Shakespeare and R L Stevenson altered our minds without drugs

Myth can be created by folklore like Paul Bunyon, a tall tale to be sure, but myths can also arise, inadvertently by an author, from popular fiction that takes on a life of it’s own.

Two cases in point.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The popular conception of pirates is that they buried their treasure because that is what happened in the novel. But there is only one known pirate to do that and it was Captain Kidd, who was more a privateer than pirate. It depended on whether his contemporaries liked him or not. More disliked him than liked him, so to us he is a pirate. Winners write history.

Think of it logically. Why would pirates bury their treasure and return later to dig it up. The entire crew knows where it is, so each larcenous crew member now looks at each other with distrust and paranoia. And don’t think the captain was the boss. A pirate captain was elected by the crew and he did nothing without a vote from the crew. And the crew wants the loot and they want it now. They have been at sea a long time and they want rum and women.

In truth pirates took ships, their cargo, and most of the crew of the captured ship. At one point, Kidd had three captured ships in tow. They would go to a friendly pirate port and sell everything they could, keeping supplies they needed.

The only reason Kidd buried nearly a million dollars in jewels and goods is that he was headed back to New York to answer charges of his piracy so he had to bury the evidence. Didn’t help. Most of his treasure has been found. But other pirates and ‘X’ marks the spot maps are pure fiction, not history. Thank to Long John Silver and R.L. Stevenson.

Another example comes from Shakespeare’s play Anthony and Cleopatra. Everyone believes Cleo was bitten by an asp while she was a prisoner of the Romans. That is what happens in Old Will’s play, but whether Will was passing on the lore he knew or he made it up, the asp is now our truth. Check any crossword puzzle.

The Romans found her dead. There were two puncture marks. From an asp? Well, according to other records she committed suicide by a poisoned hairpin, not an asp. Poison was a big seller in Egypt. Cleo was found in her private chambers. As a prisoner she would not have access to snakes, nor would she keep them in her rooms. But a snake is more dramatic because the audience would be more fearful of a dangerous snake than poison. Poison being more passive. 

And now you know the truth of the matter. Until it changes once again. You never know. It just shows the power of the written word, the power of story telling, and how we believe what we read, even if it is fiction.

Here are two of my fictional e-novels at Amazon. Both based on true stories. Perhaps another myth will arise from one of them. With your help of course.

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The dilemma of telling people you’re a writer

A few days ago I received my online newsletter from Authors Publish.  It contains two leads for publishing houses, but what caught my interest was a short piece about what happens when you tell people you are a writer.

Number one of the five is the imposter syndrome. I have always been hesitant telling people I am a writer. The reactions I have gotten have not been positive, leaving me at times, feeling like an imposter. To this point, other than a brief memoir in a book published in 2012 and two short stories published locally in an annual book, I have published three e-novels and two short-story collections on Amazon. I also wrote film reviews for a newspaper for eleven years and did a few freelance stories. I received positive feedback during that period.

Yet I still hesitate.

I told a woman the other day about my short story published in an edition of the locally published book and she told me she wrote a piece for them a few years ago-and then made sure she deflated me my saying -“They publish anything sent to them.” I don’t know why she blew it off, and I question whether everything send is published.

Another woman said she only reads ‘real books’ and e-books are not real. Perhaps she fears the digital world. Then there are relatives. My closest cousins don’t read much, if at all, and though one wanted one of the annuals where my short story was published, he has never read, to my knowledge, the story. He had said he would tell me how he liked it, but that was about seven months ago. No phone call, no email, no smoke signals, not a wisp of contact. My other cousin said she still has not read the story. She never reads.

Is there any doubt why I sometimes feel like an imposter and any doubt why I hesitate to tell people I am a writer.

My best experience was reading my latest short story at the kickoff for the last annual collection of local writers. One woman said she read the story three times, and the man who puts the writings together for publication told the group how much he liked the story, why he liked it, and pushed me to read the opening page of my short story.

Though I hesitate, I am getting better at it. I have learned that detractors often have insecurities as I noted about the woman who said they publish anything. Like the Taylor Swift line ” haters are going to hate” so stay away from the haters and the negative nellies. They are not worth your time. I have found a positive group of local writers to share writing and experiences with, so am moving forward.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the great make you feel, that you too, can become great.-Mark Twain.

