The anthology Things We Write was released today by Thomas-Jacob Publishing.
Seven Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC authors bring you 15 of their short stories, excerpts, and poems. Sometimes offbeat, always captivating, the selections include historical fiction, magical realism, crime, psychological suspense, literary fiction, coming of age, and poetry for both children and adults. The works are grouped by author name, not genre, ensuring a surprise each time you turn the page.
You can download your free copy as a PDF, MOBI (Kindle), or EPUB (other e-readers) file from my publisher’s website catalog here.
My contributions are a new short story “The Smokey Hollow Blues” and an excerpted short story, “Haints in the Woods” from a previous Thomas-Jacob collection. Both stories feature characters many of you have read about in my Florida Folk Magic Series, Eulalie (the conjure woman) Willie (Eulalie’s husband), Lena (the magical cat), and Pollyanna (a sneaky helper who kicks butt and takes names).
The song has a bright, expansive melody and has become famous for its surrealistic imagery, influenced by artists as diverse as French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. The lyrics call on the title character to play a song and the narrator will follow. Interpretations of the lyrics have included a paean to drugs such as LSD, a call to the singer’s muse, a reflection of the audience’s demands on the singer, and religious interpretations. – Wikipedia
Bob Dylan released “Mr. Tambourine Man” in March 1965 in his “Bring It All Back Home” album when I was at the last place I wanted to be (college), tied down, I thought, by an ancient canon of learning that was taught and graded in an ancient style of “education” that did not meet my needs nor my temperament. What would have met my needs would have been saying “to tell with all this” and then telling Mr. Tambourine man “I’ll come following you.”
Five years later, Gordon Lightfoot released a song with a similar intent, “Minstrel of the Dawn” on his “If You Could Read My Mind” album when I was–once again–in the last place I wanted to be (the navy) freshly returned from Vietnam and a war I did not support then serving (ironically) on the staff at the navy’s boot camp where I helped prepare others to go to the place I just left. I soon became a conscientious objector and left the navy having become a convert to the minstrelsy of the “Minstrel of the Dawn” in the jingle jangle of a new morning.
Because of my belief in dreams, I am nothing if not impractical, and heavily influenced–actually under the spell–of these two songs for a lifetime, and while I cannot duplicate the quality of the songs, much less an old-time Troubador, I have always infused their spirit and spell in my work. That is to say, I lead my characters astray and want to hypnotize readers into following them–as Lightfoot says–“While the old guitar rings.”
Some have said Mr. Tambourine man is about losing oneself to drugs, a notion that Dylan denies. Like most writers, I’m dealing something more dangerous than drugs: words and stories spun into haunting and irresistible dreams. If the government ever figures out the truth about stories, they’ll either ban them or heavily tax them.
If you read fiction, you know that stories are written to make you “forget about today until tomorrow” while trying to “get into things more happy than blue.” There are side effects to such stories that are more dangerous than those attached to Fentanyl and Oxycontin: addiction to freedom and dreams. I’ve been prescribed Oxycontin at least three times and never got addicted because stories were always a much great temptation.
Money-wise, the street value of stories is less than the street value of Fentanyl and Oxycontin. However, I should mention that there’s no cure for stories. It won’t matter because, in your jingle-jangle mornings, you’ll be too far out in space to want one.
When creative writing students turn in their first short story or dialogue exercise, the teacher’s response is frequently, “All of your characters sound like you.”
The writer had certain points to communicate via dialogue and distributed them amongst the characters as though their manner of speaking is interchangeable. Or, as the teacher might say, “You should be able to tell which character is talking by what they say and how they say it.”
Several student responses are likely: (1) A dozen synonyms for said. (Yes, there’s a difference between “he said,” “he yelled,” and “he whispered.”) But they don’t help if the words that are said don’t sound any different in tone, structure, word choice, accent, and focus than the three other people in the conversation. (2) The student thinks up a list of eccentric phrases and distributes these amongst the characters, rather like dealing out cards, so that EVERYONE TALKS FUNNY. The teacher is likely to say, “The people sound like they just escaped from a carnival freakshow.”
One of the hardest things for a writer to do is getting to know his/her characters so well that the way they talk arises naturally out of the person. People talk differently because they are different. The writer’s at a disadvantage here if s/he hasn’t spent any time listening to how “real people” express themselves. Some use slang, some have accents, others speak in short sentences while a few speak in paragraphs. Children sound like children and are influenced by fad words from school or (in modern times) words from texting. Older people may use terms from 40-50 years ago that young people may never have heard, as in “You ain’t got no gumption.”
