March 18, 2008

Writing Exercise: Creating Now for Later

There is a method I use to help inspire me when I have writer’s block. It’s simple to do and it is undisciplined: I simply write anything. An example of this is a piece I jotted down recently using the theme of unoriginality. My idea is that just about everything written has been said before and even expressed in the same manner by others. My only fault in writing this was that my subject was not narrow enough for the brevity of the paper.

To tighten the focal point of my exposition would have worked better. A precise argument is always the most effective; yet, my goal was not to create something publishable, but to cobble together an article which I might cannibalize later. To get my artistic juices flowing, I took an idea, rough on the surface, and ran with it. I am not proud of this composition; and, I am not anxious to publish it here. But, I think the purpose it serves is to demonstrate the decree I have been living by as a writer for most of my life; and, that is that a writer writes…always.

Many of my blog posts are rejuvenated works that I wrote years, even decades earlier. Much of my newer material is still evolving; maturing like bottled wine in the cellar until such time I find it necessary to take them out to breathe, and to be posted here. One of my recent blog posts was born of an extended poem I used as part of my training regimen back in the 1980s. The surest way I know that a story, poem, article, or essay I wrote is not finished is when I cannot come up with a suitable title for it. That is the case with the paper I will show you here. The idea is sturdy, but not fine enough. The last paragraph does not finish as strong as I would like it too, the imagery is almost non-existent, and I can’t find a proper name for this work. However, I like much of what I came up with and I intend to store it away in my notebooks and produce it again at such time when I believe I can tackle my treatise with the skill and voracity it deserves.

For today, this piece serves me well as a catalyst which propels me forward and keeps my literary voice honed. The working title of this workout is “In-distinction.” Perhaps other writers employ similar methods to keep themselves sharp, and I imagine all of us have volumes of unpalatable material saved on legal pads, loose leaf paper, and their computers. At great risk, I offer you mine here.


It’s difficult to grasp that there are almost six billion souls in the world today. Staggering still is the notion that there were billions more who lived before them. I am one; one man who feels the echoes of them all. My writing, as sparse and understated as any deficient poet, can merely express my own thoughts and meanderings let alone take on the accounting of civilization.

What I sense at my core is a ripple; several of them perhaps, and they spread from my heart to the tips of the hairs on my neck causing me to shudder. There is a spark to my stuttering; realizing that I speak for myself, yet others articulate the same things. Without ever meeting these copycat spirits both alive and dead who suggest my own ideas and relate my own calamities as they all experienced the same; I see now, I am not distinctive.

My mind is not my own as it was hewn from vast cosmic material as indestructible as God Almighty. Scraps of flesh from the departed are snug among the particles which make up my identity. We share humility, shame, agony, joy, selflessness, curiosity, delight, jealousy, and shades and shades of tempered sensations which repeat themselves across the eons on this worldly theater.

I can tell you about Jesus! Believe, believe, believe and then enlighten everyone. Write about my devotion, my conservatism, and my faith in spirituality over organized religion, and then pen my views. Won’t that make a compelling book? You wrote it already, didn’t you?

My thoughts are not yours. These words, they’re copyrighted, original, unstained by another’s pen. Whose work came first? Feel pain? I do. Want love? I am in love. Are you grieving? Here I am, let me tell you a story. My story, is it authentic? Do I remember it or does my great-grandfather? Ask my grandchildren as they will evoke this when they are born.

Food, sex, television, sports, beer, cars, music; I can write about those things. My novels appear significant; tales of men and women committed and their families slain. What about adoration and casualty? Did I say all of that with seventy six thousand words? How novel.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll discover a secret vault with all of the passions and clever schemes no other human ever experienced before. Have you seen it? My Forefathers did. I remember.

Maybe it isn’t that bad after all? Pay careful attention, because there is at least one line in there which is headed for a blog post coming up in the near future. I can hear the complaints already: “What do you mean, more re-runs?” No, not re-runs; just the same old thing, but better.

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March 13, 2008

"Six Word Memoir" Meme

I’ve been tagged with the dreaded “Six Word Meme” by a Rotus, the author of two really terrific blogs: “Rotus” and “I’ll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book!” How it works is the person tagged writes a six word memoir about themselves and post it to you blog. Then, link to the person who tagged you, and tag five more people. However, in keeping with my own theme of intrigue, I’ll hold off on tagging others as is my traditional method of responding to memes so I can use the tag on an occasion where I see the meme fitting. Those who have been tagged by me in the past know what I am talking about. Here’s my six word memoir:

“I have become a marvelous writer.” (This statement is strictly tongue-in-cheek!)

Pretty bold, huh?

March 5, 2008

Writing Home: Using One's Home Town for Setting

Creating fiction requires many essentials. One needs characters, a plot, setting, time period, and other factors which narrow the concept down to a point where the author may begin to write. Setting is key; and, as it often is with literature, characters are based on the writer’s persona, and very often, the characters live in where the writer does. How many authors can you name whose works place their protagonist in the very town where they grew up or where they currently live? I’ll give you one: Nelson DeMille has written books set on Long Island where he currently resides, and in New York City where he was born. This is a practice which I have only recently embraced.

My first novel, “The Tin Age,” is set in suburbia, and the main character, Martin Spratt, is a county police officer. I imagined the county based on the one where I reside and added many of the qualities which made this setting attractive to me: Hamlets full of quiet, tree lined streets, wooded areas on the outskirts of towns, and a government structure which allows for a full service, county-wide police department were the factors I needed to make the story work. In retrospect, instead of concocting a name, I should have simply utilized the actual region where I live as it would have been familiar to any potential local audience.

That is an attractive aspect to applying this technique as the residents of the municipality depicted in your story would be more likely to read your work and create buzz for you and your novel. This is a factor not lost on literary agents and publishers; in addition, this type of ingredient in a story works when employed the moment the task of writing the manuscript is begun. In my case with my fictional county, it would take a little effort to change village and street names to match existing locations; but, none of these roads and communities is described accurately in this story and a major re-write would then be in order to achieve authenticity. It is best to plot your location as well as your storyline at the outset as the two are intertwined.

With fiction, writing about genuine locations is useful if one wishes to add color, depth, and breadth to the story. Each locale has a unique and rich history. Customs are inbuilt, and reasonable expectations can be placed on climate, local customs, geography, and the speech of its inhabitants. Using one’s own native state, town, or actual place of birth allows a writer to draw upon their own individual experiences and include them in the narrative, albeit an imagined one.

For example, a writer may draft a scene where two brothers are walking to school. In an imaginary town, more elements may have to be explained to the audience by the author because the reader may not have a clue as the where these school boys are. The reader sees a blank, nondescript boulevard the boys are traveling on, and illustrative gaps need to be filled in by an author with different ideas than his or her audience. Experiences of the reading audience dictate how they perceive your imagined community. The more closely the reader connects with your characters' surroundings, then the more the reader gets from reading your book. If you write about a genuine place, then existing structures and sites can enrich your writing.

You can save yourself some time and set the story in San Francisco, for example, and mostly everyone knows that the roads there are all hilly, and the reader envisions streetcars as well. Write about real cities and towns and you draw the reader in. Use the environs of a region where you reside, and you’re an authority. The knowledge you have of the locale and the facts you provide enhance what you put down on paper.

With my latest novel, “The Daddy Rock,” I used my native Long Island as the backdrop. This allowed me to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the landscape as my protagonist, Roger Price, migrated from the low lying, seaside marinas along south shore to the rocky and elevated north shore. My childhood was spent growing up in a small hamlet by the Great South Bay. My south shore sensibilities are apparent in Roger as he is transplanted to the more affluent north shore hugging the Long Island Sound where I’ve settled and decided to raise my family. Familiarity with my place of birth allows me to effectively guide my characters and blend them seamlessly into a world with a readily available supply of buildings, landmarks, customs, and people where they can interact and play out the drama. Also, it is always easier to write about a place you are passionate about. Frequent readers of this blog are aware of my deep affection for my home, Long Island. That made writing my latest novel more natural.

