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Tag Archives: Fiction

A Lesson Learned

Regular readers will know that I have written quite a bit over the last few years about my struggle with writing fiction. What started around fifteen years ago and turned into an explosion of writing over an 8-10 year period has turned into a whimper. There has been barely a spark for the last few years as I have struggled with generating new ideas or making any progress on my various works in progress.

Some months I’m able to write about what I could write in a day or two back then. Some months I write even less. There are many causes of this deterioration in my writing ability.

Lack of energy — most work days I find myself drained at the end of the day and writing takes energy. Mental energy and emotional energy and creative energy. When I get home I want nothing more than to be able to do … not much. Which means with the hour or two I have each evening I end up surfing the internet. It’s easy, it doesn’t take much energy — at least not the kind writing takes. Which leads to …

Distractions — when I started writing, I wasn’t on FB, didn’t have a blog, Twitter didn’t exist. Nor did Instagram, Words with Friends, or so many other things. As I’ve developed my own social media habit, it is far easier to just cycle through those websites, social media outposts, blogs, and other places over and over again than to crack open a document and see what I can write. Why?

Internal Editor — as I have written more I have cared about the quality of my writing more. As I have written more I have found my writing function slowing down and being more careful. When I wrote that first novel, One Night in Bridgeport, I just wrote. My only requirement was to see whether I could actually write a novel. I just wrote. But once I did that and started having all sorts of other ideas about stories, both short and long, I started to care more about how I told the story and the crafting of the thing. The more I cared, the more the voice inside of me told me what I was writing was complete crap. That doesn’t really lead to an enjoyable experience. So, I shut down.

Motivation — having started writing fiction around when I turned 40 years old, I’m not a lifelong writer who considers it a fundamental part of who I have always been. I have struggled in recent years with the question of why I write and whether it is worth the time I have committed to it once I started writing. If I can’t figure out why I’m doing it, the impetus becomes harder to find.

Which has lead to my dearth of creativity, the lack of writing, the feeling that maybe my writing life has reached its end. I learned something yesterday. It may be that the distractions are the biggest cause of all this.

A couple of months ago, a fellow writer/blogger I first met around six years ago when I launched my self-publishing efforts asked me to consider contributing a story to a collection she wanted to publish. Fallacious Rose‘s idea was to collect short stories built around the idea of Utopia — as an antidote to all of the dystopian fiction that is written these days.

I said I would try but could make no guarantees.

After a couple of weeks, I came up with an idea and started working through it. I could write a couple of hundred words and then I’d get stuck and bored. And there are always those distractions to pull me away. Fallacious Rose wanted complete stories by this time with publication by mid-December.

By Friday, I had written 2,900 words, which breaks down to a few hundred words per week. That’s not really writing and no way to really get somewhere with a story. I knew I had at least a few more thousand words to go. I also wasn’t entirely sure how I would wind the thing down.

You see, the idea I had was really more dystopic than utopic. What I wanted to do was turn a dystopian situation into a utopian conclusion. Those first 2,900 words were all about the dystopia and I liked what I had done, but I was at the point where I was going to have to turn it around into the utopian ending.

People who read my fiction regularly comment that somebody always dies or why is it always so sad. I don’t do “happy” very well. “And everybody lived happily ever after” would likely be the worst line I could ever come up with. Or as I have told people numerous times, “there ain’t much drama in happy.”

I really wanted to see if I could do this and be a part of Fallacious Rose’s project, however, so I went into this weekend knowing that I either was going to get it done or I wasn’t. For the first time in my writing life I faced a deadline. An impending deadline for a story I still had no idea how I was going to wrap up.

I told the missus that this would be my focus this weekend. No making dinner Saturday, not doing much around the house. I was going to write and write and write some more.

Around the same time Fallacious Rose invited me to contribute, I also learned from Shannon Thompson, another writer blogger, about the Forest App. It’s a way to shut down the distractions. An app that blocks whatever websites you want for a specified period of time. The app isn’t fail safe. You can block it. On my laptop, it only works for Chrome, so I could still access anything I want using Internet Explorer. As a result, using the app requires a bit of commitment on my part.

I tried the app a couple of times. Each time for 45 minutes. Each time I was able to write a few hundred words during that time period. Each time I moved forward with the story.

Yesterday would be a real test. I’ve said before that I would be writing a lot and haven’t done it. But there was that deadline hanging out there for me now.

