Published!

ta-daMy story called Blues Highway (see more on the Writing page), has been accepted for the 2013 edition of the Bacopa Literary Review. 

The 2013 print edition is expected by mid-May.  The 2012 Bacopa Review featured “award-winning prose and poetry from 43 writers, New York to Los Angeles, and Australia.”

I’m excited!

Too Much Information?

I learned a valuable lesson from author Michelle Hoover during a class at the Cape Cod Writers Conference last August.  As I said in the prior post, the draft of my first novel came out pretty easily, but was too large.  On the second day of this particular class, Michelle gave us a list of sixty questions we should be able to answer about our main character(s).  Some were easy (Name, Sex, Birthplace), but most required complex answers (e.g., What would he/she see about you that you don’t understand yourself?).  I started sweating … I

Some character questions

Some character questions

could answer most of them for my two protagonists, but laying out all that material would require another overlong novel.  So I asked the obvious question.  She smiled a friendly smile, one maybe inclining a little toward the kind she would use with a young child … or a neophyte novelist.  “You only put in the story that which has to be in the story, but if you can’t answer all those questions about a main character, the character will not be believable to the reader.”  It was an Aha! Moment for me, and most of the 10,000 words I cut out of the novel after that were things I know but that the reader doesn’t need to know and therefore probably doesn’t want to know.  It’s still a hard balance, though.  I like my characters.  I want you to get to know them.  But I understand now that there is such a thing as Too Much Information.

Writing in the Future Tense

You would think writing about a time in the future would be easy.  At least, I did when I started.

Hack the Yak, my first novel, is set in 2049-50.  I originally conceived the story while worrying about what is going to happen to medical care, given the ability of the political system to hose up even seemingly simple problems.  To talk about the result I dreamed up, I needed to be in the future.  Along with the future came the (I predict inevitable) cyberwar and the (also predictable) highly secure Internet follow-on with a (predictable) kluge of a name (InterAgency Communication Channel) that became ‘the Yak’ in common speech.

My future world is not dystopian, and that makes writing a little more risky than if I could create a world out of whole cloth.  No gloom and rubble populated by tribes of bloodthirsty criminals whose parents were osteopaths and lawyers back in Ashtabula before the bombs started falling.  I’m guessing forty years from now, give or take, will be pretty much like forty years ago compared today … considerable technological change, but very little change in the emotional dynamics that rule our lives.  So in 2049, computers have become ‘repeaters’ (because most data is in what we now call the Cloud).  iPad-like computers are ubiquitous and are called simply, pads.  The ‘hairball coughed up by Congress’ to control medical costs looks distressingly like the current FICO score that controls our finances.  Car ownership topped out somewhere around 2020 as public transportation became more and more appealing and ubiquitous.  Single vehicle use is now falling, with computer directed hybrid vehicles dominating and the most popular car a very small three- or four-wheeler generically referred to as a ‘mono’.  There was a brief flowering of commercial drones in the 2030’s when new airspace software and really good robotics made having thousands of unmanned vehicles in the air over a city safe, but it was squelched quickly as entrepreneurial spirit drove its use to illegal and unconstitutional activities. 2010-Citroen-Lacoste-Concept-Cars-The-Car-of-The-Future-3

I’m guessing that we won’t have done away with cash by 2049, although the great bulk of legal business is done electronically by then, and my protagonist Joe has to pick and choose out of the way places in order to live on cash while he tries to evade the thugs that are sent to make sure he doesn’t spill the secret of the software called Phoenix.

In the end, 2050 looks a lot more like today than most so-called speculative fiction would have it appear.  That causes a classification problem:  at least to me, speculative fiction written a generation ago … 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, several Kurt Vonnegut stories … speculated more about people and institutions, whereas current speculative fiction seems to concentrate on dramatically different settings (The Road, Hunger Games).  Hack the Yak is closer to the first camp.  I’m not allowing for a nuclear breach or dramatic changes in weather.  Love, friendship, courage, greed, sadness and music are unchanged forces.  I guess that means I’m an optimist.

What Books on Writing Do You Like?

