clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Harry's Old Cousin, Wart

Tonight : archetypes.

I wanted to write for a little about a book that was very influential for me a long time ago. It was also very influential to J. K. Rowling and her well-known series.

T.H. White wrote The Once and Future King which was published in '58 but was composed nearly twenty-years before.

It is the Arthurian tales "re-imagined" by White. Dog, how I hate the word "re-imagined." Let's face it: it means ripped off in an un-credited fashion.  Maybe that's a little rough. I've got a pinched nerve from tension and travel beds and I'm a little brittle tonight.

Nevertheless, this work is the Arthurian tales through a different lens. I regret the language does not hold-up to our modern standard of tight writing in fiction. It is a good read nonetheless with a little indulgence.

When you read it, you'll see the book is divided into four distinct series of tales with the over-arching themes and conflicts common throughout the book. Sound familiar to you Potter fans?  Wart (Arthur) and Merlin are clearly reflected in H.P and Dumbledore.

Oh - mind you I am not suggesting here that Ms. Rowling "re-imagined" the Arthurian tales in any of the negative light I painted that word above. In fact, there is a graceful deftness to her use of Wart and Merlin as archetypes in part for H.P. and Dumbledore to the extent that their transformation could encompass quite a lot of serious study.

Rowling found the family silver in this T.H. White tale, polished it up, added gold gilding,  and put out a product accessible to a modern audience.  Here tale is different. Her writing is tighter. Her grace at lifting some of the best parts of these two characters for display was deftly executed. Nevertheless, this "source material" for you Potter fans is worth a read.

The book is important to me for between it and the tales of Rosemary Sutcliff  (Warrior Scarlet especially), I learned what Twain was trying to show me: books with children as protagonists do not have to be books for children.

Now, this seems a very simple lesson, doesn't it?

I read some Twain every year and have since I was eight. I consider it a duty to read this American writer as much as I consider it a pleasure. I don't like Twain's prose very much anymore. He's Churchill to me without the pleasing round parts. [ I like reading Churchill. We're both a bit too enamored with our own words and thus there is a kinship].

Nevertheless, from when I started writing for pleasure to when I took a bend towards a more serious pursuit I missed this point. I didn't like characters who were children because I believed it denied a sense of seriousness in my writing and - worse - I though it limited my ability to express what I wanted to express.

Sometimes we learn by being taught. Sometimes we learn in other ways and have scars to remind us. The latter was the case with illustrative children as protagonists for me.

It was the reflection on the enjoyment of The Once and Future King which made me see how wrong I was in my perspective. Flannery O'Connor  tried to show me as well but I was put off by my own rose-colored world-view [ which I had no Earthly business holding given my family and history].

If you miss something Twain is trying to tell you, you're going to miss it from a lot of other people too.

T.H. White made me see I was wrong. J.K. Rowling didn't need nearly as much study to see the example clearly.  She went to the head of the class on this point. I spent a bit of time in the back of the room eating paste.

Read a little of the The Once and Future King and get the taste of Elmer's out of your mouth. T.H White was a fan of Voltaire and Candide. It all comes around and Dr. Pangloss says it's the best of all possible worlds just where we are right now.

You know what Voltaire says?  God is a comedian at whom we are hesitant to laugh.

I hope you're writing. I know you're reading widely. Slip this one onto your list. It's worth the effort.

I'll write again on Tuesday. Thanks Geno for finding this copy for me. It made my holidays - thanks to you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shameful Acts, and Bogmail

Confessional time, again.

I have a library in that I have a room in my house for books. I intended to augment its storage. I got rid of some terrible bookcases last November with the intent of getting new lovely models.

I packed up a great pile of books and shuttled them down to a storage room below me.

At left you see I am continuing to purchase books. I am indeed storing them unshelved because I have yet to buy the new bookcases. Sigh.

I am overrun with books. Nearly. I'm ashamed.

That wasn't the confession.

I want to write tonight about a special book. It's a stolen book. That's part of what makes it special. I stole it by way of borrowing it and never getting it back to the owner. Many of us have done this (and thus have a no loans policy for our own books).

