Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Added to the Library at Speculative Faith
Sunday, January 15, 2017 2:25 pm
My book The Giant's Walk has been added to the library at Speculative Faith. Click here. For the time being, at least, my book is also showing up (with others) on their front page. I invited myself to their library, but they have been kind enough to let me in. Thank you, Speculative Faith.
Do It Again, Do It Again!
Who Doesn't Like a Series?
Wednesday, January 4, 2017 1:45 pm
There's a lot of advice regarding self-publishing. Much of it involves leveraging Facebook or Twitter or writers' conferences and forums; networking, as it were. I am incompetent at networking. I am generally incompetent at peopling. But one bit of advice I can take is to create a series.

I tend not to make separate works that involve the same characters or worlds. I did write several short stories involving Pugnacious Footefake, but those together barely constitute a single book. The idea, rather, is to offer several related books. 

It makes sense. A series encourages the reader to buy another book. A series makes the author's back-catalog attractive. A series creates fans. People like series. I myself, as a reader, like series.

Give the people what they want!

Creating a series would, in my case, be a particularly good discipline. If you look at my books as a collection, you can see that eclectic is the charitable description. I am not in any niche; not really. It's the strange reader who, having enjoyed The Spare Midge, would be attracted to Sideways of the Earth. A series at least creates its own niche.

Fortunately, I have a rich idea for a certain world and a beginning trilogy. And so, perhaps, rather than finish yet another eccentric novel like The Giant's Walk, I should devote myself to creating a series.

Yes. I think I will.

How Quaint Your Tale!
Already a Period Piece?
Sunday, January 1, 2017 1:29 pm
"Aggressively self-promoting" does not describe me. I have made a few bold moves in my writing career (one of which paid off), but I have never been guilty of dogged legwork on my own behalf. My works therefore tend to age, unread.

I have recently retired from my day job. I am still young enough (and not in the self-delusional sense of 60-is-the-new-40) that I now have more than enough time to work a lot harder at getting myself either noticed or traditionally published.

I thought of trying, yet again, to get Noah, Penny published by someone other than myself. Then I reviewed the story in my mind. I realized that it is dated. No cellphones; no texting; no TV on demand; no internet at all. Not one of the characters — all of them in the eighth grade — makes any reference to social media. And how could they? The book was written in the mid-'90s. 

What's worse, the kids communicate via landlines and — gasp! — notes dropped in lockers and at front doors. No texting through the noosphere. Then there's the discussion of a certain VHS videotape — a thing modern children probably can't even identify.

Well. Okay. Does Noah, Penny have a charm as, perhaps, a period piece? Hardly. In what possible way could the '90s charm anyone? The book is not even touched by any particular cultural markers, as if Kurt Cobain makes an appearance. Perversely, it was written to be timeless and instead it just seems off. "Oh, look, a story about two eighth-graders circa 1995. Um. Why should I care about 1995?"

I've flirted with the idea of upgrading the tech in the book. Hey, I'll just pretend it is set in 2015! But we all know how instant access to the noosphere invalidates a lot of dramatic turns. ("What do you mean you can't find Hansel and Gretel? They've got GPS on their cells, right?") The choices my characters make are not likely to survive the possibility of tweeting.

I'll keep thinking about my options; but Noah, Penny may have missed its chance.

Jane Austen Tells It
Looks Like She Skipped Creative Writing 101
Sunday, October 10, 2004 7:30 pm
As I will surely say again, I object to creative-writing classes. I object to the notion that there is anything to be taught. To learn, perhaps, from accomplished example; but to be taught abstractly from contrived example?

I especially object to the notion that there are any rules of writing. Rules of language, yes, of grammar, of standard usage; but not of writing. "Rules" of writing tend only to mislead novices. The goal is good writing and, truly, good writing is discerned in the unique event. If a story works, it works. One can see patterns in good writing, I suppose; or better yet, patterns in bad writing; but the distillation of "rules" is misguided. 

If you have taken any instruction at all on writing creatively, you have surely heard this hoary "rule": Show, don't tell. This can be interpreted different ways. Usually it means: Don't report the facts; dramatize them. Not "She was angry" but "She cursed and pounded the wall." Which may or may not serve your story... Most of the time, however, this causes some terribly overwrought writing. What, after all, is so bad about saying "She was angry"? What is the point of the word angry if I'm to hesitate using it? While it is true that writing is not language, writing should not also be an abandonment of language. Angry exists because it is useful. Whether or not it should be used depends not on a silly "rule" but on the context of the passage and the intent of the author.