What did I learn yesterday? It’s really about the distractions — that’s the single biggest reason I haven’t been able to write. Yesterday, I had three different writing sessions between the time I woke up and we went out to dinner. Each session was 45-60 minutes long. I put the app on my laptop and my phone for all three sessions.

And … drum roll, please … by the time we stepped out of the house for dinner, I had written another 2,400 words and finished the story.

I have no idea if it’s any good. I also have no idea if it will fit Fallacious Rose’s theme. In my mind, it is more about every-day utopia and what can happen when a few people turn the tide. It’s not about a utopian society or a utopian vision of perfect humans acting perfectly.

But I did learn that I could focus and get something done. Which really hasn’t happened in far too long. It felt good. My internal editor has remained relatively quiet — although I feel like taking a little more time might have produced something better in those final 2,400 words.

We shall see. Whether or not Fallacious Rose accepts my story, at some point in the future, I’ll post it over on my writing blog. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s about the last two turtles in all the world.

By the way, thank you to Fallacious Rose for the invitation and providing the motivation for me to crack the door open again.

 

 

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Carrie Rubin and Audrey Driscoll — Authors Who Deserve More

Audrey Driscoll is a blogger/writer who has followed my blog for some time. I have always appreciated her likes and occasional comments, but I only recently returned the favor and started following her blog a few months ago.  It’s the kind of writer’s blog I appreciate. Most of the time you don’t even realize she has pursued publishing efforts because much of her blog is dedicated to her other pursuits.

A few weeks ago Berthold Gambrel posted a review of one of Audrey’s books, The Friendship of Mortals. Interestingly, Berthold learned of Audrey from my blog, likely because of a comment she left there that he then followed down the WordPress trail. His review inspired me to read The Friendship of Mortals. And I don’t know why. I’ve never read Lovecraft and haven’t the foggiest idea about his (her?) books and stories, although I’ve heard the name occasionally over the years.

Actually, I do know why. I wanted to show some support for a fellow writer and I hoped for a good story to go along with it.

So, I downloaded the Kindle version of The Friendship of Mortals and spent the next few weeks reading it. I’m ashamed it took me so long to read it because it was a book I could have easily read in a few days or a week in my earlier years. It was that good. I really didn’t want to put it down. But these days, my reading time is limited to the few minutes I can keep my eyes open when I head upstairs at the end of the day, and some occasional opportunities on weekends. Sitting and reading for a couple of hours is a rare occurrence.

Regular readers know that I don’t write typical book reviews. That, in my mind, requires more work than I’m willing to put into reading a book. To do so would, potentially, destroy the joy I experience when I read a good book, and I don’t want to risk losing that joy — a thing that has stayed with me for much of my 53 years on this planet.

The Friendship of Mortals is a well-written tale. I don’t know if it is true to Lovecraft, although Berthold certainly thinks so. What I do know is that I really enjoyed the story and believe Audrey Driscoll deserves more attention than she gets for her writing. The Friendship of Mortals is a book that in a different, better world would be traditionally published and would find an audience. More people should be buying and reading it. If you want more details, you should read Berthold’s review — he’s much better at these things than I.

As the days rolled on and I worked towards the end of Audrey’s book, I knew that I had to finish the book to move on to the next one. The Bone Curse was a-coming, just in time for our trip to Sedona.

I’ve been following and reading Carrie Rubin for years now. The Bone Curse is her third book. She writes medical thrillers and The Bone Curse promised a stretching of her boundaries. A trip, not just through medical mysteries, but also a bit into the supernatural and mysterious world of the vodou religion. After reading her first two books — The Seneca Scourge and Eating Bull — and continuing to read her blog and following her on Twitter, Carrie has become an author I want to keep reading. I want to see how she grows as a writer and what she comes up with next.

It’s an odd thing. There are very few times I’ve viewed writers in this way — wanting to see how they grow. But I think that’s one of the things that e-books and all of the ways books can get published these days has done. Much like Spotify and streaming services have opened many doors for musicians I would have never heard of under the old regime, publishing has been blown wide open as a result of the internet and technology. Carrie is an author I likely would have never heard of in the “old days,” but through social media and less traditional publishing routes, I did.

Carrie very clearly cares about her craft and the quality of what she puts out into the universe. Each of her books has shown her growth as a writer as she spins more complex tales. I can’t wait to see what comes next, but first … The Bone Curse.

