JK Rowling attributes her success to failure

I get daily emails of encouragement from major league baseball manager Clint Hurdle, many of the posts coming from other writers and motivators. The post the other day was written by Steve Gilbert.

He tells of a period in Rowling’s life when she hit rock bottom; her mother died, she was getting divorced, didn’t like her job, and thought about suicide. She had an idea for a series of books while sitting on a train, but did not act on it.

Rowling then changed her life. She writes,  “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1977 with a run of 500 copies, 300 of which went to libraries. Sales now are over 12 million.

I am not recommending would-be-writers blow up their life and do a reboot. Reboots may carry a virus or two, but her opening line is what grabbed me. Strip away what is not essential in your life. It is another way of saying get your life in order, pursue what you need to do, stripping away what is preventing you from your goal.

We all waste time (from time to time) and that is okay for it can be relaxing, freeing anxiety and stress. But it can also become a habit that, like any addiction, can be consuming.

Consume yourself with your passion, not your distractions.

QUIZ-who wrote world’s first novel?

The modern novel, according to many, began with Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719.

Or, as other scholars have suggested, Don Quixote, by Cervantes, published 1605.

But the truth of the matter is, as far as we know at this time, the first novel was written 700 years before Robinson Crusoe. It came not from the west, but from the east.

I write ‘as far as we know’ because their remains the possibility, remote though it is, that a manuscript of some type could yet be discovered.

The country where the novel originated is Japan. And the author of the first novel called The Tale of the Genji was a woman. And she was the first to use a pen name.

She did not intend, nor chose, to use her pen name of Murasaki Shikibu. She was, it is believed, to be a lady-in-waiting in the Heian Court. It was considered rude to record the names of women who came from noble families, though some exceptions were made, primarily for a princess or an emperor’s wife or companion.

Their is controversy of how the novel should be presented. The original translation was done in six volumes, but subsequently it has been reduced to 54 chapters. The feeling by Edward Seidensticker was that 54 chapters are the original text, that the cut chapters are not of the same narrative.

Murasaki began her novel around 1002. The Japanese, like the Chinese at the time, did not regard this form of writing worthy. Poetry, history, and philosophy were the genres one wrote in. Women could write diaries or vernacular tales and Murasaki essentially merged both in Tales of the Genji.

I have not read the original translation. I have the Seidensticker abridged version. And reading her novel I found myself amazed how modern it feels. Too bad we don’t know her real name.

Sources used for this blog:

The Novel 100 by Daniel Burt

A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland

The Tale of the Genji

 

 

Paul Auster; who writers are; their output, part two

In previous blog I quoted from Paul Auster’s novel Brooklyn Follies about who writers are and what writing is. Today I quote from same book regarding the output of writers. rather than quote from the conversation I will list writers and how much they wrote or how long it took to finish a book.

James Joyce wrote three novels

Balzac wrote ninety novels

Kafka wrote his first story in one night

Stendhal The Charterhouse of Parma in forty-nine days

Melville wrote Moby Dick in sixteen months

Flaubert spent five years on Madame Bovary

Musil worked for eighteen years on The Man Without Qualities and died before he could finish

Milton was blind

Cervantes had one arm

Marlow was stabbed to death in a bar room brawl before he was thirty

 

The point is it takes as long as it takes to finish your story so don’t go into a panic if you have trouble finishing because of other things going on in your life. Of course you don’t want to write for eighteen years and then die before you are finished, and nor do you want to die a bar room brawl with a knife going through your eye. But at least Marlowe finished his plays.

Do what you can when you can. Persistence can take you down the road to completion.

The best way tp predict your future is to create it-Abraham Lincoln.

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COOL: The Mysterious definition of cool.

I have always associated the word ‘cool’ with hip slang of the 1950’s and also with jazz. Imagine my surprise when reading Moonstone by Wilkie Collins published in 1868 when I came across the word ‘cool’ used thusly:

“She has been a guest of yours at this house,” I answered. “May I venture to suggest-if nothing was said about me beforehand-that I might see her here?”

“Cool!” said Mr. Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room.

In other words, Bruff liked the idea. The usage seems contemporary as in ‘good idea’ not from a writer who was a friend of Charles Dickens. I had to explore the coolness of this find.

