What we do is important…

I’ve begun editing stories for our next Off the Page anthology. Editing can be tough but fun, and it gives me a chance to expound on my own thoughts about writing.

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I was recently reminded that when we write, although we create our own little worlds with their own little ways, each world must be consistent in how it follows its own rules. Even in magical realms, you can’t just have magic work for one being and not for another because it pleases your plot. Magic must work for both or none, or you have to provide a good explanation for this lack of consistency.  Unless, of course, you’re working on a clone of  ‘Once Upon a Time’ (which I am enjoying for the first time even as I pick on its writing.) Each story must behave according to its own parameters and logic.

The reason for this is: believe-ability. Notice I did not say ‘plausibility’. Because it isn’t about writing something that has to fit our known reality. It has to fit the reality of the world you create. If all unicorns broadcast jazz music from their horns, you might have a unicorn who doesn’t fit in because he plays country music instead.   That’s okay. His apparent aberration is an intentional part of your story.  But you couldn’t have a unicorn without a horn who could broadcast music anyway. It wouldn’t fit the rules or logic of your world. Writers who ignore this ‘rule’ end up with readers who either put down the story or throw the book at the wall- because you jarred them out of the world. You woke them up from the dream of your story, and now they can’t get back to it.

This can be even more important in books that are based on real life, because there is no ‘magical alternative’ to blame it on. It’s like stage activity in a play. If the actor goes off Stage Right on her way to the garage, and comes back onto from Stage Left carrying a tire pump, it breaks the continuity for the audience. They’ re  puzzled. Was that part of the play? How does that work? Did the actor just get turned around backstage?  Meanwhile brilliant lines and funny jokes and defining plot points are being missed as the play moves on.

You want to tell a story. You want to make a point, and you want to have attention paid to it. A writer can’t do any of these things if the writing is so inconsistent as to bump the reader out of it. And if you are writing non-fiction, you want to be taken seriously and be believed. You owe it to yourself and the reader to be provide writing that hangs together with sturdy, reasonable logic.

Writing is a tacit contract between reader and writer. What writers do is important. We first of all entertain, but we also teach, preach, counsel, and illuminate life and the human condition. We need the trust of our readers that what we say will have meaning and be worth their time to read – even if only for entertainment. We need to keep the promise we make when we put words down and ask someone to read them – that we will build a world fairly, with no shortcuts or hand-waving – and we will play fair with their imaginations to create a place they can inhabit for a time uninterrupted, without being thrown out by gross displays of mismatched behaviors or wavering parameters, until our message has been rightfully conveyed.

If readers know they can trust us, they will listen; they will read our words and consider them.  That is how ideas are cultivated. It is how hearts and minds are changed. It’s how writers change the world.

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A Writing School for Working People | Literary Hub

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via A Writing School for Working People | Literary Hub

Another article from Matt Grant that I wanted to share, one that I know he is excited about having written.

I’ve spent a good part of my life encouraging people to write. Writing can be profitable, but it is also good for stability, growth, and your soul. People need to feel the freedom to try their hand at it, to derive whatever benefit it gives them.

To see through writer Grant’s eyes how this school operates was both exciting and a balm to my own soul. Read it and see the good people can do.

Bright Lights, Big City, New Bookstore | Literary Hub

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via Bright Lights, Big City, New Bookstore | Literary Hub

An article on the innovative new book center started in NYC.  written by Matt Grant, a Brooklyn writer whose blog link can be found in my list of Associated Writers’ blogs , and who – I am proud to say – is also my son-in-law.

 

 

The Inspiration for ‘Remainder’

the following post first appeared on REMAINDER’s book page. Having updated that part of the site, I am re-posting it here so that it can be read and archived.

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I wrote REMAINDER in response to a number of things. September 11. A  friend, who was also my daughters’ godfather, dying of pancreatic cancer. A desire to lift up a diverse community’s ability to get along, even during times of stress. Fracture lines don’t always have to be along lines of heritage.

It became a love story and a coming of age story and a story of life. What happens when ordinary people meet circumstances that exceed the boundaries of their power? What makes a good decision, and when the decision is good for one but bad for another, how do you choose?

Living in community, even when the goal is to be independent, means that somehow, some way, your decisions are going to affect and be affected by other people. What does it look like when we navigate that?  How does it play out?

Remainder, Tennessee is a small community – not even incorporated – inhabited by people who just want to live their lives their own way. The world has already made demands upon it in response to 9/11. And every resident has their own personal story. Into this delicate balance comes a steamrolling powerhouse intent on showing terrorists developing land into planned communities. Remainder stands as the final site, and Wilson Parker must acquire the land necessary for his company to build. How much land? All of it.

The residents of Remainder have decisions to make. Sell, or fight it. Even as they each  face personal critical points in their lives.

The end of one life, the coming of a new one, and the daily  struggle against the ghosts of past lives – like all of us, the residents of Remainder have things on their minds. How do they all cope? What becomes of the community?

Read it to see what remains.

Finding One’s Way

Finding One’s WayI’ve written before about working on multiple projects.

This past  year I had a taste of what it was like to be locked into a large project with a deadline. One that involved co-writers (for the results of that project, see my post from December 16 Press Release: New Anthology).

