12/2/12

Learning to Right…uh Write

When I started my writers’ group about three years ago, it was mostly as a favor to the all the other writers in my geographical area. You see, I was a *professional* writer. My career included a three-year stint as a reporter and long stretches as a freelance writer and magazine editor. I had a page-one feature article in the Boston-freakin’-Globe, for Pete’s sake. So, in an act of charity, I decided to allow other writers to read my fiction.

Am I not a merciful?
AM I NOT A MERCIFUL!!?

I promised myself I would be a father figure. When others discussed my work, I would politely ignore the tears of adoration in their eyes. I would be humble and graciously downplay their praise.

When finally it was time for my work to be reviewed, I scheduled another story for that night too. Because, really, what was there to critique in my work? There was only so much gushing I would allow myself to take.

The night arrived and the group gathered. I waved my hand in a Pope-like manner, allowing the critique to begin.

And they tore me apart.

“Do you realize that you have three pages of a guy riding a horse?” one of the writers said. “There’s no talking or anything. Just a guy. And a horse. And bushes and shit.”

I smiled. Ah, petty jealousy. I love it.

“Yeah, I cut most of that out too,” said another. “You’re story really doesn’t begin until page six.”

The night wore on. Page after page after page of suggestions. A few compliments sprinkled in here and there, but mostly constructive critisicm. This wasn’t petty jealousy. This was bad storytelling and bad writing.

“Do you realize that you have three pages of a guy riding a horse?” one of the writers said. “There’s no talking or anything. Just a guy. And a horse. And bushes and shit.”

I smiled. Ah, petty jealousy. I love it.

It didn’t matter that I had spent half my life writing professionally. It didn’t matter that I read more books in 7th grade than most people read in a decade. It didn’t matter that I placed second in a state-wide short story competition in college. It didn’t even matter that I went to school for journalism and creative writing.

Writing good fiction is, quite possibly, the hardest thing anyone can ever do.  (With the possible exception of forcing yourself to sit on a really, really cold toilet seat.) When you are writing fiction, you are having a hand at God’s work. Designing and creating and breathing life into something that is only an idea. Just wisps of thought that must be turned into reality. What a colossal pain in the ass! (The creating, not the toilet seat.)

Sometimes I hold my bowel movement for days.

Despite the magnitude of the task we take on, there is no room for arrogance when you are learning to write. As the Tao Te Ching states, “You will never be a great writer until you understand that you are a terrible writer.” Okay, the Tao never said that, but it should have.

“You will never be a great writer until you understand that you are a terrible writer.”

I read a popular blogist’s post once that told people they don’t have to write every day if they can’t find the time. That’s the most destructive thing anyone can say to aspiring writers. We are all looking for reasons not to write. Excuses. And he gave his readers permission to not take their craft seriously.

The truth is, if you want to succeed at anything, you do it *every day.* You work on it harder than anything else in your life. Because you can bet there is someone else out there working harder. If you can’t find time to make writing a priority, then maybe you really don’t want it.

It has been three years since that first writers’ group session. Three years of hard toil and hundreds of thousands of written words. And you know what? My group is still tearing me apart.

Their criticisms are smaller now, thankfully. More nitpicky. They talk mostly about things that fall into my blind spots. Things that can only be seen from another perspective. Which is as it should be.

My writing mechanics have improved. My storytelling and pacing have improved. My dialog, always my strength (I think), has improved as well.

Am I a great writer now? No. I won’t make the mistake of thinking that again. But I recently signed a publishing contract with 47North for my novel, The Scourge. It’s a sign, that I have improved, and a nod to the writers’ group that tore down my pretenses and allowed me to become a decent novelist.  They were the ones doing me the favor.

And I thank them.

11/29/12

Literary Guardian Angel

I cut my teeth on Kurt Vonnegut. No, literally. In college I read nothing but Kurt Vonnegut, so when an old girlfriend decided to hurl something at me, it was one of his books that was closest to her. Okay, it cut my lip, not my teeth, but I think that’s well within poetic license wiggle-room, no?

I don’t bear any ill-will toward Mr. Vonnegut for it. I admire him too much. In art school, I spent twenty hours making a 20″x20″  pencil rendering of him. I read everything he ever wrote. Several times. And I seemed to walk in the same circles he did, only years later. I tried to get him to sign my drawing but there was confusion and by the time things got sorted, he left this granfalloon we call earth.

My Literary Guardian Angel

Twenty hours of toil. A lifetime of admiration. So it goes.