My Dictionary of American Slang has three columns on ‘cool.’ In the 1920’s cool was slang for killing someone, no doubt a gangster term. ‘Cool’ can  be ‘to postpone; to wait for; to be in control of one’s emotions; aloof, unconcerned; thrilling, groovy; satisfying, pleasant; crazy, gone, mad, wicked, far out, among other meanings.’ And yes, the weather can be cool.

None seemed to fit what Bruff meant. So I checked Online Etymology Dictionary and found the following: “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Now that is what fits for Bruff’s comment. Franklin Blake needs to talk with Rachel, a woman who refuses to see him. But it is imperative he talks with her to help unravel a mystery. So when Blake sets forth his idea, Bruff thinks it is an audacious plan. Cool!

Who knew?

Wilkie Collins was hip to use ‘cool,’ the perfect word for the reply. It reminded me to always search for the right word for the right reason in my writing.

Here are my cool e-Books, two fictional mysteries and a collection of short stories.

 

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Inside a writer’s mind and choices made

My soon to be published e-mystery, like my previous three e-novels, is written in the first person. It was the best choice for my first story, and because I have used the fictional characters in two other books, I was stuck with it. Not that I minded, but it does present problems.

But I thought to open my new book with a short scene in the 3rd person to set the stage, then revert to 1st person. The following is the opening:

Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.

Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off.

He had thought about stealing a boat at Gig Harbor or there about, but decided to take the long way, driving to Shelton, then up toward Bremerton, before turning right and heading south through Key Peninsula until he reached Home. Many people honed in on Home, a beacon to the wayward thinkers of the world, the originators, the oddballs, the free thinkers, the loonies, and sometimes, a hideout for those on the run. Otis was running.

Then Chet Koski, the main character, and his wife Eveleen find a head on a grave.

But writers like to tinker and though I liked the opening, I decided to take a paragraph from later in the story and begin the novel using it. The following, with some editing is how it began. I should mention we begin in the middle of a conversation. More about that later.

“Like I said, writers are cheap and replaceable, but you’re welcome. My secretary said something about a murder down there. You kill anyone? Or maybe a suspect, as neither would surprise me.”

“Neither at the moment. But I have a great story to make a great script.”

“So how does the script start?” said Zukor.

“I start with a man putting a head on a grave. . .”

“Can you read the beginning to me?”

“Yes. This is how it starts. Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.” I heard a loud yawn coming from the phone, but I continued. “Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off…”

“Okay, stop. What the hell are you doing, writing a novel or a script? I get the first part, the guy putting the head on a grave, there’s blood, and he’s trying to wash it off. Good imagery, but what’s the point of this ‘life abused body?’ ”

“He is a laborer, works outdoors, not a common criminal. He needs to look a certain way.”

“Fine. But why put in the part about ‘nothing he could do about the blood?’ We just need to see what is going on, that is what the audience wants. Don’t put in anything to make the director think about anything. Just give action and dialogue.”

“Right, I was just thinking out loud.”

“Leave thinking to philosophers. You write movies; you’re not a writer. Correct? No need to answer. You got till the end of the month, take notes, it might make a movie, you never know. Have a happy Thanksgiving and see you when you get back. You don’t need to stay any longer, so be here 1st of December. You can write in your office here on the lot you know. I have things to do and you’re wasting my time. Bye.”

The point was to incorporate the original 3rd person opening into a conversation between Chet and Paramount head, Adolph Zukor. I liked it. The problem was now with the conversation that took place in the middle of the story now gone, subsequent events did not work.

And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the original opening. So it went back in. I had saved the original opening (just in case), so I did a cut and paste over the phone conversation opening. I had done a cut and paste of the phone conversation, but because I did some changes to the conversation for the new opening, I had to rewrite a bit of the conversation when I reinserted it where it belongs.

I mention this because writers face more challenges than what characters say, grammar, proofreading, descriptions, punctuation, creating characters, scenes, and so on.

I like the original 3rd person opening, then changing to 1st person. It serves as a brief prologue and I hope gets the reader into the story. At one time book editors would say never do that, but so many writers wrote novels with different points of view, now only fuddy-duddies care.

