Poetry

Album Cover by Columbia Records
Album Cover by Columbia Records

I was just listening to satellite radio when “Mr. Tambourine Man” was played. The original, by the composer. You may remember him. I was struck, for the first time, by what a damn fine poem it is. See for yourself and click here for the lyrics from the official Bob Dylan website.

Back at Bowling Green State I knew a bunch of poets, and as I edited a literary annual (called Inkstone, if memory serves,) I saw a lot of poetry, though I was the prose editor. I didn’t understand a lot of it. I wondered why people liked poetry so much? I mean, if you can’t tell what it’s about, where’s the point, right? And I still agree with that assessment. Because, as it happens, those were terrible poems, or at least, most of them were.

But over time I came to understand how a poem is supposed to work, and to really enjoy good poetry. I learned about Imagism, for instance, which is what Bob Dylan writes. Bruce Springsteen, too. I can’t imagine some of my professors back then liking either Dylan or Springsteen, but I sure do.

Aside – I once helped two fellow students write a poem by drawing random stolen lines out of a hat. Their instructor particularly liked the line, “Holds you in his armchair so you can feel his disease.” That’s from Come Together by the Beatles.

I believe that fiction writers can learn a lot by studying poetry. Consider this famous poem, the absolute poster child of a poem for imagism, by William Carlos Williams.

The Red Wheelbarrow

So much depends upon
The red wheelbarrow
Glazed with rain water
Beside the white chickens.

It’s a single sentence, actually, but every time I read those lines I can see that wet wheelbarrow shining next to some white hens. There’s a chicken coop there too, of course, and other stuff not mentioned in the sentence. And that is my point!

If you can write a sentence like William Carlos Williams could, and pack so much meaning into it that the reader can see just what you’re describing, you pretty much have the secret of great writing. The poetry I follow is mostly song lyrics, but I have read the (supposedly) best: Eliot, Pound, Williams, Thomas, Whitman, etc. and found them to be excellent.

And the reason that they are excellent is that they are very, very, very clear in their meaning.

Like I said, I could learn a lot!

Traditional or Indie?

Image is in the Public Domain
Image is in the Public Domain

I’m not going to answer that question, because it’s something that I’m wondering about. I read an article posted to Facebook today saying that by 2030 there won’t be any actual traditional publishers left, just some folks using the same names that mainly cater to Indie publishers.

And it makes some good points. You can make the same money with one-tenth as many sales as an Indie publisher when compared to what you’d get from traditional publishing. That’s like, okay, $5k per year, or $50k per year, you know? Hmmm.

If you have any informed opinion (I mean informed, please, I’m doing enough speculating on my own) then please post a comment including said opinion below.

I’ve always expected the world to change constantly. And I’ve never been disappointed in that yet.

Friends in The Business

Seen on the Beach in Mexico Photo by Steve Fey
Seen on the Beach in Mexico
Photo By Steve Fey

I’ve been trying to write professionally for maybe ten years now. It was never my day job until this year, and even now I do other stuff at the same time. But, one thing I have been doing is meeting people who write for a living. I’ve met some fairly biggies, too: Henry Winkler, Norton Juster, Jay Asher, once rubbed shoulders with Judy Blume, and I’ve met quite a few successful Romance authors, too. Then there are the editors and agents whom I now have in my contacts list. Or, to put it simply, I really do have some friends in the business.

And I didn’t get to know them by putting forth any extraordinary effort to glad-hand and schmooze. Writers don’t do those things. Some of us write screeds directly against such things, or maybe admiring passages like the Realtor’s convention in Babbit (which is more realistic than you’d realize, by the way.) So I haven’t had to do anything that I hated doing to get to know these people. I’ve just joined various writers’ groups!

I’ve met Romance authors through the Romance Writers of America (duh!) They have an excellent annual conference that will probably spoil you for anyone else’s conference if you go once. Then there’s the SCBWI, where I’ve met a slew of children’s authors and illustrators (duh, again!) And I’ve been a member of local groups in both the Denver area, and for the past ten years or so, Las Vegas, Nevada. I know a number of people who started out as newbies in a writers’ group and went on to succeed as authors. The speaker at next week’s Las Vegas Writers’ Group meeting for example, Mercedes M Yardley. I mention her because, since I knew her already, it wasn’t all that tough to get her to volunteer to present to the group when I took over as coordinator. Again, I didn’t go to any spectacular lengths to meet Mercedes, I just kept hanging out with writers.

It happens.

So, you wanna have friends in the business? I’d suggest joining a writers’ group or two. As coordinator of one of the groups, I’d say start with the Las Vegas Writer’s Group! We meet every third Thursday (except December) at the Tap House on West Charleston.

Now, don’t say I never did anything for you. ‘Cause now you know how to get friends in the business!

Writing 201

A couple of reasonably well-known writers.
A couple of reasonably well-known writers.

