10 reasons why blogging is better than novel writing

Joe’s Post #149

So this week, wrote a short story and sent it off. A good market if it gets picked up, but I’m new at this short story stuff. Blogging, though….

10 reasons why blogging is better than novel writing

  • Instant feedback. Or at least near instant. Instead of having to wait a week for a friend to give you feedback, or a few months for an agent, or a few years for the public, blogging will have people telling you suck within hours. How cool is that?
  • There aren’t any character arcs to worry about. No plots to plot. Nothing fancy about a blog. It’s a blog. Sort of like the difference between having 200 cats or one dog.
  • They are usually done in a few hours. You complete something. In. A. Few. Hours. It takes weeks or months or years to finish a damn novel. And it still may suck.
  • readersThey are easily read. Like reader’s-digest-bathroom-reading easy. A good book can be devoured in a day, but a good blog is done by the time you finish peeing.
  • They can start some conversations. Not too many people will talk about how amazingly I wrote a fight scene in The Darkest Desert, but they sure will when I make fun of Surrey.
  • I need no brainstorming help with blogging. I do need A LOT of brainstorming help from my friends to make my novel work. I tried calling Stephen King to help with my last book, but apparently he’s busy.
  • No critique group savages your baby. Oh, the trolls may savage your ideas on a blog, but they’re, well, trolls and don’t count for much. Luckily I have a good group, but the stories I’ve heard about bad ones would make your doubt your soul.
  • More people read the blogs than my books, which, granted isn’t a saying a lot. With the exception of my dog, my family and my few friends, not many have read my novel.
  • This is me pandering to my audience. Magic Mike eye-candy.

    This is me pandering to my audience. Magic Mike eye-candy.

    I get to put pictures in a blog. I wish I could put pictures in my books, too. Oh, and music, that would be super cool. But no, at the moment, no music or pix in my books.

  • It’s fun. Not that novel writing can’t be fun, but this is more fun.

And, is it just me, or is it harder to write in the summer?

Anyone else have any thoughts on blogging?

 

Writing perspective as mother-of-the-bride

Karalee’s Post #120

wedding dressI’ve been away from my computer for awhile although emails to friends has kept me writing and documenting my adventures that have ranged from getting ready in Mexico for our daughter’s wedding to pounding the waves in an open zodiac up in Haida Gwaii.

To say the least, life has been interesting and FUN!

This was the situation two days before our daughter’s wedding:

Place: The Galindo Hotel

Scenerio:

Over the years that my daughter has dated her Mexican beau, I’ve come to understand that Mexican Time is like Island Time here on the West Coast of Canada. Everything gets done when it gets done – and it will sometime!

As the bride’s mother arriving a week ahead of the wedding from out-of-country with the groom’s family in charge of looking after the arrangements, I started to ask myself a few questions 48 hours ahead of the big event.

  1. Is there going to be a rehearsal? A: Don’t know.
  2. Is there a rehearsal dinner? A: Don’t know.
  3. What time is hair appointments the day of? A: Don’t know.
  4. What time/where is everyone getting dressed the day of? A: Don’t know!
  5. What is the actual time of wedding and where in the hotel? A: Don’t know!!

As a writer, the mother-of-the-bride could react in many ways:

  1. Catatonic and shut herself in the closet.
  2. Hysterical and march down the hallways banging on doors and demanding answers.
  3. Call 911 with heart attack symptoms.
  4. Tell off the future in-law family members and regret it later – or not.
  5. Laugh as though it doesn’t matter and then burst into tears because it does.
  6. Get drunk at the pool and make a scene.
  7. Jump on a plane and go back home.
  8. Be patient and see what happens.

Each scenario would play out differently in a story, right? And each scenario would show something about the character, right?

Like Joe suggested in his last post, when stuck, interview anything you want in your story. The city, the cat, the mail person, the fallen tree, etc. This can be said of your characters in any situation too. Play out different reactions and see which one tilts your story in a way you hadn’t anticipated. It may be in a direction you want to go – or not. The process though, will always show you something about the story in a different light.

And for me, that’s a great fun factor. Be open to be surprised!

Now I bet you want to know how I, the “real mother-of-the-bride” reacted? :)

I laughed and waited, and had a couple of glasses of wine. And visited with the wonderful friends and family that had arrived. In reality (not as the writer) I know my daughter and her fiance enough to not sweat the “small stuff,” and what will happen will happen. And it will happen!

Little did I know what the real wedding day had in store! Now here’s the REAL STORY!

  • no arrangement was made for flowers for the bride or bridesmaids. In Mexico it’s not custom to have flowers at a civil wedding, only in church apparently. I learned this as my daughter was getting ready and one of her bridesmaids asked, “Where’s the flowers?” A scramble ensued, aka lots of texts, to find out there weren’t any!
  • a monsoon rainstorm erupted an hour before the wedding. The MC was seen with 50 towels in hand racing towards the outdoor undercover wedding spot that had become flooded by the wind blowing rain onto the chairs. There were NO Plan B arrangements!
  • the set time for the wedding was 7 p.m. (I did find this out 48 hours ahead), and the outdoor photos that were planned for before the wedding now became indoor photos.
  • 50 towels didn’t help dry the outdoor area, so the MC scrambled to find another room.
  • the wedding group, including bride and groom, were seen running behind the photographer down hallways and stairs throughout the hotel  to find a “good photo spot” – all the while dodging guests that were being directed towards their new location in the lounge area.
  • the interpreter( from Spanish to English) cancelled two hours before the event.
  • the judge was late – stuck on the freeway behind an accident.
  • over 30 guests were also stuck behind the accident.

