Friday, July 31, 2009
If I could have dinner with three people, living or dead, for the purpose of discussing my upcoming MFA degree at Seton Hill, I would choose Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, and DH Lawrence. I’d like to meet Sylvia Plath, because I’m basing my thesis project on her poem, “The Thin People.” Many literary critics have conjectured about the meaning of the poem. Is it about women who want to be fashionably thin? Is it about television and media making our attention span short and thin? Or is it possibly about the people who were in interment camps in Nazi Germany? I would love to hear her interpretation of that poem (if she would care to tell me). I’d also like to meet the person behind the strong, gloomy and beautiful poems and short stories she wrote. I’d be curious to meet someone who, fifty years after her suicide, still has books and articles written about her life. Perhaps I’d like to reach out and help her to not commit suicide, tell her that if she hangs in there, things will get better.
Her command of language is an inspiration to me. And from her experience at Cambridge, Plath would know about the value of education. Plath was her own doppelganger: the society deb in evening gown and pearls who smiles out at us from those long-ago dinner party photos, and the bipolar, macabre surrealist who (shortly before her death by suicide) wrote the darkly beautiful book of poems, Ariel. I’d like to know what inspired her and what advice she would have for me.
While I was in grammar school, Ray Bradbury’s writing made me realize that magic exists. I’ll forever remember stories of a time machine safari, an April witch who inhabited the body of a young girl one fine spring night so she could experience the pleasures of love, a race of people who live for only ten days. He inspired me to write my first stories, which were at that time science fiction. Now everything I write is an attempt to capture the sinister enchantment I first felt in reading his stories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could make my readers feel the same way? He transported me to other worlds and not just in physical location, but to a land of limitless possibilities.
Bradbury’s advice about developing a literary career would be invaluable to me. In his book, The Zen of Writing, he tells us that we have to do everything with excitement, do everything because we love it, to write about things that we either love or hate, grab the intensity and use it in our writing.
My third guest would be DH Lawrence because of the beauty of his prose. At an early age, his writing inspired me to love literature. What in his life caused him to have the outlook that love is everything? What inspired him to write Lady Chatterly’s Lover? What makes his writing so smooth and beautiful? To be able to evoke such emotion in the readers is my goal. I admire the intensity of Sons and Lovers, and I aspire to that level of emotional authenticity. Parts of his books are gritty and detail the lives of such persons as miners in the early 1900’s. He explores the every day emotional cruelty that people inflict on each other. The deep point of view he has of these characters is no doubt due to the area in which he grew up, but he writes about lords and ladies and lowly gamekeepers with the same sense of reality. I’d like to hear about what he encountered during his writing career, what he learned, what he would do differently.
Lastly, it would be interesting to see how they would interact at dinner? Would they all be reticent writers who don’t say much? Would one person dominate the conversation? Would Sylvia arrive in a shirtwaist dress and pearls? I think what they have in common is that writing wasn’t cerebral for any of them; it was a visceral experience that they all felt very deeply. I’d like to understand how they were all able to write with such power and passion.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
This is a review of a book I truly love and think others would appreciate, too.
I’m always drawn to stories about parallel dimensions, and for that reason, The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas really caught my attention. Though the book is categorized as mainstream literary, it very much has science fiction and fantasy elements. This mind-meld of physics, metaphysics and literature is one of the few books lately that I’ve read obsessively to the end.
The voice of the narrator, Ariel Manto, grabbed me right away. She is a thirty-something Ph.D. student with a dysfunctional family background and a penchant for kinky, self-destructive sex. She loves obscure literature and philosophy and is doing graduate work on a little-known author named Thomas E. Lumas. As luck would have it, one rainy day she runs across a book of his, The End of Mr.Y, which is supposedly cursed. Ariel snatches it up using her expense money for the entire month and holes up to read the Victorian-era missive in her seedy cold-water flat. Though she is fearful of the curse that promises death to anyone who reads the book, she very much relishes the danger. Thomas does a wonderful job of letting the quirky and witty Ariel gradually unfold for us as the story progresses.
Ariel has already proven that she has an addictive personality with her chain smoking and sexual compulsions, so, naturally when the book tells her how to enter an alternate dimension called the Troposphere, she jumps at the chance and right away becomes completely addicted to it, much to detriment of her life and physical body.
