How Writing Nothing Is Good For Writers

An intelligent man, or perhaps it was a woman, once said, “Do nothing and nothing will happen.” That makes sense. If you’re hungry and do nothing, you won’t eat. You have  to do something, like fix your meal, or at least, grab a bag of chips. If you want to write a story, you must sit down and write. . .

But that does not always work. I believe it was Winnie-the-Pooh who said “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

And there is truth in what Winnie said and it has to do with your brain. The best creative ideas come about when your brain is idle, uncluttered with random thoughts, white noise, distractive thoughts; anything that gets in your way. Sometimes writers overthink, try to hard and your mind is stuck in muck. You must listen to “things you can’t hear.”

But how?

Case in point from personal experience. I had trouble coming up with an acceptable ending to my e-mystery Loonies in Hollywood. The story is based on the actual murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922. The case remains unsolved. I selected one of the many suspects (I read four non-fiction books on the murder, each had a different killer), but could not figure out how to place the person at the crime scene because another person was standing outside the bungalow and there was a witness who saw someone walk away from the residence. It was going to be tricky. I thought and thought. Then thought some more. I gave up. Then a week or two later after ‘doing nothing’ I woke up one morning and the ending emerged in its entirety without any pop-up blocker to stop it. It was so simple. Why did I not see it before?

So I know from experience that by doing nothing, something will happen. That by not thinking of a solution your brain works behind the scenes, just like some things your computer does for you.

Don’t force your brain to a solution by overloading it, trust in nothing and it will work out the solution for you. It requires patience and a leap of faith but it works. Think about it. When was Winnie-the-Pooh ever wrong.

Never!

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Bookman’s Promise, Lichtenberg, and Me

I am only 74 pages into The Bookman’s Promise by John Dunning, the third book of five in the Cliff Janeway novels and I already know I will buy the other four. The reason is simple. The writing.

In the story Janeway is talking about Richard Burton, the explorer, not the actor. He mentions that after his death, Burton’s wife “torched. . .forty years of unpublished manuscripts, journals, and notes. . .to purify his image.” She did not want anything to taint his image with the Church, though it was a bit late. But that is another story.

Then Janeway says “This is why I am not religious. If and when we do learn the true secret of the universe, some kind of religion will be there to hide it. To cover it up. To persecute and shred, to burn and destroy. They stay in business by keeping us in the Dark Ages. Darkness is what they sell.”

This is strong writing. Comparing what Burton’s wife did to her husband’s unpublished works (bad girl) to a conspiratorial view of religious purpose, and making it short, concise and clear. There need be no elaboration.

This is the joy for me of reading. Not just the craft of writing done well, but learning about Burton, whose published  books, now rare, factor into the story as part of the plot. One should not assume you learn nothing in reading fiction.

Later, Janeway, an ex-cop, now rare bookseller is talking how the computer leveled the playing field in rare book seling. It tells people what books are selling for around the world, but not “how to identify a true first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Then Janeway quotes Lichtenberg, German physicist, who said, “A book is a mirror. If an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out.”  A computer, like the mirror, can only do so much. A computer can’t make us experts in rare books, and if both book and mirror are reflective, neither will make us more than we are.

Lichtenberg was also a satirist who said, “I thank the Lord a thousand times for having made me become an atheist.” He gave credit where credit was due.

So this was my joy of reading the first 74 pages of Dunning’s book this Sunday afternoon that I wanted to share. Now back to reading.

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Spillane’s Assault and Insult On Why We Read

Mickey Spillane, famous for creating Mike Hammer, wrote hard boiled, tough, sexy  crime novels. The stories were short, packed a violent punch, and were big sellers, popular with men, but not with the critics or the literary world. Spillane didn’t care. Like Hammer, Spillane was a tough guy too.

