A Thousand Words A Day

A writing journal _____________________________ PROFESSORBLOG@HOTMAIL.COM

writing: _ Christian Writers _ _ NaNo _

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blogs: _ Lorie Rees_ _Itinerant Iconoclast_ _ Rita's Ravings _
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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Reader, writer, podcast listener, and TV watcher. And real nice guy.

Monday, July 28, 2003

I had a great dream a few night's ago. I have been thinking long and hard about next November's Na No Wri Mo book, and had a dream or two about it. And you know that weird twilight between waking and sleep? I spent some of that time thinking about the book, and made some good progress, the least of which may have been with my confidence re: the ability of my idea to become a novel. I love it to think about something when you don't intend to be thinking about something, you know? I am very intentional about my thoughts, and am a little too self-aware sometimes if you know what I mean . . . but those moments of freedom when my subconscience has something to say to the rest of my waking mind is a truly glorious moment.

The book is based on a segment on the NPR show "This American Life," where they looked broadly at the topic of super heroes and super powers, and in an incredibly respectful way, if I may say so. Anyway, one of the "acts" was a discussion / man on the street segment about which super power you would rather have: the power to turn invisible, or the power to fly. I think that these are two of the more classic motifs, as opposed to super-speed or magic rings . . . with all due respect to Green Lantern and Flash, of course. It turns into a bit of an "Unbreakable" type of story, except the character is more aware of his powers and more intentional in using them

So in the book, a strange being of some kind will come to our main character (no name yet -- that is a job I need to work on) and give him a choice of the two super powers. He will do what i would do if given that choice -- select invisibility, then recount the effects (the good, the bad, and the ugly effects) of this choice over the persons life. There are a range of details I have not worked out yet, let me be honest about that. For example, the most findamental issue: How old is he when the choice is given and when the story ends?

But the reason I think this can be a good Na No Wri Mo novel is that I don't need to do much research and there is so much comic book stuff in there that I can riff on that without thinking too hard about it.

Some of the things I have thought about and concluded (or that could be potential scenes or issues) are:

The guy is a ocmics fan and works everything through that prism. He reads books to get ideas on how to behave. We figure the guy is kind of a geek of some kind, but I don't know how much of one to make him. A Lone Gunman guy from the X-Files, or Kevin Smith, or me, or what . . . Why this guy? What about him makes him the right candidate for this? A reference to Green Lantern being selected (Hal Jordan) to take over the sector for the Guardians of the Universe. He had no fear, but what makes this guy special. Maybe it is random, or that he concludes that it is. Does that add a measure of responsiblity to what you are doing, either way?

The guy tries to develop a code, but realizes how dumb an idea that is. No none else lives by a code.

He does not have kids because of questions about whether his genetics are messed up by the power.

The strange being is some kind of combination of a work that Neil Gaiman would come up and { insert cool comic artist here } would draw . . . other than that, there is no otherworldly concepts. Everything else tkaes place in this world.

How does invisibility work anyway? Can he see himself? Does he need to wear clothes-- and do they become naked? Does he need to be naked?

The guy is NOT going to dress up in tights and become a "super-hero" . . . there are practicalities of this to consider and in really would not work. But what can he do with invisibility? He will be a combination of a selfish person (looking at naked chicks, of course) and selfless (helping people in little ways when he can) . . . but actual "superhero" work is out of the question. He really can not go into formal police type work, either. He tries some kind of PI work, but fails the tests? Can't shoot straight? Is not that smart?

Does he have a sidekick, or at least a mortal helper. Here I am referring to P. N. Elrod's Vampire Chronicles and the relationship between Jack Fleming and the guy whose investigations he helps.

The guy needs a job, right? Or is he a drifter, a homless type of guy drifting from one thing to another? What kind of schedule is that that one needs to live and go with this type of power? What about the mental anguish. Does he have a psychologist or a lawyer, someone in whom he can place his trust with no fear of recourse. Does he drink and tell his story to hookers and bar tramps? Does he do the Wolverine thing (from the movie) and go into fighting or the circus or some place where he can actually use his powers, such as they are. Does he become a magician, using these powers to amaze and impress? These are things to think about.

