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Posts tagged ‘writing’

Smothered by Others’ Expectations

Many children, teens, and adults go through life with little or no support from anyone including parents, teachers, spouses,  and friends. This lack is often the theme of TV shows and novels: we see a person who’s been through hard times finally getting a little support from somebody else and finally believing in themselves enough to try.

The flip side of that record can also be a problem. Some kids’ families–through tradition and/or grades and/or the results of various tests–are overtly expected to do great things. That scenario can be better than one in which everyone expects you to fail. However, it can also become a burden.

As a teenager and a young man, I was always expected to become a writer, partly because my father was a writer and partly because I had shown some early inclinations in that direction. Life–as people often say–got in the way. So, I ignored my writing many times because I was tired of being pushed and I was tired of being asked about it.

It got to the point where–had I just survived some hideous accident–somebody would say, “Well, in spite of that, I hope you’re keeping up with your writing.”

“Hell no, I’m not.”

As a former college teacher, literacy volunteer, and writing mentor, I still don’t know where the line is between too little support and too much support. So, more often than not, I remain silent in day-to-day life about writing because I really don’t know what to say. The support I received was damaging, representing a constant pressure to have a manuscript accepted by a magazine or book publisher, to win a contest, or to put together a winning column in a magazine or newspaper.

The constant pressure to perform brought me to the point where I ignored or sabotaged my own goals. I never want to bring another person to that point. My daughter was an excellent documentary editor, then gave up her career to raise a family. I said nothing, for I didn’t feel the right to second guess her choices the way so many adults second-guessed my choices. She has a great family and has done some great volunteer work. I’m proud of her for that.

It’s hard to stay carefully silent when one’s children and one’s students go out into the world. I want them to know that I’m here if they need me, but that I’m not here to smother them with my expectations. I hope they will be happy and successful because that’s what I always wanted people to hope for me when I was young and rebellious and uncertain about the future.

Malcolm

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‘I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)’

That’s my favorite song title, an oldie but a goodie that premiered in Duke Ellington’s Jump for Joy review in 1941. While the review never made it to Broadway, this song (which is jazz) was sung by dozens of singers.

Those of you who’ve read any of the novels in my Florida Folk Magic series, know that I’m partial to the blues. Jazz was a close second, followed by folk songs and a smattering of country music. Rock usually didn’t speak my language.

In yesterday’s post (Rainy Day Memories), I wrote about the kinds of events that add fuel to an author’s work over and over. We often write a story or a poem because we got it bad and that ain’t good. When an author’s feeling the blues (and great jazz), s/he’s connected to himself/herself at a deep level and assuming s/he’s not drunk, can often write some very good stuff. The emotion and power are there, and they fuel the story even if the story has nothing to do with the song the author is listening to.

Rainy day memories work that way, too. We replay them again and again. They may never appear in a story as they happened, but–happy or sad–they are the power that connects us to what our characters are feeling and living through. The memories in my previous post have snuck into many of my stories. When we return to such memories, we return for a reason, I think. As Dr. Phil might say, they were often defining moments. So they have power. So they’re something within us we still need to figure out, perhaps solve or get past. Our fiction helps us to that.

As an author, I often hope that when “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good,” that my fiction or nonfiction finds people who are feeling that way and helps them get past it–or, at least, understand it. You’ve probably heard stories out of Hollywood where child actors were told their dog had died in order to get them to shed real tears for the scenes they were about to film. I don’t think most authors need to conjure up the worst that’s even happened to them in order to write. When we connect with the characters as “real people,” we feel what they feel.

Nonetheless, rainy day memories often help us get to that point whether we feel like we got it bad or we feel like jumping for joy.

Malcolm

In addition to magical realism and contemporary fantasy, Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released satirical mystery “Special Investigative Reporter.”

 

Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery 

Metaphors, similes, and creative imagery can be useful, creative tools for relaying emotion. In case you don’t remember, a metaphor, according to Reedsy, is “a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two, unlike things. It does this by stating that Thing A is Thing B.” A simile compares things, usually with as or like.

Filmmakers carefully construct image systems similar to how writers use motifs in fiction: with color, placement, sound, or emblematic imagery. They are used to subtly manipulate the emotional state of the viewer.

This is clip art and not a photo of Jane, Lakin, or me.

Take the time to add these skills to your writer’s toolbox because they will help you become an emotional master.

