Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Realism, Revulsion, and Redemption--and Good Writing

Five gentlemen this clear winter evening, gorgeous star-filled night outside, crackling fire and comaraderie inside. We pattered around talking about marketing, connecting on Goodreads and NetGallery, and CHG and book printing for our author consortium publishing cooperative. Then great discussion about how we tell good news. It is so much easier to write about human depravity. Plenty of examples, never a shortage of material, but where is the redemptive element. Writing about people being mean, being ugly, being promiscuous, being cruel--all that it relatively easy, frankly. Though very often we just ape the world and become gratuitous--"Look at me, I can sweat in my writing as much as the world. Aren't I with it!" I must have arrived as a writer. But something is deeply flawed in our assumptions when we think this way. So how do we adorn the gospel in our writing? I'm afraid I blabbed a bit much about what I think about as I write, creating longing for truth, beauty, and the Good News, within the boundaries of my genre, fiction (I will be talking a good deal about this important topic at the OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS(s); for serious-minded writers, we do have a few places available in the July master class, but don't delay).

Dougie leads off on our reading component. World War I at Verdun, winter of 1916. This is an intriguing yarn told from the point of view of the Germans in the Great War. I'm particularly fascinated by this as I have been writing about WW I from the Somerset Light Infantry British point of view, but all the while attempting to show the humanity of individuals fighting on either side, Germans including. I heard an example of where using parallel structure would help your syntax. The sentence ended with only death, but it sounded to my ear like it might be better to conclude with parallel contrast with how you get out of this war, not by fever or whatever else it was you wrote. I want to feel more emotion about the dead sniper corpse. Hubert and Sepp don't seem to show the reader how it impacts them to see this. Wouldn't Sepp or Hubert feel anxious about their own life, wonder if they will be like that man before the war is over, maybe before another day passes. Hubert with astonishment deals with the wounded soldier, but I want to get inside Hubert's head. How does he really feel about his commander being hit. The hand on the shoulder, the instant of solemnity felt like it needed development.

John reads from his Violetta Russian yarn, when she goes up to the graves. Right after the shelling and Tamara and the other one are dead. She had promised that she would come visit every day. My eyes studied. I think it would be more natural for her to be less self conscious about what her eyes were doing. She studied. Her conversation with her fallen friends. A fly was buzzing away at my face... I swooshed a bug away with my hand, would be more concise. Very good: I swatted at the fly again. I think you might have over written  and need to tighten some of your syntax. Talking with the dead at their graves. Try tightening her words, use fragments. Have her perplexed at doing it. Even a bit frightened.

Bob read us the first chapter of a sequel to The Crescent & the Cross. Would touch, I would hold my breath as long as I could. This sounds like it is being written in the theoretical, maybe a dream. I think the reader will have an aha moment if you briefly summarize Sinbad's past and conversion and Selassi's role. It seems better to simply review it and let the reader say,"Yes, I remember that." I don't think I would let the reader know that he didn't actually get burned at the stake. Leave them wondering about it, hopeful because of the first person point of view, yet suspended about whether it happened. I would like to have a bit more tactile material, especially exotic smells, Arabian Knights feel ramped up a bit more.

Coming this spring!
I read from near the end of my historical fiction World War I novel, featuring teen atheist 2/Lt CS Lewis, WAR IN THE WASTELAND, the chapter that goes inside Nigel's head and explores his fears anticipating going over the top, his veneration of Sergeant Ayres, and wherein I attempt to define true courage. This is what I like about 'Blots, these dudes are not shy in the slightest about beating me up, excoriating my writing. Precisely as it should be. It's moments like this that I share with writers who have asked me to critique their work ("Hey, I get the same treatment, so buck up," or words to that effect, though a bit gentler). 'Blots' push back: Too much ping-pinging of rain drops on Tin hats, and could you even hear it if there was artillery pounding the German trenches? Too much introspection. The more I have thought about it, I agree. This chapter will be better if  I tighten by 25%. So I am sharpening my butcher knife as we speak. I have also received feedback from my two other respected sources--and have work to do. Do not become a writer if you are overly sensitive (go into subterranean mud sculpture on a deserted island far, far away from the critical gaze of other human beings)!

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