This and that on a cold, rainy day

  • Blood test this morning. The tech couldn’t find a vein. Ended up sticking both arms looking for blood. Might have been less painful if she’d bit my neck.
  • Congratulations to my Thomas-Jacob Publishing colleague Sharon Heath (The Fleur Trilogy) on the release of her new novel Chasing Eve, “a funny, sad, hair-raising adventure into the underbelly of the City of Angels, where society’s invisible people make a difference to themselves and to others, and where love sometimes actually saves the day.”
  • Bodkin Point Arrow – Wikipedia photo

    I usually write fiction in third person restricted. Among other things, that means that basically the entire novel is shown via the point of view of the protagonist. If you use that POV, you know there are dozens of ways of showing the protagonist’s attitude without saying “he thought” or “she thought.” Now that I’ve chosen to write the work in progress with an omniscient narrator POV without showing what anyone (mostly) is thinking, I keep having to delete things I’d normally write. Even something so mundane as Luckily the barking dog finally shut up is out of bounds because somebody has to be thinking that; I’m not going to be an old-fashioned author who intrudes into his stories by commenting on things as they happen. Tentatively, the book is called Dark Arrows.

  • Yes, we will be watching Star Trek: Picard starting tonight on CBS All Access. The next-generation series with Patrick Stewart was, I think, the best of the Star Trek programs, so it will be nice to see him again in this ten-episode series. I read that CBS has already ordered more episodes, so perhaps we’ll have at least two seasons to look forward to.
  • My blood test results show that the forty days of radiation therapy probably got rid of the prostate cancer. Even though the radiation oncology department thinks “that’s that,” the urology department thinks it’s safe for me to continue the hormone therapy for two years as long as I can dolerate the shots. I said, “Tolerate the shots? Does that mean they don’t kill me.” The answer was, “If you get bad hot flashes, we’ll stop them.” Oh.

Malcolm

Writers who stop writing have moved on to what?

Writers who step away from writing often tell me they’ve “moved on.” I want to ask (but I don’t) “moved on to what?”

If one’s chosen career is to be a writer, I’m not sure where a writer goes when s/he moves on. Not that being a writer is sacred. Not that writers don’t get to retire at some point or even try something else.

Writers often say that doing the writing itself is their primary joy. Of course, if writing is a business for them, they can’t pretend that running at a loss every year will pay the rent or buy the groceries. A lot of writers get around his problem by earning an income doing something else, but continuing to write in their spare time.

Most of my writing life I earned a living by writing for computer companies. That’s what paid the rent. I’ve been officially unemployable ever since I was laid off after 9/11 even though the large tech company I worked for said they weren’t going to do that. Unless you’re famous or have a rare skill, it’s hard to find jobs when you’re over 50, which I was. So, I turned my parttime writing into fulltime writing.

Until I’d sold a few books, I told people I was retired. At my age, that was believable. I had no desire whatsoever to buy a motor home and spend my life driving around the country, or fishing, or stamp collecting, or whatever else retired people are supposed to do. Luckily, I found a few nonprofits who needed somebody to write grants, and I did turn out some successful proposals. But fiction was what I wanted to write, so that’s what I’m doing.

I can’t imagine moving on. My father was a successful book reviewer, article writer, and textbook author long after he was forced to retire from university teaching. He was happy doing it and so am I. Maybe psychologists will claim I’m taking after my father. I don’t think so, but is I were, I’d be okay with that.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Does your best paragraph belong in your book?

Consider this paragraph from a well-known novel:

“It rained for eight days without taking a breath. No dank December drizzle this, but rain with attitude. The rogue progeny of some sweet-named Caribbean hurricane had come north, liked it and stayed. Rivers in the Midwest burst their banks and the TV news was awash with images of people crouched on rooftops and the bloated bodies of cattle twirling like abandoned airbeds in swimming-pool fields. In Missouri a family of five drowned in their car while waiting in line at McDonald’s and the President flew in and declared it a disaster, as some on the rooftops had already guessed.”

Do you recognize the passage? If so, you have a good memory. If not, it’s because it’s not usually one of those excerpts that reviewers and sites like GoodReads quote from the novel.

I noticed this paragraph recently because I’m re-reading the book. I smiled as I read it because it’s the kind of thing I would write for a satirical novel or blog post. Bits and pieces of it could even fit in a comedian’s stand-up comedy routine. For satire and/or dark humor, the paragraph is slick, well-written, and filled with sadistic puns and groaner double entendres.

