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 Before he died he told his best friend Max Brod to burn all his writings; to not even read the unpublished stories, just burn them.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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What is the Difference Between Someone or Somebody

Writers need to be precise whether writing fiction or non-fiction. There are many words whose definition is so subtle that the wrong word can throw off the sentence.

So in working on my e-novel yesterday I stopped myself trying to decide whether to use ‘someone’ or ‘somebody’ and thought to see which is proper in the context of my sentence.

I checked six books on language usage, books that discussed problem words and expressions, the which word when type of books. There was no mention of either word I was looking for. I checked the dictionary and found either word is okay, they are interchangeable.

If they are interchangeable then why do we have two words? Can’t we eliminate one or the other. If they mean the same thing then one must go.

But wait I said to myself. Check the Internet.

One site confirmed they are interchangeable, but that someone is five times more popular in usage than somebody. Fewer syllables, easier to use. But one site is not conclusive and how do I know someone is five times more popular. What is their source.

Another site said the following: ‘Someone’ is used if you are in a location where there are many people around, but you don’t know whom you’re referring to. Sounds confusing? To break it down, if used in a sentence ‘“ ‘Someone has left the room and started screaming loudly’ it means you don’t know exactly who left the room with all the people around.

‘Somebody’ is used if you are in a location and you are referring to a person with a slight importance. For example, ‘Somebody has left the room and started screaming loudly.’ The use of ‘somebody’ is to refer to the person whom you possibly know but unknown in the current situation.

Huh?

Again the source is not known. From where do they get that definition, especially when every other website or grammar book says they are interchangeable.

Does anybody know the answer. Or is it ‘Does anyone know . . .’

Okay let me grab a book

If somebody, or anybody, is interested in my e-books then anyone, even someone, can click and learn more

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What Writers Should Do Second, Not First

When writing a story writers can fall into a trap, one based on what they have read or seen in movies, a trap they  must escape. Let me explain.

A short story I wrote, Flowers for Martha Clemens, was based on something I saw, then I ran away with it into the twilight zone. I saw an old man, perhaps mid 70’s, carrying a shovel  in a cemetery. He walked with purpose among the graves, his clothes not those of a cemetery worker. I stopped to watch the old man, but then thought if I saw what he was going to do it might make sense and I would forget the whole incident. Better to turn away, not see what he was going to do and make up my own story.

The first thought of a writer would be obvious. The old man is going to dig up a grave. We have seen and read about grave robbers, and though the idea of a 70 year old grave robber has a bit of interest, I though it better to ignore my first instinct. Instead of robbing a grave he would dig up the grave for another reason, one more macabre. One reviewer said she liked the story “for the hauntingly melancholy vibe that sucks you into the story.”

Because of her comment I knew I made the right choice, one not based on the obvious, but one going in a new direction. That is why writers need to make unusual choices and not trust your first instinct. Better to play around with choices, bouncing things around in your mind, coming up with a few to choose from is even better.

Creativity is found in challenging your mind, writing outside the page, creating a sense of play, and getting a bit weird if need be. Creativity is challenging yourself to make new things. Writing need not be stolid, it should be fun.

6,466 Words That Anger And Please

Writers have bad days when words come slow, if they come at all. Then there are the good days where words pour out like a Pacific Northwest rain, fast and hard. But what happens when they flow to fast, too hard.

Maybe it was the two pots of tea that stimulated the senses, but 6,466 words is one heck of an output for me. I did not know what was coming next, I was in a zone where characters, situations, dialogue took over, my fingers tapping keys with little thought. I was not in control, some creative force was. I loved it.

But something happened when the words began piling up. Fingers must have got tired and when they did, bad things happened; then my mind got tired and bad things happened.

I noticed after a few thousand words there were more typos. Then they began increasing with two or three in every sentence, then three or four. When you are in a zone this becomes irritating seeing those words underlined in red, the color that infuriates bulls. I saw the red, the cape, and the bull in me took over. My fist pounded the arm of the chair. Then as typos overran my brain, my fist pounded the table behind me.

As I got close to 6,000 words loose objects were thrown with fierce bullheadedness. Soft objects will not do, noise is the only way to ameliorate the anger, the only way assuage the frustration.

I finally came to the end. The tornado was over. FEMA came in to assess the damage. I received counseling and was released from the hospital. In the end I was thrilled with my 6, 446 words.

And now I must go, this post a warm-up to another day of writing. I am not planning on a 6,000 word day. The room is empty except for desk, computer, and chair. I have no idea what will happen. Writing is adventure, writing is risk, writing is dangerous.