Worse, I stole it from a mentor. It's a little piece of him and I cannot bear to part with it. He knows I've had it for decades. We've talked about over the years.

I haven't seen him for over fifteen years. He got me on this path.

The book: Bogmail by Patrick McGinley. I've included a link to the dreaded Amazon here.

It's a great tale of murder and guilt in a small town in Ireland which happens to be very much like the small town in Ireland I know and the very small town in Western Kansas which I know all too well.

This is a book that showed me that my environment and my experience can be something special and not ordinary and dull. When you are very young and writing, everything you know seems so ordinary and dull. Andy loaned me this book and I knew right then that I would have stories that I'd want to tell. It has taken  bit for the perspective to set in about those stories; but, it is indeed due to this fabulous tale of murder and the complications of a peat bog.

Let's look at the opening lines:

Roarty was making an omelette with the mushrooms Eamonn Eales had collected in Davy Long's park that morning. They were good mushrooms, medium sized and delicately succulent, just right for a special omelette, an omelette surprise. He had chosen the best mushrooms for his own omelette; the one he was making for Eales was special because it contained not only mushrooms from Davy Long's park but also a handful of obnoxious, black-gilled toadstools which he himself had picked on the dunghill behind the byre.

Lovely. We know our protagonist, the antagonist (for now), the setting, the action (murder by fungi), the the delicate aroma of hatred at being told that the mushrooms were succulent and the toadstools came from a dungheap. Maybe that isn't hate, but it sure isn't the love of Jesus.

I recommend this book because it is a well written murder and place is such an important consideration throughout.

Now, the last confession.

I've had trouble with a story. I've thought and re-written and nearly let it beat me up until I've come to the germ of the tale: toast. Ordinary conventional toast.

My protagonist wants things to be ordinary and conventional and the only thing in her whole life which resembles ordinary and normal is the toast she makes for breakfast every morning.

I have to take the toast from her, now. I feel like a bastard for doing it but one must suffer for art. My protagonist is about to suffer the burnt crumbs of disappointment. Right there at the beginning: burnt toast.

Off to write about it. I got to this point only because I invoked forbidden food. If I got the story off on the right foot again and ran this draft to ground: brownies. They are definitely on the forbidden food list and their aroma now fills the house.

I'm off to write. I hope you are too. Give Bogmail a try. It's a good read for the wicked.

Thanks for stopping by. I'll write again on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There's a Catch

How do you know the dog likes his new bed? He sits in it with his old bed firmly in his jaws.

He's moved on to the new but he hasn't left the best of the old parts behind. We should all edit like this.

Tonight, Joseph Heller and Catch 22. I would imagine there is a crowd of you who haven't read this one. It's wonderful in its absurdist dystopia of war.

The crux of the novel revolves around bomber pilots in WW II who want out. The mission requirement keeps climbing and their odds of survival keep falling. They've done their bit for king and country and want out.

A way out is insanity. Go crazy, go home. Easy enough. The title refers to a little logic issue. If you want out, you are sane and thus should fly more missions. It's a catch. In fact, it is catch #22.

If you want to fly more missions, you're crazy and should be sent home. However, there is a war on. You stand a very good chance of flying those missions and getting killed before the doctors decide you're crazy and send you home.

It's a great novel about living inside a system of the absurd.

Let's look at the opening lines. I love openings.

It was love at first sight.
The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
Yossarian was being hospitalized with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Lovely. Here we have the gist of the novel after these short words. We know the protagonist. We know things are off balance (in love with the chaplain). We know the institutional quandary we'll face throughout the novel. We really don't know we'll face it throughout the novel.Trust me: we will.

We don't know why Yossarian loves the chaplain. We don't know his role yet. We're not sure of our bearings. We feel some of the confusion of the characters in the novel.

Note that while we feel confusion, we're not wacked-out completely bonkers. We understand a chaplain and know a man - because men are referred to most often by their last names - is in love with him. We know liver and hospital and the conditions involving the two are clearly explained.

