Thursday, December 19, 2013

Last blog of the year. I love this short inspirational youtube from numerous well-known writers giving  a sentence or two of writing advice.  What is the one piece of advice that almost every one of them gives?

You find your way to your unique way of writing by writing.

Happy Holidays

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I eventually got an MFA in Writing at Vermont College where I had many great teachers.

But before that, when I was an undergraduate, I tried out a few Creative Writing classes. Back in those days, and maybe in some classes these days too, the instructors didn't so much teach the class as talk about writing and then go over a story or two and then--nothing. There was no organized approach to teaching craft, no exercises to help us understand aspects of craft. It was just talk and then workshop. I didn't get much out of any of those classes.

Last night I was having final conferences with my students in my own creative writing class. When I started teaching this class years ago, I vowed to make it different from those useless classes that I had taken as an undergraduate. I would go through elements of craft, give them exercises to practice , get them writing in and out of class, get them reading published fiction and discussing it as writers, show videos of other writers talking about elements of craft. I would inspire them to write. I'd do more.

Last night I was talking to one of my students and he was asking me about majoring in English and I said there was good and bad to it for a writer. "We read differently than English students do," I said. "As writers, you and I read differently, and sometimes English classes can be frustrating for us because we read as writers."

A big smile broke out on his face.

It made me remember something--- how, back in one of those useless creative writing classes, the professor said, off-handedly, that when I finished my first novel I'd most likely put it away in a drawer and go on to the next and I shouldn't worry--that was natural.

A big smile broke out on my face.

I'd forgotten that smile until I saw it on my student's face.

You see I hadn't really believed I could write a novel. I wanted to. I'd written some things. But I didn't know if I could or how I would ever finish a novel. But here was this writer and this teacher of writing assuming I would. It made me think maybe he knew something I didn't. Maybe I really could finish a novel.

Belief is hard to come by.

You never know where you'll find it.

Sometimes even in a useless creative writing class. NOT so useless it turns out.

Thinking of yourself as a writer, finding the belief to do so, is a huge step to becoming one.

That professor/writer gave me an incredible gift.

Thank you, Professor G.

 I'll try to pass it on.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What's Missing In Your Writing?

What I love about this video is it expresses very well a certain landscape most writers must go through:

You've been writing for a while and you've had some good moments --you know that--and you know you have some good stories in you and you know you've worked hard and read a lot and studied the various aspects of writing fiction--AND you know something isn't quite what you want it to be be in your writing, something isn't quite There... but you don't know what.  You know good work; you understand it when you read it. You appreciate it.  You believe you have it in you to write good work but something isn't right in your scenes or sentences or characters, some thing, maybe small, isn't right. It's  a disappointment. Ira Glass articulates this gap  between what you know you can do, what you want to do, and what you're able to do. And we all, at least every creative writer I know, have been in that place. (Not to say there isn't always a kind of gap for writers between what they imagine and what they can actually get on the page but here I'm talking about a different gap, one more specific to writers still trying to find their way and at this place where they understand a lot but can't quite get that understanding into their fiction. )

The video speaks to that and writing your way through this "place".  It has no magic formula to give, but I think it's helpful to know almost every writer has gone though it. You have to just keep writing. It's that simple and that complex. Keep writing.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reading Like a Writer

I read for pleasure first--because the experience of reading is one of the things I love about this world. But I'm a writer so I also read with an eye to how another writer does something well. Really good writers do some--BUT NOT ALL, which is encouraging in a way-- things really well. So I try to learn. 

For example, I look at this sentence that opens A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and I think WOW. And then I think--what makes it so good? It does a lot of things in one sentence, but I think, more than anything it makes me want to know Owen Meany and, to a lesser degree, the narrator. It's a great opening and it immediately attracts me to the characters. I want to know more.

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

"doomed" (a powerful word that makes us think of fate and tragedy), a boy with a "wrecked" voice and "smallest person I ever knew"---give the beginning of this sentence almost a mythic quality, and there is something about wrecked that has the echo of forces beyond us. Shipwreck--for example. And he's not just a "small" person but the "smallest person I ever knew"--Here it's a bit like a fairy tale. In all these there is the sense that this story is larger than itself, whatever itself will be. 

And then the next line: "the instrument of my mother's death"--not that he killed her or that he was a part of her death in some way. More vague and yet full of mystery and more involved than just being a part of it --"the instrument". How was he the instrument? What does instrument mean in this context? We want answers to this question and it is always good when a writer gets a reader wanting answers to questions he's posed directly or indirectly in the text. So this is yet another thing that this sentence makes me think about.

