Writers of Southern Nevada

Writers of Southern Nevada Find them at nevadawriters.org.
Writers of Southern Nevada Find them at nevadawriters.org.

One of the links in the sidebar of this page is to nevadawriters.org. Besides creating literature so brilliant that Shakespeare would be jealous <grin>, I am on the board of this non-profit group dedicated to supporting writers, and writers groups, throughout Southern Nevada. In March, WSN will be presenting a workshop to the Las Vegas Writers’ Group, of which I am coordinator. I have advocated finding support on this blog before, and now I’m doing it again. I will state for the record that I get nothing financial out of support for these groups (although if there’s enough cash left over at the end of the year, Las Vegas Writers’ will have a holiday party.) What I do get is the moral and spiritual support that I need to keep plugging away at a craft that is, in all truth, a lot harder than anyone who has never tried it believes.

WSN has a lot of events planned for this year. Sometime, today or maybe tomorrow, maybe even Friday, but this week, there will appear, as if by magic, but actually by our President, Eric Miller, a calendar of these events. Some are workshops, some are Painted Stories, in which an artist or two interprets stories read by two or more writers. Some are mixers in places such as a local bar or restaurant. And we are holding a Writers’ Retreat at the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, Colorado, in September. All at affordable prices. (The March workshop, as it is also the meeting of the Las Vegas Writers’ Group, is just five bucks!) We also have a speakers’ bureau, right on the same site.

So, check out WSN at nevadawriters.org (the link is above.) Small investment, good return!

Happy New Year

Some Residents of the Eifel, October, 2016
Some Residents of the Eifel, October, 2016

Did you make any resolutions? Break them yet? Not me, I can tell you. For the same reason that I’ll never stop smoking, I’ll never break a New Year’s resolution. I don’t do either in the first place! Smoking is bad for you, and if you don’t believe it, you’re a smoker. Resolutions are bad for you, too. And here’s why.

When you resolve not to do something, you focus on what you’re not going to do. If that’s eat the wrong foods, then you think of the wrong foods all the time. Instead of that, just grab the right foods, and when you can’t stand it any more, indulge yourself. I cut way back on sugar and it has worked fine, except that once a week, or whenever during the holiday season, I just go ahead and eat whatever sweets I want to. I was surprised that I actually don’t want sweets the way I used to, although those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey’s Kisses on them would be the downfall of my diet, if I were trying to follow a diet.

So, you’re a writer. Maybe you’ve resolved to quit procrastinating and finish that first novel. Excellent! But now, you’re sitting there at your computer reading this, aren’t you? Reading this is not getting your novel written, is it? I guess you’re just a horrible person, then, and everybody who says you’ll never make it as a writer is correct-o-mundo! Or, you can just write what you can, when you can, not sweat the exact timing, maybe cut back on Facebook just a little, but not obsessively, and I’ll bet you that if you do those things your novel will almost magically get written!

Hell, if it’s your first novel ever, it sucks anyway (trust me,) and you’re just beginning to learn the awful truth about publishing. But that’s okay! Relax, take it easy on yourself, and plunk out the words one at a time, and in no time, you’ll be working on your second, considerably better, novel. See how easy that is?

There is another way to put it:

Screw the resolutions, just do your job!

That’s simple enough, innit?

Objective Reality

A View of the Rursee in Eifel National Park, Germany
A View of the Rursee in Eifel National Park, Germany

Objective reality is what each of us sees but nobody else seems to grasp, right? Well, that’s a good assumption, anyway. I’ve always liked science, which is descended from rational empiricism, and which actually tries to get a handle on objective reality. Here’s a sample of what science indicates is objectively real:

Life arises in response to a localized buildup of negentropy.

Put longer, life is a response to the laws of thermodynamics. If a planet is closer than us to a star, the energy coming off of the star will scour everything away from the planet, so entropy (generalized molecular movement) keeps on increasing. If a planet is too far away, then there’s not enough energy hitting it to build up. But if you’re like Earth, you’re in the zone! Stuff gets steadily more complex until the complexity starts using energy by its very nature, to replicate itself endlessly. That’s life.

This doesn’t do much for the essential existential crisis of finding meaning in one’s existence. Which is why most people, even scientists, don’t think about life in those terms very often. Religion is a search for meaning in life, first and foremost, which is why sometimes religion seems not to want to pay attention to science. All of which makes a great discussion, but that is not the theme of this post.