However, the paragraph appears in a book listed as a psychological thriller that focuses on love, loss, family, and coming to grips with massive change. That being the case, I think the author should have cut this graph from the novel and saved it for another book because outside of comedy or satire, this is over the top:

  • taking a breath
  • rain with attitude
  • liked it and stayed
  • news was awash with images
  • abandoned airbeds
  • And then we end with the family drowning in a line at McDonald’s followed by the President declaring it (the flood or the McDonalds?) a disaster area

The passage gets “worse and worse” the farther it goes and becomes really dark with the Missouri family/disaster area juxtapositioning.

I believe most critics and writing professors would classify all this as “too much” in a mainstream novel. In context, the passage seems out of place at the beginning of a subsection in which a young girl is in a coma while her parents wonder if she’ll survive. Perhaps the novelist saw this as a transitional, “adding insult-to-injury” kind of paragraph. Or maybe he liked the contrast between the slick weather description and the horror of the girl supported by machines, tubes, and sensors.

In general, what do you think?

Does your opinion change one way or the other when I tell you this excerpt came from The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans?

Writers are advised to kill their darlings. I wish Evans had pulled the trigger or put these words into a drawer for later use.

Malcolm

My eight novels and numerous short stories fit into the genres of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, and satire. Other than the Special Investigative Reporter, my storytelling focuses on magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your writing: business or hobby?

Gurus–and, let’s face it, they’re a dime a dozen–are always telling writers to decide whether we want a career or just want to tinker. In part, we don’t always have a clear choice.

Most authors aren’t living off their writing income. They have 9-5 jobs doing something else, often teaching. Many also have families with the usual responsibilities that implies. So writing often gets shunted into the hobby category where it’s wedged into the weekly schedule by hook or by crook.

Clark is the author of “The Edisto Island Mysteries” and “The Carolina Slade Mysteries”

In her latest Funds for Writers newsletter, Hope Clark wrote, “You’ve decided you are a writer. Like any profession, part-time or full-time, you have to map out your days, weeks, and months for better efficiency. Same goes for writing. ” In part, she focuses on realistic goals and organization. So, in one respect, writing is like any other business: you can’t just wing it.

As far as I can see, the more successful we become at the writing part of our career, the more we’re going to need to treat it as a growing business–or, at least, as a money-making portion of our multiple careers.

Clark suggests that we stay away from what she calls “pie-in-the-sky goals that are, in essence, fluffy resolutions.” Instead, look at what’s possible in your schedule as it is now. Can you write and publish one book a year and possibly submit five short stories to competitions? If so, that can be the foundation for a sound business plan.

Without that plan, it will be hard for any of us to evolve into full-time authors, in part, because we don’t really see what it takes to make that happen or we treat our writing as a hobby and allow everything else in our lives to take precedence over it.

Like a lot of things, becoming successful depends on how badly we want it.

Malcolm

P.S. Thank you for the ideas for solving my POV problems with my work in progress. I’m tending toward an omniscient narrator who sees everything that happens but who doesn’t know anyone’s thoughts.

 

 

Telling a story from the point of view of a sickening character

I’m not going to tell you how to do it because I can’t force myself to do it. In my work in progress, somebody is shooting KKK members. At the outset, I don’t want the reader to know who’s doing it. Yet, if I tell the story from the point of view of the person who is doing it, I won’t be able to hide what they know.

Unless they were hypnotized or have random bouts of amnesia or I resort to some combination of trickery and/or bad writing, their thoughts are otherwise transparent to the reader.

I catch writers doing this all the time. They’re “inside the head of one of the characters” who has just done something important. But, since the author doesn’t want the readers to know what that character did, s/he simply doesn’t allow the character to think about it.

Not possible (other than the amnesia or brainwashing thing) and yet it happens do often, I wonder why editors don’t catch it.

One alternative (in my work in progress) would be to tell the story from one or more of a KKK members’ POV. I saw too much of the KKK when I was growing up, and looked up more about them while working on Conjure Woman’s Cat and its two sequels. It’s one thing to know the organization’s history, rituals, and symbols, but quite another to know the workings of a member’s heart and soul.

I don’t want to know that because I’m not strong enough to know.

I once wrote a story from the POV of a woman (Sarabande) who was assaulted. It seemed to work. But I never could have written those scenes from the POV of the bad guy. I cannot go inside the head of a rapist any more than I can go inside the head of a KKK member.

