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

When Editors Go Cray….

beautiful ppl.jpgMany years ago, All The Beautiful People was accepted for publication. But, then, as happens sometimes, I got the dreaded letter (yes, that’s how many years ago it was) in the mail stating that they had accepted too many things and something had to be bumped. The editor apologized and said they’d keep it in their files, but I should feel free to submit it elsewhere.

I did so.

A year later, that story was accepted for publication in another journal.

Even another year later, the original journal – with a new editor – wrote me via email and said they’d decided to use All the Beautiful People in their upcoming edition.

I responded that they were welcome to use the story; however, it had been accepted and was scheduled for publication by another journal. The publications would come out about six to nine months apart.

I never heard from that second journal and believed they had removed the story from their journal and their archives.

Six months later, I received a copy of the beautiful journal and my story within its pages.  YET – they’d billed the story as a memoir – it was fiction – and they’d cut off the last paragraph.

I was a little embarrassed. The girl in the story does things I would never have never girl with elvis facedone. I was concerned what readers might think – that this might serve as some sort of legacy I couldn’t live down.

See – with the last paragraph – it could NEVER EVER EVER be mistaken as memoir. I sent off a quick email to tell them these two things.

The editor dashed off a quick and nasty response – that they had published it as received, adding some choice and unprofessional comments. She made it sound as if I’d sent it directly to her and that she hadn’t pulled it from their archives.

I responded with the history of the piece, date sent, date accepted, and by whom, date and reason it was taken out, and by whom, etc.

I received another quick and dirty response. I wish I would have kept that email – misspelled words, inappropriate language, and completely and utterly unprofessional. I decided to look this person up. I then forwarded her emails to her employer.

She had found All The Beautiful People in the other publication – the one which was attributed correctly and published fully – and accused me, in her fancy slang, of lying, cheating the system, and whatever else she felt necessary. Another email I forwarded to those who were really in charge of the journal.

I again responded – with the forward – the series of events that had transpired offering all the original letters, archived in my own files, and the emails, which I had still in my saved box.

Route-66-Texas-Midpoint.jpgI didn’t hear from any of them again. But they did put a tiny little line in an inconspicuous place on their website that the story was mislabeled as memoir and should read fiction.

Now, it could have easily been a little mistake to publish it as memoir; however, again, the last paragraph would have told ANY reader that was wrong. Therefore, the missing last paragraph and the misattribution made me wonder. Still, this problem could have been easily, politely, and professionally handled.

I was shocked to learn that the editor who had acted so poorly was a lecturer at a University and had a book or two to her own credit. I do not believe she continued as the editor after that, but I didn’t bother to check.

I learned two valuable lessons from this experience – KEEP EVERYTHING! and always act like a professional.

On my bookshelf

I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).

bookshelf.pngI began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books

I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.

A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.

I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.

For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.

I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Study the Masters….

faulkner“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

 

 

Some people feel they should not read others or study the masters because it will influence their voice; however, experts recommend that is where you begin in order to develop your voice. Finding your voice takes time and it takes writing, regardless of who you read.  But you do, without a doubt, need to read far and wide.

Fiction = Lies / Writers = Liars?

gaiman.jpgNeil Gaiman says lies are what fiction is made of. Well, yes, but….

He says, we make up people and places and put them in circumstances which aren’t true. Yes, well, but…

But we tell some sort of universal truth with these lies and that’s what makes it good fiction.

Gaiman is all about honesty, so I’m surprised he calls what we do lies. I don’t consider fiction lies. But I can see how people think it is. But then, do we call writers liars? I would hope not.

There’s a difference, isn’t there?  I, personally, keep my life honest. I appreciate honesty from everyone in my circle and will not continue to be around people who are known to have lied.

Plato believed fiction was dangerous to society. He wrote in “dialogues” to teach philosophy or what he believed philosophical truths.

He was fictionalizing these dialogues. And if fictions, like philosophy, seek truth and honesty, aren’t they important?plato.jpg

Gaiman says the magic of fiction is the big, important truth.

I guess, if the fiction doesn’t tell us a truth, it has been a waste of our time, of our words, and is, therefore, a lie.

 

Read

We’ve heard that we should read aloud to ourselves. And we absolutely know this works. We are able to hear our mistakes, rewrite and hear it a different way to see if it sounds better.

Man Writing WEB

But how many of us actually do it?

Back in the day (as my students say), copy-editors and writers read the work aloud with one another or within a group to catch mistakes before publications. Some critique groups do this as well.

When I read aloud, it sounds the way I think I want it to sound. It helps me to have someone else read it to me while I’m reading it on the screen.

This is what I suggest. Microsoft word has a setting that will read the text to you. I’ve found this incredibly helpful.

There are a number of programs if you don’t have microsoft or can’t stand the monotone.

Some writers record themselves reading the story, then listen to it while they reread in order to catch mistakes.

Let’s be honest – we all make mistakes. And to be more honest – it doesn’t look good in publication. Unfortunately, I’ve sent things out with mistakes. Fortunately, I’ve had some great editors (and publishers) who called my attention to these errors.