We're still out of our depth but we know where the side of the pool is clearly enough.

Things are rarely laid out in life like tax code. We don't have all the rules. With tax code, if we have the rules we have a chance to figure them out even if we don't yet know their meaning. In the novel, the characters live and thus do not have all the bearings or all the rules. They probably should not be able to figure things out because most of us never do in life itself.

Characters drift. We forget that when writing - at least I do. I sometimes forget my characters do not know as much as the author or the reader. It makes things better when we keep these points in mind and Heller does so throughout Catch 22.

Do NOT see the movie. It is perhaps one of the worst film adaptations ever attempted. I love Buck Henry; but, this one didn't go well.

Now, in the prior post I share an opening. I think it misses introducing the protagonist and setting our direction. Oh, we imply from the dead Alice that we're afoot to solve a crime. Maybe. Maybe not. Nevertheless, we're left knowing no living soul and I think that is weak.

Let's try this one as a revision:

Alice Hauberer sprawled amidst the sweetness of a white clover meadow ready for the prairie haying. The electric man stopped at her power pole to pull the juice for a chronic unpaid bill. He saw the house standing open and no one around. He called it in.
She was a good-looking thirty-seven years old and dead. No one was looking for her in the three weeks she lay in the field.
Alice ruined three marriages counting the Methodist minister's and planted larkspur in the motor-grader ditch to kill stray cattle. Some things were just not done in Paradise, Kansas.

I like this better but it is messy. There's work to do.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Very Good Place to Start

With the eye on the new purpose here at J Welling, we turn to books.

I want to just comment on the past several months of posts briefly: thank-you, indulgent readers. Thank-you.

As Maria says in that horrendous story of a happy family The Sound of Music: "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start."

I'm a Tolstoy guy, myself. I'd rather the unhappy family story. I also like stories with horses whose nostril's flair like Anna's; but, that's just me. Tolstoy must have been a fun drunk.

The beginning: some text. The Gnashkycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.
B is for Basil assaulted by bears.
C is for Clara who wasted away.

And thus the alphabet in one-sentence vignettes begins.

I am increasingly drawn to concise openings where I as a reader am provided with the elements I need to appreciate the first 100 or so pages. That is, I want to read the first 100 or so pages because of the writing and the information in the first few paragraphs. I had a discussion with some critique partners yesterday who really helped clarify this for me. ( Isn't that really what critique partners do ? They clarify our muddled view of things? Thank DOG for critique partners).

There is an older post in this blog here about John LeCarre and an opening in the novel Our Kind of Traitor. The first paragraph really ties the reader to the story.

I am trying to employ this technique in a short story I am revising for submission. I have been fumbling the hook and opening for most a year now and thus have decided: I will be a three sentence fellow (until and editor tells me to "stop it you daft bastard").

What do we see above in the three sentences? We know the alphabet? Is there a story here? Of course.

There is a lovely story that our characters are imperiled by forces beyond their control. No one "plans" on falling down stairs. Wasting away is not an ordinary demise. Bears? Why is a child in a position to be assaulted by bears?

There is something amiss here and the sinister nature of "it" happening to "them" is the compulsion. If I excise all the lovely graphics (and they are lovely) and merely rely on the text, you'd feel compelled to read the whole alphabet because the unspoken character - the agent of death - is particularly interesting for the creative harm he's visiting on the children. Yes, he's hurting children and you read on and on.

I'll try an on-the-fly opening here for a yet unwritten story and solicit your input. There's something missing. I'm wondering if you see the same missing bit I do in our consideration of compulsion from opening.

In the still of a late-August dusk, Alice lay dead amidst the sweetness of a white clover meadow ready for the prairie haying. No one was looking for her; though many would have suspected her demise. She had ruined two marriages so far and planted larkspur in her motor-grader ditch to kill stray cattle who might happen upon it and feed. Some things just were not done in Paradise, Kansas.
Murder was not however one of those things.