It’s one thing to tell a realistic story. It’s another to jeopardize one’s sanity. I’ve read some nasty things in novels and whenever they are told from the POV of the perpetrator, I wonder how the author survived the experience.

Some clinical psychologists have told me they take a shower when they get home from work and, while doing it, visualize the disturbing things heard during the day being washed down the drain. Would that work for a write? I’m not willing to find out.

What about you? Do you ever wonder how authors handle some of the hideous things in their novels, especially when told from the perp’s POV?

Malcolm

Note: I announced on my website today that I need a break and will discontinue the site by February 20. This blog will remain as will my author’s page on Facebook.

 

 

What Your Choice of Dialogue Tags Says About You

One way to look at it is to consider any movement away from the exclusive use of said or asked a step away from the very “best” writing, from the kind of writing intended to be considered “literary.” If you spend any small amount of time examining blogs or books on writing, you will find that this is a very common directive: use said, asked, and nothing else.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the most common works in conjunction with that other famous maxim: show, don’t tell. If you use the word ranted to describe the speech act of one of your characters, you’re telling your readers how to understand what is happening rather than illustrating through action and dialogue.

Source: What Your Choice of Dialogue Tags Says About You | Jane Friedman

One of the first things a new writer hears about dialogue tags is how annoying it is when somebody finds a thesaurus and inserts a dozen synonyms into his/her story for “said” and “asked.” The result is often highly annoying except when it is done sparingly.

For humor, where was the ever-popular, “‘Ouch,’ he explained” approach and the campy Tom Swifty insertion of a punning adverb such as: “‘Let’s get married,’ Tom said engagingly.”

I see nothing wrong with substituting the word “shouted” when the people are far apart from each other or in a noisy place. Otherwise–as the article says–we have author intrusion into the story and telling rather than showing when we substitute words for “said.”

Writers can avoid the fact they’re inserting an editorial opinion into the story when they, for example, substitute a word like “ranted” for “said.” The character’s thoughts can show that he’s ranting and so can his facial expressions and movements during the conversation.

Big-name authors often take a stylistic approach to dialogue tags. One in particular constantly uses “observed.” That’s really not a good general synonym for “said,” especially, in quick back-and-forth dialogue because it implies that the comment is measured and based on logic rather than simply uttered.

When an author goes nuts looking at a manuscript page of dialogue with the word “said” all over it, one way to avoid this repetition is to ask how many of those dialogue tags are needed. A back-and-forth conversation doesn’t need a dialogue tag after every line as long as the reader can always tell which person is speaking.

A lot of food for thought in this blog post from Christopher Hoffmann on Jane Friedman’s blog!

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelfth Night Thoughts

“A real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render… the ‘radiance’ of all things as an epiphany or showing forth of the truth.”

– Joseph Campbell

Twelfth Night, the twelfth day of Christmas, is also known as Epiphany Eve. Many traditions surround this time, but many of them consider Twelfth Night to be January 5th with Epiphany celebrated on January 6th. Some refer to Epiphany as Three Kings Day, and see it as a celebration (primarily) of the visit of the Magi and the revelation of the incarnation of God in Jesus. Others link the day to Jesus’ baptism.

The symbolism here would take multiple posts to discuss and, regardless of one’s church or sect or denomination, the meaning, I believe, transcends temporal orgnizations and faiths and instead reminds us of the most important epiphany each of us can have: the realization of the divine within ourselves.

Wikipedia Photo

Originally, when people spoke of having an epiphany, the default value of the experience was that the insight they found came from the god of their hearts. Now, such realizations are often considered to be of a logical or scientific or psychological origin. It’s all the same, I think.

As writers, our best work seems to come from multiple epiphanies, from having our fingers or thoughts on the pulse of the universe and the channels through which cosmic energies flow.

Or, perhaps you are more comfortable with the idea of inspiration or having a real or figurative muse. Looking at it that way seems less presumptuous!

My muse tells me to follow the old traditions and to take down my Christmas decorations today or otherwise be stuck leaving them up until Candlemas. It’s hard enough explaining to neighbors why our decorations are up longer than most people’s; it would be more difficult if our lights and greenery were up until February 2. The decorations, when they go up, and when they’re put away are guidelines, not rules, for the paths we’re following.

Perhaps the decorations symbolize a person’s readiness to discover and interpret the radiance of all things.

Malcolm