So, how did it go? What did the real mother-of-the-bride do?

Well, I followed the wedding party around the hotel during the picture-taking, watched the guests march from one end of the hotel to the other, stayed neutral when all the other information came to light AND was very aware of watching how my daughter and her fiance dealt with the stress.

wedding party They were AMAZING! They took it all in stride, dealing with each news item in turn as it happened with no strong or loud and obnoxious words to each other or to their friends/family. They smiled in their photos. They laughed in their photos, and let the MC make all the new arrangements without interfering.

And during the ceremony all that mattered were each other!

As the mother-of-the-bride, I couldn’t have been happier or more proud at the way they handled the day with grace and respect! They will both look after each other. That is comforting to me.

That is what really matters.

So I smiled and enjoyed the experience! And partied the night away to American and Mexican music, fireworks, entertainers on stilts, food, Mariachi band, and more food! Oh, and a couple of glasses of wine too!

What fun!

Achievements:

  • My daughter’s wedding! She chose a great soul-mate. Love to you both!
  • Family time with all our children and their significant others. Everyone likes everyone. Gotta love that!
  • Staying positive! Life is great.

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Continuing to work on self-development.
  • Practicing mindfulness. What a wedding for it!
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. Love email!
  • sent in my submission. Yeah!
  • meditating and exercising. Mostly stretching and walks.

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

Stuck Writing? Try An Interview.

A quick post today. I wanted to share something I tried.

catzzHey, we all get stuck at some point. We reach a scene that just doesn’t work or a character that isn’t right, somehow, or some voice gets stuck in our head that says, go clean the spiders out the garage.

So, that happened to me yesterday. And the day before.

In both cases, I got out of my slump by harkening back to a book I read a while ago. Ok, to be honest, I was wondering around the office biting my fingernails and looking all writerly when I saw the book, but whatever. The book was The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery by Robert J.  Ray and Jack Remick

They argue that you should always start with your killer first. And one of the suggestions was interview your antagonist after he’s been caught.

So I took this idea a bit farther.

What if, when you got stuck on something, you stopped and did a quick interview? What if you didn’t just think of interviewing the antagonist? What if you looked at anything and everything? Like location.

hells kitchenLocation:

Me : “Hey, Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Sup bro.”

“Ah, yeah, listen, I don’t get you. Can you tell me something about yourself?”

“I ain’t what I used to be. Got the name from long ago. It kinda just stuck, you know.”

“So you’re not really all about kitchens or hell?”

“You want a punch in the face?”

“Not really, and at the risk of getting my nose mashed in, what do you smell like?”

“The fuck?”

“Seriously. What’s your most favourite smell?”

“Kabobs from the Afghan joint off of 9th. Red door. That smell of roasted meat and slightly burnt onions, it’s heaven.”

“So we’re going kitchen smells?”

“You want more? What about Wilo’s Flower Shop that’s at war with the hot dog vendor that parks his food cart right outside. Kinda hard to smell the roses, right?”

“Sure. I guess. Tell me about your favourite place.”

“Easy 39th st and 9th avenue.”

“What’s there?”

flea market“What’s not? It’s the world’s biggest flea market. Everything’s there. Reminds me of the old days when I was really called Hell’s Kitchen and not Clinton or Midtown West.”

“So you hate what people call you now?”

“Wouldn’t you? I got a proud heritage, you know. I been here a while and now, all of a sudden, people don’t call me by name, like there was something wrong with me, like they don’t love me no more.”

(This goes on for far too long so let me cut to the chase.)

However, by doing this I had several revelations.

First, I may need to see a psychiatrist.

Second, great writers make location a character and by chatting with Mr Kitchen, I began the thought process that lead me deeper into that part of NY.

Lastly, Hell’s Kitchen, AKA Clinton, seems a bit unsure of himself and yes, he’s a he. He’s also a bit of a jerk, and kind of unforgiving, you know, but he wants to avoid the future. Maybe he’s fighting against it in his own way.

So, could I use all this in a story?

You bet. I found that by talking to my city, I began to think about it on a whole new way. Not only did I find more intersesting places, but if you think about a place having a personality, then I would think the lights wouldn’t always work cuz the city’s a little pissed off. Or the sewer line constantly breaks. Or buildings have odd cracks.

I get this may not work for sane people, but hey, if you’re stuck, go interview someone or something. The hero’s car. The Antagonist’s mother. The dog who loves to poo on the victim’s lawn. The mail carrier who delivers mail.

Whatever.

It’s just a different way of getting a new way to look at something and maybe that look will inspire you to get bum back into chair and write.

Whadda think? Am I crazy?

Midsummer trivia – part 2

summer-trivia-2

Silk’s Post #136 — Are you still at the beach? Hanging around the patio? Lounging by the pool? Good! Me too.

