Empty Phrases That Annoy Me

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Lately, I’ve noticed annoying phrases that writers and speakers use. One of the phrases is, “At the end of the day…” Other phrases include, “When all is said and done,” and “Alternatively…” And everyone is using the word, “literally” in the wrong context without even caring.

These phrases sound empty and they become irritating after several YouTube hosts or podcasters use them (which is virtually in every video now). The problem with using empty phrases that we pick up through osmosis is that they add nothing to the sentence. They contribute zero emotional appeal to the theme presented. And the person using the phrases comes off as trendy instead of insightful.

Authentic writing comes from the soul. It comes from carefully crafted thoughts and paragraphs. And when we use simple language that gets us from point A to point B we are more likely to engage the reader or listener. We can also use language rhythmically which many great speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. have done. One exercise that helps with creating rhythmic writing is to listen to music from around the world or at least jazz syncopation. The later is what made Jack Kerouac a compelling author.

When we read classic literature even books from the twentieth century we hear authentic voices. No two authors were alike and part of that was that book publishing sought diverse narratives that told the stories of that age. Even genre fiction lacked trite formulas that appear in modern books. Have publishers lost sight of the art and craft of writing compelling fiction. Or have authors (and speakers) become lazy?

I’m an author who spends time crafting a perfect sentence. And I champion authors who take a painstaking approach to get every word right. It’s not about stretching the word count to meet the current genre requirements. Nor is about waxing poetry in every paragraph. Yet, some authors move their stories forward with ease while also using words beautifully and powerfully. I purchase their books as opposed to just checking them out from the library (then forgetting about the books).

I encourage emerging and established authors to read the classics as well as, read books from various genres written decades if not centuries ago. Explore the language of that time. Explore the speech of the characters and how that speech helps readers visualize the characters. Also, explore succinct ways landscape is described and how the landscape transforms into symbolic language.

I’m glad I took English literature classes in high school and at a university. This exploration formed the basis of my novel writing decades later. Any of us can study English literature by reading classics and even joining a discussion group. Also, search for inexpensive online courses. I found two excellent editing and revising classes on Udemy. I saw creative writing courses offered too.

When we delve deeper into the language which we speak and write we are less likely to use borrowed phrases from the prominent people of our time. Now, some people enjoy hearing people use trendy phrases. And when they start parroting those phrases of their favorite political leader, celebrity, or YouTube host, they fit in with their peers. I just find it irritating on my nerves that the world lacks original speakers and thinkers like it did in the past. I sorely miss Joseph Campbell.

Perhaps, you disagree with me. But before you leave a comment to debate my observations, consider my words. As authors we invent new phrases. We recreate language. And we make characterization compelling while constructing plots that seem familiar but with an odd twists (we’ve not read yet).

And my message to agents and editors, open your minds and think outside of the box. I realize you’re in the business to sell books, even if they are banal creative non-fiction ghost-written for celebrities. Or maybe you enjoy the dark literature which only contributes despair and more fear to a world already dripping with anxiety.

You are decision-makers who determine what gets read and what stays in a slush pile. And in doing that you might have thrown a future classic into the recycling bin. And if it wasn’t you, then it was an intern who had been trained as a parrot instead of an authentic thinker.

Personally, I prefer that a young intern out of grad school not determine my trajectory as an author. That’s disrespectful to us authors who have been crafting stories for decades. We might not possess the glamour of an actress-turned-social-activist or any number of who’s who for the twenty-first century (written by ghost writers).

These are my thoughts for the moment. They might sound bitter. Or they might sound jaded. But I’ve been in the literary trenches for several decades crafting real stories that if given a pair of wings would soar.

Literary Stories Versus Flash Fiction (Different Processes)

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When I first discovered flash fiction, I encountered writers with too many rules. They were so passionate about the efficiency of their craft that they scoffed at writers of longer fiction. Too many adverbs and adjectives, they claimed. But what I did learn from writing flash fiction was to use words more efficiently.

As an author, I don’t enjoy trends but I try to learn from them regardless. I have written both longer fiction, including novels, and pithy stories under 500 words. I enjoy both processes and I see the beauty in both condensing a story into bite-sizes and also offering literary fiction that is sipped like a robust wine. I understand that too much description anchors a story in boredom but the absence of description leaves a story floating in space with nowhere to land. Obviously, writing any fiction poses challenges to the writer. Personally, I love the challenges because those challenges help in crafting work that will stick in readers’ minds.

For a flash fiction author, the description of autumn would like a Haiku poem. Whereas, for an author of longer fiction, autumn includes the crunch of maple leaves underfoot, a stiff breeze snapping branches, and the need for a woolen hat and scarf worn by the characters. The author immerses the reader into the details of the character’s home, her friendships, her aspirations, and deepest fears, not something that can be achieved in less than one-thousand words.

The challenge of describing autumn in one-thousand words or less includes the viewpoint of one character with the trajectory of a single storyline and no room for tangents. The character’s mind has no room to wander and keeping the character in this moment rather than sending the reader backwards in time or forward into the future serves the story best. The author also faces the challenge of choosing bold and vibrant words to describe the setting for the character as well as, action verbs to propel the story forward quickly.

With flash fiction there is no room for parallel stories, flashbacks, a character’s mind drifting and the inciting incident must occur in the first sentence propelling the story forward. Flash fiction is the hundred-yard dash sprint as opposed to the marathon of a novel or the running of a mile for short literary fiction. And this is not suggesting that flash fiction can’t be included in literary fiction, but it’s less literary to me because I think of literary fiction as an indulgence like taking a soak in a hot bath. Flash fiction is something to read on a coffee break. Sure, it’s clever but it’s less likely to become a literary classic. I write flash fiction for fun but when I have more to say and when I feel like waxing poetics, I commit to the longer form.

Ideally, authors immerse themselves in both practices because there is much to learn from both formats. I know when I am writing non-fiction articles, I prefer a longer word count but I have learned how to be more efficient and craft stronger sentences when the editor gives me a shorter word count. With flash fiction, the writer has to get everything right when hooking the reader. The story still requires characterization, a plot, a plot twist and a satisfying ending. Like a three-minute pop song, contours, structure, and tone play crucial roles. All stories long or short require an arc that includes a beginning, middle, and end in which the character undergoes transformation or at least a shift in perspective. Otherwise, I’m going to yawn through the story if I don’t put it down after the first two paragraphs.

So, which form do you prefer as a fiction writer? Do you prefer the challenge of telling a story in fewer words or do you like to dive in to the long form and take your readers on a journey? Or perhaps, you prefer both formats like I do. As writers our job is to craft stories that hook and keep the readers on board. Our adventure is with words and images conveyed by the words. And ultimately if we can get readers to connect their minds to their hearts, we’ve done our job no matter the word count.

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Finding Treasure in an Old Notebook

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During the past months I have tossed out and shredded journals. I have gone through a major transformation and I hardly recognize my older even literary self. Today as I shredded another notebook, I found these two word sketches. I kept the poems and shredded everything else. I wrote the poems during the summer and fall of 1997.

Harvest Moon

Big and beautiful, she’s glowing pregnant with possibilities

As she smiles upon us.

Shedding light so that we won’t stumble upon the dark path.

She’s expecting; she’s waiting for us to flow out of our birth

and to embrace time, ephemeral, speechless.

Queen Anne (Seattle)

Smell the flower, listen to the birds; sing in a neighborhood

that doesn’t admire authenticity.

Men drive around the block in 4X4s donning the latest fashion,

women popping babies, glorifying the American dream, barking dogs,

picket fences and yards upon yards, I smell another rose.

Baby land, baby land, flaunt thy wealth

Baby land, baby land, here’s to your health.

Fremont (Seattle)

Rocket ships hanging in balance, funky postcards,

colorful, artsy coop, fun to shop at…

From a notebook in 1997.

Fiction–Mermaid Waiting

Often I walk my German shepherd Harold on the beach. And like any day of the week, we set out towards the cliffs and down the steep trail to the surf with Harold tugging at his lead. We stumbled across a body of a bikini-clad woman lying repose on the sand. The woman no younger than twenty-one years of age and no older than thirty-five breathed slowly in one nostril and exhaled out the other, reminding me that I had skipped my yoga class that day. If she had noticed Harold sniffing at her bare arms, she gave no sign of it.

Tugging on Harold’s lead, I tried to steer the dog away from the woman basking in the sand. After all, it was none of our business why she was lying there on a rainy day on an isolated beach. However, just as we pulled away from the woman’s body, her eyes blinked and then opened as if she was taken in the marvels of the planet for the first time, like a newborn. She stared at Harold dumbfounded and then her eyes roamed over my face.

“I fell asleep after waiting for him for so long. Where is he?”

Harold looked at me with a baffled dog grin. I could understand his puzzlement and I wondered if we were going to experience some kind of psychotic episode with the woman.  Instead, she appeared calm enough as she blinked sand from her eyes. She gazed into the distance at an outcrop halfway out to sea.

I straightened out my raincoat and brushed sand off my running shoes. “You mentioned that you were waiting for someone and I’m wondering if it’s someone I might know. Perhaps I can help you. I know just about everyone around here.”

I referred to a beach community on the Oregon Coast tucked away from the tourist traps and near Haystack Rock. The community of stone cottages where mostly people fifty-five and older resided was not the sort of thing to interest a vibrant twenty-something woman.

The woman shook her golden curls, highlighted by the dim sunlight piercing through a bank of clouds. Her aquamarine eyes penetrated mine, something unnatural about her gaze. “I don’t think you know him. He’s not from here and neither am I.”

I sat down on a log and Harold rested in the sand near my feet. I watched the woman open an aquamarine lunch box shaped like a fish. She pulled out a seaweed sandwich, which I found rather odd.

“What are you eating there? Is that some kind of sushi?”

She blushed. “Yes, it’s a sandwich entirely made of seaweed.”

“I’m not fond of seaweed. Is it any good?”

She took a huge bite of it and pleasure lit up her face. “Oh, yes, there’s nothing like a seaweed sandwich.”

At the time, I just wrote the woman off as some raw food type that I read about in alternative nutrition magazines. Sure, I read those magazines, but never tried any of the recipes, not because I lacked a sense of adventure, but after you have eaten the same foods for over thirty years, why try anything new?

The woman pulled out a tin container and unscrewed the lid then she popped some kind of miniature sea creature into her mouth.

“May I ask what those are?”

“These are sun-baked periwinkles.”

“Did I hear you right?”

“They’re a Portuguese delicacy and quite delicious. Here try one.”

She poured a few of the snails into my palm. I felt like feeding them to Harold instead of consuming them myself, but I tried not to appear rude. I reluctantly popped one into my mouth and felt surprised by the explosion of tastes. I crunched on it and swallowed before my body protested the strange food. The woman laughed as she watched me struggle with the shells.

“You get used to them then they become an addiction.”

“I can’t imagine. Now, back to this man you mentioned earlier, are you sure that he hasn’t lost his way trying to find this beach? It’s not on the map.”

Her eyes searched the ocean and the horizon. “He’s not coming here by road, but by the sea.”

“You mean in a boat?”

“Not exactly, but he’s coming from the direction of the sea.”

“I don’t understand. Is he going to swim here? Is he coming by seaplane?”

“Yes, he’s swimming here.”

“Who is he, an Olympic athlete? Besides, I haven’t seen any swimmers out there this time of year. It’s rather cold and drizzly.” Just staring at the woman in her bikini caused me to shiver.

The woman stretched out her legs and gazed at them for a long time, waiting for something, I did not know what, to happen. “He said he’d come here on this day to take me to his home.”

“My dear, do you know this man well? You should be more careful a young woman such as you hanging out on an isolated beach waiting for a strange swimmer-man.”

“He’s not quite human.”

Alarmed by the woman’s declaration I wondered again if I would experience a psychotic episode. I had not heard of anyone escaping any mental institutions. The woman seemed clear-eyed on the surface, even gregarious. Perhaps, she had tripped on some bad mushrooms found in the nearby woods. It could happen, especially with all the youth that wandered through in their vans and whatnot. The tent and van crowd, we called them.

“I once said that about my former husband. He didn’t seem quite human at times.”

The woman shook her head in frustration.  “You don’t understand.  He’s a merman and he’s coming to transform me into a mermaid. It’s what I’ve wanted my entire life, ever since I swam with the dolphins in Florida as a toddler.”

“And did you meet this merman at SeaWorld? I’m sorry, but your story sounds ridiculous.”

I wondered if she had been reading too many supernatural young adult novels. Her generation grabbed onto some far-out ideas, not that my generation never experienced the unusual.

“That’s what everyone says, that my story is ridiculous and that mermen only exists in fairy tales and fantasies. But I tell you, I met this man at a kite festival near here a few months ago. He looked like a human, spoke like a human, but then when he swam out with the tide, he disappeared beneath the waves.”

“Did you call the lifeguards? Perhaps, he drowned.”

“No, no trace of the man was found. He told me to meet him here today and so here I wait.”

The woman gulped down a quart of water. Her eyes roamed the distant horizon.

Who was she kidding? I scribbled down my phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to the woman. “Look, if he doesn’t show up and you need somewhere to stay, I rent rooms nearby. Phone me.”

I rose from the log brushing sand off my jeans and raincoat. Harold leaped up rearing to take his walk. As we strode off down the beach, I looked over my shoulder one last time and noticed that the woman had disappeared from where she was sitting. I glanced at the shoreline and witnessed to dark figures swimming towards the outcrop, and then they dove under the waves and disappeared.

Moments later, I pulled out binoculars from my pack and aimed them at the outcrop.  And what I saw nearly caused me to faint. Human figures with fishtails reclined on the outcrop. 

Harold had taken the opportunity to explore the area where the woman was reclining earlier. He sniffed, barked, and whirled around a few times puppy-like. So I returned to the scene to see if the woman left any traces behind. All I found was her lunchbox and the tin she abandoned on the beach. I watched Harold crunch on the remaining mollusks. Who would have thought the dog would go for Portuguese delicacies. I would have to remember that when his birthday rolled around.  So easy to please, that dog.

After I returned to my cottage, I checked the internet for stories about mermaids and mermen. Just as I had thought, they only existed in fantasies. So then what had I witnessed earlier that day? I vowed to myself never to tell anyone my story. Then later, I came across a National Geographic article about the emergence of strange human-fishlike creatures so I thought I had my answer.

I returned to the beach at noon every day and waited. I did this for several months hoping the woman would return, but I never set eyes on her or her partner again. Still, I wait, sitting in the sand, eating Portuguese delicacies with Harold patiently by my side. She will come up for air eventually, and she’ll find me here to comfort her.

By Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

Online Writing Conferences (The New Normal?)

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Even though writer’s conferences force writers to step outside of their homes and mingle with other authors while also joining workshops that feel like a boot camp for the writing craft, in 2020, authors attend the conferences via Zoom or other platforms.

I found this article about online conferences. I’m also including other writing conferences offering online options in 2020 (summer and autumn).  Since the expense of travel and accommodations hinders lower-income authors from attending, perhaps, the online versions offer affordable options, even enrolling in one or two workshops.

Chuckanut Writers Conference (Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA)

Write on the Sound, (Edmonds, WA)

Willamette Writers Conference (Oregon)

Romance Writers of America

Do a Google search for your favorite conference and you might be surprised to find an online version. The benefit is that you can join the conference from your home. You don’t have to haul your computer with you, travel, or stay in a hotel. You might save money too. Also, geography doesn’t matter when there is an online version.

2020 might be the year to improve your writing skills by attending an online conference.  It’s true that you won’t meet people face-to-face but you also won’t experience any distractions. Also, see if the online conference offer pitching sessions to agents and editors or master classes.

So far 2020 has been the strangest and most monumental year of my lifetime. As we have been forced to stay indoors, we’ve had more time to write or to improve our craft. I hope that you are able to attend an online conference or at least an online workshop. I’m glad we still have the option.

 

 

 

An Author in Lockdown

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This is a selfie from 2016-17.

 

 

No, an author in lockdown is nothing like an American in Paris even if I’m riffing off that movie title. And sadly, I used the lockdown as an excuse not to write with the exception of the blog posts for this and my other three active blogs.

You would think that all the ballet dancers, musicians, and craftspeople using the YouTube platform for sharing their work during lockdown would inspire me. Certainly, the internet has blossomed as a renaissance of creative pursuits with an invisible audience that makes its presence known with clicks and likes. Authors who were unable to give book signings or tour also found new platforms online. Even writers’ conferences adapted to video-phone technology such as Zoom and Google Chat.

Although as a gift to myself, I bought the Scrivener software. And during the past two months, I uploaded three manuscripts on the program along with photos and research. However, they are my completed manuscripts with the exception of my memoir, Bitch which is in the rewriting stage.

I’ve thought about writing flash fiction and I experienced those lightbulb moments when story ideas popped into my mind and didn’t follow through. Perhaps, the lockdown experience has blocked my muse from coming through and it certainly has hindered my motivation. But this is not to say that I haven’t felt motivated to take online Reiki classes or to practice yoga, or spend time cooking healthy meals.

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pixabay.com

Yet, with all this “free” time on my hands, it still feels like time is racing and the weeks have sped past me. Within the span of three months, I have evolved and morphed into a new person with Corona hair. However, I have changed little with my outer self because most of the growth happened with the inner self. Like so many other people, especially those who have experienced loss, I stand at the proverbial crossroads or the point of four cardinal directions.

I used this time to set stronger boundaries with others and reflect upon my values which have changed drastically or if not, took me back to the core of my authentic self. Oddly, finding old journals I wrote during the 1990s triggered my old muses and dreams of publishing my work. You would think that would inspire me to sit down at my computer and at least write flash fiction.

As far as submitting my already completed work, I’ve done little with that, mostly out of lethargy. With the numerous rejections I received from literary journals and agents, I hardly see the point of disappointing myself during a time of even greater loss. Having said that, I have revisited novels and submitted to two or three agents–not that they’re getting back with anyone during their lockdowns.

Still, I’m hoping that something I wrote that wasn’t previously trending or of popular demand might become so with the New Normal. Perhaps, I’m thinking, that book lovers won’t want to indulge in a thriller or conspiracy theory novel and instead seek escape literature in the form of a good romance or a spunky YA novel or perhaps, they would care to revisit the Greek story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice set in modern-day Seattle.

Oddly, I have read little in the way of novels or even non-fiction books during the lockdown when this would have been the perfect time to indulge in the writing of others. I have joined a group of writers in San Francisco via Zoom for discussions with published authors. And I will be joining a writing workshop with the online version of the Chuckanut Writers Conference this month (since I applied for the conference’s scholarship).

For me, this is a time to regroup and reevaluate my mission as an author. I won’t begin my next novel until 2021 (which involves a young horse jockey). And I will create a Patreon campaign for that novel. I’m going to do things differently as I embrace new technology and ways to build a community around my work.

In the meantime, if you are an author in lockdown, please leave your experiences in the comment section. I would love to hear from you.

Write It–Rewrite, Refresh, Edit, and Submit

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Pixabay.com

 

So, you’re sitting in your house wondering how to jumpstart your writing practice. It’s time to dust off those old submissions and revise them and then submit to new editors and journals. Now, you have the time and the editors most likely are in lockdown too begging for stories to read.

Perhaps, this is the last thing you want to do when stuffing your mouth with chips and watching Netflix seems more appealing. However, don’t waste your time on other people’s stories. Write your own, even about your pandemic experiences. Surely, you learned something from this hero’s journey.

Or better yet, get out your stories and reinvent them. Tear them apart. Create new characters with old scenarios or new scenarios for the old character. or play mash-up with your stories especially if you write in several genres. Reread Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myths (what you haven’t already read it?) and reread books on the basic three-act structure. Or read classics to study the structure and character development, not to mention, character dilemmas. When I’m trapped in a writer’s block (doesn’t happen often), I reread Jane Austen’s novels.

If you have the cash, purchase Scrivener, or other writing software. I bought Scrivener recently and while I’m not up to speed with it yet, loading my novels on there will speed up the revising and editing process. The software (if you don’t already have it), has a cork board to hang up photos of your characters and you can even upload songs and videos. I wish I had this software five novels ago!

Another fun thing writers can do, besides joining Facebook groups for writers, is to do a Zoom session with several writers or an online writers’ group. Maybe you can even teach what you know about the craft via Zoom or sign up to teach on Udemy and earn money, especially if you’re waiting to hear back from editors, agents, and publishers about your pitches. Maybe you can even host a poetry night via Zoom. Use your imagination. If you are an author you have an active imagination.

So, hopefully, I have inspired you to write, edit, and submit. Let me know if you read this and if you follow my advice. Let me know if your work is published in the future. Get writing.

Write it–My Beef with MFA in Creative Writing

books by Nino Care
Image by Nino Care

 

Perhaps, I’m wrong, but I have been observing a prolific amount of authors with MFA degrees landing publishing contracts. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the book publishing industry, especially the literary journals have a bias for authors with MFA degrees. And any author without an academic degree is left out in the cold. What would Jack Kerouac or Jane Austen have thought of that?

I have tried to embrace this trend, except that I don’t have an MFA degree or even a BA in English or creative writing. Authors such as myself came to novel writing through the backdoor, the way, many masterful authors did decades ago. And hey, not everyone can afford to obtain an MFA degree which I’ve seen range from $75 to $100K.

So, I mucked my way from journalism to novel writing. I even worked as an editorial assistant for a literary journal in Seattle briefly. I attended conferences, joined writing groups (on and offline), critiqued other authors’ work, revised my own and attended writers conferences. And at 55-years-of-age, I’m no closer to securing a publishing deal for any of my several novels.

Not only that, not one of my submissions to literary journals was accepted in 2019, even if I received a glowing review for an audio story that I submitted to the Missouri Review. I suspect that the editors weren’t seeking actual stories with interesting protagonists and they preferred perfect sentences and clever writing instead. Oh, yes, and the MFA behind the author’s name.

The journal editors seem so welcoming on their submission pages. They tell us that they seek the work of emerging and veteran authors. And I suspect it helps if other literary journals have already published my work or if I obtained an MFA and landed $100K in debt (not at my age, thank you). This wouldn’t be so bad if the stories by the MFA authors actually held my interest. Many of the authors seem to obsess with pleasing their peers or their university students. They spend too much time constructing perfect sentences free of adverbs and adjectives and not enough time telling a universal story. Sometimes the authors confuse actual storytelling with abstract poetry. Yes, they provide clever word use but I just can’t relate and my brain starts to go numb.

I waded through an award-winning story published in The Writer magazine that made no sense. While I searched for a story with a beginning, middle, and end with the protagonist experiencing transformation, I didn’t find it. I’ve also waded through stories published in literary journals that kept me interested in the first page and then my mind started wandering and hoping for a real story to unfold. These stories most likely went on to win prizes too. But why? Some of the stories are pretentious like the kid in elementary school who spouts off unusual words to impress his peers. (And by the way, if I have to wade through another literary story with graphic sex, violence, or drug use, I’m going to scream).

And while I have no problem with transexuals, stories about transexuals don’t whet my appetite for a literary journey. And why do I have to tackle socio-economic or political issues to publish a story in a journal? I have no passion for that. While I have written a few tragic short stories, my forte is whimsical humor and magical realism.

I actually started reading YA novels to avoid adult novels which tend to focus on dark topics that cause me to flinch or challenge my attention span. And if I’m not reading YA novels then I’m rereading classics from novelists who never attended college at all but somehow managed to pen a work that we’re still reading a 100 or more years later.

Sadly, the trend for obtaining an MFA in creative writing has grown and continues to grow despite the high cost of tuition. And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to obtain this degree because it does open up opportunities to teach at a university level and to give lecture tours. The problem I have is the formulaic novels that have hit the stores and libraries in the last two decades. While I’m still able to find good reads and even by MFA authors, it’s become more challenging to find stories I can relate to or that I can read without feeling like I’ve been snubbed.

I suppose it’s a shortcut to study with master teachers and have access to author peers. I was able to collaborate with peers prior to the internet which did change the playing field. I still recall and editing groups that met once a week at Border Books in Seattle during the 1990s and I still remember the DIY literary journals that published my poetry. And I still remember the chapbooks I published in the 1980s which I sold at my music gigs. I miss those collaborations and the learn-as-you-go spirit that surfaced in the 1980s and continued through the 1990s. Back then, it was rare that an author had an advanced degree.

I am thinking of Margaret Atwood who obtained her degree in the late 1960s and Julia Alvarez who wrote Yo and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and who taught at the University in Vermont. When I met Isabel Allende after she published her best-seller House of Spirits and even her memoir Julia, I don’t believe she held an MFA in Creative Writing. And she’s one of my mentors.

It’s not the MFA degrees I have the problem with. It’s the trend of gatekeepers discriminating against self-made authors. Just like I suspect the late brilliant vocalist and song interpreter Eva Cassidy never trained with a vocal coach, as an author I don’t want to compromise my voice or my style in favor of following a set of rules that include not using adjectives or adverbs in my stories, or not being able to publish stories written in the three-act structure. I prefer that editors or agents don’t tell me to conform to the current trends or tell me how to write the stories in my head. Am I the only author who doesn’t want to jump on board the MFA train or have some expert tell me how to pen my stories?

BTW, I’ve already sacrificed too many things from my life such as gluten, dairy, sugar, and nightshades. Do I have to give up adjectives and adverbs too?

Sometimes, I tell myself, “Why even bother sending your work out?” But like every author, I have a story to tell and I would like an audience for that story (or stories). I might not have studied with a master in person, but I have read and studied the prose in thousands of books over the decades. When I was six-years-old, teachers told me that I couldn’t read because of dyslexia but I didn’t let that stop me. And I won’t let the snobby gatekeepers prevent me from publishing my stories (with adjectives and adverbs included). And as far as the forbidden prologues, I’m keeping those too.

The way I see it is I paid my dues even if I didn’t cough up thousands of dollars to earn a post-graduate degree. I didn’t learn how to write in a cloistered academic setting. I learned how to write stories by living in the real world and starving at times to keep improving my craft and become a better author. And I know that I’m not the only author who has taken this journey.

There are some brilliant authors with higher academic degrees and there are some who lack any emotional depth or storytelling skills, despite the university degree they hang next to their laptop. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are still some Gen-X authors who learned to write through internships, small publications, and cooperative writing communities. And there are still authors weened on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth (I’m in that camp).

Face it, I think the MFA programs were invented to keep authors in line. It’s another type of programming on the mind which basically insists that authors not think for themselves and give their power away to the book publishing industry. It’s part of the 3rd-dimensional reality and the Matrix. Conform, conform, conform or perish seems to be the message. And I’m sure that not all publishing houses participate. Someone out there is still looking for that raw and vulnerable voice shouting in the wilderness.

Write It–Savoring Literary Fiction & Poetry

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I don’t read novels slowly and I don’t read them quickly. At least not when it comes to literary fiction. Literary fiction (poetry and prose) begs us to savor each nuance in the way that gourmet chocolate or wine does.

When I read a literary novel, a non-fiction narrative or a poem, I choose to roll the words on my tongue and absorb the nuances of the work through all my senses. It’s true when we read genre fiction, we race towards the end or with romance novels, we skip to the juicy parts.

Although, with a well-written fantasy, we delve into the rich descriptions provided by the authors. We find ourselves swimming in the characters’ thoughts or even roaming the earth through their bodies. With literary fiction, the authors invite and welcome us to enter their crafted worlds. Perhaps, a thriller or a romance asks for speed reading, especially if we are reading a series.

However, literary fiction begs for a slow read that resembles meditation. In fact, bringing a mindful attitude to the story only enhances the reading experience while enriching us along the way. Picking up a novel with craft in mind indeed demands more of our time and attention. It is a commitment that might or might not pay off. Many readers would rather not take the risk. Or they recall the required reading from middle school, high school or college and have sworn off arty novels where they must decipher metaphors and leitmotifs embedded into the story.

I admit that when I’m in search of a quick read that I can engage in during a ferry commute, I choose to read lighter material. It’s only when I have a luxurious period do I pick up literary fiction. I tend to read the classics and poetry during the winter months when I don’t feel like being outdoors under a darkened sky.

As an author, I read the novels slowly because I am also learning from the way that the author creates dialogue, develops characters, and launches plots. I study the novels to see how backstory is handled and I also study the way the author navigates the middle of the novel (not an easy fete). I often learn new words and phrases when I’m reading a literary novel. Reading poetry takes me to a whole other level.

I believe that novelists benefit from immersing themselves in other people’s poems as well as, writing their own. I’ve often seen poetic phrasing and beautiful descriptions appear in genre novels. Not all genre novels are formulaic or written for mass appeal. Some sci-fi and fantasy novels became classics and share much in common with literary fiction, despite falling under a specific label. Lord of the Rings comes to mind. Granted, that series was written early in the last century and we’ve moved on to other conventions and traditions as authors (as described by the host for the Writerly YouTube channel).

It’s not that we can’t read genre fiction or even YA novels slowly. I suppose the pacing of the story also determines the speed in which we read it. And this is cleverly executed by the authors of the book, especially if they understand pacing and rhythm (every author requires this ability).

Personally, when it comes to page count, my novels fall on the shorter side. I tend to write economically, especially after I heard that adjectives and adverbs are out and watertight phrases are in. My goal is to write sentences so tight that you could bounce off them like a trampoline. However, this takes finesse and over twenty years of working at my craft as a writer.

Whether you write genre or literary fiction, read the work of others slowly with a writer’s gaze. Learn from the authors’ mistakes and their successes. If you find yourself imitating other authors, think of that as flattery to the authors. However, never forget to seek your authentic voice in the process. Nothing written now is completely original and we’re all standing on the backs of literary giants.

A writer who never reads the work of others can hardly call themselves an author. This is because we are not only participants in a tradition, we are also part of a collective and the continuum.

What are your experiences reading literary and genre fiction? How do you approach novels and poetry? Leave your comments below. And thank you for stopping by and following Belle Author. Also, don’t forget to follow Belle Author on Facebook.

 

Write It–Deconstructing a Novel

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You have written a 300-page novel that took you several months or possibly a year. So, why would you deconstruct your novel after reaching the finish line?

Any published author will tell you that their published novel is the result of several drafts. I read one article in The Writer magazine where the author wrote 11 drafts before publishing a novel. This doesn’t suggest that you start from a blank page and rewrite the entire story–not if you have a computer and writing software (or even if you don’t have writing software).

My approach is to write the first draft. Print it out and begin my deconstruction process on the hard copy. I bring in my demotion team which consists of my critical mind (I once reviewed movies, books, and music) and beta readers (friends or colleagues I meet on social media). Hopefully, the beta readers give me helpful notes to allow me to improve my manuscript.

I also attend writing workshops such as the Write on the Sound conference I attended a few weeks ago and the Chuckanut Writers Conference which I attended in previous years (2014 and 2016). I find writing technique videos on YouTube, read the writing blogs, read articles in the writer magazines, and I read books on writing better. In the future, I plan on buying Scrivener software. I also use Grammarly.

I look for the following which I immediately delete from my manuscript or make the appropriate changes on my hard copy first.

  • Passive verbs and sentences
  • Tell versus show passages (which I rewrite)
  • Overwritten exposition
  • Repeated scenarios or phrases
  • Pet words
  • Bad dialogue
  • Overuse of adjectives and adverbs
  • Sentences that start with “and” or “but” (I simply remove the “and” or “but”)
  • I sometimes combine characters (if I have too many characters and they don’t move the plot forward) or I delete the characters
  • A middle section of a novel that moves too slowly

One instructor at the Write on the Sound conference mentioned the practice of deleting 30 percent of a novel. Then you have space to slide in some chunks of backstory, build the plot, and even pepper the story with the appropriate description that allows the reader to engage their senses as they read the story.

While it might seem strange that the deconstruction process is where the story develops, it beats completing the rough draft and staring at the screen asking, “Now, what?” We all know no editor will accept a first-draft or even a third-draft for publication. The rough draft gives a writer the opportunity to plot out the story and develop the characters. Writing a novel is an on-going process that reminds me of old-style photography when a photo developed under chemicals. Emergence takes patience and the willingness to return to the drawing board several times until the story is hot off the press.

If you would like some creativity coaching using metaphysical tools or my experience writing articles, essays, poetry, and fiction for three decades, sign up at Whole Astrology.