A Passionate, Accurate Story

Picking through The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly, which interested me because it sounded like a good book about adding depth to characters. I’m finding it a disappointing period piece (1990) with all the worst aspects of ‘90s political correctness.

Fiction, in her view, is only accurate emotionally if it follows a set of prescribed values: anti-corporate, anti-violence, etc. She wants writers to raise their consciences to produce propagandistic art.

She also attacks SF as shallow, producing, ironically, the sort of fiction she is prescribing, simply a literature of ideas.

She has a section on encouraging imagination in children, which I’m all for. At the same time, those moments when my imagination was discouraged pushed me to write to explore it.

 

ConDFW: Escape from the Slush Pile

banner-1200x2881This post will be brief. I’ve been busy with a move that has interrupted writing (excuses, excuses) but wanted to post some helpful advice I received at ConDFW this past weekend from western romance writer Sabine Starr during the panel Escape from the Slush Pile:

  1. Polish
  2. Polish
  3. Polish

One way to get out of the slush, she said, was to send editors your highest quality product.

Will try to get more posts on the convention up later this week. Went to some great panels on developing your career as a writer and met some great people. Stuff I want to share with you.

Writing short

If you’ve read my story collection, The Arc of the Cosmos, you know I’m capable of writing short short fiction. And yet, I have a hard time writing short, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, although stylistically I tend toward writing lean. I just seem to have a lot of story to tell.

I am currently in the process of revising a longish short story, “Earl,” the original draft of which runs just a little over 6,800 words. As I revise, that count keeps moving up. And as I revise, I wonder if the story will end longer than it started. Which makes me wonder if my original idea is too expansive for a short story.

I love short stories, love learning how to write them. I like the “window of the world” stories present, as much as I like the expansiveness of novels.

I’m not averse to stories like Joan Didion seems to be in  this essay from Brain Pickings.  Like Didion, I like having “room in which to play.” But am I playing with too much room?

I think about this too after a recent interview—due out next month—with science-fiction writer Lou Antonelli, who is known for writing lean, swiftly moving prose. He told me his revisions tend to shorten his stories.

How much expansion is too much expansion? How much tightening is too much?

—Todd

Let the Tale Tell the Tale

Sodiviner's script, like many of my scribbler friends, in November I started a story-a-week project that resulted in me finishing two stories and getting them into slush piles (and one rejection; sent that story right back out.) I finished a third story the third week that is in the hands of my beta reader.

I started a fourth story in the fourth week. That story is still being written. It’s moving past story length into the territory of novelette or possibly novella. In some way this is discouraging because it doesn’t fit at all into the goal of writing a story a week, much less a story a month.

Still, I am determined to finish it, whatever its length, and found encouragement to carry on after reading an essay by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who wrote “But most of all these writers [referring to writers such as George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis and Robert Reed] are spectacular storytellers. They tell long stories and short stories and medium length stories and short punchy stories. They let the tale determine its own length, and they continually add to an already rich field.”

Not to say I am a spectacular storyteller by any means, but I am determined to finish this story and let the tale determine its length. Is it a good story. I hope so. I know I’m enjoying writing it. And I look forward to its outcome, whenever that comes.

Origins: Jonathan Walburgh on Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music

Cannibals 2

I know Jonathan Walburgh from my newspaper days. Besides that experience, we both shared the experience of growing up in the 1980s, and getting our ears filled with everything from Madonna to Michael, but also Metallica and Men Without Hats (and you know what you can do with friends who don’t dance.) Paging through Jonathan’s book makes me nostalgic for ear-splitting Quiet Riot concerts (1984, Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas was my first) and girls in Chic jeans doing their best to look like Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon.

Here’s Jonathan to tell us more about rock and/or roll ’80s style:

There’s the cliche “Write what you know.” Well, there’s also the saying “Write the book you want to read.” With Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx: A Journey Into ’80s Music, I did both. There have been many good books about the music and pop culture of the 1970s but very few about the 1980s, so I felt I needed to fill that void.