I am coming out of  the “I am a writer” closet.

I am a writer, like it or not, take it or leave it.

Character Reveal, Foreshadowing, and Toilet Paper

After you read the following excerpt from my soon to be released e-novel I will explain the intent, why the reveal and the foreshadowing, and tell about toilet paper and life. The time is 1927 and this paragraph ends a chapter near the end of the story

Driving back I felt a sense of freedom. I was free from my job, a job I liked I grant you, but you become accustomed to not working. Maybe I am lazy. But I sensed this story was coming to an end, that Bast would be found, arrested, and tried for multiple murders. That would free my mind, case closed, back to Hollywood, back to a new job, back to writing, back to normalcy. Chasing down a killer, being followed, being shot at, being lied to, are not things that are pleasurable. It may be entertaining to an audience watching a hero in a movie catch a killer; a hero with smarts like Sherlock Holmes, with brawn like any movie tough guy, and all the while wooing some dame with ultra-coolness, but reality is nerve racking, tense, mind numbing, the bullets real, the danger scary. I am not near as smart as Sherlock Holmes, not a movie tough guy, not even close. I learn by accident, I stumble through the carnival funhouse coming out the other side with unexpected answers. And I don’t woo any dame. I am married, happily so. Movies aren’t real. I know, I write them. Of course we writers like to twist things, turn the screw if we can, do a Henry James you know. If we are good, we are magicians, or maybe illusionist is a better word, making you look one way, then the reveal, the twist, the unexpected moment. I didn’t think there was one in real life. I said ‘didn’t’ with intent because that is past tense. There was a real twist coming, one that Henry James would not have seen. Maybe that Freud guy would have figured things out, but not a writer.

First, a word about character reveals. Normally you might see a character reveal a personality trait about himself through dialogue, action, or something descriptive, like a nervous person avoiding eye contact, tapping their foot, pacing around the room. Here Chet Koski is being reflective. He has been trying to solve multiple murders and because he is a writer, not a police detective or private eye, he is frustrated. Real life is not the movies and he is a movie guy. There is an implication that moviegoers don’t get it when they watch a movie. Maybe he is out of his element at times, another reason for frustration.

This character reveal segues into foreshadowing by Chet’s reflection on writers and why at the end of the story writers twist things; the surprise ending. It is the author (that would be me) warning you there is a surprise ending coming soon. By implying Freud may have figured things out evokes, I hope, a psychological complex ending. Naturally I used my fictional character to reveal the foreshadow. Writers are sneaky. However, the character reveal is solely from Chet.

P.S. There is also another foreshadowing in the third sentence: “But I sensed this story was coming to an end.” Once again I put thoughts into Chet’s head. I am so bad.

Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

 

How writers should handle critiques

I woke up in the morning the day after publishing my first e-Novel with anxiety and dread my bed companions. They were not who I wanted to wake up with.

Every writer, every artist, has within them a lurking virus ready to infect the artistic insecurity with paranoia; imagination running amok seeing brutal judgements from unseen readers.

But the reviews over time were fair and more positive than I expected. Of course there was one review that upset me, but I realized he/she missed the point. Others got it, and that is one thing to remember. Whatever you write will be liked and disliked because some people, like my brother, does not like cheese, and others, like myself, love cheese. We have different tastes, different biases, and different views. Nothing is written in stone except the 10 Commandments and they disappeared..

Something just as unnerving is the anticipation of reading judge’s critiques from writing contests, like the one I recently entered, for these are professionals with stern judgement, so anxiety peaks, dread blackens, insecurity sinks, and paranoia makes you cower in the corner, so do not open the envelope like a six year-old at Christmas, ripping open paper to get at the goodies, for there are no goodies here; instead place it on a table, let it sit while you circle it for a few days, building up your immunity enough to open the envelope. You must be in command.

Here is what I found:

One judge did not like my opening paragraph and my hook. The other judge did. The judge who disliked my hook did not like my tension/pacing, but the other judge did. One liked my grammar, the other didn’t. There were some things they agreed on, so what did I learn and what can you learn?