At a certain point, one is simply not a beginner any more. This may or may not happen before or after you actually start selling stories. For myself, I don’t think I’m actually a “rank beginner” any more. Sure, I’m not a post-graduate like Stephen King or someone like him, but I basically know the rules. I may need another thousand hours of practice (assuming that 10,000 hour statistic is valid) but basically, I know the drill.

Some hints:

  • I no longer love my first drafts. In fact, I hate ’em. But they are useful, because at least there’s a story under that mess somewhere.
  • Every so often I can break a rule, know why I broke the rule, and actually get away with it. (“You must know the rules like a professional so that you may break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso)
  • I know, in my soul, what is wrong with superfluous modifiers. They’re really, very, truly, bad.
  • My contact list is more and more filling up with writers, agents, editors and book lovers. Eat your hearts out, you who are being forgotten.

I’m still just a sophomore, which is why I titled this post Writing 201. That’s the beginning of the year where you start to think that you know something, but in fact you really don’t. Hey, that’s me! Except at the movies. There, I’m a senior, for sure!

Friends!

I’ve been a member of the Las Vegas Writers’ Group since more or less forever. At least in terms of the group, because when I first joined it was known as the Literati. There hasn’t been a group named Literati in a decade.LVWG Logo It’s a Meetup Group that draws 70 people to a meeting. The July Meeting is on the 21st at the Tap House on West Charleston. Richard Warren has been co-ordinating the group ever since the founder, the late Jay McLarty, died prematurely (and not from drug abuse, either.) Now Richard is going to live the dream as a professor in an Eastern college, and I was either brave or dumb enough to volunteer to take over. (I report, you decide, heh heh.)

Richard will disappear from the face of Las Vegas after the July meeting, and we only have a speaker lined up for August. So, I’m desperate, of course. So who do I contact? Friends, of course!

I started with Mercedes M Yardley, who is one hell of an excellent writer. I’ve reposted her blog once or twice, and if you’ll check my reviews on Amazon, you’ll see several quite effusively positive posts, which I meant whole-heartedly. Mercedes not only volunteered to do a program for me, but she passed me on to several other local writers, only one of which I’ve met, who she believes will also be willing to  do a presentation. This for no more pay than a free supper. (The Tap House does have some good menu items, though.)

Which is why I say that friends are Swell! Or Awesome! Or, I dunno, Keen! Well, they’re great.

Thanks, Friends!

Feedback (See Below)

You might be forgiven for confusing the fact that Leslie and Andrew Godfrey do not write this blog. But, I’m so darned impressed with what they are doing, and their devotion and energy for their cause, that I repost all of their posts. If you click on the link at the bottom of each of my repostings, you’ll see more pictures, as well as the rest of the text.

So, on to my stuff.

Leslie posted today about Feedback. (Actually, I think she posted that earlier tomorrow, but that’s another story.) Feedback is of paramount importance no matter what you are trying to learn. In fact, to rant for a sentence or two, I believe that the worst thing about helicopter parenting is that it denies the children the very feedback on the results of their decisions that they need to become effective in life. So, I’m a writer. I’ll do the thing so many seem to like to do and ask my own question, then answer it. Has feedback helped me become a better writer?

Yes.

Five or so years ago I decided to take the advice I’d been ignoring all of my life and write stuff I like to read. I started with a middle-grade reader, now available in the form of Messy Meisner. (See the sidebar.) But I didn’t just scribble that puppy out one day. In fact, I drafted it during Nanowrimo one year. Didn’t win, because there weren’t enough words in that first draft. But I had a draft. That was the year I joined SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I went to their west coast national convention, which turned out to be the 40th anniversary celebration of the organization. It was pretty cool, like when I found myself standing next to Judy Blume waiting to meet Henry Winkler (this is all true.) But the best part was the feedback I received.

At that conference you can, for a few dollars more, get your work critiqued by somebody already successful in the field. Messy received a critique and ten-minute interview with Jay Asher, the author of 13 Reasons Why. So there is another celebrity that I met there, but more importantly, Jay’s critique allowed me, for the first time, to see the meaning of “show, don’t tell.” That is no small thing. He was not unkind, either, just honest, which is what I’m always looking for.

A year later, my much revised version was critiqued by Claudia Gabel, an author of several good YA books. She was also an editor at the time, so I got to query her with the book after I’d revised it again, this time to provide much needed clarity, remove some superfluous modifiers (they’re just really very bad!) and eliminate other story slowing elements. Okay, she didn’t buy it. But it was, by now, getting to be a decent story. (Click the sidebar link about “How I Became an Author etc.” for more of the story.) These improvements were all because of, taa daa, Feedback!

I have also been in critique groups, and a friend of mine, Mercedes M Yardley, got her start with the help of an excellent critique group. Again, this was Feedback, and good feedback at that!

My message this week, then, is to get yourself some feedback! Don’t just take anyone’s word for how your work is coming along. Rather, seek out those who have succeeded in selling their own words for cash. If you can get that sort of person to tell you what your work is like, you’ll be more than halfway to being an expert yourself, right?

Of course, right! Besides that, remember the rest of the rules, too. Got it? Good!

Indie or No?

kdp-logo-stacked-aNot plugging KDP in particular, but that’s what I used when I couldn’t stand my Middle Grader any more and had to publish it so I could move on. It has two sequels, but maybe we’ll talk about them later. This post is about whether you want to publish your own work, or go the traditional route. There are arguments either way.

With Indie publishing, of course, the advantage is just what I wrote about above: you can publish the damned thing and go on to another project. But, just having a book published does nothing at all for sales, does it? Look on Amazon at the sales rankings for various books. Most don’t have any. Because they, basically, don’t sell. Messy Meisner doesn’t sell. But I don’t really care, because I had my own reasons for publishing. Besides getting the thing out of my brain, it allowed me to concentrate on a YA romance, working title Jake and Diana. Diana is a Spanish name in this case, so pronounce it accordingly.

Jake and Diana is, I believe, a good book, with romance, danger, aggression, Goals, Motivations, Conflicts, some humor, you know, all that stuff you want in a book. I plan to pitch it to an agent and an editor at the RWA conference in a few weeks. Because, yes indeed, I want to go the traditional route with it. I’m hoping that success with an YA will make it easier to market the Middle-Graders. It could work, right?

At the moment I’m drafting another YA romance. I’m not sure if I even have a working title for the working title, but I do have a rough outline and a few chapters out on my cloud drive where I can get at them easily. Jake and Diana is currently being (I fervently hope) beta read. I hope the readers say some nice things about it, so I can use those things in my pitch. I really like the support you get from RWA, so I may stick with YA romances, although I do like a good Middle-Grader. Time will tell. Another thing I don’t know is whether I’ll publish traditionally, or Indie. It may come down to whichever pays better, and how much I want to handle the sheer business of promoting books.

If you’d like a cogent discussion of just what Indie means, really, try this article from Fiction University.

 

Feeling a Draft?

The important thing about being a writer is writing, obviously. If you want to tell a story, the only thing to do is to start telling it. But, nobody that I know of can write a good story in one pass. Sure, you’d like to think that Shakespears knocked out Hamlet over a weekend, but in fact it took him a very long time. Which means that the thing you are going to knock out over the weekend, or week, or month, or however long it takes (longer than any of that for me) is your first draft.

The salient feature of my first drafts is that they are terrible. I try to keep the voices consistent, but I’ve yet to actually do that. I try not to have contradictions in the action, but, well, you know, I’ve never done that either. So, in essence, although a first draft can be a lot of fun, and I truly enjoy putting up things for my characters to (usually) fail at, the result of all that fun and games isn’t anything I’d want anyone but myself to read. Ever. Of course, unlike, say, Twain, who revised right on the original manuscript, I save versions as Word files as I go along, so I suppose that at some point in the future, unless I get up the ambition to delete a lot of stuff, future generations of scholars will marvel at my sheer incompetence. But, that aside, nobody reads my first draft. Nobody.

The second draft is usually the one where I actually do work on the characters’ voices until they are consistent and in character. Honestly, the first draft sounds like I’m at a read-through reading all of the parts. Not that interesting. But, hey, things improve with age, including my revised manuscripts.

With the second, and consequent, drafts, I keep adding things that weren’t in the plot, or the characterization, the first time through. Honestly, sometimes what’s finally ready to be reviewed and critiqued looks like a completely different story, written by a completely different author. And it still, of course, is not ready for prime time.

But, lucky me, I’ve learned to enjoy the revision as much as the origination. Sure, it’s fun to make up new stuff, but it’s also fun to hone it into something folks will want to buy. (Oh, please, let them want to buy!)

If you have a drafting and revision quirk you’d like to share, put it in a comment below. I approve everything that isn’t obvious spam. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Shakespeare in the Original English

Photo by Steve Fey Doggerel by Wm Shakespeare
Photo by Steve Fey
Doggerel by Wm Shakespeare

First, here is a link to click.  Click it and you will see two English Shakespearean actors, father and son, discussing, and reading, Shakespeare both in contemporary English, and in the English of, roughly, 1600.

I noticed a couple of things. First, Shakespeare really did write modern English. In his own dialect it sounds sort of Gaelic, but I had no trouble knowing what was being said.

Second, Shakespeare is better in the original dialect. Instead of the overly dramatic reading that too many players give the material, it sparkles with a whole lot of word play that, too bad for us I guess, simply doesn’t work in our dialect. I won’t spoil it, but there are quite a few dirty jokes in the text. There are dirty jokes anyway, but when all of the puns work as intended it gets considerably funnier.

But, I’ll let these two actors explain how it works. Just click and check them out!