Sunday, March 17, 2019

HEAD-HOPPING VS FREE INDIRECT DISCOURSE

By Bonnie Stanard

I’m back with point of view (POV). Bear with me. I’m trying to turn my head-hopping into the professionally respected Free and Indirect Discourse (FID) ) . (If you read this nomenclature as wordy, I find it even wordier to write.) Head-hopping, after all, is a signpost of an amateurish writer. I’ve been there, and when workshop critics suggest confusion about POV in my work, I cringe.

Online information about FID does little to distinguish it from head-hopping (or from omniscient POV, for that matter). Some descriptions apply to both, and you’re left in more fog than when you began. What is the difference? I’m not going to clear the fog, but I’ll tell you the conclusions I’ve reached.

Narrators in both approaches presume to third person, but in both, Third Limited POV is scattershot throughout the fabric of the story. Neither can be considered Third Limited because we’re not confined to one character’s viewpoint. Both approaches get into the heads of various characters and put forth individual thoughts, feelings, and motivation.

One way to differentiate the bad from the good: head-hopping gives you whiplash with its herky-jerky POV whereas FID doesn’t.

The difference, as I see it, is whether or not the narrator holds on to her voice and keeps it consistent. So? Put another way, the FID narrator maintains a pivotal voice even as she flits about describing the inner life of characters. It deteriorates to head-hopping when the voices of the characters overcome the narrator’s control. That is to say, the characters bounce their thoughts around in a power struggle with nobody minding the plot.

As I aspire to FID, I am reminded to protect my singular narrator, or teller of the story, from being usurped by the characters. For instance, I may write “John thought his mother ignored him.” There—it sounds like I’m in John’s head. That’s fine as long as the narrator doesn’t capitulate to John in a way that elevates John to the level of narrator. Since John doesn’t know the plot nor where anything is going, his thoughts are merely pieces of a puzzle.

You keep the narrator from being overtaken by John by pulling back (it’s about distance between narrator and story/characters) and asserting control; make it clear that the story teller is describing John, not John telling us about John. Add a sentence such as “John would have denied it, but he always thought he was being ignored.” John wouldn’t talk about himself in this way. This is the FID narrator saying, “John, you’re not telling this story. Those are your thoughts, but I’m going to tell them.”

The FID narrator makes objective observations that serve to distance the teller of the story from the characters in the story. The idea is to talk about the characters instead of talking for them.

In head-hopping, readers know the insecurity of having no anchor, even if they don’t consciously realize it. The bottom line is that your narrator is the boss, regardless of how many characters try to tell you otherwise.

You may realize by now that the FID narrator has much in common with an omniscient narrator. But let’s stick to one fog at a time.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

THE BOOK HANGOVER

By Kasie Whitener


What must the teen-aged clerk have thought of me at 9:57 on a Tuesday night, the hum of a vacuum in the back of the store, jammy pants tucked into my Ugg boots, hair snarled into a messy bun, wild-eyed and profusely thanking him?

Weeks before, I tore through The Bronze Horseman, secretly scheduling meetings into my work day so I could sneak into conference rooms and read. I had purchased the book in Fremont, California, on Monday afternoon. By Friday at 1 p.m. when I boarded the plane home, all 810 pages of it were over. I hadn’t read that fast or that much since graduate school. I was reawakened to the power of an intoxicating story. And I was hungover for weeks afterward.

Sometimes you only recognize the book hangover when you start the next book in your stack and feel an overall “meh” as you turn the pages. The book hangover makes you bitter about the writer’s inability to produce more work. I once considered burning effigies of Cassandra Clare when I learned the next book of hers would not be released for 18 months. The book hangover makes you jealous wondering just what that author was able to do that twisted you so desperately into knots.

Like getting intoxicated, you know while you’re doing it that this will end badly. As you near the end of the book, your spirit sags. The pages in your right hand feel too light to meet a satisfying end. How many things will go unsolved?

It’s not just good books that cause a hangover; any book that connects with you at the right time, in the right way can do it. You feel euphoric and invincible until it’s over. Then, parched, lethargic, grumpy, and suffering in a way only cheeseburgers and milkshakes can solve, you lie on the couch and binge watch Netflix swearing to never read again.