Here is what I learned:

You must read a critique with a critical eye. If two judges disagree you must strive for objectivity-not easy when it comes to your creation-but again, I let it sit before going back my story. Your story must be read as if it was written by somebody else. If I thought one of the judges was correct, I changed something because I saw their point and agreed, but if I believed one of the judges was wrong I left it alone. Case in point, one of the judges who did not like my hook, thought one passage should be cut, but the action to me tied in with the end of the story and since the other judge had no problem with the opening and after numerous reading of the opening I left it as is.

Finally, one must realize that each judge has an opinion, but that is all it is. We all see things differently and we writers must critique the critique and not take other’s judgements at face value.

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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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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.

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Are you beautiful or lovely-the difference

The definitions I am using from the 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary come from a blog I subscribe to by CS Perryess. On should give credit where credit is due. He loves words and old dictionaries. These definitions are great for writers because writers need to be specific; the right word for the right reason.

I will compare words from the 1959 Webster’s New World Dictionary that Perryess cited to my 2000 American Heritage Dictionary.

Beautiful: 59 Webster says, “applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests to the object of delight one’s conception of an ideal.” My 2000 Heritage says, “having beauty.” I think Webster wins here, though the Heritage definition of ‘beauty’ closely resembles the 59 Webster definition of ‘beautiful,’, but not with the succinct clarity of Webster.

Lovely: 59 Webster says, “applies to that which delights by inspiring affection or warm admiration.” My 2000 Heritage says, “Having pleasing or attractive qualities; beautiful.” Once again Webster has a more beautiful definition.

I pause here to say that I have the American Heritage Dictionary because-and I forget who-recommended this dictionary for writers. I am having second thoughts.

Moving on to . . .

Pretty: “implies a dainty, delicate or graceful quality in that which pleases and carries connotations of femininity or diminutiveness.” My 2000 heritage says, “Delightfully pretty or dainty.” Webster now up 3-0.

Comely: “applies to persons only and suggests a wholesome attractiveness of form and features rather than a high degree of beauty.” My Heritage says, “Pleasing in appearance; attractive.” I must say here is where Heritage, to be blunt, really sucks. Their definition is generic, non-specific, lacking any ‘definition’ in the definition. It is is blah. 4-0.

Fair: “suggests beauty that is fresh, bright or flawless and, when applied to persons, is used especially of complexion and features.” My Heritage says, “beautiful; lovely.”  Really? That’s it. That’s all you’ve got? Webster’s 5-0.

Yuck to American Heritage. I looked up ‘yuck’ in my Heritage Dictionary. It says, ” Used to express rejection or strong disgust.” Well they got one right.

What I find in the 59 Webster’s is clarity in language, a defined definition. What I find in my 200 Heritage is blandness, unimaginative language, lack of clarity.

I used my Heritage from time to time on my e-novels on Amazon.

But I will be buying a new dictionary today.

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A Must Read Book For Writers

The book in question is by Francine Prose, a great surname for a writer, and this book is different from every book I have read about writing.

I read books on the art of writing by Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Lajos Egri; I learned something from each. But the book by Prose has a unique approach. She breaks down writing by these chapters; Chapter one-Words, Chapter two-sentences, then Paragraphs, followed by Narration and then Dialogue, moving on to Details and Chapter nine Gesture. There are three additional chapters, but let me state how she goes about things.

She does not tell, she shows. For example in the chapter on dialogue she uses a book by Harry Green, Loving, and uses, say two pages of dialogue between two or three characters. She tells you what to expect before you read the passages from Green’s book, then explains following the passage what Green was doing, and why, and how.

And that is why the name of her book is Reading Like a Writer. She teaches you how to read, what to look for, the why and the how of what each writer was doing. And she uses examples from writers with different styles, each of whom have different approaches, but each has a way of doing things, that when you see and easily understand what the writer is doing, you can not help but to learn.

And think about the chapters, starting from words-choosing the right word and why, and of course using examples that always gives you the ah ha moment. Now I get it. She starts with words, then of course the sentence, and on and on’ a perfect structure for writing.

