Thursday, February 25, 2010

Experience versus Information

I’ve been on a ‘reading-about-writing’ kick lately. I just started Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’m enjoying it, finding both food-for-thought and some points I feel the need to debate. Here’s an example of the latter, and I hope you’ll weigh in with your thoughts on the issue.

On page 16, Browne and King write: “You don’t want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.”

My first reaction to that was: “perfect!” That’s exactly what fiction writers want to do.

Except! It doesn’t appear to be what readers always want fiction writers to do.

Have you read The Da Vinci Code? The biggest blockbuster novel of our age is full of mini-lectures, and I’ve heard plenty of readers say that they loved having the chance to learn some stuff along with being entertained. (Whether what they learned was accurate or not is a different issue.) Those readers were saying they wanted the “information” that Browne and King are saying not to give them, and they were perfectly happy getting it in info-dump form without having it dramatized.

If it were just Dan Brown writing like this, we might put the readers’ reactions down to a fluke. But I’ve seen the same kind of “information-heavy” prose in a lot of popular novels, from modern thrillers to historicals. The readers aren’t always on the same “page” with the writers on show versus tell, and it’s starting to make me rethink that whole debate.

I’ll post more on this topic as I give it some more thought, but what do you think? As readers, what do you feel is the right mix? Is that mix different for readers than for writers?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Choice Words

I finished reading Choice Words: The Borgo Press Book of Writers Writing about Writing. It’s from Borgo Press, edited by Borgo’s Robert Reginald. There’s an introduction by Reginald, as well as 19 articles on various aspects of the writer’s world. There are pieces on poetry, play-writing, collaboration, and translating. There’s an essay on writing sex scenes, as well as some tip pieces. The book reprints two of my pieces from Write With Fire, “Tipping the Odds in Your Favor” and “Writing with Purpose,” as well as a piece called “Preparing and Writing” from Writing in Psychology: A Guidebook.

I found a lot of food for thought in the collection and feel comfortable recommending it for anyone interested in writing. I don’t believe I’m being unduly influenced by having some of my own stuff in the book. I particularly found two pieces by Ardath Mayhar to be helpful and informative. These were “”Dispatch from the Front: Never Waste Anything,” and “How not to Starve as a Writer.”

I’ll relate an idea that I found very interesting in “Writing for the Stage,” by Francis Jarman. Now, I’ve never been much interested in playwriting but it’s a discipline I can admire. In this piece, Jarman, talks about the “duende.” The duende is one of three parts of an artist’s inspiration (the other two are the muse and the angel), as proposed by the Spanish poet and playwright Lorca. The duenda is “a dark, sudden, Dionysiac inspiration that rises up from sources too deep to be grasped logically… The duenda wounds.”

The duenda wounds. It pushes you to the edge. I like that. I think it’s important. And I think I’ve left my duenda dormant for too long.

Time for some darkness.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Back in the Saddle

We got home last Tuesday but I didn’t have the energy to post until now. Although mom is communicating better than she was, she has not regained any real strength and is still bed bound. She had a feeding tube put in her stomach because she still doesn’t swallow well. I talked to my brother today and she is going to be released to a nursing home tomorrow. I wish I could be there but unless I work we don’t eat.

Since returning I’ve been doing little other than grading. Twenty-seven term papers, and 35 tests. I finished the papers and about 2/3rds of the tests. I haven’t written a word in the last 9 days. Tomorrow isn’t likely to change that. And on Thursday I give another test. Well, enough complaining. I’ll try to post more regularly and respond to comments and blogs again. I hope that within a week or so I’ll be back to some form of regularity.

I’ve certainly had plenty of ideas for both blog posts and essays. Just no time to write them up for now. I will have a short story coming out for the Kindle in the next couple of weeks. I’ll post more about that in the next few days.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Time Away

This'll be my last post for a week or so. Tomorrow, Lana and I are headed up to Arkansas. My mom is still in the hospital and is not doing very well. Lana and I both have next Monday and Tuesday off due to Mardi Gras so we will be staying in Arkansas through that time and we won't have much, or possibly any, internet access. Mostly I'll be at the hospital, I imagine.

It's about an 11 hour drive, depending on weather and such. My brother says the roads are clear now, although they have had quite a bit of snow. There are predictions of sleet and freezing rain, however, which means we won't be driving much at night. I've driven on roads coated with freezing rain and I hope not to have to repeat those experiences.

Even after I get back I may not be posting much through the rest of February. I'm way behind at work, have had almost no time to write, and am just feeling pretty tired at the moment. I'll be further behind when I return. I will update the blogosphere about my mom when I get back.

Take care.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Saints

What else would I post about today but the Saints winning the Super Bowl. Who Dat!

I wasn’t a Saints fan from the beginning like so many others down here. I moved to the New Orleans area in 1986 and certainly became a fan then. And the Saints had some good years at that time under Coach Jim Mora. Mora always had great defenses and generally less than stellar offenses, and we won quite a few games but could never get over the hurdle of winning our first playoff game.

That first playoff win came under Coach Jim Haslett, but while we had a pretty exciting offense over the next couple of years it seemed like the team got out from under Haslett’s control and we just couldn’t be consistent. In fact, that lack of consistency has been a consistent trademark of the Saints during the years that I’ve been a fan. Too often it seemed to me, that when we needed someone to step up, many players took a step back instead. Rooting for a team like that can be agony year in and year out.

But when Sean Payton came things took a turn for the better. He put together a staff and a team in which there were lots of players ready to step forward when needed. Not only ready, but eager to step forward. The culture sure has changed for the Saints over the last four years. Now you don’t hear people saying that: “The Saints found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Now, even when the Saints are down, as they were in the first quarter against the Colts, you still think, and ‘feel,’ “we can do this. This team may lose at times, and they may make mistakes, but they just don’t give up.

The Super Bowl showed, too, that this is as genuine of a “team” as I’ve ever seen in the NFL. Sure Brees was the MVP for the game and I would never say he didn’t deserve it, but every player on that team did their part. Pierre Thomas made a great run for a touchdown. Bush got a couple of needed big runs. Colston made some hard catches. Lance Moore made an incredible grab for that 2-point conversion. Porter got the interception. Greer played so well they didn’t even throw in his direction. Vilma crushed some runners. Shanle and Fujita did too. The offensive and defensive lines played their hearts out. Shockey caught a touchdown. David Thomas caught a ball. Bell made a good run. Hartley set a field goal record. Our special teams covered well and recovered that onside kick.

And the coaching staff did a wonderful job. Payton and his crew came to either win or lose, not merely to show. They coached an aggressive game that paid off with this young and aggressive team

This team definitely deserves the recognition as “Super Saints.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

All Good Things: Or Almost All

Generally, good stuff going on at the moment. First, my mom had to have the batteries in her pacemaker changed yesterday. It’s supposedly routine, but nothing is quite routine when you’re 93. However, they didn’t have to put her under deep anesthesia and she came through fine and is already home. She has developed “Shingles,” but is being treated for that.

Second, Choice Words has been released by Borgo Press. The book is edited by Robert Reginald and is subtitled: “The Borgo Press Book of Writers Writing About Writing.” Besides the fact that I always enjoy seeing new books come out for writers, I also have three essays in the book. These are reprints. Two of them come from Write With Fire and the other from Writing in Psychology: A Guidebook. The last is a collaboration piece, of course, with Elliott Hammer and Du Bois Irvin.

Third, the new Illuminata is up and looks very interesting this month. My essay on “Evolution of a Genre” is included. You can download it for free here. If you haven’t signed up for the free newsletter you can also do so on that same page.

Fourth, I just finished reading J. Bruce Fuller’s 28 Blackbirds at the End of the World and I raved about it over on Goodreads. Below is what I said there:

I originally read this collection in manuscript form and enjoyed it very much. I gave the author a blurb, which appears on the back cover. Here's what the blurb says:

"J. Bruce Fuller's "28 Blackbirds" is to haiku what Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is to apocalyptic novels. A masterpiece."

I stand by that.

The printed version has a great cover, as seen above, and contains a short introduction by the author. If you like haiku, especially connected haiku on the same theme, you will surely enjoy this book. All the haiku revolve around the theme of blackbirds surviving, and sometimes dying, at world's end.

Here's one of my favorites:

world burned black
the hearts of men are black
blackbird's eye is black

If you're interested in the collection you can get it from Bandersnatch Books

Fifth, the Saints are still going to the Super Bowl. And I think that’s enough good news for one day!