I hope you're writing. I know you're reading. I had snow again yesterday falling on the foxhound during his morning walk. He's getting tired of it and so am I.

Back on Tuesday. Thanks for the time.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Not on Facebook

My new daughter-in-law asked me last summer why I wasn't on facebook. She's Swedish, very social, and very much the target audience for social media.
I told her I was an e-hermit. It was less insulting than suggesting that the details of her daily life she'd share with me on Facebook were items for which I was not the target audience.  That is however the truth. I'm not the target audience for happy cat pictures, your religious beliefs, your political views, animals you wish I wouldn't skin,cook and eat, or your children. [ Hope I don't confuse the last two].

What is it I am going to write about on this blog knowing I have the e-hermit outlook? 

The above is a question that I have been contemplating for some time. I recognize the value in presenting some type of platform which speaks to the common interests of my writing. I'd like to know more about some of my favorite authors. I might be inclined to buy other books if I had insight into the author's perspective.

"What am I?" at the core, I ask. I mean this in the way of a writer, of course.

After some contemplation, I've come to it.

I am a fellow who likes books.

I like books and dogs more than 99% of all the people I've ever met.

Books are the best part of a writer. They contain the ideas and concepts from another mind frozen in text.

So, I'm going to talk about books here from now on. It's what I like. I think it is what you like.

We'll agree more on books than anything else in the world.

I lost a girlfriend over books once. She didn't think fiction added anything to life and I didn't think I could be with anyone who thought that. Of course, there was more to it than that. She didn't understand the concept of scarcity. I didn't understand illusion.  Irony there somewhere.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dragging the Lake

I've been a little hesitant lately. I'm nine pages into a re-write of thirty or so pages, and I'm now at Thursday when I should have finished on Tuesday.

I haven't been filing my nails as in Elvis' fine song at left. I have however been dragging the lake.

I've churned up a few bodies in the next couple of stories I'm going to re-write. I don't have a killer in sight in either of them. The murder is a vehicle but it isn't the story. They're not mysteries.

How about that? A dead person is just a sidelight. I've gotten pretty jaded to get that far. I guess it started that way.

I went to Nemechek's trial when I was young. (here). I'd run all over Castle Rocks where he dumped one of the bodies. When I was there, it was just fun.

 It was my first murder trial. The prosecution covered the state and condition of the murders while I was there. It was very enlightening which is to say in junior high I was rather detached from the whole affair.

I was always taken that he let the three year-old freeze to death. I guess the kid didn't mean anything to him. That facet was how I could be detached: this guy had reasons for his actions and they weren't reasons I was going to understand.

I've tried to apply that to despots I've seen. It didn't work at all. I understood exactly what they were doing. I'm going to take a couple of these overlords, shine them up, and make them sympathetic characters. Wish me luck.

After you feed a couple political rivals to crocodiles kept in the big fountain behind the Presidential Palace, it's a bit of work for me to put enough shine on you to make you a sympathetic character. I'm up for the challenge.

I'm dragging the lake looking for bodies. What sort of fellow does Idi Amin have to kill for you to think he might be on your side once and a while? Pedophile? Madman? Serial Rapist? Crooked Judge? A relative?  What if the fellow was a district director for an NGO and siphoned off supplies on the black market to pay bribes for protection of his child-smuggling ring?  Surely, we could have him eaten by hyenas. Well, as long as he was ugly. Wouldn't be nice to feed a handsome Swede to anything.

Ah - perspective.

You can kill anybody and make the killer sympathetic. Michael Corleone was a great protagonist. He just had to kill a crooked Police Captain.

I'm taking next week off blogging altogether.

When I return I'll do three days a week: Su, Tu, R.

This little column has done its job. It won't however do anything for the marketing platform. I'll go three days a week until August and then close shop here. It'll be time to recast and rename and focus on the non-observational bits that could be seen as promotional. It's a bit like getting a new skin.

It's all marketing. Just like Wonderbread. Everybody smile. (People....wonderbread is made from people!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Murder by Numbers

We're thinking a lot about potential today. These at left have potential too. They aren't blooming quite yet. Like some of us.

