Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reviewing The Stuff of Fiction: Part 1

Scratch a writer and what do you get? You get a book about writing of course. If you've ever searched for books about fiction writing, you won't come up empty. You'll have the opposite problem. Some of these books, such as E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel, are quite well-known. Other writers have contributed multiple entries to the genre. Consider John Gardner's The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, On Moral Fiction, and On Becoming a Novelist. Even dead writers are not immune from having their say. Larry W. Phillips mined Hemingway's letters, interviews, and books for reflections on the craft and found enough material to publish Ernest Hemingway on Writing.

The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on CraftLately I've been working through Douglas Bauer's The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft (2006). Bauer begins "[s]imply put, this book hopes to be of practical use to writers" (p. 1), and for the most part, it is. The first chapter centers on strategies for beginning a story. Using an example from a Grimm's fairy tale, he provides altered versions of the opening sentences to demonstrate how even minor changes can affect reader expectations and the amount of effort readers must expend to orient themselves to a story's landscape. Bauer argues that while no particular strategy is inherently superior, whether the narrator thrusts the reader into a scene of preexisting activity or suggests the work's thematic intent, it is paramount that the writer is conscious of how a particular opening strategy will impact the reader.

In the second chapter, Bauer begins by demystifying the sentence, arguing that prose should aim to create a profluent narrative in contrast to a line of poetry's "overt manipulation of language" (p. 32). The sentence is a tool for the writer, a "pack-mule" for conveying information and moving characters about, and not an end in itself. To be successful, sentences must convey mood, setting, and action with clarity, elegance, and beauty. Bauer writes that "the supreme success of sentences ... occurs when they combine their workaday responsibility with an intermittent, punctuating beauty" (p. 33). The challenge "is the calibration of when--at what interval--to let loose a moment of language" (p. 33) However, Bauer warns that those moments of poetic language must strive for effectiveness and not affectation. The language should point the reader to the physical and sensory world as it "focus[es] and clarif[ies] the narrative picture or its drama" (p. 36). I'll add to this review in my next post.

So what have I been doing besides reading about writing? I started George MacDonald's Lilith, a very strange but compelling fairy tale. I finished "Scapegoat" and sent it off to critters. I received critiques this week and have some ideas for revisions. (If you're looking for an ego boost, don't submit stories for critique.) I also revised "The Master and the Miller's Daughter" for submission. I'm working on a new story, "Red as Snow," inspired by some incidents from Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. And I'm still waiting to hear about the fate of "Gethsemane."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Waiting, waiting...

I have some good news to report this week. "Saul," which was published in Mindflights earlier this year, has been accepted at Anthology Builder. The site allows you to select stories from their library to create a custom anthology that will be sent to you as a soft-cover book. And the authors whose stories you choose get some compensation.

I'm sorry to say that I haven't done much more work on "The Hand with the Knife." An editor asked for revisions on "Gethsemane," so I spent a couple weeks revising the ending then revising the revisions then revising again. I resubmitted and am anxiously awaiting the editor's verdict. She sounded excited about the story in her request for revisions so I'm feeling hopeful. I'm not sold on the ending I've worked out for "The Hand with the Knife." It's like a bad Western with the characters riding off into the sunset. I'm putting it aside for a while to work on a different fairy tale entitled "Scapegoat." Yes, a goat does figure in the story. It's about a girl, her mother, a magical necklace, and vegetables. It's much more interesting than that sentence implies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hogs from Hell

I had hoped to announce that I had completed the story I'm writing and that a story I sent out over a month ago has been accepted. I'm still writing that story and I haven't heard anything from the editor. Nothing much to do about it but pick up my pen and keep writing. That's me in the picture. Yes, it's very cold where I live, all the time. That's why I have to wear a hat and so many robes. And yes, I do write my initial drafts in longhand although I would not call them legible. I have cross-outs and insertions and arrows pointing to whole paragraphs scrawled in the margins. I have tried to compose at the computer, but that empty white screen and blinking cursor bother me, and I find my mind going blank. Typing the manuscript also gives me a first pass at revising.

I am quite excited about the story I'm working on. It's a reworking and expansion of a story the Grimm brothers collected called "The Hand with the Knife." There's not much to the original, only three paragraphs. I've added a few details, extended the plot, and introduced new characters, including a shape-shifting wolf-man. I also invented a new type of beast that I'm calling a helshog (hell's hog). It's a cross between a modern boar and an entelodon, a prehistoric ancestor of the pig. Entelodons are featured in one of the Walking with Beasts episodes. The narrator refers to them as the "Hogs from Hell." I was hoping to write a "short" story, something less than 5K words. However, I've already written over that limit, and I'm nowhere near the end. I need to finish "The Hand with the Knife" so I can move on to some new stories and revise some older ones to send out. Time to put some more coal on the fire and refill that inkwell.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where to Submit that Manuscript

My goal is to add something to this blog at least once a week. I failed to come up with anything witty to say this week. I'm still working on a fairy tale based on "The Hand with the Knife," a tale collected by the Grimm brothers. The original is only three paragraphs long. I thought it was more the start of a story than a complete tale, so I'm adding a few more details and a new ending to my version.

Once a writer has completed a story and digested some feedback and revised or rewritten it a few times, the writer is faced with the totally unrelated problem of finding a publisher, preferably one that pays. Agents are not going to be impressed if all a writer's publications are from non-paying sources. I've been scouring the web to find short story publishers for fantasy and speculative fiction. I'm including a list of the most promising prospects below in the hope that others will find it useful. If anyone has other suggestions, please let me know. I'll update this post as I find new publications.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Original Blogger?

Who was the original blogger? My vote is Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who died over a generation before Alan Turing described the Turing machine.

I've been reading Dostoyevsky's A Writer's Diary. As noted in the introduction, the work does not fit neatly into any standard genre. It was published in monthly installments, first as a column in a periodical then on its own. The entries include fiction, commentary, and reviews. Despite its disparateness, Dostoyevsky intended the writings to be a single, coherent work, albeit a bold experiment in form. The idea for A Writer's Diary brewed in Dostoyevsky's mind for several years. Characters from his novel The Possessed discuss the merits of such a work. Dostoyevsky intended the Diary to perform "the double and apparently contradictory task of discovering the real moral development of Russia and yet capriciously indulging whatever happened to strike the author's fancy" [Gary Saul Morson, "Introductory Study: Dostoevsky's Great Experiment"]. According to Wikipedia, "blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries." Once again, Dostoyevsky was long ahead of his time.

If he were alive today, I suspect Dostoyevsky would be an avid blogger, so it's a good thing he's not alive today since he would have never gotten around to writing Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and literature would suffer the loss. So as you're blogging, think about the very firm shoulders on which you're standing and the great tradition in which you're working.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Introduction: Red Riding Hood

Why Red Riding Hood? To be honest, I like the picture. Millais is one of my favorite Pre-Raphaelites. Here's a more thoughtful justification. Red Riding Hood is an iconic fairy tale figure, and since my genres of interest include fairy tales, it's an appropriate image to set the mood. I'm also working on a story that makes reference to Red Riding Hood's tale. When Red Riding Hood takes a walk to her grandmother's house, she's embarking on a journey, which is what I hope readers of my stories experience, a journey through the woods, through the unexpected, the uncanny.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone interested up to date on what I'm writing, point out where you can read it, and toss out some random thoughts on creative writing. Thanks for coming along.