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Category Archives: Writing Advice

Excellence v. Mediocrity

Excellence v. Mediocrity

From an article by novelist Athol Dickson on his site, discussing excellence v. mediocrity in writing:

It’s true many novels by Christians are poorly written. That’s also true of many other kinds of novels. In fact it’s true of most novels of every kind, but it’s not a particular indictment of mediocre writers or the readers who enable them. Most people don’t really care about excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting, or dance . . . or government, commerce, marriage, or anything else in life that ought to matter.

What interests me, is why. In our discussion about the “Worst Books” list, some of my author friends speculated that so many people dislike those novels because they were forced to read them in school and disliked them then. But these books truly are works of genius—most of them are, anyway—so why didn’t we love them in the first place?

It’s a thought-provoking read, not only for writers who happen to be Christians, but for any writer who strives for excellence.

As an editor, I am constantly confronted by the “good enough” work of fellow writers who just want me to sign off on their manuscripts rather than helping them shape those manuscripts into polished books. The constant fight to challenge other writers toward excellence can be wearisome, but it’s not a fight I can ignore.

Just this past week, I had an e-mail conversation with a rookie novelist whose work is being published soon. He acknowledges that it needs more crafting, but it’s been praised so highly by so many people—I was his only negative reviewer—that he’s going ahead with publication, because (as he put it himself) it’s good enough.

Not to sound overly pessimistic, but I’ve been feeling like the “lone voice crying in the wilderness”—and then I read Mr. Dickson’s eloquent, thought-provoking post. I’m dropping a copy into my archives so I can pull it out whenever I need encouragement. Or a kick in the pants.

originally posted October 18, 2012

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence,

 

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How to Write Your Best Story: a rambling review

How to Write Your Best Story: a rambling review

edited & reposted from Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten years old, and I’ve lost count of the writing conferences, seminars, and classes, and groups I’ve attended, but the greatest learning has come from the simple act of writing (and revising — a lot), and the best advice has come from sitting down and talking to other and better writers. Reading How to Write Your Best Story is rather like one of those conversations: down-to-earth, intelligent, understandable, and useful.

Shortly before publication, Philip Martin, a fellow writer and editor, asked me to read through the manuscript for How to Write Your Best Story: Advice for Writers on Spinning an Enchanting Tale (128 pages, $14.95, Crickhollow Books).

My first conversation with Philip Martin was several years ago at a writers conference. I attended his session (I forget the topic), then asked him to autograph my well-read copy of his recent book, The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon’s Lair to Hero’s Quest, a Brothers Hildebrandt painting of Smaug on the cover, which just makes a good book that much cooler. I’m not usually the groupie / fanboy type, and I certainly don’t go around asking other folks for their autographs, but this time, it just seemed like the thing to do.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

HowToWriteYourBestStory“Never judge a book by its cover” is old advice that isn’t always true. After all, most of us have seen plenty of cheesy science fiction covers with awkward robots or scantily-clad alien women, or trashy romance novels decorated in shirtless men with impossible hair or women in torn bodices. We look at those covers, and we pretty much know what we’re gonna get. The whimsical cover art (by the late Marvin Hill) for How to Write Your Best Story is the reader’s first clue that the contents are written by someone who knows and appreciates a good story, and probably read his share of them.

What I like best about this book of advice is that it’s less about rules and more about principles of good storytelling:

Good storytelling exists in a world outside of formal structural elements of literature. It has intangible aspects, like a beautiful melody or an appealing fragrance. It exists in imaginary worlds you know well, like the 100 Acre Woods, or Narnia, or Lake Woebegone, or in mostly real worlds, such as a humorous journey on the Appalachian Trail with Bill Bryson — or in any number of great books based as much on storytelling as anything else. (p9)

And

(F)or a good number of years, I’ve pondered the question: is there a way to teach good storytelling, in the fashion of Kipling, Steinbeck, C.S. Lewis, O. Henry, Tolkien, or other beloved writers classic and modern — successful authors who we’d all agree knew a good story from a hole in the ground?