There are a ton of things I look at nearly every week as I puzzle myself though a blurb of dialogue edit or an entry scene.

I'm thinking now not of the number from The Police I used as a title today. I'm thinking of Elvis Costello and "She's filing her nails as they're dragging the lake." "Watching the Detectives" is a favorite of mine.

I wanted to list the reference material on the top of the stack tonight. These are things I've dug through in the last four weeks. These are books I've dug in to find a reference to a memory or a writing technique.

No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy.

Our Kind of Traitor, John LeCarre.

Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut.

The Ugliest House in the World, Peter Ho Davies.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Finca Vigia Edition, Ernest Hemingway.

The Assistant Murderer, Dashiell Hammett.

Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction, Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.

No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups and Critique. Victoria A. Hudson.

Revision and Self-Editing for Publication,  James Scott Bell.

Elements of Fiction Writing: Beginnings, Middles and Ends, Nancy Kress.

The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing, E.H edited by Larry Phillips.

Writing Fiction for All You're Worth, James Scott Bell.

The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells, Ben Bova.

On Writing, Stephen King.

I only dug around in King's book for a piece about his desk and his yellow pads. I couldn't find it in 30 seconds so abandoned the search. I know it was in there but it didn't really matter.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What to Do , What to Do

Flowers at left. That's the biggest effort around here thus far. It isn't spring, yet.

I had a piece written to post that answered a couple bitch sessions today about the industry to which we aspire to be in.

I withdrew the post.

Better not to argue with a pig. You cannot win and it annoys the pig.

Here's my new position: writing is hard, the pay sucks, and if you make enough to have dinner out you've beaten the odds.

I should say I eat pretty well and yes, I suspect I have had a dinner tab bigger than some of your advances. I've not had a five figure dinner, yet. You've got me there.

There are easier avocations.  If "hardship" isn't on your list, take up gardening instead.

If you're thinking it can be a vocation, you need to start drinking more right away. You'll need a pink elephant to keep that delusion company.

Writing works for a few. The first dis-qualifier is thinking that you're in that few.

It is the only thing that scratches that itch once you get it, though. It feels heroin good.

 I'd do it for free if they'd let me. Luckily, that's the expected rate. More than that is bonus.

It is a fun group of people to know, though. Crazy - sure, some of 'em. Fun, though.

Monday, April 8, 2013

No Country

I should be writing.

I got a wild hare up my ass late last night. I wanted to look at how McCarthy handled the internal dialog of some his characters in No Country for Old Men again thinking I might be able to pull off the same thing (I cannot).

Anyway - the problem with using McCarthy as a writing reference is you get pulled right back into the god damned thing. Your time slips into dawn as you read his words instead of thinking of your own, and you are stuck.

It's morning. You've read all night, again. Worse, you read a book you've read three times before, and one of those was after the movie came out.

I meet Cormac I might have to kick his ass just for writing too god damned well and for eating my time all to hell. That's something one of his characters might say.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rattlesnake in the Mailbox

Photo at left from Clinton and Charles Robertson (snake from Texas, Robertsons from near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, U.K).

I'm from part of the world where life is harsh. It's a country you've heard of called Hobbs.

I knew a fellow who was a local troublemaker. He became a lot less so after someone cut the rattle off a snake and put it in his mailbox one fine June day.

I asked my uncle about it and got a very succinct lesson on the predator / prey relationship.

If you cannot stop it, you're going to have to endure it. 

I also learned a very important caveat: it's simpler to kill a wolf than to teach him not to eat the sheep.

I'm thinking of characters today and their desire for approval. There isn't enough to go around. They have to claw for the share of emotional gratification they desire. Some characters are gluttons and have no threshold of satisfaction. Some have simple needs but cannot see even these small rice bowls filled.

I want to see the claw marks of my characters striving for emotional gratification right there on the page.  I believe in literary fiction. I believe these are the sorts of motivations that should be visible to my reader even if the motivation is unrecognized by my characters.