No keyboard was injured during the creative flow.

My dangerous e-Books on Amazon you can find here.

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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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Writers Trick to Pronunciation

In Peter Ackroyd’s novel Chatterton, the lead character Charles is walking with his son at the beginning of the story looking for an address. When he finds the person he is looking for Charles introduces himself this way:

‘ Hi, I’m Wychwood.’

As a reader I immediately wonder if it is pronounced Witchwood or Wickwood. I not only like to read words, but I like the sound of them, and I do like to pronounce them correctly.

Ackroyd solves this problem for me and all readers by continuing with the scene this way:

“Mr. Leno sounded puzzled. ‘Which . . .?’

‘Wood. I telephoned this morning. About the books.’ ”

Since Charles did not correct Mr. Leno, we readers can surmise the name is pronounced with the sound of ‘which’ or ‘witch,’ as a minute later Charles is called ‘Mr. Witch.’ Now we have the author reinforcing the sound of the name, just in case we missed it the first time.

We learn the pronunciation of Charles’ name in a seamless manner, Ackroyd not telling us, but showing us through character interaction, a scene with humor no less.

It is not just a clever trick to pronunciation, but a way to introduce information without telling. It is so much better to learn things through characters than be told. After  all a novel is not nonfiction in which we are told things. We like novels, because-lets be honest-we are eavesdropping on people. And in this humorous scene which continues Mr. Leno, Mr. Leno, and Charles is fun to watch and listen in on.

The characters should tell the story, the author should be in the background, invisible; an observer like the readers.

Two of my five e-novels on Amazon are:

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How Life Interrupts Life

I wanted to write two posts on my blog last week.

I couldn’t.

I wanted to work on a short story due by February 14th.

I couldn’t.

I wanted to work on my new e-mystery.

I couldn’t.

My brother went missing one night driving to the store a couple of miles away. Called police. My brother has dementia. Police sent a Need to Locate to three counties. Sleepless night. Brother found in town 18 miles away the next morning. He had slept in his car overnight in a gas station.

Life interrupted.

Brother was transported to hospital. They did usual tests, vital signs, checked for hypothermia. They told me he was ambulatory. I barely got him home. He fell in garage. He is dead weight. Two EMT’s got him up and into bed. He could not walk, tried but  fell getting out of bed. I got him into living room, but he fell again. Ambulatory?

Life interrupted.

I couldn’t get him off floor. I was not going to send him back to hospital. Why do that when they said he was ambulatory? They did not seem to want him. I called 911 and had them transport him to hospital 22 miles away.

A long week. He is now in an assisted living facility.

Life interrupted.

Now I can post a blog. Now I can work on my short story. Now I can work on my e-mystery. Not the same.

Life interrupted.

 

 

 

Making predictions by reading sortes virgilianae; Huh?

It started with Thomas Chatterton, a poet and forger, who committed suicide in 1770 at the age of 17. It was a short, but interesting life.

In Peter Ackroyd’s novel Chatterton, in which some intrepid souls belive they have discovered evidence suggesting Chatterton never committed suicide, but lived long and forged poems attributed to other famous poets, such as William Blake, I came across this phrase ‘sortes virgilianae.’ I am at once, both impressed by writers who use phrases and words that force me reach for my dictionary to discover the meaning, thus furthering my knowledge, and irritated by the writers flaunting their intellect by using words and phrases that impress critics and intelligentsia and make me fell stupid in the process. I can feel stupid on my own, thank you very much.

If you did not tap or click sortes virgilianae I quote from Wiki, ” The Sortes Vergilianae (Virgilian Lots) is a form of divination by bibliomancy in which advice or predictions of the future are sought by interpreting passages from the works of the Roman poet Virgil. The use of Virgil for divination may date as early as the second century AD, and is part of a wider tradition that associated the poet with magic.[1] The system seems to have been modeled on the ancient Roman sortes as seen in the Sortes Homericae, and later the Sortes Sanctorum.”

Romans consider poets as diviners and prophets. It was believed that by opening Virgil’s The Aeneid, written between 29-19 B.C. at random and running your finger down the page, then stopping at your pleasure, that reading the next sentence or few would tell your fortune. The emperor Hadrian used it among other Roman emperors.

Sounds better than reading tea leaves.

And in the Middle Ages, it was still though to be a prophetic book and that Virgil was a pagan prophet. And we thought Virgil was merely telling  a story of a Trojan named Aeneas who traveled to Italy and became, in essence, the ancestor of all Romans.