Through the Troposphere, Ariel is able to enter into the minds of other people and animals. During her first time in that parallel universe, she enters into the mind of a mouse that is caught in a trap beneath her kitchen sink. She gets in touch with its anguish and suffering and on her return to her normal dimension, immediately finds it under her sink and releases it into the wild. After that, she has quite a bit of empathy for the suffering of animals, which figures into the resolution of the plot later on.
Complications arise when she begins to be followed by a couple of CIA agents who intend to use the Troposphere for their own evil purposes, which will end up with the enslavement of mankind. Since Ariel knows about it, she’s a dead duck. Her love interest, a celibate ex-priest, who is the opposite of what you’d expect for the kinky Ariel, helps her out in her endeavors. The odd ending is anything but predictable.
I found Ariel’s theories about the origin and workings of the Troposphere fascinating, but I’m kind of an alternate-reality geek, so others might find it a bit tedious. In this book, the alternate reality functions very much like a video-game with a console that comes up at crucial decision times, but one could surmise that the alternate reality somehow speaks to each person in a way he/she can personally understand.
Thomas has a wonderful way with language. Some of my favorite quotes from the book are: "… the sky is the color of sad weddings." And as a book lover I could relate to this quote: "Real life is regularly running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. Real life is physical. Give me books instead: Give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book; I'd give anything for that."
The End of Mr. Y is truly imaginative and weaves interesting theory in with the narrative. This is a smart book that completely engages the emotions, senses and intellect. It is definitely one of my favorite books of the past few years.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Some helpful rules for better writing:
1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)
6. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
7. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
8. Be more or less specific.
9. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
10. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
11. No sentence fragments.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Don't use no double negatives.
16. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
18. The passive voice is to be ignored.
19. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
20. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
21. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
22. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=3065 (accessed July 14, 2009)
Monday, July 13, 2009
The first was a small one--that I could write a story with a thriller aspect despite the fact that I don't really read thrillers or mysteries in general. Will it be easy? I imagine some aspects will be and others will be quite difficult. That is a challenge I want to take on and I will succeed.
My next realization makes sense but a part of me is crying a little inside. My beloved hero is going to have to be my creeper stalker guy. I would love to make him the love interest but he makes much more sense as a potential killer...now to figure out if he is too obvious as the threat.
My first day on my trip and I've been productive....not in pages, but in thought. Okay, so it's not as good as actual page count, but it's a start. Cut me some slack. I've been up since 3 am. I also discovered a few other things about my other characters and decided writing this book set in Minneapolis wouldn't be so bad after all. All in all, I'm pleased with my progress. Tomorrow, you can expect a page count.
PS: I'm about 8 hours from DC. If someone would be willing to let me crash in their hotel room I would be willing to make the drive.....
Edits done, cover spec sheet finished, last run-through on a pdf version of your manuscript and a jpeg of your cover art. Yes, it looks fantastic. Then silence and you wait.
One day, you find a box by your front door and when you open it, you discover paperback versions of your manuscript, complete with the awesome cover art you had very little to do with. You open a copy and sniff the pages (yes, you do, you know you do) because somehow, after all this time, you can't believe you're holding your manuscript in book form. It's real. You flip through the book, recognizing those great phrases, those cool scenes, the wickedly fun characters. This is your baby come into reality.
There's part of the set-up. I've left out all the promotion and marketing you've done so that a million people know your book is available.
This past Saturday, I was at Sherlock's Books & Cafe's Craft and Musicfest (down in Galloway, NJ (20 minutes outside Atlantic City)), selling my two books, not unlike many fairs and cons where I've sold my book. As is customary, someone walks by, sees me, sees the book, and asks if I wrote it. I said yes and they made a comment about how impressive it is that I've got two published books when they didn't think they could even write one. They bought the book, I signed it and off they went.
There are more times than not, when I forget how incredible writers are, myself included. Here are people with the perseverance to not only sit down and write a book (or short story or novella), but to go back and edit it (again and again), then to submit it for someone else to see in hopes of publishing it so many more people will see it.
Because I love storytelling (my chosen method is the novel), it comes easy to me. Yes, writing can be laborious if you consider it work and not playing in your passion, but the end result, the moment we hold that finished manuscript and realize "I did this", we know it was all worth it. I know for some, writing is difficult, and at times, it is for me. There is so much to remember, both in the technical aspect of writing and also the craft. Characters, plot, tension, dialog...so many elements.
But all that stuff is for the revision process. The first draft for me, is pure fun. Watching the world come into being, watching characters become more than words on a page, watching places that don't exist become real...can you have more fun than that and still be legal? You have to be able to allow yourself a crappy first draft so that you can get it all down. I know, some will edit as they go, but for me, that path loses the spontaneity of creation. Also, I've known people who edit to death and never get beyond chapter one.