Does he have a faith? Is he Nightcrawler from X-Men or Daredevil, someone with a faith, or just a regular guy drifter. Does he become a faith-filled man because of the encounter with the "angel" -- what does this encounter do to the guy. Drive him to drink?

References to Unbreakable, Mystery Men, the other "powerless" heroes (of Batman, Daredevil, Captain America), the DC versus Marvel thing, Spawn, Stan Lee, the "dumb power" heroes (Atom comes to mind, because of the impractical physics of the whole thing) . . .

Sunday, July 20, 2003

More from the Burroway book. Her second chapter is about story form and structure, and has some interesting things to say about that topic. There are a lot of stories out there, we have a million little episodes a day that happen, but most of them are not GOOD stories. This was a nice little difference she puts out, the difference between A STORY and A GOOD STORY. She also points out that there is no formula to follow, but three features are in every story: Conflict, Crisis, and Resolution. Only trouble (conflict) is interesting, the whole story/good story sort of thing. She quotes Mel McKee as saying that "a story is a war." McKee lists four imperatives for the writing of this type of story: 1) get you fighters fighting, 2) have something -- the stake -- worth their fighting over, 3) have the fight dive into a series of battles with the last battle in the series the biggest and most dangerous of all, and 4) have a walking away from the fight.

There is also a nice description of the connection/disconnection, where we see a pattern in great stories represented as a power struggle. I am not sure how to put this into a novel as you write, but probably in the editing process one can see whether this is present or not.

She talks about the difference and commonality between "story" and "plot." They are not syonyms, she says, and writers and readers and editors who are sloppy use them as synonyms. She makes the following distinction, calling story a series of events recorded in their chronological order, and calling plot a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. And the great thing is that you can tell one story in a million different ways, developing a million different plots.

She says, "A series of events (by themselves) does not constitute a plot, and if you wish to fashion it into a plot, you can only do so by letting us know the meaningful relations among the events." Good point. It is easy to take for granted what some of these basic points are, and it might be that I am so impressed because I have never formally taken such a class, but be that as it may, I think these basic points are worth my time thinking and considering.

Her chapter three is about Showing and Telling, a basic formula in good story-telling. I love the opening sentence of the chapter . . . "The purpose of all the arts, including literature, is to quell boredom." What a standard that is! Would that most artists would live to that standard and attempt to reach that goal.

I still fall victim more than I would like to to the Passive Voice, which I blame on my history of academic writing, which by its nature is Passive. Active Voice is something I need to keep I mind as I write, or probably more important I need to keep it in mind as I edit what I write.

She talks a bit about rhythm, which is not my strength at all. I don't walk with rhythm, I don't dance with rhythm, and I do not write with rhythm. Again, maybe this is something you develop as you write, at least that is my sincere hope, because othewise I am deep doo-doo. I do not know what rhythm is, except for iambic pentameter, but even then I have trouble picking it up in a sonnet or a play, so this is a real weakness for me. But I am hoping that commitment and the simple act of pushing through will make me more successful in this area. I need to know my weaknesses in order to be able to even try to turn them into strengths.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I think my writing group is in critical condition. And I am not talking about how we judge and look at each others' work -- get it, crit? critical? O K, never mind. But seriously folks, the last few meetings have been sparsely attended, including last night's where I showed up . . . that is right, just me, and not a soul else. Last time, two weeks ago, I could not make it and heard nothing (As in Not A Thing) on the discussion board or the email about the meeting, who was there, or what we (they) did or what we were doing in terms of an assignment. I suppose I should have been suspicious about two weeks of silence, but I showed up and no one else did.

The meeting two ago, a month ago, three of us showed up and really did not talk much about. Maybe it was when we moved the meetings to someone's house, that probably shook up the sensitive writers in the group a little too much. At any rate, I guess writers are sensitive souls, and I certainly should not just write them all off or give them too hard a time, but it is a case of disappointment. It is a bummer. It was (is? was? is? was? is? was? is? was?) a really good group, my first writers gorup, I was getting a lot out of it in a lot of ways on a lot of levels, but I guess it is time for me to suck it up and resort back to my lonely writers' room and give up on being sociable and getting much out of the group process.