I have to admit, while I liked working on the project itself – it was exciting! – I was anguished and frustrated over not being able to work on my other projects simultaneously. Next, of course, came the holidays, as well as some neck pain issues, which were directly related to time spent at the computer.

The holidays were finally over. People were headed home. But, unfortunately, my son-in-law, also a writer, and I had a little conversation.

You see, I had fired out a set of notes on a Hallmark-style movie idea I’d had centered on Christmas.  I figured that as I got caught up on my next two projects and got a little braver, I’d see how  you went about submitting  (and writing) a movie treatment or even a script. We all know how these big fantasies go, right? I mentioned this at the table one night when my son-in-law had his laptop up. He nodded his head and went on checking the Intenet.

“You know,” he said a few minutes later, “Hallmark is having open submissions next month for un-agented book manuscripts. I’ll send you the link.”

Ever pause to ponder how much trouble those five little words cause in this post-Internet life?

I was off. I found the link, followed it, read the blogpost it was associated with, followed the recommended Twitter account, and discovered I had basically one month to write a book in if I wanted to take advantage of this situation.  Now, I believe in myself, but I have no agent. Un-agented submission opportunities are rare, nearly nonexistent. This was not an opportunity to be squandered. But, it would mean diving into a concentrated time expense/effort that would isolate me once again from everyday life AND family AND from my other projects. I have 2 novels that have been patient with me for about as long as they can stand. I expect them to hold me hostage and demand I feed them words any day now.

BUT – the opportunity.

BUT – could I write roughly 75,000 words in 30–some days AND polish them into a state for submission? That pace is faster than NaNoWriMo, and more demanding because it has to be submission ready. The decision was not an easy one.

But I come to you now, frazzle-headed, weary, grateful for the P’T for my neck, and so distracted at my part-time job that they must think I’m a twit (a word that means ‘pregnant goldfish’, did you know that?). And I come to you roughly 18 days into this venture and slightly more than halfway done with a rough draft that I am revising on the run as my son and daughter (also writers) provide me feedback.

Those living at home gave me a thumbs up, and organized the rest of the family into my cheering section. I get to brag on my progress, and they get to applaud my efforts.

Is the manuscript  any good? Heck if I know. Right now it’s mostly draft 1.

Will I finish in time? Ditto.

Have I driven my family nuts yet? Well, so far as I can tell, not any more than usual.

What I have done, however, is lived up to the promise I made myself someplace along the way. I know I have a certain amount of talent. I know can persevere, if I only will. So the promise is this: I will try. I will always try, and try my best. I will complete this novel, and I will make it the very best I can. And, if the timing works, I will submit it.

And if the timing fails, I will submit it somewhere else, or at another time.

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Being a writer, finding your story – it’s like any endeavor in life. For any endeavor in life to succeed, you must live fully into it, give it all your effort, your best shot. That is all you can do, but it is what you must do to know you really tried.

 

Try your hardest. Find your story, find your way. And you find yourself.

 

With apologies and credit….

The following is taken from a shared facebook post and is a poem by Sean Thomas Dougherty from his newest book The Second O of Sorrow. 

It speaks to the question of why should one write

 

taken from a shared facebook post

 

from      SecondO

Life’s a …. mystery

I don’t usually cross-post, but this topic has more than one direction. It also appears in a newsletter I compile for St. Paul’s in the Pines Episcopal Church.

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I like a mystery. I was raised on Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart. I watch them on TV. And, I write mysteries myself. So, why the profound interest in the fictional disasters and deaths of people I will never know?

Because in figuring out the puzzles in the stories, or creating puzzles for others, I get to explore human relationships. And in that exploration comes truth. Truth about people, about how relationships and emotions work, truth about life.

I ran across a person recently who openly berated me for not watching the news on TV. (I hadn’t said I didn’t, but that’s a different issue.)

 He said, “You only know what you read.” (again, another discussion could focus on the fact that written news goes into deeper depth.)

But what I wanted to say, and sadly didn’t, was that fiction, while only limitedly a source of facts, is often a great source of truth. Stories are told to convey the very things I mentioned at the top. Behavior. Emotion. Relationships. Ideas. Concepts. In short, stories convey the truths of people. Or at least, they can. And those are the kind of stories I like to read and write.

The person speaking to me was very proud of the fact that what he knew came from his experience and TV. Personal experience is great, but it is limited in that it is one-sided and tied to the places one has personally been. Books – and other means of telling stories – take us to other people’s experiences. We get to see more than our own point of view, for better or for worse.

It happens that stories were greatly used by someone my conversation partner admired. Jesus used many parables to illustrate his points. And parables are distinctly defined as stories, not facts.

Truth can be found in jokes. Profoundness can be found in puns and homilies in war flicks. People of earth have communicated news and truths through words since they first decided ‘ugh!’ was used to describe something they didn’t like.

Words are thought of as written, like this column. But you are reading it on a screen. It could be illustrated with graphics or even an animation. And it could be shown to you on a news broadcast (however far-fetched that is). The point is, regardless of the tool or the medium, it’s all words. And the same care and deep thought should go into each and every one of those words when we share them. Especially if we are trying to convey truth.

I like mysteries. Humanity is life’s great mystery, and I view God as the author. While I never expect to solve this mystery, my hope is that by reading and writing about it, I can illuminate things a little and add a bit of truth to the pile.