Sunday, December 31, 2023

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Novelist interview-Chuck Palahniuk


This YouTube channel is called, "Soft White Underbelly," and Nick has been listening to these videos.  

Nick played this one for me, and this left me a bit speechless--well, it's Chuck Palahniuk.  His background and story sound like a crazy novel alone, but he talks about writing and workshops and style, too.  

I may need to reread a few of his books and study his style a bit closer.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Workshops from ShaelinWrites


This is a reshare from ShaelinWrites.  I've listened to a few of her videos, and she is very insightful and smart.  She has some great thoughts about writing workshops in this video.

Interestingly, we had some drama in our workshop last week, and as long as I have been in this workshop (15 years?), the drama always surprises me.  I expect people to respect others and put in the effort that the writer expects others to put into his piece.  This is not so.

That being said, Shaelin comments on a few things that I would love to reinforce and a few things that I would like to respectfully disagree.

She told a story about a writing teacher that opened the class explaining that the people in workshops will be your best friends, future spouses, and mortal enemies.  I love this.  Writing is so vulnerable that when you trust your workshop groups with your deepest, dearest treasures--and you trust them to criticize your treasures--this suddenly deepens your trust and love for these people.

She says the ideal group is 4 people of your friends because 4 people will have the opportunity to say everything and because they are invested in you and understand you.  I was in a workshop of 4 friends once, and this was horrible.  We met for about two years, but we were unfocused and unorganized.  I am currently in a group that is around 10, depending on the week, and the diversity of opinions is excellent.  Also, I think there is a danger in trusting your friends because they may know you well and make assumptions about what you write based on what they know about you.

In the video, she also talks about forming a workshop based on compatible writers working in compatible genres with similar skill levels.  I'm not sure I agree with this.  Shaelin is talking about a smaller group, but in our slightly larger group, I like working with different writers, different genres, and different strengths and skills.  Different genres shouldn't really matter in a group because we should all be working with the same basic elements and tools, and we should be trying to help each other make our work stronger.  Additionally, different skills and strengths help us all to learn lots of tools and perspectives.

The last section Shaelin talks about is workshop etiquette, and I may suggest adding something about this to our workshop guidelines in the future.  Be objective, avoid moral judgement, help the writer improve,  and don't try to be the smartest or best.  Last, help the writer, and the writer helps everybody; put into the critiques what you expect others to give you.

Lots of good information in this video although it is a little long.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Contemplation of Gabby's Name, or A Dirge to Gabby

The Naming of Cats 
By T.S. Eliot 

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, 
It isn't just one of your holiday games; 
You may think at first that I'm as mad as a hatter 
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter—
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.




Our cat, Gabby, died a couple of weeks ago.

 

We didn’t name Gabby.  She came with that name, and I never thought it suited her.  I thought she should have a stronger, more unique name.  T.S. Eliot comes to mind.  She certainly would engage in some sort of rapt contemplation of thought.  Maybe even about her name.


I think Gabby had at least a few other names that we only guessed at.

 

Nick called her Crazy Cavewoman Bat-Killer from time to time.  She earned this name for the murderous, merciless killings about which we bragged (mice and bats primarily).




 


Certainly, she was Dumpster Diver, too, for her veracious appetite and demand for any human scraps we would share with her.  She even dug into our trash for meat wrappers, cat food cans, and certainly anything that smelled like fish.




She was Snuggler, too, because of how she would sleep on my head, hogging the pillow, so I fell asleep with her warm body smushed next to my face.  Funny, after I fell asleep, she would get up and wander off to sleep in the kitchen almost as if she just wanted to make sure I had gotten to sleep.

 


She was Little Puppers.  She would meet us at the door whenever she heard us coming, talking and demanding food and tripping us, almost like a little puppy who was so glad we were home.  

She was Reading Companion.  I would sit in my favorite green chair, and within minutes, she would snuggle next to me.  Even now as I write, I sit to one side of the chair, leaving space for her to join me.


If you are not a cat person or a pet person, I expect you not to understand.  We anthropomorphize our animals and sometimes treat them better than people.  


 

But I miss my little, Cavewoman, Bat-killer, Dumpster Diver, Puppers, and whatever her Ineffable Name is—the name that was much more dignified and wilder than Gabby.


