…even the lassie at the Tesco checkout’s at it… ‘…you’re the guy that writes books, aren’t ye?…’ …I smile sheepishly, and then she follows up with, ‘…I’ve always wanted to do that…how do ye get started, what does it involve?…’ …the assembled queue behind mutters and shuffles its communal feet as I try to deliver the thirty-second oration on What-It-Takes-To-be-The-Next-Billy-Shakespeare… ever since my ugly mugshot graced(?) the local magazines and weekend review section of the newspapers… right alongside the journalistic gems describing the twenty neat ways to crochet-knit a school scarf… (scarf in the heat of Abu Dhabi??)… and recipes for baking monster profita rolls… I’ve been regularly accosted by wannabe writers… fair play, I enjoy the minor frisson of celebrity that goes along with that… sign a copy of my book for ye, Missus?… delighted… photograph with the author?…no bother, that man… then the questions again… basically, ‘what does it all entail?’... explaining the quill-scraping piece is fairly easy, and smiles and nodding heads all round are the order of the hour… then ye talk to them about BUILDING THE PLATFORM... and ye get more glazed eyes and blank faces than ye find at a Politicians Honesty Rally… oh, sure, they’ve all heard of the SOSYAL NETWURKIN thing… where ye get on and delight the rest of the planet with details of what yeez had for breakfast, and how often yer cat pees on the new carpet, and such, right?… WRONG! … that’s not what it’s about, ye tell them… producing even more glaze than a doughnut factory production line… ‘imagine ye’re at a business function cocktail event’, ye go on… handing yer fancy embossed business cards to every other boring f*rt in the place, trying to make connections for yer business… well, it’s kinda like that… except ye’re doing it online… WURKING the virtual room… getting heard above the noise that everybody else is trying to make… developing personal relationships… not spamming the hell out of the Web channels… being a person of interest… hello?… hello?… is anybody listening?… they all seem to have gone off, Mabel… well, not to worry, here comes Matron with that bluudy syringe… she’ll sort me out… she understands… see yeez later …
Monthly Archives: September 2013
…what goes around comes around… a trite saying, I know… my Mam used it constantly at we kids when we misbehaved… even when we weren’t misbehaving, she assumed we were, and still quoted it at us, non-stop…‘yeez’ll all come to no good’… misdemeanours haunted my school years… chalking graffiti on the classroom board when teacher wasn’t there, then getting caught, coz she knew I was the only one who could spell correctly… one of the downsides of a good Scottish education… sipping beer at parties when the grownups weren’t looking, when we were only 10 years old… oh, the sheer criminality of it all… once ye’re set on a life of crime and debauchery like that, it’s nigh impossible to escape it… this ol’ Jurassic thought he was getting away with it… trundling into ‘can-yeez-speak-a-wee-bit-louder age I could be forgiven for thinking that maybe I’ve gotten away with it… not so… I get the sense that Interpol and the WURLD’s law enforcement agencies are closing in… y’see, it’s becoming kinda obvious to me that somebody has squelched …or should that be ‘squealed’?… why?… well, I’ve become inundated with tons and tons of emails from people who must have heard about my walk on the wild side away from the Light of the Law… dozens of suitors for connivance in schemes to ferret monies away from bank accounts in countries I never even knew existed… countless widows of corrupt generals from unpronounceable places are on first name terms with me… usually preceded with ‘My Dearest’… or ‘My Beloved Trusted One’... at the last count, my cumulative share of the split amounts to a tad over a hundred squillion dollars… but I can’t sleep at night any more… I’ve been in Facebook Jail before, and that’s a bad, bad Slammer… what if they throw me in there for the rest of my life?… anybody wanna give me their bank account numbers and I’ll pass them on?… that should help me when the plea-bargaining comes around… see yeez later …
Blog Scratchers Corner
Blogs To Follow
Share around as usual and enjoy :))
…here’s a fabulous post from CHUCH WENDIG… enjoy … and go check out his great blog on ‘Terrible Minds’…
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW: ROASTING THAT OLD CHESTNUT
Write What You Know.
So says the advice.
Four words. A tiny prescription.
But like the TARDIS, it’s much bigger on the inside.
That piece of advice is one of the greatest and worst writing advice nuggets in the history of all writing advice nuggets. It’s brilliant! And it’s right! And it’s frustrating! And it’s wrong! It’s open to ten kinds of interpretation. It can be a springboard to launch you through a story. Boing! Or it can be the wall you hit. BOOM.
It contains multitudes.
And I want to speak about it again.
Here, then, are five recent thoughts on the subject. Do with them as you will: read them, respond, rub them on your nude flesh, stomp on them as if they were skittering roaches.
BETTER WRITTEN AS “WRITE WHAT YOU UNDERSTAND?”
On the strictest read, Write what you know sounds like a command to commit to paper only those facts and events you have personally experienced or studied — you played baseball, you studied the Revolutionary War, you’re an astrophysicist, and so all your stories must weave in these three things lest you be writing from a place of dire inauthenticity where readers will be able to smell your bullshit from 100 yards and they’ll pull your shirt over your head and laugh at you as the neighborhood dog humps your supine form. This is nonsense, of course: writing fiction as autobiography is limiting and boring.
But the advice can’t mean that. How absurd would that be?
It’s not about what facts you know.
It’s about a deeper understanding.
What it is, I think, is that in the writing of fiction — whether you’re writing about a broken marriage, a troubled assassin, a tribal war between the moonicorns and the comet-ponies — you’ll be writing about moments that will be strengthened by drawing on elements of your life. It’s about the things you understand, not merely the things you “know.” You understand what it’s like to come from a broken home. Or to fix a tractor. You remember losing your virginity, or your first taste of alcohol, or that time you killed a guy with a box full of syphilis-mad weasels. You get things. You internally understand stuff that is both specific to you but that also draws an emotional and intellectual bridge out to a larger readership — like, somewhere in your life you probably experienced heartbreak. The way you understand it is implicitly your own, but at the same time, nearly everyone has some explicit understanding of love torn asunder.
Your job, then, is to draw from that — to plunge a narrative hypodermic down through the amber casement of your memory and suck out the sweet DNA so you can inject it into your story. It’s not hewing only to facts. It’s about finding those moments from your life that will enrich your fiction with deeper, stranger, more personal — and yet potentially also more universal – details. You are, in a sense, trying to breed emotional familiarity through intellectual honesty.
You’re tying a moment in your story to some understanding from your own life. Which means you’re tethering yourself to the audience — placing your story in a context they can understand, in a way that enlivens the narrative and maybe speaks to their own experiences, as well.
We’re not supposed to steal from other people’s work.
But we can steal from history. From mythology.
And even better, from our own lives. WE CAN STEAL OUR OWN MEMORIES AND TURN THEM INTO MEAT FOR THE STORY MACHINE.
How fucking awesome is that?
WATCHING MY WIFE READ MY WORK
My wife, as a spouse is wont to do, will read my work, often next to me in bed at night. (She’s also a fantastic editor, by the by.) And as she reads, sometimes I’ll catch a movement of her head and I’ll notice a sly, sideways glance in my direction. And when this occurs, I know why.
It’s because she just found a moment in the story she knows is true.
Even though it’s a fake-ass made-up bullshit-ride of a story, she finds things in there that she knows are true. Moments snatched from my life and plugged into the fiction. Sometimes it’s a small thing: a word, a turn of phrase, an article of clothing, a taste of food. Other times it’s taking a story or a piece of one from my life and finding the appropriate contextual slot to cram it into. It’s maybe 10-20% of a book (more in some cases, less in others), almost a kind of storytelling punctuation, but I think the real value is that you’re putting yourself on the page.
You are there in the story.
Not as a character.
But as a ghost, haunting over the narrative proceedings.
A KEY TO A LOCKED DOOR
Many authors treat write what you know as a punishment levied against them. Like it’s a problem. But rather, I like to think it’s a solution to a problem — a key, in fact, to a locked door.
Consider: you hit your head on something in the story. Some plot point. Some low-hanging story obstacle. You don’t know how to move forward with a character, or a theme, or whatever. The maze seems unsolvable; the labyrinth, closed. So: look to your own life. It’s never a guaranteed solution, but you may find that something in your life, your history, answers the problem. A person you know. A thing you experienced. A feeling you understand with great intensity.
Sometimes, you are the key to the door.
And you are the sum of the things you know.
AN ADMONISHMENT TO KNOW MORE
If we assume that part of it really is about facts — like, say, “Don’t write about the Civil War unless you actually know some shit about the Civil War, dingbat” — then we can safely say that write what you know is not a restriction on your writing, but rather a suggestion that you can always know more, dumbass. Go learn more stuff! And write about it.
OR PERHAPS: WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE
Maybe value also exists in saying that we should write not just to our experiences and our understanding, but also to the things about which we feel passionate about. Maybe it means we should lean toward those things that we love (and to an opposite degree, the things that we hate, that cause us pain, that scare the Holy Jesusballs out of us), including them in our work. Or, to a lesser degree, the things that interest us. In school, we tend to do better in subjects we like, and I suspect the same is true in our fiction: we probably tell better stories when we’re writing about things we dig (and we probably know more about the things we dig, too).
So. There you go. Five slapdash thoughts.
Awaiting your own in 3… 2… 1…
…Victorian politicians were equipped better than most with English language skills… one of Benjamin Disraeli’s descriptions of his perennial adversary, William Gladstone, included the phrasing, … ‘…a sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination…’ …in modern language, ‘…he talks a lot…’ …elsewhere, the unchallengeable literary giant, Dostoevsky once took three whole pages to describe a live tree… a similar amount of dead tree, three pages, consumed Tom Clancy’s portrayal of a nuclear device exploding… to mis-quote my chum, old Billy Shakespeare, ‘there are times me thinks they doth scribble too much’… powerfully presented prose is a joy to read… the lately-deceased William Marshall, he of the epic tomes such as ‘The Last Lion’ about the life of Sir Winston Churchill, crafted language and vocabulary that even professed wordsmiths have to reach for the lexicon to zone in on the WURDS that Master Marshall applies to such wonderful effect… verbally painting scenarios is an art… rubbing our senses with feelings and emotion no less riveting… however, this ol’ Jurassic senses that sometimes, just sometimes, it can get a bit overdone… on occasions I feel it’s a case of less said the better… my favourite chosen genre of movies is the chewing-gum-for-the-brain, blow-’em-all-to-hell Brucie Willis films… Rocking Horse Stallone sneaks in there too… a handful of vocal grunts covers the script… and I savour these just as much as the gems from Chuck Dickens, the Johnnies Steinbeck and O’Hara, Bobby Ruark et all… I scribble crime thrillers myself… and when I wanna blow somebody to bits in the manuscript, that’s exactly what I do… no time for me to give yeez a flashback information dump of a bad guy’s lifelong career as a villain… nor the poignancy of the moment when ye blow somebody’s skull off with a 10-lb pistol… not for this author… sometimes WURDS can get in the way of yer writing… more often, less is good… ask any editor worth their red pencil… I’m off now… I need to look up the meaning of ‘verbosity’… see yeez later…
…a good friend, the prolifically successful Author Charity Parkerson mentioned on her Facebook feed the other day she sometimes has a wee spot of bother controlling some of the characters in her books… it struck a loud chord with this ol’ Jurassic… I WUNDER how many more of yeez scribblers out there have the same experience?… the scenario’s quite familiar… ye’ve done all the mental gymnastics… sculpted the main traits in yer cast of players… action line traced out for the next several chapters… all fits in with the great Writing-My-Novel-My-Way-Plan… then, lo and behold, while ye’re typing away, yer character ups and does something completely different… which means the other characters have to react out of the scheme ye’d so carefully charted for each of them… ye look at it and ask herself…who typed that?… sumb’dy’s sneaked into my fingers while I was hitting these laptop keys and guided them away from my original story… WTF? …no, Mabel, that’s not what’s meant by ‘ghost writing’… but it is spooky… then try as ye might to wrench yer characters’ behaviour back into yer own plot progression, they have a committee meeting and gallop off in opposite directions again… it’s all very sinister if yeez ask me… and the thin end of the wedge is this—usually, when these wee gremlins take over yer quill-scraping, the results are much better… ye get LUVLY surprises yerself when ye re-read it… the question remains, though… when the royalties roll in, where do ye send the characters’ share?… they are real, aren’t they?… aren’t they?… no, I’m not delusional again, Matron, what are ye doing with that bluudy syringe?… gotta go talk with some misbehaving minor role-players…see yeez later…
Blog Scratchers Corner
Blogs To Follow
Share around as usual and enjoy 🙂
…yesterday I blogged about the fun at the Sheraton Hotel in Abu Dhabi, which organised another of its splendid Charity-Drive Market events… the proceeds for the table hires on this occasion were earmarked for the ‘Road to Awareness 2013’ charity campaign of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, supporting education for children in Cameroon and Nigeria…. from the opening bell at 9 a.m. it was wall-to-wall people… the spacious Ballroom had not a spare square centimetre left… it was almost like someone in a Govan, Glasgow docklands pub had advertised free beer for the day… I’ve rabbited on before about how gratifying (and sometimes mystifying) it is to have generous volumes of downloads on Amazon Kindle… but NUTHIN beats the eye-to-eye contact with yer readers… business-card swapping with teachers from the local schools and universities will lead to guest-speaking appearances with classrooms of budding literary geniuses anywhere from the ages of 12 and upward… likewise, representatives there from social groups keen to hear from the authorial horse’s mouth wanna see yours truly put in an appearance at their gatherings… it only lasted for six hours, but it whizzed by faster than a Scotsman whipping a pound note off the floor… if ever yeez need any impetus for yer quill-scraping, Lads and Lassies of Blog Land, just get out there and rub bellies with yer publics, adoring or otherwise,… ye’ll float around on the buzz from that interaction for days afterward… I might be mistaken, but I thought I glimpsed that J.K. Rowling girl flogging some of her stuff over in the corner… (the queue at her stall wasn’t as big as the one at mine, of course… a-hem)… gotta go… I’ve got some more photo-shopping to fix… see yeez later…