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?

 

Writer Wednesday: Life Awry

karmaSometimes, I wish I was the driver of the Karma truck. But, I suppose, being a writer is better. Still have the problem of sitting too long, but we get to exact revenge too. The best kind of revenge – in print.

Many years ago, sharing some big life altering event with a friend, she responded, “I guess these things happen to you because you’re a writer.”

Of course, life awry, I didn’t think this is the best response a friend could give – but, then again, maybe it was. Because it’s true.

What writer hasn’t written the demise of someone who’s wronged them? karma2

We writers have a way of writing life into our fiction. We work out our demons, our personal challenges, and by putting it out there in our fiction (or even in our creative nonfiction), we do one better than reap revenge, we are relieved and we are relatable to others who have gone through similar situations or similar emotional upheavals.

Recently, my life became vexed by a certain set of people and circumstances which caused great stress and loss (how’s that for vague?); and true to form, one of my writer friends said, “sounds like a great book!”

It damn well does.

karma4But, first, I had to roll my eyes and throw back my head. I just wanted some sympathy, some empathy. But she gave me more than that – she gave me purpose, building from ashes, and a way for me to transmit sympathy to another by relating to a scenario which many of us have experienced.  (I know, still too vague.)

However, the tragedy still fresh and the skin still tender, I’ve written on outline and will start on the book when the callous scars over and the sensitivity has dulled.

Friday Feature: Writing as Courtship – Timothy Savage

When Timothy Savage speaks of Davey’s Savior, his novel about a father and son, it’s with a passion which encourages the reader to pick it up. He uses that same passion in almost everything he does from caring for his own son to detailing the journey of Davy and his father.

I knew when I asked Timothy to write something, he’d present something marvelous…. and so he has.

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Revision as Courtship

courtshipCourtship is romance taken form. It’s where those thoughts and fantasies translate into actions, from the ordinary chocolates and flowers to those thoughtful gestures, everything from a caress of the hand to simple time spent in conversation, all taking place behind a barrier of uncertainty. You spend time with that special someone, you share meals and thoughts and feelings, you enjoy those little tingles that come from being in their presence, but you don’t yet cross into intimacy. Perhaps you’re old-fashioned, or imagine yourself as gentlemanly or ladylike; you save something for later. In any case, you’re not quite at that point of leaping into their arms with wild abandon.

That’s okay. Sometimes saving something for later is a good thing, even as you relish those moments together without quite sharing everything. It’s all driven by a simple truth: Courtship is a time for getting to know each other, and to be blunt, for sizing each other up.

In a long-term romance meant to last, you need to see them — and they need to see you — exactly as you both are. You need to see them happy, angry, confounded, upset, blissful. courtship2To see into their soul. To see whether it’s safe to make yourself vulnerable before blending your soul with theirs. To see your own flaws and those of your partner in clear focus, to get beneath the layers of what someone might project, and instead look for and grab onto those glimpses of truth beneath the veneer of attraction…

Wait a minute. If this is a column about writing for writers, why do I have romance on the mind? Easy. For writers, it’s like this when you’re about to embark on the process of revision. Many writers – myself included – feel a kind of anxiety, a hesitation, before diving into the process of editing and revision. You stare at your draft without moving, afraid to press a key or redline that sentence for fear of screwing everything up. It’s the same anxiety one feels before dialing that special someone for the very first time.

Writing — especially the art of crafting a book — can be thought of as a long-term romance with your story. And that sizing-up process, the very beginning of courtship, is an important first step in editing and revisions, too.

As an author, you need to make yourself vulnerable to your manuscript, to see it exactly as it is. To seek out those “warts and all” glimpses of its true nature. It’s the moment and author and manuscript test each other through presence, seeing whether they enjoy each other’s company after spending long periods of time together, or seeing whether they’d rather hide in the washroom and phone a friend for rescue.

But if you enjoy the experience together, if you enjoy spending that time and look forward to the next conversation, maybe it’s time to dig back in and read that manuscript as a reader would, as someone who’s not quite made themselves vulnerable to possibility of intimacy.

Personally, I’ve made a practice of revising “big to small.” What I mean by that is the act of seeing my story as a whole, of taking in the work-in-progress with all its flaws and foibles, sizing up its true essence, and determining what changes are necessary in a structural way to bring that story I’d envisioned into reality. Eventually I focus on smaller and smaller details; not story structure or overall plots, but the little touches that keep the reader enthralled. It’s a little like going from that first casual dinner to the first moment “alone together”; reach that level and it’s just the two of you in a dance, in the hopes of making it all work.

Revising “big to small” meant courting my other characters all over again. Looking at each of those peripheral stories in my manuscript with a critical eye, deciding whether they added to the central relationship in my book or distracted from it. Deciding which of those scenes were necessary, what worked and what did not. Deciding what should remain, and what could be safely relegated to a “cuts” folder for later consideration or swipe-left deletion.

courtship2In the end, after many dates with my manuscript that ranged through blind and awkward, rushed and too quick, exciting and anticipatory, intimate and ecstatic, the story evolved into better forms than ever taken before. I saw it for what it was, working through the small details, caressing each sentence and nuance until the story as envisioned came across as “meant to be.”

Revision is courtship. And courtship, despite the nerves and uncertainties and awkward moments, is fun. So don’t be afraid to dive right in. Swipe right on that revision. Hold that car door open, and bring along the flowers and candy for both of you. In the end, whether your revision succeeds or fails — whether the relationship with your manuscript lasts or fizzles during the courtship of revision — you’ll be a better author for having the courage to experience it.

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Noreen, thank you for the invitation to contribute to your ‘Friday Feature!’ Dashing off a blog post about writing is always great fun, and if it helps to inspire another writer or two, excellent!

Speaking of inspiration, I want to give a little credit where credit is due. The idea of ‘Revision as Courtship’ came out of discussions and collaborations with my dear, dear friend, writing partner across the pond, editor, and author of the 17th Century Midwives series of historical fiction novels, Annelisa Christensen. Her insights helped me to view revisions with something other than anxiety, and for that I am forever grateful.

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Thank you, Timothy.

You can find Davey’s Savior on Amazon

Tim’s Website – where you might find a little inspiration or even some help!

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