What do readers look for in a good tale? What specific techniques do I find myself most often recommending to emerging writers to boost the quality of their stories? (p10)

That’s what Martin endeavors to do in the rest of the book, and he does it with a whimsy to match the cover art, by telling a story interwoven with instructive chapters. After the Introduction, for instance, is the beginning of “The Princess & the Apple”, followed by Part One: General Things about Good Stories, followed by the further tale of “The Princess & the Apple”, which is interspersed among these chapters: The Case for Intriguing Eccentricity, The Case for Delightful Details, and The Case for Satisfying Surprises.

Included are many quotes from the works of famous authors and poets, including this quote from Joyce Carol Oates:

“Storytelling is shaped by two contrary, yet complementary, impulses — one toward brevity, compactness, artful omission; the other toward expansion, amplification, enrichment.” (p25)

That’s a push-pull war in which I constantly engage: what to leave out, what to add, what must be spelled out, what can be implied, what’s trivial, what matters.

A few more examples of advice from the book:

throw out the thesaurus (pp26-30),
juxtapose or fuse two ideas to offer a unique intersection (pp50-51),
listen (pp55-56),
use more senses (pp68-70),
ask what your characters want most (p93),
don’t dodge the difficult ending (pp104-105),

and much more.

How to Write Your Best Story is chock-full of good, perennial advice, but it’s also fun to read. This book will remain in my permanent library, and that’s just about the best recommendation I can give.

 

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Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

(originally posted September 4, 2010)

As a writer, I have no discipline.

That could mean many things:
1) I don’t have a specialty.
2) I can’t control my hands while typppppppping.
3) I write all over the place, and prefer markers on freshly-painted walls.
4) Uniquely constructed sentences I make.
5) 5:00 in the morning is meant for sleeping, not writing. (Unless, of course, one is on a creative spree, and has not yet been to bed.)
6) Focusing on only one project at a time is imposs- Squirrel! (Squirrel Removal in 12 Easy Steps — HI-larious!)
7) I give great writing advice but rarely follow it. (Write to the end then edit.)
8) I find all sorts of activities that keep me from writing, when writing is all I really want to do.
9) An outline is not the Ten Commandments, and is a lot of hard work for something I’m just going to ignore anyway.
10) Planting butt in chair and creating is not something I generally do on command. In fact, there are very few things I do on command, and even then I might pause to think about it.

And the list goes on, but I’ll end it there. (End not to be confused with aforementioned butt.)

Yesterday, I sat on the couch, felt-tip pen and scrap paper in hand, stared into space while a DVD miniseries adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel played in the background, and wrote a couple good pages of material. All rough, of course, but solid.

As I wrote, I thought it was brilliant.

Then, some time later, long after the pen had been capped and I was no longer under the heady influence of Sharpie fumes, I read it again.

Meh. As I said, rough but solid. I can work with that.

As for discipline, well, that’s a concept that looks different to each writer. What really matters is the outcome: What is produced? Regardless of a writer’s method — laptop in the park, legal pad in the coffee shop, scrap paper on the couch — words must be written. Stories must be told.

Bring on the Sharpie!

"Presented in Cinemascope!" facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

“Presented in Cinemascope!”
facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

 

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What’s Your Filter?

Two or more people can look at the same object at the same time, and although they are seeing the same thing, they are not perceiving it the same way.

The filters of experience, prejudice, understanding, philosophy, religion, age, appreciation, comfort or discomfort, good day or bad — all color the way we see the world.

Below are several versions of a photo of the statue of the grieving Christ outside the Oklahoma City National Memorial, commemorating the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. Each image is affected by various filters imposed by photo editing software — each filter is overlaid the others, until the image underneath is far different from the original.