Last week I dished up a few, slightly off-the-wall, trivia bits about writers and the writing life for your entertainment. We are a strange lot, writers. Why not revel in it?

Here’s another short blast of midsummer writers trivia you should be able to easily scan over the span of a nice, frosty mint julep or an iced tea – and still have time to slather on some more sun screen.

Without further ado, here are this week’s offbeat trivia bits to add a little spice to your otherwise idyllic summer leisure time. Don’t want you getting too comfortable and complacent swinging in that hammock.

William S. Burroughs – Murdering my wife turned me into a writer!
No, it’s not a headline from the National Enquirer. One of the most bizarre and scandalous bits of author trivia of all time has to be the story of the tortured (but celebrated) “beat generation” author of Naked Lunch and Junky. Of course, it wasn’t trivial to Burroughs, and certainly not to his common law wife, Joan. In 1951, the troubled couple, then living in Mexico under the influence of a variety of addictive substances, ended a fateful evening with friends at the Bounty Bar in Mexico City with an impromptu staging of what Burroughs called their “William Tell act.” Joan balanced a highball glass on her head and William tried to shoot it with his handgun. He shot low. You get the picture. Rest in peace, Joan. Eventually fleeing back home to the US (he was convicted in absentia but received only a two-year suspended sentence), Burroughs wrote in the preface to his novel Queer, “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death and to the realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing … I have no choice except to write my way out.” Don’t try this at home, kids! (Sources: Defining Moments in Books, Cassell, 2007; Wikipedia).

Harlan Ellison – How much is that writer in the window?
Speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison has had over 1,700 short stories and other works published, for which he has won multiple Hugos, Nebulas and Edgars. In his colourful and sometimes obstreperous career, he has acknowledged himself to be “possibly the most contentious person on Earth”. One of his more unusual projects, beginning in the 1970’s, was to write “public compositions” in bookstore windows to demonstrate that writing is “a job … like being a plumber or an electrician” rather than some mystical art performed by “magicians on a mountaintop somewhere.” But these were not readings. He would simply sit in a store window and churn out publishable stories, often based on prompts from others, while onlookers gaped and sought autographs. It was writing as performance art, all in the service of bringing the process of creating literature into daily public life and dispelling the notion of a writer as a distant introvert. (Sources: mental_floss; Wikipedia).

A dozen writers who wanted to become politicians
With thankful acknowledgement for my source, The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace (Bantam, 1977).

Yes, it’s usually the other way around. When you see a politician on a talk show today (and we’re seeing more than anyone deserves to right now), it’s a sure bet that they’re either running for office, or hawking a book – often both at once. But many successful writers have tried their hand at running for office, whether due to their strong convictions or their outsized egos, and this particular lot all failed – which may have been a blessing for both the citizenry at large, and their readers who were looking forward to the next book.

1. John Greenleaf Whittier — this Quaker poet made an unsuccessful bid for a US congressional seat in 1842 after having served in the Massachusetts legislature. He went on to become a leader in the anti-slavery movement.

2. Victor Hugo — this flamboyant French poet, novelist, dramatist, and advocate of republicanism – author of Les Misérables among many classic romance titles – confidently declared himself a candidate for the presidency of the French Republic in 1848, to no avail. He later won a seat in the National Assembly after returning from exile after his political bete noire, Napoleon III, fell from power.

3. Henry George — in 1886, this economist and author of Progress and Poverty ran for the office of New York City mayor on a radical labour ticket. Among other things, he advocated the abolition of private land ownership, finishing second in a close three-man race – behind Democrat Abram Hewitt, but ahead of Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

4. Jack London — the San Francisco born sailor, adventurer and author of The Call of the Wild served a brief jail term for vagrancy in his youth, and emerged a passionate Socialist at age 18. He campaigned unsuccessfully to become mayor of Oakland on the Socialist ticket in 1901 and 1905 while still in his 20s, attracting more publicity than votes.

5. H.G. Wells — an active member of the Socialist Fabian Society, Wells ran as a Labour candidate for the British Parliament in 1921 and 1922. While fans were more than ready for his writing, including enduring science fiction classics such as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds, voters were clearly not ready for his political perspectives, including a belief in the inevitability of a World State.

6. Upton Sinclair — another Socialist candidate (rather a common thread among writers), the author of The Jungle, among other classics, ran for Congress, governor of California, and US Senate. Switching to the Democratic party, he then tried unsuccessfully for the governership again in 1934 during the Depression. A lifelong social activist, he is credited with the line: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

7. Gore Vidal — as a Democratic nominee for Congress in upstate New York in 1960, he polled ahead of the successful presidential candidate John Kennedy in his district, but still lost to the Republican. Thereafter, his political influence was delivered through his role as an essayist and commentator, and in his political and historical novels, such as The City and the Pillar, Myra Breckinridge, Burr and Lincoln.

8. James Michener — somehow, in between writing popular tomes like Tales of the South Pacific, Hawaii, Chesapeake and Centennial, this prolific author found time to run for Congress in Bucks County, PA in 1962 on the Democratic ticket.  Although he lost the election, he never lost his interest in politics

9. William F. Buckley — journalist, political commentator and founder of The National Review in 1955, he was America’s leading conservative intellectual for decades, and a keen rival of Gore Vidal. Running for Mayor of New York City in 1965, he lost to the Democratic candidate, former Yale classmate John Lindsay. Calling on his own experience with the CIA, he later wrote 10 well-regarded spy novels.

