The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “writing”

Briefly Noted: ‘Florida’s Wetlands’

What does an author do when s/he can’t visit the locations used in a novel? One could hire a team of researchers or use Google Earth to look at the chosen place. Using a guidebook such as Florida’s Wetlands is an easier way. The guidebook won’t tell you everything, but it may tell you enough to accurately sketch in the world where your characters live.

Publisher’s Description

“Taken from the earlier book Priceless Florida (and modified for a stand-alone book), this volume discusses Florida’s Wetlands, including interior wetlands, seepage wetlands, marshes, flowing-water swamps, beaches and marine marshes, and mangrove swamps. Introduces readers to the trees and plants, insects, mammals, reptiles, and other species that live in Florida’s unique wetlands ecosystem, including the Virginia iris, American white waterlily, cypress, treefrogs, warblers, and the Florida black bear.”

This wonderful guide is enhanced through its use of short descriptions, easy-to-navigate sections, photographs, and lists of the flora and fauna in Florida’s variety of swamps and marshes. These lists make it easy for the writer to find additional information on the Internet about a particular tree, fish, flower or bird. Once you know these names and the habitats they call home, it’s easy to do follow-up research online or in other books for more details. In Florida, for example, you can use the information gleaned from this book to explore the online Florida Natural Areas Inventory or the detailed information you can find from a specialized guidebook such as Florida Wildflowers: a Comprehensive Guide by Walter Kingsley Taylor.

Such books, and the sites they’ll lead you to, are windows into a world that’s out of reach due to time constraints, health, jobs, and family responsibilities. And then, too, you’re writing a novel and not a habitat handbook, so you don’t need lengthy and/or definitive descriptions of your locations.

Fortunately, writers can find such popular guidebooks for most states and countries.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” set partially in the wetlands of the Florida Panhandle.

 

Contests: hard to win but worth the effort

Lenz

Shortly before my debut YA novel was published in 2016, I spoke to a local writer’s group about my path to publication. Year by year, I recounted the numerous ups and downs of my lengthy journey. After describing a series of setbacks and close calls with agents and editors, I finally recognized that every face in the audience looked absolutely horrified! From then on, I’ve given a swift summary instead: over ten years, three manuscripts, two agents, far too many rejections, just enough praise, and numerous contest finals and wins that validated my work. Indeed, I ultimately found my agent and publisher through contests.

via The Power of Contests: Create Your Own Luck | WritersDigest.com

Some writers say contests are scams because they think the organizations managing them are getting rich off the entry fees. I don’t agree, and was happy to see this “Writer’s Digest” post by Kristin Bartley Lenz about their value.

She not only shows us how contests helped her, but adds three tips to help other writers navigate the world of competitions and increase the odds of getting a foot in the door with a win.

–Malcolm

Does one need to feel numb before writing a sad scene?

Probably not, but it helps.

It’s rather like sadistic directors during the years of the Hollywood studio system telling child actors and actresses their puppy died to get them to cry for a scene in which they needed to cry.

Goodness knows, today’s headlines are enough to make one feel numb, lonely and a bit hopeless about the state of things.

I have a sad scene staring me in the face, one in which I want the hopelessness of the situation to be thicker than fog. I’ve been avoiding writing it. I knew what it needed, but I wasn’t numb enough to create that.

So, to solve the problem, I raced through two, high-adrenaline, page-turner spy books. You know the type: ISIS vs. the U.S., Russia vs. the U.S., the kind of books where the authors explain weapons and commando methods in detail, the kind where both the good guys and the bad guys kill a lot of people like they’re just playing a video game.

The books are a rush, but when I’m done reading, I feel numb, wondering whether such tactics are what we need to keep a democracy safe. Human life in these books is very expendable. Now I’m depressed enough to write the scene.

It’s almost like somebody told me my puppy got run over.

–Malcolm

Does writing bring catharsis?

I was influenced years ago by Richard M. Eastman’s Writing as a Discovery of Outlook. Eastman believed that writers don’t know precisely how they feel about a subject until they’ve written about it. This idea came to mind as I read “Maggie Nelson: ‘There is no catharsis… the stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us’” in The Observer.