Christ (c2015, KB)

Christ (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, overlaid with a filter to make it appear as if taken circa 1960 (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, with blue duo-tone, 1960s, and Cinemascope effects (c2015, KB)

See how unexpected interferences or cooperations change what the viewer perceives?

The order matters, as well. If trauma colors our world at a young age, we will view it through a different filter than we might if that same trouble arrived when we were older.

Below, black-and-white and Cinemascope effects were applied in different orders. When the movie effect was applied first, then the monochrome, the image looks crisp. However, when the order was reversed, the image takes on a sepia cast.

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)

Christ in color, as if filmed in Cinemascope (c2015, KB)

Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)

Christ in Cinemascope with the color removed (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, then "Cinemascoped" (c2015, KB)

Christ in black and white, then “Cinemascoped” (c2015, KB)

Is there something in life you’re not seeing clearly?

Are there colors you think you’re perceiving, but your friends, colleagues, loved ones — or perfect strangers on social media —  do not view?

Before we impugn one another’s intelligence, reputations, abilities, etcetera, it might be wise to step back and consider the filters through which we — and they — view the world.

 

 

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Brevity is the Soul

Brevity is the Soul

Of all the genres of novels I’ve edited, I most enjoy Westerns and mysteries, but the one in which I’ve the most experience is romance. Therefore, a person might be forgiven for thinking I might be able to easily incorporate romantic scenes into my own stories.

No. No, not without much cursing and gnashing of teeth.

And when one of my alpha readers squinches her eyes and purses her mouth and shakes her head — despite her best efforts at remaining courteously noncommittal — I know I’ve failed.

(spoiler warning for those who have not yet read Dragon’s Rook)

There is a reunion scene in Dragon’s Bane in which a couple meets again after he thought she had died. Each being of a reticent nature and possessing a painful past, they have never declared themselves, so the scene required the showing of deep affection but also deep restraint:

He embraced her, and through the fabric he felt the ridged scars on her back. She turned her face into the hollow of his shoulder.

Nay, lass, do not hide.

If you knew the truth

He drew a deep breath. What can you say, Maggie Finney, to change my mind?

She grabbed handfuls of his tunic, pressing her fists against his lower back.

In earlier drafts, the pair talked about what happened after her “death”, and of the events that brought him back to the outlaw camp to find her grave, but it was boring, anticlimactic, cliched, and lacked the trueness I sought.

Several paragraphs were rewritten and rearranged and finally cut until only this one remains:

Maggie had fallen asleep standing up. Kieran guided her to the ground. She slumped against him and he eased her down, grabbed the blanket, then lay on his side, pulling her to him with an arm around her waist. She sighed. He tucked his knees behind hers, felt her heartbeat through her back, smelled the warmth of her neck. He had neither the wherewithal nor the desire to move. No matter the roof over his head, this was home.

It says everything I wanted to say, and in far fewer words than were written in effort to achieve it. Sometimes I need to blurp hundreds, maybe even thousands, of words onto the page before I know which ones I don’t need.

Brevity, as the bard said, is the soul of wit. Sometimes, brevity is also the soul of an entire scene.

 

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Images and Words

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

The photo above is of the old Fred Jones plant in downtown Oklahoma City. Now empty and surrounded by fencing, the building is apparently undergoing renovations. The distance and angle created by the fence, the short range of my lense, and the shortness of my stature all combine to make the building seem a veritable tower. A fraction of reflected city skyline is caught in the windows, lower right. (c2015, KB)

As I read the four issues of Popular Photography that have been awaiting my perusal, I am struck with a longing for this lens and that camera, this tripod and that backpack, and a wish for a much bigger bank account.

However, I also recall a piece of advice drilled into me over the years by older, much better, more knowledgeable photographers than I:

A good photographer doesn’t need expensive equipment.

The problem there is the word “good”.

Sigh.

I want that new $849 Sigma 24mm f/1.4 lens, but there’s the nagging little problem of no money, and I’m nowhere near the photographer I want to be.

