Category Archives: Tiny Book Plugs

Thoreau Didn't Eat At Walden Pond

As I write, I find that the more I focus my attention on the quiet moments produced by a life of reflection the happier I am, the more I feel at peace. This is not to imply that I am passive. As ever, I am a passionate soul who desires trial by fire over all else. I do not seek comfort or ease, but I must also acknowledge that life is long and complicated.

Photo Credit: storm crypt (flickr)

If I turn my eye towards this sort of writing, I enter a new world of impressions cast from the past onto the present, of the future implied in the current moment. I write in a universal sense that we can all see, that we can all experience and understand what is felt by a sentence.

Combining the means and the terms with the stark images of places, people, and events that we have deliberately forgotten, is one method for creating a deep sense of emotion. One must layer sense impressions on top of the metaphysical intuition. One must not only see the ruined castle but all who lived within it and all those who dwell about its decay. One must see the loves of life that pranced within those walls and the deadly tears wept at the malicious contempt of others.

One must not always speak in such a silly voice. Sorry.

When I write like that, I feel almost as if I am lighter than the words and yet heavier than the whole. I sink down to the bottom of the pool, open my eyes in the silent darkness, and see the blue light above and the shadows of those who are swimming just out of focus. I sense there, as the oxygen grows thin, a possibility of never coming to the surface, of stopping time at this single moment and walking around it, through it, until I come back to the firm realization that I require air to live and push off reluctantly.

I once read that F. Scott Fitzgerald came out of his famous mental breakdown without any sense of self. I wonder what that means.

Perhaps he never properly recovered from the pain that his imagination revealed to him. To see clearly, the delight, the celestial vision, of pure, unedited Art, would drive a person mad, but only because they had no hope of reproducing such perfection. I believe that such visions, above all else, are what drives artists insane (that and cheap liquor). The artist who does not accept their human failings is doomed to pursue an endless course of fruitless labor, culminating in their eventual destruction at the hands of their own mind.

I am slowly coming out of just such a night walk, but unlike some others, I see my imperfections and I accept them. I do not look up to the stars and wonder why it is that I cannot match their beauty with my skill, for their beauty only has meaning in their unassailable position as stars in the dark fabric of my memory. I accept their place and I accept my own inability to render them accurately, but this does not diminish my love of their beauty. My tears are still wet and I am still enthralled with the possibility that I might try to grapple with them.

Fear begins with the failure to reach.

If I pull back because I am afraid of losing my grip on clarity, I stem my expression, cause it to wither. The result is a dying vine that bears no fruit save for a few hard, bitter berries not worth harvesting. The artist must drive forward regardless of certain failure.

There are times when I would rather go off and be alone, to be like Thoreau at Walden. Of course, Thoreau wasn’t alone at Walden. He trucked down the road for regular meals and conversation. And when I remember this, the image of Thoreau is spoiled. It makes no sense to continue dreaming about something that wasn’t done, but some artists cling to this possibility and pursue it at the peril of their own destruction.

9 Ways to Use Suspense to Keep Kids Engaged in Fiction

In Writing Mysteries (1992, edited by Sue Grafton), children’s author Joan Lowery Nixon contributed this great list of 9 points for keeping children engaged with suspense.

The mystery plot for today’s impatient young readers is fast-paced and filled with action. Writers should pull out all the stops and use any and every technique for establishing suspense. These are a few ways in which this can be done:

  1. Use the description of the setting to help create and maintain suspense.
  2. Your main character makes a mistake, which is obvious to the readers, and takes a wrong course of action.
  3. Time is rapidly running out. Will the main character make it?
  4. The main character needs some information, and the person who has it is tantalizingly slow to come forward with it. The delay tantalizes readers too.
  5. Suspicion can be thrown on someone the main character has trusted. Maybe it’s just the reader who becomes suspicious, and the main character is innocently unaware. When will the main character wake up and discover the danger she’s in?
  6. Unexpected surprises can make a sudden shift in the story’s direction. Was that a wrong turn or a right one? Read and find out.
  7. Readers are made aware that something dangerous or frightening will happen to the main character, but they don’t know when it will take place.
  8. Peculiar characters may fit only certain stories, but when they do appear they add suspense.
  9. Chapters should end with dangling questions, creating such suspenseful curiosity that young readers can’t put the book down and must go on to the next chapter.