I want to write the book that does that. The one that gets the reader so deeply invested, s/he will ignore family, work, and the Super Bowl to keep reading. I want to write characters like tequila shots and turning points like toasts, climaxes like bar anthems sung at the top of our lungs and denouements like fervent whispers that lead to one-night-stands.

I want my readers drunk on my novel. And afterward, when they’ve finished, I want them spent, heartbroken, and lonely. Like I was after The Bronze Horseman.

In desperation one night in Cincinnati, I trolled the Amazon listing, a jilted lover internet-stalking the book that had meant so much to me.

And learned there was a sequel.

Wild with desire, I called Barnes & Noble to check availability. Told them I’d come right over.

“Don’t close yet!” I begged.

Their last copy of Tatiana and Alexander sold, opened, and reading before I even made it back to my car. And like the hair of the dog bartenders prescribe, I was drunk again within minutes.




Sunday, March 3, 2019

THE ART OF REJECTION

By El Ochiise
 
Can rejection be an art?  Can it ever be acceptable? 
 
The first time I was rejected for a piece of writing, I curled into a fetal position and subsisted on a diet of kale and oatmeal for, well, five days.  I love kale but, at three meals a day, that’s just gross.
 
When I look back, I don’t feel so much like I had failed as much as I had submitted something that was not ready to be published. I had dated this guy whose sibling was a famous New York agent.  He was impressed by a piece of writing I had published in a publication.  In hindsight, he was trying to impress me with a connection to a world that I had dreamed and I, for some unexpected reason, wanted to impress him with my writing talent, which was silly because I really wasn’t crazy about him.  But, I figured if his connection to the tough world of New York agency could get me a fast road to acclaim, maybe I’d come to love him. 
 
Of course, I heard my grandma mah’s voice in an ethical chamber of my head: “Never use people for your own gain.” 
 
Firstly, grandma mah was not living in an empty loft on Varick Street in NYC with a view of an entrance to the Holland Tunnel, to New Jersey, no heat and an empty refrigerator.  To be fair, I couldn’t afford electricity so there was little need to put food into an unplugged apparatus that was supposed to keep stuff cold. The point was, rejection still sucked.
 
Recently, I’ve read about a movement, in NYC, whose members have come to embrace rejections like they were awards. Some writers were aiming for their one hundredth rejection slip.  Who has skin that thick? One writer even parlayed her rejections into a teaching gig at a workshop and college.
 
Then, I heard that voice of grandma mah again: “Turn your lemons into lemonade, my child.” 
 
I am not even that fond of some yellow, bitter fruit in a glass of water with sugar. However, I must admit, they might have been right, both granny and the writer with a centennial of rejections.  Still, I’ve always found it difficult to grow titanium skin. So, with my second rejection, I took to a more pronounced fetal position and played blues songs for twenty-one days straight.  This rejection took my guts from behind my rib cage and played bongo drums with them.  I had turned down an offer for a piece, I deemed a literary masterpiece, because the producer’s creative vision was for a cable show in some foreign market. How dare he use my literary musing, that rivaled Tolstoy, in my opinion, as fodder for a commercial endeavor – oh the horror. 
 
It was my “awakening” when an editor reminded me that Tolstoy was dead. Um, now was that a metaphor for my writing? I checked and she was right, figuratively, literally and metaphorically.  Damn you Russian men who shaped my view of how to pen stories. Was I blaming someone else for my own failure?
 
Never mind, I heard your agreement there granny.
 
But, undoubtedly, we have to learn to accept failure – well that was what I would told my offspring to make them feel better.  Without failure, there is no success – Michael Jordan said he missed hundreds of the shots that he threw – look at his career. Writing is not basketball; writing is sitting down and ripping out your intestines, putting them back in again and describing it so that a reader would, not only understand the process, but believe it.
 
Couple that with solitude, poverty and anxiety. 
 
Who would apply for such a job?  A writer would, that’s who.  That’s why rejections, though they suck, have to be tolerable. 
 
How many times did I use the word “Suck”?  Crap, this is so going to be rejected – I’ve assumed the fetal position.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

CELEBRATE the WRITERS BEHIND ACADEMY AWARD MOVIES


By Nick Rolon
                                                                                                         
 Let’s roll out the red carpet for writers. Tonight, the 91st Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California (8pm EST), broadcast live on ABC. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will honor the best films of 2018 with Oscars awarded in 24 categories. For the first time in over three decades, the ceremony will have no host. Yes, we will see many actors and actresses, directors, and producers walk the stage to receive their Oscar but behind each Academy Award movie is outstanding writing. There would be no Academy Award winning movies without great writers.

Screenwriters bring the script to life using original works or adaptations from books. The writers capture the movement, actions, expressions, and dialogue of the characters on screen. Of the eight Best Picture nominations, seven have been nominated for Best Writing in adapted or original screen play.

Since the inaugural Academy Awards in 1928, more than sixty Best Picture winners derive from literature whether it be a novel, biography, play, or short story. Thirty-seven Best Picture winners originated from books including Kramer vs. Kramer, The Sound Of Music, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Godfather. Twelve Years a Slave, an autobiography published in 1853 and written by Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped and put to work on plantations in Louisiana for 12 years, won the Best Picture Oscar in 2014.

The first Oscar awards for writing were given in 1940 (Original Story) to Lewis R. Foster for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and (Screenplay) to Sidney Howard  for Gone With The Wind. Frances Marion was the first female writer to win an Academy Award in 1931. Ben Affleck is the youngest writer, at the age of 25 for Good Will Hunting, he co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Damon. In 2009, Geoffrey Fletcher was the first African American to win a Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) award for the movie Precious and in 2017, Jordan Peele was the first African American to win for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Get Out.

The written words behind these great movies have inspired us during our most challenging historical and personal times including the Great Depression (The Grapes of Wrath), the Civil Rights Movement (Selma), Space Exploration (First Man). They gave us triumph in sports (Rocky), and hope (It’s a Wonderful Life). The movies have provided us with a moment to escape and be entertained. The written words brought to life by the actors/actresses inspire us with understanding, comfort, determination, and good will.

Tonight, make a bowl of popcorn, relax watching the 91st annual Academy Awards, and give thanks to the writers who made it all possible.

 Below is a list of the 2018 Best Picture Nominees and the respective Screenwriters:  

Best Picture Nominee
Screenwriter(s)
Notes
Black Panther
Ryan Coogler/Joe Robert Cole
Adapted from the comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Nominated for Best Writing- Adapted Screenplay
Bohemian Rhapsody
Anthony McCarten
Movie name from the song made popular by the British rock band Queen in 1975
The Favourite
Deborah Davis/Tony McNamara
The written script began over 20 years ago and finally becoming an Oscar nominated film in 2018.
Nominated for Best Writing- Original Screenplay
Green Book
Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Currie
Inspired by a true story with the written script based on interviews and letters by family members
Nominated for Best Writing- Original Screenplay
Roma
Alfonso Cuaron
Alfonso chose to withhold the script from many of the actors so that none of the cast members would know where the film was headed.
Nominated for Best Writing-Original Screenplay
A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth, Will Fetters
A remake from the original movie and script in 1937
Nominated for Best Writing -Adapted Screenplay
Blackkklansman
Spike Lee, Kevin Wilmott, David Rabinowitz, Charlie  Wachtel
Spike Lee also directed the movie based on the 2014 memoir of Ron Stallworth.
Nominated for Best Writing- Adapted Screenplay
Vice
Adam McKay
Adam McKay also directed the movie which follows the path of former Vice President, Dick Cheney.
Nominated for Best Writing- Original Screenplay




   
                           

Sunday, February 17, 2019

INSPIRATION

Here is a rerun of a post from 2013 by one of our much-loved and now departed members. We miss you, Alex. Your presence is always felt.