A story has been rattling around in my head for over twenty years. It features a journalist who becomes a soldier during WW1. He’s a photographer, as well. Someday, I’d like to use an antique camera. The physicality of setting up the equipment, and then the light and the stillness required for the shots, seems the equivalent of writing with quill and inkwell: There’s a meditative creativity that is inspired by the delayed gratification of capturing a scene on film or in words.

It’s different from the instant-ness of digital cameras or computer keyboards, the laying down of images or words without necessarily the weight of thought to anchor them.

But I digress.

We’re experiencing rainy weather here in Oklahoma, punctuated by days of sunshine, never long enough to dry out the ground. As soon as mud and moisture are no longer impediments, the Canon and I shall venture forth once more.

c2015, KB

c2015, KB

 

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Pushing Out the Walls

Pushing Out the Walls

Sometimes, I need to push the walls out.

Not go all Big Bad Wolf and huff and puff and blow the house down, but push the walls out. Give myself room to breathe and think and be.

This doesn’t necessarily look right to others, who might see me as dismissive, disrespectful, proud, rude, superior, whiny, isolationist. I don’t mean to be. I just need them to step back.

Think of animals who might allow a stranger to scratch behind their ears or they might snap at the friendly hand. It’s not necessarily ugliness on purpose. There’s often an underlying reason for the two responses.

It’s a strange push-pull: I want to help, want to be friendly, want to share and be with people — people, not crowds — but there are times when the air is sucked from the room and the walls lean too close and I need to get out. Now.

The same feeling sometimes happens when I’m alone. It’s one reason I closed the book review list and limited the editing projects.

There’s weight in editing the work of strangers, people whose voices I never hear, whose faces I never see. These people exist merely as words on a screen, as avatars on social media, nothing more, yet they are real. And the burden of getting the work right for an author who sees me as unreal, as nothing more than words and avatars? Who can either send more work my way or burn my reputation in an online rant?

Crushing.

I entered this biz because I loved stories — reading them and writing them — but that joy slowly bled away and left behind anger. I hated reading. No longer did I select books for their heft and promise of a good yarn. I went for the quick reads, the light fare. Rarely did I sink into books and let their worlds absorb me. Now I edited them as I read.

I resented books.

The same with writers. If they weren’t from the publisher, they were freelance clients. If they weren’t clients, then they knew people who knew other people who knew me, and they were looking for free advice. If they weren’t looking for free advice, then they had found my reviews online and wanted me to review their work, too. Yet when I asked for beta readers, book reviews, or other help in similar vein, only a few responded. Nearly everyone I’d helped before was suddenly too busy to help me.

This may seem whiny and foolish, and I’ll concede that point.

Consider this: If a hotel housekeeper comes home from a busy day of making beds and cleaning toilets, how much physical or mental energy remains to clean her own home? If a mechanic spends his hours fixing other people’s cars, how much energy or time will be left to repair his own?

Where do we draw the line? Where do we stop the encroachment and say, “Enough. This far, no farther”? When do we stop putting ourselves at the mercy of everyone else?

I am a Christian. As such, I am instructed to serve others. However, when does everyone else’s version of service stop being the standard? Where do we stop “serving” them and start doing the other tasks that need doing? When does the housekeeper tell the kids to clean their own bathroom? When does the mechanic tell his wife to take the car to the quick-lube place and have the oil changed there?

I don’t know.

But the walls have come too close and the air has grown too thin, and it’s time for me to move on.

If I came across as angry, I was.

If I whined and whinged, I apologize.

If I seemed rude, dismissive, disrespectful, or otherwise ugly, I didn’t mean to be.

I still want to help my fellow authors get reviews, but I also want to love books again. I want to wander among the shelves of secondhand paperbacks and come away with long-out-of-print old friends. I want to revel in new adventures.

I want to help my fellow writers craft their work, but I also want to fire my own imagination. I want to regain the joy and the wonder of creating the kinds of stories I crave.

