Monday, August 22, 2011

INKBLOTS - Anatomy of fiction discussion and more

INKBLOTS – August 22, 2011
Graham told us about his new writing opportunity. Some discussion of ethics of writing academic material that might be used by students for plagiarism. Doug Mc told us about visiting the web site of an agent who I met a couple of years ago at CBA in Orlando (or it might have been Atlanta). Inviting site that clearly tells how to improve your writing, and write that query letter. 

Graham read the sample assignment he was given to write for this prospective new company to write for. Topic: nursing. To what extent is discrimination prevalent in nursing? APA Style, two sources, 4 pages. Only 2,000, 000 total nurses with 5% male nurses in USA. The critical deal with research papers is to be sure and answer the question without wandering into other issues not specifically defined in the original research question. Graham caught an awkward sentence he wrote simply by reading it aloud. They asked specifically for opinion about how to resolve the discrepancy. We discussed the value of citing authorities for recommendations rather than being the writer’s opinion. Stylistic clarity, thorough answering of question. Graham really likes writing this material, and it shows. Doug Mc wondered if some of the verbiage might have been improved by tightening up a bit. 3 hours of writing on a topic he knew very little about before he began.

Doug Mc discusses whether what he is doing with Captain Waskow, real character written about from Ernie Pyle’s account of the Monte Casino campaign. January 10, 1943. The account of one of the captain’s soldiers holding the dead man’s hand for five minutes and straightening his collar—very moving. Now Doug Mc’s borrowing from Pyle’s account. Doug seems to have settled well into his first person, present tense point of view. An encounter with Ernie Pyle, war correspondent. The reading aloud test is helping Doug catch some of his awkward syntax. Explosions, some redundant syntax. How do you indicate breaks on the page? You told us a few times that there was time that had elapsed. Curious how you are showing this to your reader. I always try to rewrite so that my words indicate the lapse. I use a 3 word test to help me avoid ever plagiarizing another author: if I find I’ve used 3 of the other guy’s words, I attempt to rewrite in my words.
We talked about attributions, ‘best attribution is no attribution,’ say some. I don’t agree, although it is a helpful target.

I read chapter 4 and 5 of my Anglo-Saxon tale. Comments on my shifting point of view to Cynwulf’s wolfhound’s animal instincts. My hope was for this shift to not be a fundamental shift away from Cynwulf, but rather a further development of his character as seen through the relationship with his wolfhound. Graham asked about how you write fiction. We talked about the anatomy of fiction and how it is a mirror of the reality God has made in his universe; the conflict enters—and every good tale has conflict—and we start flailing around trying to solve the problem on our own. It never works. In fact, our efforts always make matters worse.

I’m having intense writing times these days, 6-8 hours a day, ramping up to try and complete this manuscript and get if off to the publisher by September 1. My mom has been such an enormous help to me lately, letting me write in the garden of her condo, keeping pots of tea coming at me, making me lunch, listening to excerpts and offering her comments. It’s been really fun to write under these circumstances (the basement room I had been writing in was getting oppressive). From title page of my Anglo-Saxon tale, still searching for good title:
“…the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race… maintain that Your Sin Will Find You Out… [that] the kingdom of hell is within us.” Dorothy Sayers

Saturday, August 13, 2011

INKBLOTS - vigorous discussion: Swearing in fiction writing...

INKBLOTS – August 9, 2011
Domaine du Saint-Antoine. Six men tonight. Doug talked about his research on agents, how it works, and the obligations expected of authors marketing their books. He opened a facebook account today. Website next. I’m thinking after today (a frustrating one of multiple interruptions while writing, including social-networking ones, a nice way of saying many largely self-imposed distractions).

I read from Doc M’s piece he was asked to write for He gives us a short commentary on the gospel episode with Jesus and the woman at the well. What Source of Water Will it be for You, is his title. Graham wanted to clarify the meaning of the title. Others wondered if the title couldn’t use some clarifying. A sermonette, until the final ending. Well written with clarity.

Aaron says, “Am I allowed to talk now?” What a crack up. We suggest that first-timers listen in and get the feel of how things go in our gathering. He read a list of factoids, humorous ones: “John has a long moustache,” was a code phrase of the French resistance in WW II. More than 50% of people in the world have never sent or received a phone call. Things like that. Elephants are the only people who can’t jump. Donkeys kill more people than airplanes. Shortest complete sentence in the English language: “Go!” Thank you Aaron (John, his dad).