Except for November, when I will push for the meeting to start again, for the group to formulate or is it re formulate, whatever . . . but it might be a lonely and morose fw months between now and then. I hope that the main forces behind our group do not get discouraged and keep the group on Yahoo! going and at least the infrastructure of the group stays together until we start up again, so new Na No Wri Mo participants will be welcomed and maybe can revitalize the group again. I am thinking that that last sentence was a bit redundant, and I am not so sure about the "that that" in this sentence . . . to quote comedian Rich Vos, "I stink. I just stink." Or to quote sports meister Tony Kornheiser, "I stink. This column stinks."

Well enough ranting for now. I am ready to suck it up and get ready for some more moping around about this . . . then some writing about my writing.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Found in the library a book by Janet Burroway called "Writing Fiction." I have the 4th edition. This is based on a recommendation from my writing group, a member thereof is using it as a text in a class she is taking. I like some of the advice just in the first few chapters. One of the nice aspects is the motto "Whatever Works." Whenever the author describes a technique or tip that she recommends, she always couches it in the fact that whatever works for someone is an effective tip. THat is the only standrard, and whatever does not work for you is not a good tip FOR YOU, but may be for someone else. For a textbook, this is a pretty redical paradigm.

She is a big fan of journal keeping, shich is the point of this blog, right? She also talks about freewriting, which is a little bit out of comfort zone, but I guess I do see the validity

Here are a few choice selections from the first chapter or two.There are a number of basic plot devices, or plots, or whatever you want to call it, maybe conflict is the right word. they include the DILEMMA, the INCONGRUITY, and CONNECTION, the MEMORY, the TRANSPLANT, and the REVENGE. This is the kind of knowledge that is out of my frame of reference, coming at writing not from an education (M. F. A. for example) program, but as a professional of another type with an educational background of another type. With the exception of 2 journalism classes in tenth and eleventh grade, I have actually had no formal writing training . . . and I don't think that a pair of high school years twenty years ago count as formal training . . .

The book includes essays from other authors. This is from Bonnie Friedman: "Why must I have such obstacles to writing? I crave to be submerged, to be “into” my novel, to be in that state when words come fast, and the characters walk and talk the way your characters in your dreams do – without your conscience desire.” She goes on to write an amazing essay about distraction, which is certainly something we all fall victim to in our own way. But I could identify with the guts of this piece and what she was writing about. I have been there, I know what she speaks of, and think I can work with that knowledge.

From an included essay by Annie Dillard: “When you write, you play out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a wood-carver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.” Wow, that was pretty powerful stuff. She talks of the courage to write, to let yourself fail. Because that is what writing is, especially novel writing, to be honest. It is the heart of the struggle, of the courage, to be able to work for a year or two or three or eight or fifteen to produce something that may or may not be usable . . . and you won’t know until the END . . .until you have reached that point when it is all done and you learn only then if what you have done is worthy or not. That is the crux of the mosh, the guts of the thing, and why it takes courage to write.

I liked the book so far and am looking forward to working my through more of it and then also reporting to you in this very blog how my reading is going and what my thoughts are on the work. So far, so good. For a textbook, it is not too bad a book. Looks like a good recommendation.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

I subscribed to BowWow, the magazine that is going to print my Na No Wri Mo excerpt in a few months or so. I wanted to get a feel for the magazine for a few reasons. I wanted to support the magazine that was supporting me, for one thing. I also wanted to get a sneak preview of the journal of the quality of the magazine, how slick and professional and polished it was . . . or not . . . about how good the writing was.

I got a pair of prior issues, and let me tell you I was impressed, by oth the presentationof the magazineand the quality of what goes between the covers. Very nice presentation of very nice work. I am impressed and excited to have my work in this magazine. It is a very slick magazine, very nice black and white layout, very nice photo and print and paper quality. I was a little unsure about whether this magazine which I had never heard of was a little two-page Xeroxed piece of crap (which it is certainly not, I was pleased to find out). That was my fear, in which case this would be a publication that I would not even mention and could not show off and could not brag about . . . this is not a fly-by-night operation, but it is a nice little mag with writers with far more experience than I have . . . I mean I heard about the publishing opportunity through a forum on the Na no Wri Mo website, so how much credibility could it have? I am glad I took it seriously, though, and glad I polished up a piece and got in in to them. This will be my first creative publication and it is one that I would not be embarrassed about mentioning in public.

