A Personal Writing Note on Future Projects

Now that life have settled down (somewhat) I am starting to turn my attention to a new writing project.making decisions for writing is sometimes difficult, but necessary

I’m debating which direction to explore. I think another novel is the right way to go. Novels work harder than short stories in the long run. But with Haxan coming out in May from CZP/HarperCollins I have to keep in mind some basic marketing stuff.

It would benefit me to get a short story or two out there before the novel launches to help generate interest.

I haven’t written anything new since November of last year. A lot of personal things have happened, and in the face of that I haven’t felt writing was a top priority when I had so much else to deal with.

Sometimes a writer has to force himself to write whether he wants or not. I think that’s the situation I am in now. I know it will help me both professionally and therapeutically.

Of course, knowing you have to do something is different from actually doing it. But I need to try and focus on what’s coming up despite any personal turbulence that goes on around me.

 

 

Advertisements

The Writing Log Jam is Finally Breaking Apart

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough on the short story I’m working on. It’s called “Remember Me in the Halls of Valhalla”. I started this story at writer-smoking-pipe.jpgthe last WorldCon in San Antonio.

I knew if I thought about it long enough, and talked to a couple of writers and bounced some ideas, something would come to me. I think I see a way out. I like the direction that is starting to take shape in my mind for this story. I’m kind of eager to see how it will all turn out, assuming I sit myself down and actually write it.. I’ve also had a helpful idea or two regarding the hobo novel which I put aside. I am hoping these log jams are starting to break up and I can start producing work again.

In other writing news I heard from CZP and sent them some marketing stuff for the upcoming Haxan novel which will be published next year. I had a good time working on that because it got me to thinking about the novel again, which I haven’t done much lately. I have  a tendency to put a story behind me completely when I’m finished with it because my whole process is “Start writing the next one.”

Everything else being equal (which it never is) I’m okay with where my writing is at the moment. I’d really like to finish this particular short story, though, because I want to find something else to work on.

Short stories are fine in the interim. But I want a bigger project to occupy my time.

Noticing the Four Elements of Wicca

Since I have started turning my attention toward Wicca for reasons I set down in this earlier post, I have become increasingly aware of certain things around me.

In Wicca the elements, Earth, Air, Wind and Fire play an important role. Not surprisingly, I have become more aware of their influence and existence.

When I am walking outside I notice the wind moving through the tops of the trees. How it feels against my face. I notice the rain and listen to the sound it makes dripping off the roof. How the ground feels beneath my feet, what it smells like. The shape of fire in the pit and how it gyrates.

Earth is my body

Water is my blood

Air is my breath

and Fire is my spirit.

Now of course I have always seen these things before and noticed them. You can’t help but get stuck in the rain and not notice that. Or be hit by a hurricane or whatever. But I guess what I am trying to say here is because I am sort of focused on trying to understand Wicca I am more aware of these things than previously. I didn’t need Wicca to help me find this connection to Nature. It’s just a way that helped me focus, I guess is what I am trying to say.

So anyway it’s been pretty cool. And as a writer it really does help me to see these things around me in a different light, so to speak.

As I mentioned earlier I have been doing a lot of research. I learned there is a facet of Wicca called Seax Wicca that does use the Norse Gods. I looked into it but I still think a solitary, eclectic path will fit me best. I have decided, however, to seek out some other Wiccan groups in the area later and perhaps contact them. They have little meetings and get to know you lunches and whatever every week and if nothing else it will help me (force me) to be more social. Which is something I always struggle with. (Just ask my writing buddy!)

So that catches you up on everything Wicca this week. As for my writing I have to finish the short story and really search around for a new project to work on. I may return to the hobo novel or go in another direction. I haven’t written a good hard SF story in a long time, I might think about that.

I leave you with Earth, Wind and Fire. We will take Water on account.      )O(

 

My New Path into Norse Wicca

Freya is one of the gods I will use in my journey through Nordic Wiccan.Many years past a couple of friends and I were talking about religion. What we liked, what we didn’t like. I said then, “If I had not been born a Catholic I would have followed Wicca.”

I never forgot that. To be honest, I never realized at the time what being born, or not being born Catholic, had to do with following any religion for any reason.

But there were parts of Wicca I always liked. Its close relation to nature. Ritual. Reflection. Seeking wisdom. Acknowledging the old ways and the old gods. Forming and shaping parts and elements of the belief to fit your own worldview. A very personal and eclectic system to be built, if that’s what you wanted.

Over the years I wondered if that was what I wanted. I remain unsure to some degree. But I have decided to follow Wicca for a calender year (loosely, Samhain to Samhain) and delve into it and learn.

My reason for this is twofold. One, just by learning more about this cannot but help me with my fiction. I write a lot of dark fantasy. I have never been well-steeped in some facets of that world. Knowing more about it, learning more about it, can only help me as a writer if I continue to write.

And I will continue to write.

Second, I honestly do like the nature aspect of this. Helping me connect more to nature can only be a positive thing. Anyone who follows my blog or knows me well knows how much I like camping and getting away and being by myself. I am hoping I can find new synergy Odin is the male god I will worship in my journey through Norse Wicca.here. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t care. It’s the journey that interests me most. As a writer I am always more interested in journey than in endings and beginnings. Seeking wisdom. Looking into yourself. Being alone without being lonely. That has always been who I am.

I’m going to blog about this and I am going to approach it legitimately. Now, I certainly do realize that with my deep background in physics and chemistry and skepticism leavened with an INTJ personality there may be some bumpy roads ahead. That’s all fine. For what writer alive thinks  human life isn’t about conflict? At the core of things, what else is there to write about? What else do we write about?

