Category Archives: Craft of writing

The Passage into Autumn

Autumn has finally returned here in the Southwest, and we can feel the passing of summer into winter. The harvest and roasting of green chile is almost over, and the leaves have begun to brown along their edges on the trees.

If all goes well, there will be one more burst of blooms from the trimmed rose bushes, and then they’ll go to sleep for the winter.

Some of you already know that the print edition of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic is a finalist in Science Fiction & Fantasy for the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. (The lists are a great way to find authors and publishers located in the Southwest to take a closer look at.)

I’ve been offline almost completely these past two months as I wrestle with the last 1/3 of the sequel novel to Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. What makes it so awkward is that I feel as if I’m collaborating with an earlier version of myself. The novel was started and the first draft finished back in 2013, then got derailed in the editing process due to severe illness and other difficulties.

Health-wise I am finally whole again. So things should get moving rather quickly as autumn passes into winter. I’m excited by what is to come.

I am not the same writer I was back in 2013. I’ve changed. A lot. So most of the sequel got rewritten this year from the ground up … but stays true enough to the 2013 version to not be a complete break from the past.

Book three in the Dorelai Chronicles will be where I can start with a clean slate from the first page.

So now, as the seasons pass from one extreme to another, is a good moment to pause, look around, and enjoy the change in the flowers, grass, and trees. Some parts of the world are waking up, and some are going to sleep. Whichever way it is, may it be wondrous to watch.

Pleasant days, Lynn

 

Links: the extrordinary poet Ruth Stone, and Barnes & Noble

In case anyone missed it back in November, you can read about the extraordinary poet Ruth Stone in the New York Times. I call her extraordinary not only because of her talent, but also because of her steadfast refusal during her lifetime to quit doing what she loved most: writing poetry.

She finally achieved literary success at the age 87 when she received a National Book Award in 2002. She’d been a poet for over 50 years by then and despite all she had been through had kept writing.

I couldn’t help thinking as I read about her life–what if she had given up on poetry in her fifties and sixties when things were rough? What if she hadn’t kept going? It was in her seventies that she began to break through.

In other links, Digital Book World has two great articles: one on Barnes & Noble’s strengths, and one on Barnes & Noble’s weaknesses. The article on the weaknesses includes a look at Amazon’s KDP program to contrast it to Barnes & Noble’s Pubit that is well worth the time to read.

The Power of Kickstarter and Other Links

I’ve been swamped with writing and editing work, so that’s why I’ve been so quiet here on the blog for a bit. But there’s some links I want to share before I forget.

Everyone has probably heard all about Kickstarter (the funding platform for creative projects), but if you haven’t, go and check them out! Kickstarter is proving to be a great way for professional artists to get the start-up funds they need and for people to support favorite artists and web shows. For example:

A writer friend of mine, Annie Bellet, was able to successfully use Kickstarter to help fund her tuition to Clarion this past summer.

The web show Put This On just successfully raised over $70,000 to film Season Two.

Travis Hanson, a fantasy/comics illustrator I got to meet briefly at Albuquerque Comic Con, has successfully raised the funds he needs to print his web comic in book format.

Money has always been an issue for artists, especially filmmakers and illustrators, so the rise of crowd-sourcing such as Kickstarter excites me to no end.

And 20+ year pro Bob Mayer has some blunt, quick advice on how to be a fiction writer that has a career that lasts for decades.

Green Chile Ice Cream and Other Joys of Local Diversity

Every place on this planet has something that makes it unique.

It might be a local food dish like green chile ice cream. It might be a rock formation in the shape of a camel. It might be a battle that was fought there, or an eccentric person who lived there. It might be the smell of the wind at night, or a plant species to be found nowhere else on Earth.

But that uniqueness is there, waiting to be discovered, if we go in search of it. And I’ve come to believe that the search for it not only feeds the muse, it enriches our lives.

It also helps to support a local uniqueness from going extinct.

About a year ago I started to make a conscious effort to find stores that were locally owned that either had locally made or grown things, or else had a unique passion for something (like the English tearoom experience).

I still planned to shop at big box stores (and I still do), but I wanted to go find what my fellow New Mexicans were up to. Also, have you ever noticed how in a big box store you can be anywhere in the U.S. and they’re all the same, except for a few items and the tourist knickknacks in the checkout lanes? Predictability is their strength, but it means that diversity is gone. Bland and boring are in.

It wasn’t until I went searching outside the big box experience that I discovered a local farmer’s food co-op that is bringing me melons and tomatoes the like of which I have not tasted since my grandfather’s garden.

And a funky locally owned furniture store that has an egg-shaped chair straight out of a 1960s James Bond movie.

And an English-style tearoom considered one of the top five in the country. The owners say that it is the support of their local community, not tourists, that keeps them in business.

And locally owned restaurants that put the big chains to shame in flavor and pricing. Restaurants with stuff like chile relleno sushi, and green chile ice cream.

I didn’t find everything overnight. I just decided that each month I’d keep my eyes open for one new thing to go try out in my hometown. I’d get clues about things to try out by reading the local magazines and papers. Coffee shops often have the free papers that list local events and do interviews with locals.

The more I dig, the more quirky stuff I find. It’s the sort of fodder an artist’s muse loves to munch on. But I’ve also noticed I feel more connected to my community and I’m helping to provide money to pay for jobs here in town.

It doesn’t have to be big box chains or local stores. One can do both kinds of stores. But if one is doing only big box chains, one is missing out on some truly wonderful stuff hidden out there.

One just has to go looking for it.

Every Renown Writer Starts Out a Beginner

Every renown writer you love to read started out as a beginner.

This is so obvious, and yet it gets forgotten so easily since it’s the masterpieces that get remembered when we talk about our favorite dead writers…not the unpublished works and the weak stuff published early on (unless you’re an English major doing research or an obsessive fan).

Very often, people who are not artists or just starting out have this mental gap in their heads about the journey that an artist takes from beginner to master:

beginner———– > luck  ————> master

Mastery and success are attributed to luck.

Well, there’s a middle phase that gets left out:

beginner ——-> apprentice ——> journeyman —> (95% hard work, 5% luck) ——-> master

The apprentice phase for writers is equivalent to the law school phase for someone who wants to be a lawyer. This is the phase where a writer often has to get on a plane to study with a particular writing teacher or to attend a national-level writing workshop. In old novels or movies, this was the point where the young artist packed up to move to an international hub for artists like Paris or New York City or London.

And then there’s the journeyman phase, where the writer has started to sell his or her stories, but there’s still so much to learn. This phase lasts for years to decades, or even a lifetime if the writer decides to stop learning and coast.

As for mastery, it doesn’t spontaneously happen. Don’t ask me why, but people  seem to have a natural tendency to ignore the middle phase when they talk about a particular famous dead writer or fantasize aloud about how easy it would be to write a bestselling novel if they just had the time.

And yet it’s the hard work in journeyman phase that will make or break a writer in becoming a master of the craft.

I think one of the most valuable lessons a writer can do once past the beginner stage is to choose a couple of favorite writers (both living and dead) and read their early works.

So, for example, if you were a huge fan of Charlotte Bronte as a writer, you’d dig up a research book that had her unpublished first writings and probably also a copy of her first novel, The Professor.

Or how about William Shakespeare? Go read his earliest plays (researchers still fight about which play he wrote first, so I’d advise reading several). Then think about how we’d see him now if he’d stopped after those early plays and had never written anything more.

But make sure to also include some favorite recent writers who wrote over a long time frame, twenty years or more.  For example, I went out and bought collections of the early published short stories of three recent writers whose later works I loved to read:  John D. MacDonald’s More Good Stuff, Stephen King’s Night Shift, and James Lee Burke’s The Convict & Other Stories.

This turned out to be an eye-opening exercise for me as I read the unpublished  early works of old greats (such as Jane Austen) and early short stories of favorite present day NYT bestsellers.

Their early works weren’t as well-written as their later works were. They’d gotten better at their craft over time. Big shocker, right?

Of course not.

But I’ve noticed a lot of my fellow Americans like to see their artists as the equivalent of Athena jumping fully formed out of the skull of Zeus. The arts are supposed to be “easy.” You have either “got it” as an artist or you don’t. No hard work, no sweat, no tears, no frustration, no years of dedicated study–as if somehow the arts are different from every other human endeavor.

So reading the early works of these various writers impressed upon me, at a deep gut level, how craft gets better over time as one works at it. Hmm, let me put it bluntly. A few of the early works “sucked.” A few seemed like they showed “no talent.” And yet these writers persevered and became masters of their craft. It would have been a terrible thing if any of these writers had quit during the early days due to a mistaken idea that it was impossible to improve in writing skill.

Every writer starts out a beginner. Where we go from there is up to us.