And this book is not just for writers, but for readers who want to enjoy stories with an understanding of how the bones are put together.

Her book subtitled A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them is an accurate description. I love books, and I love writing them. And because I love books I discovered in the course of examples she cited writers I was unfamiliar with, and whose books I have purchased. They are coming in a brown box from Amazon and I looking forward to reading these stories in a new way.

Naturally I could have read any of the unread books in my massive slush pile, but the examples of writers she used made me want to read them. So now thanks to Francine I have learned about Harry Green, about Stuart Dybek, and Heinrich Von Kleist. I have invited them into my home, new friends to encounter, and to learn from. 

It is always exciting to encounter a new writer-new to you-and exploring there stories and now thanks to Francine Prose’s book, I can read them in a way that will make me a better reader, and a better writer.

My-e-books on Amazon

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Who Was Dr. John Yeoman And What He Did For Writers ?

I subscribed to Dr. John Yeoman’s blog on writing for years. He died last month and I felt it time to share not only who he was, but some of his helpful blogs and his e-novels. Not only was John’s blogs helpful, written very conversational, but often with humor, and certainly intelligence.

First who he was can be found here 

Now a dozen of my favorite Dr. Yeoman blogs:

How To Shape Great Stories With Word Games

How to Plot A Story (Even If Plotting Scares You Silly)

7 Great Ways To Close A Story (and How Famous Authors Did It)

Do You Make These Six Big Mistakes With Your Writing Blog

How To Cope With Bad Feedback On Your Work

Nine Big Lies That Agents Tell You

Could This ‘Magic’ Trick Rescue Your Story

How To Sell 100,000 novels Without (Really) Trying

Three Ways (Not) To Kill Your Story In Its Cradle

Top Ten Tips For Promoting Your Book-From A Dog

How To Write A Kindle Best Seller

Five Top Tips For Being a Happy Writer

And he practiced what he preached and taught. Here is his Amazon Page. I have read “The Cunning Man” and “The Hog Lane Murders” and they are great for new writers for you can read the e-novel like you read any book, but is also has footnote markers. When you click a footnote number he shows the why and how he wrote that scene and you can learn from seeing what he is doing. Great writing tool.

Thanks John!

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What did Sue Grafton say about writing

Besides being an author and blogger, I volunteer at the local library. One of my two sections covers all the books about writing. There is always a book or two that catch my eye while I am checking the Dewey decimals on each book ensuring they are in proper order. One day I ran across “Why We Write.” Twenty best selling authors telling you there tips, tricks, and secrets. (There are no secrets, for if you share, it is not a secret-but I digress.)

In the introduction, the editor of the book , Meredith Maran, quotes George Orwell’s four motives for writing. They are: Sheer egoism (to be talked about, remembered); Aesthetic enthusiasm (for the pleasure of sound and rhythm of what you wrote); Historical impulse (to see things as they are, find true facts); Political purposes (The opinion that art should have nothing do to with politics is itself a political attitude).

Writers are quirky. Isabel Allende begins every novel on January 8th. She begins with a ‘sort of an idea’ and the first four weeks are wasted. Eventually it begins to pull together. What we can take away is her perseverance. She doesn’t quit, she works her way through her process. So if you feel bogged down with your story remember Isabel and stay with it; persevere and you will feel great, having, in the end, worked out of the dense jungle you found yourself in.

David Baldacci says ” ‘Writing for your readers’ is a euphemism for ‘writing what you think people will buy.’ Don’t fall for it! Write for the person you know best: yourself.” Many writers have said this. Write your story for yourself first-it will turn out better. This has been said since Mark Twain, maybe earlier.

Jennifer Egan says not to worry about bad writing. “One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.” She also says you must write on a regular basis, even 15 minutes a day, something to keep you in the habit.

Sue Grafton, with all her success, says “Most days when I sit down at my computer, I’m scared half out of my mind. I’m always convinced that my last book was my last book, that my career is at an end. . . ” She, like Allende, perseveres.  Grafton gave my favorite quote, “There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts. As an aspiring writer, what you need to know is that learning to write is self-taught, and learning to write well takes years.”

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