So I am going to be very honest with myself about all this. I know there are some things I am going to have a hard time accepting. I may never accept any of it. Maybe I won’t like it. Maybe I’ll get tired of it. Maybe the pressures of the every day world will find a way to tear this idea from my consciousness.

I’m all good with that. I’m a writer first. You think I am going to pass up the opportunity for potential story ideas?

I don’t know how much of this I can do, either. I want to be honest about it and approach it openly, but I can’t lie to myself. I doubt I am going to have the time to celebrate the many-fold parts of this. But I will be honest about it, and my intent will be good, so I’ll see where it goes.

So for one calender year I am going to follow Wicca, learn about it, do it, perform it, be honest to it. If I don’t like it I will stop. If I do like it I will keep going. No matter what happens I will blog about it and write about it here, and use all those experiences to broaden my fiction.

Valkyries and gods seeking wisdom. What's not to like in Nordic Wiccan?There are many ways to seek the path. I think the eclectic one, a solitary path, is right for me. I am not interested in covens or anything like that. In Wicca there is often the Lord and Lady you pay homage to plays a prominent role. But you can choose other pantheons. Lots of witches do and that seems to be a path I would like to explore. The Norse gods have always interested me and here’s a way I can delve more deeply into that mythology. To really get at the bones of the myth and immerse myself in it without being fanatical about it all.

That’s why I have decided to go with Odin and Freya. Perhaps Frigg in place of Freya? I’ll have to think about it and do more research. It remains to be seen which one speaks to me the most. Conventional Norse choices, I suppose, but they seem right to me at the moment. Which is not to say I might not turn to Lord and Lady or even other gods like Egyptian, Celtic, Japanese, or what have you. There are a lot to choose from. You can follow whomever you like, who speaks to you, as long as you have good intent. But I think Norse feels right to me in a very deep and personal way. Especially these gods known for wisdom and strength and knowledge and beauty. I like that. I like that a lot.

The eclectic part will work better for me rather some something more structured like, say, Asatru. Although there are parts of Asatru I like as well. Oh, well, I also get to decide if I use a Pentacle, Valknut, or Triquetra on my altar. Not that I have an altar. Gotta make that someday. Fun!

So there you have it. This is what I am going to do. Well, aside from writing. I’m going camping tomorrow in Santa Rosa, NM and later Palo Duro if I’m not too tired. I intend to finish the Haxan story while camping, do a ton of reading and think about this decision at more depth.

While I am out I am going to look for a wand. They say the tools of your altar find you when you are ready. We will see about that.

This is something that has been building in the back of my mind for more than half a decade now. Now I am going to do it and learn what I can and have fun.

So mote it be.

)O(

Looking Beneath the Surface

I have been thinking about the hobo novel.Guess I will have to start this novel over.

If I went forward it would be fine. No one would know differently. It reads fine, the story works…but I am not happy.

And that’s the problem. It’s fine. But I don’t want to compromise, if that makes sense.

I am not satisfied with “good enough to get by” for my own writing. For better or worse I hold myself to a higher standard. I may not reach that goal. But I am not happy with writing the ordinary. I’ve written that already. Formulaic stories no longer interest me. They don’t challenge me in any way and they don’t bring anything new to the field of literature.

I want to write stories that unfold beneath the surface. That’s what I am missing here. I have the top part down pat. I don’t yet know what’s going on beneath the surface. And that’s what I want to understand and write about.

So. What to do. Well, obviously I have to rethink this novel. Like I said, it’s fine the way it is. I don’t think any publisher would say they don’t like it or have any problems for what it currently is, and for what it says. But I don’t like it. So I have to fix it. I have to figure this out. Just takes time.

I always have before.

Meanwhile, I will move on to a different writing project while this one simmers.

My New Story Coming from Frontier Tales, and a Discussion of Character Motivation Revealed by Voice and Style

Frontier Tales has accepted a new Haxan story from me. It will appear in September. Magra Snowberry must get home to find the man she loves. Standing in her way are four horsemen.The title is as yet undecided.

I’m really excited about this story for many reasons. It features Magra Snowberry and tells the story how she tries to get home to the man she loves. Standing in her way are four peculiar horsemen, and a ferryman who tries to help her.

I wrote this some months after I finished the Haxan prequel Quaternity. Some of the stylistic language is similar, along with a decidedly literary bent. I did this for a purpose. I no longer write stories only to transcribe action. I now try to write for the ear as well. I write for the voice.

How a story sounds is just as important to me as how it reads. I wasn’t always that way. But I am fully wedded to that philosophical idea today. I think the Rubicon I crossed was with the short story “Fishing the Styx” because in that tale I went far the other direction from a simple retelling of action.

I do this because I have never viewed my role as a fiction writer coupled with that as a stenographer. Right or wrong, I view my role as a writer more important than that. I view fiction as more important than that. Of course, I always try to be careful to avoid pretension. Stories that rely on that dynamic alone always collapse under their own weight. So it’s a balancing process…and one I admit I have yet to master.

But I think I’m getting there.

While I like the story as is, it remains for the reader to decide for himself whether my stylistic choices, and my philosophical choices, work.

I tend to like stories that take chances and I took a few here. I hope you like them.

Magra Snowberry has always been a character who intrigues me in a very different way than, say, Marwood. John Marwood brings his own identity to each and every story. But I have always thought Magra was more malleable. Not in a sense of weakness. Her malleability comes with her innate ability to adapt.

