Sunday, September 30, 2007

Return to Flight House

Back in February of 2007 I posted about Flight House. There's been a return to the place. Several times in the last few weeks I've walked by on the weekend to find cars in the driveway. Today there was a small Krakatoa of trash bags by the road and the girl's blue bicycle was gone. I didn't see any people but the grass is trampled by the back steps and so I know they have been in and out.

The writer in me wants to go up on the back porch and knock, and find out their story. The coward in me walks on by with my feet stirring the faintest dust into the air. Perhaps some part of me doesn't want to know the true tale. What if it's not as poignant as I've imagined? What if it's not even very interesting.

Right now, the story of "Flight House" is my story. Not their's. Maybe I just don't want to share with my characters.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Desk Tag Screen Shot

Steve tagged me for a meme that requires you to post a screen shot of your desktop. I noted the tag while at work and couldn't, for the life of me, remember what image I had on my home desktop. When I got home I found out why. I have no image on my desktop, and thus I surely win for most boring desktop in the blogosphere. But to paraphrase a quote from The Matrix, I don't even see the desktop anymore. I just see Talera, Thanos, the woods of Northwest Arkansas.

As for the icons, most are probably self explanatory. "BlackHate" represents a fantasy novel that I started working on but have put on the back burner because of some non-fiction projects. "Wanders" is a horror novel that has also gone on the back burner. "REHUPA" is stuff for the Robert E. Howard group that I'm a member of. "IRB" stands for Internal Review Board and is a committee that I'm chair of at Xavier. "Learntex" holds the files for the textbook review I mentioned the other day, which I just finished and will send off first of next week.

I'm behind in blogging because work has truly hit the fan at school and I am completely swamped with too many items to list here. It's one of those times when you just try to keep swimming even though you know the shore is a long way off.

Everyone take care.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


In the past few years I’ve seen books published featuring Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, and H. P. Lovecraft as characters. Laura Joh Rowland, from my writing group, will soon have a novel published with Charlotte Bronte as a character. Why have some authors chosen to use historical individuals as characters in their stories. I think the answer, in part, is “resonance.”

To me, resonance represents the degree to which a name or a term evokes already existing associations in a person’s mind. You may not know many details about Freud, but you recognize the name. It vibrates your consciousness; it carries weight. Consider, you pick up a detective novel by an unknown writer. His detective is named Jonathan Carmichael. Right next to it is another unknown writer’s book, but his detective is Edgar Allen Poe. Knowing nothing else about the writers or books, I suspect you are more likely to plunk down your money for the Poe book than the Carmichael one. Resonance is the reason. You are predisposed to select the Poe book because you already know something about the real Poe and, quite likely, you find him at least mildly interesting. Carmichael, on the other hand, is a void.

Some names have resonance even when used separately from the historical figures who carried them. Consider “Abraham,” or “Jesus.” Or consider the negative resonance of “Adolph.” I don’t think you want to give your hero that name. Whether they want to or not, most readers will be uncomfortable with a hero who carries the first name of Hitler.

Completely fictional names can develop resonance, however. “Conan” has it. Hannibal” has it. The movie Van Helsing tried to capitalize on the resonance that developed for that character after years of books and movies about Dracula and his nemesis.

Resonance occurs for terms as well as names, of course. “Steel” and “bone” have far more resonance than words like “indecisive” or “misguided.” Having a detective named Mike Hammer is more potent than one named Mike Corbin, although this can be overused and often has been in men’s adventure fiction.

Resonance is a writer’s tool just as much as grammar and punctuation. It can be misused, but sometimes it’s the perfect tool for the job.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Exotic Writing, Part 2

Are these the rules and principles for salting your stories with exotic imagery that works? Let me know what you think.

1: The exotic is anything that readers haven’t directly experienced, but given the expansion of the media in everyone’s life the exotic is getting harder to find. A decade ago a burkha would have seemed exotic to most Americans. Much less so now. Modern writers must work harder to find the exotic. This may mean turning established imagery on its head. For example, vampires began in literature as villains, but increasingly have become heroes.