One way to figure all this out is by reading the works of authors who write great dialogue. TV viewers and critics used to say “‘The West Wing’ has great dialogue.” Listen to a few of these shows and figure out what Aaron Sorkin did to make his characters’ dialogue memorable. Here again, the characters all had their issues, likes and dislikes, fears, joys, etc., so what they said fit who they were.
Resist the urge to pepper conversations with small talk. That slows down the story even if it does sound just like a conversation you heard in a store or on the subway. You are advancing the plot, not shooting the breeze. Read your words aloud. So they sound like they’re words to be read or words to be spoken?
If you look up “writing dialogue” online, you’ll find some decent advice that’s almost as good a learning by reading well-written novels.
I appreciate it. Your presence has made 2019 a better year and it needed to be better.
Those of us who tell stories–in books, at parties, around the dinner table, or even in blogs like this one–hope that some of the stories will connect with some of those who have come to the storyteller’s place.
Even the storyteller knows not the ending of a story when s/he begins telling it, just as now I am typing this line with no idea what line will follow it.
Is it luck? No, I don’t think so because one thing has become clear over time; stories know where they are going and just need somebody there to serve as a channel to allow them out into the world.
You have your stories, too, even if you don’t put them in books or blogs. Maybe they’re about your life or maybe they come unbidden from your dreams and your imagination. To all who hear and read your stories, the stories and the listeners/readers are gifts.
From the universe perhaps or from your heart and soul.
Sometimes “what’s your story” is a bully’s taunt. Sometimes it’s a provocative inquiry on a first date. More or less, it means “who are you and/or what are you doing here?”
We spend our lives writing our stories. We’re not always aware of the plots or even the themes. We stack up dreams and hopes like cordwood, or even denials and excuses. Perhaps our stories are more transparent to spouses and friends than they are to us. Not all of us can be read like great novels even though we’re impacted by the tales we discover in books and the memories of others shared around a quiet drink or a backyard barbecue.
If one looks at our stories with the combined eye of a mystic, a shaman, a conjurer, an alchemist, and a quantum scientist, the tapestry of the world’s people becomes a little clearer. We see synchronicities rather than coincidences. We toss out the idea of fate, if not destiny, and maybe on nights when the moon is bright and the flowers and birds are quiet, we glimpse the whole of the world’s stories.
As an author, I like to think that the stories in books–fiction and nonfiction–enlarge our perspectives and help us change course or re-dedicate ourselves to the course already chosen. My quantum view is that every story that can happen, will happen in one universe or another and that we can follow the chains of events that best meet our developing needs for the plots in our own stories.
Reading and listening and observing in a spirit of hope and wonder are so necessary for our progress, it’s difficult to understand why a lot of people don’t read or listen or observe. Have they chosen to close their lives off from the world and/or from themselves? I don’t know, but the result of whatever they’re doing doesn’t seem healthy–or helpful to the world.
I see studies from time to time showing that kids benefit from parents who read to them as well as growing up households full of books. Nonetheless, stories are everywhere and if we’re not finding them on the printed page, I hope we’re finding them in films and paintings and TV shows, and what others tell us whenever we ask “what’s your story?”
The world appears to me as a grand storybook with countless chapters, millions of characters, unlimited locations, and possibilities that expand outward at lightspeed. The fate of nations and peoples and justice and Earth itself has not yet been determined because many of us are writing blind or aren’t aware that the daily scenes in our personal stories contribute to the story of our planet. We’re all linked like the characters in the pages of a well-written novel; I think we’ll like where our combined story goes if we realize this and live accordingly.
Researching something that may or may not help with the next book
Considering a job in the real estate business–or, basically anything other than writing
Reading another author’s books as an excuse for not writing
Studying potential marketing plans in hopes of competing with James Patterson and Catherine Coulter (haha)
Spending more money on a new website that costs more than his or her books are likely to earn
We’re always writing even if we’re not actually writing
I guess all of the above are true. Yesterday afternnoon, my wife and I went down to Duluth, Georgia to the Southeastern Railway Museum’s celebration of its move to a new site some twenty years ago. We had fun seeing a museum we hadn’t been do in a very long time. We moved away (twice) and volunteering there was no longer possible.
Funny thing is, we wandered into the museum because I was doing research on railways for a book. We got trapped. We became volunteers. We worked our butts off for about ten years there. It’s easy to become derailed when you’re doing research.
Yes, I did write the book.
But for quite a few years, the museum was a passion because both my wife and I loved history.
As you may have heard, everything a writer experiences might end up in the next book. (I usually change the names to protect the guilty.) If you think one of the characters in one of my books, you’re right, it might be you. But here’s the thing: everything we see when we’re not sitting at a keyboard might become part of the next story. Figuratively speaking, we’re always writing.