What he wrote on the first page of his novel My Gun is Quick caught my attention. It is something we readers and movie goers know, but ignore, pushing it to the back of our minds. But Spillane confronts us with the following:

“You pick up a book and read about things and stuff, getting a vicarious kick from people and events that never happened. You’re doing it now, getting ready to fill in a normal life with the details of someone else’s experiences. Fun isn’t it? You read about life on the outside thinking of how maybe you’d like it to happen to you, or at least how you’d like to watch it. Even the old Romans did it, spiced their life with action when they sat in the coliseum and watched wild animals rip a bunch of humans apart, reveling in the night of blood and terror. They screamed for joy and slapped each other on the back when murderous claws tore into the live flesh of slaves and cheered when the kill was made. Oh, it’s great to watch, all right. Life through a keyhole. But day after day goes by and nothing like that ever happens to you so you think that it’s all in books and not in reality at all and that’s that. Still good reading though. Tomorrow night you’ll find another book, forgetting what was in the last one and live some more in your imagination.”

Spillane is right of course, but what struck me, and it may not have been his intent, is that it seems an answer to his critics, a defiant explanation of why people read and that he is writing for what his readers want, that being action, plenty of it, and a dame of course, nothing serious, just another vicarious experience. Mike Hammer will get involved with some tough guys, get in brawling fights, but we never will. Hammer will help out some blonde, the type we will never meet. But we will live through it in our imagination.

But there is something else going on in the quoted passage. “Life through a keyhole,” is  a punch in our face, like a blow from Hammer, telling us we have a dull life. Therefore we get ready to “fill in a normal life. . .someone else’s experiences. . .you’d like it to happen to you. . . nothing like that happens to you. . .”

Spillane manages to tell us why we read and insult us at the same time. I like that in a tough guy. We need not take it personally. Howard Cosell said, “I tell it like it is.” So does Spillane. I read a book or two of his years ago, so long ago I remember nothing of what I read. But I picked up a used book that contained three of his memorable novels, I the Jury, My Gun is Quick, and Vengeance is mine. So the stories are there for when I need a vicarious thrill. And I will read someone else’s adventure and be happy.

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WINNIE THE POOH’S 6 RULES FOR WRITING MYSTERIES

Full disclosure, the six rules of writing mysteries were set forth by A.A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, but Milne does speak for Winnie, so there.

Milne also wrote a delightful mystery The Red House Mystery, that he dedicated to his father who was a big fan of mysteries.

So the six rules:

  1. The story should be written in good English

I thought that would be a given. After all, if you write bad English, you write a bad novel. So writing in good English should be obvious. I think this rule came from Winnie and Milne used to make Winnie happy.

2.  Love interest is undesirable.

Raymond Chandler also said the same thing. Of course there was Nick and Nora Charles, but being married their love is implicit. They sparred with wit and charm, with Nora being Watson to Nick’s Sherlock, although she was smarter than Watson.

Chandler, by the way, thought little of Milne’s mystery. He also trashed Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and virtually all British mystery novelists in the Golden Age of British mysteries, between the two world wars. Chandler was about realism, especially the writings of Dashiell Hammett. But Chandler missed elements of Red House Mystery, those being social satire, with a stab at comedy of manners. It is very witty with sharp dialogue.

3.  Both detective and villain should be amateurs.

Since the early 1920’s, when Milne was writing these rules, police procedural mysteries  have become a sub genre of their own. There were a few back then, but the genre has grown to the point that this rule does not apply. It is a matter of taste and preference and I prefer the amateur.

4.  Scientific detection is ‘too easy’.

I am not sure what Milne meant with this rule. But obviously nearly a century has passed and science is much bigger now in detecting clues and evidence. British mysteries in the golden age were more about puzzles, and figuring out who did it. Milne may have implied that the amateur detective should rely on getting clues, piecing them together to solve the puzzle.

5.   The reader must know as much as the detective.

This rule should apply to all mysteries of any era. The reader should have access to the information, not only to see if he can solve the murder before the end, but more important, not to trick the reader. You can not add information at the end when the killer is revealed that comes as a surprise to the reader. That is not playing fair and it pisses off the reader who has invested his time in the story.

6. There should be a Watson: it is better for the detective to Watsonize’ than soliloquize.

This is elementary. One could have a detective working alone and he can share his thoughts through the first person, such as “When I saw the gun on the floor it was too far away for it to be suicide, but then why was the gun ten feet away, perhaps because . . .”  In essence the reader could be the Watson. In my mysteries I use Chet and Eveleen, a married couple, who along with their flapper friend Clancy solve mysteries. I do this because I enjoy their interplay.