But I digress. It's easy for me to lose track of myself. I work full time, I'm married, with a house, a lawn, two cats, and all the things that make up being an "adult" in 21st Century America. So the writer part of me can get shoved aside without a second thought. But when I'm at a fair or a con selling my book or just talking writing with my fellow writers, that writer part is front and center and there's nothing more exhilarating than me saying to someone "Hey, take a look, I made this" and them holding my creation in their hands and saying, "Sure, I will" and they give me money, I give them a signature and off they go.
Now go write. There are a million stories waiting to be told.
Peace,Gary . . .
P.S.: Even more exhilarating than the sale? Having a reader write me and tell me that they loved the book, or, as one reader told me, he has mild dyslexia and hasn't enjoyed reading until he picked up my book and he couldn't wait to start on the next one.
A: I can't tell whether you mean "change a light bulb" or "have sex in a light bulb." Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?
Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one. But first they have to rewire the entire building.
Q: How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!
Q: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?
Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.
Q: How many marketing directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It isn't too late to make this neon instead, is it?
Q: How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.
Q: How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: But why do we have to CHANGE it?
Q: How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.
Q: How many booksellers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one, and they'll be glad to do it too, except no one shipped them any.
Q: How many agents does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: We're sorry to say your bulb doesn't meet our needs at this time.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I'm always interested to hear how and why people publish the way they do. Ask your published friends and tell them to stop over with their answers.
Gary . . .
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
According to Thesaurus.com, these are all synonyms for SUPPORT.
Since returning to my everyday routine, I've been thinking more and more about a writer's support structure and I've been wondering about the challenges each writer faces. I can speak to my own issues with consistency and drive, my seemingly (but improving) lack of support from friends and family and what I do to combat those issues. And I will speak to them.
To my fellow bloggers and our small and growing readership, I ask for advice or for you to commiserate with me on this topic. What kind of support structure do you have when it comes to writing? How does it affect your writing or your drive to write?
For the past week, I've been waging a battle with my husband. He wants me to succeed as a writer, but (I don't think) doesn't understand what I need from him. I want to be clear; I'm not using him as an excuse for not getting my pages completed--that is entirely on me. I would, however, appreciate a little understanding that life cannot go on as it has the last four years. Since graduating I have not completed a single work of fiction. Not one. I have not written a short story, I have not finished a novel, I haven't written a single sentence that has contributed to a story arc that has come to any sort of conclusion. This is my opportunity to change it. I am recharged with purpose--a purpose that is slowly being siphoned away from me every day.
I've considered support structure as both an excuse and a reason. Do I use his lack of enthusiasm for my “calling” as an excuse to let it slide away? I have a social life, a full-time job, a pet, a husband, a family—I have demands on my life. When it is easier to not write than to write, is it fair to say that all or none of these are more important than this dream of mine? Shouldn’t I be making every effort to make this dream come true even if it is at the expense of all things listed above? If I am struggling with understanding the balance, is it fair for me to expect my husband to know where the line has been drawn?
So what is support structure? I guess it depends on the person you’re looking at to shoulder your writing burden. For my husband, I would hope he’d take a look around and think, “What can I do to enable my wife to write?” This burden is large, I do admit. My expectations for him range from helping me clean the house so I don’t look at it and think, “I need to clean the toilet, we have guests coming over” or “ I can’t think much less write when I have dog hair tumbleweeds rolling across my living room floor”. And I’m not even mentioning the dishes or laundry. I know he wishes for my success but doesn’t see his role in all this.
Are they excuses? Without a doubt. My specific needs require these excuses to be taken away and I’ve been asking for help. Asking and asking with no results. Even a regularly loaded Caribou card and a push out the door would be beneficial. But then, I can’t even get him to read a simple page long blog post. Can you hear the violins swelling in sympathy?
What about the secondary support—friends and other family members? They should be your biggest fans, right? Hmmm. I spend my free time, mostly, with a certain “type” of individual. What these people are or are not is not as important as the fact that they are not readers. I don’t think someone needs to be a writer to understand writing, however, I believe a person needs to at least be a reader to “get it”. Though my family reads, they aren’t readers—with exception of my sister and maybe my mom when she has time. And most of my friends don’t read. They know HOW to read, but they don’t do it.