10. Norman Mailer — this giant of 20th-century American literature, who was known for his creative non-fiction (The Executioner’s Song, The Naked and the Dead, Armies of the Night) and for co-founding The Village Voice, became yet another writer who sought the Democratic nomination for Mayor of New York City (1969). Using a characteristically brash slogan, “No More Bullshit,” he predictably didn’t make the cut.

11. Jimmy Breslin — running mate of Norman Mailer in 1969 (cited as “the most literary ticket in history”), this novelist-columnist (Pulitzer Prize for Commentary) campaigned for Council president for the City of New York – and lost. However this gave him time to do lots more of the investigative journalism he was famous for.

12. Hunter S. Thompson — the king of “gonzo journalism” and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, Thompson described himself as “a foul-mouthed outlaw journalist”. His titles included Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His run for sheriff of Pitkin County, CO (which includes toney Aspen) in 1970 on the Freak Power ticket started as a political stunt, then turned serious when he got unexpected support. But he still lost. Probably just as well.

That ends my summer trivia diversion. Hope you enjoyed it. Now let’s get back to work.

Happy summer!

James Scott Bell on 7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel

JSBJoe’s Post #147 (though it shouldn’t count as a Joe’s Post) — Every so often, I take a few moments to read some of my most favourite inspirational writers. My mentors, if you like. Yesterday, I re-read something that really struck me by James Scott Bell (via Writer’s Digest.) Please check out his entire article as he tends not to be all blah-blah-blah preachy, but does what all good writers do. He entertains us. Plus, you can pick up a free download on how to write a novel). So, without further boring-Joe commentary, here’s James Scott Bell’s 7 things not to do, and my thoughts. Enjoy.

7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (and How to Avoid Them)

By: | June 5, 2012 – Writer’s Digest

inspirationOh, my goodness, this is a hard one for me not to do. I honestly think it’s the difference between pro writers and wannabes. Pros get it done, day in and day out. Like taking fish oil every day. Or eating kale.

Simply put, they make inspiration happen by sheer force of will. Or they will find a way to get inspired. For me, that way is often by reading, but I need to readjust my thinking on the whole ‘waiting for inspiration’ thing.

2. Look over your shoulder.

Bell writes about the inner critic here and that inner critic is born from fear. Of all the things I have to overcome, this one is the most difficult. I love writing, but hate rejection. It’s like a hockey goalie loving to be a goalie but hating to get pucks in the face.

To be a writer these days, we need to be like the old school goalies, like Gump Worsley one_worsley03who never wore a mask and took a lot of pucks in the face for something he loved to do.

Insane? Maybe. But aren’t writers, by definition, insane?

So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put up his picture and look at it every time I get all ‘fraidy cat about sending out a query. I mean, he took pucks in the face and his mom had named him Gump.

3. Ignore the craft.

I don’t do this. It’s not one of my issues. I read about it, have a critique group and constantly look at other writers to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

4. Keep a chip on your shoulder.

voodooEver have one of those friends who call you on your bullsh*t? You kinda hate it at the time. You may even get mad at them and threaten to pee on their petunias or make a voodoo doll of them and stick that doll with a million needles, then light it on fire, then toss it in a tub of acid while screaming at it, “I hate you, I hate you.”

Everyone does that, right?

But Bell’s right. I have to let go of the chip on my shoulder. So what if agents don’t get back to me? Why should that stop me from getting another query out? (Hint – the answer is this is really masking fear, again.)

5. Write for the market only

I’ve only done this once. And I did it this year. For an open call from TOR. Otherwise, I’m like an anti-market writer. I don’t write to the latest trend. I’m not even sure what that would be, to be honest. I write what I write.

But Bell also talks about voice and that’s something I’ve worked hard on. But here’s the odd thing. I think I have several voices.

Ok, stop looking at me like that. We all hear different voices in our heads, right? Right?

I love my noir voice that I used for my Lou Rains novel and my WW2 mystery set in the Netherlands. I love my goofy-Joe voice that I use for blogs. I even love my YA voice, but I seem to be the only one who does.

See, for me, voice comes a lot from character and genre. Part of the fun is playing around with voices, seeing what I can do. Like trying on a different style of underwear to see what fits. Bikini briefs, not so much. Boxy boxers, nah. But a nice pair of boxer-briefs, yah, I don’t put those back after trying them on.

But of all of all my voices, the goofy-Joe blog voice may very well be my most authentic.

6. Take as many shortcuts as possible.

This really applies to self-publishing, a route we 5/5/5 may be taking soon. Read up on what Bell says. It’s gold.

7. Quit

never quitAlthough some days, the days I look at my stack of rejections and think, hey, maybe I just don’t have the skill to be a writer, I admit, I do think about quitting.

But I don’t. I’m really not sure why. Overwhelming evidence seems to suggest that I’ll never be able to make a career at this. So why continue?