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This writers struggle to let go of his book

I thought it was just me.

But in The Golden Age of Murder, a book about British mystery writers between the two world wars it was said of Dorothy Sayers that  “. . . as  many authors do, that once she finished a book, she went through a phase of self doubt.”

I don’t know what went through her mind, but consider a writer creates a story, nurtures it, works to improve it, and when finished it is time to let go. Ah, it is the letting go that is the problem.

It is like raising a child and then letting it go out into the world. Your story, your work can be attacked by critics and readers, just as your child can be hated for reasons you can’t fathom. You love your child, you love your book and you hurt a bit when they are attacked. Each book, like each child, is on their own.

Self doubt, fear of letting go is real for many writers, myself included. I finished my latest e-novel months and months ago. I went through extended editing with grammar and punctuation and let it sit, coming to it with fresh eyes for another round of proofreading. How many times should one do this before letting go? I did it 3 or 4 times. Okay, maybe even more.

Now I am faced with creating a cover, or having someone else do it and I am also in the process of coming up with a new title. The original title was Head on a Grave, because the story begins with a woman’s head found on a grave. But I have two collections of horror stories, both with graves on the cover. I though another grave cover would be too much. I wanted more variety in my covers. Of course I could retain the title, but what image do I use on the cover?

I have two images from a town where some of the story takes place and I thought I would use that, but I still wanted another title. So I thought of Murder Bleeds out, or Blood will have Blood (from Macbeth), or Murderous Matters. Or perhaps Shadows in the Dark.

You see where I am going right.

I am still in a delay mode, while I ponder a new title, new cover, still having trouble letting go. It does not stop me from working on short stories or starting a new novel. The writing is easy, the letting go is hard.

But I have let go before, two collections of short stories and three e-novels on Amazon, so I can do it. I will get there. I just have to spank myself and get on with it.

Why Writers Lie and Why It’s Good

There is a reason why a novel or short story is called fiction. According to my American Heritage Dictionary fiction is defined as 1. an imaginative creation or pretense 2. a lie 

Putting the definitions  together we find a novel or short story is a pretentious lie created in one’s imagination. Shame on writers. And I do think you have to be a little pretentious to be a writer. And you certainly have to lie.

So why do writers create lies and why do readers believe the lies. We believe the lie you know. Readers talk  about characters as if they are real. When we read we get involved in what is going on with imagined characters who do not exist. If this happened without a book, that being getting involved with people who are imagined, said people get therapy and drugs for their hallucinations. I had an aunt who stood in front of a mirror in the hallway and talked Finnish to her reflection believing it was a friend of hers. She was ill. My aunt, not the reflection.(though that would make an intriguing story if the reflection was ill, and not my aunt). Anyway, you see the point. We have the book as an excuse for believing in non-existent people.

Writers create stories because they can not help themselves; they are warped.

Readers read for many reasons. One of which is that they like warped writers who create characters that interest them.

But here is the truth of the matter. If the characters seem real, if their actions are believable, if the readers can identify with situations, the reader sees the truth of the matter.

When you read the lies created by great writers human truths are revealed, for if they were not, we readers could not identify with the story. We sympathize, we feel empathy, we get mad, we laugh, we get scared, we sense tension. In short all our human emotions come into play, and in doing so we see the bigger picture, we understand something that can enlighten us, move us, learn more about how we feel, how we think, and it is all done through a lie.

I do not advocate lying in real life. Lots of trouble when you do. Let the writer do the lying, he will tell you the truth.

 

Amazon’s Bots Causing Writers Nightmares

I applaud Amazon for developing algorithms and bots that seek out and destroy paid book reviews. Any type of review, book or otherwise, should not come from a paid hack. Nor, on the flip side, should Amazon allow reviews from those who always give bad reviews to everything they choose to write about. It is their idea of fun. They are the human equivalent of bots. The software digital bots have an excuse, the humans one are evil.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, far from it, and these problems will be ongoing.