Source: Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery | Jane Friedman

I have a strong bias against the term “wordsmithing” because it’s often used to imply that a writer is like a mechanic who simply tunes up a story or an article that needs help–like there’s no art in the process. Nonetheless, this post from Jane Friedman’s site has some good ideas for those of us who are constantly trying to improve our stories, essays, and articles.

This post includes a fair number of examples that show just how “creative imagery” is used. C. S. Lakin does a good job with this post, one that veterans and emerging writers alike can read for fresh inspiration.

I find that these how-to posts remind me of techniques I learned a long time ago but haven’t actively thought about for years. They’re kind of a jump start.

Malcolm

 

 

How honest should a writer be?

A relatively well-known writer on my Facebook friends list shares a daily journal-style entry about her writing life. It includes new books accepted, poems written, meetings with publishers, and rejections received.

When I first noticed her mention of rejections, I wondered how somebody so widely known ever received rejections. The fact that she acknowledges this, gives hope for the rest of us. On the other hand, the gurus of writing and promotion tell us to always be positive. That is, we’re told not to mention projects that fail, manuscripts that are rejected, or problems with publishers or publicity plans. Negatives in any of these areas are said to turn off prospective readers.

The author I’m referring to has more books than I can count in print and a very wide following. So, she can break the guru’s rule. Plus, she’s never nasty about things that don’t work out. That’s a plus, I think.

I wonder how often famous writers send off a manuscript via their agents and get a “sorry, not our cup of tea” response. If they do, we never hear about it. I suppose the gurus would say that if we did hear about it, it would sound more like a failure than an honest look at how the writing business works.

Authors have work-day problems like everybody else, but if we mention them, we’re accused of having a sour grapes attitude. Professionals are expected to move on to the next project and not worry (much less rant) about the projects that don’t come together. I guess I can see that. Yet, I still respect my widely known Facebook friend who reports both rejections and acceptances.

I hoped to get a short story into the last issue of Glimmer Train, a well-respected fiction magazine that is ceasing publication at the end of this year. No dice. They didn’t like it. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps I should have spent more time with the story or placed a different focus on it. One never knows. Author’s usually don’t get a critique when a magazine doesn’t like a submission.

Those rejections are practice, though. I dislike sites that provide writing prompts because I see no reason to write a story that is simply practice. If I write it, I want to spend enough time on it to make it worth submitting. Sometimes these stories don’t sell. But, I’ve been told not to speak about it because (supposedly) it chips away at my platform as a writer. Is this good or bad? I really don’t know. When I think of bestselling authors, I know that most of them don’t have blogs that discuss the books they submitted that the publisher rejected. So, maybe the rest of us shouldn’t dwell on that either.

How often do you see a headline such as LATEST JAMES PATTERSON NOVEL REJECTED BY GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING? You never see those kinds of headlines. Does this mean everything Patterson submits is accepted? I don’t have a clue.

So, as aspiring, emerging, and small-press authors, we’re told to be positive every step of the way. If we’re not, we’re told we’ll look like amateurs or writers not worthy of a second look by prospective readers. Do you see authors this way? Must we be perfect or ignored? There’s so much competition out there, most of us feel a lot of pressure to appear perfect even though we know we’re far from it.

The gurus tell us we don’t have the luxury of telling the truth about the business of writing. Well, I don’t care. Who you know is more important than how well you write. That’s where it’s at because publishing is seldom fair.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good editor will help you get rid of your pet phrases

I’m not sure where pet phrases begin, but almost every novel I’ve written has ended up with the overuse of some phrase or word choice that my editors and I try to find and remove before publication.

Now some pet phrases help define a character. One character might typically say, “you got that right” and another might say “goodness gracious.” As long as they aren’t saying these things on every page, these phrases help define them.

However, things get out of hand if all the characters in your stories and novels are saying, “you got that right.” What are the odds that would ever happen? Some authors become aware of the fact they are using a phrase way too often before they finish the first draft, while others don’t notice it until they’re in the editing process.

If I suspect I’m using a phrase over and over, I search for that phrase in my Word Document to see if it shows up too often. When it does, I go through the manuscript and get rid of it.

I thought of this today while reading a mainstream novel by a popular author. When the police or FBI investigators informed a character of some fact or event, the characters often respond with “did she?” While such a response could equally be a favorite of one character, it can’t possibly fit all the characters in the book. So, the phrase stands out because it has been overused as a response in the story. A good editor should have caught this.

