Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Brief Excerpt from The Adventures of Mungo Tim...

"It's a dragon! A real dragon. There are dragons left in the world!" the rider exclaimed.

A gust of wind knocked the hood of the dark wool cloak back from the rider's head and coppery hair cascaded to slender shoulders. Emerald green eyes met cinnabar red ones above.

"Why, its just a human girl," boomed Tim in a kettle drum voice. "On a horse too scrawny to eat."

"How amazing," said Miranda. "It talks."

"Of course it talks," agreed Tim, coasting to a graceful landing on the road. "It flies and breathes fire and does many more amazing things than just talk."

"It certainly boasts," Miranda declared, steadying her mount as it tried to dance backwards.

"With reason," countered Tim.

The girl laughed. "It is beautiful."

"As is the girl," Tim replied. "With hair like firelight and eyes like spring."

"It is perhaps not a dragon at all but a silver-tongued prince under an enchantment?" asked Miranda, hopefully.

The ground rumbled as the dragon laughed. "No, just a dragon. Aren't you afraid of me, little human girl?"

Miranda shook her head. "No. I admit I was at first but I'm not afraid anymore. Although I probably should be. But you see, encountering a talking beast is...well, the wonder of it seems to have drained the fear out of me. And, in any case, if you are going to kill me there is nothing much I can do about it now. So, I might as well have an interesting conversation first."

Tim nodded. "Indeed. I like your reasoning. And, just between you and me, I have never killed a girl who reasons."

"Have you killed any that don't?"

"I have not. In fact, although I am loath to admit it since it doesn't seem very dragony, I haven't as yet killed any humans. Not on purpose anyway. Furthermore, you are the first human girl I've had a conversation with at all. The others just screamed and ran away."

Miranda giggled. "Well, I can understand that. You are a dragon, after all....."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Musing on memoirs

I had an interesting discussion with some other writers on, believe it or not, Facebook today. I started a tempest in commenting on aspiring writers who write only in the memoir genre and who join writing workshops, groups, and classes not to learn the craft of writing but to "express their feelings" (generally painful ones involving the negative) . It has been my observation in numerous workshops that these folks seem to be under several illusions: 1. That their individual misery is extremely interesting to other people 2. That their words are pure perfection requiring no editing or learning of story crafting whatsoever.

They have never heard the maxim "show, don't tell". They can't write dialogue and generally say they hate to read dialogue. Their character (s) are usually extremely one dimensional and rarely does anything actually happen in their memoirs before several hundred pages of narrative pass SLOWLY by. In real life, people don't take five pages to walk across the room to answer the phone, folks. Hear me snore, here.

I made the comment that these folks don't seem to want to develop a writer's toolbox and might better be served by getting some counseling than wasting other peoples time in a writing workshop. Yeah, strong stuff. I admit that. I insulted, without intending to, a nationally successful writer who has written and taught memoir writing. Now of course, this writer can write very well and her books don't resemble anything listed above. But, even if she chose not to say so, I'll bet she has had plenty of those not really serious about writing 'memorists' in her classes over the years.

I personally don't care to read memoirs. I don't read non fiction much either, for the most part. I like fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, etc and for me, the story is the thing. Good story can trump bad writing. Words without something happening cause me to close the book. I don't like whiny characters either. I like to read about protagonists with gumption. Since that's what I like to read, that's also what I like to write. So, I am admittedly biased.

I probably couldn't write a memoir myself. Not if I had to stick strictly to the facts. Maybe I could write creative nonfiction like Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil. Many times I have written fictional stories based on fact with imagined dialogue and additional plot twists. I think all writers of fiction do this. I can't speak for memoir writers, but since the mind has a way of playing with time I suspect there is some fact stretching even in memoirs now and again.

In any genre, the write what you know maxim does hold true. If you write about universal human emotions and experiences it will work whether Luke Skywalker is a farm boy on Tatooine wanting to join the Rebel alliance or a Kentucky farm boy during the Civil War or a twenty first century Iowa kid on his way to Iraq. But, remember something has to happen to Luke for the reader to care. And, Luke has to do something about it.

A good writer is a good writer, whatever genre he or she chooses to work in. Writing is a craft, though, as well as a passion. As well as an art. Like any craft, it has to be learned. And must be practiced. That means doing something over and over until you get it write. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Good writers must read a lot, too. Talent counts sure, but hard work is essential. That goes for memoir writers as much as anyone else.