A few years ago I had a 4-star review for one of my e-books that disappeared. Amazon told me they did not know why. As it dropped my average review from 3.5 to 3 that did not help my cause. Luckily I had saved it through copy and paste and can use it on this site.

I follow Anne R. Allen’s blog about some recent problems regarding Amazon’s bots deleting reviews that are random, done for no reason. This hurts both Amazon and writers.

I quote from her blog: ” UPDATE, 4/24/18: Yesterday the Washington Post ran an article on Amazon’s fake review problem, which made it sound pretty severe, and shows why the Zon is cracking down so hard.

But today industry watchdog David Gaughran offered some enlightening information that refutes some of the data in the WaPo article.

It seems that Amazon is using some very dodgy data from an outfit called ReviewMeta to flag “fake” reviews. Two “proofs” of wrongdoing, according to ReviewMeta are: 1) reviewers who mention the name of the book 2) reviewers who review more than one book in a series. Their algorithm flags those as fake reviews.

So if you’ve had your reviews removed, or your account has been deleted, it may have happened because you broke these “rules” which have no relevance to book reviewing.

This may be why the robots are getting things so very, very wrong.”

Digital technology is not fool proof. As you can see from the quote Big Brother Bots can go rogue, or maybe they are not that smart. So if you are a writer and have books, e-books, or sell anything on Amazon, monitor your reviews. Know how many reviews there are, who wrote them, what the rating was. And you might want to keep track the old fashioned way, paper and pen. You never know.

The following e-book has a 3.5 rating based on 3 reviews and is not the e-book with the missing review I mentioned. If you chose to buy this e-book please do NOT review the book. The bots may think we know each other. I can’t afford to lose reviews. Thanks for reading.

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How Fiction Emerges from Synchronicity

I have mentioned that writers find story ideas all around them. All you have to do is keep your mind open to wonder.

Here  is an example culled from real life, something you might be prone to forget the moment it happened, unless you let your mind run with it. I volunteer at a local historical museum. Recently I was scanning newspaper obituaries into a computer and then entering them in Excel. I listed name, date of birth, date of death and a hyperlink to the scanned obituary. Then a strange thing happened. I had made an entry and moved on to the next obit and when I came to date of birth I noticed the previous entry date of birth was not aligned properly. By that I mean, as Excel users know, when you type in a date then tab to next cell the entry aligns to the right, but this entry was to the left. So I deleted and retyped, same thing. It would not align right. For some reason, perhaps a ghostly whisper in my hear, I looked at the newspaper article and saw I had the month wrong. It should have been a 3 not a 2, so I typed in the correct date and it aligned correctly.

I do not draw conclusions whether it was a coincidental glitch, or a supernatural whisper from beyond to the tune of  ‘hey, you got my birthdate wrong, please correct.’

As I said, the majority of people would say, ‘well that was weird,’ think nothing more and proceed. But writers must be alert and when weird things happen, jot it down, save it, run with it, let your imagination fly.

This happened the same week that a construction company was working on improving and repairing the sewer system; they have been outside my house for a couple of weeks. I was doing some research on my home computer about a baseball pitcher from the past whose last name I had never heard before. It took about 15 minutes before my brain clicked in. I went out to the kitchen, found the notice from the construction company. It was the same last name of the baseball pitcher. Synchronicity at its best.

One more example, I was visiting a local Native-American museum for the first time. During the tour there was a large picture of a long ago tribal member and the guide discussed who he was and his importance. Two days later at the museum I volunteer at, I picked up a book on sale I had not seen before. It was historical and was about a Native-American woman from the late 19th century. I flipped it open to the picture section in the middle of the book, and there was the same picture I saw two days earlier. Of course I had to buy the book. You do not fool with synchronicity.

What does all this mean? I don’t know, but when you find these things happening in your life YOU can make something out of it. A short Twilight Zone type of story or a horror novel, or anything. As a writer be alert for things little, weird, and odd, and put them to use. Remember, if you do nothing, nothing will happen.

How Handwriting Kills Creativity in the Digital World

If you are a writer you know ideas, thoughts, and dialogue scenes pop into your head whenever, and at times whenever arrives like unwelcome gas when in bed with a significant other or significant same, in other words, at inopportune moments. You either have to let it go, or suck it up and multitask.