I notice it because “did she” and “did she really” are phrases that I’ve seen in U. K. novels and films of another era and seem a bit out of place when they appear over and over in an American novel. The phrase, as far as I know, is not part of a fad in this country. If it were, you could use it more often, though it would–of course–date the novel.

It has always amazed me how often I can use what I think is a fresh and creative way of saying something, only to find out that I’ve used it twenty times already in the manuscript.

–Malcolm

 

Too many darned doctors’ appointments

Some authors can write while on a sinking ship or as bombs fall outside their windows. I’m not that kind of person.

No, things aren’t quite that bad–other than too much rain and grass too high to mow–but the things that are happening and are disruptive enough to make it difficult to write.

Sure, at my age (and my wife’s age) one should expect more doctors’ appointments. They fill up the calendar sometimes and often get scheduled on top of each other by offices that unilaterally select appointment times, send out an e-mail, and don’t worry about the fact their appointment conflicts with something already on the calendar.

Where one fears they’ll end up.

To some extent, many these appointments have to do with teeth that must be cleaned by a hygienist, old eyes that need prescriptions, and hearing problems that need magical hearing aids. Then there’s the usual sciatica and arthritis.

My wife was in several car wrecks (not her fault) some years ago, and the lack of compensation by the perpetrators’ insurance companies then leads to long term problems. The laws keep getting tighter, so that means more appointments so the doctor can say s/he saw us and can keep writing the same prescription one or the other of us has needed for years.

Several years ago, I had cancer surgery. It was a success. No chemo or radiation follow-up was needed. Today I learned that I might be facing something like that again. I’m pissed off about it because some test results last fall weren’t the best, but I was led to believe a wait-and-see approach was best. Now the test results are worse. So, that means more doctors’ appointments and worries.

I’m not a big fan of doctors, hospitals, regulations about the hoops one has to go through to get medications, and all that. I think “they” sense that my trust is always guarded. They think I should kowtow to them and I won’t do it. Yet, I wish I could hypnotize myself to move ahead normally until the next appointment without dwelling on all the possibilities that could occur after the new test results.

At least I could get some writing done rather than letting my imagination run wild about all the worst scenarios.

Malcolm

 

National Poetry Month

“National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

“Thank you for joining in the celebration by listing your events and attending other events in your community, displaying this year’s poster, participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day, recommending the Dear Poet project to a young person, signing up to read a Poem-a-Day, and checking out 30 more ways to celebrate.

Source: National Poetry Month | Academy of American Poets

A time to celebrate for those who write poetry, read poetry, or simply find the existence of poetry makes for a better world.

–Malcolm

Having fun with my research

Now that I’ve finally promised my publisher a new novel and floated the general premise past her (she liked it), it’s time to do some research.

Typical poster used to get the public to do their own knitting and donate a lot of it to the cause.

Like the Florida Folk Magic Stories, this novel will be set in the Florida Panhandle, so I already know the area. This is one of the benefits of writing a series, or doing a standalone novel that uses the series as a starting point: you have a lot of location information on file that wasn’t used in the previous novels.

Since my main character is a bag lady in 1955, I’ve been looking at clothing manufactured during the 1940s. Needless to say, a bag lady isn’t going to be wearing the latest thing from Paris or even from Sears Roebuck. There’s a lot of material available about 1940s women’s clothing inasmuch as it was greatly influenced by rationing and shortages.  A lot of people were mending old clothes, making do with fewer fabric selections, and knitting socks for the troops (and themselves).  So, I think I know what my bag lady’s going to wear.

While the novel isn’t historical, I want the cultural references to be right. So, what was happening in Florida in 1955? I already know that the KKK was strong in those years. And I know that educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune died in 1955 in Daytona Beach. My bag lady would know that because even though 1955 is part of the Jim Crow era, the story would be covered by the press.

My bag lady is–for reasons I won’t divulge now–an expert bow hunter. This means checking on the kinds of bows and arrows used by hunters in those days. I had good luck with this. I found information about the most widely known brand of bow at the time along with a selection of arrows.

Now, since this novel starts where the series ends, I have to make sure that I don’t contradict anything that happened in the series. So, I’m researching my own stuff to make sure there aren’t any continuity problems. For example, if a bad guy was killed in the series, I don’t want him showing up in the new book fit as a fiddle. By the way, “fit as a fiddle” is the kind of thing my bag lady would say–checking the slang of an era is part of the process. I’m surprised at the number of TV series that have characters from years ago using modern slang such as “whoa!” (meaning “wow!”) and other phrases that nobody said twenty or thirty years ago.

When Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) and I were both in an ancient CompuServe literary forum, we found that we had one thing in common that a lot of writers weren’t understanding. The research has an impact on the story the writer is about to tell because it tips him/her off to things s/he didn’t know and is responsible for altering the plot of a novel in ways the writer wouldn’t have considered before the research phase began.

I didn’t care for research projects in school–often for the purpose of writing “themes” as they were called in those days–but I enjoy them now. I once read that writers like Nora Roberts have a staff that includes researchers. While there are times when I wish I could pick up the phone and ask an assistant a question and get an immediate answer, I feel much more in touch with my characters and my story when I have to look up all the stuff myself.

Malcolm

 

There is nothing that’s not God

“In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.” – Wikipedia

Yes, I believe everything has consciousness from the tree behind my house, to the hummingbird sitting in the tree, to the rocks lying at the base of the tree. Nothing else makes sense to me. Long before I heard the Huna phrase “there is nothing that is not God,” I saw the view outside my window as “God’s thoughts.”

Rather than focus here on a philosophical discussion for which nobody that I know of can prove one way or the other, I’ll just say that my view of the world has played hell (figuratively speaking) with the placement of my books and stories into one genre or another.

So, I tend to say that I write magical realism because that covers just about everything I want to do without having to argue about whether or not a thinking rock is a fantasy or realism. I consider thinking rocks to be real, but the publisher usually doesn’t. But magical realism, well, that’s another kettle of fish, isn’t it? I believe the landscape is, in fact, magical. So, if I place my books in the magical realism genre, I can say what realism won’t allow me to say.

Someday down the road, all of us will probably have to re-define what’s real and what isn’t real. As of now, in spite of what Quantum physics is telling us, we’re still trapped in a nuts and bolts version of reality insofar as publishers, governments, and news organizations are concerned. Basically, saying that I write magical realism has kept me out of the asylum because people who think trees are conscious are usually placed on the shortlist for shock treatments and straight jackets.

Since I think we create our own reality, it’s natural for my characters to have the same belief. My beliefs about this are quite literal. Most people see the matter as figurative, having more to do with attitudes about what’s happening rather than causing what’s happening. Here’s the good news. If I say all this in a story, I’m not picked up by the Feds and put in a home. Call it my artistic license.

I say what I’m writing is true. Publishers and most of my readers think it’s fantasy or magic. I’m okay with that because I know that once a reader reads it, s/he can’t unread it (so to speak). There will always be that nagging idea in readers’ minds that just maybe the stuff is real. Yes, it is. But there’s no rush to believe it. One day you will.

Malcolm

 

 

Siobhan, cá bhfuil tú?

I’m searching for my muse. She’s a Scot, so I’m saying in Gaelic, “where are you?” If you’re not Scottish, I should tell you that that name “Siobhan” is pronounced “Shihvon,” not “See ohb han.”

Having gotten that out of the way, if you see a potentially drunk muse wandering through your neighborhood, tell her to come home and help me get started with a new story. Ever since sending the last short story out to a magazine, I haven’t come up with anything.

One reason I need a new story is because I need money. Siobhan taught me to drink the most expensive brands of single malt Scotch out there, but when I’m broke, all I can afford is swill. That’s like being stuck with Bourbon which I don’t like at all unless it’s hidden in a mixed drink.

Frankly, if a writer doesn’t have a badass muse, he’s pretty much out of business, a hopeless drunk who wakes up in bordellos and/or jail cells and wonders how he got there. Writing is more dangerous than most people think. Not writing is either more dangerous. Trust me on this because without Siobhan’s help, I have no way to explain it.

Siobhan lives in Hawai’i and sends me story ideas via telepathy because (obviously) I don’t have enough dough to travel to Oahu. Plus, if I told my wife I was traveling to Oahu to meet a woman, her reaction probably wouldn’t me all that great. “Wouldn’t a sat phone be cheaper than a plane ticket?” she would ask. “But it’s for literature,” I would protest.

“Hah!”

So there it is.

If you see Siobhan on the beach at Kailua, tell her to give me a call. My fans are calling me every day screaming for new stories and they’re turning to James Patterson and Tom Clancy (even though he’s dead) in desperation.

–Malcolm