I know a man who works only in the memoir genre whose writing is enthralling even if he is just describing his character walking through a bazaar. His well crafted words make you imagine yourself in his shoes and evoke all the senses. His story reeks of the truth of the human experience in a good way. He is a born storyteller who happens to want to tell his own story. And his story is one that I do want to hear since he's an interesting person. So, really, I don't hate memoirs or hold those who write them in contempt. Even though the writer whose post I commented on probably won't believe it.

At the risk of sounding mean again, I think some aspiring writers just get stuck somewhere between a negative emotion and a bad experience and they just can't stop milking it to boredom. They don't have anything to really show us because they haven't made sense of their experience and taken a longer view. They haven't learned and grown and they just want our sympathy for the therapy they think they will get from writing a memoir. Everybody probably does have a story maybe, but maybe not everybody can (or should) tell it. Memoirs are stories after all (or should be) even if of a different sort. Remember the story arc? Beginning, middle, end? How about who wants what? How are they going to get it? Who wants to stop them?

If your true life experience isn't very interesting to anybody but you maybe you should just journal instead. I am ducking and covering here. But, please, aspiring writer, don't take ten pages to describe yourself as "Sally" taking five minutes to look through her pantry and sip tepid tea and look out the window at the snowdrifts in the yard and ignore the ringing phone in her inertia. I don't care how pretty your words are. That scenerio is boring. I don't care if it really happened that way and you/Sally were sad because your boyfriend or husband beat you every winter a decade ago and forbade you to drink tea and you get mopey every time it snows. Give me instead a neighbor desperately trying to warn Sally that a psychotic serial killer has broken out of prison and disappeared into the blizzard the night before, headed right for Sally's farm. Let me know he's just broken into the cellar. Give me a reason to read on. Make one up if nothing more exciting really happened than electricity going off for two hours from ice snapping the power lines. Most people's daily life just isn't interesting enough to record it. Not for a couple hundred years after they've died, maybe. Then after everything has changed mundane life in the past is interesting. Ouch, maybe, but there you have it. My thoughts, take them or leave them.

I'm off now to take the dog for a massage. There's actually a story there, but I am not going to tell it. So you can breath easy. Live long and prosper.

Friday, January 14, 2011

preview of some characters from my book in living color

Pictures: Professor Timothy McDuff, Hulda Mitten, Miranda and Will, Tim the dragon

Hey there bloggers,
Here's your first look at some of the characters from the upcoming book, The Adventures Of Mungo Tim by yours truly (that's me). I am waiting for several others to be finished and then Danny is going to format the cover and the text and we're ready to fly away. Soon, I will be turning the story into a Podio book. This project as been going on for so long and I am very excited to be nearing completion.

For those who don't know, the novel is geared towards the YA market as well as adults and is also suitable for the 'Harry Potter' age group. It is a fantasy featuring a dragon, Salamagundus Tim Tim ( aka Tim) who would rather be human and definitely does not want to be a hero, a runaway girl (Miranda O'Mara) who does NOT want to be a princess, a direction challenged deposed prince (Will Von Leonhardt) who has to earn his keep by winning tournaments, an ogre (Hulda Mitten) with an incredible singing voice and a talent for making cupcakes as well as royal policy, and a tricky Pooka (Sean McGarrity) who can shape shift from horse to man. Other characters include a nefarious pair of dragon hunters/robbers, a loathsome Troll warrior with a propensity for stewed cats and destroying kingdoms, a warrior dwarf, a were bear, wizards, spies, elves and fairies, gypsies, pirates, and a mostly misunderstood misanthropic King. Lots of humor, action, battles, time and temporal travel and yes, some romance.

This is how my mind works, folks. I met someone at an art reception not long ago and she asked me if I was and artist. I said, "No, I am a writer." She asked what sort of things I write. When I answered, "Mostly science fiction, ghost tales, and fantasy," there was a pregnant pause. The woman gulped and said, "Oh, and you look so normal, too, my dear."

Ha, fooled her. This is the person, boys and girls, who talked to door knobs as a kid and always kept hoping to meet fairies in the woods. I once lived in a haunted house, too. Really.