Magra is more philosophically fluid, if that makes sense, than Marwood. Or, perhaps, anyone else around her.

Also, when push comes to shove, she’s as willing to take the long red road of violence to achieve her ends as Marwood. I think the difference between her and Marwood is he sometimes tries to couch his actions within the framework of the law. He’s not always successful.

Magra, on the other hand, isn’t so wedded to thoughts of justice or the arc of law. She’s not more nihilistic than Marwood. She’s more practical.

She’d rather be left alone. But if you keep getting in her way there’s going to be pain involved.

A lot of pain.

It’s very easy to write about Marwood. You always know how he’s going to jump. I don’t necessarily view this as a point of strength. I’ve had characters say in several stories that Marwood never changes. “The west is changing, but you stay the same.”

It’s not a compliment. It’s an indictment of his lifestyle. It’s a warning to him (and people like him)  a rigid worldview is not going to hold up to the pressing arc of history.  Other people see this. He can’t. He never can. At the moment it’s his strength. But he’s not stupid. He realizes the inability to change or adapt will, one day, prove disastrous.

Simply put, Marwood is unable to learn from the history he has lived. He doesn’t look back and he doesn’t look forward. He is trapped in the now.  He is trapped by Fate.

Magra, on the other hand, views life and death in longer terms. This comes from her ability to night-walk along with her powers as a bruja.

She is not trapped or limited by Fate. She weaves Fate.

When I first started writing these stories Magra didn’t have the elevated position she now holds. I think in some of the very early stories she comes across as the damsel in distress. I changed that forever with the story “Vengeance is Mine” published in the anthology Beauty Has Her Way.

I originally wrote that story from Marwood’s perspective, but the editor, Jennifer Brozek, made me see the story would be more powerful and possess more emotional resonance if viewed from Magra’s perspective. This made me take a long and serious look at Magra and forced me to elevate her place in the pantheon of Haxan characters. Who, for the most part, tend to be broken and flawed people trying to survive in  a violent world.

Magra was always important, of course, and especially strong-willed. But now she had to take those characteristics and apply them in a way that would make the fiction interesting and memorable.

Magra came into her own in the short story “Vengeance is Mine” and she’s never turned back. I’m pretty happy about that because it makes her a viable character with her own stories to tell.

This new story is a continuation of that. When the story comes out I’ll link it here on the blog for you.

Hope you like it. 🙂

In an upcoming story Magra Snowberry meets four horsemen. This can't end well.

Summer Doldrums

This has not been a great summer so far. I’m ready for the Fall.

Progress on the novel is slow but I’m not obsessing over that. Because of things I had to deal with last month (and last week) I haven’t had the time. That’s one thing about writing I don’t obsess over. Sometimes you do not have the time or the availability to write. When it’s out of your control you might as well go with the flow and wait until things settle down.

That’s the place I find myself in now. It’s fine. I can wait.

I’m still excited about the new novel. I’m in this scene where I either have to go on, or back up 3 or 4 pages and start over. I’m leaning toward the latter but I would like to understand why the scene isn’t working, or why my instinct tells me it isn’t working, before I rework it. That’s my habit. I like to understand why something isn’t working in a story before I go ahead so I can avoid it again in the future.

Anyway, this summer has not been great, but those things aren’t writing related, just personal. I’m ready for stuff to settle down so I can focus on other things.

writing

A Writer’s Reach

Slowly getting my ducks lined in a row and will start the new novel soon. I’m looking forward to it. The original idea has stayed with me for some time now so I think it has merit. I’ve had ideas come and go before, and you come to recognize this as a writer. Not all ideas are equal. Some aren’t worth your time.

But this idea about hobos and Sumerian mythology has me captivated and I am looking forward to exploring the themes and characters more.

I am attending the World Horror Convention in New Orleans next week so I will be busy with that. I hope to start writing the novel when I get back. I do have a propensity to always start a short story when I attend conventions so I may do that in New Orleans. Not a bad thing. I could use another short story under my belt.

Last week I started reading Beowulf again. I haven’t read this since high school. I also did some extra homework and read up on the background, literary criticism and other things surrounding this story. It fascinated me and got me to thinking about a writer’s reach.

The author of Beowulf is completely unknown. But the story has endured all these centuries because it speaks to places deep in our heart and has the capacity to move us and make us relate in ways other stories cannot. How does this happen? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately.

It’s funny. No matter what we write we never really know how it will affect someone or what kind of reach, social or historical, it will have. Even if the story disappears it still affected you in some way when you wrote it. I have been thinking about that a lot and it has moved me in some subtle ways.

Over the weeks I’ve heard from friends and gotten support about my writing from them. It means a lot to me. I suppose all writers are looking for validation of some kind, even if it’s nothing more than the personal knowledge of accomplishment. I never got into writing to see my name in print. I got that out of my system when I was working on the school newspaper. When I started writing professionally I used a pseudonym because it didn’t matter to me whether my given name was on the story or not. At the time the story was more important than my name.

Today that is still true. I just use “Kenneth Mark Hoover” out of laziness. I honestly get no gratification at all out of seeing my name in print. I just don’t care about that. For me as a writer it’s the story that matters most.

I suppose that’s kind of an aberration. I won’t deny it.  But for me the reach doesn’t come from the author’s name. It’s what he has to say on the page that resonates.

This is what I try to keep in mind when writing. It’s never about me. I want to be invisible on the written page. Let the story speak. Let it have reach.