Nelson (“The Argonauts” and “The Red Parts) wrote about the trial and conviction of Gary Earl Leiterman for the 1969 murder of her aunt, Jane Mixer. In The Observer article, she said of The Red Parts,  “I felt horrible after I finished it, and it was difficult to read from [publicly]. The book is really a long critique of catharsis. But the irony is that my catharsis was writing down that there is no catharsis. The stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us, but I also think that if I hadn’t written it, I wouldn’t have processed the experience: writers tend to be people who process things by writing. The problems of the book don’t weigh on me so heavily now.”

Writers and others are often encourage to create journals, essays, articles and even fiction as a way of “freeing themselves” from the angst of personal tragedy. I’ve never found these solutions to be successful. But as Eastman and Nelson suggest, I understand the situations much better after having written about them. No, there wasn’t a monumental epiphany or catharsis even though I felt after writing that I understood myself and the situations better.

Perhaps writing serves as a more complete therapy for others. I’ve heard that it does, though I’ve yet to meet another writer who was, so to speak, “going nuts,” wrote about the causes of his or her discord, and ended up cured. Perhaps that’s too flip. Maybe we simply get a little better–and that’s good enough.

What about you? Do you keep a diary and does it help you over the rough spots? Or, perhaps you found that fiction works better or, perhaps, becoming involved in a nonprofit dedicated to a problem you faced or encountered that includes your writing essays and grant applications.

As for me, the writing helps even though it hasn’t been a cure.

Malcolm

Buy It or Review It (Or Preferably Both)

If you are a writer, ask to be paid for your work. If you are asking a writer to appear, pay them. If you read a book, pay for it. If you accept a free book, post a review. Anything else is eroding the careers of writers everywhere.

via Buy It or Review It (Or Preferably Both) | FundsforWriters

This post, from several days ago, is in many ways about writers helping each other and notes that many people–including those on writers’ Facebook friends lists or who follow their blogs–sign on to accept a free copy of a book but then never read it, much less review it.

As Hope Clark mentions, it’s bad enough when a reader requests an ARC (advance readers copy) and then never posts a review; it’s worse when another author does it.  An Amazon-style review can be posted in a few minutes and it can make a big difference between the success or failure of a mid-list or an emerging author’s work.

We need to help each other and keep our promises.

Malcolm

 

Are writers outsiders?

“Writers are outsiders. Even when we seem like insiders, we’re outsiders. We have to be. Our noses pressed to the glass, we notice everything. We mull and interpret. We store away clues, details that may be useful to us later.” – Dani Shapiro

I’m not sure the answer is a simple yes or no.

In contrast to Dani Shapiro’s statement, Joe Bunting in Are the Best Writers Insiders or Outsiders? says, “Perhaps the insider/outsider question is a false dichotomy. If Cormac McCarthy can write masterpieces in his solitude and Salman Rushdie write them while dating supermodels and going to international parties, then maybe it’s not about being in or out. Perhaps the secret is to never stop being you, whether or not you’re inside or outside.”

Maybe Joe Bunting’s “you” can change personas and step into the mix and be a part of it when necessary or watch from the sidelines and observe when necessary. Or, maybe it comes down to whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, facile or clumsy in social situations, or easily moves between a huge number of friends or feels more comfortable spending most of his or her time with a small group.

We’re always observing, I think. To some extent, that puts us somewhat outside. We do store away clues, as Shapiro says. In Bunting’s post, it’s not surprising to read that J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon are among the outsiders–far outside, as it turns out. Or, that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Mark Twain were considered insiders.

When I read an author’s novel, I don’t know if s/he’s an insider or an outsider in any social group, town or career. I might leap to conclusions if I thought about it and consider those who write literary fiction to be outsiders and those who write romances and thrillers to be insiders. But, I might be wrong.

Perhaps insider vs. outsider doesn’t matter. Maybe the true consideration is: who do you need to be to write what you want to write?

Personally, I need quiet. I don’t want every week to be filled with dinners, barbecues, parties, movies, and day trips. That’s what works for me. Maybe you need a lot of activity, friends trooping through the house 24/7 and a full dance card, so to speak. If it works, what more could one want?

The late William Trevor (“Love and Summer”), a prolific Irish writer believed that “writers were outsiders, that they had no place in society because society was what they were watching.” I can understand the feeling even though I’m not convinced all writers feel this way.

If you’re a writer, how do you feel about this? (Yes, I know, maybe the insider/outsider discussion is about as meaningful about the old debate about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.) But I’m curious. Can you “make the scene” and still write about it or do you have to stand amongst the wallflowers and watch it before you can write about it?