Why does the reader turn the page? To get to the next one. This sentence makes me want to turn the page because I want to know more about Owen Meany and the plot. The reader already has me hooked on character and story and I haven't even finished the first sentence.

OK, onward------Then the "but" and we turn the corner. All of these interesting and strange things that Owen Meany is, as interesting and compelling as they are, are not the reason our narrator is "doomed" to remember Owen. This is a thrilling moment in this sentence. We've been brought to it by the choice of words, the compelling information, the rhythm of the clauses...not because, or because, or even because... THEN but because he is the reason I believe in God.

What? I didn't see that coming but when it comes it seems just right...all of this is about faith and this will be a book about faith. You don't have to be a Christian to feel that this is right. Faith or the lack of it is one is at the heart of so much of what it means to be human.

There's more to say about this sentence, of course, but let me just end with this. Here's Mr. Irving's sentence again. 
"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."
Let me just rewrite this for him:
I have to remember a boy with a broken voice--not because of that or because he was so small or because he was part of why my mother died but because he made me believe in God.

IT'S the same information. I just changed a few words. Only a few. But what happened? I sucked the life right out of it--or most of the life. I did. I should be ashamed of myself.  Oh, it's not awful, I suppose, but that's the difference--not awful and something beautiful. This reminds me of Mark Twain's quote, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightening and the lightening bug."

I learn a lot from reading other writers. Sometimes I learn just from reading one sentence.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The book is boss

I'm not a huge Stephen King fan (probably my fault but I've just never loved his work the way I love certain authors), but I like a lot of things he says about writing.  This quote just reminded me not to force the writing. Sometimes a person can be too aware of craft and technique. Ultimately, it's all about being in the moment of the story. You have to just be there. You have to let the story go where it goes. BUT I think that if you do know craft what you know will be there. It's like when a pro quarterback throws a ball to a receiver with perfect accuracy. He can't think his way to that throw but it's the thousands of hours the quarterback has spent throwing passes that makes it possible.

One of the ways the computer has changed the way I work is that I have a much greater tendency to edit “in the camera”—to make changes on the screen. With Cell that’s what I did. I read it over, I had editorial corrections, I was able to make my own corrections, and to me that’s like ice skating. It’s an OK way to do the work, but it isn’t optimal. With Lisey I had the copy beside the computer and I created blank documents and retyped the whole thing. To me that’s like swimming, and that’s preferable. It’s like you’re writing the book over again. It is literally a rewriting.
Every book is different each time you revise it. Because when you finish the book, you say to yourself, This isn’t what I meant to write at all. At some point, when you’re actually writing the book, you realize that. But if you try to steer it, you’re like a pitcher trying to steer a fastball, and you screw everything up. As the science-fiction writer Alfred Bester used to say, The book is the boss. You’ve got to let the book go where it wants to go, and you just follow along. If it doesn’t do that, it’s a bad book. And I’ve had bad books. I think Rose Madder fits in that category, because it never really took off. I felt like I had to force that one.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Voice--how do you get it in fiction--or get them?

Editors and agents are always talking about VOICE...They want new and distinct voices. They are looking for them. So what does that mean? Here's what I think--today.

When people talk about voice they're usually talking about the way writers use language. That includes everything--the way they punctuate, the rhythm of their sentences, paragraphing, diction and so on. It also includes their particular way of looking at the world which is very important. (more on this in a moment). And the way the narrator of a particular piece is looking at the world.

I think some writers have very strong voices. See Bradley Cooper's imitations of actors below for actors who have strong voices. No matter what John Wayne is in--there's his particular way of speaking in every line. Other actors' voices change depending on the role. I think the same is true of writers. Some writers have very strong voices and others may be strong but change according to what they're writing.

Bradley Cooper's imitations of other actors--in the way some actors have distinct voices some writers do.

SO, in a sense, there are two voices at work in most works of fiction--the author's voice and the voice of the narrator of the particular story. Sometimes the particular character of a piece is strong enough to strongly influence the voice of the writer. Elmore Leonard once said that he let's his character's speak and if they don't say interesting things in interesting ways he kills them off. He's a writer with a strong style/voice but every character still has his or her own voice, too.