By Alex Raley


We look for inspiration when we write.  We look for inspiration when we write. Often it comes out of the blue or from the pleasant and interesting things going on around us. A couple months ago, I found myself with my head against the wall waiting for the 911 folks to arrive and wondered why I had put myself in that situation. In the hospital and on my way to recovery, I began to think of all the experiences a hospital brings: some debilitating, some embarrassing, and some just downright nasty. With the right attitude they can be funny. I began to think poetry as soon as I settled down in hospital routine (meals to the minute, vital signs as soon as you fall asleep, the day’s date with nurse and nurse tech names, shift changes with new names, morning doctor visits. I imaged everything poetically, including the 911 activity. When not interrupted by hospital routine, I was constructing poems, poems much too bawdy for a blog but poems that will eventually see the light of day. Does that seem odd?

 Do not let experiences pass by you. Even the most unusual or gruesome can be an inspiration to write. I had never thought of gruesome as an inspiration, but I cannot tell you how my mind raced once I wandered into the groove. Now that I am at home I need to hit the computer and put those bawdy poems to paper.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

HERE AGAIN for the FIRST TIME

By Kasie Whitener

Poetry readings need to take place in a coffee house. There’s a consistency in coffee houses that enables the work, that breaks open the caged hipster in us all, that unbinds our artistic sensibilities and makes us willing to listen. Willing to be changed.

Everything about the place is familiar though I’ve only been here once. There’s something almost cliché about a coffee house in an old Colonial on a college campus. Dark corners and nooks where students huddle together over textbooks and lidded cups. There’s an age and creak to the stairs. An unfulfilled ambition in the artwork on the walls.

I’m here by invitation to a weekly meet-up in Columbia but it could be any campus in the world, any coffee house, anywhere, any time. Nostalgia overwhelms me; I want a cigarette and a spiral notebook and a pencil. There are unwritten things inside me pressing to the surface.

As the singer/songwriter strums his tunes, I feel the simplicity of them invade me. And I am once again, opening like a moonflower, to the possibility of change. He sings about coming home. About losing something that seemed small at the time but since then has been indicative of a much bigger loss. About an airline pilot’s constant flight.

The word distance takes on new meaning.

Across the room, I catch my poet friend’s eye and he smiles, cheeks rosy from the cold, satisfaction beaming from him.

Mindgravy is a weekly poetry reading and open microphone event at Cool Beans brought to the Columbia arts community by Al Black, an Indiana native with a Southern writer’s heart. He’s compelling in verse and presence and the room at Cool Beans in its familiarity is a welcoming place to find yourself quietly waiting to be changed.

Partitioning the room are heavy sliding doors that stick and groan and resist the push and pull of people slipping in and out in various attempts of subtlety and respect. I leaned to the man next to me, a regular, and said, “Are the doors always a distraction?”

“Every week,” he said, with an amused smile, “Part of the charm.”

Al read a new poem, one he first asked the man on my left permission to share. It was about a series of visits with the man and how Al had watched his friend work through the process of his father slowly dying.

“Daddy is comfortable,” the man would tell Al and Al put it in the poem as the refrain of grief and acceptance.

Then the same man stood to finish the night with a flute to his lips and played the most tender dirge I’ve ever heard. Quiet and shimmering with so many tears already shed and dried and gone but not forgotten. I felt grateful. I thanked him.

What a gift to feel the camaraderie and friendship, the empathy and passion, the love in the room at Mindgravy. Thanks, Al, for inviting me. I look forward to returning.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Latest Addition


Meet a New SCWA Columbia II Blogger

EL OCHIISE

El is a recent transplant to Columbia, SC, having relocated from New York/New Jersey to attend classes towards a second, advanced degree at USC.   
She earned a BA Degree in English, studied art in Paris and Athens, traveled abroad, married, divorced, then took a hiatus from creative writing and graduate school, to rear two offspring. Putting her writing on hold, she focused on earning a paycheck to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. As a result she spent a considerable amount of time as a freelance and contract writer for New York advertising, marketing and public relations firms, however she vowed to get back to writing stories. 
After returning to storytelling, El has won various accolades for her writing, including First Prize in Adventure for a Screenplay in a New a York Screenwriting Contest; Quarter Finalist in an Annual Screenwriting and Fiction Contest for a short story; and a poem about a famous street in NYC, in song format, won Honorable Mention at the Grand Ole Opry in Songwriting (no, she does not know how a song about NYC won in a country music competition).


El's first blog post on this page follows.

ADVENTURES in READING and WRITING

By El Ochiice

Whenever, as a young person who was always protesting some egregious injustice against citizens, I was detained and asked if I’d ever been arrested, I would use satire in the form of Dante’s levels through hell, from his Inferno or I would respond: “Which time?” Moments after an officer would get a glint in his eyes, thinking he’d caught a harden criminal, I’d add: “Fighting for the right to vote in Alabama; Protesting against redlining in Bedford Stuyvesant – civil disobedience is a very serious offense?”  When viewed as a dissident, for simply exercising natural rights, disarming government sponsored opposition by using “metaphors or allegories “ from great writing, was the only defense I had – a way to telling them that my only crime seemed to have been the ability to think, a skill I hadn’t found in a majority’s job description.

I had utilized Dante’s witticism when I was politely removed from a scene at the Fontana di Trevi in Rome.  A man had grabbed my rear end and I had promptly cold-cocked him with a bottle of cheap, French wine. 

You a hit him with a bottle a wine, not even a Italian wine,” scolded Polizia di Stato, Gregorio La Trosciscana, smiling, after he had escorted me to the passenger side of his little European patrol car and began navigating his way through the narrow streets.

I wasn’t at all offended at being interned in a patrol vehicle, I had run out of money and needed a ride to a chapel, about an hour away, to meet Umberto, an artist friend who was working on the restoration of artwork.

You a ever been in a trouble in a Europe before?” 

“Yes, I received a Level Eight, Bolgia #2, but I thought it should have been Level Nine, Bolgia #13,” I answered, locking eyes with Gregorio, then, looking away, covering my mouth to hide a sly grin.

Lasciate ogni speranza, o voi che entrate qui,” chimed Gregorio after he had hopped out of the car and held the driver’s side door open for me as if he’d just chauffeured me to a fine restaurant. Fear gripped me, had I gone too far?  Was he actually going to throw me in jail? You don’t a know it in Italiano, no?”  Gregorio had strutted up the steps of an old building with Italian writing, holding open, yet another door. 

 “Know, know what?” I asked, biting my nails and climbing the steps with guarded trepidation. “Abandon all hope, you who enter here?”  “Wow, a cop who, not only can read, but quote from Dante’s Inferno, impressive.”  Gregorio smiled, loosening the bland, government issued tie around his neck, as he retrieved a chair, then motioned for me to sit. “Where are we, by the way?” I asked, staring up at an ornate ceiling. 

This is where my grandfather was detained by Polizia, my grandfather was, how do you say, protester, see that room, he had a old printer press – he was jailed for writing a dangerous words, under Mussolini.”

“Wow, what a great man, you must have been proud of him?” 

 “When you no have food to eat, you no so proud.” Gregorio leaned in close to my face: “I want to go to a university so bad, but my family no money, I take care family, I a read everything, I learn a English – but I no write – Dante, he say the root of fraud – linguistic sin – linguistic sin is greater than murder, I think I agree, no?”

But writing can dismantle power; writing can change lives, especially lives of those without a voice.” “Why do you think they jailed your grandfather?”  

I know so, so I read; I think, but I don’t write thoughts.”

“But, think about it, if the woman who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin didn’t, slaves might never have been freed in America – it was rumored that her writing caused the spark that ignited the American Civil War; Charles Dickens not only gave the world a window into the underclass and the poverty stricken in London but, attacked the judicial system for its discrimination against the poor; you know how Americans got federal food safety laws?”  

Gregorio shook his head front side to side, then took a pencil and paper and began jotting down everything I said.  “Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”– it described the deplorable working conditions, the diseased, rotten and contaminated meat, shocking the American public.” Chinua Achebe told us what the impact of colonization was on African culture in Things Fall Apart.” I was nearly out of breath. “Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience stated that the best government is the one that governs the leastThomas Paine’s Rights of Man argued that political revolution is a justifiable action when the government fails to perform its duty of protecting the natural rights of its citizen.”  