The author of Beowulf is unknown. But the story endures. That speaks to me.

“One Life Between Earth and Sky” published by The Western Online!

Hooray! My new Haxan story “One Life Between Earth and Sky” has just been published by The Western Online.Writing is always a bit hazy. It took me over a year to find the crux of this story and bring it to light.

This story is only 1500-words long and it took me over a year to write. This dovetails perfectly with Stephe Thornton, another of my writing friends, who tweeted yesterday whether quality or quantity is more important. I said quality without a doubt, and she thanked me.

It’s not for me to speak to the quality of this particular story. It’s not “better” because it took over a year to write. It took me a year because the story wasn’t ready to be written when I started it. Writing is like that sometimes, at least for me.

Anyway, this is a nice way to start the long weekend. Here’s the link to the story, and I hope you like it.

 

ONE LIFE BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY

 

 

 

 

There are no guarantees in writing. Thank goodness.

A week or so ago a friend joined our morning writing group. She mentioned she was having trouble with procrastination. I can relate. There are no guarantees in writing. That doesn't limit you. It liberates you!

I think we all can to one degree or another.

This got me to thinking. Always a dangerous proposition in itself. But there are no guarantees in writing. You can read all the “How To” books in the world. When you start that first story you are going in cold. And the only person who can defeat you at the outset….is yourself.

Procrastination is a problem. When asked what was the first thing he did before he started a story, Hemingway said, “I fix the refrigerator.”

It’s a hurdle you are going to have to learn to jump. But once you get past that, once you write the story, there still are no guarantees.

There are no guarantees because there is no correct way to write a story. Some writers work in the morning. Some at night. Some write with pen or pencil. Some use computers. Some drink gallons of coffee to get them through the day. Faulkner opened a whiskey bottle.

There is no protocol when it comes to writing. I think this is one of the biggest artistic strengths a writer has, actually. We all do it differently. What’s more, we all know there are no guarantees the story you wrote will ever see the light of day. Maybe the editor won’t like it. Maybe it’s unpublishable. Maybe, maybe.

Because there are no guarantees, I argue that frees a writer. It does not restrict you. It liberates you. It allows you to take chances and push boundaries you otherwise might not attempt.

After all, what have you got to lose?

So You Wrote a Story. But, Does it Look Right on the Page?

Harlan Ellison once said how he wrote a script and handed it to a director. The director took one glance at the first page and said, “Not filmable.”

Ellison was taken aback. “What do you mean it’s not filmable? You haven’t read it.”

“I don’t have to read it,” the director said, handing it back. “It doesn’t look right on the page. That’s all I need to know to pass on this.”

This may seem kind of goofy to new writers, but there’s a lot of truth in it. Maybe that scares you. But you shouldn’t let it. How a story looks on the page reflects certain attitudes and facets of the story. Maybe it’s subliminal, I don’t know what’s at work here, but it does affect the reader.

It exists. It’s real. A story not only has to be well-written, it has to look “right” on the page.

Yes, you can come up with a lot of writers like Faulkner and McCarthy who have long dense passages in their novels, even at the beginning of the novel. Well, my response to that is “You’re not Faulkner or McCarthy. And neither am I.”

Believe it or not a good editor can tell right away from a glance at the manuscript whether or not the story she has in her hands is worth Oh, good grief, one more thing I have to worry about when it comes to writing!pursuing. I’m not talking about formatting errors here, although they are important as well. No, I mean what emotion or ‘sense of being’ does the story portray to the reader by how it looks on the page?

I’ve seen this very thing happen a lot and it’s happened to me, too.  It still happens to me, especially during first drafts. But I look back at some of my earlier stories and notice right away they’re just shaped all wrong.

The story itself is all right. They just look all wrong on the page.

Writing isn’t rocket science. You don’t need talent to be a good writer, though it helps, I think.* But this is one more facet you need to be aware of. Maybe not consciously. This doesn’t have to occupy the higher tiers of your brain and creative process when you are transferring the story initially from your brain to the page.

But after you finish the story, and the dust settles, and you come back to it fresh in two or three days, take a look at how it appears on the page.

Editors and publishers and agents all want that one story that will stand out over the others in their inbox. Because they receive literally hundreds (if not more) submissions a month, they aren’t first looking for a reason to buy your story…they’re looking for a reason to reject it.

Don’t give them this one excuse. It’s way too easy to fix. 🙂

*I do believe you need talent to elevate writing into a higher art form. But I freely admit that may also be a silly conceit.

Writing What Makes You Uncomfortable

About a week ago I was emailing a writing friend of mine who was having trouble generating story ideas. That got me to thinking about something I wrote on this topic a while back, and I want to revisit it because I think it’s one of the strongest things any writer can do.

This conversation we had puts me in mind of a story I toyed with years and years ago but was never able to make it come together. I was attending a pool party one weekend and the host and hostess (who were both over 50) had a baby. One of my friends said, “I don’t think that’s their baby” but I knew it was and they laughed and said, yes, “God played a trick on us.”

But as a writer I got to thinking. Where’s the story potential in something like this? On the face of it this is a yawner. They had a young daughter, maybe she was 14 or 15, I can’t remember. But what if that baby was HER baby and thy parents were pretending it was theirs to protect her, or whatever….especially if she had been raped by someone maybe…especially if the father of her baby was HER father.

So there you have it. An innocent and happy experience I had at a pool party degenerated into something dark and depraved. Hooray!  I was a happy writer with a brand new idea.

So, how to write the story?