The book arrived in the mail a couple of days before we left for Sedona. I took four books with me on the trip, but I knew which book would be first. I started reading The Bone Curse while we waited to board our plane. After the 90 minute flight was over, I was 100 pages in and I wouldn’t have minded hurtling through the rest of the book to the end.

But I was on vacation and we were pretty busy over the next few days. Always, in the back of my mind was the thought “when would I get to pick the book up again.” The Bone Curse is just absolutely relentless. There is no break, no time to relax. Carrie’s ability to just keep moving the action forward, to keep ratcheting up the tension, is displayed from beginning to end in The Bone Curse. If you want a taut, well-written medical/supernatural thriller that will demand your attention and commitment, pick up her book and get started.

It’s interesting, Audrey’s The Friendship of Mortals is a bit different. It’s a bit slower. In my Amazon review of the book, I compared it to baseball. There’s a bit of leisure to it, a bit of poetry. To carry the sports analogy a bit further — Carrie’s The Bone Curse is like an NHL playoff game that’s gone to overtime.

Both Audrey Driscoll and Carrie Rubin are the types of writers who deserve more attention than they’re getting.  These ladies are incredibly talented. They are committed to their craft and they write stories that deserve a much larger audience than they are getting. It’s great that the technology-driven explosion of publishing has given them a platform. Now, it’s time for their platforms to expand.

The Early Reviews Are In

Dialogue-rich “Deviation” reminds me in many ways of a two-man Sam Shepard play in which brothers scrimmage for the moral high ground in the face of a grim family history. Here it’s Mickey and Johnny, each bringing his own view of the world to bear on an unusual predicament: their mom has landed herself in jail. Their father’s definitely not blameless in how it all developed, but the brothers haven’t seen things quite the same way as they grew up. Their habitual Friday night diner date, we imagine, has always been full of waitress-ogling and profanity-laced ribbing, but this one feels different.

Paxson does a good job painting the brothers’ relationship. I felt like I’ve seen these guys hunched at the bars of diners and roadside taverns, working on their pasts along with their beers. They jab and joke and threaten and forgive – they’re linked whether they like it or not.

And …

A very interesting short story told almost entirely in dialogue. The banter between the two main characters is sharp and flows nicely. The dark subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste (lots of adult language and situations, if that sort of thing bothers you), but it’s certainly an innovative concept.

I could imagine it being adapted into a play–the writing and occasional dark humor seemed very well-suited to being performed live. At different points and in different ways, it reminded me strongly of both “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck and “The Hooligan” by Gilbert. Still, even on the page, it worked quite well.

And one more…

This is a unique story in that the author tells it mostly through dialogue, using only bits of exposition, all while managing to shift settings and develop character. That’s a tall order, and it was well done here. I also like how the author used random dictionary words to direct his story. Very creative idea.

Seems to me you need to listen to these people and download Deviation. And have a little fun with it … come back here and make suggestions of who should play the roles of Mickey and Johnny, their street preacher mother and their less than pure father, and of course the always alluring Ally.

Come along and Deviate with me.  It’s the most fun you’ll have for just 99 cents.

Come Deviate With Me

I did this thing last week.  Published what I call a long short story for the Kindle. Yes, it is only available as an e-book on the one platform. The story, at 16,000 words, isn’t really long enough for a paperback, but I may come back to that idea at some point.

Deviation Cover_Amazon

I wrote this story a few years ago as an experiment. It’s pretty much all dialogue with a very small amount of context and description thrown in where I felt it was necessary.

So, what is Deviation.  Well … Johnny and Mickey are brothers, hanging out on a Friday night. Johnny just wants to have fun, get laid, and do it all over again next week. Mickey’s ready for something more. He’s a bit of a deeper thinker. And while they sit in a diner, ogling the waitress, Johnny gets a text from their father. Their mom has been arrested.

What follows is a weekend of discovery of family secrets. Of digging a little deeper.

It’s got one review (thank you, BG):

A very interesting short story told almost entirely in dialogue. The banter between the two main characters is sharp and flows nicely. The dark subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste (lots of adult language and situations, if that sort of thing bothers you), but it’s certainly an innovative concept.

So, give it a try. It’s only .99 for chrissakes. But be forewarned. Mickey and Johnny are foul-mouthed and have sex on their minds. This isn’t for everybody and certainly is a break from what I typically write.