Gregorio bought me dinner before dropping me off at the Chapel, giving me thumbs up as he meandered his way, once again, through the ever-crowded city of Rome.

Often times when I sit down to write or teach writing, I think about that impassioned conversation I had had with Gregorio and watching Umberto hang atop a ladder in chapels surrounded by the works of artistic giants. Words are like an arrow leaving a bow; once shot, you can’t take it back.  So, as writers, we should, not only write well, but we should write with purpose. Our goal should be to try and do what Baldwin said writing ought to do: “Write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world.” Writing is hard; life is hell, but, good writing, now that’s dangerously divine.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

HOW FILMS DIFFER FROM WRITTEN STORIES


By Laura P. Valtorta

                                               

The leap from prose writing to screenwriting can be weird and difficult because the two media begin in a similar place but end up looking very different. Both films and short stories, for example, begin with words written on paper maybe in the form of a plot summary. But a film ends up as a string of visual images, while a story remains in the form of words on paper.

A filmmaker must think about the juxtaposition of scenes. While a short story could exist entirely in the head of a librarian sitting at her desk, observing her weird patrons, a ninety minute film likely would not take place entirely indoors or entirely from the perspective of the librarian.

Films need to jump between images, from outdoors to indoors, from present to past, loud to quiet, in a way that keeps the audience interested. The director must set the stage and the setting through images, often called “establishing shots.” Films need to tell the audience where they are in an instant and then keep moving.

Of course there are exceptions. My Dinner with Andre notoriously broke all the rules by filming two guys talking in a restaurant for the entire movie. Their conversation was so interesting and funny that it carried the story.

As a beginner, I can’t take that chance. While writing the screenplay version of Bermuda, it would be tempting to keep Mildred seated around a swimming pool, talking to her daughters the entire time. That would be fun. I might try it. But the dialogue would have to be firecracker-snappy. Never monotonous.

The better choice would be to use some flashbacks, Mildred bothering Little Willie, Mildred and her daughters at work, getting fired, selling guns on the street, and then Mildred landing in Bermuda, where she meets and has dinner with Hamilton, the little guy. Since it’s a comedy, we’ll end with a wedding. Hopefully the action and the change in setting will keep the audience interested.

Writing this tale down as a short story, I might do it differently beginning with Mildred living in Bermuda successfully, or traveling to India for a grand tour with friends. The story might work backwards. The suspense would be more cerebral and ask – how did Mildred get here? Rather than the more nail-biting – what’s going to happen to her? How will she survive?

This is why it helps to plan a narrative film out with moveable index cards, white for outdoors and blue for indoors. Making the scenes interchangeable somehow makes the film easier to visualize. When the time comes for editing, that’s how the film will actually fit together – as a series of scenes pasted together, deleted, and rearranged on the computer.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

HISTORICAL FICTION’S CROSS-CURRENTS


By Bonnie Stanard

BruceHolsinger wrote, “If you choose to write historical fiction, you will constantly be treading that fine line between the true and the plausible.”  We discover what’s true (or at least verifiable) with research, and from that we imagine what is plausible. We create scenes and give words and thoughts to characters based on our research. Unlike other genres, ours deals with the “burden of truth.” As long as we respect the truth, historical fiction has the advantage of combining education with escapism. When done well, our novels help us “see ourselves as historical creatures... shaped by large forces and currents.” 

A contemporary market, driven more by a demand for fast-moving entertainment than by a desire to learn, is having an impact on us. As Colson Whitehead said at USC in Columbia when questioned about fabrications in The Underground Railroad, “It’s fiction!” Obviously fiction comes first, but what is our relationship to the truth or at least the historic record?

No reader is going to mistake us for historians (though historians are suspected of fictions, but that’s another blog). We claim poetic license for inaccuracies that range from trivial to profound. You don’t come away from reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel or Shogun by James Clavel thinking either writer’s historical exceptions jaded our view of a given person or time period.

