Monday, April 25, 2011

When The World Was Mud Luscious

I wrote a great deal of poetry in High School and College, but not so much now.  I think the poetry was mostly therapeutic then–a function that my prose writing fulfills for me now.

One of my favorite poets, whom I discovered in College, is e. e. cummings.  (I’m told that he never used the lowercase version of his name in his own lifetime, but I find it so clever and indicative of his style that I prefer it)   Edward Estlin Cummings is often considered one of the progenitors of the avant garde style of poetry, and indeed, at first glance, his typographical playfulness would seem to back that up.  But behind the syntactical wordplay lies the heart of a romantic and traditionalist.  When reading cummings, one must almost make two passes at his work; one to glean surface level intentions of his type and line spacings, and another to absorb the meaning behind the words. 

Take this poem, for example:

in Just-
spring              when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles              far                and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far                  and                      wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan                                  whistles

The choppiness of the words; the way he splits some sentences and yet runs some words together suggests a breathlessness and passion to the scene.  Spring is here; excitement is in the air.  The textual layout thus enhances the impact of the poem.  But at its base, beneath the typographical tricks, is a simple celebration of the exuberance of childhood, when the world can truly be both mudluscious and puddle-wonderful. 

Moving into today’s writing time, I’m going to use In Just as a prompt and see what sort of story I can come up with.  Hopefully, it will be just as breathless and bizarre.

Write On!


Friday, April 22, 2011

Another Sale!

Had another story accepted for publication today, this time at Aphelion, a website of speculative fiction.  The story, another novella, is called Barrow Ben.  I’m thrilled to have it find a home, for as I’ve said before, novellas can be difficult sells due to their length. 

Barrow Ben is the tale of a bear who is transformed by a witch into a man so that he might leave the forest and seek out the River Girl, a water spirit who has been kidnaped.  This story has been with me a long time.  I started it all the way back in 1997, when I wrote the first few pages and then ran out of steam.  I would revisit the tale from time to time, adding a few pages here and there over the years.  I loved the story, but I just wasn’t sure where the ending was going, and I didn’t want to force it. 

By 2005, Ben had arrived at a dank city of men where he believed the River Girl was held, and he fell in with some thieves.  But there he sat for another five years, until last summer.  Then I suddenly had an epiphany, and I knew the ending to the story, and how to get there.  The story grew from just under 30 pages to almost 70 in a little over a week and a half.   I was very excited–I had wanted to see how this one would end for a long time. 

So then Barrow Ben was shopped around a few places until he found a home.  I’m happy that it’s an online venue, as I’m looking forward to sharing the story with as many readers as possible. 

Write On!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Musings on Walden

One of my favorite books is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. If you’re in the market to read some beautiful prose interspersed with little bits of wisdom, Walden is a good place to start. I confess, however, that though I own two copies (one an annotated edition, the other beautifully illustrated with photos of Walden Pond and her environs throughout the seasons), I’ve never read the book from beginning to end.

For me, the book is too rich to take all at once. It would be like eating a whole dessert cake or Sacher Torte at one time. As writer Ken Kifer noted:

"Walden is a difficult book to read for three reasons: First, it was written by a gifted writer who uses surgically precise language, extended, allegorical metaphors, long and complex paragraphs and sentences, and vivid, detailed, and insightful descriptions. Thoreau does not hesitate to use metaphors, allusions, understatement, hyperbole, personification, irony, satire, metonymy, synecdoche, and oxymorons, and he can shift from a scientific to a transcendental point of view in mid-sentence. Second, its logic is based on a different understanding of life, quite contrary to what most people would call common sense. Ironically, this logic is based on what most people say they believe. Thoreau, recognizing this, fills Walden with sarcasm, paradoxes, and double entendres. He likes to tease, challenge, and even fool his readers. And third, quite often any words would be inadequate at expressing many of Thoreau's non-verbal insights into truth. Thoreau must use non-literal language to express these notions, and the reader must reach out to understand."

I like to read Walden in little bits at a time. Usually I just page through the book and pick a random place to start, then read a few paragraphs, or a few pages. In this way Walden transcends being a simple book, and becomes almost bible-like for me. This is particularly inherent in my writer’s life, as Thoreau’s prose alone can be extremely inspiring. Below is one of my favorite passages from the book:

“In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seemed to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon traveling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest. Formerly I had come to this pond adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer nights, with a companion, and making a fire close to the water's edge, which we thought attracted the fishes, we caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread; and when we had done, far in the night, threw the burning brands high into the air like sky rockets, which, coming down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were suddenly groping in total darkness. Through this, whistling a tune, we took our way to the haunts of men again. But now I had made my home by the shore.”

Thoreau is masterful in his word choice for conjuring up imagery and sensation. One could also learn a lot from the pacing and meter of his sentences as well. There is a power in the simplicity of his prose; he manages to do complex things with simple yet effective word choices. The text is also surprisingly modern for a book written over 150 years ago. Perhaps it is more appropriately called timeless.

I’ve written about writing prompts in a previous entry. I think today I’m going to take the passage above, and perhaps another one of two, and see what sort of story they might prompt for today’s writing.

Write on!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good News, Two for One!

A great day on the writing front. Two notices of good news arrived today. The first was the sale of another short story. The second was news that I have been accepted to the Odyssey Writing Program this summer. I’m tingling with excitement.

First, the short story. It’s a little flash piece called “Red.” which is a humorous, bizarre twist on the Red Riding Hood fable. It will be published at Jersey Devil Press in July. I originally wrote it with an anthology of Twisted Fairy Tales in mind that was open to submissions. But after I wrote the piece, I reread the guidelines, and discovered the minium length requirements were two thousand words. The piece was under a thousand words, and there was no way to expand it (well, there probably was a way, but I didn’t want to, as it had a nice little comic one-two punch at its present length), so I just decided to shop it around elsewhere. Thankfully, it found a home on the first try.

Now...Odyssey. This is one of the big three writing programs in Sci Fi and Fantasy, the other two being Clarion and Clarion West. Odyssey is more fantasy oriented, so it has always been my first preference of the three. I have wanted to attend Odyssey for years (over a decade, actually) but work was always an obstacle. With retirement, this is no longer the case.

Odyssey is an intensive six week program of classes, workshopping, writing and critiquing. I am almost intimidated by it. Students are expected to work twelve hour days, every day, for the six weeks of the course. It is taught by an editor (Jeanne Cavelos) who has worked for years in the publishing industry, as well as won a World Fantasy Award for her work. In addition to Jeanne, guest lecturers include published and well known writers and another editor.

I’m looking forward to Odyssey, and have hopes that it will take my writing to the next level. I also feel I will learn a lot from the critiquing process, which I really haven’t done a lot of before. Odyssey should also be good for networking, both in meeting the published writers and editors, and also making connections with the up and coming writers that are the other students.

If possible, I will blog about my experiences at Odyssey as they happen. So look for more on this in the future.

Write On!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing Prompts

One of the questions writers often get is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ The answer, as most writers know, is that ideas are everywhere. We are flooded with them by the constant stream of sights, sounds, smells, and emotions which we are subjected to every day. Every one of them can be an ‘idea,’ and the juxtaposition of two or more taken out of context and reassembled in a creative way can often lead to a ‘story.’

Sometimes a story will pop into my head almost fully formed, but this is usually the exception to the rule. Often when it comes time for my daily writing, I must take some of those sensory images that have hit me throughout the day, and work on combining them into a story. Sometimes it helps to use ‘prompts’ for this exercise.

Writing prompts can take many forms. There are websites devoted to them, and they often take the form of a starting sentence that one is supposed to take and ‘write the rest of the story.’ I don’t really care for these too much, as for me, the first sentence is someone else’s. Ditto for the little situations that people put toghther–i.e. a story synopsis for which you are then supposed to write the story.

Instead, I like to manufacture my own prompts. Sometimes I will do this by randomly paging through a book (or books) and randomly touching the page, and writing down the word that I touched. I do this about five times, and then take those words, and see what sort of story is conjured up in my mind. I’ve done many stories this way, including one of my recently sold stories, “The Thinning.”

Another good writing prompt for me is using a painting, a photograph, or a song. Sometimes I will randomly search words on Google Images and see what pictures come up. When I find a good one, I look at the various things that are in the image, and see if I can come up with a story for it. The same goes for a song. I’ve written several stories that I really like that were inspired by songs. For me, the song technique has the added benefit of the emotional tapestry that the music creates affecting the story, as well as the images of the lyrics.

Today I wrote a story called “Raincoat,” after listing to Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat.” It’s not really a great story at the moment–it could use some work–but hey, they can’t all be gems. And sometimes, old ‘not so great’ stories can be hammered into great ones, with a little (or a lot) of rewriting. So for now, “Raincoat” will rest in the metaphorical drawer until it’s ready for that rewrite. And tomorrow, the random splashes of thought and images will converge to form a story as yet unfathomed.

Write On!