Tag Archives: Writing


Taken at the Butterfly Pavilion off the Boulder Turnpike in Colorado
Taken at the Butterfly Pavilion off the Boulder Turnpike in Colorado

I’ve written exactly one decent poem in my life. I’d post it, but it’s been lost for a long time. Too bad, too, because I am unlikely ever to be quite that distraught again, or at least I hope so. The thing is, poetry is difficult, because each word must carry a great load of meaning. You could put a novel in a phrase, if you’re good at it. As some people, of course, are. Eliot, Pound, Shakespeare, Dylan (first and last name, same to me,) and others. And then there are the rest of us. I suspect that anyone could write good poetry if they were sufficiently motivated. Unfortunately, as poetry rarely pays the bills (Williams Carlos Williams was a physician. Bob Dylan a folk/rock/pop star, to name a couple examples) very few people are motivated by the simple thrill of writing poetry. Even Shakespeare wrote his stuff to pack the house and get juicy roles for himself and his friends. So maybe poetry isn’t such a lucrative career choice, at lest per se?

Well, then, consider picture books. If anything, a picture book is worse than a poem. You have maybe 27 words, maybe a few more or less, to tell a complete story. The stories may seem simple at first glance, but consider the cadence and rhyme of Goodnight Moon. It’s beautiful, and at the end, you know a great deal about the person going to sleep, a great deal about the world that person lives in, and you’ve enjoyed some beautiful words in the learning. It’s right up there with, “I could write a book. I have a word processor” if you think you can just pound out a picture book. (And this ignores the importance of the pictures as well.)

And now consider the full-length novel. Twain wrote that The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening. Do you suppose he checked every word in every book to ensure that each one conveyed just what he meant it to convey? Oh, heck yes he did! And his books have proved to be enduringly popular for a century and a half, so far. He wrote long form prose with the same eye for detail as one needs to write a picture book, or a poem.

Food for thought.

How Many Languages?

Hyperbolic Vaulted Dome Inside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. By Gaudi.
Hyperbolic Vaulted Dome Inside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. By Gaudi.

How many languages do you know? Well, I’ve got one down pretty well, that being the one in which you are reading. Then there’s some Spanish that I know, which comes in handy once in a while (and I know how to order eggs over easy if I need to,) I also know some German, er, Deutsch. And even, this surprises even me, some French beyond what a tourists needs to get by in France. And just now I’m studying Portugese.

My friends Leslie and Andrew are, you know if you follow this blog, circumnavigating the planet in a 30-foot sailboat. Yesterday Leslie and I were texting, and the conversation turned to language. Leslie told me that she thinks that she and Andrew should invent a code based upon the 25 words they know in who knows how many different languages. Wouldn’t that be cool? Nobody would ever know what you said to each other! That, and the fact that studying foreign languages has become sort of a hobby of mine, led me to think about the effect of knowing a foreign language on writing in English.

For one thing, I have a book, which may never see the light of day for various reasons, but it exists, which includes some Spanish dialogue. And, it’s accurate. So, there’s that. But mostly, I don’t use foreign words (beyond the sixty percent French infestation into English, that is.) So how do foreign languages help? I can think of a couple or more ways.

First, things like the subjunctive, or any of the multifarious perfect tenses. (My favorite example being Yul Brenner as the King of Siam saying, “I am thinking that your Moses shall have been a fool!” You tell ’em, Yul!) Before my first formal Spanish course, I had managed to get all through public school and not know what the heck subjunctive and perfect tense even were. Because, in English, if you really don’t want to use them, you don’t really have to. Besides, some times they’re so easy that you don’t even notice. I think this shall still have been the case all along when you read this sentence.

Second, as English actually is about sixty percent Romance language, learning a 99 percent, or even 90 percent Romance language can help in understanding quite a few English words. And it can certainly help with English spelling if one studies both a Romance language (Spanish is the easiest, so far as I know) and German. Take the word thief, for instance. You know how to pronounce it and you know what it means. In German, you pronounce it exactly the same way and it means just what you think it does. Same with belief, grief, and (ahem) brief. The (ahem) is because only lawyers use brief the way it’s used in German. That is, it’s a letter. A lawyer might write a letter to the court (brief) in order to plead a case. In fact, they all do, and all the time. For the rest of us, the meaning of “sum it up as fast as possible” prevails. You know, be brief. (Be careful, though. Chief, for instance, has shortened itself to Chef in German. There again, though, you see where the meaning of “in charge of the kitchen” comes from. The Chef is, in fact, the chief.)