Malcolm

 

Writing is not a calling

Working in the creative field is unusual in that we are driven to create, regardless of the outcome. But is it sacrilegious to want to earn a living from our artistic endeavours? The sooner we start treating writing as a profession rather than an unpaid calling, the better.

– Evie Gaughan in Fiction writers are real people too

Most people I meet day to day have no idea I’m a writer. Why not? As Evie Gaughan suggests in her wonderful essay about seeing writing for what it is, I don’t fit the mold.

I shop at regular stores. I’m not J. K. Rowling rich. I drive an old car. I don’t walk around quoting books. I don’t have a tattoo that says something elitist or precious like “take me to the library.” In fact, I dislike tattoos.

On the off chance somebody finds out I am a writer, they don’t say, “Wow” and run over to Barnes & Noble and buy my books. Why not? Because I’m a regular person and don’t seem like a writer. (So, how good could those books be?) Plus, they haven’t heard of me or any of my books. So, I’m not a real writer because if I were, they’d see my books on the grocery store shelves or find me listed on a bestseller list.

I have always wanted to say that these incorrect assumptions about writers and their books hurt the art and craft of our work because most writers will never be able to support themselves from their fiction. Being treated as “special” makes life harder.

We have regular jobs, and now that more and more people are expecting e-books to sell for 99₵, it’s more necessary than most readers suspect to be a teacher, civil servant, retail worker, or a laborer of some kind to make ends meet. But Gaughan has said what I might have said if I’d spent several hours working on this post. And, for those who don’t like the article, she takes the flak and I don’t. <g>

The few people who meet me who finally believe that I am a novelist start acting “funny.” Like I’m as unpredictable as a pit bull and might kill them. Like they have to clean up their act as though I’m the parson. Like they can’t speak because what do they know about language? Like I’ll put them in a book and turn them into hookers and con men and people who need to be in jail. Frankly, I want to shout, “For shit’s sake, just stop it.”

But, you know how people are when they’re acting “funny.” They pretend like they’re no acting “funny.” If they think you think they’re acting “funny,” they deny it and start acting totally insane. Sure, this provides good story material but it makes meaningful conversations more of a challenge.

So, thank you for your wisdom, Evie Gaughan. I hope some people will hear you and, you know, won’t start acting crazy–that’s the last thing any of us want.

–Malcolm

 

 

A contest that wants work outside the box

The Unclassifiables Contest is officially open. This is our third year of reading manuscripts that don’t quite fit the rigid labels of prose or poetry. Send us work that blurs, bends, blends, erases, or obliterates genre and other labels.

via The Unclassifiables Contest is Now Open – Arts and Letters

Writers are often constrained by the rules of the genres they favor. When a genre is involved, it’s hard to think or write outside the box. So it’s nice to find contests, magazines, and publishers who want you to think outside the box.

So here’s an opportunity to bend the rules or forget the rules. The deadline in July 1.

Malcolm

Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award

The Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award is open for entries. The Kindle Storyteller Award is a new literary prize recognising newly published work in the English language across any genre and includes a £20,000 prize.

via Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award – Indies Unlimited

This looks like a great opportunity if you have a potential Kindle Direct Publishing manuscript ready or almost ready. The big plus, in addition to the award, is the publicity. That can be a nice boost for your writing career.

Thanks to Indies Unlimited for posting this.

Malcolm

Strategies for Revising Your Novel

“You’ve done it: typed The End. Those two wonderful words mark your graduation from always-wanted-to-write-a-novel to someone-who-did. Congratulations. Other ideas might be cooking away in the back of your brain, making you eager to start a new project. Often, this is where the spirit wanes as new writers lose momentum for the old manuscript. Because, you didn’t finish, did you? You only finished the draft. Now you have to focus on revising your novel.”  

7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel, Writer’s Digest

I generally take a dim view of checklists, laundry lists and other recipe-approaches to writing and rewriting. However, this Writer’s Digest article has decent ideas for what we should/might/sort of consider doing after we finish the first draft.

Here’s an interesting quote: “The rewrite is tougher than the draft. The draft is infatuation. The right rewrite strengthens your fiction into something that lasts to publication and gains a significant readership.” That seems to be the way it is. We roar through the first draft, having fun, slipping past the known flaws and lame sentences, because we’re blazing a trail into new territory.

Once that’s done, we need to see the story the way the reader might see it, or want to see it, and even though this article presents a checklist, it’s not half bad.

–Malcolm

 

 

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