Friday, March 10, 2017

I'll tell you what good writing is

Good writing is unusual.  Even among professionals, there are very few complex stories populated with three-dimensional characters.  Of course a lot of fine careers depend on cliches.  Mansions and motion picture studios have been built because the authors had simplistic notions about human behavior and moral consequences.  Yes, that is a snob's attitude.  But my particular attitude is a little more nuanced than that.  You see, I don't believe that our species will ever be truly good writers.  And that includes me.  We also aren't gifted when it comes to thinking about imaginary numbers or making plans for future generations.  But we like to congratulate ourselves for being natural story tellers.  That's because each of us inhabits a personal and rather epic life.  This is a trick of the mind, and maybe it isn't just a human trick.  Maybe hawks and fence lizards think the same way.  But the life-as-story narrative does allow each of us to walk through random crap and odd know, everything that happened in life today...and it gives all of us a sense of structure.  Maybe we even find purpose, if that's what we need.  It's the skill that gives us the confidence to imagine our enemies cowering and taste our certain victories.  Even though most battles don't go as predicted, and few of our triumphs play out in ways we would never envision.

Humans are not stellar writers.  But we have a dangerous gift for strong first paragraphs, and sometimes a powerful chapter or two.  Which gets us into so much trouble.

"Our government is corrupt.  We need an outsider who's going to break the wheel.  Mathematics and kindness can be ignored, and the world will turn back to a better age when men were noble and women pure."

This is the story that got us where we are today.

Emotional claws.  They will trap every person.  Particularly those who believe they are too smart or too skeptical to be fooled.

The trouble with story, real story, is that it has no end.  That's what we can't appreciate.  And include me in that ignorance, please.  Real life has too many plots and billions of characters, and each of us is frantic and sloppy and tiny, trying to steer this world where we can only wish it would go.

If I was in charge of education?  I would give up trying to teach calculus to the masses.  Statistics is the better use of neurons.  People who understand odds don't waste their nights in Vegas or deny global warming.  And we must must must be kind to those in need, if only so we don't trigger the kinds of wildfires that make history so bloody and wicked and sorry.  And finally, I would mandate the writing of fiction, but only to the point where people would discover their utter weakness in this critical subject.

Hammer out a good sentence, and another, and ten more.

Finish your first chapter, if you can, building a handful of authentic humans out of old words and ancient hope.

But no author lives long enough, much less can find the necessary wisdom to give those new people the capacity to cast their own shadows.

This is what I'm saying.

Every person is a mystery, and every mystery is painted thin across the endless universe.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


I wrote a giant novel.  The work consumed spare time and far more thought than I anticipated, and there were moments when I thought like a professional writer.  Meaning:  How do I keep readers interested?  But there were also long stretches where I experienced the writer's ultimate rush.  I wasn't the author.  I was standing at a window, watching the lives that were filling another, far more dangerous Earth.

THE TRIALS OF QUENTIN MAURUS takes place in the late 1970s.  An intricate, deeply drawn alternate history, INEVITABLE is the first slice.  All four volumes are available on Amazon, Kindle-only.  And if your head works just a little like mine, the final book, EVERLASTING, will make you glad that your mother met your father.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Raven Dream

I'm working on a knot of old stories.  And by "working," I mean that all of last week and today and maybe for a little while longer, my professional life revolves around untangling 50,000 plus words and the characters wrapped inside.

"Raven Dream" was published quite a few years ago.  I had found this pleasant mind-game:  A near-future world and a secret tribe of Native Americans living on a remote ranch.  The first novelette was surprisingly successful.  Four more followed in fairly quick succession.  My daughter was young and in daycare, which is never cheap, and I was under some self-imposed pressure to produce words and get paid for those words.  Which might be one of the reasons why going back through these five stories has been such an eye-prying experience.

I'm polishing the old stuff, preparing them to be published.  Probably on Kindle, and I don't know when.  But I'm finding that the language needs an embarrassing amount of work.  I don't change the stories themselves, but I rework dialogue and do a little more with standardizing names and my logic.  The original "Dream" was the best written of the bunch.  This might be because I wasn't convinced anyone would want it, so I went over it and over it.  And then out of caution, I set the manuscript aside.  That would have been a physical manuscript, and it was brought out of the drawer months later and reworked again.  A good slow way to write.  But success is a hazard to writers and to human beings.  Success means that you think you understand something well enough.  Instead of running as hard as you can, you trot.  Instead of sweating the phrases and the logic, you let your fat mind drift.

I'm also polishing these five stories in preparation to writing a sixth, and a seventh.  Maybe an eighth.  Because if I don't do this today, this minute, it might never get done.  And there's a small tribe of people scattered across the world who want to have this story done.

The fine people at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, for instance.

Anyway, today's focus is a Lakota teaching rich people to build fire, and meanwhile, the entire world is about to turn to flame.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What I Do

I know I should blog.  It's good for my business, which is professional writing.  A popular blog will generate new fans and build interest.  Maybe I won't ever meet any of you.  Two strangers or ten million readers.  Either way, I need you to read these griddle-hot words and then say to yourselves, "I wonder what else this quirky voice has written."

But suppose nobody reads what I post:  There's still the benefit that comes from practicing your craft.  If the author doesn't screw things up too badly, he might  improve.  But I haven't done any posting in quite a long while.  My blog muscles have turned to mush.  Maybe that's a story onto itself.  Why can't a disciplined fellow like me hold to a simple task?  And maybe I should tell you about it some day.  But not today.  To make myself post and post frequently, I need to pick up some tiny subject and write about it quickly.  I'll show you something, and you can say, "Oh my, isn't that interesting?"  Or, "Tedious is too soft a word for this self-absorbed bullshit."

I have been a money-making author for more than thirty years.  I accept that both of those responses are guaranteed, as well as polite shrugs and total indifference.

But here's your glimpse at my mind:

To Do

Weed aquarium
Water window
Dismantle brush pile
Order rubber
Comb compost
Rejuvenate pump
Steal hoses
Butt cradle
Patch vandalism
Start talking
Unveil tubs

It's Sunday, and we're having lovely April weather in early March.  I started a to-do list in Google Keep, and the first item came out with an interesting tone.  So I just kept inventing unexpected ways of defining very ordinary tasks.

I won't explain any of them, but the "Start talking" offering.

That's blogging.

I'm talking.

And no, it's late afternoon, and I haven't done more than a few of these chores.