So I thought I would try it. This is the passage that my prophetic finger stopped at:

“Ere now the stout ship of Ilioneus, ere now of brave Achates, and she wherein [121-152]Abas rode, and she wherein aged Aletes, have yielded to the storm; through the shaken fastenings of their sides they all draw in the deadly water, and their opening seams give way.

Well that is an eye opener. Does it mean I should yield to the storm? Sounds like the ship might be sinking. So much, if true, for my writing career.

This is where reading leads you with a dictionary at hand. But what choice does one have?

“I don’t think writers should write about answers. I think writers should write about questions.”
Paul Haggis

Virgil would agree.

I don’t think you will need a dictionary for any of my e-novels and short stories; there is a built in dictionary with e-books.

Thanks for reading.
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Have You Read Any of These Banned Books

As both liberal readers and conservative church folks know, there are books that should not be read, indeed, should be banned. But liberal readers will ignore banned books and read them with great delight. So will many church folks, otherwise, they say, how can I truly know how evil the book is.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was created by the Catholic church centuries ago to protect the flock from literary wolves. The books banned were considered heretical, or lascivious, or if it is really good, both. The list is a veiled way of pronouncing that you must agree with us on all things; we will think for you.  After all, we have your best interest at heart.

The list of authors and their books make quite a literary hall of fame. And many are surprising, such as Johannes Kepler (excluded from list 1835), because of his books on astronomy. God forbid Kepler could explain much about the universe and the heavens that conflicted with the church. Actually, neither God nor Church could forbid scientific explanations. Thank God.

Jean-Paul Sartre made the list, as did Victor Hugo (excluded in 1959), Spinoza, Kant, Copernicus, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Galileo, and David Hume among many.

Who did not make the list over time is more surprising. The works of Charles Darwin did not make the list, nor did D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and John Cleland. Dante was banned, but then reinstated like Kepler and Hugo. As was Justine and the Marquis de Sade. The Church was more considered, so it has been suggested, with blasphemy and heresy; less concerned with  sexuality or hate. Mein Kampf by Hitler, outlining his plans for power and hatred of the Jews was not banned.

The Index lasted over six centuries and was discontinued in 1966. But that has snot deterred other church organizations and even school districts from creating a banned book list. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain comes under fire every year in more than one school district. Being considered a great work of fiction, and perhaps the great American novel means nothing to the righteous. 

“Forgive my asking you to use your mind. It is a thing which no novelist should expect of his reader…”
Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains   

Unfortunately none of my e-books are banned. But I remain hopeful.

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How Story Plotting Makes You Write faster

Books to Die For is an anthology of essays written by mystery writers about their favorite mystery/crime book and author in that genre. One of the books, A Night for Screaming by Harry Whittington is one of many that caught my attention.

Whittington is quoted by Bill Crider in the e-book version of A Night for Screaming about plotting, saying:

“I understood plotting, emotional response, story structure. Fifteen years it took me to learn, but I knew. I could plot – forward, backwards, upside down. It was like being half-asleep and abruptly waking. Never again would I be stumped for plot idea or story line. From the moment I learned to plot, I was assaulted with ideas screaming, scratching and clawing for attention. For the next 20 years I sold everything I wrote.”

That should catch your attention. Whittington used 12 pseudonyms and wrote, depending on the source, 170 or over 200 books, and according to Wiki wrote 85 over 12 years.

Thinking about what Whittington said, if you have the plot of the story-that being what happens to whom from beginning to end- then all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Of course the plot contains all plot twists, surprises, getting the hero in trouble, piling on more trouble, then making his troubles unsolvable, before wrapping it up. 

Also in Crider’s introduction he says this about plotting, quoting Larry Dent’s formula:

“Maybe you’re familiar with Lester Dent’s formula for plotting a pulp story. At least three of its major sections begin with this advice: “Shovel grief onto the hero.” Or some variation thereof. The final one begins like this: “Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.” Dent follows that with this: “Get the hero almost buried in his troubles.” Nearly any of Whittington’s novels is a master class in following that advice. By the time you near the end of A Night for Screaming, you’ll be wondering how anybody could ever escape, and you’ll be zipping through the pages as fast as I did all those years ago.”

The advice can be used for any story, not just pulp fiction. Also in Crider’s introduction he said he read A Night for Screaming in one day. I don’t remember ever doing that, but I did with this book. The flow of language and the story was that good.

I plan on plotting my next e-mystery before writing the story. I think that will prevent me from bogging down here and there, trying to see where the story goes next.

Here is Goodreads list of Whittington’s books.

And here is my short list of e-books on Amazon:

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