2: Any scene must be primarily realistic and not exotic. Just like a small child wants to know where its mother is before it begins to explore, so a reader needs to have the comfort of the familiar before being introduced to the exotic. In horror fiction, the monster is typically depicted as coming out of a realistic setting. People know what woods look like. They know what an old house looks like. The monster is the exotic element.

3. The more realistic a scene is in general, the greater the impact the exotic element(s) will have.

4. The exotic quickly becomes the familiar. There was a time in America where men found the sight of a woman’s ankle terribly erotic. There was a time when any sexual position other than missionary was considered terribly kinky. That time is not now, unless someone is having sex with someone else’s ankle in a bathroom.

5. Although magical realism may be an exception, the exotic works best when it has a logical explanation, even if it is a slender explanation. I wonder, however, whether this is more something in me than in the average reader. To this day, for example, I can’t buy Kafka’s Metamorphosis because the guy just wakes up and he’s a cockroach. I can buy a shape shifting alien, a demon from Hell, a vampire far easier. There is at least some conceivable explanation for such things, although they require the assumption of things that we have no scientific evidence for. There is no possible explanation for how a guy living in a normal everyday world would wake up as a giant cockroach. Thus, to me, the Metamorphosis is far less realistic than any other fantasy I’ve ever read.

Well, I think there are more principles/rules but this is all I have time for today. Will there be a part 3? Who knows. Maybe one will magically appear on my computer overnight while I sleep.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Exotic Writing, Part 1

One of the attractions of Science Fiction and Fantasy is the taste of the exotic that these genres provide. I’ve never seen in real life the rising of two great moons over the scarlet ruins of a vampire city. I’ve never seen a galleon with sails of white careening through the sky before a dark storm’s winds. I’ve never watched a star eaten by a black hole. But I’ve imagined them.

I remember as a kid how much I hated most “approved” reading because the books locked me into a world with which I was already familiar. The Grapes of Wrath was about farmers, for example. I lived on a farm. Other approved books I read were about people who worked in factories, people who lived in small, rural southern towns, people who struggled to deal with crop failures, people facing religious persecution, people dealing with the tragic deaths of loved ones. I’d think, OK, that was kind of like last Tuesday. Couldn’t I read something that I hadn’t lived through? It was such a relief to toss these “relevant” books aside and join John Carter on a desperate ride across the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom with swords gleaming beneath twin moons.

As I got older I came to appreciate realistic fiction and I enjoy it to this day. I appreciate the effort that goes into telling such tales and I find much of worth in stories of “universal” suffering and joy. But I always still crave that touch of the exotic, that little bit of something that shocks my imagination. I want to see the world as I’ve never quite seen it before, as I don’t see it when I look out my window.

Tomorrow I want to post on ways to work the exotic into one’s fiction. How do you create a meld of the exotic and the real that becomes seamless for the reader. It’ll be a work in progress, because right now I don’t know exactly what I think about this topic. I think it’ll be fun to find out.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pay it Forward

My post today is triggered by one over on Inside our Hands; Outside our Hearts about a kind act by a stranger.

Anybody remember the "Pay it Forward" movement back a number of years ago? I don't hear much about it these days, although there is a commercial running now that illustrates it. The basic point is, when someone does a nice thing for you, you return the favor by helping yet another person down the line. Here's something about "Pay it Forward."

In the early 1980s I was a grad student at the University of Arkansas making about 500 dollars a month. I had managed, however, to save enough to attend a neuroscience conference in Dallas. (Fortunately, my major professor was driving and let me ride with him.) I stayed at the cheapest hotel I could find, well away from the convention center but at least close enough to catch the bus in every morning. I attended all the talks or parties at the convention where you could find free food, and I ate elsewhere as cheaply as possible.

One evening I was eating at Shoney’s. I had long-hair even then, and was dressed in t-shirt and jeans, one of my few pairs without holes in them. A guy came in carrying a painting he’d done. He came right up and asked if I would buy it so he could afford to eat. I felt horrible for him, but I was eating the cheapest thing they had and after paying for the meal I was going to have less than five dollars in my billfold. I certainly didn’t have the twenty he was asking for the painting. I told him, “Sorry man, but I’ve barely got enough to cover my own meal.”