I have some work to do to master this type of writing. I must master transgression for an emotional purpose.

Example [ corny illustrative example] :

My character wants the gratification of acknowledgement that he is the world's greatest evil overlord. He's an insecure overlord from the childhood issues with his overlord mother who would insinuate at breakfast that "he'd never be the ruler of the world. He sniveled too much."

He'll stop at nothing - nothing - to achieve his goal. The irony is that his machinations alienate the very individuals whose admiration would most contribute to his goal. He kills his rivals and thus is left to be measured as the pack leader not by the other wolves but by the sheep to whom any wolf is a representation of fear and repression. One wolf is as bad as another, as it were. No degree of "wolfness" to a sheep.  What do you expect? They are sheep.

His victory is Pyrrhic. He's left as the lone wolf subject to the subversive mockery of the victimized sheep who know that when he dies, there will never be another wolf.

There will however be plenty of contented sheep who grow old never knowing wolf-fear.

I'd give the sheep foot-and-mouth for good measure, but you get the point. I'd have to add a Plum to the story just for old friends. (Plum Island: a vacation hotspot for the mad scientists I love).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Not the Lone Ranger

 AT left, from 1881 a train in snow. Minnesota.

I'm not in Minnesota, but I had snow this morning. Flakes fell and melted on the foxhound's back as we walked. Not quite so many as in this picture, thankfully.

Today was a great day of collaboration. I met with a couple of writers in the morning and got some important advice to solve a problem that's been on my mind.

I met with another writer this afternoon and received some great insight into how someone else approaches the work. I saw some GREAT outlines. I saw the sort of outlines that your can read ten years later and pick the story right up where you left off. For a fellow like me who can bounce around a bit, that was very impressive.

The lesson? Everything I learned today will go into the current WIP selection. No one tells you that a great deal of your writing will be the product of much collaborative input; but, it is.

You don't package a sacrosanct manuscript and deliver it to the editor. Oh, you try. You want to. You won't.

Beta readers, your critique partners, other writers, your agent and your editor are all going to leave big footprints all over the page. One name goes on the author line but a whole parade of contributors will go into the acknowledgement section.

If you are the sort who wants to do it on your own, go find another avocation. Try surfing, for example.

 The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Makes the whole "Lone" bit sound stupid now, doesn't it? You'll have people too.

Collaboration is the train running through this station.

Mind the snow. It isn't spring yet. My snow stakes are still in place. I'm not falling for sunny afternoons, yet.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Back in the Saddle

It's roundup time here on the ranch, little cowpokes. We're back in the saddle and driving those doggies to market.

A little of this week's notes at left. I'm in the edits deeper and deeper. Something from Macbeth keeps coming to mind.

Today I am ridding myself of those dreaded Being verbs. When I am tired, they slip in. I go to the tell instead of the show and these things just sneak in like field mice after the first frost. So, out they go. Edit, edit, edit.

I can tell my state of being when I wrote these. I had a cold. The prose is heavy, ponderously so. Nothing that cannot be cured.

I hope your edits go well. I hope your cows go to market and set the price. Here's to being us: better than being anything else in the whole world.

Mind the mid-listers in the doldrums. They bite.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Industry and Springtime and You

It's springtime. The flowers are sprouting. Frogs are peeping. I have a new grill. It's a little hard to cook on so far, but; I'll get to that shortly. The nice box on top is the grill cover.

SO, spring. Where does that leave us?

Surprise, Amazon dominates the market creating a universal discount and price club warehouse. Booksellers are floundering. Ebooks might be resold without new royalties to you, and publishing houses are going to pay mid-list writers in root vegetables come winter.

Here's the clue for those getting an English Lit degree instead of taking econometrics: books don't compete against books.

Books compete against entertainment choices many of which are viewed as free. Thus, the book has significant downward price pressure.

Here's the deal. The consumer pays a fixed price for a lot of their entertainment: cable, Amaflicks, Spotdora (possibly), iTunes (credit, the purchase is transparent until the bill comes), angry walruses - the app, the internet, music videos, cat videos, blogs, and cat video blogs.