That “or when sounded as “A” thing? French. Neighbo(u)r. Unless you mean the word “their,” which is a possessive used about “them,” which of course opens up a whole can of spelling worms, so we’ll pretend we don’t know about it. In German, “ie” is pronounced like a long E. This also explains some seemingly odd spellings in English. But most of the spelling rules you learned? Such as adding an e to the end of a word makes the vowel long, or the second vowel in a row makes the first vowel long? French. Pure French. But our syntax? Pure German. Talk like Yoda we do not so much is the only significant difference in syntax between English and German. You’ll notice that the preceding sentence makes perfectly good sense, except that nobody would say it that way. Except if they’re speaking German.

Well, I find knowing a few other languages, at least a bit of them, makes English easier to deal with. After all, our mother tongue is basically German with a boat load of French dumped onto it, spelled however the heck it works out in translation.

And they say that English is difficult!


It’s Getting Better All The Time

A View from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
A View from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Your writing, I mean. Every day it’s getting better and better. You do write often, don’t you? Heck, I’m writing as I write this. It isn’t that difficult. What I mean is, you must keep writing, keep getting  your work reviewed critically, and keep learning from your mistakes. Sooner or later you’ll be able to sell some of your work, and that’s when the fun begins, right? The fancy cars, sexy dates, big houses in several European countries? Damn skippy it does!

Or, maybe you just enjoy knowing that people are paying for the privilege of reading what you’ve written. That’s kind of cool, huh? In my case, my wife, toughest critic in the known universe, had to exclaim that I’d gotten a lot better since last she read anything I’d written. And, she’s right. And, I knew that already. Somehow, ultimately, you need to read your own work as if you hadn’t written it, which is a lot easier to write than to do. But it can be done; I’ve done it; I knew my work had gotten much better. And so will yours! Because, selling a book is a lot like getting to Carnegie Hall:

You’ve got to practice, practice, practice!

Now, go forth and write something, you hear me?

Writing to Make Things Better

I know that You know what This is! If I'm wrong, search Google Images.
I know that You know what This is! If I’m wrong, search Google Images.

Yesterday I ranted about discourse, and listening to each other, and about not presenting arguments in a way that can’t be argued against. Then I promised that I’d talk today about how writers can help make the situation better. And we can. But, I hear you say, what about the dictum of not deliberately trying to teach your readers? What about not being pedantic and boring? What about concentrating on telling a great story and letting your beliefs come out naturally?

Yes, what about all that? Did you think I was kidding in the past when I’ve said those things? Mais non! (French sounds so classy, don’t it?) The fact is, that is exactly what writers can do to make the larger society nicer and easier to live in. For instance, if you read yesterday’s post, you may have noticed that I’m a bit touchy about the incident reported. Pissed, that is. But, you’ll also notice that I didn’t give any details about who the other parties were, or where one could go look at their posts, or anything else that would get people worked up over what is, in fact, nothing. I tell stories. Stories help people see themselves, and help people to work out their problems. That’s true. So, all you have to do is tell your stories. And don’t go into a critique group sure that your story is wonderful the way it is, either, because likely as not it isn’t. Just the fact that writers use critique groups is an indication that we’re not like the closed-off ideologues we see on TV every day. We help each other to be better at being ourselves.

So, the way for a writer to make the world a better place is to keep on writing, keep on improving, and keep on being a good person. The inmates have always been in charge of the asylum around here, and storytellers have always been the ones to let the truth in via the back door. Good job, writer! We couldn’t be here without you!

Writers’ Groups


Fiddling on a Train Between Angel's Camp and Yosemite, California, 2011.
Fiddling on a Train Somewhere in the Vicinity of Angel’s Camp and Yosemite, California, 2011.

I belong to several writers’ groups. One is the Romance Writers of America, which has a very excellent convention every summer. One is the Las Vegas Writers’ Group (see us on Facebook and Meetup) of which I am coordinator. And one is Writers of Southern Nevada, where I am on the board. There are other groups, and plenty of them, but there is only one of me.

My question is, are all of the many groups out there really necessary? The question is occasioned because the other day I was invited to a meeting of some “literary leaders” in Las Vegas, at Books or Books, a fine store on Sunset Road. The owner of Books or Books is starting a non-profit called “Books Bringing People Together.” One of the attendees seemed threatened by that, although, in general, writers don’t compete with other writers. The pie is, after all, seemingly infinitely expandable. But, really, it is a valid question.

We at WSN are (check our mission statement) devoted to helping all writers, and all writers’ groups. I’m looking for suggestions from anyone with an interest in writing as to what we could do to make that happen. You can comment here (I’ll have to approve it to read it, but I will,) you can comment on our Facebook page, or since it’s me, through the Las Vegas Writers’ Group Meetup page (link is above.) I’m thinking that someone should try to bring some coordinated effort to the Las Vegas literary scene before we all get lost in a hopeless maze. And that somebody should remind us all that we’re all in it together while they’re at it.

Please let me know your ideas!


What’s on Your Bookshelf?

This Boat Takes You On A Tour of New York Harbor (Harbour?)
This Boat Takes You On A Tour of New York Harbor (Harbour?)

They don’t use those sails for much, but they look pretty. So.

Every so often I like to say something about reference materials for writers. Not that they change all that much, but still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from time to time. So, what follows are mercifully short reviews of some of my favorites.

First, in the spirit of knowing the rules in order to break them, is The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. If I need to say more, are you sure you want to be a writer?

I like humor, both as something to produce, and as a topic. As an introduction to how to be funny, I recommend The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even if You’re Not by John Voorhaus. The title says it all. I wish some of the bosses I’ve had over the years had read this. (Do bosses read, anyway?)

For Characterization, I have two favorites. They compliment each other. The first is Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon. For an excellent overview of how to set up and use internal and external motivation to propel your characters and your story, this book is hard to beat. Like a specific guide to character types? Then, I recommend The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines, by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders. What happens if a Chief meets a Librarian? Find out in this book.

For an overview of developing your skills and becoming a writer, I recommend On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. I think Stephen and I attended the same Writers’ Workshop at different places and different times. It’s also quite well written, as you’d expect.

Finally, one I haven’t read yet, but intend to because I like his stories, is Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig. I’ll review it after I read it. Look for me on Amazon, per usual.

The links in each paragraph are to the book in question for sale on Amazon.com. You may buy any of them wherever fine books are sold.


Need to see more of this cow? She's outside a restaurant not far from Washington, PA.
Need to see more of this cow? She’s outside a restaurant not far from Washington, PA.

This week’s title shouts, and for a reason. When I say revision, I mean revision, dammit! I’ve mentioned before that I have been working on a thriller, starring a young FBI agent, her even younger partner, and a President who does something that, even given the current political climate, is still probably unthinkable. No spoilers here, except that of course my protagonists prevail, justice is served, and a grateful world makes the agent dictator for life! I made that last part up, but ain’t it swell?

Anyway, it’s almost drafted. My first drafts, though, are sort of incredibly filled-out plot outlines, filled with telling, notes, blind alleys, references to scenes I haven’t written yet, you know how that goes, I’m sure. I’ve been concentrating on writing stand-up for the past couple of weeks. If you’ve never tried it, I can tell you that it has a lot in common with poetry. It takes a lot of work to get it right. But, also, I’ve sort of fallen out of love with that thriller. Until this morning.

I was driving North on Decatur Avenue when the thought hit me: Why not make the protagonists young teenagers, and recast the whole thing as a middle-grader? With humor? Why not indeed? Hell, L’Engle got away with using that “dark and stormy night” line, didn’t she? Why not have the Scooby gang, or the Goonies, or those kids from Stranger Things, have the honors? That’s where I am, now. I’ve already retitled my working draft into something I think is terribly clever, created a new file, and made a note on my official “first notes” document.

Which is why the title is shouting. And my message for the week is, never be afraid to turn your whole project upside-down and rewrite it more or less from scratch!

Later, Gang!



Pirates Invading Tampa Bay
Pirates Invading Tampa Bay

This post isn’t about how to motivate yourself to keep writing. Not exactly. It’s about answering a simple question before you proceed. That question being, “Why do you write in the first place?” I have read a few answers from people who have made a living at writing.

For instance, Isaac Asimov, the prolific (to put it mildly) Science Fiction and Science author, wrote in one of his biographies that he started writing Science Fiction because he couldn’t find enough Sci-Fi stories that he liked. This is a perfect segue into “write what you like to read,” but I’m not going to take it.

Some people say that they have a message to impart. They write so that what they consider to be an important avenue of discussion is opened to the world, and they hope, I imagine, to educate the rest of us in their message. For me, I’m not down with this one, as I’ve mentioned before. Your message will come out, so long as you write honestly. But, for some, this does the trick.

For me, and you knew I’d get here, right?, I have always written something in every job I’ve ever had. Some actually involved writing, but some didn’t at all. Still, I wrote, by making up a newsletter, or whatever it took. Even at the pizzeria, my first job out of college, I  would make up what I thought were humorous signs and post them around the kitchen. Some of them lasted for years.

And you? Why are you taking the time out of life to sit and put one word in front of another? Odds are that you’re an introvert, so it isn’t the company (little joke there.) So, why do you do it? My point being, as I circle back to the first sentence in this post, that if you answer that question, you’ll have scant need of any other motivational tricks. You’ll write because you _________________________________________________________________________________! Can’t everybody understand that?


The Last Jedi

Bourbon Street 2010
Bourbon Street 2010

We went to a showing of the latest Star Wars movie on Christmas Eve. Since then I’ve read comments positive and negative about the movie. I liked it, but that’s not what this article is about. This is about the nine-chapter story arc that is Episodes I thru VIII. Most of the complaints I read about the franchise are, apparently, from people who have no idea how a story is structured. Each movie has its own plot, and should, theoretically, be enjoyable to someone unfamiliar with the other eight episodes. I was worried about The Last Jedi, because I was afraid that they might follow some of their fan base and ignore the long arc of the entire series. I worried for nothing. Episode VII is, if nothing else, a good example of how things in a story build to a total mess shortly before everything calms down and returns to a (new) normal. Whew!

Lucas originally conceived the series after talking extensively with Joseph Campbell, the author of The Power of Myth, among other things. Writers have been falling over themselves since to include ideas from that book, plus a Hero’s Journey motif, in everything they produce. Which is good. After all, the Odyssey is as pure a hero’s journey as you can find, and it’s still in print millennia after it first came out. Back to Episode VII, I was reminded that, in the universe conceived by Mister Lucas, the actual protagonist of the nine episodes is not Anakin Skywalker, not Luke Skywalker, not Rey, nor Ren Solo. The protagonist is The Galaxy, taken as a whole. And I remember that, in the end, the hero(ine) must pull all of the disparate elements to which we’ve been introduced together into a coherent, functioning whole. And once the story ends, so does the magic. Yes, it is probably time for the magic that’s been used throughout the series to go away. Because, after it’s over, the hero(ine) is in charge of his/her life, and trying to use magic would only interfere with doing what needs to be done.

As Donovan put it in one song, “Riki Tikki Tavi, the Mongoose, is gone.”

So, here we are. One more chapter to go. I imagine that many people will indulge in any number of spinoffs, which is fine, but they will be just adventure stories. The real story is ready for a heart-stopping climax. One that will end life in the Galaxy, not just as we know it, but probably for real. Except that it won’t, because the bits inside the hero(ine) will come together, do the impossible, and, finally, restore actual peaceful order to the Galaxy.

Or so I predict.


From 2015, just after midnight PST, in Las Vegas. Taken from our roof.
From 2015, just after midnight PST, in Las Vegas. Taken from our roof.

In another week the Holidays will be over for another year. Heck, it’ll probably be several months before WalMart puts out the Christmas stuff again! It’s a new year, and time for new stories, new plots, new characters, new dialogues, and maybe a new keyboard because you’ve worn out that old thing. 2018 is upon us, and that means, well, what it really means is that nothing about writing has changed at all.

Sure, forty years ago the big thing was to bang out your manuscript on that new IBM Selectric II, which was a great typewriter, by the way. Then the big thing was to key it in on that Apple IIe. Heckuva machine, that Apple. You could open the hood and swap cards on it. That was before Wozniak left the place to Jobs, who, you may have noticed, had other ideas on how to proceed. Then you might have switched to WordPerfect, which used to be my favorite. It still has its advocates, but what turned out to be the real game changer was MS-Word for the Macintosh computer. Slower than molasses in January, it was, but it was the first commercial use of a Graphic User Interface, and it took the world by storm. Well, at least until Windows came out. Windows sucked, but it worked, mostly, and cost a lot less than a Mac, so, now you maybe had Microsoft Word on your 386 instead of WordPerfect (to this day, Word will automatically convert WordPerfect files for you.)

And then came more specialized software. Mac users believed that theirs was the only computer to do a lot of these things, but they were simply deceived by Apple. Some of the new software that’s come along includes Scrivner, and for scriptwriters, Dreamweaver. We saw such things as Grammatik get absorbed by Microsoft Office. Now, instead of buying six different programs to help you crank out your manuscripts, you can probably just buy one system, plug it in, and start writing in five minutes flat.

If there ever was an excuse for not writing, it disappeared years ago.

But, the thing is, in 2018, as in 1818, 818, and back in Homer’s day, it isn’t so important how you record your words. What is important is that your words add up to a good story. I’ve belabored more points on how that gets done than I’d care to remember, so I’ll just tell you to fire up whatever device you’re using these days and get to work! That story you thought about in the grocery line the other day is waiting to be committed to a manuscript. You thought of it, so now it’s your job to so commit.

Go forth, and amaze the world!