In summary, when writing fiction, a valuable shortcut to creating a story’s setting may be to place your characters in the very town where you live in order to draw upon your own knowledge of the area, take advantage of a local audience, and to rely on local history, customs, geography, and landmarks to help you tell your tale. On a side note, I am writing a novel about a young man who joins the Russian Army and I may have to relocate to Moscow for a few years. Do they have the internet in Russia?

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March 3, 2008

Writing Against Type: Challenge Your Writing Style

Actors often fear being typecast in certain roles. For example, no one will ever watch a movie featuring James Gandolfini again and not picture him as Tony Soprano. This can help or hurt him, and more times than not, actors dread the results of being typecast, which means they cannot “grow” as an actor.

Consider the same consequences for your writing. A comment made to me recently concerned a very talented writer and his notion that he had been “hiding behind his blog” and ignoring his larger projects, meaning his novels. Speaking for myself, I am guilty of this behavior as well. My recent attempts to revitalize my writing have worked, and I am taking steps not to “typecast” myself into a role of sharing nothing but personal anecdotes about my life on my blog. This should be the challenge which you as a writer put to yourself: to produce a poem, short story, biography, or even a play which you never attempted before.

The end result of that written venture does not have to be the remarkable; it should be an instrument to discover new talents hidden within. How you ever had a workout and exercised “muscles you never knew you had before?” The concept here is to give your literary voice a day at the gym.

For example, if you’re the type of writer who consistently produces high quality, yet gloomy works of fiction, try writing a happy story. You may hate yourself as you do this, but the challenge is that you’re demonstrating an ability within yourself to construct worlds, characters, and lives out of whole cloth in a manner which you are not accustomed to. Writing against type makes a writer think, and often our routines and habits leave us bored and in a rut. A new style, and different genre attempted, can give one the jolt needed to craft something out of the ordinary when previous projects have yielded less than desirable results.

With that said, I’ve found that I read many blogs with beautiful and many times stark poetry offered by gifted artists. In my experience, I’ve authored some rhymes which I feel are immature and not up to the standards which these other lyricists uphold. Many of my poems were written over a decade ago. For the sake of this article, I’ll present one here to demonstrate my lyrical deficiencies.

Short of Buying Forever
May 14, 1985

The horizon struggles
To embrace the embers
Of discarded daydreams

And then…
A tip-toeing of trees

The hushing of branches
And dew drop serenity
Replenish leaky souls with hope

Settled in the twilight
Immorality hawks its wares
To a pauper with big, empty pockets

Maybe my ability has improved over the years even though I concentrate primarily on writing fiction. Recently, I've challenged myself to attempt poetry again, and I am able to illustrate that I can make keen observations about my own style by crafting symbolic verses. This is a rough draft of a poem I wrote about a week ago. The basic premise of this one is that I’ve witnessed too many people pass away; and at some point, the dying seem to accept their fate. In one or two cases, they appeared happy. Remember that this is a first draft, and I have unearthed emotions and a style which I may utilize again.

March, 2008

Eyes touched by imaginings
Silent people
The corners, from there
They beckon
Unfiltered by dust, accompanying angst
Ailing, infringed upon, a right mind

Captured by malignancy,
Invaded from within
One word, with such dread
Presented potions to purify
To wait, and to become

Diffused urge, sidelined fantasy
Embarking on Saturn for
Want of the Moon

Tomorrow’s rays,
Beyond the cradle
Unearth aged man
Inherited wisdom
For absent youthful humor
And then, approval

Bring here demise
Raised hands, encourage
Focus, exclaim
Repel denial
Return in grief,
In reverie

This is not poetry as I would want to enjoy it; but the idea is clear. Trust your writer’s instincts and research another form. Write a fantasy novel, a play, a short story. Take yourself around the block a few times, and you may meet some neighbors with interesting lives. Bring your laptop to a different vantage point and you might create a work of art. Challenge yourself, and you cannot fail. Stay safe, and you’ll lose your edge. Write, and write well, and you can live forever. Well, your words will anyway.

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