Reading for Pleasure, This Writer’s Tool

Possible rambling, stream of conscious post to follow.

Occasionally, I will hear writers (usually, one about as far along the journey as me) say, “I don’t read anymore. I don’t have the time.” I can certainly see how this is possible. Especially, for a writer, that is also balancing a full-time job and family responsibilities. But, it still makes me sad.

And it reminds me of some days early in my writing journey. Not that I’ve forgone reading…because I’ve always read. Rather, when I’ve stopped reading for pleasure and began reading critically. Back then I was “learning” all the rules of writing. Reading a lot of writing books. Some good…by writers who had the backlist to back up what they preached. Some not so good by agents or gurus without much experience at all writing fiction. So then when I was reading, I would catch “head-hopping” mid-scene. OR god-forbid the writer “told” and didn’t “show.”

This was miserable. Reading critically, may actually be more horrid than writing critically.  And that is saying something. Not to mention being a pessimist sucks.

I’ve broken myself of this habit. It wasn’t easy, but I read for pleasure again with exactly zero thought of craft.  I just read a lot. I think its the most important thing I can do outside of butt in chair.  And if I really enjoy a story?  I may re-read it to see what I loved so much…or I may re-visit a memorable passage.  More likely?  I’ll just remember the book, and if/when I am struggling with something in the craft OR there is just a technique I want to try out in a story, I’ll return to the stories I’ve loved and and see how the experts did it.

For my money, this is almost always better than trying to learn it from a writing book. And it IS always better than following some Style Manual.

When I want to learn something about dialogue, I re-visit Mr. Parker’s Spenser novels.

When I want to learn how to write in depth about setting, Mr. Burke is there for me.

He’s also good for techniques when telling is better than showing.

Brevity without losing your voice, Mr. Block… or Papa.

But it’s only done with stories, I’ve already read and enjoyed.  If I never get anything out of a story then

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the simple pleasure of reading it, that’s enough. There’s plenty of education in an entertaining story.

I have nothing…

but recommendations.

Harvey posted an old Dean Wesley Smith blog post with a great rewriting metaphor.

https://harveystanbrough.com/pro-writers/a-rewriting-metaphor/

I am currently reading my local writing friend’s novella “Sodom and Gomorrah on a Saturday Night”.  Check Christa out…she writes literary, genre-bending fiction that will make you think.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

https://christammiller.com

Phillip wrote 52 short stories in 52 weeks. And wrote about it and published the stories. 52 for 52. That’s batting 1.000!

https://phillipmccollum.com

I’ll save the customary pimpin’ of my own work.  Go check these scribblers out!

–TD

 

 

 

Focus on the Words

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I know it probably comes off that I’m some free-stylin’ word slinger with my talk of no re-writing.  That isn’t really the truth at all. In fact, like most (all?) early writers I struggle with micro-managing the words.

What do I mean?

I mean…sometimes I focus too much on the right word, or the right sentence structure, at the expense of story. Or, at least, that is my impression. Maybe the story suffers or not, I honestly don’t think I can tell.  That’s something a reader can tell much better than the writer.

But…

I do catch myself doing this. And I don’t know what the answer is (?). I like to think that as I write more, and gain more confidence this will just sort of fade away.

Any writers out there a little further along with words of wisdom?  How about some of you at similar spot in your writing journey, do you face similar struggles?

–TD

*on the plus side 3,000+ words on the current novel today.

Having fun with blurbs

Writing blurbs or (more accurately) book descriptions is not the most enjoyable thing in the world for me. I don’t hate is much as some writers, but it is something I need to practice and like the writing itself make a continuous improvement exercise.

Yesterday, Jill and I hit one of our local used bookstores, and just because I’ve had blurbs on my mind I thought I’d share the blurbs for a couple of my purchases. (Comedic relief to follow).

See it Again, Sam Carter Brown

“An Eye for an Eye

Former film superstar Samantha Dane’s career had been viciously curtailed when some unknown person threw acid in her beautiful face during a luxurious Caribbean cruise.

Sam hired Rick Holman to track down the other members of the party, among whom were a power-mad tycoon, a bi-sexual hooker, a nymphomaniac fortune teller, and a sadistic gangster. Each of them had good reason to hate Samantha’s guts, and one would gladly kill to keep Rick from finding out the truth!”

Ha, ha, ha. I collect Carter Brown books because while they are seldom great, they are usually fun… and I respect the man’s prolific output. So, I decided on this purchase before ever reading the blurb.

Death Dives Deep Michael Avallone

Lovely Ladies and Lethal Love in a Kingdom Under the Sea”

Ed Noon couldn’t believe his ears when the President gave him the facts. Somewhere off the Florida coast was an underwater empire run by a band of man-eating females — and the only way to save America from catastrophe was to beat them at their own game of seduce-and-destroy.

Enemies who made war by making love were a new challenge for Ed Noon, but orders were orders — and he plunged deep into the wildest caper of his career!”

Are you kidding me? Seriously? I hope all of my writing friends out there who are dealing with fear of rejection (either as an independently published writer or through traditional publishing), will read this blurb.  Seriously. This book was traditionally published.  A different age, but still. There is NOTHING to fear.

I looked at the Avallone book, because the keyword Michael Avallone has actually delivered a couple of sales for me through Amazon Ads, and I was interested.  I’m ashamed to admit that the blurb I quoted actually did lead to a sale.

No real point to this post. I’m just easily amused.

–TD


Michael Avallone readers cannot be wrong…check out the books they’ve purchased:

Everything is Broken.  First in the Fuzzy Koella Mystery series.

North Country Girl.  Fuzzy’s return.

 

 

“You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.”

“Whoa, nellie.”

All apologies to Keith Jackson.

I almost blogged on Heinlein’s Rule #3 on Christmas Day, because I figured everyone would be in good cheer and keep their daggers hidden.

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Right at the front. A couple of things:

  1. I recognize that of all of Heinlein’s Rules, this one is the only one that is not universally true. Do I think that if you rewrite your story once or twice or however many times you cannot succeed as commercial fiction writer? Of course not.
  2. This is my favorite, most liberating of all of the rules.

Okay. Have you put the daggers away? Great.

Robert Heinlein wrote his business rules for writers in the 1940s. Heinlein, of course, was a popular writer of science fiction. Harlan Ellison also was a popular writer.  He famously tacked on an adder to this rule that went something like this:

“And then only if you agree.”

Despite all of the claims to the contrary. I believe both men meant what they wrote.

Why is this my favorite rule?

There is probably something in the attitude of it. I like the big middle-finger to the whole “writing is re-writing” doctrine.  Outside of that I’ll give you three reasons:

  1. Remember how much I dislike spoilers and outlining?  How enjoyable do you think I find going back through a story to “polish” it?
  2. I find the mindset change of I’m going to write this thing right the first time. When I don’t give myself the out of a “shitty first draft”, I waste a lot less time. I also think the artist in me respects the work much, much more, and is less likely to shutdown on me.
  3. Voice is by far the most important element of fiction to me. I also believe it is the easiest to cultivate. All I really need to do is leave it alone. All of that “polishing” removes all the voice that make my prose uniquely mine.

So, I write without an outline (well I have a little bit of a reverse outline that I note as I go), one draft, and don’t rewrite before sending it to a reader. I don’t leave myself little notes on what to go back and fix. I fix it right away.  I don’t bracket things I need to go back and research. I get my butt up out of my writing chair, and go do the research I need right then and there (I write on an Alphasmart Neo with no internet connectivity).

Then, the beauty of this new world of publishing?  It is much easier to keep a stiff upper lip with Ellison’s adder.  If I don’t agree with either my first reader or my copy-editor, I can move on. In truth, I could do that in the traditional publishing world, too… if I’m willing to chance the “tough to work with label.”

*One bit of re-writing that could be claimed I do… I upload my files from the Neo to my word processor, and then turn spell check on and fix those before handing over to my reader.

–TD


If you’re interested in what all this rebellious Heinlein’s Rules following looks like, I’d love for you to read either of my books:

Everything is Broken.  First in the Fuzzy Koella Mystery series.

North Country Girl.  Fuzzy’s return.

 

North Country Girl Published

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Fuzzy is back! North Country Girl is published.

I’ve uploaded the files, and they are slowly making their way to the digital storefronts!  My life has been turned upside down this week, so bear with me on the print release, and updating the books page and all that other stuff.

I hope you will read it.

I hope you enjoy it.

I hope you’ll tell a friend about it.

I hope you’ll leave a fair and honest review.

books2read.com/northcountrygirl

 

What I Am Reading – Rich Zahradnik

Rich Zahradnik’s Lights Out Summer won the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original novel in 2018. The main character Coleridge Taylor is a Crime Reporter. Not what I would call a traditional private eye, but he does fit perfectly the PWA definition.  None of that is really important. I only mention, so a reader doesn’t jump into this thinking they’re getting Sam Spade (or Fuzzy Koella, for that matter).

The book is set in 1977 New York. The Summer of Sam, and the NYC blackout, which leds the book its title. The media is in a frenzy over The Story. Son of Sam, a serial killer hunting young lovers throughout the city’s boroughs. Taylor works for a local news wire, and pushed constantly to cover Sam. However, he resist this. Rightfully, arguing that everyone is covering it. Instead he chooses to cover the murder of a young Harlem woman, whose case is buried under the coverage by both the police and press of the serial killings.

Lights Out Summer isn’t quite the action-packed thriller of Hardman, but it’s still hard-boiled. Taylor is no amateur sleuth. And the crime here is street crime conducted by drug dealers and other low-lifes. While it doesn’t have the frenetic action of some hard-boiled novels, it still works the mystery at an excellent pace…and picks up just right when the black out hits the city.

I am thrilled to discover Zahradnik, and I hope you will give him a try, too.

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Why I don’t outline

I love books. And movies. And fictional TV shows. I love stories.

My favorite thing about this writing gig is being the first person to see the stories. It’s like being the person who records a great story for publication, airing, screening, whatever…

You know what I hate?

Spoilers. Knowing what’s going to happen.

That is the easiest way for me to explain why I don’t outline. I don’t want to know what is going to happen. It ruins my enjoyment. I try not to willingly do things I don’t enjoy. Life is too short.

Do I think not outlining is the right way to write?

Nope. It’s one way.

I even enjoy outlining a story. It’s a fun, creative process. I started out as an outliner. I have even done my share of snowflakes!

I’ve never completed anything I’ve outlined, though. I lose interest.

Why?

The outline is a spoiler. I had my fun with the story. Now, I have to go back and write it…knowing how it ends? Not fun.

But I did learn something, even when I had an outline, my creative self could not stay on the train tracks. It would run right off those mo-fos, and WOW did some crazy fun stuff happen…however, the pull of the rails followed… not cool.

Now, I sit down and follow the characters around and record. I’m a happier and (IMO) better storyteller. If you’ve read Everything is Broken, I figured out whodunnit (not that I think that is the important thing in the story), when Fuzzy calls Indianapolis. That and the scenes that followed were a blast to write.

My current story? I sat down to write a Western, but Fuzzy was having none of that.

If it all sounds like mystical, woo-woo BS. It’s because it is, except for the BS part. But it works for me, and it means when I’m writing a book…actually writing…I’m also its first reader. I love that.

For the other writers out there, I’d love to hear how you keep the joy in your writing.

–TD

 

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Film Noir Friday – You Only Live Once

(Possible spoilers below)

How have I never seen this film?

A noir purist will likely point out You Only Live Once as proceeding the Film Noir cycle of roughly 1940-1959. It is noir maestro Fritz Lang’s second American film, and if anything it is an argument for pushing the beginning of the noir period back to 1937. I know noir, when I see it, and this is clear-cut noir, and a fantastic film.

Henry Fonda plays an ex-con trying to go straight with his new wife (played by Sylvia Sidney…and look at that top billing all the way back in 1937!). Of course, this is noir, so it’s not as easy as saying I’m getting out of the life. Fonda is wrongly accused of a bank heist, and finds himself on death row. There’s a VERY compelling prison escape… that is so noir I can’t even go there and spoil it…watch it and you tell me. The priest? Fuhgeddaboutit.

The film wraps in pure fashion (which surprised me, quite frankly), and did it at about the 80 min. mark.

In closing, I’ll also point out that there is a lot of prison shots, which always makes for wonderful film noir, chiaroscuro visuals. If you’re a fan of the visual-style, you can’t go wrong here.

–TD