The theme of this post is that story writers deal, by their very nature, with fantasy and what could, objectively, be called lies. Because, after all, who wants to mess with objective reality when it offers no comfort? Nobody, that’s who! I’ve read of a person who has run computer simulations of evolution, in which too much adherence to objective reality is harmful to evolution. Yoiks! Short story on that, we’re all better off not being too closely connected with objective reality. So, that, my writerly friends, is where we come in.

Real life is full of situations where objective reality intrudes. Fact is, you gotta eat, so you gotta work, so you can’t do all the fun stuff you want to do, unless you’re so damned rich that you don’t have to work. But in those cases, very few people just goof off. Gates to Trump (there’s a spectrum for you,) rich people still work, even though they don’t, objectively, need to. If they clung strictly to objective reality then every rich person would be a leech on society, and worse than worthless. Instead, many of them prove quite useful, no matter what your politics. So, objective reality is something to be, not avoided, but not adhered to overly strictly.

And for the non-rich, that means some form of escape from that day to day, humdrum, work-a-day life that everybody seems to get stuck with. And, guess what? Some of us try to provide that escape by creating worlds where objective reality doesn’t matter, but what matters is the faux reality that we construct. Have you ever read a book that sucked you in so well that you virtually lived in that world until the book ended? There you go! Some movies do that, and even a few television shows. (Breaking Bad was like that for me.) And as for books, there have been hundreds that worked that way for me, from Huckleberry Finn to Gravity’s Rainbow and many in between.

So, we are in a proud profession, helping not only our readers, but the march of evolution itself, by providing alternative, more comprehensible, and definitely less bleak, places to keep comfortably away from objective reality.

Makes you kind of quiver with immodest pride, doesn’t it?

Bob Dylan on Literature

See, pot is bad for you -- it'll rot your teeth!
See, pot is bad for you — it’ll rot your teeth! Taken in Holland, naturally.

It just keeps getting better, this Nobel Prize thing that reinforces my preconceived notions. Here, you’ll know better what I’m talking about if you read Dylan’s speech to the Nobel Committee. He uses Shakespeare, just as I do. And he mentions all of the things he thinks about when he does his job, none of which have anything to do with creating great poetry or any sort of literature. Dylan wanted to write and perform songs, and to be able to continue to do so for as long as he still wanted it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bob Dylan, a successful man! Shakespeare wanted to pack the house and have juicy parts for himself and his friends. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Will Shakespeare, another successful man. Neither of them had any intention of writing fine literature, or any sort of what some call “literature” at all.

My point being that “literature” happens as a happy accident, or bonus, on top of a good story. What? You don’t think Dylan tells stories? Hells bells, just take a look at the lyrics to Desolation Row and see if there’s a story or not.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood, with his memories in a trunk,
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk.
He looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette,
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet.
Now you would not think to look at  him, but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on desolation row.

I knew a guy like that. We called him Spaceman. He wandered the Student Union at BGSU talking to tables and chairs. Made his own hallucinogens, it seems, and didn’t quite get the formula right. Sad, but later on he actually began interacting with actual humans again, so maybe he was alright in the end.

So, thank you, Mr. Dylan, for reinforcing what I already believed. If that sounds sarcastic, it’s not. I mean it, because I do believe that about stories and “literature.” Never mind the “literature,” writers. Just make damn good stories. Worked for Will and Bob!

Latest News from My Trench

The Tomb of a Roman Lifer Photo by Steve Fey
The Tomb of a Roman Lifer
Photo by Steve Fey

I’m afraid that I don’t remember the gentleman’s name, but it seems that if you served your term in the Roman Legions, you were given thirteen years pay to help you set yourself up in civilian life. This veteran apparently invested wisely, because he built himself this elaborate tomb using his income from various business ventures.

But meanwhile, back in 2016, or the 2770th year of the city, per the veteran who paid for that tomb, I discovered recently that my YA romance was maybe twenty-thousand words short of what someone would want to publish. (I think I’m going traditional for this one.) So, that brings up the subject of making a too-short piece of fiction longer. And this is what I’m doing:

I added another hill to the dramatic roller coaster. Just before the finale, with the exciting climax and tear jerking resolution (trust me on that,) I added a new problem for our heroine and hero. This is an unusual book in that he narrates the story, she narrates the story, and then it switches to third-person limited omniscient for the tale of what happens after the humongous disaster that, you know, precipitates the final tense moments and eventually leads to, you know, damp pages and all.

