Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Meme for Writers

I saw this meme over on Writtenwyrd’s blog and thought it looked worth doing. I love to hear this kind of thing about writers but I won’t specifically tag anyone. If you’d like to do it, tag yourself.

Your genre(s): Since I started writing I’ve had a goal, a silly one perhaps, of trying to publish something in every genre or style of writing. So far I’ve managed SF, Horror, Fantasy, Western, Thriller, Y/A, Poetry, Erotica, Nonfiction science, Nonfiction essay, Humor, Literary, Flash Fiction, Novel, and Short story. I’ve yet to publish a Romance, a Children’s Story, or a Gay/Lesbian story. (Are there any I’ve forgotten?)

However, by far my main interests are in Fantasy and Horror. These genres make up probably half of what I read, and somewhat less of what I’ve written. It would be far more than half of what I write if it weren’t for the Nonfiction I do.

How many books are you working on now: I’ve tried to work on more than one book length project at a time and have generally failed miserably. I have been able to work on one Fiction and one Nonfiction project at the same time. But I find even this very hard. I can only manage it if I do one early in the day and the other late, and if I'm absolutely ruthless with myself in switching. I tend to get excited about something I’m working on, and I don’t want to let it drop for something else.

Are you a linear or chunk writer: Almost totally linear. Very occasionally, I will jump ahead of the linear sequence of a story and write a later scene, but only if something really intense or visual occurs to me. And when I get started on a project I tend to work my way straight through it.

The POV you’re partial to: I love to both read and write in first person. It just seems such a nice and natural storytelling technique. However, some stories just can’t be told that way, and I do enjoy third person limited. I typically don’t like omniscient viewpoint or second person, although I’ve written a story in second person.

The Tense you use: I added this one because I find it interesting. I write almost everything in past tense, but I have been experimenting lately with present tense. There are some really nice things about present tense but it also poses difficulties. The “immediacy” of present tense is unparalleled, but the forward momentum is so powerful that it’s tough to bring in the background detail that you need to develop character. At least that’s what I've found.

The theme that keeps cropping up in your books: Sometimes I don’t really even understand the concept of theme. I’m never conscious of a “theme” when I’m writing. The main thing I want to do in a story or book is to affect the reader. I mainly want to create a mood, or I want to drag the reader headlong into a story and keep them wondering what’s about to happen next. Certain things do crop up again and again in my stories, though, so I guess you could call these things themes. These are, “the nature of heroism,” and “the nature of violence.” My characters also struggle with issues of guilt and responsibility, and they’re usually pretty hard on themselves. A lot of my early writing dealt with religious elements, but that has fallen off as I’ve aged.

How many days a week do you write: This depends a bit on whether I have a deadline coming up or not, and whether school is in session or not. Typically, I write six days a week. I seldom write less than three hours a day when I’m off. When school is in session I often go several days in a row, however, without being able to get any writing done. And on other days I’ll only manage an hour. If I’m really tired from a long week at school I may take the whole weekend off just to recover.

What time of day do you get your best writing done When school is in session I write whenever I have a free moment. If given the choice, I’ll tend to write in late afternoon and evening, and late at night. I believe my best writing often comes at night.

Who are your mentors: My mentors have always been books, not books about writing, but novels. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, John D. MacDonald, Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury. These were my earliest mentors. Since then I’ve been mentored by thousands of authors.

I almost had a real life mentor once. Francis Gwaltney was the only writer I ever knew who came from my home town of Charleston, Arkansas, and when I found out he taught at Arkansas Tech University where I went to undergraduate school I went to see him to talk writing. He was very encouraging, but, unfortunately, less than two weeks after my discussion with him he went out to celebrate the publication of one of his books and died choking on a chicken bone. I didn’t want to kill any more mentors so I never tried to get another in real life.

My favorite authors to read: There are way too many to list here. The ones I mentioned above, of course, though I’ve pretty much read everything they’ve written. Some other great writers that I love or have loved are Poul Anderson, J. R. R. Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, James Lee Burke, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Ken Bulmer, Andre Norton, C. L. Moore, Peter Matthiessen, James Baldwin, Clive Barker, and Wayne Allen Sallee.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Ed Gorman, Michael Connolly and Cormac McCarthy.

42 comments:

Barrie said...

How interesting. I don't think I'll do this meme just because of time restraints this week. But...I love first person. And present tense. Thanks for sharing!

laughingwolf said...

very good insights, charles, thx

if you like present tense writing, try your hand at screenplays and/or teleplays, very immediate

Shauna Roberts said...

I always enjoy hearing about writers and their process. Thanks for posting. I'll tag myself and try to do this two or three weeks from now.

SQT said...

I'm going off on a total tangent here...

The name Gwaltney-- it must be bad luck. My brother's last name is Gwaltney (different dad) and I tell you-- nothing but bad news. I already have a crazy family, but the Gwaltney side is really nuts. F.B.I investigations and everything.

I should write a book about them.

Sheri said...

Wow Charles, you've published so many books already! That's inspiring! Did you go the self publishing route with any of them, or all traditional?

As an inspiring children's writer, myself, I have to say you'd need to add several categories under the heading of children's books... there's picture books, early chapter, chapter, middle grade novel (that's what I write - currently realistic fantasy), and young adult novel. And of course they all have those same adult genres... fantasy, thriller, etc. It's endless! Except maybe erotic. I dont' think you'll find to many children's erotica (hahaha). Although some YA I read, sure does make me blush!

I like this meme game... We can all learn so much about each other. I think I will play too! :)

Erik Donald France said...

All fascinating, and good details.

The present tense thing is really interesting in its challenges, as you note.

And, you've done some erotica, too. I never even thought of this route -- out of curiosity, this for a magazine, or online, or an anthology, or for the experiment?

Charles Gramlich said...

Barrie, it's something you could do at any time really.

Laughingwolf, I've considered a screenplay, maybe trying to adapt Cold in the Light. Unfortunately, I don't really watch movies much and so I'm not sure I could pull it off.

Shauna, good. I'll look forward to it. By the way, I got your other mailing.

SQT, lol. My Gwaltney was a pretty nice guy, from what I knew of him. But I didn't know him very well.

Sheri, thanks for stopping by. I hope you do play. Most of my publications are not books, though. I'm talking short stories for the most part. Yes, pictures books for sure. I have to add that to my list.

Erik, I've only had two erotica pieces published. Both short stories. One was for an online market and one for a paperback anthology. The online one was published under a pseudonym, which I don't think I'll reveal. The anthology was called "Erotic New Orleans," and my story was titled "River Road, Night Music."

Steve Malley said...

This was neat. Thanks for sharing!!

the walking man said...

I think I will do this as a part of a double post today Charles. You certainly seemed to have covered all the bases...how many years writing do you have under your chair ?

Jon said...

Most blog memes just seem silly but I like this one. It'll be fun to trace it back through Writtenwyrd and compare how different writers work.

Present Tense: There seems to be a recent trend to write in the present tense and I have to say I loathe it! It may work for short pieces but I found the novel "The Rule of Four" to be almost unreadable.

Theme: This is *really* interesting. If I had to pick a main theme running through your Talera books I think it would be "loyalty" or "comradeship"; in each book Ruenn gathers a band of brothers (and sisters) who are prepared to risk their lives for each other and that's what keeps moving the story forward. To me, the themes of "heroism", "violence", "guilt" and "responsibility" seem to hang off that central theme, or give it something to work on. There's a real sense of respect for the soldier there. While Ruenn is pretty capable on his own he seems to be much more of a team player than Carter or Conan ever were.

- Jon

Bernita said...

I don't worry much about themes either, ( usually) dislike present tense, and agree that Heroism (and its facets)is a prominent theme in your stories that I have read.

laughingwolf said...

'cold' would make a super film, charles, saw that as i read it...

my fave: the screenwriter's bible, by david trottier

had i read it sooner in life, would have saved me hours of stumbling blind, i all writing genres... i found it that good

BernardL said...

John D McDonald was an author I really enjoyed for first person POV reading too. Your meeting with Francis Gwaltney and his untimely death a couple of weeks later probably haunted you for a while. Good post.

December/Stacia said...

Very interesting, Charles!

I also dislike present tense, so much so, unfortunately, that I gave up on a book I really wanted to read because I just couldn't stop noticing it. It seems from what I've seen to be more common in the UK, actually.

Heff said...

"Razored Erotica" ? I had no idea !

writtenwyrdd said...

I could hate you for your discipline, Charles! BTW you forgot detective genre on the to do list. (Or I'm blind and missed it.) I'd love to see what you did with a hard-boiled detective novel.
You could also add a list of cross-genre works and really drive yourself nuts!

And I cannot believe I left off Andre Norton on the favorite authors list.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve, no problem.

Mark, I started writing seriously and submitting stuff in late 1988, early 1989. So just about 20 years.

Jon, I actually started a potential novel in present tense and ran into the same thing you mentioned. I don't see how it can carry a long work very well, but I will try it in a short story before long. I appreciate your comments on theme in the Talera books. There is a definite feeling of loyalty with Ruenn and his friends. And now that you mention it I see that developing already in the fourth book. Hum, good thoughts. I have to think more about it.

Bernita, I always enjoyed the quiet heroism of the characters in Louis L'Amour's writing.

Laughingwolf, I'll have to look for that one. I'll actually be heading into a bookstore tonight. I felt that Cold was pretty visual.

Bernardl, I actually took Gwaltney's death as a kid of sign at the time and quit writing for a while.

December/Stacia, I don't think I could write a whole book in present tense. Not now anyway.

Heff, well I am endlessly fascinating, of course.

Writtenwyrd, I allow myself to count both genres when I do a cross genre one. LIke a horror western say. And wow, I completely left off mystery and detective. That's another one I've never published in, although I think there are hardboiled elements in some of my stories.

Danette Haworth said...

I also love first person novels; I love going through the events that intimately.

I can't work on two books at the same time, either, but I do write short stories between revisions on a book.

Merisi said...

Your wealth of knowledge and thoroughness is striking. Thank your for sharing your insights!

I am so happy that Peter Matthiessen is included in your list of favorite authors. He is among my favorites too! It was only this evening that I gave my hardcover copy of his "Birds of Paradise" to a friend to read.

Sarah Hina said...

I enjoyed reading about your writing life, Charles. I admire your discipline and range. No wonder you've published so many books!

I agree that first-person present tense in fun to write, though challenging. It's so intimate for the reader to be inside someone's head, but as a writer, you've got to be mindful of straying from the plot. I learned this the hard way with my last novel.

laughingwolf said...

hope you find it, charles... it's not expensive, and a great resource

i found 'cold' quite a bit more to my liking than two the talera books, though those are highly entertaining

i have to start 'witch' after i finish my current read, an erotic fantasy ;) lol

Ello said...

Very cool to read this! I love that you are linear since I am a very linear writer also and I always thought most writers are free flowing write whatever comes out of their head types and always worried that I was a bit too pragmatic in my writing approach.

Charles Gramlich said...

Danette, I'll do the same thing with short stories, or with articles/essays.

Merisi, he has written some lovely stuff. My favorite is "The Snow Leopard."

Sarah Hina, thanks. Yes, I found the narrative drive of present tense to be almost overwhelming in some ways.

Laughingwolf, Cold in the Light is a very different genre from the Taleran books. But they are like my children. I love them all. ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Ello, I actually think pragmatic is probably the more successful approach. Although I'm sure some really fine writers do it their own way.

the walking man said...

Charles I did the meme as you know but I did not submit the story I posted on my blog. Rather I wrote a different one that was more challenging. Trying to get the alphabet to convey the right noise is difficult I found out.

I really liked your piece, I imagined the rider a rather large fellow, leather vest with broken wings on the bottom...

laughingwolf said...

no slight intended, charles... enjoying all, but 'cold' is more my kind....

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, I typically sort of put myself in a story unless I have a specific character, like Ruenn from the Taleran books in mind. I'm not that big of a guy, except around the gut these days.

I read your story at your blog site. Definitely tough but it came through.

Laughingwolf, oh I didn't think you did. I just meant different folks like different genres best. I go back and forth between fantasy and horror for my favorite reading.

Sam said...

Interesting meme - and interesting that our writing is so similar - I kept finding myself nodding and saying uh-huh, that's how I do it, yes.
:-)

Merisi said...

Oh yes, Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard," that's when I fell in love with his writing.

As far as the stag encounter on my blog is concerned, I have been only once so close to such a large wild animal, but then I was sitting in the car. Wild boars are another matter. I have encountered a dozen and more several times in the vineyards north of Vienna, and in Tuscany's chestnut woods.

Leigh Russell said...

I notice you didn't mention crime - or is that covered by thrillers? Very interesting - and impressive! You'd be unbelievably prolific if you didn't teach! Here's hoping you win the lottery so you can write full time.

I've only written in one genre so far. I've wondered about trying another but haven't had the time (or courage?!) to try another one yet. I fancy trying fantasy, but it's too damn daunting.

Demon Hunter said...

That was a very interesting meme. I may try it soon. I may even learn some things about my writing that I didn't even realize before. Thanks for posting this, Charles. :-)

laughingwolf said...

find interesting books, charles?

JR's Thumbprints said...

A majority of the short stories I've read lately seem to be present tense. For some reason, it usually moves the story at a faster pace.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sam, we must be doing it right then eh? ;)

Merisi, I've seen quite a few deer around here, but usually while driving, or if walking, nowhere near so clearly. usually I catch 'em running away.

Leigh Russell, crime seems to cut across other genres, such as mystery, detective, or thriller, I find. There are so many nooks and crannies where the genres are concerned. I just love to try on a new genre.

Demon hunter, I hope you do. It's kind of a fun one.

Laughingwolf, I got three in the mail today. But I'm not sure what your question is concerning? I only got a few minutes to look for books at Borders last night before our meeting started. I saw some new David Gemmell books I wanted.

JR, it does create a very dramatic pacing. I'm just so used to past tense that I don't think of present tense often when I begin a tale.

laughingwolf said...

curious if you found trottier's book, is all...

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, ah, no I didn't find it last night.

Michelle's Spell said...

This is all very useful information. I'm surprised by the night writing -- I do some of that, but it's not my ideal. Even though I hate mornings, I usually do my best work then because I haven't worn my puny energy out yet. During school time is a great idea too -- so many wasted moments between things that can be used. I'm going to remember that!

laughingwolf said...

np, ask lana to bring one home from the library so you can decide if it's any good....

Mary Witzl said...

Honestly, I have the same ambition. I've written a one-act play, a full-length play, two dozen short stories, three novels, a memoir, three kids' stories, some poetry, and an MG novel. Plus over a hundred essays. And how much of it have I gotten published? Sigh.

I'm a linear writer as well, and though I usually write in the past tense, there are times the present tense just feels right. And first person works best for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Michelle, I don't know. When I'm off, my energy rises, rises in the evening, then tapers off after 2:00 or so. Much harder to do while school is in session.

Laughingwolf, great idea.

Mary Witzl, keep sending the stuff out. It sure is fun to work in a new genre. I've not done plays or screenplays yet. I should put that on my list.

Travis Erwin said...

I'm going to o this one sometime. I didn't realize you'd written so many different things.

Rachel said...

I'm going to have to do this. I missed this when it first came up.