He thanked me anyway, turned and walked away. I saw him try a few other tables without luck before leaving the diner. Shortly after that I asked my waitress to bring the check, to which she replied, “It’s taken care of.” I asked what she meant and she gestured toward a table where several fellows in their sixties were sitting. “The guy in the gray suit paid for it,” she said.

Stunned, I went over to their table to explain that I had enough to cover my meal. The guy who had paid for me said, “Well I heard what you said about not having much money and I’ve been there myself. Just thought I’d help.” I told him thanks and left, and over twenty years later I still remember it clearly. The guy didn’t know me. I looked scruffy and probably down on my luck. And he reached out, a perfect stranger, to give me a hand.

I wonder if that guy is still alive. I’d sure like to thank him again, and to tell him that I think of him whenever I help someone else.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Notes from the Blogworld

A couple of notes from around the blogosphere today. One of my links is to Bernita Harris who has recently had a story published in Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Stories. I picked up this collection in ebook format yesterday and immediately turned to Bernita's story, which is entitled "Stone Child." I had read and very much enjoyed snippets of Bernita's fiction on her blog and was curious how she would handle a complete piece. I'm happy to say I found it a truly fine work. I felt immediately comfortable with her characters. Although there is obviously considerable backstory with the characters, the reader gets only enough to develop a liking for them and to realize that there is more that could be revealed in future stories. I see so many pieces that bog the tale down with character details at the expense of "getting on with the story." This didn't happen here.

Two other strengths of "Stone Child" deserve mention. The setting, a northern forest wreathed in mist, is strong. I love stories set in wild natural environments. Cold in the Light is an unapologetic ode to the woods I grew up running. Bernita captures precisely the feeling one sometimes gets even in relatively tame forests of being watched, followed, haunted. Finally, it's rare to find so much fresh language in modern stories. This was the main reason I wanted to get this piece. From Bernita's blog I've seen that she has a wonderful facility with language and imagery and I hoped she could bring that talent to bear on a complete story. I wasn't disappointed, and I highly recommend "Stone Child."

Also from around the blogosphere, Steve has a great post on setting. I don't think setting gets its due in most work written about writing, but it's incredibly important to me, and not just as a writer. As a reader I adore a good setting and will, frankly, devour paragraphs that simply put me in an interesting "place." I want to post on setting myself at some point, particularly about how important it is in SF/Fantasy/Horror. Steve has some great thoughts about it and it looks like he may post some more on the topic as well. I'll certainly be following that thread.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Various Matters of Writerly Account

For those of you who have been checking the issues out from the archives, the September Illuminata is out. My piece this time is "Endings: What's At Stake." This issue also notes the 6th anniversary of the newsletter, which is a pretty amazing accomplishment actually, and a tribute to the Editor/Publisher Bret Funk. Remember those of you who read SF/Fantasy/Horror that Bret is always looking for reviews.

As for what I'm working on. I agreed to do a review of a revised Learning in Psychology Text from Sage publishers and that has been taking up most of my past few evenings. Plus I've already started making out my first tests of the semester. I rather hate giving and grading tests. Another big project is pretty much done and I will report on that at a later date.

I watched the premier of K'Ville last night. This is a cop drama set in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. I thought it showed quite a bit of promise. I like the actors and the setting is interesting, of course. I thought they tried to do a bit too much in the first episode. They had too many plot lines and could have benefited from cutting one or two out for later. They also, I thought, prematurely revealed the answers to a couple of mysteries that could have been continued. Still, I thought it took the city and its people seriously and took a good hard look at some of the struggles folks in this area are still experiencing. I recommend it for viewing.

Later, my friends.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Imaginary Friends

Etain mentioned imaginary friends in her comments on my last post and I started thinking about this issue, and whether it has any relationship to the development of writing interest and skills. First, though, I've always been confused by one issue related to imaginary friends. That is, how real do people's imaginary friends seem to them when they are kids? I grew up in the country with no other children around, and didn't attend school until first grade. I had quite a few imaginary friends. There was Red Spot and Barefoot, two youths from a savage tribe on Jupiter, and there was McCallister, a war weary WW II vet who carried a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). These were not characters that I played. They were companions to the characters I played. However, though I often conversed with them, and even argued with them, during play, I never actually "thought" they were real. They didn't go in the house with me, or sleep in the same room with me. When I was finished playing I put them back on the shelf, so to speak, and took them out again next time I played that game.