I thought about this father being a government official and he takes in a spy who is resting up after a tough mission and the reader the spy’s eyes,Dig deep into your imagination to find the best stories. discover the secret. Then I thought it could also be written from the daughter’s POV, which would be better, with her taking care of what is ostensibly the parents’ baby while the party is going on.

The theme of the story would be how we all wear masks to hide our true selves from others.

I tried several starts at this story. It never came together. So I moved on to other ideas and other stories.

But this conversation I had with my writer friend also got me to thinking about how sometimes I scare myself with my own imagination. Sometimes my own imagination is my own worst enemy.

There have been times I have imagined something happening to people I know that just scares me so much it feels like I am on an abyss. Now, I know intellectually these things aren’t going to happen. But that doesn’t mean my imagination takes a holiday.

So, not to make this all about me, but my point being with is when you think of one idea it can lead to something else, which leads to something else, etc.

I can’t tell you how often  meet people who want to write say they have a story idea and they tell it to me and there’s nothing else to go on. It’s just one idea.

You may not think that’s much to quibble about, but I’m telling you as a professional seeing how you can take one idea, and elaborate on it and use that to generate something else, trust me on this…that’s a pretty important tool in your toolbox.

Find what makes you uncomfortable. Always. Discover what you want to say about that idea and how you need to tell the story.

Use your imagination. Scare yourself.

You can thank me later. Or blame me. For writers, this is also a win-win. 🙂

Looking for Stories in all the Right Places

I started a brand new Haxan short story yesterday called “Talitha Koum” and so far I am making decent progress. It’s taking time, but the story is shaping up and I am beginning to see what it is really about.

It’s funny. I was looking through some old files and saw the notes and stuff for this story. I had forgotten I had this lying around! I think this is a good example of something I do which I urge other writers to do.

When you are finished with a story, or when it is not working for you, put it aside, forget about it, and move on to the next story.

This is something I am really good at. Maybe to my own detriment. If you pressed me to name all the stories I have published I probably couldn’t do it.* I know I couldn’t name all the stories I have written, both published and non-published. I was in a superb writing group in Mississippi and the members knew I had this policy to forget a story and put it away and always move on to the next one. One of the members asked me about one of my old stories he had read and I couldn’t remember the name of the story!

I wrote it, and I couldn’t remember it at all! He laughed and said, “It really is true, you don’t bother to remember what you did. You are always looking ahead.”

That has always been my philosophy when it comes to writing. When you finish a story you are finished. Why should you dwell on that when there are new stories waiting to be written?

This has gotten me into trouble a time or two. Sometimes at conventions an editor or writer will ask a general question about my work and I’ll stand there with a dumb and vacant look on my face. Oh, well, I’m not going to change. This old dog isn’t willing to learn that trick. I really do believe a writer always needs to be looking ahead and not obsessing over the past.

On the other hand there are stories that have been with me for decades. Usually these are stories I have had trouble writing but haven’t entirely given up on. We all have stories like that, I think. I don’t know. Maybe it depends on the person. I know I am very lucky as a writer and have had more stories published than I ever expected. I am not done yet, however. I am very grateful for the stories I have published…but it’s the stories I have not been able to work, or the stories that didn’t work, or the stories that didn’t come together that stick with me more.

I know, it’s crazy. I’m a crazy writer. But this time my philosophy of forgetting stories worked out rather well when I found the notes for it. It was like a brand new idea, and because so much time has passed I am able to look at it with entirely fresh eyes.

So that’s what I am working on right now, a couple of short stories. I still plan to delve into the Great American Hobo novel this summer. I am looking forward to that!

 

*But then again that’s why we writers maintain bibliographies, haha.

 

Seeing Your Story in a New Light

Today my writing buddy, Melissa Lenhardt, was editing her novel on hard copy. That’s right, she was using real sheets of paper.

I had almost forgotten what that stuff looked like.

We got to talking and she said it was very helpful to see her story on hard copy rather than a computer screen. It was like seeing in a different light, or venue, and she could find things wrong with the storycropped-writer-smoking-pipe.jpg she hadn’t seen before.

I have noticed this, too. I don’t know what it is about our brains, but when we read something online compared to a printed sheet, we read it differently. Or perceive it differently, or something.

I don’t know what’s at work here. but I have noticed when I am editing my own story it helps to look at it in these different ways. When I first started writing everything was on paper. We wrote, edited, and read the stories on paper. That has changed. But going Old School to edit your stories somehow gives you a different perspective.

I’m not arguing it’s a better perspective. I often find things cropping up on the computer screen I don’t find on hard copy, and vice versa. But I  think, for me at any rate, having that tactile sensation and handling hard copy when editing a story fires up different neurons in the brain. Or whatever it is that gets fired up in the brain. At the very least, because it is a different, we connect, react, and interpret things about it that are themselves different.

It really is like seeing your story in a new light.

I hope this isn’t coming across as one of those “Things were better in the Olden Days” posts. That’s not how I feel. But I have noticed when I look at something written on the computer screen and then hard copy, I perceive it differently. And it’s almost as if the information I glean from both media is itself different in some way and I integrate that into a whole.

Anyway, one thing I have also noticed, and this part never changes, which I think is a good sign. When I do see one of my published stories either in print or online, I always have the same reaction: Satisfaction.

And when you get down to it I guess that’s what we are working toward to begin with. 🙂

Setting Aside Ego for the Benefit of Story

A writer friend of mine, Paula C. Brown, asked how I go about writing notes for a novel. She wanted to know the method I use because Writing is mostly mental,not physical. Work on that part more than the other and you will be successful.she was having a little trouble getting focused.