There is a Noble Prize out there floating about for the knowledge that a transaction with a fixed cost for unlimited time-based use is viewed as free ... well. It's free for non-economists. That's not quite true but you don't want the math.

So, you ace writers sell entertainment. There's a lot of other entertainment out there that is animated and presented (meaning no effort or thought required to participate) whereas your product requires considerable effort and time (Lots of Time for you Fantasy big-assed-book writers) and memory to carry all of those text developments of intrigue and plot. Your entertainment is a lot of work.

People are fat lazy consumptive squandering meat bags. That's your paying audience.

I'd bet your last book has something similar in the marketplace right now.

Oh, maybe not books. Did you have a sultry blond seduce a killer to off her husband? Great plot. Love it. I might have to watch Body Heat for free. Oh - hurt soldier home from the war caught in crime intrigue?  (Murder She Wrote, "Track of a Soldier", 1996).

You compete against every leisure activity including golf. You're going to have to do more than give me a body, a murderer and a detective. You're going to have to do more than sew the victims into a human centipede, skin them and make a suit, eat them, burn them, torture them with the the hot oil for tempura, or just even drop them in the lake.

You could have a detective who likes pie and a lady who carries a log, but that too is now free to me. (Twin Peaks).

It's not enough.

You must sell what has not been sold to make anyone want to buy your product. Oh, you can have a few devoted and unadventurous souls find your product because it was like another. That is however a small audience. You have to give me what I cannot find elsewhere.

Want that big sale? That paying career? Want that book deal that allows you to live on text ?

Give me - John Q. Public - what I cannot get elsewhere. I'll give you money for it.

Eleven foot blue aliens I'd try to take home after three martini's? I pay for that. Rather, I already have. Can't use that one again. It's in my Amaflix queue.

Take me on the emotional safari to the land I've never been. Let me know what it is to be a thirteen-year old girl from a gator-farm family stuck in a swamp with my bird-man rapist and I'll put you on the Pulitzer short-list. (Swamplandia!).

It isn't the plot, the killer, the cheater, the lover, or the disappointed wife. It is the comprehensive emotional journey on the page that pays rewards time after time. I don't get that emotion from a car chase or a PSY video or even the "dick in a box" Lonely Island SNL guys. I don't get it from the "is he in there with a gun or not?" crime scene rehash.

I sure don't get it from Deadliest Catch reruns - except where Sig reminds me of Tom Waits.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

IWSG: Every Day in Every Way

Tonight's post is part of the Insecure Writers' Support Group (Alex has it belonging to a single writer, but I think now it is a group property!).  You can find the link to other insecure writers here.

The point being that we insecure writers toil alone late into the night in laundry rooms and converted closets. There is little feedback of meaning until we have invested the lifetime of a small rodent in the process at which time we hold out our work to selected special friends (and by this, I mean other writers and NOT family ) and say HERE!

Sometimes we receive the help we need. Sometimes not. Then the work goes out. Then the work comes back again all too soon with ego crushing consequence.

But, we're good at writing ! We do it well. We also know the difference between the usage of good and well.

  • There was the letter to Santa in second grade that was published in the paper!
  • Then, there was the high school newspaper. Good review of the AC/DC concert there.
  • Maybe, we had a story in a "Young Writers of the Purple Sage" anthology in college. It probably didn't impress the girls, though.

Now ? Now the work comes back?

Re-inflate the ego. Use scotch-laden breath if you must.

You - as a writer - get better with everything you write. You might not observe it; but, it is true.

When you become serious about your writing you change. Your construction has that weather eye following every stroke and letter. You consider your word choice. You wonder about the describing something your character sees as interesting versus having her walk over and examine it from three inches away as ozone exhaust tickles her nose.

Insecure writers do get better and I'm going to share a little of that with you now from a contemporary writer whose earliest and latest works I have in my hands. I read the opening of his latest work last night and understood what it is to throw a pen so hard it sticks into the wall. Think: "A blonde to make a Bishop kick out a stained glass window."

Let's look at the opening from one of his earliest works: a novella from 1961. Then we'll look at the opening from his latest novel from 2009. We're just looking at the first three lines.

Anybody can write three lines, right? How bloody hard can that be? I know you're thinking this exercise is useless right now. Stop it. You're learning here. Open the brain and look. It will make you feel better. I promise. 

John Le Carre, "Call for the Dead," from 1961. This is the introduction of Le Carre's character George Smiley later a minor character in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and as a major character in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary. When she left him two years later in favor of a Cuban motor racing driver, she announced enigmatically that if she hadn't left him then, she never could have done; and Viscount Sawley made a special journey to his club to observe that the cat was out of the bag.
This remark, which enjoyed a brief season as a mot, can only be understood by those who knew Smiley.

Not too bad, is it? That first line with "astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary"  certainly holds a lot of information for us. Even if we haven't got any Mayfair friends, we know what they are because they are titled (and so is Lady Ann); they are astonished; and we know Ann's opinion of George as "breathtakingly ordinary" instead of just ordinary. There is a lot of there, there. (Wave to Gertrude).

That was the 1961 bit. We'll now jump to 2009 and Our Kind of Traitor.

At seven o'clock of a Caribbean morning, on the island of Antigua, one Peregrine Makepiece, otherwise known as Perry, an all-round amateur athlete of distinction and until recently tutor in English literature at a distinguished Oxford college, played three sets of tennis against a muscular, stiff-backed, bald, brown-eyed Russian man of dignified bearing  in his middle fifties called Dima. How this match came about was quickly the subject of intense examination by British agents professionally disposed against the workings of chance. Yet the events leading up to it were on Perry's side blameless.

Wow. We have 30 and maybe 100 pages of seed here in this trio. Until recently at Oxford. A young man playing tennis with a much older man whose trappings were not of a minor personage. We know names. We know English and Russian. We know British agents and by the tone we know they come from the Russian interest side of the house and not for Perry. We also sense the sinister because the events were blameless...for Perry. Only for Perry tells us a lot about the other fellow and our "workings of chance" being disallowed. Lastly, because of the introduction, we know Perry is the principal character of at least this first section. We see things happening to him.

I'd say the 1961 introduction would be fine for most of us. We'd be glad to have it and move along. Dated? It's probably too traveled for our current submission requirements. It works, however.

The 2009 piece is just a schooling. It's a sixty word sentence that most of us should not try as a lead without a net. The whole paragraph moves us forward with damn near everything we could want in a set-up of a spy thriller.

I'd say the writing has gotten better.

Yours will get better, too. Every day, in every way --  autosuggestion aside.

I've got to go get my pen out of the wall.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Les Fleurs du Mal

Charles Baudelaire (1821 - 67) wrote The Flowers of Evil. French majors drool all over it. I tried to drool all over some French majors with mixed results.

It seemed a good time to mention foul blooms for these at left are the first of the season for me. For scale, they're an inch high.

Snow squalls tonight. Just some "spring snow." I still have my snow stakes in and won't take them out until tax day. The fire is going. The wind is blowing. I'm contemplating a return to hibernation.

I had to write however and say I've finished an edit that has been dragging on. I now need to stitch a new beginning onto the piece before putting it back on ice. I will write no fewer than three sentences toward that effort when I finish here. I might only write the three, but I'll write something.

The flower theme is because a friend has a new book coming out. I'm very much looking forward to attending one of her signings. I don't often have people I know with new books. I know a lot of writers but there are only one or two books a year from the lot of them. It's a great deal of work.

SO, I'm asking everyone to run to the local bookseller and ask for a copy of The Begonia Bribe from Alyse Carlson ( aka watery tart over on the right hand side). You local will order it and someone will see how wonderful the premise is and then ... it becomes a staff pick. Murder surrounding a Little Miss Begonia Pageant?  Of course!

A lovely blurb is here.

We know these blooms, these flowers of evil. We love them all the more for their foul intent. We like the things most which are bad for us, like French majors.