I write because I need to write. It’s a part of me. Like Gump needed to be a goalie and probably would have been happy to play even if he was never picked up by the NHL. So, if I continue to write, continue to persevere, continue to improve and combat all the how-not-to-succeed things inside my head, maybe one day I’ll make it.

*****

megan foxAnyway, that’s it from me, today. Going to take down that picture of Megan Fox fixing her car and put up Gumpers. Going to finish off my 30 pages for submission to my writing group. Going to get in the headspace of a successful writer and write me some writing.

For anyone interested, here are a few awesome links to writing guru’s you should check out. Other than Mr. Bell.

Donald Maass (on character)

Hallie Ephron (supporting characters)

Nancy Kress (writing flashbacks)

These are all short, fun articles. Easy to digest. But you can also follow-up on those writers a bit more and see what other bits of advice they have to offer.

Also, if anyone would like to post their comments on what JSB had to say, let me know.

Hugs.

 

 

 

Midsummer trivia – part 1

summer-trivia-1

Silk’s Post #135 — Midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere is a time for idylls. Reading on the beach under a floppy hat. Lounging in the cockpit of a boat. Setting off on an outdoor adventure. Floating in a pool. Playing lawn games. Catching a late sunset. Paddling a kayak. Puttering in the garden. Dining al fresco. Beachcombing. Sipping fancy drinks you wouldn’t touch in a more somber season. Watching fireworks. Strolling in a park. Swinging in a hammock.

The call of midsummer tempts even the most serious writer to abandon creation in favour of recreation. Surely, these complement each other.

But if you’re not holed up indoors pounding the keyboard while the sun shines and the rest of the world plays, you can, at least, recreate like a writer. Idle midsummer moments are perfect for giving your imagination a workout. Today’s daydreams are tomorrow’s killer plots. People-watching with a writer’s eye can spawn unforgettable characters. Whiling away a summer afternoon with a good book is never time wasted.

In the spirit of such genteel pursuits, here’s a very short collection of (slightly dark) trivia about writers and the writing life to add a bit of grit, amusement or amazement to your leisure time. If nothing else, you can impress your literary-minded friends with your arcane knowledge.

How the New York Times Changed the book publishing industry!
Imagine a world without the New York Times Bestseller List. The publishing industry was very different in 1942, the year this list was born with little hoopla. It is now considered to have signalled a revolution in the industry that once was viewed as “a gentleman’s profession”, transforming publishing into a multimillion dollar marketplace in which books are often treated (and valued) more as commodities than works of art. Not counting the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (whose dominance of the charts literally spawned a new, separate NYT children’s bestseller list in 2000), the title of top fiction author on the list – both in terms of number of weeks (790) and titles (65) – goes to Danielle Steel (both records are as of 2009, the latest list I found). Of course, the whole concept of “bestsellers” and how they’re calculated is perennially controversial (see my post on What you never knew about bestsellers). However, what’s undeniable is that every author and agent alive lusts for a position on the New York Times Bestseller List. End of story. (Sources: Defining Moments in Books, Cassell, 2007; NYT Best Seller List).

The 1820s – bad news comes in threes for English romantic poetry
Our baby boom generation witnessed our own eerie (if predictable) series of deaths of our cultural icons in the 1960s. Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, all left their musical mark in their brief periods of stardom and were dead before they turned 30. For English romantic poetry lovers of the 1820s, the bad news also came as a triptych. First to go was John Keats in 1821, the victim of tuberculosis at the age of 26. A physician who had treated his own dying brother for the disease, he knew what was coming when his symptoms arose, and spent his final three years writing furiously. In 1822, it was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s turn to cast off his mortal coil, ironically last seen “reclining on the deck of his boat, Don Juan, reading a copy of Keats’s latest poems” just before he drowned off the Italian coast in a freak storm. The controversial Lord Byron lived to see 36, but was apparently plagued by deformities, health issues and a monstrous sexual appetite before he succumbed to complications from malaria in 1824. (Source: Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody, Harper & Row, 1989).

A dozen authors who wrote bestsellers while in prison
Source: Inspired by The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace (Bantam, 1977 – still one of my favourite books to get lost in).

1. Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) — began writing his epic poem Henriade while doing an 11-month hitch in the Bastille, Paris, for writing poems against the regent in 1717.

2. John Bunyan — wrote most of Pilgram’s Progress (published in 1678 and rated in a 1950 survey as the most boring classic ever written) while imprisoned in Bedford County Jail for 11 years after holding Puritan services that offended the Church of England.

3. Miguel de Cervantes — while jailed in 1597 in Seville, Spain for “deficits as a naval quartermaster”, he began writing Don Quixote.

4. John Cleland — worked his way out of debtors’ prison at Newgate, London through the  unique means of producing a pornographic novel which a publisher had offered him 20 guineas to write; thus was created Fanny Hill, or the Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1750.

5. Daniel Defoe — while serving an indefinite sentence for seditious libel in Newgate Prison, London (which seems to have seen it share of naughty writers), he wrote Hymn to the Pillory in 1703 (Robinson Crusoe didn’t come along until 1719).

6. Adolf Hitler — while “writer” is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hitler, it was his work Mein Kampf that inspired the Nazi movement and brought him to power; the book was begun in 1923 while he was serving a prison sentence in the fortress of Landsberg for organizing the failed Beer Hall Putsch, and obviously he was in a very bad mood.