This is a problem I run into myself when it comes to finding focus and generating ideas. I don’t have a secret recipe or magic key. Mostly I try and ignore it and hope the problem goes away.

This rarely works, as you might suspect. So I do try some of the same exercises each time. They usually do work. Or at least they work for me. Every writer goes about this game differently. I’m only going to relate what works for me.

When I start a story, or more specifically a novel, I make a brief outline. And by brief I mean brief.  I hand write out quotes, bits of dialog, ideas, characterizations, and research notes on a yellow legal pad. I almost always kick-start this process by coming up with names for the characters. If I can give a character a name I can visualize him better and imagine what types of situations he might find himself in. The story outline will then unfold from that initial process.

One of the reasons I do minimal outlining is I like the freedom it gives me. I knew a writer who made extensive notes on 3×5 cards, even to the point of working out the genealogy of characters who would never appear in the story. This worked for him. That would never work for me. I would find it too restrictive.

I like having a general direction, but nothing more than that. I have a theme I start with on, and everything else, names, scenes, plot, spirals out from that.

So that’s how I do it. Nothing special as you can see. I have a beginning, middle, and ending, but it’s always sort of hazy and I am not above changing everything if I believe it will benefit the story.

I’m not locked into anything when I write a story. I always put my ego aside. I do what is best for the story.

I admit working this way might be viewed as difficult for some. There are writers who want a lot more structure before they begin. But I have structure. It’s a bit hazy, like I said, but it exists. I simply do not set down every little jot before I begin. I have a direction, but the journey I take to get to the end….that’s a process I prefer remains organic.

Even as I work deeper into the novel I keep writing down ideas and notes as they come to me, and as I do more research. I may change names, settings, ideas, but the one thing I almost never change is the original theme.

More than anything else the theme is the first “idea” that comes to me. Everything else spirals outward from that.

Pictures of My Border Trip to Ruidosa, TX

Once you drive through Presidio and make it through the Chinati Mountain Pass on Farm Road 170 the next stop along the Mexico/Texas Border is Ruidosa.

I wanted to stop because my latest novel Quaternity takes place outside the town for a chapter or three. It’s always beneficial for a writer to see a place first hand if you can, I think. Google Earth helps a lot, but you can’t beat seeing it with your own eyes if possible.

Ruidosa has an interesting history in the west. In the 1800s convicts used to be stationed here so they could fight the Native Americans. The land is stark and dry and you are surrounded by mountains on both sides of the border. Chinati Peak towers over the landscape.

Here are pictures I took around Ruidosa. I think there used to be a little community store years back, but it looked closed now. I didn’t see anyone about. There was an occasional motorcycle on the road, however, mostly sight-seers like myself.

Ruidosa Sign

Ruidosa Church

Adobe Church

Ruidosa Road

Mountain Range

The Reason of Literary Critique and Why as a Principled Writer You Should Ignore It Like the Plague

John LeCarré said in a 1997 interview for The Paris Review,  “I always argue that you should not accept the value of good reviews, because if you do you have to accept the bad ones.”

I must say I agree wholeheartedly with LeCarré’s assessment of critique and its debilitating influence upon creativity.

For myself, I tend not to read them much anymore since I don’t want any undue influence on my work. And I see it as a seductive, yet poisonous, trap. You read a rousing review of your work and you think, “Well, I better do that again.”

How horrifying that is.

I view it as horrifying because writers should never be in the business of pandering to reviewers. Hell, as far as that goes you shouldn’t be in the business of pandering to readers. That’s not writing, that’s whoring.

That is why I have argued from Day One you should never write for a market.* You should write for yourself first and let the market follow you.

Conversely, if you take good reviews to heart, should you not also accept the bad ones and change your writing to suit their worldview?

I can’t think of anything more enervating to the art of writing than going down this self-defeating path and thinking it will lead to artistic prosperity.

DesperateWriter

As someone who writes reviews and critiques, and will again in the future, I can fully attest they should never be taken as anything other than temporary place-markers to help guide readers into making qualified decisions. But they have no inherent worth in and of themselves, and I always have this in mind when I write them. I also subscribe to the view there is no such thing as a bad review, because there is no such thing as bad press.

When I was on Live Journal I started linking to reviews of a particular story of mine “Rubber Monkeys” in the anthology Destination Future published by Hadley Rille Books. The anthology got a lot of good reviews as did my story. Many people mentioned how much they liked “Rubber Monkeys” and how much it creeped them out.

But every time I linked to a review that mentioned my story it kind of creeped me out a little bit. I didn’t mind linking to the anthology as a whole and letting my friends know it was available, but what was I doing singling out my lone story in the collection?

What did I think I was doing? Who did I think I was fooling?

I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel fundamentally right to me in some ineffable way. Given my faddish view on things it was probably only me who felt that way. But now on Twitter and other social media I see writers linking review after review of their stories, even to the point of it becoming spam which ultimately gets them blocked by me, and all I can think is: What in the world are they doing?

No one is going to set higher goals and standards than myself when it comes to my own writing. Absolutely no one. So what do I care what a review says either about me or you? Either we believe in our work or we don’t. Either we are going to let other people set standards for us, or we won’t.

If I’m reading you and buying your stories and novels and I’m enjoying them, then what the hell do I care what some reviewer in Ballsuck, Arkansas has to say about your work?

If you have to link review after review on social media to the point of spamming everyone on your timeline, it reeks of desperation. It’s you jumping up and down, waving your arms and screaming, “Look at me. For God’s sake, someone look at me and pay attention.”

I find that behavior pathetic and I have little regard for professional writers who behave that way. I tend to give newbies more of a pass. They are still learning.

Professionals should know better.

So. Am I arguing you should never link reviews of your work? Of course not. Even I continue to do it from time to time. But if you do, you need to be aware of the pitfalls that may open up beneath you.

I think it’s a fine line which escapes a lot of people on my Twitter timeline. Writing is difficult enough, and getting people interested in your work is difficult enough without alienating them in the process.

I do wish more writers understood this. It’s not rocket science. It’s Writing 101.

Because, you know, otherwise I’m just going to block you and move on with my life.

 

*The only time you should write for a market is when you are invited to contribute to an anthology. But if a genre or topic is currently hot, I suggest you stay away from that and plow new, undeveloped ground. Following a trend only leads to the abattoir. Why would you follow the herd when you might be able to lead them in a new and interesting direction?

How I Wrote My New Haxan Story “Rado”

I had what I consider an unusual amount of trouble writing this short story. It wasn’t the plot but how the voice was developing that I had so much trouble with.

I had never written a Haxan story that featured Jake Strop before so maybe that was part of the problem. I didn’t want him to come across as a clone of Marwood and he had to have his own voice and way of looking at things.

I started this story about two years ago, dropped it and came back to it from time to time. I knew there was something there worth working for and I think I finally found it. But this was one of the more difficult stories to write, I found. I’m glad it all came together for me, however.

Anyway, The Western Online has accepted it and now it’s up for everyone to read. Just clickie on the linkie below.

I hope you guys enjoy it. Thanks for listening! 🙂

 

“Rado” published by The Western Online

Learning to Write: On Being Ruthless

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.”   —William Faulkner, 1956

Faulkner

Faulkner

Margaret Mitchell said she would be invited out to dinner and decline because she knew she needed to stay home and write something called Gone With the Wind. Her friends didn’t understand this startling behavior. Why was she locking herself up in her house all the time? Didn’t she, you know, want to have fun? Isaac Asimov once claimed if he were forced to choose writing over family he would choose writing and never think about the decision again.

These stories, and others like them, may be apocryphal. I don’t know. But they showcase something a writer needs to develop which is a sense of ruthlessness and an unwillingness to compromise ourselves when it comes to our work.

My writing buddy and I have talked about this over many cups of coffee. I’ve discussed it with other writers and they agree. Ruthlessness, and a cultivation of same, is an important tool in our cabinet.

It’s not because we as writers are special. Trust me, we’re not. We ‘re no better than malandered mongrels pursued by our own set of scrabbling, inner demons. No, this doesn’t have anything to do with us. Writers, though part of the equation, are ultimately unimportant. Because if you don’t write that story someone else will.

It’s all about sacrifice to the story. The story is all. Writers are but Delphic Sibyls even at our best. Melville didn’t find Moby-Dick. That story found him.

Ruthlessness. I call it being a bastard which, many argue, is not a far step for me. I won’t belabor the point. Faulkner described it as a sense of ruthlessness. It’s the same thing.

Look, no one is going to understand you as a writer. Especially if they themselves are not writers. The only people who understand writers are other writers. Not because we’re so special, but because the only people who understand our demons are the people who carry the same demons.

So I argue don’t knock yourself out trying to make yourself understood to people who are unable to understand what drives you. You’re going to be disappointed and frustrated, and so are they when you are unable to find common ground.

Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell

I view this as damn near an inviolable commandment for writers, if any such exists. People will sometimes get in your way. Events in your life will happen that impinge on your writing. These things happen and we have no control over them. But we do have control over our writing and in that regard we must be ruthless and never compromise.

If we must tote up the board with old ladies, then so be it. No one else understands you. No one else gives a damn about your writing and they certainly aren’t going to write that story for you. The only person that matters when it comes to your writing is you. The only person who sets standards and goals when it comes to your writing is you.

Yes, you have to be ruthless. And that means you also must be ruthless with yourself. Other people may get in your way. If they do, push them aside, albeit gently. Their concerns and inability to understand what you are about, what drives you, pale in comparison to the art you are trying to create.

Push them aside. And while you’re at it, push aside the doubts and barriers within yourself that keep you from writing that story.

Compared to the story itself, and its need for life, writers, and everything else, are but motes.

3 Writers Who Influenced Me Most

One of the things that interests me is how writers are influenced by other writers. I have thought about this a lot because I see other writers talk  about it. I got to wondering who influenced me the most as I was growing up and learning how to write.

I had a lot of favorites growing up. I marveled at the storytelling capability of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wasn’t a great writer, but he was a good story teller and a favorite when I was in my teens. I also liked Nabakov a lot, mainly for his command of the English language and ability to push the envelope. I went through a big Ray Bradbury phase and liked his work, and tried to imitate him when I was eleven or twelve years old, but I don’t think he had any lasting impression upon me. In fact, I must admit today his work doesn’t speak to me at all in any understandable way. Which is amazing since he was such a favorite of mine at one time.

So the last couple of days I got to wondering who had really influenced me and why. I came up with three names.

Ian Fleming. This was my first big influence. I was introduced to his novels by my dad when I was around thirteen. By that time I One of the first big influences on my writing.was pretty sure I wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t know how to go about it. Fleming’s descriptive work had a big impact on me. I knew it was escapism, and some people said it was “only” escapism. I knew better. By then I was a much deeper reader than most people around me and I could see the themes he was working on.