Impressions are everything, are they not? I have always been under the impression that my parents and sister view my writing as something new I’m just trying out because I’m bored—as a hobby (I hate that word). Actually, they regard the visual arts I produce with more respect. Whenever I talk about writing around them, they seem bored and I feel like a two year old who just did something precious and received a pat on the head for my efforts. They mean well, they mean to be supportive and maybe it's a lack on my part. I'm not getting what I need and I don't know how to communicate that to them.
I have experienced similar reactions from friends. I guess I’m more forgiving of their bored attitude because they aren’t my family. They choose to spend time in my company and while they should care about what makes you tick and what you’re passionate about…sometimes they only want to hang out with someone they kind of like. And I understand that. Of course I’m speaking of the majority. I do of course have friends who read often and discuss books and writing with me. I do have friends who write—okay, one friend—and it has helped.
Will my expensive writing education will only be rationalized when I become a published author? Will the general disinterest in my writing from those around me make me less inclined to share my success with them? Well, yes. It already has. Is this a problem from a marketing standpoint? Absolutely. If I don't share, how can I get those guaranteed sales when I do get published? Why should I only be allowed to share the wins but not the struggle or the losses? Is this a greater example of American competitiveness as a whole or simply my personal experience?
One last paragraph rife with questions to wrap up this rant of mine. What is the solution to creating a support structure? If telling isn’t enough—and it never is in any context—how do you show would-be supporters what you need from them? Or how do you find the motivation despite them? What keeps the keyboard clicking? How DO you keep going without your own personal cheer squad in your corner?
I don’t know the answers.
In the end, I know there is only one person responsible for getting it done. That’s me. This year is my year to prove to myself I can do it and to hell with everyone who pats me on the head. But I do long for something better than this.
Thank you for reading my rant.
Monday, July 6, 2009
What makes more sense is that too many people have come to believe they can't be successful because other people have told them so. This is not to suggest that if we ignore all those naysayers and wish hard enough, we'll make tons of money and our names will be on the tips of everyone's tongues without doing the work and putting ourselves in places to be successful. It's more than that.
All through our lives, we hear other people's beliefs about everything. Some we reject outright, while other beliefs we take a look at and try on. If they fit, we may keep them, or we may discover after a while that they're just smoke and mirrors and we get rid of them. When we take other people's beliefs and agree with them, they become part of our subconscious, our habitual mind. Years of repeating other's beliefs change us to be different people than who we would've been had we rejected those beliefs. One day we wake up and discover we're a patchwork of other people's desires, beliefs, and laws. What happened to the us we used to know?
We're still there under all that mental and emotional debris. We start clearing everyone else's laws and beliefs out of our heads and hearts and discover our authenticity, who we truly are, who we were meant to be. We catch glimpses of our truths, buried under all the thoughts we've created to solidify other's beliefs. Keep digging and don't stop.
It is not impossible to change what we believe about ourselves and life. It is simple, but not easy. Those other thoughts (driven by the ego) will keep trying to re-insinuate themselves into our minds, try to keep us from being authentic, try to tell us we can't succeed at our deepest dreams and desires because They told us we can't.
I have come to believe in my own success. Why not? If I don't, who will? I hear the naysayers chanting their beliefs and beating their drums of fear, but I realize that they speak only for themselves and not for everyone. I cannot change them, nor should I try, nor do I tell them the mystic truth: Success is yours if you want it bad enough. They need to find out on their own or, sadly, maybe they never will. But in the meantime, I have new beliefs to live by.
Again, this isn't some magic trick or wishful prayer. I write, I believe, I create situations to reach my goal, I act as if my dreams are a reality already, and let the Universe take care of the rest. If it is meant to be, it will.
I'll let you in on a little secret: Back in June I wrote a check and post-dated it for Christmas 2009. I'll let you know what happens.
Gary . . .
Sunday, July 5, 2009
One of the reasons I am continuing my graduate studies in writing popular fiction is to satisfy the creative urge and intellectual curiosity within myself. The dinner guests must also be people who would appreciate hearing about this undertaking, who would understand and possibly even challenge my ideas and ambitions. The possibilities are endless
I considered Jesus, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the whole "water into wine" thing. But this seems like an obvious choice, and might be judged unimaginative by my peers. Plus, it makes the rest of the choices much more awkward. Who deserves to be at a dinner with Jesus, and yet won't pick a fight with him? And how do I go about steering him toward my educational career for our dinner conversation?