After we learn about Otis and the blood, his dinged up Ford, I now have the following which was of course the original.

The last thing I expected on vacation was to find a bloody head resting on a grave. Actually it would not have been the last thing expected as I never would have expected it in the first place.

My wife Eveleen and I had taken a train from Los Angeles to Centralia, Washington, to visit my cousin Alma whose car we borrowed to drive around and visit other relatives while she was working at Farmers and Merchants Bank. We had been in town a couple of days and on our third day, after visiting two cousins, we drove around exploring the countryside and in returning got lost and ran out of gas. Getting gas however, was not the immediate concern. More important was my bladder that was near bursting. The cemetery was nearby.

While I found a spot away from the graves Eveleen was idly walking among the dead. When I finished I saw her standing still, so still I thought she must have walked upon a rattler, but this is Washington, they only have friendly garter snakes, at least on this side of the Cascades.

When I reached her she looked up and I looked down. There on the top of Hugh Pemberton’s grave, propped up against his headstone was the head of a woman, the neck bloodied, but otherwise no pool of blood anywhere.

I hope you enjoyed my reflections on opening a novel. Choices, choices, choices.

Here are two e-books with the same fictional amateur detectives.

They are on Amazon.

 

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What do Kafka and Virginia Woolf owe their fame to

Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf both had emotional problems, but they had more in common than mental issues. Both are literary icons today, but neither were much regarded in their time. So how did they go from obscurity to masters of storytelling?

Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and though his short stories were published in magazines beginning in 1909, he did not set the literary world on fire. He died at the age of forty to tuberculosis. Before he died he told his best friend Max Brod to burn all his writings; to not even read the unpublished stories, just burn them.

Had Brod followed Kafka’s wishes we would never have heard of him. Brod kept the writings and it was not until the 1930’s, years after Kafka’s death in 1924 that his works were translated from German, and not until the 1940’s when the French existentialists, primarily Albert Camus and Jena-Paul Sartre discovered Kafka and extolled his works.

It was a chain of events over decades for Kafka to be found, to have his works praised, to have is work admired, respected. He died not knowing his legacy to literature.

Virginia Woolf, born one year before Kafka, in Kensington, Middlesex, England, died at age 59 from suicide in 1941.

At the age of thirty She married Leonard Woolf in a marriage of convenience. They were part of the famed liberal Bloomsbury Group of artists and intellectuals. The Woolf’s published Virginia’s book with their own Hogarth Press. (Perhaps all writers should own their own little publishing company). She only sold a few hundred of her books before her death. Had they not had that press, she may not have been published.

But the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s brought fame to Virginia as women saw in Woolf’s books much fuel for their fire, due in large part to Woolf’s 1929 book A Room of One’s Own. The awakening feminist movement reawakened the novels of Virginia Woolf, decades after death, raising her from obscurity to world wide fame.

There are other writers who have gone from obscurity to literary prominence and honor. The message is just write, that is a writers job. Many popular writers of their time have been forgotten. The only things you can control is you keyboard and your imagination. Whatever happens, happens. It would be nice to have a friend like Max Brod though. Thanks Max.

My e-books, a couple in obscurity despite good reviews found on Amazon

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Was Tristram Shandy, 1723, the 1st post modern novel

Post modern literature,  according to literary scholars,  came about following World War II. In the above link many examples are listed, and like anyone with a list, not all will be agreeable to everyone. Some of the titles stretch the concept.

Of course post-modernism is often difficult to categorize, and the link I provided in above paragraph doesn’t get to the heart of it.

Much of post modern literature revolves around the author, the narrative, and nature of fiction. It is experimental in nature, it looks inward, is playful, chiding the author, the story, and the reader. Think Donald Barthelme, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon, just to name three of many.

My favorite novel is The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, proprietor. It is about  J. Henry Waugh who works for a small firm of accountants and bookkeepers. He likes B-girls and delicatessens and loves playing his creation-a baseball game played with dice. He has created teams, players, and results, not only of plays, but of histories for all his players. The game is as elaborate as any novel. As we get deeper into the story the more the players take center stage and J. Henry Waugh slowly disappears from the story until all that is left are the characters Waugh created who now have a life of there own.