Joan Lowery Nixon passed away in 2003 at age 76. Her story is amazing: a four-time winner of the Edgar Award with over 140 books published during her career.

Every Woman's Voice and the Monsters of Templeton

Two for one: Book Plug and a Publisher’s Plug…

mot_book.jpgI was just browsing the NYTimes and I came across a little ad for The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.

From the publisher’s website:

The Monsters of Templeton, a novel spanning two centuries: part a contemporary story of a girl’s search for her father, part historical novel, and part ghost story, this spellbinding novel is at its core a tale of how one town holds the secrets of a family.

The publisher is really putting a lot of oomph behind this book.

[Monsters] is a fascinating combination of contemporary novel, historical fiction, and ghost story, and the critical praise that the book has received so far (from the likes of Stephen King, Lorrie Moore, and Lauren Belfer) is spectacular and signals that more of the same is to come. We’ve pulled out many stops in this publication, including the creation of a special website devoted to Monsters. Here you’ll find a book description, Lauren Groff’s blog, info about events, and (our favorite part) the “community” sections, where you can find a reading group, offer thoughts about Monsters as you read, share stories about your hometown, or pose a question to the community at large. This effort crystallizes what Voice is all about.

That last sentence made me want to learn a little more about Voice.

They wanted fiction and nonfiction for smart, educated, busy, curious, seasoned women who are way, way over chick lit and its cousins, but for whom reading is a longtime passion. Books for women at the center of life, who for whatever reasons—be it a relationship, a career, or the biological clock ticking—are looking to redirect their lives or find what has been missing. Women who read to figure out what they want next. Women who want to read about the positives as well as the negatives from women who have emerged or are emerging as role models—strong women doing things that excite, scare, and thrill them—women who are happy and fulfilled, and who continue to push the envelope.

I have to say that this is exactly the kind of woman that interests me (i.e. those at the center of life). I happen to be married to one, so I’m quite lucky there. 🙂

Check out their growing list of titles and authors. What an impressive endeavor!

The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of YOU

Right now, I’m reading the MWA’s Writing Mysteries Handbook (pub 1992 edited by Sue Grafton). Here is a snippet from Gregory McDonald’s introduction:

The five W’s are taught to anyone wishing to write. Regarding any story, you are taught you must report the Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

Before you ever think seriously of writing creatively, for your own sake, you must establish, as much as humanly possible, the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of yourself.

You are the only source of your originality, and the only person who can develop the skill to make that originality of interest to others.

The creative process starts with your establishing in your own mind what new element uniquely, personally you, you are going to bring to the short story, the novel, particularly your short story, your novel. Creative work is much too difficult to launch into blindly, without having a truly novel idea, and without knowing as precisely and as consciously as possible what that idea is.

I couldn’t agree more with this statement. I have plenty of novel and story fragments lying about, victims of failed planning (or no planning).

How often have you gotten 50 pages into your first draft and then thought, “What the heck am I writing here? What do I have to say?” Think about the five W’s as they apply to you and your idea before you get started and you just might make it past that block.

A Roundup of Posts about Neil Gaiman as Master of the Hero's Journey

This morning at the cafe I was talking to the barista about American Gods by Neil Gaiman. She’s just about finished with the book and she loves it. This is her first exposure to Gaiman’s work and she plans to read Neverwhere next. Since I loved both of these books, I was happy to plug Neverwhere and chat a bit about American Gods.

When I left the cafe, I started thinking about the mechanics of Gaiman’s work and how he uses the Hero’s Journey in most of his work. it occurred to me that I might write a nice little article about this, but of course a quick search turned up scads of folks with similar ideas.

Roundup after the jump…

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