Often I get random thoughts when I go to bed. To sleep. So I keep a memo pad on a small table next to my bed. The other night something came to mind and I had to write it down. This was good. What was bad was waiting three days before I looked at it.

My handwriting is so bad even doctors can’t read it. It looks like a cross between Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sanskrit, Japanese, and ancient Martian. It does not help that my glasses were elsewhere when I wrote on the pad.

I finally got around to translating my handwriting into digital words on Word.doc. I was pleasantly surprised that only one word could not be translated out of three chicken scrawled pages, remembering of course that that is three small pages in a small memo pad.

One partial sentence reads like this, “. . .  not as vital as the heart, but vital to a (not legible), and then continues “to the future.” The word in question looks like h’fel’n, but that is a guess and based in part on two archeologists who are friends that specialize in ancient scripts.

The point is for a writer to strike while the iron of creativity is stirring. Do not have a memo pad by your desk. If you have an idea, get out of bed with the urgency of one who believes the roof is caving in during an earthquake, leaving your partner to fend for themselves because they are not writers and don’t understand you to begin with, shoving the cat out of your chair, and using the device of choice, write everything in the digital format and never, ever write anything with your hand. They are for holding a spoon to get ice cream to your mouth. If the cat meows too much throw her out of the room and let the dog take care of it.

As I was writing this post I had an idea for the last line. I made the mistake of writing-in hand-and doing so hurriedly. It looks like this, “Writing is important, nt Big otes on nets.”

I think otes could be notes, and nets could be pets or pads. I have no idea about nt. My archeologists gave up and went home.

Okay, I have no archeologist friends, but the two examples of my note taking are true.  The sad thing is that the last line beginning “writing is important . . .” is something I wrote about ten minutes ago and still don’t know what I meant.

So strike while the iron is hot and make sure the iron is stored in a digital device. Either that or have great handwriting.

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Why a Writer Should Work Like an Actor

Before I answer the question posed I want to set the scene before two characters talk.
In a short story I am working on, a man is walking down a hallway, stops in front of a door with a security window, punches a code into a keypad, and enters into another hallway.

I do not tell what the facility is, but through describing what the man sees in the hallway, like the color of the walls and what type of pictures or posters are hanging on the wall and using phrases like ‘institutional carpet’ and what he observes by watching people, some of whom are looking at a TV, though few seem to be comprehending, the reader should get the idea that the man is in a nursing home.
The man walks into a room where a woman is sitting and looking out the window. He pulls up a chair and begins to talk. So now we have a setting. And now they must talk.
When faced with a conversation, especially an emotional one and one with a twist, and a conversation that must reveal character, a lot of thought must go into the dialogue.
You must know your character, know how he talks, and know his personality. What you need not know is how the conversation will end. If you choose to think of how it will end and write towards that end that works too. For me, I like to make it up as I go along. Like an improve actor.
If I know my character, then I can imagine the conversation. As I write I know the man is going to reminisce about two things. One is about how happy he was when he got married and the other is the worst day of his life when his two children, home from college, are killed in an auto accident.
So, like an actor, I go with the scene. A writer must get into the character’s head and pretend to be the character. Writing fiction requires you, not to think, but to feel. A good actor feels the words, understands the emotion. Once you feel the emotion of the words, the dialogue flows. It did for me, usually does. And in this moment where the man says more than the woman he is conversing with I come up with something that makes it all work, including the twist.
You see, the man thought he was talking to his wife. The woman said that she was not his wife, that her children were not dead. She made short interjections, then asked him to call a nurse; three of four times she would break in and ask for the nurse.
When the nurse does come she sees the man and an empty chair.
The man was not in the right room, his wife is dead, the woman who lives in the room was watching TV in the activity area, and the man had dementia.
But you never say what the facility is. You never give the background like a reporter giving news. You reveal through descriptive imagery and through dialogue, imagining you are an actor, not on the stage, but on the page.
Finished imaginings of mine are found at the top of my web page and the e-books are available on Amazon.
Thanks for reading.