You and I

As we follow the arrow of time, you and I share something.  We write, not only to touch the world with our thoughts, but to feel the spirit of those who read our words.  While Jung called it the Collective Unconscious, some call it Quantum Consciousness; some see it as a spiritual gift.  Regardless of the term, our souls are interconnected.

For you who read my blogs, my curiosity as to your creations motivates me to read your stories.  And the beauty of these stories, and photos, and thoughts, stimulate memories, and emotions, such that I feel I’ve known you before.  In some cases, I have been close to you, though unknowingly at the time, and in other cases, I was near your energy before you were born.  Nonetheless, I sense the verve of your soul as we trade our written word, art, and emotions. 

Yes, it’s true we are not being profiled by Enquirer magazine; we are not on the red carpet, but then, that’s not why we write.   You and I only know about each other; we are the soul seekers. We seek to know the passions of another, we seek to share our depths, and out of our collective unconscious we create new souls in our fiction and express them in our art, and share them in our literature.  We live in a transcendent plane that few understand, and we do not understand why they cannot share our visions as they rush through their lives.

As technology evolves and the internet allows global thought sharing, we become one in the world.  Today I stopped by one of my fellow blogger’s site, Alex Markovich.  I perused his stories, took in his art, and my mind was taken back forty years when I was a high school exchange student in Sweden.  This was the time of the “Cold War”, and The Soviet Union was behind the “Iron Curtain.”  I went on a two week student tour through Finland into what we called “Russia.”  We forfeited our passports at the border and were told not to go outside the city limits of the two cities we visited, Moscow, and St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it was then. 

In those two weeks, at 18 years old, I learned that the people, the smiles, the artists, and the salt of the earth are the same everywhere and it changed my future.  It’s no secret in today’s world that you and I have this curiosity about other cultures, lives, hopes, and dreams, but forty years ago our access to one another was limited.  Today, we blog, we publish, and we share globally.   It’s a beautiful journey, and I am thankful to each of you who share your journey; I am thankful when you take a moment and allow me to share mine. 

In a fiercely political world with upheaval, fighting, and global power plays we must continue to seek one another, and promote the higher plane of existence that the human experience deserves.  It’s we who share the beauty that surrounds us who must fill and spill our cups of energy onto the world to draw the human collective unconscious to our appreciation of this gift of life.  And you and I will share the peace we create.

Confession of a writer

Last year I began attending a writers’ group.  We read what we write and criticize each other.  It’s a healthy experience, but it seems people don’t like to beat up on their peers.  They’re too nice.   I love it when someone beats my writing up.  Not because I’m a masochist, but because that’s the only way I really learn.  Kick my butt, I say, and they say my writing’s pretty good.  No, I say, lay it on me.  But they don’t.  That’s not my confession though.

Here it is:  I attend a writers’ group because when I criticize someone’s writing, it causes me to look much deeper into my own.   There’s nothing more humbling then telling someone they shouldn’t use too many adverbs, or whatever, (in front of a group) then realizing that I’ve made the same errors and my writing is up next.  

As corny as it sounds, the real benefit, for me at least, of attending the writer’s group is that it makes me a better self-editor.  It took me a few years of writing before I started this because I tend to be a loner and prefer to live in a cocoon and write in a corner somewhere.  Not to mention, there’s always someone cocky in these groups who believes he or she is God’s gift to the literary world just waiting to be discovered.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there attends writing groups and whether or not they find any benefit.  If so, let me know.

The Novel and the thirty second ad

I recently read that a one hour program in the United States contains typically 15-16 minutes of advertisements per hour.  We’ve accepted that 25% of our hour with our favorite show will be advertisements, but the interesting part is how the ads are changing and what it might be doing to our psyche.   The trend seems to be towards 15 second ads, based of course on the notion that Americans’ attention span is shrinking.  Right now nearly half the ads are thirty seconds and the other half are fifteen seconds.  If we watch a program with sixteen minutes of advertising we can see sixty-four thirty second ads, or 128 fifteen second ads in an hour.  Of course, we see a repeat of the same fifteen second ad over and over so by the time we go to bed we’re seeing images of some Insurance guy as our best friend.

The point you ask?  A fifteen second ad must be very focused and waste no time, just like writing a story in today’s market.  The upshot is this.  The average adult in the US watches 5 hours of television a day.  Hmmm… That’s 640  fifteen second ads/day or 4480 ads/week, or 232930 ads/year.  What?  A quarter million?  Ok, in reality some half of those ads are thirty second ads so you can cut that in half.  That’s only 115,000 ads a year, or so.  I neglected to ad in the YouTube ads we run into, or the pop-ups, or the focused Facebook ads.

There’s good news though.  Children 2-11 years old only watch about twenty-four hours of TV a week so they’re only getting about two thirds as many ads.  Whew, under 80,000 ads a year. 

So what does this have to do with writing a Novel?  It’s not news that structuring a novel has changed since Moby Dick.  We want an audience, but we have to pull them away from the Internet, or the TV.  We have to write short scenes, tight scenes, and gripping scenes.  Considering that a thirty minute program has to tell a complete story in about twenty minutes of thirty second scenes, the challenge is evident.

Now, here’s my kicker.  A prediction based on what I see on YouTube who appears to be the king of forcing thirty second ads and five second choices.  I predict that as Amazon keeps growing the market for electronically formatted books, the time will come when after ten pages, an ad will pop-up before one can continue reading.  Hey, nobody’s watching TV anymore, everybody’s online and the advertisers need to reach us somehow so we can know what we want.

My conclusion:  Keep trimming those scenes, keep them short, keep the suspense high and always drop in a teaser for the next scene.  You can buck the system but you can’t fight the evolution of the machine.

About Those Mountains

About life and literature―Promise

The pictures on my blog and Instagram are photos I took while climbing mountains.  Climbing a mountain is a bit like writing a novel, possibly more so than running a marathon.  It really is a one step at a time adventure.  Occasionally, one has difficulty finding a route up the mountain and has to take some steps back and redirect.  Mostly though, it’s the mental game of placing one foot in front of the other when one is fatigued, and mentally worn out from the steep and sometimes rough terrain.

A few years ago I went to South America with the singular goal to climb the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, Mt. Aconcagua.  After climbing local mountains such as Mt Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mt Hood, and the other volcanoes of the cascades I wanted to try high altitude climbing.

It turned out to be the best training I could have asked for in preparation for writing the novel that I have since completed.  Incidentally, my novel is a crime novel not a mountain climbing novel.

In order to climb high altitudes, one must first train, then acclimatize.  This is carried out by spending months of weekend climbing, and running.  Then, once on the high mountain, by climbing a few thousand feet higher daily, returning to a lower altitude for a night, then climbing higher and staying higher, gradually moving up the mountain.  This allows acclimatization so that one will not develop Cerebral Edema and die and requires various amounts of time on the mountain depending on the altitude.

Still, when summit day arrived and we climbed from 19,200 ft to 22,840 ft the altitude played havoc on my mindset, and psyche.  There were times when I felt like quitting but—in the end―it was one foot in front of the other, at a snail’s pace all the way to the summit, and highest point in the Western Hemisphere.

I think mountain climbing sums up the journey of completing a novel through to publication.  There are often route finding difficulties, and always a new challenge of acclimatizing to what one didn’t know before one started the journey.  After the fervor and toil of writing many drafts, and having editors and readers making suggestions, and writing many more drafts there is a moment of perceived completion.  This is the false summit.  It seems this is when the real high altitude acclimatization begins because one realizes that the mountain has not been climbed.  The summit (publication) does not come so easily and there suddenly appear new challenges that were never identified prior to setting out on the journey.   When I climb a mountain, or now as I have completed writing my novel, I don’t look to see how far it is to the summit, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

A Work in Progress

Last month I submitted my first short story for publication.  I decided to submit short stories after having several agents tell me that my novel was well written, and engaging, but would probably not find a publisher since I was a no-name.  After that my strategy became to publish some short stories before submitting my novel again.

I’m excited to announce that my short story was accepted for publication in an online literary journal, “gravelmag.com”.  Gravel is published by the MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.  My story will appear in the October issue. I’ll probably put out a link and share it once it’s published.  It was a personal story, nonfiction.

Here’s what I noticed about this piece after it was accepted.  I found several sentences that I was (even more) unsatisfied with my punctuation.  The one word that I never felt was quite right in the story now seems like it doesn’t belong at all and glares at me as if it’s in bold print.

I have since submitted a short fiction story and found myself editing between every submission such that everyone receives a different version.  I used to write software, and it was never finished and that’s how my stories feel.  Anyone who uses the WINDOWs operating system knows that it gets updates every week or so, and then eventually they just build a whole new version of the same story.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could build auto updates into our published stories?

I believe a story is like that.  It seems that if we sit on a story for a while we update it with new thoughts. I often wonder if it’s due to evolving thoughts as the world and our perspective change, or just from letting the story simmer.  I’m afraid if I ever do get my novel published I’ll want to change the story before it hits the press.  I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad problem.

Twitter, Text, and Literature: Break the rules.

I recently read the latest novel, The Whites, by Harry Brandt, aka Richard Price.  While the story was engaging, and the personalities presented were Richard Price’s writing, it didn’t have the full flavor of a Richard Price novel.  In fact, he wrote it under the pen name, but later decided to include his name.

Anyone who has read a Richard Price novel (The Wanderers, Clockers, The Lush Life) knows that his character development and setting are intricately detailed.  A two day period can take 600 pages.  It’s real writing, in depth writing, the type of writing that a movie can never do justice.  Most of his novels turned movies have seen only moderate success.

What’s the point you ask?  His latest novel conforms to publisher’s standards of today.  I would guess that he put a pen name on it because he knew he had to write to someone else’s defined standards―possibly sub-standard by his own measures― in order to meet the publisher’s, and perhaps the current market conditions.

Today we live in a world of writing contests where we pay to write a story in one sentence, or six words, or ten words, or 350 words and then we are reminded of the famous Hemingway story “For Sale baby shoes, never worn” to seemingly justify that we should be able to tell a great story in one sentence.

It seems a complete story must now be something we can tweet or text.  On the rare occasion I watch television, I see about 5 minutes of 30 second scenes followed by 10 minutes of 30 second ads.   The scenes seem to be getting shorter, as if they fear we may change channels if our mind doesn’t’ see a flash, or a change of scenery.

But this about literature and stories like Moby Dick, and Lord Jim, and contemporary novels like The Bonfire of the Vanities and Clockers.  Stories that challenge your beliefs as to what is right and wrong and moral and immoral, and who should pay for what.  I’m talking about the stories that were written by an author with some balls―one that didn’t give a rat’s ass about market realities, agents, and publishers.  I want a journey damn it.   I want my disappointment to come when the story is over, and I have to wrench myself back into reality and accept that this world I was in was not real.  I want to scratch my head for weeks while I try to decide why I liked the asshole in the story, and tell myself I’d rather hate him for what he did, but I just can’t.

Plastered all over the internet on writing web sites, blogs, and “How to” books are the rules to get published.  90 to a 100 thousand words, one to three points of view, conflict, short scenes and most importantly action on every other page.  A simple plot with a couple twists and turns, but action, and more action, and there you have it, a story.  I really wonder sometimes how the market took this turn away from creative literature.

Have the web sites with pop-up ads, and videos and stars floating out at us changed our media needs, or is it perhaps the desire to cram as many rapid advertisements as possible into the twelve minutes of the thirty minute television program that go to ads?  Or worse yet, is it the agent’s paranoia that they will bring a story to a publisher that doesn’t fit the formula?  Or perhaps, it’s the publishers who can count exactly how many dollars they will turn before they publish Miley Cyrus’s memoirs,  or start ghost writing the President’s memoirs and taking pre-orders before he leaves office, or maybe shelf space is too expensive.  I don’t know, but if you do please tell me.  I’m afraid we may be letting publishing costs and publishers profits define how we write.

We must not let publishers define what we as authors write regardless of whether we get published or not.  How can I say it?  If you’re an author and you’re a guy grow some balls.  If you’re a gal let your inner bitch out.  Forget the formulas, forget the agents, and the publishers, Writer’s Digest and write a f—-‘ing real novel.  If nobody buys it, I’ll pay for postage and handling just so I can read it.  It better be good though.

Literature and Political Correctness

I’ve decided to begin this blog with a brief discussion of the effects of political correctness on literature.  There have been quite a few blogs on how damaging political correctness is to literature in general, especially literature published many years ago before political correctness came to its present state.  See this article by Hugh Mercer Curtler in First Principals ISI Web Journal:  http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1733

Political correctness, it seems, affects our ability to process even historical books where characters were built around premises that are not acceptable today.   It seems to me that in today’s world, if a novel is not written in a politically correct manner it’s highly unlikely that it will be published.  I believe this is even more true for a first time author.

The problem:  If authors are forced to write in the narrow confines of political correctness, they are not apt to write the truths that may be the core of their story.  Rather, they are forced to write a watered down version that steps away from the truth.

Why is this a problem?  Any author that steps away from the truth of his/her story will have a less than quality piece.

What does this mean for literature?  It means that it’s likely that only those who conform to the standards laid down by the current political correctness doctrine will be published.  Granted, there are many of these because as students of literature are educated in Universities and Schools they are being taught the political correctness doctrine.

The unfortunate part of this is that it suggests that it is unlikely that we will ever find writers like Conrad or Nabokov writing their best works.

I read recently that Jerry Seinfield, Chris Rock, and other comedians will no longer do shows on University Campuses because of the political correctness sensitivity.  The clear point is that they would have to censor their show in order to have it accepted.

I fear that this has happened in literature as well, and that an author must self censor his/her work into some washed out state prior to submitting it if he/she has any hopes of seeing it published.  If this is the case, it’s quite disheartening for we will likely see little published writing as great as the classics of the past.  Unfortunately new authors will find themselves adjusting their writing and worse yet, their mindset to conform to the politically correct necessities of finding an agent and/or  publisher. That being said, our only hope for honest writing in the future may be self published stories and blogs.