“Peanuts” Character Reveals Writing Secret

A classic Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz appeared in a recent Sunday newspaper and the punchline exemplifies what some writing gurus have advised.

Linus is at his school desk writing on the theme of returning to school after summer vacation. Over three captions we see he has written this: ” No one can deny the joys of a summer vacation with its days of warmth and freedom. It must be admitted, however, that the true joy lies in returning to our halls of learning. Is not life itself a learning process? Do we not mature according to our learning. Do not each of us desire that he…”

And there it stops.

The next three panels show him taking the paper to the teacher’s desk, handing in the paper, and returning to his desk.

Then you see him saying “Yes, Ma’am? Oh . . Why, thank you . . I’m glad you liked it . . ”

The final panel shows him sitting sideways, one elbow on the desk behind him where Charlie Brown is sitting. Linus says, “As the years go by, you learn what sells!”

Linus knew his audience; it was the teacher. And he also knew what she wanted, in essence, to hear, so he wrote what she wanted, hoping to ingratiate himself, of course, and get a good grade.

If there is a hot market that readers are feasting on, you can jump on that bandwagon and if the bandwagon is not crowded and the market has yet to be devoured, you have a shot of finding an audience. But what is hot now can soon fade away.

Or you can write what you want to write and hope you find an audience. If you write in the genre that most appeals to you, I belive your writing will be better.

Each approach has its drawbacks, nothing is guaranteed, but you must chart your writing course through tricky waters no matter which direction you go. Write well, edit even better, and write a little everyday. And be cool like Linus.

I turned in my e-books to Amazon

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

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.

coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)coyotemoon_cemetaryb

 

 

Author Paul Auster; what writing is and who writers are, part one

One of my favorite writers-and I have many-is Paul Auster and in his novel Brooklyn Follies the following passage considers what writing is and who writers are:

“Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semi-giants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute-from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travelers and shut-ins. If no one could be excluded, and what prevented an almost sixty-year-old ex-life insurance agent from joining their ranks? What law declared that Nathan Glass had not been infected by the disease?”

Writing was always something I wanted to do, but early rejection dissuaded me. Later in life when the regrets of unfinished desires in life weighed heavily on my spirit, I became infected with a ravenous hunger to finish what I started.

I had doubts, I had fears, and like Nathan Glass, felt I was too old. The doubts and fears, however, were no match for the fear of not writing, of not moving forward, of having that monstrous ogre of life regrets go unquenched.

I have written two collection of horror/twilight zone type of e-short stories and three e-novels and a fourth to be published soon. Success does not matter, movie deals do not matter, for feeding this wonderful infection is life giving.

If you feel you are infected, do not wait. Start writing.

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)Cemetery_Tales_and_other_PhantasmsA-351x597

 

Inspiration from breast cancer survivor in her 80’s

A woman friend of mine in her 80’s told me she had a mastectomy and breast implants 26 years ago due to cancer. Recently the cancer returned. She just finished radiation and she is upbeat, positive, and excited because, as she said, “I have a new lease on life. Now I can plan the rest of my life.”

Think about it a moment. She is in her 80’s and is thrilled to be making plans. No doubt her excitement comes from the relief of treatments being finished and her belief-though results are not final-that she has won the battle. Still, she is at an age when most people aren’t making life plans.

I have not hit my 80’s, not even my 70’s. I imagine there are many people like myself who feel there is still time to make plans, to take that trip, to reach those goals we set for ourselves years ago. You know, checking off those bucket list items.

In my case, as I segued from work to retirement, I took up writing. I have written three e-Books, all fiction, plus two collections of short stories. But I do not feel I am fully following through with what I should be doing. I should blog more frequently, should advertise on Amazon (again) or Facebook, should finish another collection of short stories, should join a writing group, and more importantly WRITE more often.

I still suffer from ‘I can do it tomorrow.’ I think part of my friend’s desire to make plans is that, whether she would say it or not, she does not know how many ‘tomorrows’ she has.

We are lulled into believing we will wake up tomorrow, we are lulled into thinking nothing drastic will happen to us tomorrow. Our life continues because it always has. We make plans to meet up with family and friends, we make all those little plans, but few make life changing plans, few keep chasing dreams because frustration with lack of progress not just dampens our enthusiasm like a spring rain, but crushes us like torrential rain, a hurricane blowing our house of dreams to ruin.

That is why we renew ourselves from time to time, like when a woman in her 80’s is excited to change her life, to make new plans, to get ‘a new lease on life.’ Perhaps the best we can do is to keep someone like her in our minds. I bet you know of someone like her. Someone who makes us realize there may not be a tomorrow, someone to inspire us to get a move on, not to just make our plans, but, more important, to follow through.

I have to get back to work. best of luck with your tomorrows.

What I did in my yesterdays

 

 

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.

 

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)Cemetery_Tales_and_other_PhantasmsA-351x597

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

How To Write a Novel in 60 days + 24

Not only can you write a novel in 60 days, but it only takes a few hours a day. And that leaves you more time for watching cute animal and baby videos.

I am about to give you a formula that you can use to write a novel in 60 days, plus an extra 24. The extra days I will explain later. This formula is predicated on math, but  the formula is something you can play with, adjust, and toy with as your mileage will vary.

But it does give you a road to discipline yourself, something a writer needs. Especially me.

It works like this. An internet search will tell you a novel is anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words. It is not a law, there are exceptions, we are using this as a guideline. Let us use 90,000. It is not difficult to write 1,5000 words a day. Of late that has taken me three to four hours, depending on what little roadblocks I encounter. If you write 1,500 words a day it takes 60 days to reach 90,000. Feel free to do the math, that was never by strong suit, but the calculator has told me 60 is the answer.

See how easy that was. For many who have not tried writing a novel because it seems overwhelming, the math says it is doable in 60 days.

So what are the extra 24 days for? After each five days you take two days to review your previous 7,500 words, using this time to edit, correcting grammar and spelling, and doing so in painstaking, letter by letter, period by period if necessary, manner. Do that for the first day and the second day make notes of how you want to the story to move forward and of what you want your characters to do next.

I pause here to remind that there are two approaches to writing fiction. One is to map out the story ahead of time with outlines and everything necessary to where you only have to fill in the details. I can’t do that, too much work. I prefer, like Ray Bradbury, Elmore Leonard, and many others, to make it up as I go, trusting the characters to let you know what happens next. So that is what I do the second day. Make notes for the next few chapters. And I run with it for the next five days.

So after sixty days of writing and two days after each set of five days you have written a novel, have done the editing and rewrites and you breath a sigh of relief, congratulate yourself, and eat a cookie. Take six days for your vacation to the Bahamas and you have 90 days. Since a year is over 360 days, you can actually write four novels a year with 24 days in the Bahamas. You are prolific. You are as crazy about writing as Stephen King. Scary isn’t it.

As I said, it is a formula, a place for you to start and tinker with. Good luck.

I wrote the following e-novels before I figured the math. They are found at Amazon here.

dugout (1)coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712

 

 

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

Loonies_In_Hollywood-375x712coyotemoon_silentmurder (1)

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.