Influence

person standing with windmill background

This is going to be one of those typical, rambling, Tony’s been drinking the Faulkner Kool-aid again posts.

Last post I mentioned James Lee Burke as my literary hero. Oddly, I don’t really see much influence in my work. That comes with the caveat, that I don’t consciously set about writing like Burke or MacDonald or Spillane or Parker or whoever.

But reflecting on some of my creation, I am able to see some of the fingerprints, and as much as I’d love to write as rich and deep as Burke does about his setting, it just doesn’t seem to be in my toolbox yet. (Writing deep about setting is something that I set about, and I’m pretty happy with… I’m just not a master).  But leaving Burke behind for a moment…

John D. MacDonald is my favorite author, and I love his Travis McGee series. Having grown up in Florida, finding the beach-bum salvage consultant whose adventures occurred in familiar locales was a joy to my teen-aged self.  He was a bit of a loner (save his chats with Meyer and his many escapades with the fairer sex), who lived a pretty spartan existence upon his houseboat.  It’s impossible not to admit that some of this seeped into Fuzzy Koella.

But there’s another P.I. with whom Fuzzy shares more genetic code — Jim Rockford of the TV’s Rockford Files.  Rockford, too, is an offspring of McGee (acknowledged by the creators)… Rockford isn’t in the houseboat, though. He’s in some, probably non-compliant, trailer out by the Pier. Fuzzy’s in a renovated maintenance shed at the marina.  Ok, so they’re all beach bums… but McGee handles himself just a little (lot) better than Rockford and Koella.  Where McGee often gest the best of his foes when it comes time for bare knuckles, both Rockford and Fuzzy are, well, sort of bumbling fools and often end up getting their ass kicked. Hell, Rockford rarely carried a gun…when Fuzzy does he’s more likely to end up losing it in the fracas.

I didn’t set out to write “my” Rockford, but I’ve watched all the episodes. I’ve read all of the McGees multiple times. It’s impossible that some of the influence would not seep into my stories, unless I actively guarded against it. And why would I want to do that?  I love those stories.

There’s another popular P.I. whose shadows can be seen filtering into my stories.  Again, I’ve read all of the Spenser’s. I didn’t really see the influence (other than, yes, we both write/wrote P.I. stories) until my father referred to Jimmy Alou as the Hawk character.  “The sidekick with the gun.”

I’m gonna go all Harold Bloom, and suggest that influence goes back much further and is inescapable. Bloom somewhat controversially suggests that all Western literature can filed into one of two camps. Cervantes. Shakespeare. I tend to agree with him, though I think there is more cross pollination of the silos than he seems to suggest.

So, while Fuzzy Koella is IMO of the Shakespearean school, a mostly “lone wolf” internal looking character, the Fuzzy/Jimmy relationship is very much a result of the Cervantes literary tradition… they are Quixote and Pancho.  Spenser and Hawk are as well (though I’m not sure Spenser is quite as easily identifiable as Quixotic).

Anyway, not that I’m claiming I’m on par with Cervantes (and yes I’ve read Don Quixote in its entirety — I recommend it) or Shakespeare, but it is an interesting reflection to me. Robert B. Parker started his famous Spenser series very much as a throwback to Chandler/Marlowe and by extension Shakespeare, but when Hawk strode into the series there was a  noticeable pivot. I think, nowadays, most writers draw on both schools throughout their stories (as I do, without really realizing it), but to my mind Spenser hopped in the Cervantes silo when Hawk came along and the series never again was Chandler-esque. Parker left Shakespeare behind until he was approved to write some Marlowe novels by the Chandler estate.

Wow. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!  Of course, none of that Cervantes/Shakespeare stuff touched on the sidekick with a gun…which is a trope of the P.I./detective sub-genre (Spenser/Hawk, Dave/Clete, Cole/Pike, Easy/Mouse).  I read a lot of P.I. fiction. The only reason I don’t read as much of it as the most hardcore Romance reader reads her/his favorite genre is because there simply isn’t as much of it. The point being I crap out those tropes and the structure without even thinking about it. I’ll leave that up to the reader whether that is a good thing or not. I’ll just continue to follow Fuzzy around, and watch him stumble into danger with or without Jimmy along.  Until, of course, Fuzzy’s told me all the tales he needs told…

–TD

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James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is my favorite living writer (and he is a writer…he continues to write into his 80s). He’s also my literary hero. Those two things aren’t necessarily inclusive, but  for me Burke is both things.

The hero part comes from his persistence in getting his novel The Lost Get Back Boogie published. Burke was published in his twenties and met with some critical acclaim for his literary novels. Then, he went nearly a decade without being published. Boogie was rejected over 100 times by editors before finding a home with LSU Press. It went one to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  His next novel was The Neon Rain, a literary detective novel which paved the way for his best-selling career. He’s also my hero for being a “literary” genre writer. He is without any doubt in my mind the greatest living  American writer of prose. Seriously, I’d put his craft up against Pynchon, DeLillo, Morrison and McCarthy any day. Burke comes out on top in this reader’s mind.

In today’s environment of ghostwriting and collaborative, Patterson-esque writing, it would be easy to conclude that 80+ year old Burke may go down that path. But only if you have never read his work. His voice (see yesterday’s post) is so compelling, so unique that it simply cannot be replicated.

No, we will know when Burke has stopped writing. Unfortunately, it will be when he has passed.

There are plenty of reasons that he is my favorite writer that has nothing to do with him being my hero, though.

He writes vividly of setting. (One of those settings being lush, south Louisiana)

His characters are colorful, larger than life beings.

He writes unapologetically of the violent tendencies of man. And he does so in a way that makes you realize that the violence victimizes the inflictor as much as the victim.

His explorations of evil are downright Biblical.

He believably covers themes of the struggles of the poverty stricken in the face of greed.

He does all of the above in the mystery/crime genre framework.

 

April Writing Stats

April 1 – 1038

April 2 – 1072

Total – 2110 words

 

 

 

 

Voice

greyscale photo of man singing
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Of all the elements of writing (fiction), the one which I hold highest is Voice. Maybe your characters are two dimension cut-outs or your plot is like a train rolling down the tracks or maybe your setting is paint by numbers… if the voice is compelling you’ve got me.

It shows up in the characters…it shows up in the author. And there isn’t much anything you can do to build it in my opinion.  Which comes across as “either you got it or you don’t.”

Talent.

I’m not sure that’s the case. I’m sure some authors’ voices appeal more to my taste. Some, dear reader, appeal more to your taste. But I think more than anything else in writing, your voice is like fingerprints… we all have a voice.  The trick is to use it. Believe in it. And protect the hell out of it. And if your voice doesn’t appeal to every reader. Amen.

When I write a thousand words in an hour without any thought of where it’s going just listening to the characters and tapping away at the keys, and then cycle back and see there’s only some typos to touch up, maybe a little extra depth, etc, but damn this is pretty good!  That isn’t a random act of fate (okay, maybe it is)… it isn’t a  mistake.  It isn’t the 9-iron you blade thin from 140 yards out that rolls up and tucks in next to flagstick. It’s the power of Voice, without the shackles of critical writing…free of re-writing and style manuals.  It is the artist. It is me.

If I leave well enough alone…

 

April Writing Stats

April 1 —  1,038 words

Tabletop RPGs and Writing

 

otus

Every Friday night I run a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game for my son and his buddies using the edition of the game I first played back in 1981.

Every other Sunday I run a game for my son and his buddies and some of my gaming buddies (read other 40-something geeks).  We use the current (5th) edition of the game.

The Friday night game started with an old-school, open sandbox style module, but quickly has devolved into me completely making stuff up as I go.  I do probably less than 15 minutes of prep for this game every week.

The Sunday game, I am running one of the published adventures for the 5th Ed. game. As written, it’s very railroady.  And focused on running the players through a story.

The roleplaying game phenomena has an interesting timeline, which I won’t go much into, other than to say it has produced some distinct styles of play.  I’ve spent plenty of time in the “collaborative story-telling” school of play (hell, one of the more popular RPG systems is called The Storyteller System), and as much time in the “it’s a game stupid” school.  And in all the space in between those two extremes!

Oddly, I find myself mostly in the game-ist side right now.

Why oddly?

Because I am currently writing a post about the similarities in my writing process and my gaming table.

Right… I probably should get to that.

What I have found… I’m at my best when I am mostly winging it at the table.  This shouldn’t be much of a revelation.  The best game I’ve ever run was nearly 10 years ago (yes I remember a single night of gaming a decade ago), and I’ve come to refer to as the Doppleganger Murder Mystery extravaganza.  For that game, I created a handful of 7-sentence non-player characters. Gave the players a situation, and let them have at it.

Today, in that Friday night game, I’ve been known to create the dungeon whole-cloth as I’m drawing it out on the map for the players.  No prep whatsoever. Just, what would be cool right now?

Sunday game with the pre-written adventure?  We’ve spent 3 sessions in the “episode” that allows the most free-styling in the whole adventure.  And next session will be in that episode at least partially as well.  I don’t think there’s any coincidence there.  (I obviously don’t want to leave this place).  But even when we are “on the rails”, my favorite parts (and I think the players’) are random encounter rolls and when the players completely go bat-shit crazy off the tracks.

What this all comes back to… why am I surprised? Even as a Dungeon (Game) Master, I want the experience to match the players’. I don’t want to know what happens, and I certainly don’t want to know how things end.  It’s a game after all.  Not a story. <grin>.

But since, we’ve mentioned story. When I’m the Dungeon Master of my novels, stories, etc. I don’t want to know how the games end, either.

In both cases, with players and readers… I strongly believe, if I don’t know where things are heading there’s a good chance they don’t either.  If they do?  More power to them. They’re smarter than me.  And I’m okay with that.

— TD

Both of my books are widely available, and I would love to have you as a reader.  Universal links:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

 

More Critical Reading

Simple, lazy post today.

If you’re interested in reading some more thoughts on Critical Reading give Harvey’s post a read:

https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-sunday-march-17/

I commented on his post regarding the re-reading enjoyable pieces…if you re-visit the Reading for Pleasure post, you’ll see that conceptually we do the same thing (i.e. in our own way).

A lot of interesting insight into how Harvey copy-edits…and what he expects of first readers.

Thanks all readers for the interesting comments on yesterday’s post.

— TD

 

 

Critical Reading

This is a continuation, of sorts, of the infamous Critique post and the less controversial Reading for Pleasure post.  I guess the flip-side of seeking Critique is participating in Critique as a reader.

I take that back. It’s not really a flip-side.  My position is the same.

The problem is the same. And in the Reading for Pleasure post, I pretty much laid it out. I’ve spent years tackling a reading critically problem.  It surfaced when I started “learning” to write, and going to peer critiques. Here’s the thing… critiquing is mind numbingly easy.  When you start from a position of trying find what’s wrong…you will.  Give me a week with Shakespeare, Gatsby, Hemingway… I’ll find something to criticize. But, good Lord, why would I want to do that?

The Lonesome Dove post showed that I haven’t completely conquered this demon, though I wasn’t overly critical… and I am REALLY enjoying this book.

So the selfish answer is I don’t want to critique because it is no fun. I read to be entertained.  The other collateral damage I’m trying to avoid is that reading critically means less time in my creative mind… not to mention, giving criticality that kind of power over my reading gives it an “in” when I sit down to write.

What does this means for fellow writers?  Do I not want to read your stories, poems, essays?

I do.  I want to read and enjoy them. I would be honored.  If your stuff is on the market, I’ll most likely purchase it (or borrow from library) and read it. If I don’t purchase it, and you share your work with me, I will be grateful and thank you for the opportunity to enjoy your work.

Unfortunately, if you come to me and ask me to share “what’s wrong with it?”  I won’t be able to help.  That’s critical reading, and I won’t purposefully take on that task for the selfish reasons I mention above.  I will, however, share one of my core beliefs:

The greatest quality an artist can have is belief in oneself.

–TD

 

Schemes

Kristine Kathryn Rush posted this in regards to the latest publishing scandal:

https://kriswrites.com/2019/02/20/business-musings-ghostwriting-plagiarism-and-the-latest-scandal/

Sad stuff.

I wonder if this individual started out with the typical artist’s dream of doing her work and finding an audience, and got sucked into the “beating the system” mentality when things didn’t take off like she had hoped.

Or did she just start out seeing an opportunity to make a quick buck, and wanted to strike while the iron was hot?  I guess the way people get sucked into Ponzi schemes.

Obviously, the first one is more depressing to me.  I’ve noticed this trend of engaging others to write your series books among indies…to push the building of the back list and staying constantly in the churn of Amazon algorithms.  The ghostwriting thing isn’t indie-exclusive, of course… but, ah, what do I know…

I guess I know my perspective. Writing is fun. It’s why I do this… publishing is intermittently fun and not fun…but never as fun as telling stories.  For that reason, I could never see me hiring ghostwriters to churn out work with my name on it to chase a dollar. (I could actually see me ghostwriting much easier than hiring the ghostwriter…though, that doesn’t really appeal to me, either.)  This is one of those cases where I just find it hard to put myself in another’s shoes.

And I haven’t really even touched on the plagiarism.  It’s interesting that this person appears to feel she is not at fault, because it was hired out to ghostwriters and it wasn’t her who actually did the cutting and pasting.  I assume her name is on the copyright, which means she probably has a rude awakening coming.  Yet, she doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there is something a little skeezy in what she was doing to begin with.

Again, I know traditional publishing has implemented ghost writers for ages.  Somehow this seems different…or maybe not.  Because what do I know?

Other than what I will do and won’t do.

— TD

 

Ideas

bulb close up electricity energy

Readers ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Writers bemoan, “I have so many ideas.”  Or, “I’m writing my current story, but I’ve got this great idea for the next one and all I want to do is write it.”

I have learned to shut down the idea factory.

Writers are advised, “Carry a notebook. You never know when you will get an idea, and you don’t want to forget it.”

I don’t write them down for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve shut down the idea factory, and only open it when I sit down to write.
  2. If the idea is really worth anything, it would be worth remembering.

Ideas are everywhere. I have zero fear that I will lack for ideas. I do however fear that the sheer number of them will become debilitating. Or the shiny, fresh idea will distract me from the current work.

Keeping Heinlein’s Rule #2 in the front of my mind helps with this.  If I am adamant about finishing what I start, then my creative mind will shove those fresh ideas to the corner closet, and focus on keeping the current work shiny and fresh.

You Must Finish What You Start.

A simple tool to keep ideas from overwhelming the process.

Back to the reader’s question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The answer is simple. I get them from the process. Writing regularly does that. I know if I sit down and write… If I sit down with a character in a setting… if I ground myself (and by extension the reader) in the setting with that character… I will never want for ideas. Story will happen.

As an example, have you ever had a dream that was so realistic that it felt you were living it, despite the fact that the people you encounter are people you have never met in real life, and despite the fact that the locales are places you have never been to?  Of course, you have. This is the reason a lot of writers keep a notebook and pen on the bedside table to write down their dreams when they awake. ( I don’t do that either. ) Do you ever wonder where those ideas come from?

Probably.

Have you ever found an answer?

Probably not.

I think the answer is simple. You put yourself in a position to create those dreams. Namely, you go to sleep… and all of those critical voices that would suppress the creativity in your waking hours are asleep, too.  And your creativity awakes like a toddler put down at the playground. And there you have it, a great dream. A great story.

And that is how it works, if I just sit down regularly to write. If I don’t worry about if it’s any good… If I don’t worry about having a working “idea”.  Just sit down, and follow my characters around. They’ll get in trouble…they’ll do unbelievable things… they’ll probably do things a lot more interesting than real life. It is not my job to pass judgement on those things or criticize or tell them about some really cool idea I have about what they should be doing.  My job is to record them, as if I were recording one of those dreams I mentioned above…like the writer who keeps the pad on the bedside table. Except, I’m doing it real time. I’m recording the dream at my keyboard as it is happening.

–TD


 

Both of my books are widely available, and I would love to have you as a reader.  Universal links:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

Photo by LED Supermarket on Pexels.com

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

 

 

 

What this is all about

Once upon a time, I realized I enjoyed writing.  I’m not sure I can isolate when.  Was it when I joined the School Paper in Middle School?  Or was it when I secretly wrote stories in my notebooks while I was supposed to be listening in Chemistry class in High School?  Was it when I jotted snippets of stories in a notebook while on the road with my college baseball team.

It was probably earlier.  It was probably when I realized that I enjoyed reading.

About ten – fifteen years ago, I began writing in earnest.  I participated in National Novel Writing Month annually.  I even wrote to completion on a couple of novels.  I took a Creative Writing class at the local Community College.  I joined and participated in writing groups.  I read like a demon every book, website, magazine on what it took to be a writer.  I was impassioned.

A couple of problems led to me letting it all go.  Namely:

  • Over consumption of all the expert advice had me spinning my wheels. A lot of the advice contradicted itself, and I probably lacked the self-awareness to identify which, if any, of these rules could apply to me. Some of the advice, made writing not fun.  Looking back, it seems that should have been the telling thing for me.  Any advice that took the joy out of something I enjoyed doing, should have been ignored.
  • Sharing my work.   Ultimately, we tell stories to be heard/read.  I never got in the habit of sending my work off for fear of rejection.  This is something I still must conquer.  A lot has changed in the 7-8 years since I was writing earnestly.  I suspect I will be going directly to readers with novels.  Shorts, I probably will be collecting rejection slips.  When it’s all said and done, I still have to face the fear.

I want to write, though.  And I want to have fun doing it.  I want to write the stories that I enjoy reading.  I want to get better, too.  And to do that I will need to practice a lot.  So Pulp, it is.

The Pulp writers wrote tons of words in stories for the Everyman.  For readers like me.  Now, I make no guarantees that everything I write will fit neatly in one of the Pulp Genres (Detective, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Western, Weird/Horror), but I hope to write in the spirit of the Pulpsters.

So what’s this all about?  I’m going to share how things are going here.  I’ll share what I’m working on and how it is progressing.  Beyond that, anything goes.  Maybe, I’ll share my thoughts on stuff I read or watch.  I’ll try to keep it on topic, though.  The topic is Story (and writing).

What am I working on now?

Glad you asked.

Pulp Detective Novel with the working title of “Happy Hour” – 7,700 words currently

Short Story titled “Welcome to the Jungle” – approx. 300 words currently.

What about goals?

Daily = 1,500 new, clean words per day

By midnight Halloween => 71,000 new, clean words (to include completion of Happy Hour and a total of 6 short stories)

I hope you will cheer me on.

Tony