A Writer Goes to New Orleans—For Halloween

What is it about certain towns? You know, those that draw in writers? As places to write. As places to live. Or places to do a little bit of both…

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Internationally, there’s that perennial favorite, Paris. Then there are some of my favorites: Moscow, Istanbul, Madrid, Fes, Buenos Aires, Arequipa. (Why are so many of these former imperial capitals or ports? Or both?…Anyhow…) Man!—Any one of the towns I could (and sometimes have) set up shop in, find some cheap digs and just write, write, write. Closer to home, here in the U.S., there are lots of choices for literary towns. Dear to many an American writer’s heart is the Big Easy, New Orleans. And lucky me, I’m headed that way this weekend.

And not only is it NOLA, it’s Halloween in New Orleans!!! Which will be sweet. One of the biggest impressions of the city is just its overall spookiness. All those cemeteries with their stone avenues of mausoleums, the hints of voodoo practice in little shrines and altars, the old convents and parks with shut wrought-iron gates. Its whole atmosphere lends itself to Halloween.

Then, there’s the music and the food which are, let’s face it, the cornerstone of civilization once you’ve finished your morning coffee. For music, there’s jazz, as the obvious choice, but also lots more on offer. I’m going to try to find myself some good jazz piano this time around. (Let me know if you have any advice on where to go in the Comments section.)

As for food, my mission this time in NOLA is to really understand the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine. I think Cajun is the more rustic and country-food/gamey cuisine and Creole is more seafood-based and, well, mixed. But I will have to do a bit more hands-on research here. I also want to try trout—which is apparently a big thing I missed in my previous trips and some authentic Israeli food.

And finally that great literary heritage. There’s Chopin and Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy Toole—all these great mythologizers of the South, New Orleans and America—and all with some connection to this great city. Want to hunt down some of those places connected with them while I’m there.


Here’s a bit more on literary New Orleans from Huff Post. They do a good job of breaking down some of the highlights.

And PS, here’s the number one tip for doing New Orleans right: Get off Bourbon Street, and better yet, out of the French Quarter, and see what’s happening in the rest of town—you won’t regret it! And Gentlemen, don’t forget your dinner jacket, you’ll need it if you want to get into most of the decent restaurants.

See you next time,

DJ

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The Greatest Medium

Well, some say the “medium is the message.” This time it’s true. (Or at least the message of this post is about a medium).

bobcreeksouth _OR

I was out on the Oregon coast this summer, as you know. And I had a great time. Deep-sea fishing, crabbing, going to beer festivals. One small scene unrelated to all of them, really struck me though. It was just a simple moment in the local seaside hotel we were staying in. To one side of the coffee table, I noticed a few used books on the shelf.

It was a cold and misty day, with alterations of sunshine and cloud. With wind at about 50 degrees, you wouldn’t want to stay outside too long (well, we did anyway). It was very tempting to grab one of those books—novels actually—and curl up beside the fire and start reading. But of course, I didn’t. There was too much to do and too much fun to be had.

But it got me thinking…Is there really any other medium like the novel? One in which you can grab a tea or coffee, curl up and be transported to a wholly different world for days on end? Where you can come into another person’s—another soul’s—mind and thoughts and live in their world for such an extended period of time?

I thought about it and I don’t think there is…With the possible exception of video games where you do live in a world for hours or days on end and where you live a sort of first-person existence. But even then, it’s not quite the same. And besides that’s not the point of this post…

The point of this post is that I have always loved the form of the novel. Not for me are short stories with their quick, clever plotting and their swift resolutions. Or even plays which are grand in their immediacy—but too short-lived.

No, best give me a samovar full of tea; a wet, dreary day; and a thick novel. And let me fall into a distant world and learn and grow and develop…and suffer, revel and laugh…along with a character in some far-off realm of imagination. And lit me LIVE there for hours or days until I finally finish the last chapter. That!!! That’s art in its highest form…What could be more sublime? 

Just a thought!

See you next time,

Darius

The Potential Number of Songs Is Infinite

I forgot who said it, but a long time ago someone said that we would run out of new music. That there was only a finite number of songs and that we were close to running out of new material. You can see a modern form of this argument here. And then shortly after that Mozart (or someone like that) came on the scene and proved him/her totally wrong.

Mozart

Well, it seems like an untestable hypothesis to me, something you can’t prove or disprove. So, instead of trying to figure this out logically, I’ll just say where my feelings lie…

…I feel that this assertion is baloney. The potential number of songs is infinite. As long as people are around, they will be writing more music. With an infinite number of notes to choose from, these songwriters will create an infinite number of songs. So, there will be more Mozarts, more Dylans and infinitely more songs to come.

What triggered this was, as usual, a road trip. As you know, I recently went down to South Carolina to check out the eclipse. Driving through the swamps, forests and cities of the South, I would tune into new station after new station. Rock, hip-hop, pop, college stations, top 40. Whatever, just tuning in and listening to it all. And some of the sounds coming out of the South, Georgia and North Carolina especially, are definitely new and different. I’ll be honest: I don’t like all of it or even most of it, but some of it is pretty good. And it sounds unlike what we’re listening to now. It’s fresh and different. Just when you thought the well was exhausted, up comes this pail brimming with new water. That’s how it goes.

Where does this touch fiction writing? It doesn’t directly. But, I guess, I’ve realized lately how I haven’t focused on a wide range of influences in literature. I have limited myself to a too-narrow spectrum of voices. I’ve narrowed down, too much, the infinite choices of literature that are on offer. I especially tend to read “classics” and older stuff and it’s time to mix that up. I’ve made that change in my musical diet and now I need to do it in my fiction reading diet.

So, that’s going to change. Starting now. I’ve written on this blog about Hemingway, Poe, Cervantes—but now it’s time to open up the horizons a bit wider. It’s been time…I’ll let you know who it goes.


That’s all for now. I will only add that I’m still writing and, importantly, still enjoy writing fiction. There’s still nothing like creating a world from scratch—with nothing more than an idea and PC with a Word processor. I’m keeping it up and will let you know about progress here when there is something to report.

See You Next Time,

Darius

Totality Awesome

Hey Everybody, I’m back. Ran down to South Carolina (Greenville area) last month to experience the solar eclipse…Actually to experience totality which is a totally (sorry!) different thing. It was mind-blowing. It is one of the few times when I have felt words don’t really do an event justice. Just look at it:

A total solar eclipse is seen on Monday, August 21, 2017 above Madras, Oregon. A total solar eclipse swept across a narrow portion of the contiguous United States from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial solar eclipse was visible across the entire North American continent along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

If you find yourself near an eclipse again, I recommend getting to the totality zone so you can fully experience it. I was very suspicious/cynical before driving eight hours and spending two nights in a (meh) hotel room for an event scheduled to last two minutes. But as totality (that moment when the moon completely blocks the sun) started I began clapping and cheering. I couldn’t help myself. It was that incredible.

There are many stages to reaching totality. First, you see the crescent of the sun get smaller and smaller (the start of the eclipse). Eventually, the temperature starts to drop (in Greenville it dropped about 10 degrees Farenheit), the night animals/insects start to make noise and the sky starts to acquire a strange twilight glow. Then, the light from the sliver of sun becomes white (not yellow or orange) and there is a strange diamond ring effect. And boom! The Sun is gone and only the aurora is left. It’s a fantastical scene. Everything appears monochrome above (see the picture) and the stars begin to appear in the night sky. There is a twilight or sunset around 360 degrees on the horizon and you can hear all the crickets/cicadas thundering along at this point. It lasts for only a couple of minutes—but is sublime. Then, there is a second diamond ring effect and the sun is back. Color starts to come back and the twilight comes back as the stars fade.

It’s one of nature’s great events and this post hardly does it justice. Like I said, it is one of those few times when I feel words truly fail me. You must simply experience it.

So, next time there’s an eclipse, see if there will also be a totality. Then, book a room and grab a car/train/ship and get there for the big moment. You won’t regret it.

See you next time,

Darius

A Little Night Reading

Ever get that feeling? That you’re tired, but you just can’t get to sleep? I know I do. There are a lots of different things you can do to try to remedy it. Just stay up. Think. Get up and watch some TV…or read. Brasileira_1911

I choose the later or more accurately, I’m in the habit of reading before I go to bed. But you have to be careful, you need to select the right things to read. For me, thrillers or horror stories are out. Too exciting. And they have the potential to be too gripping. Long novels or anything to dense is out too. Lately, I’ve settled into short snippets of works with self-contained ideas or plots. And it helps if they’re dreamy. Here’s what’s on my bedside table right now.

The Book of Disquiet
This is my go-to book for the late evening. It’s a great for this. It’s dreamy, comes in small chunks and is a HUGE book. You can just pick out a random chapter and start reading, there’s no narrative. This “factless autobiography” by the imagined assistant bookkeeper from Lisbon is a strange masterpiece. By terms poetic and nostalgic, dreamy and realistic, it’s full of yearning for a future the narrator knows he will never grasp. Its gloomy atmospherics of early 20th century Lisbon are also stirring and memorable. I can only recommend it in the strongest possible terms. Especially, if you need some reading before bed time.

The Discourses
Epictetus is one of my favorites. I love his key message: what is in your power is the key to happiness, you must let everything else go. These are really (let’s stretch things a bit here) ancient recordings of his lectures given to his students in Athens. They didn’t have the Internet or iPhones back then, apparently, so they just had to write as quickly as they could using papyrus and pen. And one of his students, Arrian, did just that. You can hear Epictetus speaking in these lectures, sometimes arguing with himself. Sometimes with his own students, minor politicians or random sycophants who drop in on his lectures. And each chapter is a self-contained snippet that reflects Stoic morals and their worldview in very short bursts. It’s another thing you can dip into at will and then set aside. Again, highly recommended.


That’s it. All for now. Hope you consider these for your nightly readings. See you next time,

Darius

Vacation Time

Hey Everybody, it’s summer and I’m trying to take it easy. With family vacation, more vacation coming, writing, working and house work…I don’t have much to time to blog. So, just stopping by to say “Hey!”Beach

My latest vacation was intense. It involved deep-sea fishing (with a side  of crabbing), beer festivals (bourbon-aged beer…mmmm) and dredging a lake which, as a co-worker pointed out, all sounds like “manly stuff.” I guess it was, I guess it was…

Anyway, I’m back home now and researching (which means reading), writing and thinking about my next fiction piece. I’ve got to focus on that for now and I will be back next time with something a bit more involved for you to chew on.

In the meantime, get out there and enjoy life—it’s way too short! August is a great time to mix it up and have some fun. Who knows? We might even run into one another.

See you soon,

Darius

Changing the Name of This Blog

Phew! So many things going on right now. Anyway, as you know this blog just passed its fifth anniversary. And there are a lot of great things to look back upon and celebrate. But now, it’s time to look forward…And  that begins with changing the name of this blog.

Name-Change-pic

Right now, the official title of this blog (with tagline) is:

A Writer Begins by Darius Jones

A new writer shares his triumphs and trials.

Not bad, but definitely outdated. I started this blog because I had just self-published something on Amazon Kindle. In these past five years, as I recounted last time, I have seen a number of my stories published in magazines. I have written more stories, a novella and a play. If you count by time or stories completed, I hardly could be considered a “beginner” at this point. So, it’s time for a change of that title. I’ve thought about it quite a bit and after a good amount of deliberation, this is the new title of this blog:

Inside the Writer’s Mind

One Writer’s Take on the Craft of Writing

I may change this at any time, of course, but it seems good for now. It all really comes from an earlier post where I wrote this:

I promise to keep posting and keep getting you inside the head of this fiction writer.

“…Inside the head of this fiction writer…” That’s what this blog is really all about, isn’t it? Take today, for example. I was walking here, to the café, to write. And all the while I was thinking about this post…AND…about how to plot a novel…AND…about how you have to know and love something to write well about it. And the whole idea is to take that internal monologue out of the brain (scoop, scoop) and—Pfffwat!!—fling it onto the page. Getting you guys into my mind through sharing my thoughts via the written word, the art of writing itself. So, there it is: the new title of this blog.

That’s any evergreen topic and one that won’t change. Kinda feels like coming home. I can’t wait to share those ideas about plotting a novel with you—and many other topics—but that’s coming down the road…Maybe next time in fact…Until then…

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

Five Years of My Blog: A Writer Begins

Well, well, well. It’s a bit early, but this blog has been around for FIVE years. Five years! The first post was on July 20, 2012. And here it is:


My New Novel

July 20 by dariusjones

[This entry is a repost from my earlier, Goodreads blog. It was the first post on “A  Writer Begins.”]

Well, here goes nothing.

My first novel has just been published. It’s on the Amazon Kindle store here. It’s also on Goodreads.

Please take the time to leave a review. And a big thank you to all of you who have already got it and are reading it.

,D


Sarasota Writer

I was so nervous to hit “PUBLISH” on that first post. And I honestly didn’t want to do it, but I felt that’s what a writer should do once they published something in this day and age. So, I did it. The blog has come a long way since then: the posts are longer, have a more conversational tone and have pictures (even GIFs and videos).

I want to use this post to take a deeper look at my blog and my writing over the past five years. I’m going to do this via simple stats and lists.


First, here’s a breakdown of the stats for this blog:

Total posts: 198

Total followers: 188

Comments received: 103

Visitors in the first year: 5

Most popular post: The Craft: Poe’s Unity of Effect

Posting schedule: Once every two weeks.

Not bad, lots of progress there. I’ve also stuck to my established posting schedule of once every two weeks. I wish I could do more, but with my writing fiction, sleeping, working out and…Oh yeah!!!—that full time job—that’s about all I can handle.


Second, here’s a look at my submission/rejection totals for stories.
My first story submission was also in July 2012. This was the rejection letter I received July 8, 2012 (just before the blog began):

Thanks for submitting “The Hatchlings,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

Editor XXXX

And yes, I keep all my rejection and acceptance letters. Here’s a deeper look at my submission/rejection stats from my Duotrope listings which I use to track my story submissions. (Hat tip to Aeryn Rudel from which I’m errrrr, “borrowing” this idea of sharing rejection stats. But seriously, you should check out his blog, Rejectomancy!)

Submissions: 102

Rejections: 80

Acceptances:  4

Never heard back from publisher: 8

Withdrawal by author: 7

Pending submissions: 3

Acceptance/Rejection ratio: 3.9%  [Believe it or not, that’s not too bad.]


So, also looking back from the start of this blog…from that moment when I decided I’m going to give this writing thing a shot: What has changed? What’s different? Well, everything is the same, everything is different. I still have the same job, and I still write on the weekends. But certain writing milestones have occurred. I think a Q-and-A format might answer these best, so apologies for the cheesiness, but let’s dive in!

Darius, what writer milestones have you passed in these last five years?

Q: Have you self-published a story or book?

A: Yes. I self-published a novel, The Library of Lost Books and a novella, The Man Who Ran from God on Amazon Kindle. 

Q:  Have you traditionally published a story? That is, has a magazine/publisher published your work?

A: Yes, four times. All of them were stories: The Hatchlings, The Ghul of Yazd, Barabanchik, and So You Found Me.

Q: Have you received payment for publishing a story?

A: Yes, first via Amazon for my self-published work. And also for two of my traditionally-published stories for magazines.

Q: Have you signed a contract for a piece you published?

A: Yes. Twice for the same pieces I received payment for.

Q: Which of your published pieces are you most proud of?

A: The Ghul of Yazd. Its characters, its structure, its dialogue and its tone have that “unity of effect” I’m always looking to create. And it’s simply a good yarn.

Q: Have you attended a Con with a writing track and participated in writer events?

A: Yes. Attended writer panels and workshops at two RavenCons.

Q: Have you written a play?

A: Yes. Something titled The Sludge Ship Chronicles.

Q: Have you had a play staged/performed?

A: Alas, no. But it’s ready to go! Finished, and proofed and everything! If anyone out there can help market it, let me know! It can be produced cheaply, I swear! Anyone? Anyone???

Q: Have you had a novel traditionally published?

A: No.

Q: Have you received an advance for a novel?

A: Oh God, no.

Q: Have you got an agent?

A: Nope.