There is no writer, living or dead, who has driven my desire to write more than Kurt Vonnegut did. My heart wilts a little when I think that I never met the man who had so much influence in my life. Maybe he knows. Maybe, wherever he went after this life he learned of my admiration for him. I like to think he did. Because a week after my first novel was published, Kurt came back with an unpublished manuscript. He and I share the same column on the Kindle Serials page. His book is above mine, shining down. I think he would appreciate the irony of coming back from the dead to shine down on my book about the undead.

I think that was just his style.

It is a very mixed blessing to be brought back from the dead.
-Kurt Vonnegut

 

Sucker's Portfolio

 

11/20/12

The Next Big Thing

Writing is a lonely thing, so when writer’s reach out to one another and work together, it is more than just teamwork. It is solidarity and understanding and a true appreciation for what we go through. So in the spirit of solidarity and appreciation (and the hopes that everyone participating gets a bump in their sales) I present my link in the long literary chain called The Blog Hop.

First off, I want to thank Chris Turner, who was kind enough to think of me for this endeavor. Chris is a selfless and tireless writer with a high output of wonderful fantasy novels. Please have a look at his blog. You will be impressed. I promise.

So, as my part of this Blog Hop requires, I will now talk a bit about my works in a question/answer format, as if the voices in my head and I were having an honest discourse.

 

Q: Why do you write fantasy?
A: I have read fantasy all of my life. I think it’s just a general sense of discontent with reality. In fantasy, anything can happen. The laws of the universe can be twisted. It’s like that old X-Files poster that shows a picture of a UFO and says, “I Want To Believe.” Kind of my vie won life and my bank account. I truly do want to believe that there is more in our world. In fantasy, aliens do exist. Dragons can fly. Magic is real. Although I have to say, my fantasy novels feature a low-grade-plutonium version of magic. There are few flying dragons and no elves or dwarves. It is typically Real Life 1.1. When laws of nature are broken, it is a big deal in my books, and it doesn’t happen often.

Q: What is your latest work?
A: My latest novel is called The Scourge and it has been published by 47North, Amazon Publishing’s SciFi/Fantasy imprint. It is a Kindle Serial at the moment, meaning you pay one price ($1.99) and the novel is delivered in episodes, at no extra cost. It’s an awesome way to write. There is an immediacy to it, knowing that hundreds or thousands will read what I am writing in a few short weeks. It really makes you write well and write quickly, and it’s one of the best things I have written.

Q: What is The Scourge about?
A: Well, it’s sort of a historical fiction. I say that, but really it’s a love story. But a love story that is mostly action and adventure. With a bit of fantasy thrown in. And humor, definitely humor and quirky characters. Oh, and did I mention the zombies?

Q: Sounds like quite a story.
A: That’s not technically a question, but I will use the opportunity to summarize the tale: A plague sweeps across 14th century England, maddening its victims and giving them a taste for human flesh. Against this backdrop, a knight, Sir Edward of Bodiam, searches for his wife. She was in East Anglia, far to the northeast, when the plague struck and he has not heard from him. So he and two other knights make the journey across a ravaged England searching for her, fighting zombies, meeting odd characters, and struggling to hold on to whatever faith they possess.

Q: Can readers get a sample of the story?
A: Yes! I highly recommend that readers take a look inside the book on Amazon and read a bit. I think once they read the first few pages they will understand that it is quite different from the typical zombie stories they have read. It is darkly funny and wrestles with issues of faith, religion, loyalty and morality itself.

Q: Thanks for your answers. Please kill Scott Palmetta, the boy who made fun of you in 7th grade. 
A: You’re welcome, voice in my head. And I’m not going to fall for that again.

And please, those of you still reading, please visit Chris Turner’s blog. You won’t be disappointed.

11/13/12

Launch

The Scourge launched today. I am excited and thrilled and a little sentimental. I feel like I’ve given birth. Triplets. Edward, Tristan and Morgan. They’ve been a part of me for so much of these last months. It’s an anxious time letting them out into the world, to breathe and take their first steps.

If you read their story, I hope you enjoy it as much as I am enjoying the writing of it. If you have any positive thoughts on the tale and want to express them, I welcome comments, and welcome positive reviews on Amazon even more. If you have negative thoughts on it, please go away. Kidding. If something about the story bothers you, or if you think something can be improved, please let me know. As writers, our journey never ends. We must always seek to be better, go higher. And the next stair-step in our eternal climb can come from anyone.

For those of you who have bought The Scourge, or are planning to buy it, I thank you. Just as writing is a never-ending journey, so is it a lonely one. And only when others read our work does the loneliness of it fade.

Here’s to Edward, Tristan and Morgan. Happy birthday, guys.