So if I go missing from the blog or from social media once in a while, I’m not necessarily gone. I’m just pushing out the walls.

 

 

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Ladybugs and Shameless Plugs

Ladybugs and Shameless Plugs

Monday morning, something tickled my left arm. Thinking it a stray hair or a bit of lint, I brushed it away and went on with my writing.

Then, on the far edge of my vision, something moved in an oddly lumbering skitter.

Turns out, the tickle was a ladybug.

A ladybug in January. Who’dathunk?

IMG_9719^edited

“The Art Student (James Wright)”, oil on canvas, 1890, Thomas Eakins

Trying to succeed as a writer, an artist, a dancer, a creative person of any type, can be like looking for ladybugs in January: a hopeless task. Few creatives get to leave their day jobs and focus on their arts. Some do, then decide they’d rather have a relaxing hobby than a form of employment more exhausting, more frustrating, and less lucrative than the old “day job”. Some sink into depression and despair, thinking all their efforts in vain.

I’ve been there. In the past couple decades, I’ve tried to give up writing several times. If all it was going to give me was struggle and failure, then it served no purpose. My family, former teachers, contest judges — they were all wrong. I was never going to amount to anything resembling a real writer.

Last night, I read comments from a writer frustrated by other writers promoting their books and websites. What use could it be, marketing one’s work to other writers?

Well, we writers are also readers — and if we’re not, we should be. Outside of actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, it’s one of the best ways to improve one’s craft.

Also, we writers have family and friends who read, and we bump into other readers as we go about our daily lives. If we know about books that are available, we can direct people to them, and thus help another author grow his audience. I’ve made many such recommendations, and have given away copies of books by total strangers, simply because I liked what I read and wanted to share.

(On rarer occasions, I’ve given away my personal copies of such books, but that is not my usual mode of operation. If I like a book, it stays.)

Something that discouraged me for a long while, and caused me to not even read fantasy novels despite my love of fantastical tales, was the notion that there are no new stories. Not really. In a weird sense, we are all plagiarists. That, and a beta reader called my work derivative. And my dad said that our family were creative, yes, but we tended to improve upon things that other people attempted first. We didn’t seem to be able to come up with anything truly original. After all, my uncle the artist only copied photographs by wielding pen and pencil, turning the images into photo-realistic collages, but he wasn’t inclined to create from scratch.

Derivative? Based on someone else’s work? Again I wondered what was the use.

But then I shook off the malaise and asked myself, How many science fiction novels are there? How many romances? How many mysteries? How many horror novels or ghost stories or kids books?

Millions.

And no matter how many of them resemble one another, people keep reading. There’s always an audience.

So I carried on. I quit my “real” job and became a full-time editor and writer, picked up a novel I’d set aside as not worth finishing, a novel rejected for reasons that had nothing to do with my writing ability, and changed my perspective. Changed my criteria for success. Now, it’s not about being published by a big name publisher. It’s about moving forward. It’s about telling all the other stories still roaming my mind.

Twenty years is quite long enough.

“You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and I knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I’m creating an imaginary—it’s always imaginary—world in which I would like to live.”―William S. Burroughs

___________       ~*~    ___________     ~*~     ___________    ~*~    ___________

art & design c2014, Suzan Troutt; background photo c2014, Keanan Brand

art & design c2014, Suzan Troutt; background photo c2014, Keanan Brand

This is where the shameless portion of the post begins.

Yesterday, January 26, 2015, that book went live.

As of now, Dragon’s Rook is available in e-book only, but the paperback is coming soon.

Find the e-book at these sites:
Kobo
Nook
Apple
Kindle
Scribd
PageFoundry
Smashwords

NOTE: If you’d prefer a .pdf version, please contact me. (The cost for all e-versions is $3.99.)

If you encounter errors or formatting issues that affect the reading experience, please let me know. I want readers to be happy.

Reviews appreciated.

Other websites where I post about writing, books, and life:
my author page on Facebook,
my website,
and here, of course!