7. Richard Lovelace — jailed in 1642 for his royalist activities, this Cavalier adventurer penned the poem “To Althea from Prison” during his 7-week stint in the Gatehouse at Westminster, which contained these famous words: “Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage;/Minds innocent and quiet take/That for an hermitage.”

8. Jawaharlal Nehru — served a total of 10 years in a British jail between 1921 and 1945 for his continuing leadership of India’s fight for independence, during which time he wrote Glimpses of World History. By 1947, he was prime minister of the new nation for which he had written a Declaration of Independence in 1929.

9. Marco Polo — whose famous Travels of Marco Polo memoir was dictated to a fellow inmate while he served time as a prisoner of war (between Venice and Genoa) after his capture in 1298.

10. O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) — convicted in 1898 of embezzlement of funds from a bank in Austin, TX while working as a teller, some of his best loved short stories were written in his cell while in federal prison in Columbus, OH. Perhaps appropriately, he’s considered the master of the surprise ending, engineering his own reversal of fortune when he went on to become a prolific and successful short story writer in New York, where he penned 381 works.

11. Sir Walter Raleigh — served 13 years in the Tower of London beginning in 1603 for treason after the death of his patron, Queen Elizabeth I. Always claiming his innocence of the crime, some might consider his sentence poetic justice for popularizing the new craze, tobacco, which he brought to England from the New World. In any case, he wrote his History of the World while in the tower.

12. Oscar Wilde — imprisoned in Reading Jail for homosexuality in 1895, he wrote De Profundis and Apologia during his two years of incarceration and hard labour, emerging a broken man who died a pauper three years after his release, at the age of 46.

Ah, too bad to end this on such a tragic note. Poor Oscar. He certainly would have had a better time of it today, virtually anywhere in the civilized world.

If you liked this, I have more trivia ready to go next week. And after that, we all get back to work, writing our butts off.

Happy summer!

The subjective nature of our business

Joe’s Post #146

twilightOne of the hardest things to come to terms with as a writer is the subjective nature of our business. In simple terms, as much as we try to learn the craft, the techniques, or the tricks of the trade, it comes down to taste. Some people will like it and others won’t. Like the Twilight books. Or cucumber water.

I'll give the plot away.. it's about an ant man.

I’ll give the plot away.. it’s about an ant man.

I was reminded of this when our family went to see Ant-Man. As an editor or publisher (or agent), had this project landed on my desk, I would have rejected it. I mean, hey, it’s about a superhero who’s an ant?

What the hell?

But let’s say I bought the story. Let’s say I even made a movie with Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd and that hot chick from Lost. Let’s say I added some nifty special effects. Let’s say, by the end, I kinda thought it was good.

Well, was it?

The reviews were mixed. The youngest boy thought it was 10/10. He loved the idea of being an ant. He’s eight. The oldest boy thought (I kid you not) that he didn’t connect with the characters and all the emotional stuff seemed just, you know, thrown in. He’s 12 going on 30. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world gave it 9/10 and for her, that’s really 12/10 since it’s a movie about super heroes and didn’t star Tatum Channing (or Channing Tatum, I can never remember).

I gave it 7/10, mostly for reasons the oldest boy mentioned, but it did make me laugh and I loved the world they brought us into.

And that’s the thing about all creative endeavours. Some people will like it and others want more Tatum.

But why does this matter? Why write about it?

It’s because we’ll always receive a butt load of rejections. Despite our best efforts, these feed all the wrongs dogs that live inside of us. Fear. Doubt. A feeling we’re not good enough.

The truth could be completely different. It’s all subjective. Maybe an editor had read 4 proposals about unicorns mating with jelly fish and yours was the 5th and no matter how good it was, they really were sick of uni-jellies. Or maybe their boss wanted a book about cave dwelling monks who fed on human flesh and you just sent in a story about loving your neighbourhood dog.

Who knows?

rhIt’s why Heinlein’s advice about writing and sending it out, then writing and sending it out, is still the best advice to remember. Get enough stories on enough desks and your odds of getting published are increased exponentially.

Cuz, you see, subjectiveness works in our favour as well.

Let subjectiveness inspire you.

************

So, back to some stuff that I was doing, but forgot about since I’m getting old. Links! Please check them out.

Robert J Sawyer. Great writer, great advice on breaking in.

SFWA – a great organization with plenty of outstanding forums

Nathan Bransford – Again, great advice on a wide variety of writing subjects.

Does the Real World matter?

virtual-reality

Silk’s Post #134 — Joe’s last post, which warned that writers cannot hide in a room, made me laugh. Then it made me think. Then it sent me off into a hot-July-day, philosophical universe where all things can be possible and impossible at the same time, and no question is absurd.

So I ask: Does the Real World matter?

And what implications does the answer have for writers?

Here’s one super easy example of how increasingly blurred the edges of the Real World (the one we literally, physically experience), and the World of the Mind (the one we experience through imagination) have become: the news.