Having experienced that decade firsthand (I’m 38) I’ve always been annoyed at how Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen get all the credit for the decade’s musical innovation. While all of them certainly contributed some quality work, there were some other acts that were pretty creative as well. The 1980s saw Neil Young take a total left hand turn and incorporate synthesizers into his music on his album Trans, while Lindsey Buckingham collided sound effects with songs on his album Go Insane to create new musical textures and soundscapes. Acts like Huey Lewis & the News and the Bangles updated the styles of the 1950s and ’60s by incorporating synthesizers into the mix to create music that sounded both retro and new at the same time. I also wanted to include other acts such as The Cars, Men at Work and Def Leppard whom I feel have never gotten the credit they deserved for creating some great music.

Being a major music buff, the biggest temptation was to focus on every obscure act that I loved, but I realized that would make pretty boring reading, so I narrowed my subjects down to the ones that whose music I felt the most passionate about and had the most interesting stories to tell. I spent three years researching the book, combing both through libraries and my own personal collection of musical memorabilia. I hope anyone with an interest in 1980s pop music reads Cannibals and Vixens on the River Styx and finds it enjoyable and informative.

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Buy the book: Amazon ¦Barnes and Noble

Origins: Karen Harrington on Sure Signs of Crazy

SSOC final cover (441x640) (2)

I don’t recall how I first discovered author Karen Harrington, although it was probably through following a link to her blog Scobberlotch. However it happened, I’m glad I did. Her first novel, Janeology, is a moving exploration of mental illness and family, and a riveting legal thriller.

Karen’s follow-up novel, Sure Signs of Crazy, a middle-grade/YA story of Sarah Nelson, surviving daughter of Janeology’s Jane Nelson, is a moving and touching story of a young girl’s quest to understand herself, her family and her relationships with her father and especially her mother.

I recently emailed Karen to tell us a bit more about her new novel:

TG: What made you write the story?

KH: I wrote this story in large part because of a letter I received from a reader of my first novel, Janeology. The letter asked questions about Jane’s daughter, Sarah, and wondered what it would be like to grow up with an infamous mother. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head! I thought, Wow, I’m now thinking about that young girl, too. That was the genesis of writing Sarah’s story. I wanted to understand how she would cope, how she would see herself in the world.

TG: You’ve mentioned the novel was originally meant to be a more adult novel, a sequel to Janeology, rather than a YA or middle-grade book. How did the change come about? Was it difficult to adjust the manuscript?

KH: This was an interesting adjustment, but one I’m quite happy about. I really thought the themes of mental illness and fears of inherited traits were darker and heavy, and, therefore, more suited to an older audience. But since that time, I’ve read many terrific books in the middle-grade category and find that there’s lots of space for stories that are realistic and depict big problems in the lives of young kids. I like that these stories sort of provide hope and an example for real-world kids to follow. That’s what I’d like readers of Sure Signs to take from Sarah’s story.

TG: Why did you choose To Kill a Mockingbird as the novel that guides Sarah?

KH: I don’t even quite remember the part of the writing process where To Kill A Mockingbird came into Sarah’s life. It just happened. Then I read a lot of biographies about Harper Lee and lit upon the fact that Lee’s mother possibly struggled with mental illness. I knew then that this book would be a huge part of Sarah’s life. She would find that connection in the characters and with the author that would allow her to know she wasn’t alone. Sarah also related to TKAM so much because like Scout Finch, she too is being raised by a single father.

TG: You have a tween’s voice down very well. Was it difficult to develop Sarah’s voice?

KH: Thank you for saying that. This might sound odd, but writing this story was so natural. Sarah came to me fully formed and I followed her. I remember days when I’d open my manuscript and think, “I can’t wait to talk to Sarah today.” So it was really like having a conversation with a young person.

TG: What are you working on currently?

KH: I’ve just finished up final edits for my next middle-grade book, Courage for Beginners, due out in August 2014. It’s another coming-of-age story that follows the life of a Texas seventh-grader during a dramatic change in the life of her family and how working on a Texas History project plants the seeds of courage in her life. An early reader told me this story is “a love letter to Texas” and I hope others see it that way, too.

—Todd

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Editor’s note: This is the first of what I hope to be a series (tentatively titled Origins) of author interviews, guest posts, etc., of recently published novels nonfiction or other creative projects. If you would like to participate, please comment below or contact me through this site.  I will follow-up with guidelines in a later post.