Dave working on new-old project about the healer. He was approached by WinePress, to do a guided self-publishing of his futuristic thriller, approved for publication by Writers Edge. He thinks he’s going to go with WinePress. Avenger of Blood, next vignette. There’s a folksy, down-home quality about his writing. And there is a .45 and a Bible, not necessarily in that order. The idea for this book is forming, first person, sketches, confessions he (the fictional healer, not Dave, I think) needed to get off his chest.

Graham reads us a sample of what he writes for He read a book by Ray Bradbury in which he said to be a good writer you have to read poetry. So Graham subscribed to a poem a day on line, and so far he doesn’t get any of it, his words (see more on poetry below). But he continues to read. An article on supplement use in the military. For on line writing he is supposed to use key words, like navy seals, so that it comes up on the google search. Research article. Curious where he gets his authorities, mostly on line sources? I’m thinking so. G had a question for us. He feels like he gives three examples when listing. John seems to feel marginalized tonight. “Graham, why when you ask advice of the experienced writers in the room you didn’t look my way?” Doug suggested using a creative non-fiction episode to illustrate some of the points Graham was making. Dave mentioned M&Ms being a military “supplement” used in WW II. Graham was furiously clicking keys with the input. Uses google scholar search engine for most of his sources.    

We talked about poetry and how frustrating it is. So much modern poetry frustrates, and in many cases it does so because the poet was at war with meaning, and we read it trying to find out what it means, when it means ‘life is absurd and so is this poem.’ Which is a sort of an a-meaning, but is this accurate, does it fit the nature of things in a real world? Sure things do seem absurd, but how would we even know there was a thing like absurdity if there was no meaning? As C S Lewis puts it, fish don’t get up in the morning and comment on how wet the water is today. Water is wet. Fish live in water. What is is not worthy of comment. Poetry that sets itself above meaning makes me frustrated. There’s no reward for the reader, unless he too wants to superimpose his individual meaning over everything he reads. I suggested reading William Cowper or the other Will. These guys really did write brilliantly employing figurative language to explore and adorn meaning, yes, real meaning. Spend your limited poetry reading time reading poets who believed that life is supposed to have meaning, then you can read and know that there is in fact something to ‘get’ in the end. If poetry does not awaken understanding and appreciation of the nature of reality in a real world, why read it? Unless I just want to get inside the head of a guy who wants his individual ‘reality’ to trump the real reality, the true truth. But let’s call it something other than poetry.
John reads his contemporary fiction. “What are you calling about today?” That doesn’t sound like the way people who know each other would speak. “What’s up?” “How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?” Recast when you have Andy feel sick to his stomach. “Sounding defensive but unsure of herself.” But? The relationship is not one of contrast, is it? It seems like closer to an and comparison rather than a but comparison.  Much improved on body language, showing not telling. It flows well.
Dougie reads a chapter that employs swearing in the context of the 36th Texas Division, reforming after the Battle of Salerno, November, 1943. There is so much authentic repartee between the soldiers, as if Dougie actually knows what he’s writing about, as if he’s been there done that. Hmm. The unbelievers were preparing to hit Naples for partying and womanizing, while the Christians, mixed denominations, are off to visit Catholic churches in the town. Out loud reveals syntax that doesn’t work. “One of them is crying” not are. Shows the poverty and deprivation of war in Italy. Good use of smells, fuel and sewage. “Never seen anything like this in Texas.” Try being more specific about the stone work, statues of what? Relics of what? But not clinical description, the awe-inspiring qualities of medieval architecture. Kneeling by their dead bodies, recast this for clarity; antecedent to ‘their.’ Is it their own dead bodies they’re kneeling by? Develop the children a bit more. Make the reader feel the tears the young fellow among them sheds; this did not connect. Do you need attributions for your first-person point of view’s thoughts? I don’t think so, in general. I like how you have the men on R&R finding themselves helping the locals dig out of the rubble, and coming back for more the next day. Avoid clichés as in “through the roof.” The delayed bombs that go off when the civilians are searching through rubble looking for their dead, and then the bomb goes off and people helping others are killed. Islamists do this today. I think every people, whatever the stripe, feel this is great evil. We discuss using language, such as “God damn those filthy Krauts,” said by a Christian when he sees the death of people (include children victims and the swearing will seem still more appropriate) who were trying to help others and were killed by the delayed bombs of the Nazis. When, if ever, should we include swearing in our writing? What is our purpose in doing so? Authenticity, cross-over appeal to unbelieving readers—is there a legitimate time for this? If so, when and how?    

I didn’t read a chapter from Anglo-Saxon tale. After a tough day of writing, or of not-writing. Back at it in the morning.