From a creative standpoint, a master artist such as Jackson Pollock might be good. I think we could talk about deconstruction, defying traditional forms, and blazing your own path. At the same time, he was known for being a loose cannon. I don't want my dinner marred by an unexpected scene.
Of course, as a writer you'd always like to talk to those who influenced you the most. I study martial arts, and the belt ranking system denotes "one who comes before." As soon as you are higher than a white belt, you are a teacher to those who are lower in the ranking system than you are. As a writer, my primary literary influence--the "black belt," if you will--was Stephen King.
Again, I face my own indecisiveness here. Sure, Stephen King is my all time favorite writer. But what about Stephen Dobyns, whose novel The Wrestler's Cruel Study combines philosophy, pro wrestling, and humor into a perfect reading mix? What about Frank McCourt, or Faulkner, or Salinger, or Hemingway? Heck, what about Don Pendleton, whose Mack Bolan series filled my teens with such bloody action joy?
And what about judgment from my peers, since writing is so subjective and there are so many divergent opinions on who is the greatest? What if people ridiculed me because I didn't pick Shakespeare, or Chaucer?
Even more dangerous, what if I found out that my heroes had clay feet? What if Edgar Allen Poe were an insufferable bore, a socially awkward nerd who couldn't carry on a conversation with a drink coaster? What if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to seduce my wife, or Jane Austen collapsed in a hysterical mess in the corner and dessert was cold before we could eat? What if they told me to give up my dreams, or turned out to be racists, misogynists, or worse?
So, I had a list of those I could not invite, due to my own peculiar idiosyncrasies, even though they would be interesting people who would appreciate my pursuit of more writing education. But who could I invite, given that I want a predictable and entertaining party, where we can talk about writing and education but not get too serious or have the night drone on for five or six unendurable hours?
Then it hit me, as I stared at my collection of videos and DVDs. There are three people who enjoy creativity, humor, and entertainment. These are all an integral part of popular fiction, and contribute to my desire to continue learning more about the craft of writing. I also know, based on such short films as Three Sappy People and An Ache in Every Stake, that these three can really liven up a stuffy dinner. So, the three people I would invite to discuss my education are Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Shemp Howard--better known as the Three Stooges. They took their craft, but not themselves, seriously. We could talk writing until it got boring, and then we'd wing some cheesecakes at each other. What could be better?
If I were able to invite these three to dinner, we'd have much to discuss. First and foremost, I would thank them each for their individual contributions to my academic career path.
Margaret Callaghan was the author of the first romance book I fell in love with. It was titled Substitute Husband. I read this book when I was 16 years old, working part time at a nursing home. Before this time, I never knew the world of pure romance novels existed. These books became an obsession for me, and since then, I've devoured thousands of them.
After college, when I was looking at graduate schools and came across Seton Hill University's program in Writing Popular Fiction (WPF), I was thrilled to see that I could specialize in romance fiction. It seemed almost too good to be true that I could get a master's degree focused on the genre I loved. If it had not been for that one book by Callaghan, I would not have been able to connect with the program that encourages my love of and practice in the romance genre.
Julia Quinn serves a similar role as Margaret Callaghan does. Currently, Quinn is my favorite author. I've read almost all of her books (her current book, What Happens in London, is on my reading pile). She writes Regency romance with humor and wit, and I am aspiring to make my current work as intelligent and amusing as hers. My dream is to one day be printed by her publisher, Avon. I would enjoy telling her about the WPF program and my goals for it, and then hearing her thoughts about the program and my career.
Finally, before I could even thank Margaret Callaghan or Julia Quinn, I would need to thank the third dinner guest, Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. Because of him, the publishing industry is what it is today. All writers owe him for our modern ability to mass produce books.
I would like Gutenberg to see what his invention had done, how it has affected everyone in the world. From the mass production of the Bible, to the rapid distribution of category romance novels, people the world over have benefited from the ability to quickly acquire printed text.
These three people have shaped the way my world revolves around the printed word. Gutenberg has given me the printed word, Callaghan introduced me to a loved genre and Quinn created a type of writing that I would love to emulate. To be able to thank them and share with them about my academic plans would be the gift of a lifetime. No, wait. They've already given me the gift of a lifetime – and I will use it in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
We've heard a lot about marketing ourselves before we're published. Many people point to such websites at Kelly St. John's (http://www.kellystjohn.com/TheCall.cfm), which was super popular before she was published. Is this something with which we should concern ourselves? Should I try to get as many hits on my website as possible? Thoughts?
Off to celebrate the 4th... Hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday.