A Good Walk

Confidence in my writing ebbs and flows, and while I could never get low enough to consider walking away from this labor, there are days like today when I struggle to garner the enthusiasm necessary to write something meaningful. Fortunately, Stephen Mapstone at Ninefold Evolution has recently posted a poem that captures how I’m feeling — wounded in the heart, but willing to walk out into the world until inspiration arrives.

Making the Commitment

Finished the vignette on Butch and his family yesterday. Feel like I’ve finally made a breakthrough with these characters, have a plan at last for what I want to accomplish with them. This of course means that Chapter 2 requires at least one more round of revision . . . so it goes.

Interesting and timely observation from Tiegan Dakin about status updates for works in progress. Tiegan’s not a fan of these posts, as she feels they make a promise to readers that may not be delivered. While I agree that it’s far more important to write than it is to write about what you’re writing, I believe that writers gain far more by making a commitment than they risk by potentially disappointing their readers.

Over the years, I’ve done far more writing than metawriting on this blog, but I’ve also found that the occasional post where I write about my writing helps organize my thoughts, in addition to making that crucial commitment to my readers (both of them — sorry, couldn’t stop myself). Tiegan’s correct in that these posts do introduce some risk, but I feel the potential rewards of the timely, occasional status update justify that risk.

Very Short Stories

WILDSound conducts a number of writing contests, one of which is a Twitter Very Short Story Festival. Writers don’t actually have to tweet their posts, but stories must comply with the medium’s 140 character limit. Winning contributions for their June contest have just been posted, and each work will be used in an audio performance produced by WILDSound.

The character limitation tempts the writer to focus on a solitary action, emotion, or image, and almost entirely precludes dialogue; many of the stories from June read like haikus (Nothing wrong with that — haiku is a wonderful art. But these are stories!). The most effective works are those where the writer takes a couple-few ideas and has them play off the others, such as Darian Young’s “Latte Art”:

“You are a mosaic of the people you meet,” the woman said as she sipped the coffee that swirled with the faces of everyone she’d ever seen.

By the end of this vignette, the woman seems disturbed, almost haunted by the observation she’s made at the beginning.

Another work, “Moon Talk” by George Masters, uses a celestial image to suggest the narrator’s pensive mood:

A boated, varicose moon hung over the city. I watched it and listened as it told me my future.

It’s an intriguing competition, made more appealing by the prospect of audible performances. This could be an opportunity to focus on key moments in my fiction.

Linguistic Collision

Unbolt and Tony Single have begun posting audio recitations of their work. They’re not the first poets to include audio on their blog, but rather than creating the audio themselves they are looking to post audio contributed from their readers. The first offering, a reading of Glass Tanto by Herr Tamarin, provides a menacing tone on the second windowpane that I hadn’t picked up at first, yet seemed entirely appropriate when spoken.

Authorial intent, audio interpretation, the education and inclination of the reader — colliding into a handful of words. Intriguing.

Strange Days at Snake Tooth Pass

Patrick W. Marsh has just begun an interesting work of suspense fiction. A prequel to his post-apocalyptic novel The Greenland Diaries, The Unnamed is a tale of three children who enter a wooded area in Minnesota named Snake Tooth Pass, and then . . . well, according to one of the children speaking as an adult decades later, they begin a four-century adventure.

The first two installments establish fully-imagined characters in a world that is both familiar and strange. I have no idea where this story is going, but I’m eager to see what lies at the destination — and creating that feeling in the reader is the the suspense writer’s primary task.

Since I’m Not Ready Yet

In what I hope will be the not-too-distant future, I’ll start another short project for my novel, focusing on Butch and his family. I’m also working on a post inspired by a recent celebrity passing. Since neither are ready for today, I’ll share a couple gems that appeared today in my reader:

  • A poem from Karma Linguist about the struggle of the individual artist working within the constraints of a shared language
  • Mark Aldrich recounts a brief celebrity encounter with a great deal of wit

The Goodman Family

For my novel, I’m making some changes to one of my central characters, Butch. His character data remains essentially the same (he now has an assigned hobby), but his family, specifically his parents, are now different.

Butch’s biological mother, Polly, died thirteen years ago, when he was two. Unlike his seven older siblings, Butch has no memories of Polly. She was killed by a gunshot wound suffered in the woods outside the Goodman’s home; Butch has been told by his father, Cyrus, that the shooter’s identity has always been a mystery. Thirty-nine at the time of her death, Polly had been a stellar basketball and track athlete at the seminary college where she had met Cyrus.

Two years after Polly’s death, Cyrus married Faith, a former parishioner and daughter of a Bark Bay policeman and nurse. Much younger than Cyrus, younger even than the two eldest Goodman children, Faith is 31 at the time of the novel, and has no children of her own. She is 5′ 8″ (like Polly, notably taller than Cyrus), 135 lbs., and while she appears slender and graceful she is actually quite clumsy. Faith volunteers with several charities associated with her husband’s church.

Cyrus and Polly had five sons:

  • Asher (32), who lives in the city and works as a surveyor
  • Levi (29), who has been in trouble with the law since his teen years, and now works in a Bark Bay convenience store
  • Simeon (26), who lives at home
  •  Naphtali (20), a seminary student
  • Benjamin (16), who has always been called Butch

All five sons are active hunters, and were taught how to track and shoot from their father, who has not fired a gun since Polly’s death.

The three Goodman daughters:

  • Dinah (31), who fled the Goodman home immediately after Cyrus and Faith were engaged; now married and living in the city, she is completely estranged from the family
  • Rebecca (27), a stay-at-home mother to three children and wife of a minister in a town north of the city
  • Sarah (23), who lives at home

The Right Thing, Naturally

Diana Stout‘s IWSG contribution for June provides general information about writing conferences, retreats, and write-ins. I was all set to comment on her post, when my eye caught a link she’d posted from Yoast about blogpost length. To summarize, the ideal post length is 300 to 1000 words — shorter posts are less likely to be picked up by search engines, while lengthier works run the risk of losing reader interest.

Fortunately, 300 to 500 words each day is right in my comfort level, except when re-blogging, where I’ve found it most effective (in terms of comments and likes) to provide just a short commentary of under 100 words. Content rather than SEO is my primary concern at the moment, so Yoast’s advice about strategic keyword placement doesn’t do much for me (at least for now — I could very well revisit this concept at a later date). But any time I discover that doing what comes naturally is also the right thing to do, I can’t help feeling a little satisfied.

Validation and Approval

For her IWSG contribution this month, Elizabeth Seckman discusses an ages-old writer’s complaint — “how hard writers work for so little money.” It’s a undeniable fact that paralyzes the cautious and frustrates the ambitious. In response, Seckman briefly recounts the story of a former football player who developed an unconventional idea for athletic wear. After creating his product and persuading fellow athletes to confirm its functionality, the inventor began selling his bizzare product out of his car trunk. Despite limited resources, the inventor continued believing in his product, and persevered:

He did ask for validation. He didn’t ask for approval.

He just went to work.

And yes, the product was Under Armour, now one of the most successful brands in athletic wear. But the real value of this anecdote is in two words:

  • Validateto recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of
  • Approvalpermission to do something

Both of the above definitions are among several possible, and were chosen to underscore Seckman’s message. As writers, we need to know our family, friends, and peers support our career, that they feel what we do is a worthwhile pursuit. Yet our support groups don’t enable our careers — each writer has to provide the initiative, the drive to succeed at this difficult career.

At times, the idea of writing for a living, when the rewards never seem to match the level of effort or quality, seems as bizzare as the idea of underwear that doesn’t get wet. Finding people to approve our ambition would probably be futile and is certainly unnecessary — but to go down this path alone, with no validation that our work is worthwhile, would quickly lead to a frustrating end.