One fear I have now of course is that the magazine is too good for me to parlay this into other publication opportunities as i had hoped. I need to got through my short backlist of short stories and see if there is anything there that could ever be made good enough to be accepted, but it is a bar that I am setting and I hope that I can do some work that will be good enough to at least submit without the fear of embarrassing myself. Getting accepted and published again by them would be nice, but I don't know if I have any short fic that is good enough to qualify. Short fic is osmething that I never really thought about, and have not written much of other than through the writers' group, but I doo see it as a way of getting clips in and having something to show an agent or publisher in the midst of a book proposal. I understand that now, and I think I see the value of it. Of course, this piece in BowWow is not technically short fiction, but is a short excerpt of a novel . . . not one that I have completed yet, but that is another story altogether, so get off my back!!!!!

Of course I did write one short story about 12 years ago, based ona dream that i had once. I do not think the stoy was as good as the dream, sort of a fantasy SF epic thing, but maybe I should look at it again. Not for BowWow, but just maybe to see how far I have come in my ability to produce good work. I started one in college (now about 20 years ago) about the aftermath of a worldwide war, but that never got finished either. Maybe I can dig that one up, too. But I have about 3 or 4 finished little works from the group that I have put toegther the last year or so, and maybe one of those will wualify for submission to BowWow. I need to do some polishing, but I think I can probably handle it. I have high hopes. This has been an amazingly productive nine months . . . I have birthed a second career in that time? Hmmm . . . . . It is that sort of keen insight and amaziny metaphor that has enabled me to write so well that I am getting published. I can not wait to hold that slick little literary magazine of some repute and see my name in it . . . and maybe even on the cover? One can hope, no?

I have not heard from the academc publisher for a while, so I don't know where the article stand. That news will have to wait as well, but I havenot given up and I am sure that is the summer and all academic work slows down a bit, so maybe it will be delayed a little while, but I have faith that that journal will get published with my paper in it. I am also working on a S S that I hope to submit to The First Line, a mag that publishes stories based on a particular first line, each issue. This is one that I did for my writers; group, and got good feedback on. I have a month or so to edit it and get it submitted. I look forward to getting on with this minutae of the writing life. Having multiple projects and deadlines, keeping a record of submissions, being rejected, being accepted, etc . . . It has been great fun.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Remember that burst of productivity I wrote about a few months ago? Well it is gone and has gone away so fast and so far that I am actually legitimately bummed out. I guess I am a sensitive soul, and emotional man, which is good raw materials for the writing life, but this is ridiculous. I have tried a few exercises, tried a few tips and techniques, but it just is not going anywhere.

I need the writing group again, I think. That needs to pick up again, maybe, for me to get back on the straight and narrow. Good people, good assignments, that would help me out. I look forward to that picking up again.

I also need to sse my work in print, perhaps. I have two coming out soon, one is in an academic journal and one is in a literary journal. The academic journal has been quite as a church mouse the last few months. I heard that the editing process was done, but I have not heard a word about the publication process.

The literary journal, BowWow, has kept up with me good and I know that it has recieved and finished editing my work, and that the magazine is due out some time in August, it looks. I have subscribed to the magazine, and even ordered a pair of back issues, and an extra pair of my magazine. I think I'll end up with 5 copies of that one (they "pay" in two copies), then, maybe they will be reasonable and only send me four. We shall see. I look forward to getting those back issues and getting a "sneak preview" of the magazine that will be printing my work. I got this tip from a book I read a few months ago about a failed fiction writer's attempt to get published . . . "Rejected: The Chronicles of a Failed Writer" by Jack Harris Adlor. Anyway, I have this fantasy of finding this magazine a suitable venue for some other of my short fiction, in a non-Na No Wri Mo mode. But again, we shall see. I have fantasies, I have hopes, maybe all I need now is some motivation. Maybe seeing the magazine and seeing that it is a class act (I hope it is, I hope it is, I hope it is) will motivate me to work on my short fiction. But I really don't want to work much on thiat, because my focus is on the novel, or on the novels, as the case may be. We shall have to wait and see.