Here on our totally networked planet, we are constantly exposed to the Real World of wars, natural disasters, mass shootings, starvation, etc. (and happy things, too, of course, although those are usually afterthoughts when it comes to the news). But most of us experience these things purely in our imaginations, while sitting peacefully on the couch, popping cheese puffs, through the eyes of the adventurous reporters who are actually out there in the Real World. Yet we have the impression that we’ve “been there”, that we understand the experience. Hey, we’ve seen it with our own eyes! We’ve heard the bombs, observed the misery on the faces of victims, watched the cars get washed out to sea.

Thank you, TV, for making our world more – and less – real at the same time.

More and more today, the Internet is our source of Real World exposure. Cyberspace is much more real than carefully-produced TV, because here you can directly experience unfiltered, uncurated reality. It’s raw! It’s happening right now! It’s like having a real conversation with millions of real people living in the Real World!

Or not. I vote for “not”.

If TV is a gigantic reality show (and by “reality”, I of course mean fiction), then the Internet is an even more gigantic reality show on steroids. It’s the perfect tool for creating imaginary realms that pretend to be the Real World in an extremely compelling way. What it adds is the ultimate seduction of interactivity, producing virtual worlds that eclipse what we used to understand as the Real World, where stuff actually happens and is physically experienced – not just imagined while sitting in front of a computer or poking at a smart phone while walking down the street tripping over fire hydrants.

The dark side: we all know that online you can experience virtual death through games. How many more steps of imagination are required to lure people, hungry for self-esteem, to experience Real World death by recruiting them into the ultimate reality shows concocted by ideologues? Are these reality show “contestants” surprised when they actually find themselves bleeding real blood on their way to that great reality in the sky?

Well. This is getting a bit more dark than I intended.

The light side, then: online you can be whoever you want to be. It’s not the Real World, after all, so who’s to stop you? Make up your own reality show, starring you. Post your own movies of your cat doing tai chi. Join a chat room where fantasy historical characters talk to each other in Middle English. Start a blog on UFOs and alien abductions. Publish your own book (woohoo!). Entertain yourself for hours, days, weeks – while the sun rises and sets, rises and sets, and seasons change outside your window.

Oh, right. That would be hiding in a room, which Joe has already told us writers can’t do.

Perhaps I haven’t made my point about the increasingly blurry relationship between the Real World and the World of the Mind very directly here. It’s a challenging concept to get your head around. But I think it matters a lot, and it especially matters a lot to writers.

Before the very short slice of modernity we now inhabit, human beings had no choice but to experience the Real World directly. There were few filters and lenses used to “interpret” reality, the chief World of the Mind perspectives being whatever spiritual beliefs prevailed in a particular time and place to help explain the inexplicable. Oral storytelling was the only transmission mechanism for ideas. Once language matured and became more abstract, then was written down, and eventually was able to be read by some growing proportion of the population, the World of the Mind began to really bloom.

And writers gained a big chunk of the franchise in this new, imagined world of ideas, taking over from the oral storytellers. Whether writing about religion, or science, or society, or fictional stories, writers had to contemplate the difference between the Real World and the World of the Mind in order to do their jobs. There was non-fiction. There was fiction. There once seemed to be an effort made to distinguish between the two (allowing for the fact that lots of things experienced in the Real World were entirely misunderstood until science started explaining them).

Where do we stand today? Well, everyone’s a writer (and most are their own editors). And everyone can go everywhere, and experience everything. Virtually, of course.

Our experiential landscape has become an admixture of the Real World and the World of the Mind, without bright lines or sharp edges separating them. We’ve even outgrown the binary categories of non-fiction and fiction. Now there’s creative non-fiction, a kind of literary mule with a kick.

The discourse of public life has become a game of propagandists versus fact-checkers, where the “truth” is whatever you can get away with saying. World-changing events and trends engineered by humans are often constructed on foundations of fantasy masquerading as reality (the former often more appealing than the latter).

Today’s “reality” is an easy place to get lost.

So back to the question: does the Real World matter? Perhaps I should add “anymore”. And if it does – or doesn’t – what does that mean for writers?

Call me an idealist, but I say that writers – whose work still has a huge influence on the World of the Mind – have a responsibility to the Real World. A sacred responsibility, perhaps.

I hope we are, at least sometimes, more than entertainers. I hope we can do better things with our words than just sell them like a cheap fix to give readers a thrill. Or, worse, lead them into some dark place where the Real World no longer matters.

If slippery, tricky, malleable virtual reality is challenging the immutable truths of the Real World for supremacy, who better to keep those truths alive in the World of the Mind than writers? Isn’t that part of our job? To illuminate? To enlighten? To encourage thought?

Better writers than I have explored this theme in more beautiful words:

“What is the purpose of writing? For me personally, it is really to explain the mystery of life, and the mystery of life includes, of course, the personal, the political, the forces that make us what we are while there’s another force from inside battling to make us something else.” — Nadine Gordimer (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1991)

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”  — George Orwell (author of 1984 and Animal Farm)

“[My idealism is] still alive and well because without it the business of the writer would be meaningless … If we have any role at all, I think it’s the role of optimism, not blind or stupid optimism, but the kind which is meaningful, one that is rather close to that notion of the world which is not perfect, but which can be improved. In other words, we don’t just sit and hope that things will work out; we have a role to play to make that come about. That seems to me to be the reason for the existence of the writer.” — Chinua Achebe (author of Things Fall Apart)

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anais Nin (author of Delta of Venus)

“[In the end, all writing is about] enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”  — Stephen King (legendary, prolific, multiple-award-winning writer)

“A writer should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” — E.B. White (Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, 1978)

 

Writers cannot hide in a room

Joe’s Post #145

Taking the Blindfold Off

homers headAs writers, we live in our heads a lot. I think I may have said this once or twice. We often sit in dark rooms, alone, gulping cold coffee and creating worlds filled with all manner of characters or monsters or fluffy bunnies.