Thomas Mallon claims to act within “the situational ethics of my chosen genre” when he changed history to make Maj. Henry Rathbone complicit in the assassination of President Lincoln (Henry and Clara). And when he made Pat Nixon a fictional adulteress (Watergate).  What do we think of this reader’s reaction to Mallon’s novel Finale: “I had a tough time separating fact from fiction on numerous occasions”? (Amazon comments).

According to writer Helen Dunmore, novelists are “straying into ‘dangerous territory’ when they fictionalise the lives of real historical figures. However, numerous 2018 novels feature well-known historical persons, e.g., Sarah Grimke (Handful by Sue M. Kidd); Anne Morrow (The Aviator’s Wife by Melanis Benjamin); Jefferson Davis’ wife Varina (Varina by Charles Frazier) and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont (A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Fowler).

Should we worry about reader reactions such as this: “[Einstein] is portrayed as quite an ass!” and “[the novel] will change your opinion of Albert Einstein forever”—Amazon comments on The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict. Is it asking too much to expect readers to know which parts are pure invention, which speculation, and which based on history?

Perhaps our equivocal perspectives are bringing about more genre subcategories, such as alternate history; historical fantasy; Regency romance; and speculative fiction. And there are more. 

This leads us to a question posed by Georg Lukacs: “How does a historical consciousness become embodied in a work of art?” With respect to novels, is it by imitating recorded history? By challenging it? By exploring it? Or as some of our writers are doing, by repudiating it?




Sunday, January 13, 2019

WHAT'S in YOUR VISION?


By Raegan Teller

This week when I went to spin class at the gym, it was packed. The “regulars” were far outnumbered by the “resolutioners”—people who resolve each January to exercise and get fit. While I applaud these new folks for making the effort, I know many of them will fade away after a month or two and abandon their resolutions. It happens every year.

Sadly, the same thing happens to writers. Starting off the new year, we commit to writing every day or to other goals “they” tell us we must do to be a successful writer. And then, we drift away from those goals because we’re too busy, or other priorities present themselves. Success stories of writers who make lofty goals and achieve great results inspire and excite us. At least, in the short run. We ask, “Why do they succeed, but we can’t?”

I am not at all suggesting that you give up on writing, or losing weight, or exercising, or whatever your intentions may be. But, if you haven’t achieved what you wanted to by now, instead of setting the same goals, year after year, step back and ask yourself some key questions. For example:

·         Why do I write?
·         What does success look like for me?
·         How can I incorporate writing into my life in a way that will bring me joy?
·         How much of my life do I realistically want to devote to writing and related activities?
·         Am I focused on the right things for me?
·         If I haven’t achieved what I wanted to by now, what’s holding me back?

For years, I struggled to make myself sit down and write regularly. I told myself I was too busy, didn’t have the “right” idea for a book, and so forth. While some of those excuses were partially true, I knew they weren’t really holding me back. Then one day, I decided to visualize what success would look like for me as a writer.

At first, letting go of my preconceived notions of writing success was hard. Bong! Then it hit me. I realized I was holding onto someone else’s definition of a successful writer, and it was hindering me. That lofty goal of becoming a NYT best-selling author that I had held onto for years was turning me off. That wasn’t the life I wanted. Every time I thought of traveling around the country, living in a suitcase, I cringed. While the odds of my becoming a national best-selling author were remote, just the thought (or threat) of it held me back. When I replaced that vision with me being a successful Southern writer, talking to local book clubs, do signings at regional events and festivals—doing all the things l love—I was then able to write the first book, then the second, and now a third. Never underestimate the power of visualization. It can work for or against you.

What’s in your vision?


Sunday, January 6, 2019

SAME TIME NEXT YEAR


By Kasie Whitener

Writing during the holidays is hard. It may be that we have less time at home because there are more parties and special events to attend, or road trips to take. It may be because we have less time to ourselves when children and spouses are on vacation and relatives are in town.