The good news is that deciding to do this has motivated me to move forward on other things. Northville Five & Dime needs some attention. I’ve been proofing the first part this week and refreshing my memory of the story. I’ll finish that this weekend and then will move on to part two, which I wrote about two-thirds of before giving up on it some time ago. Once I have that written, I’m going to work on polishing both parts and seeing what I can do with them while writing the third and concluding part. Wish me luck. Northville is more in line with my traditional writing and I think has the potential for finding an audience.

I Continued On

In recent weeks, I have written a couple of times about Stephen King’s Dark Tower series of books.  First here and then here.  I am now pages away from finishing the fourth book in the series and I plan on continuing on.  Why?  Well, I’m curious about the thing and how my knowledge of the ending colors my view of the story as it progresses.

Here’s the thing …

PROCEED NO FURTHER IF YOU PLAN ON READING THE SERIES AND DO NOT WANT IT SPOILED

You’ve been warned.

PROCEED NO FURTHER

Hold on a sec … I’ve got a waiver in my pocket for you to sign should you wish to proceed.  Thou shalt not hold me responsible for ruining it for you if thou shalt decide to read further.

Sign here ___________________.

So …

Are you still with me?

This long … over both time and books and words … series ends with a recognition that the story is just a figment of the imagination of the author.  Which is understood.  We readers are kind of smart that way, you know.  It’s fiction.  It’s imagination.  But, you know, while we’re reading we want to believe that this is a world of its own.  Whether it is a romance or a detective novel or literary fiction, while we wallow in the thousands of words that fill page 1 to page XXX, we want to believe this is a world.  Of its own.  Of something.  But a world.  And for those moments we read, we are there.  The best fiction transports to another place we can occupy in the quiet moments we read.  And Stephen King at his best was a master of this.

The ending of the Dark Tower series flashes this in big bright lights, but in a way that I think most readers don’t want to see it.  And then there is this unsettling feeling I have as I read through the series again.

The main character is Roland, the last gunslinger in a world that has moved on.  At some point in his life he began a quest for the Dark Tower, which I can only describe as the center of all things.  My recollection of the end of the series is that once he finally reaches the Dark Tower, after many of his friends have died and he has committed many wrongs in pursuit of his quest, we that we, and Roland, are just in the author’s mind and upon reaching the tower, Roland must … well, start over and repeat the whole thing. Again and again and again.

As I read today, I began to realize that Roland may represent one of two things.  The more favorable interpretation is that he represents an author who never stops searching for his or her Dark Tower.  In this interpretation, the tower represents the story.  THE STORY!  The one.  Where everything comes out.  Perfection is obtained and one can finally rest.  The voices can be silenced.  And life can go on.  But we writers realize something.  That’ll never happen.  Once a writer, always a writer.  And with every completed story, the recognition that it is time to start over again.  In that quest.  For the tower.  For perfection.

My more cynical thought is this.  Roland represents us.  The readers of Mr. King’s stories over the last 20 years or so.  And the joke is on us.  I came to this thought because of my frustration with much of what he has written during that time frame — which oddly enough coincides somewhat with the devolution of the Dark Tower series.  My frustration stems from the idea that King’s creativity and ability to write new and unique stories has withered quite a bit.  What he really is doing with the Dark Tower series and Roland’s neverending quest that must be repeated over and over and over is to point out to us, his “beloved” Constant Reader, is that we are engaged in the same endeavor.

With every book King publishes, he puts us through the same drill.  The hope that he has found the magic again.  He has produced a story that brings us back to The Shining or The Stand or name your favorite early King story.  My favorite was the short story in The Night Shift in which a box of plastic Army men came to life and attacked.  Anyway, maybe, just maybe, the end of Dark Tower was King’s acknowledgement that he had lost the magic and he was just going to keep sending us out — to read his latest work, the product of his failing imagination — only to do it all over again, dissatisfied and hopeful of finding the magic he had produced once upon a time.

My belief in the more cynical interpretation is buttressed by the fact that the series pulls in a number of characters and story lines from other King stories.  Like Randall Flagg and Captain Trips.  It also pulls in other ideas from non-King stories.  Like The Wizard of Oz.  It’s like this grand trip in which King does everything he can to make this long, epic, monstrosity of a tale as convoluted and meandering as he possibly can, pulling in whatever pops into his head and then making it work in telling the tale, to demonstrate just how hooked we are on what he does.  I can’t help but feeling like he is the Man in Black, he is Marten.  And he is laughing at us.  All the way to the bank.

Three more books to go.  Three more books in which I can’t help but to feel massively manipulated.

 

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