 

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The First Guy To Ever Write Fiction--reshare from Ryan George


I recently found Ryan George, and he does these skits about the "First guy ever to" do such and such.  I find these videos quite amusing.

The one above is about fiction, so I'm sharing this here.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Estes is a Rotating Thing: a Desire... a River... and a Moment Before a Fire

Desire Will Take Me Over A Mountain: Whatever you can give

In the high desert I swam rivers of brine, sand, and sheen; the burn was unforgiving and blinding; the path of uprooted stones that cracked bones and scraped flesh led me recklessly between stabbing, dry thorns of Time.

-----------------

One thought settled beyond where the sun goes to set

One thought to renew at dawn a tempest to catch;

I long for you -- a taste of you, but whatever you can give, Man; 

I’d take.

----------------

Above the timberline I failed a hundred times, to move; instead, I sublimed to the vacuum of primigenial you; my breath the permafrost I must cross to fall, to tumble over the other side at breakneck speed.

----------------

Failing to grasp what’s obvious to me

these events of our past on this rotating thing;

I wish for clarity -- a reasoned transaction with you; yet, whatever you may give, Man; 

I’d take.

----------------

I carried some hope and sure; I'd admit it's unsteady in my head

either you hand me some rope to settle this thought; or laid it down in your bed;

When I reach for your hand  -- or fall into your scorn; whatever you might give, Man; 

I’d take.

RS Wireman

Big Thompson

Big Thompson 

Spirits stumble and slip 

A river of hurt 

in ‘76

RS Wireman


The Gift is to Know a Moment When Living in the Moment: Just Before the Firestorm

Just before the firestorm came -- and you can smell it and sense it’s nearing -- the highland still died and still lived as it had always done before my primate foot had settled on the ancient and new clays in the moraine. Yet, the talent of the hominid is not only to mark, deliberate and judge a moment, but to reserve it and all the philosophical axons to physical memory for reflection-- to stimulate the moment again... and whether it hurts them in the long run or renews the spirit daily. A moment captured before a big fire could touch a valley some weeks later is an attempt to contextualize reality from sky to stone to smoke to bone to shoe prints on a worn, rocky, and rooted elk-horse-homo sapiens sapiens trail.

The moment moves like the elk and bends like the grass and, yes; flows away from the river and against the wind like the entirety of an afternoon on Earth. And it makes sense to those that can be made aware. Though the human memory will generalize it or fade it across time the quantifications and the intensity of a moment and its colors, the brain of a man will have successfully metamorphosed its data into raw emotions of knowing: knowing, knowing, knowing what beauty, significance, and the pending end of that moment -- and all these things at once: the burnt smoke remnants of life that hovered above us and then some miles away made brown the dusk of nurturing light that feed the green at our knees as it leaves us behind our multi-dimensional mountainscape.

RS Wireman



The Lakes

Forever the chilled dew of sunrise and dry smoldering sunfall 
stretched us and quantified us in increments of altitude as we
hiked, rested, drank, listened, smelled, exhaled, observed 
while we climbed ever so carefully with each step carried along with
the flow of time to bring us, give us, measure us, as we tie ourselves to a day. 

We had so much to do and did so much
in just ten hours in the mountains: Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Haiyaha Lake; and more
where time is expended as the Universe prefers: as if an illusion, but as real as it could ever be; 
and the next day took an entire dimension to arrive 
as the flow of these precious moments is forever the chilled dew of sunrise… the dry smoldering sunfall... the desire to do it all over again if blessed with the breath.

RS Wireman



Prologues - The On-going Debate


One of the discussions during our in-person meeting with the writing group was prologues.

I have gotten a "reputation" in our writing group for telling writers to get rid of their prologues.  

I write this with a smile.  

In the above video (which I must say, I am enjoying Brandon's videos quite a lot although I do not always agree with what he says), prologues (prologs?) are defended.  

I have read some wonderful prologues, but mostly, the writers I have seen use them artfully have not written them in the last fifty years or so.  Many of the prologues I have read in novice novels seem to fail for all the reasons Brandon McNulty discusses above--but I could probably add a few more reasons to the list.

In the meantime, I challenge the writing group to seriously evaluate the intent of a prologue before they follow this trend--a trend that seems to have lost its punch.  Mostly, prologues seem to promise action or mystery or tension in the pages to follow, but the writer shouldn't need a few pages before the book begins to tell the reader that the book is going to be interesting.  This should be in chapter one.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Online groups meet IN PERSON

Our writing group met informally in-person back in May.  I intended to write about this because I have a couple of quick thoughts about this fantastic evening.  

Food, beer, conversation, and loveliness ensued.  

Funny, when we met regularly in-person (pre-Covid, of course), we knew each other better, chatted more, bonded more.  Online, we may focus more on the submissions, but I think we lack the comraderie that makes a writing group bond and connect in meaningful and lasting ways.

Tom and I talked a bit about the benefits of meeting online versus meeting in person.  

Tom likes the online meetings because we stay more focused and finish on time.  

This is certainly true.  He has a valid point about this.

I miss the face-to-face interaction.  Pre-Covid, we would hold our meetings but chat after.  Sometimes for a long time.

We certainly talked about our projects and writing, but we knew bits and pieces about each others' lives, too.  In a strange way, we felt like a tighter community back then.  The relationships within the group seem stronger and more enduring.

And while I mean no disrespect to the people that have joined the group since Covid, I do not feel the bond that I have with the others.  

But meeting in a restaurant, to talk about writing, to see how tall and good looking they are (they are all good looking online, but even more attractive in person), and to share a bit of our lives seems to strengthen the community in ways that Zoom cannot do.

Couple more thoughts on this to come....

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Bad Dialogue vs Good Dialogue (Writing Advice) by Brandon McNulty


Just watched this video.  This has some interesting and amusing examples of good and bad dialogue, and the explanations are fantastic.  

Worth the watch.

I'm going to watch some more of Brandon McNulty's videos.  Anyone know his books?

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Online Writing Groups--Another Chapter

 Funny, Covid started two years ago, and although the worst of it has passed, our writing group, like so many other events in life remain in that small electronic box.

The last years I haven't written much.  I have plenty of excuses.  Lots of them.  I pray that these excuses will dwindle in the coming years.  

The writing group remains my link to the world of writing.  Well, I suppose I have other threads that tether me to this world, but mostly, my memories of this life and the web in this part of my brain sometimes seem to be withering.  One of the many excuses I have for not writing is maintaining the plants in my yard--flowers from my grandmother mostly.  I am grateful to have these flowers bloom in the Spring.  But as they bloom, parts of me seem to wither.

The writing group reminds me that I have a life that many others do not.  Often, before I log on for our writing group, I wish for more time to prepare my notes for the writers and want to remember the terms like I once did.  Always, after we finish with the little square, electronic session, I shut down my computer, have a quick conversation with Randy, and sigh.

I feel liked.  Appreciated.  Respected even.

The people in the writing group seem to appreciate my feedback and value what I have to say.  

This feeling lifts my heart and warms my soul.

And I remember that a part of me is not a slave to a corporation, a part-time gardener, and all of the other duties that take up my time and turn into the excuses keeping me from writing.  Even if I am not actively producing writing, I support other writers in their work and get to talk about writing.

This is something for now.  Something pretty good.

I look forward to meeting our small group in person for a Spring gathering.  This time brings hope and encouragement to my heart.


Monday, February 13, 2023

A Late Christmas Present

A few weeks ago, a small package arrived--yes, a late Christmas present.  My husband is not perfect, but he has this magical ability to find thoughtful and meaningful gifts--I have always been lousy at buying presents.  I struggle and debate about Christmas presents, trying to find something unique or interesting or practical.  Nick can always find something right, and I marvel at this wonderful ability.

I unwrapped the package.  It was a lovely Graham Greene first edition--but a title I did not recognize.  That in itself is unusual.  The only reason I have not read all of Graham Greene's books is because I'm trying to savor them a bit.

But this book is more unusual than that.

The Name of Action is the title, and as I opened the lovely old cover, my husband told me more about this one.

The Name of Action is Graham Greene's second novel.  This book, the one in the picture, is a first edition, but this is the only edition Graham Greene printed.  

He didn't care for the book.  I believe he hated the book.  When the publisher asked for a second printing, he refused, and only 1,000 books were printed.  That was in 1930.

Who knows how many copies are left?

I ashamed to say that I have not read it yet.  It is wrapped in bubble wrap on my desk, waiting for me to finish the Taylor Caldwell book I started around Christmas.  

This little book makes me smile.  As much as I admire Graham Greene, he wrote this book and didn't like it.  Even as a young and struggling writer, he wouldn't publish more copies.

I can sympathize with this.

Can't wait to read it.



Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Grammar Foundations

Maybe a couple of years ago in our fiction group, I said something about perfect tense, and Kristen asked me how I knew so much about grammar.  I shrugged and said I learned a lot in graduate school.

Funny, I have thought about that brief comment and that pseudo lie in the years that have passed. 

I didn’t mean to lie. 

I didn’t have an answer.

Truth is, my love of grammar started long before this.

My story begins when I was in tenth grade.  My family had moved to New Jersey when I was in eighth grade, and I struggled in school—but that’s not quite true, either.  My older sister was a year ahead of me, and she excelled in everything without trying.  I may have been smart, too, but I had different skills and different interests, so I bounced back and forth between the college prep courses that required an A to continue to the next year and the regular courses.  

Funny, I would get As in the regular courses without trying which would kick me into the college prep courses.  Then, I would get a B in the college preparatory course, and the system bumped back down to the regular course.

This was a typical pattern for me.  

I didn’t care much for my grades.  I didn’t much care to follow in my sister’s footsteps.  I was a gloomy teenager without much hope.  But I loved writing and words.

Freshman year I was in the regular English course.  I breezed through this with an A.  

Sophomore year I was in the accelerated, college preparatory course taught by Ms. Stout.  She was particular about being addressed by Ms., and God planned for me to be in this class.

This was years ago.  Decades ago.  

Ms. Stout gingerly handed each of us a small blue writing handbook, a paperback, which was unusual for a textbook in high schools in those days.  This was a paperback named The Lively Art of Writing, and we called this the LAW book for short.  

We sniggered and called it the bible for Ms. Stout’s outside of class.

Ms. Stout was an intense woman with fiery blue eyes.  I wouldn’t want her to know that we joked about the LAW book.  

But maybe she would have laughed, too.

I think we had a list of about 30 rules outlined in the LAW book, and I think I wrote about this in an earlier blog.  These 30 rules were LAWs.  According to Ms. Stout, if we broke any of these laws three times in an essay, this would our grade to a C.  Any subsequent infracture would drop our grade down.

So, three broken rules would bring us down to a C.  Four to a D.  Five to an F. 

We learned quickly.

I doubt any teacher today could get away with such strict rules, but we learned the rules and how to identify them very quickly.

Most of these rules I have forgotten.  The best I learned quickly.

Passive voice was perhaps the most valuable.  I recall combing my essays for passive voice on the bus before school, looking for the tell-tale be-verb combinations.  I found them quickly and learned to distinguish them well.  Once, I questioned her passive voice question, saying it was not a verb phrase, and she agreed with me, raising my grade with a smile.  She seemed pleased that I knew the difference between a passive verb phrase and what might have been an adjective phrase.

Passive voice seemed to be the most useful tool.  Ironically, I use passive voice steadily in my current, medical job, and this continues to annoy me because the requirements of my job demand the passive.

The other rules were numerous but logical.  The only other one I remember clearly is, Avoid “it” and “there” as a subject when they are placeholders without any specific meaning.

Other rules are less impressed on my memory but probably just as marked on my style.  Not using “wise” at the end of words was another rule: “Grammar-wise, the class was very fruitful.”  This sloppy contraction never seemed useful or helpful except when I needed to avoid it.

Ms. Stout was a funny woman with large blue eyes and dark black hair.  That classroom in New Jersey was just a partition off a larger common walkway, and yet I remember Ms. Stout vividly talking of essays and meaning and words.  Every word conveyed meaning, she had said.  Make every word count and make every word effective. 

I made a B in her class and ended up in the regular class the next year.

Funny, when I started in college, diagraming sentences and learning about transformational grammar, I thought of Ms. Stout.  The foundations of my grammar probably started earlier, but Ms. Stout solidified some of the excitement and passion for what I learned.



Then, I read tons of Chomsky and Pinker, and I don’t know if I agree with everything that Ms. Stout taught us as a straight rule.  I think I learned that grammar is communication and understanding, not just rules and formulation.

But I learned some rules and formulation to understand the expectation and parameters around us is extraordinarily good.  The more we understand about language and its patterns and its deviations and its transformations the more we can communicate more effectively.

Or so we think.

Or so I have thought.