Nothing Much to Say

Just a-writing along and thinking of Juan Rulfo selling tires. I don’t have much to say right now, just reading, thinking, writing. And then getting up and doing it all over again. eric-hoffer-learners-journal-keeper

Loving all things Elvis lately, (especially Last Train to Memphis, what a book!) and reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Thinking a lot about Hoffer’s link between “frustration” and fanaticism. And how they can become an explosive mixture, able to transform societies in positive and negative ways…The book seems more relevant than it has been in some time.  You should read it.

Sometimes, I have things to talk about on the blog, sometimes I don’t. I like to put who I am into my writing, and by that I mean my fiction writing. And if anything is left, it makes it into the blog. But here’s the deal: I don’t have much left after fiction writing right now. I could become a blowhard and write some fluff here, but I won’t do it. So, having nothing much else to say right now: I’ll keep quite this time and save it for the fiction writing this weekend and my next blog post.

Until then, I will be writing more fiction and submitting more of my pieces. See you all down the road and remember:

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

The Craft: Research, How Much Is Too Much?

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

I’m trying to get the balance right between research and writing. One thing I don’t want to do when writing fiction is research too much.sketch

The other day, I read an interview with Tom Stoppard, the playwright. I haven’t been able to track down the exact one again. But the important point was: can one over-research before sitting down to write a story? Is there  a point where you should be begin writing before you know too much about a given topic? In the final analysis, Tom says yes, you shouldn’t wait to become a total expert, but dive in.

Now, I’ve written my fair share of stories in historical settings. And the question is: where do you stop? I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know you can overdo the research. You have to go into a work still a bit ignorant about it. You must choose the difficult middle path.

Over-research or over-plot your story/book and you risk making it stale. You’ll sit down to write and have nothing to say, it’s almost like you’ve written yourself out. Written the idea out. On the other hand, research too little, plot too little and you could soon lose yourself in a trackless forest of options and alternatives. There’s nothing to guide you back to the kernel of the story. And your world’s details are flawed or inaccurate.

So, when do you put the research down and begin in earnest? As always, there’s no hard and fast rule, you just have to make a gut decision. Right now, I think of it like a sketch of the human body. You want to have the skeleton and its position complete in your mind, but you don’t need all the organs in place or the skin. You just need a basic idea of how the thing will look on the page. That’s not to be dismissive of research or world-building, but you have to know when it’s time to stop and begin to write.

Everyone will have their limit for this, my only point is there is a danger in doing too much research, too much plotting, too much thinking. Your research and plotting has to be a foundation. The story itself is the building. When the foundation looks good, you have to start putting the walls in place. And in a writing a story, the writer is the only one who can make that call. It’s your world, writer, you have to build it.

Good luck and see you next time,

DJ

No Reading Fiction While Working!

Here’s something I picked up while reading a quick, great interview with Paul Auster, the American writer. It seems Auster will NOT read fiction when he’s writing fiction:0115-BKS-ByTheBook-blog_Auster

What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid when writing?

No fiction while working on a novel — only after I’m done and before I’ve started something new — but poetry, history and biographies are acceptable, along with books to help me research various things related to the book I’m writing…

Now, you all know I’m always looking for ways to lift my writing game. I’ve thought this way for a long time. I’ve always been reticent to read other folks’ stuff while writing my own stuff in the fear that it might subconsciously affect my writing style. And sometimes the style of a writer is so strong—think Poe or Cormac McCarthy—that you can’t imagine it not affecting your writing. (That McCarthy—what a  style, too!)

So, going forward, I’m going to follow Auster’s advice on this one: no more reading fiction while I’m on a writing project. I’m going to save that for the time between projects. The only exception of course, which would be rare, would be for reading fiction as research for my piece. That will be exceptionally rare. And, as Auster notes, history, biography, non-fiction are still OK.

Bam, another small tweak to my writing process and a good one. I’d be curious to know if any of you writers out there have recently tweaked your writing process to help you focus/perform better. Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below. Thanks! 

See you next time,

DJ

Did Hemingway “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”?

It’s no secret writers—especially American writers—like their drink. In fact, one of my earliest memories from English class in high school was one of my teHemingway drinkingachers telling us: Never become a writer because as an American, you could win the Nobel, yes, but you’d more likely end up dead before your time or at least, a hopeless alcoholic. I was skeptical at first, but I started to do some research starting with some of the American writers who won the Nobel. And turns out, my English teacher was right. Here’s a list of 15 writers (not all  American) who were alcoholics and many  of whom died before their time. In the end, it’s all quite sad and tragic. Especially, somehow, the loss of Fitzgerald who died at 44.