Let me ask, how many of you had imaginary friends? And if you did, how real were they to you? Were they one or were they legion? Did they talk to you when you weren't "playing?" Lest you fear to reveal such information because you think it makes you look psychotic, I suspect that all children are a little psychotic from the adult standpoint. I certainly was.

And for those of you who "still" have imaginary friends, remember that I'm a psychologist. Tell me all about it. I might be able to get you some help. ;)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Top Down Versus Bottom Up

Bernita suggested something that might explain why some authors, like myself, enjoy creating whole fantasy worlds for their characters to play in while other authors prefer to use the existing world of earth as a backdrop upon which to paint their tales. She suggested that it was possibly to do with a kind of inductive/deductive difference in the authors.

Playing off this, I think, perhaps, that some writers like to start with the unreal and work their way down to the real. They begin with an alien planet, say, and then begin to try and build reality into it by creating rivers, and cities, and deserts, and people, all of whom must have strong elements of realism if they are to work.

Other writers start with the real and work their way up to the unreal. They begin with rivers and cities and so on that already exist, then began to alter these toward the fictional, and they create characters who move within these worlds who have never existed.

I still don't know what it is in writers that make them prefer one approach to the other. Probably I never will. Although the difference is endlessly fascinating to me.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The World Building Impulse

Why does imagination take the forms it does? As a kid I wandered our farm and through the woods and fields for miles around, and while I walked I invented stories. But more than stories, I invented whole worlds and painted them with cities and deserts and rivers and strange animals and plants. The first world I invented was Thanos, and it was actually a future earth after aliens had invaded, conquered, settled and then abandoned it to the savage humans who remained. New cities had arisen, new tribes of humankind, and there were "leftovers" from the conquered years.

When I told my parents or siblings about Thanos they laughed and shook their heads. And when I told my friends they looked at me like I was weird. People said I was imaginative, but to me it just seemed natural. I wondered why everyone else didn't do it too. I also knew that plenty of other people had good imaginations and told inventive stories. My dad told some whoppers, but his stories were much more versions of the "tall tale," and always involved the world "almost" as it was.

As an adult I find that my writer friends are highly imaginative and tell wonderful stories. Candice Proctor and Laura Joh Rowland take the misty features of history and turn them into concrete realities that a reader can see, hear, and smell. They reinvent the past so that it becomes current reality. Sidney Williams takes the environments of small rural towns and common people and slides them a little to the left so that they're overlain by a world where vampires and werewolves and stranger things play. Wayne Allen Sallee writes of a real Chicago, but in ways that warp the perspective, that make you feel things you've never felt.

But Wayne has told me that he doesn't feel that comfortable when he tries to step out of the real Chicago with his writing, and I know that Candice is just not that interested in wholly imaginary worlds. (Forgive me Wayne and Candice if I've misrepresented you. Please let me know.)

Why is this? Do I love imaginary worlds because I want to escape? I don't think so. I like the real world OK. I'm not unhappy or desperate to flee an intolerable existence. I just like inventing weird stuff. I like it more apparently than Candice or Wayne or Laura, although Sid is a bit closer to me here. What accounts for these differences? I'm glad they're there. If you depended on me to write the books about historical Japan or England you wouldn't have very many. Those worlds are not where my imagination lives. But I like to read those sorts of books. I like to be transported to historical places. I'm glad that every writer's imagination doesn't take the same form. I just wonder why?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Light and Shadow

Lana is a graphic artist. She’s shown me many times the importance of light and shadow in painting. Too, we often sit on Sundays to watch the artist Bob Ross’s TV show, and I see his brush illustrate the importance of highlights that bring trees and mountainsides to life, and of shadows that create the mystery of a forest.

Descriptive writing is not much different. Light and shadow are critical to word art, as well. It is critical in a literal sense, for one. Read some favorite descriptive passages from books you love and I bet you’ll find the play of light within the play of words. “In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun…” (Hemingway). “That country…where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay” (Bradbury). Any page from Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard.