At present I am working on a short story about a robot toy in a post apocalyptic world but my next novel will concern a girl and her dog in a 1950s West Virginia coal town.

To answer your unasked question, do I write hoping for fame and fortune? Not really. Reality is a part of my mind set. I know what the odds are. After all, I've already written a short story collection and a poetry collection and remain obscure. I write because I can't not. So there. In upcoming weeks I'll post some excerpts and you can decide if you like my stories and will want to read about Tim. I'm betting you will.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Apologia for my prolonged absence, sort of

Photo: The undead writer on her RV not working.

Sorry bloggers. I know I've been gone a long time. Any reports of my death are, at least as far as today at four o'clock, premature. I've just been busy editing my book, formatting my book, doing the holidays, traveling, and just frittering away my time. That's all. It is now twelve days into the New year and funnily enough my resolutions are the same as last year's: to clean out my storage room, de clutter my house, exercise more, and get my novel into print. So, far, nada. But friends, the year and the decade are still young. Today for example, I walked the dogs, blogged, accidentally stabbed my hand while chopping vegetables, and made homemade chicken soup after getting the blood stopped. I may get the bed made...or not. Its frakkin' cold here in Florida, but having said that the weather is better (here) than practically anywhere else so I'm not really complaining. And, we've got sunshine.

My biggest rant lately has been over some misguided (at best) or idiot (in probable actuality) professor type deciding to edit the "N" word out of Mark Twain's great masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn. Of all the crack brained and misguided attempts at political correctness I've heard of in this mixed up world we live in, this is one of the dumbest. And condescending. And shortsighted.

Some fool who thinks, just cause he probably graduated college, that he is qualified to judge a genius's work dares to have the arrogance and audacity to tamper with literary perfection. Insert loud raspberry noise here. Whoever this Joe is, I'll bet a catfish to a catamaran that he can't write a lick compared to our Sam. I'll be he isn't nearly as smart or as interesting to talk to, either. After all, like Oscar Wilde, there's almost nothing that Mark Twain ever said that wasn't a quotable statement. I dunno if the man who dares to tamper with Huck is black or white and frankly my dears, I don't give a ...dang.

He claims that black children will be so put off by the use of the "N" word that they will not read the book, so the word must be deleted. Never mind that the offending word was routinely in use during the time of history that the book was written and that part of Twain's point was to show the wrongness of Jim being enslaved at all never mind considered as and treated as 'lesser than' white people by the other characters. If Twain was alive, the tamperer with his work would be sued and Twain would win. The professor would lose his job and credibility. Twain would issue a brilliant quotable quote that would turn the hapless hacker into the humbug I suspect he might be. But, its easy to pick on a dead man. So the professor pushes the delete button on the "N" word and substitutes whatever he likes.

It probably doesn't occur to him either that he is insulting the intelligence and capability of all children, black white or otherwise, by assuming that they can't understand and appreciate Twain's writing after seeing one potentially offensive term. Too many adults underestimate children and that offends ME.

Its too easy to rewrite history. Literary or otherwise. (Dangerous in so many ways to rewrite history, but that's another story) I can just hear Professor Humbug now: "Let's forget, why don't we, that anyone was ever treated badly or called names that offend. It will make it all so much more comfortably readable."

What's next, Prof? Outlaw the word 'Nazi' in literature? Just say why don't you that Hitler and his goons were rude people? Maybe forget the Holocaust ever happened? There are some offensive words in the Bible, no doubt. In Shakespeare too, mayhap. Why don't we just remove any words that anybody anywhere doesn't feel comfortable with? Make it a real pretty world? Like a fairy tale. Without witches, of course.

But wait, somebody tell Professor Humbug that rap artists routinely use the "N" word in their music. That seems to be okay with the professor. He's seemingly not worried about children being put off by that. Is it okay because that is black people insulting other black people? Or is it 'cause the rap artists aren't dead and will sue his, uh butt?

Whatever. See me shrug. I'm just going to give the word changing professor my 'Pampas Ass of the week' award. And speaking as a writer who's not dead yet: don't presume to know my intentions or correct my words. If you don't like them, don't read my books. Now or in future. Like Twain, I don't suffer fools. Edit that: foolishness in the name of fun, yes. But self important serious fools, no.