, those of us who write, and in many cases, we don’t quite know how we do it. But if “how we do it” seems to work, then why corrupt the process by twisting it to fit with how somebody else does it?
I think we do our best writing when we maintain our independence from those who keep handing out “writing rules” and dusty myths as though they’re gospel. We’re not working on an assembly line. It goes without saying (almost) that the work you are doing is your story.
If it weren’t for the insane antics of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, we would probably never remember that a war–that’s technically not over–divided up the country. I remember the war because it was in the news when I was a child. Little to nothing was said about the war in my history survey courses other than President Truman firing General MacArthur in April 1951.
Even now, I think most viewers of “M*A*S*H” reruns assume the TV show was set in Vietnam even though the co-authored novel by a M*A*S*H surgeon (under a pseudonym) was based on this wartime experiences in the Korean War.
I research the war from time to time because characters in my novel Fate’s Arrows and in my short story “The Smoky Hollow Blues” (in the recently released Thomas-Jacob anthology The Things We Write) served in Korea. The novel in progress has these same characters, so I find myself wanting to know more about the near-disaster for the U.S. Marines at Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
You can learn about this battle online on more sites than Wikipedia, and they give a decent overview of the battle. Yet I feel it’s through the lens of somebody watching it from outer space. I can’t afford to buy books about the war just to fill in background information about my characters. Fortunately, I have most of Jeff Shaara’s historical novels including The Frozen Hours about Korea. The novel brings me a close-in view of what it was like to be fighting a superior-in-size Chinese force in sub-zero temperatures where weapons malfunctioned and frostbite was a killer.
I bought the book before I knew I would ever use it as a reference. I like Shaara’s work and probably have most of his novels on my shelf. As an author, I go everywhere I can for background information, and sometimes historical fiction works out very well.
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – Thomas Wolfe in You Can’t Go Home Again
You can’t go home again because the home you knew no longer exists. And even if it did, the you who lived there no longer exists.
I never go to reunions because everyone there is a stranger and so am I.
Home isn’t always a place, the place where you grew up, had a summer romance, first saw the world clearly, or experienced fear and pain that impacted what you have become but not who you were during those moments that call out to you years or decades after the fact.
Home for a writer is often his/her first novel. For me, home has always been The Sun Singer. The novel has one sequel and I had long thought to write another. But I delayed doing that for various reasons. Last year I decided to commit to the project. But it didn’t work. I’m not who I was when I wrote The Sun Singer, nor is the location in which it was set, nor are a thousand other variables that shaped the book and myself when I wrote it. None of those things exist now except in my imperfect memory.
I like a comment from a favorite poet of mine Ada Limón from a May 16 interview in The Atlantic: “We want to grow as artists, as human beings; we want to have more access to the workings of the world. So every book process changes for me, because every book is a new way of looking at the world, and a new me: I’m different every time, though I’m bringing the older self—note I did not say wiser, but older—to the process.”
Not to change, would be stasis. . .as a person, a spouse, an author. We have fresh eyes always. New influences. Experiences that changed us a little or a lot. If I tried to go home, however, I defined that, I would be a stranger in a strange land. The Sun Singer and its sequel Sarabande are as they are (or were) but the “me” I am today didn’t write them.
Change, as the I Ching tells us, is the only constant in the universe. We are better off flowing with it than fighting against it. Nostalgia draws us toward the past, but that past is an illusion, and trying to go there represents a failure to live in the present moments all of which want to have their say in our lives and our work.
PEN America has issued the following statement from Liesl Gerntholtz, Director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom To Write Center, on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh:
“PEN America condemns the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh today while reporting from the West Bank. For a journalist with a vest that clearly designated her as a member of the press to be shot in the head while reporting a story is a shocking affront.We call for an urgent, credible, and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting—including allegations that the Israeli military deliberately targeted her. Her killing illustrates the dangers faced by journalists all over the world as they do their jobs.”
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, had worked for the Al Jazeera network for 25 years.
“Israeli and Palestinian authorities should ensure that the investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is swift and transparent, that all evidence is shared with international investigators, and that those responsible are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.”