Q: Have you done a book tour or an event promoting your own work?

A: No.

Q: Have you quit your day job because you thought: “Let’s make a go of it as a pro?”

A: No!


So, there you have it. Five years of this blog, five years of submissions and five years of writing fiction. I’ve come a long way, especially when you consider I’m doing this on the side, catch as catch can.

The most fundamental thing I’ve done in writing and the one thing I’m really sticking to now is: Writing what I want to write. I can not emphasize this point enough. It is absolutely key, as I discussed in this post and many other places. In the end, picking the right story is easy. You know that strange, enduring story? The one that doesn’t let you sleep at night? That has you imagining the main characters as you sit through yet another PowerPoint presentation? That’s running through your mind as you’re on the bike at the gym doing Cardio? That’s the story you have to write! That one, right there! Get it out, and trust me, you’ll feel a lot better.

Well, that’s about it. Thanks to you, the blog readers, for tuning in. And a big thanks to friends, family and my partner for supporting my writing in ways big and small, spiritual and material. It means so very much to me to have you in my life and know you support what I’m doing.

With that, I’m off to write some fiction.

See you guys next time,

Darius

Thank You

Everybody,

Looks like 2017 is going to be a good year here on the blog. Already the blog has surpassed the readership total (visitors) for 2016. And in only 6 months. So, thank you to everybody that keeps coming back for more…and to our new visitors. I promise to keep posting and keep getting you inside the head of this fiction writer.

you_monsters

More Soon,

Darius

Where to Gather Stories: Weddings

Gone are the days of Jan Potocki, when one could simply pull up to a roadside inn on a stormy autumn evening, dismount and spend the night eating, drinking and exchanging stories with your fellow travelers. I think that’s one aspect of pre-modern life I would have enjoyed immensely. A world of no phones, no TV and no radio. A world in which the only way to relieve your boredom would be your own thoughts, reading books and your fellow humans. Uighyur Storyteller

In such a world, a budding writer—or anyone for that matter—could go undercover and listen for the next great story. It’s something that Potocki likely did. I imagine him stopping at inns throughout Spain to just listen to stories from locals and fellow travelers alike. I imagine him filing them away for later use, embellishing and tweaking them. And finally putting them down on paper.

Nowadays, it’s much harder to connect with people in your travels and everyday life. Even if others aren’t checking their phones or just staying in to watch TV, there are these subtle cultural taboos about bothering other people or even striking up a conversation in many public spaces. There are exceptions to this rule…Some obvious ones come to mind: bars and some cafes for example. But I think there are other obvious places for you to go undercover and gather up some great stories.

Today, I want to share one of these non-obvious Taverns of the Mind: the wedding. I’ve been to two weddings so far this year and I have one more to go, so they’re top of mind.

Weddings seem to have those key ingredients you look for in an atmosphere conducive to good storytelling, places where people feel free to open up a bit and share. These venues seem to have these things in common:

  • People are forced to spend time together (without the intermediary of media and devices).
  • Those people are not likely to meet one another again (or not likely to meet one another for a very long time).
  • Cheap alcoholic beverages are plentiful and at hand.

Weddings, somewhat surprisingly, check all three of these boxes. You won’t likely see most of these people again and there is usually a good amount of time between toasts and other activities to kill. Of course, many of these stories can be reminisces about the bride and groom, sure. And hey, I know they’re what you came to see. But there is also just catching up with people and hearing some of the experiences they’ve had.

Why, just in these past two weddings I have heard tales…And I mean real tales told to me by other humans IN THE FLESH…about bus travel in Central America, the latest scams in Marrakesh, fishing bodies out of the Hudson river (they become full of eels quite quickly, apparently), breaking into safes to retrieve wedding rings you placed there—I could go on and on. These stories vary in length and quality, just like those in any fiction magazine. But they are from real people in professions and walks of life very different from my own. I always find something in them to tuck away, remember and let stew in my subconscious for a bit. If done right, a wedding (like many other venues) is a top place to shut up, listen and start gathering story ideas. All you need to do is go undercover and listen.

Something, my fellow storytellers, to remember next time you get a wedding invite in the mail.

See you next time,

DJ