Friday, April 25, 2014

INKBLOTS--Unexpected endings, pig wars, and gut-level writing

"O my head!" I sometimes feel the same when writing
Inkblots on a spring evening, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, rain, rain, sun, rain. Five gentlemen and Dr Rogland joins us this evening and the humor already has begun, former colleague of mine, now retired, author of two published books and several manuscripts stewing away in their juices. Welcome. I propose that we try to keep our comments tight and our reading and explanatory to our ten minutes (okay, give or take). And that we continue the dialogue and comments on the blog comments below, which has the added benefit of bringing our distance 'Blots into the discussion. Had a reader from Denver just this week interested in joining us by skype (we haven't figured out logistically how to pull that off within time constraints) and others want to participate in some way. We invite 'Blots and others to comment below with thoughts or questions on writing.

Patrick is in the dock. We decided last week in the interest of getting more of the big picture that we would have Patrick attach a short story to us all and that we would read and critique his whole story tonight. Alan commented on Patrick's mastery of dialogue, is the man as bad as he appears, genetic engineering and zombies, and a weird twist at the end. I thought he should exploit the computer journal dialogue more; started with a more significant role for the Dante or Beatrice and then it faded. Use this far more, in my opinion. Have interruptions from Mary or Dianne, or Nick (by the way, you need to develop Nick more fully; he came out of nowhere near the end, for me). I felt like there were some awkward transitions and a difficult entry to the story. With your explanatory last meeting, it made sense and we were hooked right off, but when I read it on my own, I felt like it was too clipped a beginning, like I needed more context at the gate. Patrick kind of likes it that readers don't entirely know what is going on (more like real life?). Okay, but the contrivance must work for the reader or it won't get finished or reread. Alan compared this piece to Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, sort of a short story prelude to Crime and Punishment.

Alan read a blog entry (what he does when he doesn't feel the forward momentum on one of his poetry or fiction projects). This one about a commemoration of the Pig War. We are being Pacific Northwest heavy these days, not by design, just is what it is. The blog begins with a summary of the history leading up to the Pig War conflict, launched when an American settler shot a Hudson Bay pig rooting in his potatoes on San Juan Island. The 1859 dispute was on. The proposed commemoration meal? Pork and potatoes, what else? Alan writes in a chatty manner that flows naturally and is easy to listen to, and filled with fascinating information, in this case, about our local history. Alan is one of those high achievers who are intrigued by everything around them, and never weary of learning new things. Bob pointed out that it could have slipped into broad satire but Alan wisely steered clear of this. Flippancy in print as well as in speech rarely works. As Lewis observed, flippancy "builds up the finest armor plating against the Enemy [God]." Alan is our man who uses a manual typewriter but has not figured out how to practically manage using when he blogs (though he told us some guys are doing it).

John is going to read a little thing he wrote. Parable of the foolish shepherd. As I listen to this, knowing some of the background and the catalyst to John writing it, I am reminded of what Lewis says is the best motive for writing, the motive that will produce the most honest and authentic literature: "Write what you need." If you will allow me to say it, I think John was largely motivated by what he thought someone else needs instead of writing what he needs. We all do this, at least in first draft; that's why the key to good writing is three-fold (at least) rewriting. Patrick suggested using a fable structure, like the three little pigs, three efforts to solve a problem, with three different outcomes. An intriguing organizational structure. John felt like it was a bit harsh, and commented that he wrote it a while ago and might alter and revise it. John realized that he made the servant too perfect and the shepherd the bad guy, almost always an over simplification (like all generalizations). Reminds me of Steinbeck's The Pearl, which he lays out and declares up front to be a parable, a story told with a didactic purpose. We discussed what parables are. Metaphor, this is like that, a story that is like the perceptual truth under consideration, the common thing (vehicle of the metaphor) being something that we know, the high thing (the tenor of the metaphor) being the upper-story meaning, the thing we know less, often in the metaphysical realm of reality. Bible is replete with this. A story that illustrates the instruction being given. Poe, on the other hand, thought that poetry in any case ought not to have a didactic purpose, "The heresy of the didactic," he termed it. But then he was referring to poetry (arguably all imaginative literature) and he was Poe... not the Holy Spirit. I restrained myself from getting into this, but I have engaged in lengthy discussion with other authors about how the best literature penned by pagans or confessed Christians is always purposeful, instructive, is informed by the author's deep concerns about the big issues of life (and if it appears that there is no instructive purpose, that too is indicative of how the author's presuppositions about life and meaning. Being devoted to secularism is no less religious than being devoted to Jesus Christ). 

I read from my Noble Savage novel on the Indian War of 1855-6 in the Pacific Northwest, which I have not touched for a month (with the UK tour to lead and then get back in the saddle and attempt to stay in it). My particular concern is getting dialect right at this point. Noclas is the minor hero (or it may be more major but he is not the principal protagonist), black and a lover of the Bible, and he needs to sound like a black man in the mid eighteen hundreds. Tough one, but I got some valuable input from my brother 'Blots on getting closer to achieving the verisimilitude in his voice that I'm after. Alan pushed back very helpfully on Junebug being too clever, gifted, and hard working for an eight year old. We discussed the way frontier children who had no parents in the picture were forced to grow up really fast--or die. I have some work to do and appreciate so much the critique of these gentlemen. A useful (and fun) 'Blots and welcome again to Bob Rogland for joining us; hope to see you again in the future.

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