Monday, June 3, 2013

CRITICISM! What to do with it?

INKBLOTS--June 3, 2013
Blue-sky, sunny evening. Six gentlemen around the outdoor fire pit, Cotes du Rhone Villages (thanks, John). I shared my recent beating up by a UK critic who didn't like anything about my forthcoming Wycliffe novel (one of my favorites, and so for my regular pre-publication readers). Here's my final paragraph after trying to deal with the sweeping demolition of the entire novel by this verbose opinionater. 

My musings on how I proceed with criticism like this: As  a frail Christian daily in need of grace, I want to be in a posture of welcoming and humbly accepting criticism, and equally (in no way contradictory) as a writer and a creator of stories I have to be very careful not to let critics squash my literary voice, my style, my story. After all, what makes books work, be read and reread, be reprinted, what makes publishers come back to one author for more books from their pen, is their unique voice and perspective on the human condition in a broken world. The great trouble is, that if I'm not extremely cautious when a critic steps forward to tell us how he really feels, I can end up wearing myself out trying to recast my story in the image of the critic's opinion, a critic whose literary ideas may or may not be very carefully developed, who may not have a wide range of this kind of writing experience (being an expert on theology or history or academia--ones who often have strong opinions--does not, however, make one an expert on writing fiction, colossal non sequiter), who may think he knows lots more about the historical figure and time period than the author, and who doesn't have the same life experiences that always shape an individual writer and their voice and story--we're different and the thousands of choices that make up the fiction writing process will be different too. I am determined not to descend into formula fiction, so I labor to create authentic characters (yes, sir critic, that have some unlikeable characteristics, by design, like all of us in a broken world). And I have varied the point of view with care and intentionality so as to have a human lens into the significantly segregated worlds of this time period. His finding Willard or Hugh likeable or not is weird to me; of course they're not entirely likeable! Who is in a fallen world? Authentic fiction celebrates this; it doesn't try to sugar coat the unlikeable parts about people but lets them be heard and felt, and molded and, by degrees, changed. This is what makes fiction work!

Patrick leads off with revisions he has begun working on from his philosophical novel, Justin is insane. I like Patrick's fluid style. Mozart wrote Twinkle, twinkle little star, not Beethoven. This is a total recasting of Patrick's mammoth philosophical work. Fine work. We're all impressed and eager to see you press on in this work.

Adam takes us to the cemetery. Adam writes sort of like the literay offspring if Sir Conan Doyle were to wed Agatha Christie. Good pacing and description of fogging the lens of his glasses. You have to watch Adam read his own writing. He laughs, he smirks, he is an actor (for real; he met his fiancee while they both were acting in Sound of Music). Just got one of those... attribute early for cadence.  Wish we had time to read larger swathes of each others work. A guy is inviting another fellow to rob graves. 

Alan is working on a historical fiction set in the years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Paul and his missionary trip to Spain will make an appearance. He has a pre-writing study for us to consider. Themes of role of government, just war, how should we live under foreign occupation? He reads a sample chapter from what will be midway in the novel. Soldiers on the march, 12th legion. Good context and description (late-October...) withdrawal looking more like a retreat. I want to know who to care about? The reader will need a clear point of view, a lens from which to observe all this--a real to life, authentic, complex individual who is caught in the middle of all this. Simeon enters after a number of paragraphs. I would urge you to consider introducing Simeon in the opening lines. Let us feel what Simeon feels. Let us smell what he smells, see what he sees, feel what he feels. Itroduce an optio to talk to, more dialogue with self and others. Though, having said that, it is difficult to put in midway. We don't know how you have developed Simeon earlier. Patrick pointed out that this episode can work well if Alan has prepared the reader to have a lens through Simeon to this battle. Bottom line, the reader has to intensely care what happens to the character who is yourpoint of view in the tale. Mile comes from a thousand paces in Latin, so using mile in the fiction is historically accurate. 

 Shane is not sure. Hasn't even proof read the one. Been reading George MacDonald and has gotten the sense that the world is not mundane but fantastic. Out of that he developed a character, which he feels is ill formed yet but he figured he had to start writing. Journal of Terrance Magillicuddy. Still looking for the mundane substance... Grass makes the world liveable. This is a first person journal recording boring scenes but not so because he has an interior amnesia that makes him intrigued with new things, because everything is new to him, every time, because of his amnesia. Clever idea. Everything is novel to him and so he's fascinated with the mundane, the idea of ordinariness, which he can never experience. So this is funny, but it's more than just comic. Shane has a philosophical purpose. Ignorant narrator. 

John told us a bout his rejection letter from Writers Edge. It was encouraging, as rejections go. So John has been reworking things. Got an email from a mentoring group who wants to "publish" his book. Rivers something. We'll do editing and mentor you as a writer, but you have to buy 1,000 copies of your own book. 

We talked about marketing books and how publishing the industry has changed and is changing.

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