Maybe it’s difficult to write during the holidays because we feel that end-of-year drawing near and start looking back at what we’ve been able to accomplish. There may be a sense of urgency toward finishing something that’s been lingering. Maybe the weight of unmet goals. Sometimes the end of the year brings with it a kind of momentum, a rush and hurry that can rob us of the quiet reflection we need for creation.

The holidays also carry the weight of memory. Like a scent we’ve forgotten until it wafts into our nostrils, the holidays can force us to recall traditions, images, sounds, and lights. The carols and the performances are heady experiences, thick with prior years’ joy. It can be difficult to feel original when everything seems soaked in ritual.

For me, writing over the holidays is challenging for all of these reasons. The days are filled with task lists I don’t usually have, errands I don’t normally run, people I don’t often see. The plans we make dominate the season, and I’m on an adjusted schedule consisting of kid-home-from-school, visiting relatives, and special-occasion meals.

I often reflect at the end of the year on what I’ve been able to accomplish and start making plans for the next year’s efforts. This process puts creation of new stories in a kind of limbo where they don’t count toward last year’s tally but they aren’t quite next year’s work.

My writing is most often a victim of nostalgia. Since achieving certain milestones in life, I have become more nostalgic in general. But the holidays put a magnifying glass over that habit. In the weeks surrounding Christmas, I have perfect specimens for comparison. What kind of tree did we have last year? When did we put it up? What did we watch on TV while we did it?

I keep a Christmas Journal, have since Charlie and I were married in 2001, and in its pages are the specifications of every Christmas for the last 17 years. Where we went, who we visited, what we gave, what we received. It’s both a wonderful scrapbook of family memories and a terrible albatross. In it I can read the varying shades of joy, excitement, and gratitude. But threaded in there, too, are the traces of hurry and obligation and disappointment. This year the entry is particularly soaked in loss and grief.

I’m glad for the start of the new year. A chance to refocus my writing life on goals and achievements in 2019. A chance to go back to the beginning instead of being trapped in the end, that familiar dance of ritual and memory, that weighs December down.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

THE LOGIC OF FICTION

By Sharon May

Almost 40 years ago, workers in a small town in Kentucky uncovered human bones. The next day, a retired sheriff confessed to the county attorney that he had buried a teen-aged friend near that site during World War II. Carbon dating revealed the bones were of Indian descent, and thus, could not be those of his friend. The former sheriff then recanted, stating that he was drunk when he confessed and probably was retelling bits and pieces of cases he worked.

I heard the recording of his confession, and to this day remember his excitement as he described the car in which he rode to the bootleg joint. His voice cracked with fear as he recounted the walk up the riverbank at gun point as he was forced to bury his friend. I heard the truth of his words, and felt compelled to tell his story.

All would have been fine if I were a journalist. Then I could have just reported the facts, and my job would have been done. But I wanted to write a novel about the sheriff and tried numerous times to find the narrative voice and the plot to tell the events of 1943 along with those of 1987.

A few years ago, I wrote a novella-length draft of the “truth.” But the sheriff I discovered in that draft wouldn’t have recanted once he took the risk to tell. The fear that quietened him at 16 was as real 35 years later. If Lafe had faced that fear and confessed, there would have been no going back. He was a man of his word. The conflict for him was whether to confess at all. To make the best story, my novel could not rely totally on the events as I experienced them.

How can something taken from reality not work in fiction? I mean, it’s real right? William Dean Howells, in the late 1800s, argued that realistic fiction is not only possible but that it required of writers. He believed reality could be captured by relying on the five senses and focusing on the ethical and moral dilemmas of the characters. But the Realistic movement gave way to Modernism and Post-modernism, both of which recognize the artifice of fiction.

Just because fiction is artificial doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work logically. Even Magical Realism and science fiction have physical and metaphysical rules that operate in the story.  

Readers expect a world that makes sense no matter how bizarre that world is. The story needs logic so that readers can envision and believe the plot. Characters’ actions and motivations have to be plausible. Conflicts need to be tangible and create angst and fear of the unknown for the reader as well as the characters. All of that creates a world with meaning, one a reader wants to visit.

After years of rumination and revision, I realized fiction doesn’t have adhere to reality, but it does have to ring true.