Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Falstaff character and creating sympathy for a jolly jerk--INKBLOTS

Laughing and fun with Lewis tonight
Five 'Blots this frigid January evening (ice on the stock tanks this morning and a dusting of snow), but warm and cozy in the Scriptorium.

After chatting for a bit, Patrick leads off with more of his longing to write redemptively but without it being cheesy and superficial. He has written his yarn so that the reader thinks Gabe and his clan are just preppers, planning out an imaginary apocalyptic compound but nothing to worry about. It's all in fun. But what is really going on is a real zombie apocalypse.He reads the beginning of the next section of the book. You are narrating material that I would like to see, hear, feel, instead of being told it. Have the reader hear Junior's father give him chores, and what is his reaction? Is he resentful, eager, insulted at the demeaning task? Prayer request in family worship. Gabe or Junior? Who are we supposed to be tracking with, head we are supposed to be getting into (I realize we are putting in and it can be difficult to equally jump into the right head)? This does seem to be sort of dropped into the story, helicoptered from where though? When the dad interrupted and tried to get them back on the track. Suddenly Junior wanted to become a spy after discoursing on the Donatist controversy in church history. Bob wanted to clarify who was the returnee. Junior or Gabe. Patrick clarified that this historical discussion is going to play an important role later in the story. That is good. I think the reader needs to feel that this is somehow relevant to the whole, even if they don't know how at this stage in the story. Patrick likes to play with audience expectation and give them an unexpected reversal. John pointed out that there was several repetitive uses of verbiage, stunned, stunned. 

I asked Jonathan to explain how he brings in the redemption of a character, He referred us to his heroine, Flannery O'Conner (so like this guy for his literary heroes) who never gives us a tidy pat redemptive starburst untying of the knot. "I see all things through redemption in Christ Jesus," she said and, for her, that meant spending more time showing the fallen condition of her characters and their great need, thereby, creating longing in the reader. Increase the sense of awkwardness by playing against each other, letting the reader feel the tension.

Jonathan gives us a cold read on a short story, beginning medias res, right in the middle of things. Blood on the Snow. Jeff and old man haunted by a ghost. I hear faith right up front, which is a subtle way to prepare your reader for your priority. I like the description of the man's beard but it does not keep him warm in the snow. Dialogue, description from Mr. Duguld. Ghost in the room, but where, and would anyone else see his ghost. Good tactile description of him running his hand along the stone heath stone, leaving an impression in his fingers. Specific description of the logistics of his door and apartment. Ghost had arrived a week ago, cold fingers on his forehead while sleeping. Terrified, his body quaked with fear. It is a good exercise to avoid using the word terrified if you want your reader to be so.  

"Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please will you do my job for me." (CS Lewis)

He wanted to remain with the ghost and he wanted the ghost to stay with him. We don't know why but we sure wonder what he is thinking. Jonathan has us on the edge of our seats. Very still in the Scriptorium at the moment. Great line of reasoning on him trying to work out if he was sane. John catches stuff, repetitive verbiage. So much easier to catch when reading orally and to others. Patrick pointed out a clarifying moment to the light in his eyes. Using short clipped sentences when creating intrigue.   

Bob reads from his Hot Tub Homicide, but his wife Sharon won't let him use this killer title. Sigh. Then he told us why. Got it. Set in Soap Lake Washington, at a hacked-up health spa. I just love the chatty down-home, Barney Fife wit on display in this yarn. Bill is scheming his con, coming up with the right spin verbiage to bilk his clients, New Age nonsense on steroids, and Bill has the jargon down like he had memorized the Terrestial-Energy Cliff Notes. Bill does not sound to me like the kind of shyster who would be willing to give three years of his life in a wacko monastery preparing for his con? Have him read a National Geographic article about another guy who gave up the three years, and sponge his experience for his con. Which started a discussion of creating backstory that raises the reader's sympathy with the plight of the crook, the John Falstaff syndrome, jolly jerk, but lovable. Give Bill a higher motive, a great aunt dying of cancer, an illegitimate child (there's a restraining order against him) who needs a kidney transplant and a pile of money to get it, something that complicates motive for his con, so the reader can't just despise him, feels torn.

John reads from chapter three of Violetta, 1917 Revolution, Stalin's thugs breaking into the palace. John has done unique research for this Russian novel, interrogating fellow employees at the hospital where he worked for many years, getting an intensely Russian angle on this fascinating moment in Russia history. Down in the passage that Violetta and her governess Coletta abhorred. I like the stacking up of her fears. Creepy monsters, try using the Thesaurus and finding better synonyms for these overused words. You give us tactile sense, lots of feel, but smells, sounds? Have her hear something farther down that makes her wonder if they were plunging into a worse horror than what they were fleeing, a rock dropping, clunking against the walls of an abyss, silent falling, more clunking, echoing, reverberating throughout the passage. The skin on the back of my neck.... Good job of creating a sense of ominous impending disaster farther on, the irony of fleeing from one danger into one far more terrifying.  Alisa thought that Violetta could find comfort from Coletta her governess, grounding herself in the older woman, finding the will to press on into the darkness, the unknown abyss, but going back is worse. She needs a bolster to go on.

I didn't read tonight but "finished" LUTHER IN LOVE today, including some final cleaning, copy editing, formatting, more to go. I printed out the first hard copy for my local readers. Please do not read into "local" that they are lesser, not the real editors, not the professionals. In my experience, my local readers are absolutely amazing, so many grand ideas and noble discoveries. I could not do it without my mother, first and last, the Spear clan, John Schrupp, and my fellow 'Blots.

"Youth is wasted on the young," the concluding line to a productive and enjoyable evening (thank you Jonathan).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"It's just what it is!" Meaning and Purpose in Writing: INKBLOTS

Five of us, frigid evening, snow yesterday, but none on the ground at the moment, though forecast for more snow imminent. But we're warm and cozy in the Scriptorium, ready for a productive evening of discussion about writing, reading manuscript excerpts, critiquing one another, and laughing a bit too (at ourselves).

Jonathan Anderson, AP literature high school teacher, began reading Flannery O'Connor and Hawthorne and Dostoevsky, all of whom conspired to help Jonathan create meaning in the midst of authentic literature. After receiving many rejection notices, and plans to self publish, he then received an acceptance letter, after only a week and a half, from Severed Press, a publisher dedicated to printing the works of speculative fiction writers.

Before Jonathan read, we launched into a discussion about meaning in literature. Are the best books, as some passionately insist, just what they are, no meaning, no message, no higher purpose, no bigger picture or issue the author cares deeply about? I have had this discussion with several. It is remarkable how passionately held, how vein bulgingly doctrinaire this view is insisted upon by its advocates and devotees (and how utterly ironic that is, though they don't seem to get the irony). But nobody who carefully reads any of the best authors thinks that they do not have a purpose for writing, a truth they want to convey, a falsehood they want to expose. Honest authors admit this. I'm pretty sure the others use the argument as a ruse to cover for the real agenda they want to insinuate into their readers imagination, but in the guise of no agenda. "There are no moral or immoral books," insisted Oscar Wilde... which is, of course, a moral judgment about books in and of itself. The amoral book argument is a clever disguise and many do not realize it's there; nevertheless, the idea conveyed, foisted on the reader, is no less purposeful. We discussed whether or not art is diminished when the artist has a purpose for writing, a particular concern that they want to explore, a characteristic of life and meaning they want to unearth. The favorite new dictate that writers not have a message, is a thinly veiled guise, that stands in defiance of the centuries, yea, the millenniums of literature from whatever the culture.

Jonathan reads from chapter three of his new speculative fiction novel,  just released with Severed Press. I'm not a reader or a writer of speculative zombie literature. There, I've said it. Nevertheless, right off, it is clear to the reader that Jonathan has literary taste and skill; there is a narrative fluidity to his style, clearly written by someone who has human sensitivities and philosophical and theological objectives. Cross, old fashioned and womanish. Sound of the vacant wind tore through. Crowd used twice in two back to back sentences; maybe try varying with mob or other simile. Trevelyan sounds like a media figure. I find it fascinating how you give brief vignettes of the oncoming zombies, features from their former life. This works so well. I think it is remarkable how you have been able to feature biblical thought in a favorable light and yet not drive a secular publisher away. I was reminded of Jezebel being dump out the upper window and the dogs falling to on her body and blood. This is grim material, bloody and ugly, as I think you intended it to be. I think the reaction you have for your protagonist is so important to this story. He feels remorse, or some anguish at the horror he experienced as he defended himself against the hoard. You have your character reciting Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd..." Just as a point of accuracy, an automatic pistol is not, strictly speaking, a gun. I feel the inexorable nature of your protagonist's dilemma, they just keep coming back. The woman sniffed, or was it a scoff (at his Bible). Jude, Jonathan's protagonist, is an unapologetic Christian, and Jonathan has managed to have this book published by a secular publisher, remarkable. This is not my genre, but Jonathan does it remarkably well. You do a good job of giving the antagonistic unbeliever voice, letting her express all the antagonism toward Christianity that is real from the unbeliever. Deep longing, overwhelming. The intensity of the horror is so real. I probably won't sleep tonight!

We often talk about the use of coarse language, cursing and swearing, at Inkblots. Is there a way to express the coarse realities of foul language, the way so many of our neighbors talk when they are angry or afraid, or, for some of them, it is simply the only vocabulary at hand to the frustrated, angry, individual outside of grace, who can only find satisfaction, power, control, in lashing out verbally--is it possible to convey the reality of this kind of verbal expulsion without actually using the language? Why does this work, that is, make us feel fear, see, feel, and smell the reality of the unreality of this speculative image? Specifics. Jonathan gives us precise, incremental specifics, blow-by-blow.

Bob commented how I always nail him for not engaging all the senses. Jonathan engages the tactile sense more so than others. John commented that there were disconnects. The boy with the key, the woman in the woods. Puzzled John. Jude did not go get a weapon. Seemed like that would be the first thing he would do, get a weapon. Bob thought you could fine-tune your adjective use, use one where you have two, for example. Very fine writing, and a big congratulations on new published book!

Rachel picks up her story about the Russian chef on a mission to discover the finest cheese. I love the clothes on his back and the price on his head. Rachel does a good job of being specific, precise details about the table, dining, cuisine. Rachel, so excited about a connect with a real Russian. wringing her for information, plans to read more next time. We await with baited breath.

Bob gave us another snippet of his O'Henry-esque crime yarn set in Soap Lake Eastern Washington, shyster preying on the unsuspecting. We moaned and groaned when he told us he was going to abandon the project. New Leyden congregation, Dutch congregation, hard-working farmers. Bob has
a way about him, and his writing. It has that Norwegian detachment: I told you I loved you when I married you. I'll let you know if anything changes. What more do you want? Pastor Van Houten. Bob, you are a crack-up.

Shift gears, Bob is writing the 95 These for the 21st Century. We didn't have time to read it tonight but next time. We will email the gang about meeting or not meeting on December 20.

By the way, I can squeeze in one last participant for the April 1-18, 2017 OXFORD CREATIVE WRITING MASTER CLASS. Plans are finalizing, so don't delay. If you know someone who is ready to take their writing to the next levels, this week-long intensive on-location where so many of the great writers learned their craft, may be for them (or you!)