Robert Coover is the author of the novel, but Waugh is the creator of the game-of course Coover is behind it all- and Waugh disappears, his (Coover or Waugh’s or both)characters are important, they are of interest, not the author. This is one of the playful non-narrative narratives of post modernism.

What is the nature of fiction? Of the author? Post modern writers play with these ideas through satire, humor, digressions, and all sorts of tricks.

But the nine volume The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne was written between 1759-1767 was not written post World War II, but two centuries before anyone heard of post modernism. Yet Sterne’s Shandy is bawdy, satirical, and has all the signs of post modernism. Shandy sets out to tell his biography, but his stories go off in so many tangents, he never gets around to his biography. Midway through his third volume he seems apologetic for not having gotten past the first day of his life. And now he realizes a year after starting this biography that he has 364 more days of his life to cover. He will never catch up.

The post modernist traits to Stern’s epic indicates to me the old Peter Allen song, Everything Old is New Again. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.

I don’t belive my e-novels at Amazon are post modern, perhaps not even modern, but there might, perhaps could be, but probably not be . . . well who likes categories and pigeon holes anyway.

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How a Candy Bar Changed My Life

It happened when I was four years old. A seminal moment I will never forget for even at four I realized something, and what I realized changed my life.

My aunt was driving me someplace, the where and why forgotten. I remember she stopped at a drugstore and went inside to purchase something. She came back out and handed me a candy bar.

I was curious as to what the candy bar was called. I was a year away from learning how to read, so I needed some help.

“What is the name of this candy bar?” I said.

“You know,” she answered.

“Now I don’t.”

“You know,” she said a second time.

Being four and being a boy, I was subject at times to a temper tantrum. I was on the verge of one by saying with strong emphasis, “No I don’t know. I CAN’T READ!”

I stared at the still unwrapped candy. It was long, had a silver wrapper and some letters on it. I kept looking down at it while my aunt pointed to the first letter. She said, “This is the letter U and this is the letter N and this is a O. It says U-No.”

“OH!”

I realized the power of letters. I realized the power of words. I learned the power of being able to read. I felt I was on the outside, that I was at a disadvantage.

This point was driven home when I learned how to read. Beginning with the Dick and Jane readers, progressing to the Hardy Boys, moving on to Jules Verne, I kept reading because the power of words, what they meant, what they symbolized was like having a super power.

I still read. I read fiction, non-fiction, e-Books, magazines, newspapers. And candy bar wrappers. I read because knowledge is power, but knowledge is gained from reading and discerning, analyzing, and thinking about what I read. And it is the letters, the words, that convey all that you need. U-No what I mean.

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
– Confucius
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
– Frederick Douglass

Reading also led me to writing as these e-Books on Amazon attest.

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One Simple Paragraph . . .but

I recently read A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. It was originally published in 1960 and I would describe the book as literary, noir mystery.

The story is about a married woman named Daisy who hires a private detective/ bail bondsman to reclaim a lost day in her life. It has to do with her believing there is another person in her grave.

Of course she is alive; she knows that. But there is a reason for her belief. It is a nice hook to draw you into a story with some great twists and turns among believable characters.

There is a piece of writing, one paragraph that I loved that I want to share. It has to do with her trying to convince the detective, who thinks the woman is a bit off her rocker. The following is the paragraph:

“I didn’t lose the day. It’s not lost. It’s still around someplace, here or there, wherever used days and old years go. They don’t simply vanish into nothing. They’re still available— hiding, yes, but not lost.”

We all have memories both pleasant and not so pleasant. But there are also lost days, days that if you live long enough, increase to the point where they far exceed what we do remember. But are there hidden within those lost days, if they were found, something pleasant that its recovery would be a wonderful memory, like a treasure hunter discovering Captain Kid’s treasure?

Of course the flip side is that there might be in those lost days something you may not want to discover. There are people surrounding Daisy that try to tell her some things are better lost, not found.

So I reread the paragraph. There is something wistful and naïve about her thinking. We as readers may stop and wonder about are lost days, that they can be recovered and wouldn’t that be nice. But then again . . .

It is one paragraph, well written, that lies within a well written story. The paragraph, like the story makes you think. That is good writing.

Whether my e-novels on Amazon make you think or simply entertain you can decide.
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