But somehow in my mind, the Writer-Drinker Prize goes to Hemingway, although he was a teetotaler compared to Fitzgerald. Just pick up a work—any work by Hemingway—and read a few pages. Among many other things, you’ll soon be encountering wine, beer, spirits, aperitifs, tonics and beverages that you have never even heard of. (Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that many 20s/30s drinks are no longer are popular.) But it’s also clear he knocked back more than a few. Which all leads us to the supposed Hemingway quote on writing:

“Write drunk, edit sober.”

So, what do the scientists say? Well, I found some scientists in a lab who are willing to help us decipher…Actually, no…but I did find a blog post of dubious scientific worth which takes up the issue. According to it, there may be some benefit from a micro-dose (1-2 drinks) of alcohol.

Alcohol has been shown to depress certain response in the brain resulting in unusual connections/associations being formed… Alcohol boosts your imagination and inner consciousness.

When I had first heard about this, I was dubious. So, what did I do? That’s right! I tested it!

Now, this was not scientifically studied by yours truly. And I used myself as the test subject which violates all sorts of rules, I’m sure. As well as making it statistically questionable. Anyway, after a drink or two, (which kind of breaks the premise anyway), I wrote one day. Just, you know, to see what would happen. I wrote about 1,000 words and put the results away for a couple of weeks. And what did I find when I pulled it up???

It was junk. Almost immediately, I saw it was auto-trunkable, un-publishable, irredeemable prose. So, I ascertained, at least for my biochemistry, “writing drunk” was a horrible idea. Thank God for that.

What about coffee or tea though? Caffeine? A stimulant, not a depressant? The world’s most widely-consumed psychoactive drug? Well, our article has something to say about that.

Caffeine provides us with more working memory …Coffee also helps  you ignore distractions…

Turns out, I have also tested this. It’s true. But my experience with caffeine/coffee has been much different. On days I drink coffee I feel I write and edit better. I also feel it helps in pre-writing, drawing connections between ideas that had not been synthesized before and creating new directions in existing ideas. I find when I don’t drink coffee the writing doesn’t comes as easy and I’m not quite as optimally sharp as I should be.

So, if I had to rewrite Hemingway’s dictum it would be:

“Forget drinking. Write caffeinated, edit more caffeinated.”

Of course, the correct dose is a big question here, but it’s safe to say you don’t want to overdo the caffeine. You want to write, you don’t want to feel like you need to climb the walls. And there’s the related question of combining your caffeine with your chocolate (tryptophan). But that’s a blog post for another time.


So…what about the man himself? Did Hemingway actually ever say this, let alone do it? For starters, I can find NO evidence Hemingway actually did say this. It’s not on Hemingway’s Wikiquote page. In actual fact, it seems that it’s a quote from Peter De Vries from his book Reuben, Reuben. It seems in that passage in De Vries’ book, it’s a quote from the main character—an alcoholic poet—who has condescended to give an interview to a New York journalist about his “working habits.”

In other words, there is NO evidence Hemingway ever said the phrase. In fact, from what little evidence I could find, he only drank AFTER he finished writing for the day. Now, there’s no doubt he liked a good drink, but it seems he only indulged on his down time. Here’s the first quote.

When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?”

Which seems to indicate he would start drinking AFTER he worked “hard all day.” Then, there’s this from the great, great Paris Review interview of Hemingway.

So I got dressed and walked to Fornos, the old bullfighters’ café, and drank coffee and then came back and wrote “Ten Indians.” This made me very sad and I drank some brandy and went to sleep. I’d forgotten to eat and one of the waiters brought me up some bacalao and a small steak and fried potatoes and a bottle of Valdepeñas.

And then, the there’s this rather long-winded story about how the owner of the pension and the waiter try to get him to write although he’s been drinking. Hemingway doesn’t budge.

The woman who ran the pension was always worried that I did not eat enough and she had sent the waiter. I remember sitting up in bed and eating, and drinking the Valdepeñas. The waiter said he would bring up another bottle. He said the Señora wanted to know if I was going to write all night. I said no, I thought I would lay off for a while. Why don’t you try to write just one more, the waiter asked. I’m only supposed to write one, I said. Nonsense, he said. You could write six. I’ll try tomorrow, I said. Try it tonight, he said. What do you think the old woman sent the food up for?

I’m tired, I told him. Nonsense, he said (the word was not nonsense). You tired after three miserable little stories. Translate me one.

Leave me alone, I said. How am I going to write it if you don’t leave me alone? So I sat up in bed and drank the Valdepeñas and thought what a hell of a writer I was if the first story was as good as I’d hoped.

So, I really doubt that Hemingway ever “wrote drunk” though there is an awful good chance he wrote hungover at least some of the time. And there you have it.

,DJ

The Craft: How to Make Your Characters Like Metamorphic Rock

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction...]

[Spoiler alert: This post contains plots details from Hamlet and Moby Dick.]

I hope you forgive this very extended metaphor…

I wonder if my fellow writers out there have ever considered how their characters are (or ought to be) like metamorphic rock? Hmmm…I don’t see many hands going up or nods of agreement out there, so let me explain. NY-Central-Park-Rock-7333

It  turns out that there are not three forms of rock like we learned in school: the igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. We were lied to…sort of. In reality, there are just two types: rocks made from magma (igneous) and rocks made from falling sediment (sedimentary). Now, both of these can be turned into metamorphic rock, but they both start as igneous or sedimentary and become metamorphic rock.

But how do these metamorphic rocks come about? By the application of heat and PRESSURE.

Metamorphic rocks arise from the transformation of existing rock types, in a process called metamorphism, which means “change in form”. The original rock (protolith) is subjected to heat (temperatures greater than 150 to 200 °C) and pressure, causing profound physical and/or chemical change.

Ok…So what the heck does ANY OF THIS have to do with characters in fiction??? Well, here it is: compelling characters always change (almost always). And they change because they are brought under PRESSURE. So, if you have a great character, don’t just put them up on the shelf or in a monastery free from temptation and trial. Bring them down from the shelf, thrust them out into the world, into the marketplace, onto the field of battle. And THEN see how they do. Do they remain the same? Or do they evolve, change, metamorphosize (spell checker says this is not a verb in English???? Is that right?) because of the pressure? And if they do…Voila! You have two of the three elements of your story: character and plot. You just need to add a setting.

So remember: take that beloved character, that untested protolith, apply pressure/heat and see what they change into. These days, I don’t pre-write a main character for a story (protagonist) without wondering how he/she will change. How he/she will be different at the END of a story than they were at the START.

PS…What about those great characters who DON’T change? Those Hamlets and Ahabs of yore?  It’s interesting that both are transformed ultimately by death. That being said, they come under extreme pressure and don’t change, but become hardened in their ways, more what they are. Even they change—to a degree. At least the pressure is applied, even if it comes to naught. It’s their standing in the way of this pressure which makes them great, albeit tragic, characters.

Alright, see you next time. In the meantime, don’t forget to apply to some pressure to your most beloved characters.

See you,

DJ

The Writing of the Fiction

Guys, getting into the writing…of the fiction…this week. So, I’ve got to post and run.

I thought I would like to talk about events at large, and I started this writing day fully intending to do that, but it just melted inside me…and was gone. I almost threw down the book I was going to quote from. It just no longer worked and I had no motivation to write about it.  

But in fiction writing, it’s whole different story. I’m reading, absorbing, researching, submitting, writing. All good stuff, but it means not much time left to blog. I hope to have more substantive posts in the future. Until then, I’m working and doing this fiction writing stuff.

Now back, to that writing/submitting stuff. 

giphy Ren

See you guys next time,

DJ

Still Writing, Still Dreaming

All, I’m going to take a little break from updates on my writing. I will still be here and writing, but will take a step back from updating you EVERY BIT OF THE WAY on my works in progress. But, rest assured, I’m going to continue writing fiction. In order to do THAT, I’m going to have to continue to make these posts short and telegraphic. And maybe focus on larger issues in writing and life…but, you know, in a concise way.

So to recap, here’s a quick review of where things stand:

1. I’ve submitted a number of works and will submit more. (You can find out more on my Works in Progress page). These pieces include Pacha-Mama, The Number Thief and others.

2. I’m writing this weekend. (And hopefully not looking like poor Tom here.)

mrw-im-still-writing-a-paper-the-morning-its-due-169598

That’s all I’ve got. Nothing more to say. I’ll catch you  guys next time, hopefully with something a bit more substantive. Until then.

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

DJ

Where My Writing Is Going in 2017

It’s a little late for resolutions, but I wanted to post this before 2017 gets too far away from us. writing headphones

First, let me say I’m pretty pleased with where my writing is at. So, these are more like adjustments than “resolutions.” Overall, I’m keeping disciplined and writing “what I know and love.” So, all’s pretty good. But I was noodling on what to change and these three things came up. So, here are my writing resolutions for 2017.