Also, I was growing up at the time in an abusive household, so a writer like this who could take me away to a  time and place where violence was happening but you won out in the end…that made a deep philosophical impact on my life.

I often tried to write like Fleming. I like his style and what he can do with dialog. He’s best known for his iconic characters and villains, but his mastery at language, plot, characterization, it was all meat for my table. After reading Fleming I knew for certain I wanted to be a writer. There was no longer any doubt.

I would sit under our trailer during the day, enjoying what shade I could grab, and compose entire Flemingesque novels in my head. It was a heady time for me. I had been given a glimpse of a world where I could write stories that interested me and helped people forget their travails for a time.

What kind of writer would I be? Someone who could tell a story that transported you to another time and place and make you forget the mundane shitstorm that was ordinary life.

All right, fine. But how would I go about doing that? This was the part that worried me and I saw no way around it.

Ernest Hemingway. When I was in high school I read The Old Man and the Sea. I wasn’t captivated by it, nor did I think it was the best thing I had ever read. But I was astonished by the symbolism and the careful attention to detail he brought to the work, along with an economy of words. I talked to the English teacher about it afterward and she said he did those things on purpose. That floored me. I knew then this writing thing was a lot more difficult than putting words on paper. Anyone could do that. They’re called hacks. This was going to be work if I wanted to elevate writing into what I knew it was supposed to be: an art form. Fine, I thought. I’ll do what it takes to learn the things I need to know.

From then on I devoured pretty much everything Hemingway wrote. I have read A Farewell to Arms several times. It’s by far my favorite novel of his and one I plan to read again in the not too distant future. But as I studied and read Hemingway it wasn’t his style that had so much influence on me but his philosophy about life, and about writing itself. I remember one day I found a book that collected his old letters to contemporaries. Something like that was gold to a philosophically starving writer like myself.

As I studied Hemingway I learned about his views on symbolism. Yes, symbols were in his work, but he hadn’t put them there on purpose. If he had done it on purpose they would have lost resonance and power. He wasn’t stupid. He knew they were there and necessary to the story, but he hadn’t done it on purpose.

It took me a while to understand this concept, but I think I have a grasp on it today. It only took me about thirty years to understand. It’s one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s cabinet if he knows how to use it well.

One of the things Hemingway said still resonates with me. I wish it would resonate with more writers to  be quite honest. In an interview with The Paris Review Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”

I live by that. I think all good writers should live by that if they want their work to be remembered. I think it speaks to something else I have blogged about and that is writing should not be safe. The safe story is never remembered. Nor should it expect to be.

I am not comparing myself to Hemingway, of course, but I have taken on this particular philosophy as my own. I think it works well both as an artistic tool and a method to maintain your sanity in this profession.

Hemingway

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”

To me Hemingway’s life reads and ends like a Greek tragedy in many respects. As someone who has suffered from depression I can relate to what he went through in many ways. No matter the venue I can never think of Hemingway without remembering the old Viking Death Chant:

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother,
and my sisters and my brothers
Lo, there do I see the line of my people
back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them
in the halls of Valhalla
where the brave may live forever.

I don’t know if Hemingway had those words in his thoughts before he died. But it would not surprise me. Either way, he is a definite and chartable influence upon my growth as a writer, lasting even today.

I think Hemingway also said good writers don’t talk about their work all that much. I believe that’s a good rule, more or less. What’s more important, the story you finished yesterday, or the one you will write today?

It’s an easy decision for me, too.

Henry Miller.  Now we come to the writer who, by far, had the biggest influence on me. Tropic of Cancer is without a Henry Miller was the greatest influence ever upon my growth as a writer.doubt my favorite novel. I discovered Miller when I was about nineteen or twenty, I think. I remember sitting in a washateria one Saturday afternoon waiting for my clothes to finish and reading Miller. It was a bright day and the sun streamed through the plate glass window. A guy walked past and saw what I was reading. He stopped and said, “Hey, Miller, cool.”

It was like a code. People who read Miller knew what it meant. We had been given keys into the insight of the human psyche. I loved Miller’s vocabulary and tried, and failed dismally, to use copy it in my own fiction at the time. But it was all a learning process.

What fascinated me most about Miller, and does today, was his unswerving attention to the truth, no matter who it irritated. And if they found his writing obscene and the actions he described grotesque, all the better, for humans were themselves obscene and grotesque, along with being noble. All you had to do was open a history book to be reminded of that fact.

Miller believed if you weren’t pissing someone off somewhere you weren’t trying very hard with your writing. I liked his honesty, his ability to look so deep within himself * and write with passion what he saw residing there without recoiling. That took character and courage and a deep belief in your ability as a writer to successfully pull it off. It is the one concept I take from him and try to live up to. I may fail at it. But I keep trying.

Miller, by far, had the greatest influence upon me, mainly from a philosophical point of view, but also through his fearless writing and his phenomenal ability to use language to make us think, and to move us. For Miller, obscenity was always a cleansing process.

I think he, more than anyone else I ever read, helped develop my current philosophy that stories should never, never be safe. Because if they are, you not only attenuate yourself, but literature as an art form.

*Nietzsche claimed “When you look into the abyss, it looks into you.” Nietzsche had an influence upon my life, perhaps more than any philosopher. But his influence was more philosophical, not from a writing perspective. Although, unlike many philosophers, his writing is easier to grasp and understand and has an accessibility which evades his contemporaries.

%d bloggers like this: