What makes good literature?

An extremely good conversation in my literature class about intelligence (Inspired by Ted Chiang’s The Great Silence). We talked about other species that fall under the definition of intelligence, which is “the ability to understand and apply knowledge.” parrot.jpgConsidering Alex the Parrot and Koko the Gorilla, and other species: crows are problem solvers and remember faces. We discussed dogs, cats, and others. Is love, as an abstract idea, understood and applied by animals? And then – is intelligence found in showing love?

This is what good literature should do. Teach, delight, and create wonder.

Read The Great Silence here

What’s So Scary?

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“Don’t be afraid of failure.  The reality is that most people successes rise out of the ashes of their previous failures.”

From a new documentary on Netflix titled Creativity. The narrator is talking to the creator of Game of Thrones. The creator is talking about how many times he’s failed.

I started this to say – what are you afraid of?

Then I wanted to ask – what if there was no such thing as fear? What would you do? What could you do?

I want you to think about that. What if fear was not in the human range of emotion or thought?

 

Not writing scares me….

ghostly.pngWrite what scares you…..

This is a poetry prompt given to me in one of my graduate level classes.

I don’t think it has to be just for poetry.

Experts tell us we should do something that scares us every day. I don’t know. I’ve done quite a lot of things that scare me – crossing the highest bridge in North America, swimming with sharks, – but those are kinds of scary that gives you a rush. Still valid to write about.

But in that assignment and poem, I wrote about a missing girl. Because those are the types of things that do scare me – when children go missing.

I wrote:

Have you seen her pass this way?

Shoe found, white.

Blood on the laces….

 

Write about what scares you….

 

Feel free to share!

 

I Am Not Necessarily Me

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I use first person narrator in many of my stories.  I find the level of intimacy I can connect with in the character makes the experience feel more authentic.

I also enjoy the unreliability of the first person narrator. Although I don’t intend to make my main characters questionable, all first person accounts must be met with skepticism.

There’s one possible downside to the first person narrator and I’m certain many writers have experienced the fan who believes they understand the author based on a story which utilized the “I”.

dadshiningOne reader contacted me convinced Dad Shining was about me. “This is a true story, I bet!” He wrote.

This is complimentary in the fact that the story must have been realistic enough for this reader to believe and enjoy it.

However, Dad Shining (originally published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal) is written from a male point of view experiencing a life event incomparable to what a woman could experience.

There’s not much a writer can do about being mistaken for their narrator except to gently correct the reader without offending them or merely thank them. I said, “thank you for reading.”

My main character in West End is a young woman, and I did use an area close to where I grew up. A number of readers have attempted to call me out on that. One reader wrote, “I know most of this is you, except for the part of leaving the boy.” Another reader, convinced it was me believed I’d been married before and left them to change my name and start a new life incognito.

This did bother me to some extent; the woman in West End is in some ways stuck in west end coverlife, and while that might be my fear, it is not me.

Still others found the first person narrator unreliable enough to question her sanity and ask me if she was seeing spirits. These questions I rather enjoyed. One character I had intended to be questionable, but when asked about another – I don’t want to say as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! – I was blown away!

And that is the benefit and, perhaps, curse of first person narrator. The connection is so authentically intimate that you might convince readers it’s you; And you might just convince them the narrator is a little off her rocker!

Writer Wednesday: Writer Dreams

We all get those ideas that occur to us in the middle of the night as we’re rolling over, sleepwe reach for a pillow and poof – a story occurs to us.  Some of us continue to snuggle tight to that pillow and tell ourselves we’ll remember it in the morning …zzzzz… and it’s gone; others of us roll back over, grab that notebook and make notes.

Some of those notes are not going to make a darn bit of sense in the morning, some will. My idea for “Of Strays and Exes” came to me in the middle of the night in the form of a strange first line…  “when I ran over my neighbor’s dog…”  I grabbed that notebook and started scribbling. I put it down, only to take it up again and again until I finally got out of bed and wrote nearly the whole story before climbing back into bed for an hour’s sleep before work.

sleep1There’s something magical happening in our brains at certain moments during the night. We’re transitioning from deep rem sleep back to stage one, nrem sleep, where we are most likely to be awakened; this is also about the time, along with other times, that hypnagogic sleep is taking place. This is a transitional state for our minds and bodies, and the best time for “stories” to happen.

During that hypnagogic stage. We’re barely asleep, barely awake and sparks are happening between neurons that give us bright ideas, great lines, interesting themes.

Most of us are working people who have to get up in the morning and go to work or raise our children or help our parents, so we don’t grab those moments as we might if say – we were independently wealthy and didn’t have to do a 9 to 5er. charlie

If you can’t write at night, try to capture that hypnagogic state during your disciplined writing time or  other random moments.

I had to have an MRI recently. Have you ever been in one of those machines, clicking, burring, whirring, and it sounds like you’re trapped in a jet engine of sorts?  I put myself in one of those states and by the time the technician was pulling me out, I wanted to stay in longer.

It’s meditation and breathing – you knew I was going to say that. But for this meditation, lay down, think about your breathing while blocking everything out except the images of your story.

If you’re using this to create stories, think blue sky, blue sky, blue sky while breathing in and out. Let whatever happens in that sky occur. When you come up on an image that works for you – and you will – follow that image like a cloud in the sky, see where it takes you.

Or – of course – if you can, get up in the middle of the night and follow those half-wakeful/half hypnagogic dreams…

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