But light and shadow are critical as metaphors, as well. Whether you call it good and evil or black and white, or whether you speak only of “shades of gray,” you are dealing with light and shadow, with the juxtaposition and interrelationship of things that people often think of as opposites but which are not. Light is the mother of shadow, and shadow is not the absence of light, but the muting of it.

I realized after my Monday entry that the core of that scene was about light and shadow. And it began to occur to me how important this relationship is in all my writing. I bet it’s true for you as well. And if it isn’t, I’d like to know what replaces it for you.

“Kainja looked up from the ruins, past the vultures with their bladed wings, past the darkening valley to where a chill wind swept like a broom across the snowfields of the Himalayan Range. There lay the swelling curve of the Khumbu Glacier, bright in the sun, with white Everest to the east. He would have to go up that glacier, but the trail would be easily followed. It would be marked by the smell of shed blood.” (From “Wanting the Mouth of a Lover.”)

“The moonlight settled over the December beach like snow birds coming in to roost on an arctic plain. And the midnight world was brush-stroked in white, the white of sand and shells and stones, the white of bones and ghosts. In the midst of that white was a splatter of black, or what could have been red in brighter hours. It reminded Kyle of a snowflake in negative, and he thought it was incredibly beautiful until he realized what it represented. Then he dropped the cigarette that he'd walked out on the beach to smoke, and he reached down with his thumb to unsnap the strap that held his Colt Trooper in its holster.” (From, “Splatter of Black.”)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September Updates

I was interviewed today by Ann Gilbert for Inside Northside Magazine. They’re doing a feature on “Writers of the North Shore.” This means the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. New Orleans and its suburbs are on the south shore, and the two areas are connected by the Causeway Bridge, which I blogged about yesterday. If it hadn’t of been for Lana and the wonderful folks at the Abita Springs Library, Ann probably wouldn’t have found out about me. So I thank them for keeping my name out there. I’m going to officially name Lana my publicist. I hope she doesn’t ask for a raise, although going from nothing to something might not require a huge layout of cash for me. Maybe I can pay her in dinners at Trey Yuen restaurant. She loves eating there. As do I.

Inside Northside is a very nice, slick production and Ann told me it is mailed to 40,000 homes as well as distributed to local libraries and such. That’ll be more people than have ever seen one of my short stories or novels, I would imagine. Oh well, I suppose soon the paparazzi will be following me around. Fame! It’s just so demanding.

In other news, I’ve added quite a few new links to my blog. Unified Sci Fi forums is a site where folks come to discuss SF, Fantasy and Horror. I’ve probably mentioned that I’m the horror moderator there. To my links on the “Louisiana Connection,” I’ve added “Ms. Mentor’s Column.” This is the work of Emily Toth, a professor at Louisiana State University who is also in my writing group. Ms. Mentor dispenses advice to troubled and not so troubled academics, often with an edge of acerbic wit. There are a bunch of new folks added at the bottom of my “Blogs” link. These are folks whose blogs I visit and who have been visiting here. I’ll try to put up a more writing related post tomorrow.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Moods of Water and Life

Each working day I cross Lake Pontchartrain. Twenty-four miles one way on the Causeway Bridge. It isn't a sea but like a sea it has moods. Friday afternoon it was gray-green and seething, dimpled with rain and with white caps breaking like horses's manes in the wind. Whereever sunlight punched through the clouds to strike the water the liquid color turned to a toxic saffron that looked like old bruises.

Today the lake was a light steel-blue that flirted with the bright morning sun. Sparks of refraction ignited here and there as a faint breeze petted the surface. Sunlight and water played together, happy as any two children during summer vacation.

I'm learning a lot about the moods of water on my daily trips. And about cycles of life along the Pontchartrain basin. The pelicans are starting to glide right along the bridge railing again, as they did last year at this time. There must be some seasonal wind change that accounts for it. Suddenly the Sulphur Butterflies are out in force, not along the bridge yet but in the trees and along the roads toward my house. The love-bugs are here too. I see the early ones perched on my car, or on the railing of our deck, already mated. I know there'll be more soon, until the air is thick with love.

I'm glad I've kept notes of such things in my journal, because I can go back and see clearly the cycles of how water and the biosphere around it ebbs and rises through the seasons. This year I plan to keep better records of when things happen. I figure there's a story in there somewhere. Or perhaps just a life.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Online Writing Groups

I'm considering doing a piece on online writing groups and thought I'd toss the idea out here to see if it generates any discussion. I think there are pros and cons to online groups. Here's what I'm thinking so far:

1. never have to leave your house.
2. online groups can be larger, thus providing more feedback.
3. a member can set their own pace for how they post and respond to posts easier.

1. online groups tend to come and go faster than physical groups.
2. anonymity of net may lead to harsher criticism than is good for new writers
3. online groups typically don't form as strong emotional bonds.
4. online groups constantly get new members, which means a lot of redundancy in dealing with issues.

Anyone have anything to add to either pros or cons? What am I missing?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Night to Dawn #12

I got my contributor copies for Night to Dawn #12 yesterday and the magazine looks very nice. I actually was not expecting it to be so beautifully done, and at almost 90 pages it's thicker than I expected as well. My piece, which is either a micro fiction or a prose poem, depending on how you define it, is called "When the White Mist." It's...uhm, well, rather a romantic piece. If you've read any of my novels you might be surprised. No gore or bloody battles. Just love, albeit slightly on the kinky side.

If you want to check out the website it's here. Note, if you do go to the website do not click on the "check out my blog" link at the top or you will be taken to a porno site. Barbara Custer is the editor and I think her blog address has been, shall we say...compromised. The rest of the website is fine.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tigers, Razorbacks and Saints, Oh My

I’m excited. Football season is here again. College games started this past weekend. The pro season begins officially tonight with the opening game between last year’s Super Bowl champs, the Indianapolis Colts, and our own New Orleans Saints. I like the Colts. I respect Tony Dungee and Peyton Manning. I hope we kick their ass.

I actually prefer college football to the pro game. There seems to be more sheer enthusiasm for the game among college players, many of whom will not be going on to sign NFL contracts and do endorsements. They are amateurs in the sense that they are playing for the love of the game. College games are often more exciting to me, but I certainly do watch the pros as well.

As for teams that I follow? The Arkansas Razorbacks is my number one team. I grew up in Arkansas and the Razorbacks might as well be the only team in the state. I root for the New Orleans Saints, although there have been times in the past when I was so disgusted with them that I wouldn’t even watch them. Before I moved to the New Orleans area I rooted for, in order, the Oakland Raiders, the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I tend to root for the LSU Tigers, unless they play Arkansas.

Is football over hyped and often full of showboating athletes? Yes. Is football a rather silly pastime in an age when we have many social, political and global problems? Yes. I certainly get irritated when there’s an hour’s worth of nonsense on TV before the game even begins. I get angry when I see some athlete spouting crap as if he’s God’s gift to humanity. But when the game begins. When the teams take the field and I hear that first pop of leather as foot meets football, I’m there. I’m ready. I love the game itself. Take away the hype. Take away the posturing. Take away the unsportsmanlike taunts and the silly end zone antics and you have something worthwhile. Maybe it’s not important in the global scheme of things, but it serves a need. At least for me.

Go Razorbacks! Go Saints! Go football!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I gave Ken a ride the other day. Picked him up at the I-12 on-ramp and took him across Lake Pontchartrain into Greater New Orleans. Ken was white haired, probably in his late fifties, although he looked older from a life spent in wind and sun. He said he was hitching to Texas where some folks he knew had a ranch and would hire him on for fall work and let him stay in their bunkhouse.

Our time together was only about forty minutes but I heard some great stories. He spoke of stopping in to sleep in an abandoned house once and finding two cases of beer and a pound of pot hidden there. He chewed the fat that night, making up for a long period of lean. He told me about a time when he accidentally scared the hell out of some teenagers who tried to break into another abandoned house where he was sleeping.

He told me how strange it was to him to find all the useful stuff that people threw out along highways. His shoes and his jeans had been discovered beneath a bridge, and it made me wonder who had lost them, and why. He himself had misplaced a sweater that he'd once found, and he lamented that loss although he wasn't terribly broken up. Easy come, easy go, he seemed to be saying.

Ken reminded me of a line from the song, "Me and Bobbie McGee." "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Ken was free, and I think many of us have moments when we envy such freedom. I don't feel that way for long, though. On a bright day with a little breeze, when someone offers you a ride and maybe slips you a few bucks for a bite or a beer, then the way of the road might have its pleasures.

But what about when the sun beats on your bare head like a hammer while you stand for hours along the blacktop with your thumb out? What about when the nights turn cold and you can't find enough clothes along the highway to keep you warm, and the abandoned house you're sleeping in has no heat to combat the holes in the walls where the chill comes creeping? What about the mornings you wake with sickness in your belly and there's no one to lay a hand to your forehead and whisper a comforting word?

What about?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Altering Point of View

I finished the book I was talking about on Sunday by scanning the last sixty pages or so. And even in scanning I found something else to criticize. I mentioned how an attack by the story’s werewolf happened out of the reader’s direct experience and had to be “told” to the main character. Although this resulted in a very weak experience for the reader, I thought the reason why the author probably did it this way was because they didn’t want to break point-of-view. Although the book was written in third person limited rather than first person, everything had been shown from the POV of the main character, an ex-marine turned deputy sheriff. Since the deputy wasn’t present at the attack he had to be told about it. My thinking was mistaken.

About thirty pages later a female character is attacked by the werewolf and the scene is shown from her POV, the only time in the book where POV is shifted. As an action scene, however, it actually worked a lot better and I would have far preferred that the writer shift POV when needed to keep the dramatic action up front with the reader.

In third person limited, shifting POV is not a problem as long as it is done between scenes rather than within scenes, and as long as it is clearly indicated. I hate it if I’m in a character’s head in an individual scene and am suddenly vaulted into another character in that same scene. I don’t have a problem at all if we shift POV when a new chapter begins, or even within a chapter if the scene shift is indicated by a number or an extra space. All you need to do is start with the name of the character whose head we are going to be in, and stay there consistently within the scene.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

How Not to Win Friends and Influence Readers

I'm reading a book set in the deep south during the depression and the author definetely knows the local color. I'm getting a good feel for shadows falling in the swamps, and the wild barking of dogs as predators hunt in the dark. The main character, a well read but not formally educated ex-marine who is now a cop, is also well drawn. I like him and am rooting for him. But by about two-thirds through the work I've largely lost interest in the story, and the scene I just finished this morning really left me flat.

The problem for me is the absolute action scene failure. An early chase on horseback of wild dogs in the swamp wasn't too bad because the swamps were well described. But then we had a car chase in the night along country roads. Gunshots were being exchanged. And I felt not the faintest emotion. Nor apparently did the characters. In fact, at one point I had to page back to see that they were indeed "chasing" someone. And other than some description of the headlights bouncing up and down on the bumpy road I couldn't put myself physically into the chase.

Although I'm still not quite sure how to describe exactly what was wrong with the car chase, it's the next action scene that is making me want to cut my losses and bail on the book. A man who is suspected of murdering a young woman is in the hospital and is very ill. It's been building throughout the book in the mind of the reader that this guy might be a werewolf. Apparently it's true because he attacks the doctor who is caring for him and there are metamorphic changes accompanying the attack. Here's the problem. The reader doesn't get to see the attack directly. The main character--the ex-marine--hears of the attack and rushes to the hospital. The doctor then describes the attack for him, and for the reader. The description is handled very badly. The author is torn between trying to dramatize the attack and having the doctor tell about it, and the result comes off completely false. One paragraph is telling, the next paragraph is showing, but that paragraph is written in some bizarre combination of flashback and dialogue. We can never settle down and "experience" the scene.

I don't like to abandon books when I'm over 100 pages in but I knew I was in trouble when I found myself paging along to find out how much more I had left to read, and not because I hoped it would be a lot. I'm going to start scanning today rather than really reading so maybe I can stumble my way to the end. I won't end happily, though, and I probably won't buy another book by this author. I want to tell them:

Dramatize, dramatize, dramatize. It's the only choice for critical action scenes