I realize that even advocates of show, don't tell would not dispute the importance of context and intent; nor would they, out of hand, reject a simple "She was angry." But their "rule" is therefore not a rule. It is, at best, a suggestion not to fail to be vivid. And even then, who's to say that drab is never appropriate?

One particularly pernicious application of show, don't tell affects larger narrative: It is that one must not "summarize" the action of a story. One should, rather, depict as much as one can. "Immerse your reader!" Well, yes, immersion is pretty much the goal; but telling can be as effective as showing, after all. Indeed, isn't it called "story-telling"? One can draw a reader in without depicting anything — at least, not in a dramatic sense. Drama is only necessary in theater.

I was particularly reminded of this as I was reading Mansfield Park.

Fanny Price, our heroine, has been living with her cousins at Mansfield Park. They are now in their late teens and early twenties. She has feelings of love for her cousin Edmund, her only real ally in the household. Now, while Fanny's uncle is gone from England, two socially vivacious visitors come to Mansfield Park: Mary and Henry Crawford. Amidst the other upheavals the Crawfords bring, the young men and women decide to put on a play — mostly for their own amusement. Fanny has misgivings about the Crawfords and about this play. She is nonetheless pulled into the preparations.

While she is helping Mary with her part, Edmund arrives to ask for Fanny's help with his part. As it was, Fanny had been playing Edmund's part against Mary's; now with Edmund himself on hand, he (instead of Fanny) rehearses with Mary. Here is the passage from Volume I, Chapter xviii.
They must now rehearse together. Edmund proposed, urged, entreated it, till the lady, not very unwilling at first, could refuse no longer, and Fanny was wanted only to prompt and observe them. She was invested, indeed, with the office of judge and critic, and earnestly desired to exercise it and tell them all their faults; but from doing so every feeling within her shrank — she could not, would not, dared not attempt it: had she been otherwise qualified for criticism, her conscience must have restrained her from venturing at disapprobation. She believed herself to feel too much of it in the aggregate for honesty or safety in particulars. To prompt them must be enough for her; and it was sometimes more than enough; for she could not always pay attention to the book. In watching them she forgot herself; and, agitated by the increasing spirit of Edmund's manner, had once closed the page and turned away exactly as he wanted help. It was imputed to very reasonable weariness, and she was thanked and pitied; but she deserved their pity more than she hoped they would ever surmise. At last the scene was over, and Fanny forced herself to add her praise to the compliments each was giving the other; and when again alone and able to recall the whole, she was inclined to believe their performance would, indeed, have such nature and feeling in it as must ensure their credit, and make it a very suffering exhibition to herself. Whatever might be its effect, however, she must stand the brunt of it again that very day.
Now consider my point: Between They must now rehearse together and At last the scene was over are 182 words in maybe a dozen clauses constituting six sentences. The rehearsal is over within the course of a longish paragraph. Keep in mind: In the play Mary is secretly in love with Edmund. In real life Mary is eyeing Edmund; Edmund is dazzled by Mary; and Fanny is infatuated with Edmund and unsure of Mary. My oh my: Such potential for explosive drama! The back and forth one could depict! All the showing one could do! Yet Austen disposes of it all in six sentences. Six sentences of telling.

Austen does not show that Fanny becomes agitated; Austen just says: "...and, agitated by the increasing spirit of Edmund's manner, [Fanny] had once closed the page and turned away..." That's it. Fanny was agitated. Austen tells you Fanny was agitated. You're not immersed in any action; at best, bits of action are briefly acknowledged. Edmund entreats; Mary cannot refuse; Fanny is made an observer. Fanny shrinks from criticizing. She forgets herself; becomes agitated; closes the page. They impute weariness to her. The end! Austen's summary is far more evocative than mine but nonetheless a summary.

A telling, my friends; not a showing. This passage immersed me in Fanny's predicament — yet I was given not a single line of dialogue and only a few discontinuous stage directions. No one, it seems, ever told Jane Austen that show, don't tell was the means to great writing; and we have only benefited from Austen's ignorance.

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