It’s a case where I clearly rushed the conclusion. There was nothing wrong with the conclusion, but the timing was off, and nobody would have enjoyed it. Timing? Sure. In successful fiction, certain things happen at certain places in the narration, or the thing simply fails to work. I hear you, you academic weenie you, that’s not true for actual literature. Oh, yeah? As it happens I have analyzed Huckleberry Finn for timing, and found it to be perfect. Know why Tom Sawyer comes in when he does? Because otherwise the conclusion would be rushed. Seriously. But Huckleberry Finn is timed perfectly, and Tom is shown to be the immature fool that he truly is. Unlike Huck, of course.

You’ve got to build the dramatic tension at the proper pace. Small problem, can’t solve it but the attempt leads to a bigger problem, and, oh, heck, read Aristotle if you don’t believe me. But, anyway, I have her narration done. Now I’m starting on his version. (That’s another good topic, how boys and girls are different when you write them.) The cool thing is that the third-person bits don’t have to change a single bit.

I do have someone who wants to see it. When it’s ready. That is one conclusion I do not intend to rush.

Deadlines

Phone Booth in Luxumbourg Photo by Tami Cowden
Phone Booth in Luxumbourg Photo by Tami Cowden

Ever miss one? I just did. Almost. Deadlines are crucial for several reasons. For one thing, if you don’t set a time limit on your efforts, you can’t possibly succeed. But more importantly, they force you to move quickly and not think about what you’re producing, rather just concentrate on producing it. And that’s the best way to do anything creative, at least in the first draft.

I’ve had the same experience with photography. Years ago I taught photography and did black and white processing as a hobby. Some people go out and study a scent for hours, days even, before they ever click a shutter. They want everything to be perfect, and as a result, they miss a lot of damned good photographs. The perfect drives out the good, as the saying goes.

It’s the same with writing. If you try to make it all come out perfectly on your first pass, you’ll never produce anything, or if something does get past your self-censorship, it will seem contrived, cute maybe, technically correct, but not great. With a photograph you fix things in the lab, be it a digital editing suite, or for the traditional, a darkroom. (Don’t knock film — it can capture some nuance that the best digital camera will miss.) In writing you fix stuff during your revision. And your second revision, your third revision, and so on. It may never be perfect, but in the end it will be damned good, and that’s what people like to read.

So, maybe you should impose some deadlines upon yourself for production. It will help you to think less and create more, and that can’t be bad!

Class? You Got It!

The House in which I Grew Up. Photo by me.
The House in which I Grew Up.
Photo by me.

Yes, that technically is a vacation picture. Took it myself last August while visiting the old home town.

Over the weekend I attended a one-day session for writers that covered topics such as building your platform, self-versus-traditional publishing, queries, and other essentials for running a writing business. This was not my first conference.

In fact, in 2013, Writers of Southern Nevada, a group of which I am on the board, held a conference in Las Vegas. We had speakers from many areas of the business, craft and actual business, and we also had a group of agents and editors on hand to whom one could pitch. That’s how you do a writers’ conference, after all. Putting on the one-day conference took us a year and a half to set up, and left us feeling, well, let’s just say that we’re all still friends, but that it is highly unlikely that any of us will ever be involved in such a thing again. It’s difficult to put on a good conference, and that’s a fact.

I’ve enjoyed attending SCBWI in Los Angeles; been there three times. And the past couple of years I’ve attended RWA, first in New York, then in San Diego. If you’re anywhere near Colorado Springs, or have any desire to see that area, you should check out the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference, next dates of which are April 28-30, 2017. There are many others, and many writers’ groups out there. Heck there are a bunch of writers’ groups in Las Vegas, and this town isn’t noted for highbrow culture.

Whether you go to a simple one-day learning session, or a multi-day conference where you might even meet a favorite author, you have nothing to lose and a great deal to gain by exposing yourself to a hotel full of your peers. It was at SCBWI that I figured out how to show, not tell. It was at Pike’s Peak that I learned about structure and timing. And to RWA I owe what I know about characters and how to make them sweat, er, appeal to the reader. Heh Heh

So, take this as me urging you to seek out a writers’ group and/or learning session, and/or big ol’ conference that you’ll be able to attend. I’m pretty sure that you’ll be glad that you did!

NonoWrimo?

The forest reclaiming a picnic spot in the Nationalpark Eifel, Germany. Photo by Steve Fey
The forest reclaiming a picnic spot in the Nationalpark Eifel, Germany. Photo by Steve Fey

(More about this and many other pictures in future posts.)