Given that this is true--I think the article linked below has much to say about voice but the most important point to me is that a writer allow him or herself to say things in his or her unique way. This is the one thing that you, as a writer, bring to writing that no one else has ever brought before. YOU. YOUR WAY OF SEEING THINGS. By allowing yourself the freedom to speak through the voice inspired by your way of seeing you'll find your voice. By digging deep into the narrator of your story you'll combine his/her voice with your own. If you have a unique voice it can really make your fiction stand out.

"You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You do not talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?" Donald Maass, agent
Here's the whole article...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Char & Plot & Setting & TBF link

Here's a blog post over at YA in Publishing site where I attempt to put together some of the things I've been thinking about concerning character development and its link to plot development. I throw in some thoughts on setting and a quote from the late great John Gardner. Also, on this site you'll find a ton of YA book info. and they frequently give away books.

Also, I'm on this panel at the Texas Book Festival this Saturday: Apocalypse Now--talking about apocalypse fiction in YA--including my own two alien novels. Just one of many panels at the TBF. It's always fun to go up to the capitol for this book event.

Monday, October 21, 2013

YA Fiction Doing Just Fine


I'm sick of hearing about how YA fiction is getting too formulaic. There are too many vampires and there is too much paranormal romance. Let's have some serious diversity in fiction. Come on YA.

To this I say bullsh**. Apologies for the ** or maybe the bullsh part. Hmm... not sure.

Just to be clear--any genre may have vivid and unique fiction. It's in the telling--the language and the ideas and the imaginative situations and tone and characterization and story.YA fiction has more than its share of vivid and unique fiction.

Is there formula fiction in YA? Of course.

But without thinking very hard many writers' names pop into my head that aren't writing anything like formula fiction, that are writing great and interesting fiction: Pete Hautman, Laurie Anderson John Green, Kelly Link, Francisco X. Stork,  Neil Gaiman,  Lois Lowry, Markus Zusak to name just a few. These writers, and many many more, make the charge that YA is stale and formulaic simply untrue.

But I've said there is formula fiction in YA, right? Sure. So...Teens like it right? They do but not as much as adults, apparently. Look at adult fiction. What sells the most in adult fiction? Look at the lists.   Formula fiction.  Fifty Shades of Whatever. Thank the Fiction Gods that's not all that sells (many great and diverse writers here, too) but my point is that if you look at mainstream adult fiction, you will find that adults buy large quantities of formula type fiction. If you don't look closely, if you just glance,  you might say that adult fiction is nothing but formula. But that would be as untrue as the charge that YA fiction is.

Many readers are always going to be attracted to and satisfied by formula fiction. To me it's uninteresting but it has its place. It has its place in adult fiction (I would argue a larger place in adult fiction than YA fiction) and in YA fiction. But for those interested in going beyond the formula there are plenty of works of  fiction in both YA and adult for them. The YA commentators who make wide generalizations about the state of YA fiction need to take a breath. It's doing just fine.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Using The Where in a novel

 Many writers  have said they consider setting as a character. Joyce Carol Oates talks about it in the linked youtube below, but there's a large crowd of writer's to whom setting is significant to their work.  Of course,  setting is essential to most high fantasy novels: Harry Potter, Tolkien's Middle Earth and so on, but it's also essential to some writers of kitchen sink realism, for example, Raymond Chandler and Los Angeles.  For some writers the setting of their book becomes a character. For others it is essential to the development of character.   In On Becoming a Novelist John Gardner wrote, "Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary." 
I think the importance of setting varies from writer to writer. If you're a writer who has a strong connection to place though, I think you can use setting to give your writing another level of connection to character and story. It will give the reader a deeper understanding of what your character is going through if where he is going through it is vividly rendered.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Setting/Character exercise

Here's an exercise on the importance of setting. The way I see writing fiction is that there are all these opportunities to develop story and character. One way to develop character is through setting. One exercise to try is the following:

Describe the place where someone lives just by the details. The details that you choose reveal the character.

A painter.

A writer.

A foster child.

A police detective.

A man who has separated from his wife and family but wants to go back to them.

A man who has separated from his wife and family and doesn't want to go back to them.

A high school student's room/ he's living with his grandparents.

A girl who has run away from home and is living with three other runaways.

A boy and girl who are seventeen and have a child.

This could go on and on. The purpose of the exercise is to focus on how setting can evoke and develop character. MORE ON SETTING/CHARACTER in the next post.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vonnegut's 8 Writing Rules and one unrule

Kurt Vonnegut's rules to writing a short story and, importantly, his unrule. Read them or listen to him tell you himself.