In a prior post, I said, “my toe-dip into the enormous corpus of literature on writing seems to indicate that most of it is not very helpful.”  What a small and curmudgeonly thing to say!  (I was possibly affected by one in which the author expressed her opinion that her title is TOTALLY AWESOME.)  But that got me thinking:  I bet some of you have read some good books on writing.  I’d love to hear your favorite titles.

I have a few resources I really like (besides, of course the TOTALLY AWESOME search capability of Google).  I started long ago with Elements of Style (Strunk and White), an early lifesaver.  Today I use The Chicago Manual of Style online.  Possibly the best fifteen bucks I spent last year in pursuit of writing.  It’s more than encyclopedic and very interactive.  Stephen King’s On Writing exposes the fact that King is a great writer, a great mechanic of words.  Yes, I know, King writes Genre Fiction (you need to be looking down your nose while you say that), but then, so do I.  Then there are the many books on the business side of writing.  The best I’ve run into is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (Eckstut and Sterry), which is comprehensive, readable and funny.

There are probably lots of good writing books out there, and I felt a little bad about being snarky about the whole field.  What are your favorites?

Writing, storytelling and the music of language

I’m finding that the process of writing sometimes gets in the way of the goal of writing, which is storytelling.

Language may be the most important gift from the genetic dance that formed us.  It allows us to remember things and share ideas beyond tribe and lifetime.  But writing is a johnny-come-lately at maybe 6,000 years old or so, and writing seems to want to squash the tempo out of language.

I have to admit a little bit of a grudge against you, Alphabet.  After all, you hijacked our stories.  Oh, Alpha, I know you didn’t mean to, and I know it was important to count heads of cattle and amphorae of wine so we could get on with the business of civilization.  But, Alphabet, you made us too often ignore the music of language. Before you came along, I suspect that there were no stories without music.  Even if unaccompanied by instrument or choir, spoken words always have music.  The oral tradition values that sound and rhythm.  You can still get whiffs of it today, but modern media often override sound and rhythm with sound bites and volume.  It’s hard to compress art into a Tweet.

I spent a lot of my career writing for business.  Precise, accurate, dry writing.  Facts strung together by logic in pursuit of matters legal and financial, didactic and persuasive.  I enjoyed it … there is a challenge to making something clear in as few words as possible.  ImageWriting the novel has been different and harder.  Tone and rhythm are take effort to maintain.  I test out my words by speaking them.  I do it to find their natural melody.  I have a pretty strong suspicion that nobody’s going to read something with no beat and no flow.

Getting Started

I have always loved a good story, whether it was my cousin Gamble telling about a sorry guy with a 3-legged dog that he called ‘flat tire’ or my friend Maher reciting the Reincarnation of O’Rourke in perfect Irish brogue.  Wonderful stories both.  Maybe that was why I loved Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  Talk about some good stories!  Apparently, we’ve always been at it … Homer, Virgil, Chaucer, Boccaccio, hundreds of troubadours and the itinerant bluesmen whose music I play.

I started writing without thoughts of a novel.  Maybe just some sketches, some literary stretching exercises.  My first lesson:  you can’t write fiction without characters, and you can’t just conjure up characters and then stop writing about them.  They take over the story.  You get drawn in.  What will she do next?  He wouldn’t put up with THAT, would he?  So here I am, 126,000 words of original draft later, 10,000 cut in rewrite, learning slowly about the real-world aspects of writing, which is a business, after all.

So, why a blog?

In short, H-E-L-P!  I’d like to share ideas with other writers, and get some help from readers.  I’m starting my second novel, and there are plenty of places I’d like your reaction, to both plot and character.  Follow the blog and leave a reply when you see something that demands a comment.  I’ll be back to you soon.

Preamble

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Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.  Geoffrey Chaucer said that about 600 years ago as part of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the first writing we would recognize as English.  I believe it.  What would life be worth if it weren’t a pilgrimage?  Every day.  I hope you will join my pilgrimage.  I’m writing a book … well, several.  Writing is pilgrimage, and I’ll need sustenance along the way.  I hope you will follow along, comment, help lead me.  C’mon, it will be an adventure …