I recently took a twelve-day, eleven-night trip to Western Germany, with side trips to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland. My Internet was pretty spotty. We had it in the apartment (Wohung) which we rented for seven of the nights, but connectivity ranged from too slow to be useful to just useless. This is relevant to the title of this post because I keep my work on a drive provided by Microsoft in return for us subscribing to Office 365. It’s a good way to be sure that my work is safe, and generally accessible, unless, that is, I get stuck somewhere that has a bad Internet connection.

I did some things, mostly involving social media and email, but I didn’t want to risk damaging my manuscript, because how would the world ever survive without it, you know? So, for the time I was gone, up until, frankly, today, it was entirely Nonowrimo for me. I did open the file a couple of times this week (we got back late Sunday evening) and read some things, but I only got over my jet lag as of the morning of this writing, which is Sunday, November 6th, if you’re wondering. One week to get over jet lag? I agree, that sounds excessive. Never before has it taken more than a couple of days, and last time I flew back (from Rome) I didn’t notice a thing.

So, here’s the writing related part of this post, what I did today was start my next chapter, and plug away until it was done. That’s what I do most weekdays, but as I’d missed most of three weeks, I did that on a Sunday as well. I’m drafting, which was the most fun part when I was just starting out, but which now is the difficult part. I have to come up with a reasonable framework for a story, with a lot more detail than my initial outlines, and that takes some real mental muscle to pull off. Revisions are easier, because there really are rules to follow for such things. But for the original, unedited version of a novel, nobody knows what going to happen next, at least not in detail, and least of all the person writing the book.

There is no making up all those chapters unwritten due to vacation stuff. So I write them now, one chapter at a time. That’s how it’s done, folks, one chapter/paragraph/word/letter at a time.

Hope this was helpful.

5 Girls Book Reviews

Last April 11th I sent a request to the site 5 Girls Book Reviews to review my chapter book Messy Meisner. It was essentially a query. Today I got an email from them saying that they’d love to review my book. Wow! Maybe they’ll hate it, but at least somebody I don’t know has reacted to it for the first time!

Since they are doing that, I’m going to plug them a bit, in one way by presenting here a capture of the top of their front page on blogspot, as it appeared at 8:23 am PDT, October 31, 2016 (Nevada Day!) (But not celebrated today. 🙁 )

The blog "5-Girls Book Reviews" as of 31 October 2016. Link it above in the text.
The blog “5-Girls Book Reviews” as of 31 October 2016. Link it above in the text.

If you visit them, you will see that they have reviewed a slew, a whole slew I say, of books for children. I’m looking forward to what they have to say about mine! Click the link above to visit them.

Gathering

Beach at Cancun, October 2014
Beach at Cancun, October 2014

I’m writing this two weeks and one day ago. In one week from this writing I plan to leave for Germany. Also, a bit of France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg, so I probably won’t be in a good position to write up any new posts for the second half of October. But, as you are reading this, things work out, don’t they?

I have travelled quite a bit, but less than I would have liked. Way back in 1976 I got a month’s leave of absence from a factory job (yep) to travel in Europe. I saw some of England, a bit of Switzerland, the Black Forest of Germany, and mostly France. Lots of France. That trip was where I learned how important it is to be polite. I learned that when a polite French woman in a change booth told me how to do it. (Not too tough. Always say Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank-You. Best in the local language, but not necessary.) And there is my theme.

If you never leave home, you’ll know a whole lot less!

If you aspire to write stories, then it’s difficult to know too much, so not travelling is limiting your ability to write good stories, and making your career more difficult. Not that bad stories can’t sell, of course, but good ones sell a lot more reliably. So, what is it about travel that helps you write good stories?

It is the things you learn about other people. If you pay attention, and don’t expect everywhere else to be like home (a few people seem to expect that,) and if you are polite, you will learn about what motivates and stimulates the people of whatever foreign place you find yourself in. I’ve done that, for the most part, and have found, to repeat last week’s theme, that people want food, shelter, companionship, and a chance to make things better. If I wanted to set a story in Germany, for example, I’d have to do a lot more research. What would be my grasp of European geography, for instance? What sort of obstacles would pop up to keep me from meeting those basic wants? How do you say “I wrecked my car!” in German? (I could actually do that last one.) (Okay, Mein Auto ist kaputt!) And many other things besides. Same for any other country.

And the best thing that I have learned from travel is that, no matter where I’ve gone, people have tried to be helpful, they have been friendly, they have good food (it can be bad even in France, but good is more normal,) and they all want the same things out of life. So, the title of this post refers to gathering the information one needs to write good stories about all sorts of people. That’s reason enough to go abroad.

Besides, if I didn’t travel, I’d never have had the fish empanadas at Los De Pescado!