Many thanks.

And best wishes to the literary endeavors of my fellow fantasy writers.

 

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The End? (Examining Famous Novel Endings While Trying to Write My Own)

Today I return to the final bits of writing before a book is published: the acknowledgements, the back cover summary, the author bio (the dreaded bio), and more.

In so doing, I am drawn back to an old blog post from April 2009, in which I addressed endings from classic novels, as well as the endings for two of my own novels. Perhaps I should not have struggled — those two endings have yet to be written.

_________________________

I’ve been considering endings. Writers are constantly being advised about the best ways to begin their tales, though what comes after may be less than stellar, but a strong ending can redeem a weak opening (not that I’m advocating such).

What makes a story work, beginning to end? All writers have the same tools, but each wields them differently, so that time bends in one writer’s hands, but is linear in another’s. One writer excels in action, another in dialogue or description. But one shouldn’t only play to one’s strengths; all writers should — in my occasionally humble opinion — practice to add muscle to their weaknesses, turning them into strengths.

TCOMOne way is to study other writers and other stories. I often go back to the classics. For instance, the classic revenge tale, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, begins thus:

On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.

A deceptively quiet first sentence, it still has the tang of mystery about it. Why the importance of the date? The word watchtower has more than one implication, the arrival of a ship also signals the arrival of people and goods, and the cities are ports of call where intriguing events might have occurred that will affect the story.

Just as the book opens with a ship’s arrival, it ends with the sailing of another vessel:

“Look,” said Jacopo.

The two young people looked in the direction in which he was pointing. On the dark blue line separating the sky from the Mediterranean they saw a white sail.

“Gone!” cried Maximilien. “Farewell, my friend, my father!”

“Gone!” murmured Valentine. “Farewell, my friend! Farewell, my sister!”

“Who knows if we’ll ever see them again?” said Maximilien.

“My darling,” said Valentine, “the count just told us that all human wisdom was contained in these two words: Wait and hope.”

I’m not a fan of all those exclamation marks, but that last line is as strong an end as a story needs.

Some Danger InvolvedFast-forward a couple centuries, and Will Thomas writes an excellent series of mystery novels featuring Barker & Llewellyn. The first book, Some Danger Involved, begins thus:

If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assitant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.

It ends thus:

I mused for a moment. “We did it, didn’t we? We actually solved a case. Well, you did, anyway. Racket tried to throw us off the scent, but you saw through it all. There’s just one thing that puzzles me.”

“What is that?” he asked.

“Who’s this widow you haven’t mentioned before?”

He didn’t say anything, but I knew I’d struck a nerve. His pipe went out.

Humor and mystery, even at the end. Perfect.

The Queen of Bedlam 260x420The Queen of Bedlam, another mystery, this one by Robert McCammon, begins with a bit of philosophy and history:

‘Twas said better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but in the town of New York in the summer of 1702 one might do both, for the candles were small and the dark was large.

And it ends with a bit of rumination:

Matthew held the glass close to the fingerprints and narrowed his eyes.

How like a maze a fingerprint was, he thought. How like the unknown streets and alleys of a strange city. Curving and circling, ending here and going there, snaking and twisting and cut by a slash.

Matthew followed the maze with his glass, deeper and deeper, deeper still.
Deeper yet, toward the center of it all.

Again, a book that ends but a story that doesn’t, as the main character, having survived and solved a case, still seeks a killer who eluded him.

Hobbit-bookHow about another classic? JRR Tolkien‘s The Hobbit, my introductory drug to the whole fantasy genre, begins with a now-famous paragraph:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Hmm. Exactly how does a hobbit-hole mean comfort? And what in the world is a hobbit?

“The the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

A cozy ending to a rousing adventure, coming (almost) full circle, for the hobbit at the end, while still enjoying his comforts, is a different hobbit from the fussy little man at the beginning.

The Meaning of NightThis last illustration is from The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox:

After killing the red-haird man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.

The first time I read that line, I didn’t want to read the book, because such a sentence could only be a trick, a flamboyant barker’s call to ride the rollercoaster, and the rest of the ride would be disappointing. Not so. And, just as in The Count of Monte Cristo, the quest for revenge turns the man seeking the revenge:

This, then, is what I have learned, since writing my confession on this final shore:

Honor not the malice of thine enemy so much, as to say, thy misery comes from him; Dishonour not the complexion of the times so much, as to say, thy misery comes from them; justifie not the Deity of Fortune so much, as to say, thy misery comes from her; Finde God pleased with thee, and thou hast a hook in the nostrils of every Leviathan.

I long for sleep, and for soft English rain. But they do not come.

E.G.

Regret, lessons hard-learned, and desires unmet: Was the revenge worth the cost?

As for my own writing, I know where I want a fantasy story to end — the final scene has been written for years — but there’s still a manuscript-and-a-half to finish first. However, because of what the three characters endure before that scene, the quiet ending will carry the weight of all the adventures and sacrifices, all the dreams and losses, that have gone before it.

In the science fiction serial novel, I don’t know the ending. I know the conflicts and the characters, and the broad brush-strokes of the background, but the minutiae I’m learning as I go, right along with the readers: the less-obvious motives of the characters, the various reasons the colonies exist and are in conflict with the rebels, what’s going to happen next.

I just don’t know how it’s going to end.

Having a work in progress even as it’s being published is a disquieting circumstance for me. It keeps me writing, and it takes me on a journey. Maybe I’ll only know the ending when I get there, and not a moment before.

_________________________

UPDATE:

The two novels remain unfinished.

Life, you see, has a way of imposing roadblocks.

But roadblocks are only delays, not final destinations.

After all, one need not use roads to achieve the goal. Sometimes one must blaze a trail.

The “manuscript-and-half” mentioned above has become merely one manuscript. The trilogy has been shrunk to a duology, and the first book should be coming soon. Dragon’s Rook was expected in the summer, but I’m hoping it will be available in e-book form by winter. A cover is forthcoming.

 

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Receiving Criticism and Humbling Pride

This weekend, I’ve been going back and forth with a younger writer whose feelings were offended when — in the normal course of a writers meeting last month, during the time we critiqued each other’s stories — I pointed out a grammatical error.

It’s as if I’ve declared her incompetent and attacked her storytelling.

Knowing I’m an editor, some writers have read my work and taken delight in pointing out errors real or perceived. There’s a battle for King of the Hill, and if their pride is pricked, they fight even harder to take down the one who did it. This writer has done the same, sending a list of potential grammatical errors from my soon-to-be-published novel.

I could respond in kind, and snipe or poke at her, try to one-up her, but that would feed the emotional drama and accomplish nothing.

I could simply refuse to engage, and try to be “above” it all. However, all that does is protect my pride and teach her nothing.

So, what do I do?

I thank her, discuss the various proper uses of a particular word, show how and why most examples she listed weren’t incorrect, concede another word might be better in three of the instances, and end with more thanks.

My pride was jabbed, but I knew what was coming as soon as I saw her annoyed expression and flushed cheeks, and if a person loses his ability to teach or be teachable, he loses his ability to grow and change. So, at the risk of her misunderstanding and anger, I have been unemotional but honest in my responses, hoping she sees my intentions for what they truly are: her betterment as a writer.

When we receive criticism, even if it’s covered in angst and ugliness, we can still sift it, searching even the nasty comments for any truth that might help us improve. Earlier this year, I received feedback that was delivered with a scolding and a superior tone that shut me down and made me uninterested in what the guy said. Later, after calming down and acknowledging there might be something of use, I re-read the comments and found two items that actually helped repair scenes. All the rest of the feedback? Tossed.

So, no, we don’t need to keep the crap, but fertilizer helps stuff grow. (wink and a smile)

 

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