But every so often, writers are forced into the real world. Into the big city.

It’s a scary place. There’s light and the smell of hot dogs and lots of people. There’s the ear-splitting sound of jackhammers, gritty air that makes your eyelids feel like sandpaper and even more people … everywhere … in cars, on the sidewalk, in malls, wandering into traffic, or shouting at imaginary demons …

In such a chaotic environment, though, is writing gold.

If you’re willing to observe it.

I watched an old Chinese couple navigate the Skytrain with only nods to each other. An unspoken language that only they understood, but understood completely.

I sat a seat away from an Aboriginal man who bobbed with the rhythm of the train, reading his bible and mouthing the words to himself.

I laughed as three young men, not even 20, gave each other advice on how to attract women. Apparently the secret is the right cologne.

And that’s just from a Skytrain run.

In the real world, there are more details, more ideas for characters, and more character traits to be mined than being in a room by yourself.

A balding man with a ring of hair, all well-combed, well maintained, except for the very back which stood up as if he’d been electrocuted. But it was the one place he couldn’t see, or had no one else at home who’d tell him.

A woman changes out of her high heels to ride the Seabus, wearing simple flipflops with her expensive suit until the Seabus had landed on the other side.

A gruff construction worker complains to his friend about aspheticides that killed pests with a lethal combination containing lead and arse-ianic. Personally, I think he’d sniffed a bit too much of that arse-ianic.

But there’s so much to see. To smell. To hear, taste or touch.

Or to imagine.

Opening line – “22 people sat beside the dead man and before someone noticed the blood.”

Or – “When Rebecca arrived at the airport, she realized she’d forgotten three things: the book she’d almost finished reading, her lucky jogging socks and her boyfriend. Well, she would miss two of those things.”

I honestly wished I’d brought a pen and paper to make notes, but I was on a different mission. Fun with the family. So I didn’t record all that I should have recorded, but the whole adventure did remind me that, to be good writer, you can’t just sit in the dark and make shit up.

Unless you’re Stephen King.

all work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being organized gives more time to write

Karalee’s Post #119

packed for Mexico

The fact that I’m writing a post today means that I’m organized. I’m off to Mexico in the morning with eight other members/friends of the Greer family: girlfriends and boyfriends, bride, groom and Grandma.

Our daughter is getting married a week Saturday.

Did you notice the bookcase in the background of the picture! It’s the cornerstone of our master room. Not only does it  add color, it’s like a serene picture that sets a peaceful mood in the room. We are both big readers and love to be surrounded by the glory of books. I bet many older adults out there love having a bookcase full of books simply to look at too!

Now, I’m organized to the point that my emergency pack is also ready. That means safety pins, needle and thread, buttons, and scissors – just in case any wedding or bridesmaids dresses need last minute adjusting. Grandma is a great fixer-upper!

My clothes are packed, the wedding dress and shoes are ready to go (I better not forget them in the rush in the morning!), Jocelyn’s necklace and earrings are safely stowed.

Our Power Point video is ready to be downloaded on the lanyards we got customized for the guests.

With nine of us traveling together with only an hour or so to change planes in Dallas and no food served on the plane, I’ve also organized snacks to tide young adults over. No grouchy growling stomachs if a mom can avoid it. Experience!

With all of this going on this week, I’ve managed to send in my submission to my group, keep up with my new business, get our hot tub in shape, deadhead my garden and the round-about at the end of the street that I look after, and cut and freeze all the basil that’s already grown this season!

Better busy than bored I always say!

 

Kevin and Rosa

 

My son Kevin has literally just arrived off the plane from travelling in SE Asia for two months, to jump on the plane again tomorrow for his sister’s wedding. He and his girlfriend Rosa are delighted to see each other and have changed to make sure the suit Kevin had made in Thailand and Rosa’s dress compliment each other.

 

 

I will be reading not writing over the next couple of weeks. What a treat that is too.

______________________________________________

Achievements this week:

  • Taking care of family and the house/garden
  • keeping up with my new business.
  • Moving towards making more changes in my life that need to happen to stay positive!

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Still sticking to the Slight Edge philosophy.
  • Daily meditation and exercise. Gratitude keeps me in a place of peace. It’s been challenging at times this week.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. We are there for each other.
  • I will be reading not writing over the next couple of weeks. With traveling and paying for the weight of bags, I tend to download books on my iPad. This must be a major reason in the western world that ebooks have exploded in purchases. Even five years ago I wouldn’t have thought I would download books. Now it is commonplace.

Perspective Photos:

jazz trio

 

PK3 Jazz Trio on July 4. Right by the water in West Vancouver. Awesome concert. Check them out!

 

 

 

 

stairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!