1.            Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2.            Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3.            Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4.            Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5.            Start as close to the end as possible.
6.            Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7.            Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8.            Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
 Vonnegut's Unrule, BUT  “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor… She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

plot and character: a story of codependency

Plot and Character: a story of codependency that works for me…
Henry James, as quoted by Franny Billingsley in a post on Cynsations, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”
You go Henry.
 I suppose I had vague notions of the connection between plot and character not long after I began writing. John Gardner tried to tell me in his books on writing and I’m sure others did too, including myself.  Maybe I even understood, on an intellectual level, that there needed to be a connection.
But it was Robert Olen Butler that really got through to me with his talk about a character’s desire driving plot. It made me think of character in a different way. Yes you had to develop the layers of a character and relationships and all that. Writing is never, ever, about just one thing. BUT this idea that plot and character were entwined was crucial to my development  as a writer.
In Franny Billingsley’s blog post she talks about a character’s controlling belief directing plot.  See the link to read but the main idea is a character sees herself and/or world in such a way that it defines the character’s attitude, self-image, choices. These, in turn, direct the story.This is helpful, I think, in finding one’s way through the vast possibilities of any story.

But here’s my crucial point—one that was a big part of my pushing forward as a writer. Character is not separate from plot. What a character does, he does because of who he is—how he sees himself & his world and what he wants and what he really wants-- and in a novel what he does causes things to happen to him and all those around him. The interplay between these two—character and narrative drive-- again and again in both small and large ways, builds a story.
Or so I think today

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alien Abduction at the Austin Teen Book Festival yesterday. (See picture)
          Teens ask great questions like-- what's an annoying habit you have? And I said talking to my dog about plot points when writing, but then I thought that the habit isn't so much annoying to me (or to my dog)  as to my wife, Frances, who hears me from the other room and shouts, "Are you talking to me or are you talking to the dog again?"

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Writing exercise A-Z/Bradbury/Don't Think

Writing Exercise:

purpose: to practice randomness in structure.

The exercise: Tell a story using only 26 sentences. The first sentence has to begin with a word that begins with A. The second begins with a word that begins with B. Continue to Z.

I think a writer works hard and writes a lot and thinks a lot about writing to get to a place where, when he or she writes, he or she DOES NOT think. I'm going to go all Zen here and say that when you write you have to be the story. That means that all you've learned goes into your story, but when you're writing it you don't think about these learned things because you're doing. It's like I've said before when comparing writing to martial arts. If you think, you're too late to react. Writing is like that. If you think, you aren't in the moment of the story. (Revision is another beast entirely!)

Here's an excellent video (from WritingAlchemy) that mentions Bradbury who said he had a piece of paper taped over his workspace that said DON' THINK.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Plot and Story: simple and complex

I taught this class on using fairy-tales to more clearly see how plots work. Fairy-tales don’t have much character development so it’s easier to see how a story moves. When I was preparing for the class and as I was teaching it, I began to think that it was helpful to think of plot and story differently.
Plot is simple.  It’s just what happens in the story.  You need to have it to keep things moving along. This happens. That happens.  Looking at fairy-tales is very helpful for this.

Story is the complications, complexity, contradictions, desires, obstacles that make a novel the messy thing we all love. These developments give depth to the plot. There’s external character motivation and internal motivation. Often times these drive the story. There’s the subtext that gives greater meaning to the story. There’s what the characters want and what gets in the way of that and the result. There’s the theme: what’s it all about? And more.  It’s easy to get lost in all this.
 So once you have a draft and you’re trying to see what you have might consider the differences between plot and story; it might help to summarize what happens in a chapter by chapter kind of way and analyze plot and then look at what else is going on. It’s one way to see your draft from another perspective.
For another way of looking at this see these plot questions from the editor Cheryl Klein

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments Released Today

 Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments has been released after a short sentence and then some longs ones and then some more short ones all got together and made a book.
I'm happy to announce that Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments--a work of imagination--  has made it into the real world. I love books and I'm proud and happy to have made one.  Still I accumulated a lot of rejections along the way --each one, as Steinbeck once said, a little death. Rejection hurts. But all it takes is one acceptance and the rejections don’t really matter.  I don’t think that JK Rowling is too broken up over the dozens of rejections of Harry Potter. A few things have happened since that have made those rejections pretty unimportant—except to the people who rejected her book.
So here’s a site worthy of a look—always fun to read about the rejections of books that went on to become classics or popular or both...
“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” Groucho Marx
Here’s Merlin excitedly celebrating the release of Homicidal Aliens (hmmm…that doesn’t sound good but is)… 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

To Outline or Not to Outline?

Some people think you must outline. They argue that by having a plan you'll be more likely to have a clear structure to your work. You'll also know your ending and can write toward it. Maybe they're right.

Others say no. Outlining stifles their creativity. They feel like they're forced to follow the outline and so it ends in bad decisions. They think no plan is the way to go.
Some authors who favor this method.
“How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” E.M. Forster
“I do not plan my fiction any more than I normally plan woodland walks; I follow the path that seems most promising at any given point, not some itinerary decided before entry.” ― John Fowels
Andre Dubus is against it. Spontaneity is everything. He needs to feel he can go anywhere.
Meg Cabot likes a bit of an outline. A little here and there, particularly toward the middle and definitely at the end but with long stretches where she will invent as she goes along.
John Irving outlines his whole novel. In fact he spends a year outlining. He won't even start until he knows the last line of the novel. Then he organizes the book backward so that he can get to the first line.

Andre Dubus (goes with the don’t outline.)
Meg Cabot (some outline)
John Irving (outline the whole novel)

My method is something of a hybrid. I begin with a situation. A character who is in a certain situation. Then I write a very rough first draft, putting notes and markers in places rather than writing whole scenes and writing whole scenes in other. I rush to get this first draft done. It will be much shorter than the actual novel. It's kind of a discovery draft; it will be maybe 150 pages. But what it gives me is a true sense of the ending.
When I revise I write toward that ending. It might change. Certainly many, many things in the draft will change. But I write toward it, knowing that the ending will be somewhere near that original ending. I build on the novel, deepening character and story, adding more than I take away. That second draft is a real draft. 
Then I start the process of revision.
It works for me. Everyone is different though. The three writers in the vids are all very successful. They just have different ways of working. What's important is that each writer finds his or her way.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

How Writing Fiction Is Like Martial Arts

Martial Arts of Writing

I believe a lot of elements of writing can be taught. An inexperienced writer who finds the right teacher, right for him or her I mean, can learn much about things like characterization, plot, setting, novel landscape, pacing, even to a certain extent paragraphing and sentences. Putting it all together in a unique and powerful way, though, is something the writer has to find himself. And so the reason writing programs give a lot of people MFAs who never publish or who publish very little. I got an MFA after teaching myself writing by reading (to me the most the single most important thing besides writing itself a writer can do to improve) and writing. Did the MFA help my writing? Yes. Is getting an MFA for everybody? No. Some it won’t help. Some don’t need it. But for me it helped me focus on my weaknesses and helped me know myself as a writer better.

When I was learning the martial art Taekwondo I realized the importance of breaking down moves. We’d work on part of a kick and then another part and then another part. It would take a long time to put it all together and be able to do that kick right and then even longer to be able to use the kick in combination with other movements. It would take still longer to be effective sparring with the move. Some people never could get there. They knew what they should do but they couldn’t make their bodies do it. Or they couldn’t let their bodies do it. Some people could do it fairly well. Only a few were really good.

Writing is more difficult. Still, I think writing’s moves can be analyzed in ways and by isolating each aspect of writing that aspect can be improved. Whether the writer does this herself or in a program or with other writers doesn’t really matter. Whatever works.

But are there some parts of writing that can’t be taught? Sure. The writer’s unique way of looking at the world. The writer’s style, too, can’t really be taught though it can be developed. The writer’s particular feel for language is, I think, like personality. And there’s that one very magical part to writing (like with Taekwondo); everything has to work together without the writer consciously forcing it to do so (of course when rewriting the writer will be very conscious about his choices). The writer has to find that unconscious place where he becomes the story. Everything slips away. The room. His fingers moving on the keyboard. Words like setting, plot, language, characters mean nothing to him. He is what he’s writing.

And here’s a blog from LitStack by Lauren Alwan about Robert Olen Butler’s book FROM WHERE YOU DREAM and his method of writing from inside the character…which I think has some similarities to my ideas about martial arts and writing fiction.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Importance of Taking Risks in Writing &, Zusak interview link about Book Thief and risks, link to specific suggestions

Sometimes you just have to tell the story you have to tell. It may be way out here, like having a dog for a narrator (Who’s going to publish that?) or a story about a spider or one told by a dead girl.

You have to be brave. It’s hard. It’s very hard to write something that you know is pretty far out there. When I began my ALIEN INVASION & OTHER INCONVENIENCES novel about aliens landing and taking over the world and enslaving everyone, I thought—really? Am I really going to try to write this? It’s so, well, weird. Who will publish it? You don’t want to have these thoughts. You just want to write, but most novels take a year or more to finish. It’s a chunk of time and your life. But ultimately we’re writers and that’s what we do and part of that is taking chances, following our passion. I suppose this is the writer’s way of following Joseph Campbell’s advice: follow your bliss.

Every time you write it’s a kind of leap of faith. You have to be brave. If your story is a strange one and it’s going to be told in a strange way, it may be harder to sell to a publisher. That’s true. But who knows what will happen then? An author named Stein did write a book from a dog’s point of view called THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN. Great novel. Great reviews. Bestseller. And of course Charlotte’s Web is a great novel about a spider and ELSEWHERE and THE LOVELY BONES are novels with POV narrators who are dead girls. You just never know. You have to write what you have to write. You have to be brave.

Marcus Zusak, writer of the much-honored best-seller, THE BOOK THIEF, talks about taking chances in writing this phenomenal book.

Another writer explores the importance of taking risks and gives some specific advice.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Don’t let words get in the way of what you write

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader -- not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E.L. Doctorow
            E. L. Doctorow eloquently states what I’m getting at about not letting words get in the way of what you write. It’s easy, as a writer, to get caught up in the sounds words make, in trying to make a perfect sentence, one that sings. The problem is sometimes this becomes more about the sentence than about sticking to this very simple truth: telling us it is raining is fine but going on and on about it because you like the sound of words often leads to indulgence and bad choices. For the reader, if this is done a lot, the whole story begins to feel forced, and they lose confidence in the writing.  SO, in my humble opinion,this kind of writing becomes a distraction for both reader and writer and often leads the writer into bad choices about story and sometimes character. 

One key point in creating fiction, in my humble opinion, is that the reader experience, with the characters, what's happening. Langauge that makes the reader feel the rain coming down on them instead of language that simply tells the reader that it is raining (and sometimes tells them at great length) is essential to making the reader experience the story. Or so I think today.

***ALSO, along these lines, see editor Cheryl Klein’s blog about not using sense words so much. Instead try to go directly to the feeling.
ALIEN INVASION & OTHER INCONVENIENCES is an Amazon special this month—which means KINDLE version is very cheap. Here’s the link if interested:
And it is also a top ten bestseller-- well, not really---#4 on the teen &ya>Sci fi & fantasy> aliens
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,430 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in
Kindle Store) #4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Aliens
 ///If they just added "aliens that are green and very short" to that description the novel would probably be #1 in its category. I'm grateful that people are reading it and all, but I see how easy it is to manipulate the rankings. If you just make the description specific enough there are fewer and fewer books to be ranked with. So now when authors write their books are a top ten amazon seller...I have to wonder how much that really means...Maybe this is old news to some but new to me.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Voice/fresh way of seeing/ new novel arrives

Seeing Your Fiction

I think this has to do with the author’s vision. Whatever your skills with the various aspects of writing a novel, whatever your talents, you have a unique way of looking at the world. Everyone does. If you can imbue your work with the unique vision, find the voice for it, then you’ve done something. Something for you. Something for the person reading. I think this has to do with the strong VOICE that every editor and agent says they're looking for.

I know when I start reading certain books I feel an immediate rapport with the voice of the novel, an immediate interest, because it feels authentic. I get really excited if it also feels different. Your way of seeing the world is what makes your writing yours.

So all the talk about craft and all the various aspects of writing fiction and yadda yadda yadda—all important but the writer needs to put himself/herself into the work. That fresh way of seeing the world is so important and so hard to do.

Or so I think today.
here's a link about seeing the world in a fresh way by an author, Boyd Morrison,  who recently got a puppy and observes that the way the puppy engages with the world reminds him  he wants to create this same emotional enthusiasm in his fiction. I'd say it's kin to the sensual experience of the fictional world  that Robert Olen Butler talks about in his excellent, FROM WHERE WE DREAM.

AND here's also a picture (OK, I admit I'm a crappy photographer but...) of my new novel coming out Sept. 10--just got an early copy.