We see our lives as a series of stories, Sometimes I write them down and they become novels. Like most authors, I don’t make any money doing that because very few authors in the U.S. actually make any money. But, we’re addicted to writing when we aren’t drinking.
My latest novel is called “Lena” and takes place in north Florida when the KKK was still a real problem.
“Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination, and of the heart.” – Salman Rushdie
When I was a child, my grandfather told me my mother walked in her sleep when she was a child. He put a stop to this by scattering peanut shells outside her bedroom door.
My mother remembered the peanut shells only because she had heard the story. All she knew for sure was that she hadn’t sleepwalked since she was a child, reasoning that she simply grew out of it.
Were there ever any shells on the floor?
Within the story, the shells were real. In reality, they may not have been real. It doesn’t matter. The peanut shells exist simply because the story was told, and re-told, and told again. Many of our “realities” seem to originate in this way.
The storyteller knows this. In his bad of tricks, he has an infinite supply of once-upon-a times, ready made like rare medications, dangerous drugs, curses, and miracles to unleash upon your life when you’re ready for his cure to what ails you.
As Gordon Lightfoot sang in “Minstrel of the Dawn,” released in 1970, “And if you meet him you must be the victim of his minstrelsy.” We are our stories, true or not, and they sustain us for better and/or for worse.
Most people I know asked their parents and grandparents to tell them stories and to be read a story before bedtime. These stories morphed into dreams and ways of seeing the world.
These days, people try to kill the storyteller by claiming to be offended. All they have to do is stop listening or stop reading if the story isn’t to their liking. There’s not much opportunity for growth in that approach, but we can approach truths that way. After all, ignorance is the last bastion against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
One day, we might wake up when we step on a peanut shell we didn’t believe was there.
“Revealing small tidbits about your characters as you go along helps engage your readers. We know how important that is in dropping clues and red herrings, but it’s also an excellent way to have your readers identify with your characters — even the villains. This is especially important in a mystery because it isn’t until the end of the story (hopefully) that the reader figures out who is truly the villain.” – Gayle Trent
I like author Gayle Trent’s advice about adding small tidbits of information about characters as stories progress, taken from Adding Dimension to Your Characters, because it mirrors the way most of us learn about the people in our lives. We meet a person, note what they look like, discover whether they seem to like us or pose a threat, and then the longer we’re around them, the more bits and pieces we pick up. Real life people seldom appear with a resume.
I’ve been thinking about all those people in our stories and how we portray them ever since reading a beginning writer’s question on a writing forum. She wanted to know how to figure out what a character in a proposed story looked like, sounded like, and acted like.
The question puzzled me, not because it’s irrelevant, but because the writer seemed to have no idea what the character was like. Early on, most writers need to figure out how best to portray major and minor characters in a story. Usually, though, a writer has a story idea and sort of “sees” the people involved: the challenge, then, is taking what one “sees” and figuring out how to describe the character on paper.
By “see,” I mean seeing the character the way one “sees” somebody in their memory when they think about a family member, colleague, or friend.
Rushing the Plot?
I often wonder if a writer is rushing the plot down on paper before it’s ready when s/he decides to write the story but doesn’t know what any of the characters are like. When I think about writing a “boy meets girl” story, it’s hard for me to think about the idea without “seeing” what they boy and girl look like, act like, and believe in.
Fortunately for me, my imagination is very visual. That is, my potential story or story in progress presents itself to my thoughts like watching a movie. When I write a scene, I’m watching it the way I watch a movie or the way I see an event from the past in my memory.
If you don’t see your story this way as you write, here are a few ideas for learning about your characters:
Readers like good guys with flaws and bad guys with a few good points. Real people are seldom 100% angels or 100% devils.
Write a few pages of the story, and watch who shows up. As you write about your protagonist, do you “see” him taking actions and having conversations? Do you see the antagonist working his or her evil plots? If you do, then your characters and their traits may well develop as you tell the story. As you learn about them, you can go back and begin to describe them.
Interview your character: This works best if you type a list of questions, print them out, and then quickly hand write the answers. Questions might include: how old are you, what color is your hair, what’s your hobby, what’s your job, what’s your favorite movie, what excites you, what depresses you, etc. Pretend like your conducting a job interview and write down the answers as quickly as you can.
Imagine your character. Relax and pretend you are sitting in a place associated with your story whether it’s an office, ship, war zone, forest, old house or whatever. Pretend you’re sitting there when your character shows up. Watch them. How do they act? What do they look like? What’s their favorite color or song or book?
I don’t like using real people as models, but sometimes it’s hard not to when they seem to fit the bill. What makes these real people stand out in your mind? If you were going to sketch their picture with a pencil, what physical characteristics would stand out?
Elsewhere, I wrote a post about characters and themes. When you have a so-called theme for your minor characters, you’re providing the reader with a few defining points each time they appear. They pronounce words incorrectly. They shout. Their hair is always messed up. They wear the same color all the time. They swear a lot. They tell the same joke in multiple ways. You can sketch in characters quickly by getting readers used to identifying them with their theme.
It’s important to discover why readers might care about your protagonist and what they fear/dislike about your antagonist. Without resorting to trite, stock characters out of books and movies, what does this suggest to you. What actions/traits make a character lovable? What actions/traits make a character despicable? As you think of this, you might begin to see what they look like, what they might do (good or bad) and the kinds of friends they have.
Rushing the story ruins the story. Rushing character development tends to create either flat stereotypes or too many details. As your story unfolds during the first draft, I think you will “see” your characters more and more clearly in your mind. You can always go back and add detail earlier in the story if you need it. You don’t need to know everything about every character when you start writing.
I like the idea of discovering a story as I write. This doesn’t work for the people who insist upon an outline. But as the story unfolds, the characters become clear. Now I can go back and fill in the details and make them more three-dimensional.
In many stories, the plot defines the kinds of characters you need. The more you follow the plot, the more you see who’s in it.
Jock Stewart Strikes Back by Malcolm R. Campbell –Now Available Audio, Print and All Ebook Editions!
Jock Stewart Strikes Back
by Malcolm E. Campbell
Since modern-day journalism is going to hell in a hand basket and/or nowhere fast, Jock Stewart strikes back by categorizing news events as satirical, outlandish, strange or political. Nonetheless, according to informed sources, the use of this volume as a journalism textbook has not been authorized anywhere the world is right as rain.
The fictional news stories and “Night Beat” editorial columns in this collection began as posts on the “Morning Satirical News” weblog and subsequently appeared in the Worst of Jock Stewart and/or the “Jock Talks” series of e-books. Jock Talks…Politics was a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee.
Stewart, who served diligently as the protagonist in Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, refutes charges that he was raised by alligators or hyenas. When he was a young boy, his dear old daddy said, “Jock, everyone but you and me is scum and I’m not sure about you.”
That proverb opened Jock’s eyes to the realities of the world, primarily that everything is worse than it seems: the small-town newspaper, the Star-Gazer, is allegedly run by fools and buffoons; the Junction City, Texas, government is allegedly corrupt and inept.
Jock Stewart Strikes Back is narrated and produced by Barry Newman, Florida. Barry’s career in media and journalism, including voice work in radio and TV commercials, lends a unique ‘Jock-ness’ to the production, and we look forward to working with him again in the future.
“One of the best things about folklore and fairy tales is that the best fantasy is what you find right around the corner, in this world. That’s where the old stuff came from.” — Terri Windling
For American audiences, the most famous fairy tales, including those brought to the screen by Disney and others, all came from somewhere else. Such is the power of books and film.
Of course, once upon a time, the more famous stories we know were once local yarns from real places. In fact, many places got their names from something that once happened there with people who were well known at the time. To those who knew the origin of the name, a river or forest or mountain pass was more than water, trees and rocks. It was all that, plus what happened–and, what might happen again.
Almost all places have stories associated with them. You can find some of the more notorious and/or most interesting by running Google searches with such phrases as “Florida ghost stories,” “Glacier Park legends,” and “Illinois haunted places.” The people who live in a town or county often grow up hearing multiple versions of these stories along with others that never get into books, newspapers or websites.
We tell stories to each other almost every day. Sometimes, this is pure gossip. At other times, it’s neighborhood news with a bit of opinion thrown into it.
Storytelling is a very natural pastime even without a front porch or a campfire. We share the good, the bad and the ugly with each other. When that which we’re sharing is larger than life, or stranger than normal, it begins turning into a legend associated with the place where we live.
As a writer of contemporary fantasy, I always love weaving local ghost stories and legends into my work. For one thing, those stories are just as much a part of a place as are the rivers, mountains and towns. Also, they have a lot of flavor in them whether it’s pure local color or an amusing or frightening tale that could have happened anywhere.
Our stories are stronger, I think, when we consider the legends and tall tales connected to a place as part of our research. Almost every town has a haunted house, cemetery, or lover’s lane. If you live there, you know about it already. If you don’t, it’s not too hard to track down through ghost hunter and haunted websites.
Plus, for those of us who love blurring the line between fiction and reality, ghost stories about the places where we’ve set our short stories and novels add a nice touch of mystery.