1. No More Novellas
Well, well, well. Here’s the deal: I love writing novellas. I’ve never been comfortable writing short stories: I always feel things are just starting to get good when I get to about 5,000-7,500 words—the upper limit for a short piece. So, I always feel like I have to stop just when things are getting going. It’s very, very frustrating.

On the other hand, novellas are fine, but they have one big problem. BIG  PROBLEM. No one wants to publish them. Well, I can’t say no one. But I can say there are far, far fewer markets for novellas than short stories or novels. And it’s really tough finding just the right market for just the right stories. (If you think I’m wrong about this, please reply in the comment section, I’d love to learn about more novella markets).

So, this year I’m going to concentrate on NOT writing novellas. I’m going to go short/long this year. NO MORE NOVELLAS.

2. Listen to My Music While I Write
Back in the day, I used to write with music on. I mean I would ALWAYS write with my music playing in my apartment. Nowadays, I write at a café and  listen to whatever they’re playing. And this can be distracting or annoying, especially when the music doesn’t fit the  mood of the scene you’re writing. I think it can also overpower your brain if it’s too loud or too complex. For some reason free-form jazz seems to be quite distracting for me—and  that’s a fairly common genre for cafes to play.

So, I’m going to try something different this year. I’m going to buy some headphones and plug those in. Then, I can select the music I need to write by. This usually means instrumental music or something sung in a language I don’t know. I’m interested to see if this will help or hurt productivity. But hey, this  is part of the experimentation I talked about, the tweaks you need to make to see if they help or hurt your writing.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

3. Go to One Con
I have messed up this one  again and  again. It feels  I haven’t gone to a Con in ages. I need to change that now. So, here’s my commitment to go to ONE Con this year. I think I should be able to do one.

I’m looking for a mid-size Con with a good writing track. You know, one with lots of workshops and seminars on writing. Maybe with some filking on the side. I’m thinking about going to BaltiCon in May, but haven’t decided yet. I’ll keep you posted.


So, that’s it. Three easy pieces. Going to start making this happen right now. See you out there, fellow writers. And best luck to all of you in 2017!!!! Let’s do this!

,DJ

New Flash Fiction Story Published

Hey, everybody and Happy New Year! We’re starting 2017 off right: a new short-short So-You-Found-Mestory of mine has just been published. It’s about a self-conscious story. This is how it starts:

So you found me. Well done.

Don’t think for a moment that I’m merely a story. Oh no, not even close. I have thoughts, feelings, ideas, just like you. Just like any other sentient being…

If you want to read the rest head over to Between Worlds magazine and read the story, it’s called “So You Found Me.” You can also read the full new edition of BW magazine which has new stories from a bunch of up-and-coming writers. And, as always, I encourage you to contribute to the magazine which you can at the bottom of this page. Between Worlds is a paying market (for short stories, not flash) and we need to preserve and nurture these markets. Thanks!…Enough promo!

Hope you enjoy the piece and please leave a comment there or here on my blog. Would love some feedback on it. And thanks to Between Worlds for considering and publishing the piece!

See you again soon.

,DJ

Ending (the Year) Where I Began

Just a short post today. Feeling good. Not about the world so much, as my place in it. For what that’s worth…I was going to post about my resolutions for next year, but that’s going to have to wait. Here’s what I’m doing today, not tomorrow.

Prepping a story for publishingOcean Dawn
Good news: my flash fiction (less than 1,000 words) story “So You Found Me” will be published over at Between Worlds magazine. I loved this little piece from when I first sat down and wrote it, so it’s nice having it see the light of day. I will post when the story goes live.

This morning I sent my Bio and some other stuff along to the editor, so we should be all good to go. Nothing like starting the day off with a positive bit of literary business.

Wrapping another story
Right now, I’m in the café, hooked in and ready to start editing (as soon as I finish this post). With that, I should be done with “The Number Thief” a short story/novelette that I started working on this fall. It’s taken awhile, but I feel it’s a strong piece. I can’t wait to get this finished, proofed and off to editors.

Submitting finished stories
Well, this one might have to wait a day or two. I have a couple of other stories I need to send back into the arena. “Pacha-mama,” a play and a couple of other pieces will have get back in the fight and see how they do. I’ve been so slammed lately I haven’t had a chance to get them out there. Hope to submit them tomorrow.


So…I’m exactly where I started the year, in a sense. I’m living and writing fiction when I can. It’s a great experience and one that helps keep me balanced.

I know this year hasn’t been the easiest for everybody, but I want you to remember this quote from Heraclitus.

“The Sun is new each day.”

Remember, the sun will be back tomorrow and with it, a new day. The question is…What will you do with it?

Until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius