EMPTY

I was working on a short story when I happened across the Daily Post whose prompt-subject matter was Empty. Now I’ve had a lot of personal experience with Empty over the course of my life, both the good kind, and the bad kind. So I thought I’d make a post about that and turned out this poem at lunch. Hope you enjoy it.

Have a good day folks.

 

EMPTY

I once was empty, full of naught
By calculation, mind and thought

I once was empty, hollowed out
Melancholy, heart in doubt

I once was empty, fearless, cold
My fury made me endless bold

I once was empty, cast alone
It sharpened me so I was honed

I once was empty, bleak despair
My atmosphere a poisoned air

I once was empty, of myself
That was joy I could regale

I once was empty, God was gone
Why had He left me all alone?

I know of empty, made and true
I know of empty, me and you
I know of empty, blessed, good
I know of empty, as I should

For Empty is a Friend of mine
That gives me all, and then sometimes
Relieves me of all I have known
So I am ever forced to roam

In search of what is not…

So empty anymore.

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THINGS LONG UNSEEN – FIRST VERSE

This morning, right after waking, I began this poem.

I wrote the first two stanzas in bed, in my bedside notebook, went downstairs, fed the animals, made breakfast for the wife and kids, and then sat down at my desk and hammered out the third stanza. It wasn’t hard. It flowed as if I had taken no break in between.

I started in on the fourth stanza which to me was absolutely brilliant (the best part of the entire work) and right as I got to the third line of the fourth stanza the power went out at the house, and for some reason my backup power fluctuated as well so that my computer shut down. By the time I rebooted I had lost the entire fourth stanza.

I tried reconstructing the stanza from memory but I was so pissed off and taken off guard by the unexpected power failure (why should that happen at the start of summer with not a cloud in the sky I ask you?) and by the delay in reboot time that I ended up producing a mere shadow of my original effort.

I’m still satisfied by the stanza, and the poem overall so far, and it is far from finished, but just to be honest the fourth stanza isn’t nearly what I produced the first time around. So I apologize for that. This is yet another valuable lesson in why I should never compose at my computer, but only in my notebooks.

Nevertheless I am pleased with the poem and when it is finally finished I suspect I will name it, Things Long Unseen.

That is, at least, the place-holder name I am giving it for now. Enjoy and have an excellent and productive and profitable week my friends.

 

THINGS LONG UNSEEN

I shall exceed all things, and having so excelled all things
Shall bow to me, not as brutish, mindless slaves but as one man
Instinctively declines his head to yet another in whom he recognizes
His equal.

The loss of me is not the less of me, and the lending of me
To another is no lack of either thing made true in itself,
For pushed on by High Labour where can I go but where
I am, and where I Am dwells a still fairer land than I may truly
Ever know, though God knows, how much I wish for such
Things long unseen

I shall excel all things, and having thus exceeded nothing
Shall bow to me, nor find an alien compass with which to navigate
That Long Frontier that I so long ago remembered in myself
Unequaled

The less of me is what is left of me, for the debt of me
To another is both the loss and gain in ourselves untrue,
Subsumed in Reckless Profits, destined where I know not that
We are, or when, or how, or why it is that we know these things
Improper in themselves, though we all know how much we wish for
Things Long unforeseen…

 

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SHIT (for free – correction, I Do)

Steven Pressfield is giving away a free download of his new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.
You should download a copy before the free offer expires. I really like and admire Pressfield’s work, both his historical fiction and his non-fiction.

The War of Art was superb. I added it to my personal library. Everyone should read it.

This will likely be another excellent tool for writers.

I can’t wait to read my download of this new book. I’ll start it this weekend. Afterwards I anticipate that I’ll add it to my personal library as well.

 

No strings attached.
No e-mail address required.

Brand new and FREE from Steven Pressfield

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

…picks up where The War of Art left off.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit - by Steven Pressfield

.EPUBDownload your free Nook/iTunes/Kobo e-book here!

.MOBIDownload your free Kindle compatible e-book here!

.PDFDownload your free
PDF e-book here!

We’re giving it away (for a limited time) because we want people to read it. Simple as that.

Want more information or a paperback? Click here.

Thanks from Steve P. and everybody at Black Irish Books.

PACKAGES, SAMPLES, AND STOCKWORK – HIGHMOOT

Going to attend an author’s conference and seminar tomorrow.

Already have my packages, seminar samples, and stockwork prepared and in order for presentation…

THE EXCELLENCE OF THE PHYSICAL – HAMMER, TONG, AND TOOLS

THE EXCELLENCE OF THE PHYSICAL

Some people think that I am primarily a mental man, or a “man of the mind” because I spend a lot of time studying, reading, attending and listening to lectures, mastering languages, writing stories and poetry and songs, conducting scientific experiments, etc. Some people think I am primarily a man of the spirit because I spend a lot of time talking about God and to God, examining scriptures, praying, meditating, etc. Some people think I am primarily a man of the psyche (of the soul) because I closely observe my own behavior and the behavior of others, because I watch and take note of other people and am very aware of how they actually behave versus just what they say or proclaim or pretend.

And all of those things are partially true. Not primarily, but partially true. I am in some respects a man of the mind, in other respects a spiritual man, in part a man of the soul and the human psyche.

But there is another part of me that is very, very earthy and physical.

Because I love, and am highly attracted to, and have always been highly attracted to, physical activity and things physical. (Except for eating, I could take or leave eating and if something better than eating existed I’d never eat again. Waste of time to me, and extremely inefficient and wasteful.)

Actually I often do my very best work when hiking, running, clearing land, having sex with the wife, exercising, exploring, climbing, etc. I am attracted to and have always enjoyed physical activity – strain, pain, pleasure, sex, exhaustion, etc. and to me all of those things are drivers and motivators. I have had to learn to correctly control them all and use them wisely and properly but they are all very dear and useful to me. They make me feel alive and invigorated. They are also both stimulants and inspirations to me. Doesn’t matter what I am doing, inventing, working on a business project, writing, composing, drawing, investigating, doing science, etc. physical activity is a stimulant to me.

For instance this morning I took Sam (my American Superior) for a run in the woods (rather than a hike, he’s getting a little fat and I want to work him back into shape with me) and while doing so I developed in my mind six good scenes for my Kithariune novel, a science fiction short story, a Real World invention based around the subject matter of the sci-fi short story (actually the real world invention came first), and had an interesting idea for a scientific experiment. (Physical activity is also an excellent mnemonic technique to me.)

Had I done nothing but sit on my ass this morning and tried to just “Think” (I have nothing against thinking by the way, I highly recommend it to everyone, it’s just I’m not much of a sedentary thinker, I’m an “active thinker” – physical activity stimulates my thinking) I doubt that a single one of those ideas would have occurred to me.

Yes, I am partially a man of the mind, and the spirit, and the soul, but also of the body. My body stimulates the other parts of me. In many ways my body is perhaps my single most important tool of creative expression, either directly or indirectly (as it feeds my mind, soul, and spirit).

I might not have the most excellent body but my body has done me the most excellent service. And just to give him his due, considering what I’ve put him through, he’s been tough as hell and I admire and respect him for that.

Is the body or physical activity a stimulant to you as well? Do you also rebel against the idea of “thinking” as being a sedentary pursuit, or the “thinking man” as a sedentary creature?

I certainly do and always have. Even as a child.

 

THE WORDY WAY – TUESDAY’S TALE

Last night while in bed I decided to write up some new lines for my Western, the Lettered Men.

I’ll do that sometimes right before I go to bed. Got some good stuff done but had to rework some of em this morning. Many of these lines are spoken by Jerimiah Jereds, also known as “Wordy” (the only name his friends call him) because he will either invent words (neologisms) or will twist around old phrases and common sayings in new ways. Wordy sometimes acts as the comic-relief of the novel, which is pretty rough in parts, and sometimes acts as the de-facto Bard of the novel, being a sort of frontier’s poet and cowboy wordsmith.

Now not all of these snippets are by Wordy. But many are.

Anywho I gave my notes to my wife and daughter this morning (before the final rewrites) so that they could look over em and give me their opinion. I heard a lot of loud laughing coming from the kitchen table downstairs as I worked from my office so I reckon I did something right. They both seemed to like what they read.

Also I should not neglect that my mother came down to the house yesterday after lunch and she also reminded me of many of the old sayings and euphemisms of my grandparents and great-grandparents, which were in many ways the inspiration for Wordy.

So here are the final write ups for the Wordy Way. All from my novel The Lettered Men.

_______________________________________________________

“He’d howl like an old hound dog if ya hung him with a new rope.”

_______________________________________________________

“Ain’t really worth mentioning Word.”

“Oh yeah?” said Wordy. “Well half of not really worth mentioning still beats ever bit a nothing all day long. Specially in the middle a nowhere. So let’s just work around with what we got awhile and see where it leads us. Maybe tomorrow it still won’t be worth mentioning, but maybe in a week or two it will be. When we’re sitting our asses by the fire back home.”

________________________________________________________

“You can’t get there from here boys. But if we can just get over to there I bet we can.”

________________________________________________________

“He smells like he smothered a buzzard and kept it in his pants for a keepsake.”

_________________________________________________________

All the boys laughed when they saw him come out of the barbers. All except Wordy. He just stared at Beau for awhile and then he stood up and circled him like a corvus round a scarecrow. “Hmmm-mmm,” he kept humming to himself as he circled.

“Well now, that’s a two bit shave and a haircut iffin I ever seen one,” he finally said. “Way I see it though she still owes ya a dollar in change just to make it even.”

“Dammit!” Beau said testily slapping his hat against his thigh. Dust and hair swirled everywhere. “I told her it didn’t look right to me.”

“Be alright Beau,” Wordy said. “You’re both new at this. She ain’t much of a judge a jug-heads and you ain’t much of a judge a women.”

“Oh, and you is you Wordy sumbitch!” Beau practically yelled.

“I didn’t say that,” said Wordy. “I just seen enough scalpings in my day to know the difference between a brave and a squaw cut.”

The boys all laughed again.

_________________________________________________________

“That whore’s dumber than a plow mule, sure nuff, but she’s still twice as easy to ride. So if you’re gonna plow with her then just cut the reins and let her wander. Save ya both a lotta trouble.”

_________________________________________________________

“He drunk up the sea and spit out Achilles.” (Wordy describing a cowboy that rode into town, got drunk, and started shooting and fighting.)

_________________________________________________________

“He’s a one mare man. True enough. But he’ll go for any stallion what ain’t tied down.”

_________________________________________________________

“Book learning ruined him for anything worth knowin. I wouldn’t trust him none.”

_________________________________________________________

“The mare’s the better horse. He ain’t worth bad oats and barn rats.”

_________________________________________________________

“There ain’t another man like him in the whole lot. Thank God. Can you imagine a whole herd a dem sumbitches?”

_________________________________________________________

“She’s got a face like a sty-sow. But he’s a pot-bellied pig so who cares who slops who?”

_________________________________________________________

“Ride her at your own peril kid. But don’t dismount till ya broke her.”

_________________________________________________________

“Why, do you think she’ll foal on me?” he asked.

“Probably not,” said Wordy, “but she’s so rough you might.”

__________________________________________________________

“Boy’s so slow that he’d hav’ta ride as hard as he could for a month just ta reach the county line.”

__________________________________________________________

“Man knifed three Comanches and a Texas Ranger,” Sole said, “and lived to tell it. So you might just wanna shoot him. In the head. From behind. While he’s sleepin.”

__________________________________________________________

“Maybe he’s just shot so many men by now that he’s plum forgot how to miss. Ever think a that?”

__________________________________________________________

“Man smells like a Mississippi pole-cat, but he tracks like an Arkansas wild dog. Just make sure to keep him downwind and you’ll run em all to ground.”

__________________________________________________________

“He’s slicker than a cold-creek water snake, but not near as warm-blooded. So keep him ahead of ya, but always in sight. Safe plays are always the safest.”

__________________________________________________________

“Sir, your coffee tastes like chickpeas and boll-weevils. Without the chickpeas.”

__________________________________________________________

“Damn Word! It smells like you shit a dead possum and then lit it on fire with pine tar!”

“Yeah,” Wordy said. “I ain’t feeling too well right now.”

“Fine,” Mason said. “But did ya have to spread it around to everybody else like that? You made the local skunks puke.”

Hart Thomas snorted, spit out his chaw, and then laughed out loud.

“Hell Hart,” Mason said, “you was the skunk I was referring to!”

__________________________________________________________

“He’s cotton-brained and toe-headed. You walk a mile in his moccasins and you’ll end up Boot-hilled.”

__________________________________________________________

“Oh, he went to war alright. He just never met a battle worth sitting through or a man his equal at a foot chase.”

__________________________________________________________

“Ah hell Bill, iffin you gave him a new bull and three pregnant cows then in five years time he’d still be a sheep farmer.”

 

Hope you enjoyed em…

 

Linear Progression or Scene-By-Scene?

So in writing the Old Man for NaNoWriMo this year I had carefully planned how each section (since the novel is divided into four or possible five long short story sections) would go and how each event in each section would proceed. In a linear, chronological progression. That is how I actually intended to write the book. I’m at over 10,000 words so far and have not written anything in linear progression so far, even though that was my original intent.

In truth though I find that most all of the fiction I write – short stories, novellas, novels, etc. always end up being written scene-by-scene, as they occur to me, and then later have to be stitched together in chronological order. The one exception to that being children’s stories (for very young children, not YA – those I also tend to write scene by scene) which, like poems and songs or the music I compose I tend to write in chronological order or by linear progression.

If it’s a longer work however, like those I listed above, then I always end up writing it scene by scene as the scenes occur to me in my imagination. No matter how hard I try or what I plan or how carefully I outline the book in my imagination it always comes out being written scene-by-scene, or in the case of non-fiction, subject by subject.

Apparently this is simply the way my mind works in constructing long, complex stories. It used to bother me, that I found it so difficult to write a novel or long story chronologically, now it doesn’t, but it has always made me wonder, how many other people approach writing novels in this way?

So I ask you. How about you?

Do you tend to write novels and long stories in chronological sequence, or poco-a-poco, and scene-by-scene?

How does your mind work when writing such books?

Do you find any advantages in either method? Do you find either method nearly impossible because of the way your mind or imagination functions?

Or is there some other method or technique of construction you use other than the two I described above that I haven’t thought of?

COME THE HORIZON – TUESDAY’S TALE

This is a little piece of flash fiction I wrote involving one of my detective characters, the chief one, Steinthal.

 

THE DETECTIVE STEINTHAL – COME THE HORIZON

“You know part of me really would like nothing better than to save everyone. But another part of me knows equally well that to habitually do so only makes people, especially some people, dependent, enslaved, useless, and weak.

It is entirely immoral and unacceptable to abandon the truly helpless and indigent. Yet it is also wholly wrong to save those who should be busy saving themselves.

So I won’t do either because both are evil and unwise. Even God understands that you cannot save those who refuse to change. That’s as true for individuals as it is for groups of men.

See, as much as I’d like to help you I’m just a detective, not a messiah. Therefore I can’t help your friend Sara. I can’t help anyone who won’t help themselves.

And all the evidence here points in just one direction. That boy doesn’t want help, he wants to be saved. From himself. There’s no real cure for that, and there never will be. I’ve got no trick to fix it. There is no such trick. Those are the actual facts I’m afraid, and I never argue with the actual facts. There’s just no future in it. For anyone.

If only he truly understood that. Or really cared. Because either one would probably do.

But he doesn’t and I can’t do those things for him. You know as well as I do he’d rather die before he tries either. I wish I could tell you different, my dear, but I’m far too used to the truth. It would just sound odd and unbelievable to the both of us. So I’m going to spare us both the pain and suffering of a futile effort.

He’s not here speaking to me because he doesn’t really give a damn. And you’re here speaking to me because you do.

As strange as that sounds let that be some consolation to you. Because the truth is he’s not worth you getting killed for, and there will be plenty of others to save. People who will let you help save them.

He’s not one of those people, and you shouldn’t be buried beside him because you’re too stubborn to admit that to yourself.

Live, my dear. That’s the very best help I can give to you. Because if you stay attached to him the way you are now, you won’t.”

I left it there because it was the truth and because it was as good a place as any to leave it.

She sat across from my desk staring at the floor for a long while. Then she raised her face to look at me and her eyes were watery and unfocused, as if she were looking through me and out at something on the horizon she didn’t expect to escape.

She stood up slowly, her breath uneven and shallow and short, like women breathe when they are both upset and resigned to their fate. Then she turned and walked for the door.

When she got to the door she turned the doorknob, pulled the door back slightly, paused, and wrestled with herself as to whether or not to look back at me.

Eventually, with a little shake of her head, she decided that she wouldn’t. Instead she opened the door just enough to slide out it and then pulled it quietly shut behind her.

And I knew she was as good as dead…

THE NIGHT THAT THE KNIGHT CURSED EVIL – HIGHMOOT

THE NIGHT THAT THE KNIGHT CURSED EVIL

(A Poetic Meditation Upon America)

The Night that the Knight cursed evil a wondrous thing began
Men who once had cowered, together they did band
Beneath the Lonely Banner of the Knight who cursed the wrong
Once they had just whispered, now they sang his song

The High Lords and the Ladies corrupt upon their thrones
Had laughed to hear such curses when the Knight was all alone
Though when his profane blood-oaths thundered through the folk
Fury rose among them, with the tyrant’s whip and yoke

“Bring us now New Vows from him, make him swear to us!”
Shouted Lords and Ladies, roused now in their lust

Yet the Knight who cursed the evil would not bend to threat
Their embassies he spat upon, then harangued them ‘til they sweat

Then the High Lords and the Ladies began to see the Truth
That the Knight who cursed the Evil was fearless now forsooth!

And still the People rallied, hot now in the land,
The Knight who cursed the Evil gave heart for them to stand

“Send us an Assassin, experienced in crime,”
Said the Lords and Ladies, “to kill him ‘fore his time!”

So the black assassin crept upon the Knight
As he cursed the Evil in the shadows of the night
Yet darkness did betray him as he sought to strike
For the Knight who cursed the Evil caught him in the Light

A struggle hard and fearsome did they both attend
Blood in all directions, wounds as deep as sin
Finally the combat wound down to the Will
When the Knight triumphant the spent assassin killed

He took the ‘ssassins blood-stained blade with the warrant he
had wrecked,
Then sent it to the waiting Lords in scribbled hand,
“You’re next!”

___________________________________________________________

Yesterday I took a little nap because last weekend I contracted poison oak, or maybe sumac. It’s been miserable and I hoped to speed the healing and reduce the itch with a nap.

Anyway I awoke with this poem/song running through my kind. I had to go and take an immediate shower because the itching was so bad and in the shower I composed the rest of the sections above in my head.

Then I got out and wrote out what i had composed. It is still unfinished of course though I already have the entire poem sketched out in my head and some other sections are worked out, such as:

“Your silence speaks to your intent more surely than your pleas
For action is the pledge of life, not promises like these
If you’re determined stand your ground, if not I know you well,
Passive is the heartless man, and icy is his hell…”

DRUMLY DID – FIRST VERSE

DRUMLY DID

Drumly marched the men at war
Turmoil in the fields,
A squire watched a warbird soar
The knight his brother killed,
Rivers ran like roaring lief
That spill in bloody seas,
Drumly did the old warchief
In battle find no ease,
Horns called to men to come
At once and rally as they did
Whistles tore the creeping clum
As tumult did forbid,
Arrows rained, and reigned again
As shields were broke and spent,
Young men toppled dead as sin
Their armor torn and rent,
A pikeman watched the warbirds soar
Their feast upon the Earth,
The dusk would drumly long abhor
What horrors slaughter birthed,
Mud ran with blood, the churning mire,
Blacker by degrees,
Drumly did the old desire
In murder find no ease…

Note: My wrist has finally recovered enough to return to regular blogging and writing. I hope.

But my pre-break output may fall to two or three posts per week compared to my pre-break posting rate due to the difficulty I still have with typing and due to my other work load. Thank you for your patience.

Hope you enjoy Drumly Did. It was originally just a throw away poetic experiment with antique language but by the time I finished it I liked it and decided to keep it.

I KNOW YOU ALL – FIRST VERSE (WILL SHAKESPEARE AND JOHN GUNTER)

This happens to be my favorite section of monologue from a play by Shakespeare (any play by Shakespeare), and there are many brilliant ones. This is from the Henry Cycle. (Henry discusses his past nature as scoundrel and the companion of scoundrels and his coming nature as king.)

Since I was a kid, a teenager actually, I have taken what I consider to be great sections of poetry, prose, plays, songs, etc. and rewritten them to see if I could improve upon them in some way (linguistically, poetically, phonetically, in meaning or emphasis, etc.). As an exercise in the improvement of my own poetic capabilities. Or towards the improvement of whatever other capabilities I happened to be attempting to exercise.

To me this is the very paragon of verse from Shakespeare’s plays, for any number of reasons, not least the undercurrents of shaded meaning, the psychologically acute self-analysis, and the prophetic pronouncements of the future. I have rewritten this section many times and in many different ways but did it again late last week as an exercise to keep myself from becoming rusty and out of practice at this type of verse and monologue.

The first section is the Work of Shakespeare. The second section is partially Shakespeare’s, the part in italics (in order to set the theme of the monologue), and the last part is my rewriting of the same. It is not only a rewriting, I’ve also altered the emphasis, slightly and subtly, but it also contains allusions to other subject matter and characters I have written about in my own poetry, such as Orpheus and the Tears of Iron.

I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you try such exercises for yourself to improve your own capabilities.

 

I KNOW YOU ALL – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

 

I KNOW YOU ALL – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND JOHN GUNTER

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

Of temperance there is none found in me
When overwhelming Wyrd o’ermasters
All the conduct of my prior faculties
Yet when I am come, and baring as I come
The former foil that gilds me dull, yet sharp
In indiscretions manifold who
will vouchsafe all my claims and titles
Young with new maturity, if not I?
In reform well sprang like Orpheus
From the chair of Pluto and his iron tears
My coming crown unworn, my sins unshorn
Shall outline the very shadowed limits
That I so like the scorching sun of noon
Shall burn away when the Dawn of Me
Does unexpected rise from deep within
And clotted clay, the seeming sepulchre
That frontiers all I have ever been
Will be seen to walk beneath the heavens
As if a new king bestrode the mortal world
In glory more like ancient gods than man…

 

THE IRON GATE: PART ONE – BOOKENDS

This is part of a draft chapter from my book The Basilegate (from The Other World novels). Rather than explain or detail the background I’ll just let you read the story for yourself.

This chapter begins at the Iron Gate, winds through what today would be modern Russia and ends along the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire.

But this is only the first part of the chapter.

I will be serializing parts of this novel here, on Wyrdwend. For Bookends.

THE IRON GATE: PART ONE

He passed through the Iron Gate and none bothered to oppose him. Why should they? Death would come soon enough.

He had seen men watching him as he stumbled past them, had noticed them as they studied him, pointing, or whispering to themselves. He had seen the guards; skins burned dark by long life lived outdoors among the frontiers, their flesh the color of fine but sanded clay. He had seen them take notice of him, and realizing that he was alone, and doomed, had seen them finally turn away or gaze on at him in curiosity, but not in fear.

He staggered forward, impelled more by main force and force of will than by any desire to make any kind of camp, or achieve any end, other than the one he suspected lay not long before him. He was a mass of Northern muscle, and in a more carefree age, a mass of unconcern. But not this day. Not this hour.

He was a mass no more, except of wasted flesh, blood-clotted black and clinging to limbs still driven hard, but all a’quiver. His clothes were ragged, and perhaps more threadbare than he. His boots were tattered, consumed with holes by hard wear and patches from long poverty. His cloak was gone, it covered him no more. His helm was likewise long ago departed. His armor, what was left upon him, did creak and hung loose and much abused. His single weapon, his langsax, was chipped and knotted, bent at places, it’s sharpest tip now broken blunt. His skeg axe was missing, already lost a’field from many days before. His sword was shattered, having given its last service long before he himself had been likewise cleaved from himself, run to ground by desperation and long flight at night. His spear had been splintered along the banks of a river he had long traveled, but never heard named. And with it went his last hope of war when he found himself numbered among the doomed of his watch.

His shield had long lasted, but round at the edges it had been burst sharp through the center, till like the timbers of a battered prow it had been smashed to pieces, along with the spine of his arm. At that blow he had staggered, a man drunk with too much of the wine of close combat, and toppling like one of the frigid giants of old he had crashed from the cliff into the gelid waters below. And this, this fall from manly grace and the unnatural fire of a ferocious battle he could not have won, into the cold of the waters from the earth underneath, this had stilled his heart with shock and preserved his life with a flood of harsh ice. But only for a moment.

The cold had slowed his wounds, made blood freeze in his veins, made him sluggish, numbed the bright agony of his broken arm and shattered knee, had helped to staunch the long gash torn through his calf, had wearied his mind so that death approached slow and as bedraggled as he. The river had turned him, tossed him, oriented him away from his companions, and his brothers at arms. Yet deep in the recesses of his darkest thoughts he knew they were no more. Colder even than he. Once men, and large, and well made, trophies now to despoil.

He pulled himself from the waters, a mist of stinking furs and wounded flesh, injury the common lot that ran the entire life-course of his body. He was insensible of the pain of his catastrophe, or perhaps it is better to say that he was nothing but hurt. So much harm inflicted that he could no longer mark any particular pain, but rather pain seemed all he was, and all he wished to end. He tried to stand, collapsed, breathed hard and harshly, his mouth steam rising like that of a newborn calf, his stance no straighter or better. But he grimaced, and would not relent. He stood, and staggered, and felt something rend inside his leg each time his knee did make to support his weight. He shed his cloak as a serpent would his elder skin, in long and frustrating effort, it peeled away from him as if in regret and with the anchored weight of besoaked hide. He grunted. He stuttered. He could not speak, groans his only tongue. He rested, sought to scan the horizon with his eyes, the land having been made flat again by the time the river had disgorged him like a misspent meal. But his vision was blurred, dim, closed in and frozen. It extended no farther than his imagination, and his imaginings were all of darkness, and dread.

The sun made to collapse in the West, behind mountains he could sense in the distance, but not see with his eyes. The warmth of the day, what small comfort it had given, was already fading, his own heat wasted and stolen by the drench of his baptism by water and trial by ice. He made to the tall grass, then fell to the dry ground, rolling and coating himself in the dirt as he could, hoping it would absorb the wet and help dry his shaken frame. A frog scampered by and he caught it with his unruined arm, and tore off its head in his mouth. The cold blood was warmer than his and the skull of the frog he did gnash in his teeth as he chewed. The sound comforted him. He could still eat, and he could still kill. Therefore he could still live if the long night would let him. He found he was hungry, and that the gnaw in his guts did wear hard, and began to grow and inflame, and as it did so, so did his limbs. And the ache of his body was far worse than the hunger he felt. But as he ate he regained some lost measure of hope, and there settled into his mind a new will to press forward. He tore off one of the back legs of his catch, and then the other, eating slowly, watching the night fall. Then he pulled out his langsax from his battered belt, and used the blade to slice open the belly of the frog and he did, as he could stand it, smear the blood and the entrails of the thing onto the deep gash in his calf, and along the break in his arm, where the bone did protrude from the mottled blue skin. For he had been told in times past by the Rus that if he smeared the blood of a beast upon an open wound then the clot of gore would help seal his own cut, and help knit it together and scab it clean. He did not know if this were true or not, but he was full for the moment and it seemed foolish to him to waste the entrails by tossing them aside.

He slept uneasily for awhile within sound of the river, crackling sounds sometimes startling him, as if the ice sheets from further upstream were still washing down and clashing against each other to shatter like frosted glass. The dew came down and reminded him again of the damp that still covered him, causing him to shiver while shards of sweat and frozen drops did run along his back from time to time.
He was cold beyond reckoning, but with the rise of the moon he took once more to stand, and after several tries he regained his feet. He moved West, into the darkness, towards the mountains he had felt in the distance. Towards the land that the Rusmen had told him could not be conquered. Towards the land of the Roman, and the place they called, the City of God

SUMMARY PITCH OUTLINE – HAMMER, TONGS, AND TOOLS

It’s Thursday meaning Hammer, Tongs, and Tools.

For the past few years I’ve been developing Tools to assist me in my career as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet. In preparation for pursuing those careers.

I have decades worth of Tools regarding my business-careers as a business, copy, and non-fiction writer, and inventor (and as a poet, I’ve been a poet since I was about age 8 or so), many of which I have been posting to my Business Blog, Launch Port.

But here in Wyrdwend I’m going to start making it a habit to post some of my more useful Writing Tools in the form of Templates. I’ll arrange them all into a sellable book, or e-book, or workbook, something like that, maybe in a year or so. I’m too busy right now.

I’m giving you permission to use these tools, or to use them as idea-generators to make your own. Tools, as opposed to actual Works, I consider more public property than proprietary or personal intellectual property. Yeah, in book form I’d consider them mine, but in this form, if you find them useful, then use away.

Each week, barring some unforeseen exigency, I’ll be posting a different Tool, or a different kind of tool (writing, songwriting, poetry, etc.) that you can make use of in developing your own works. Some of these tools I modified from tools suggested to me by others, some contain partial information or design components from other sources, many are entirely my own creations.
To start I give you a very, very simple and easy to use tool. Nevertheless it should (if properly employed) contain vital and succinct information about your Work (Book or other Major Work) that you can use as an elevator pitch, to formulate a written pitch, or to simply keep the fundamental and primary elements of your work clear, distinct, and easily marketable.

SUMMARY PITCH OUTLINE

Opae (Title):

Date Begun:

ONE SENTENCE DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

ONE PARAGRAPH DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS OF BOOK:

TWO TO THREE PAGES FULL DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

THE PLACE WHERE… HAMMER, TONGS, AND TOOLS

I completely concur. Place is every bit as important as plot. And some places are every bit as profound as any plot. And some places are inseparable from plot.

In short place is not only a tool of plot, it is the anvil on which it is truly shaped.

Before You Can Write a Good Plot, You Need to Write a Good Place

Author Linn Ulmann makes the case for the importance of here in “Something happened here.”
Doug McLean

Linn Ulmann spent her childhood trailing her famous parents as they traveled the world. As the daughter of director Ingmar Bergman and the actress Liv Ullmann, two legends of 20th-century cinema, her “home” shifted time and again. The one constant was a Swedish island, Fårö, where she returned each summer to visit her father.

Now, she’s fascinated by the way our surroundings shape us. In her interview for this series, the author of The Cold Song used a short story by Alice Munro  to illustrate the way setting drives her writing, and how place and memory help dictate the stories we tell.

The Cold Song concerns a cast of characters affected by the disappearance of Milla, a 19-year-old au pair working in a coastal town south of Oslo. After two years, her body—and the grisly manner of its death—is uncovered by three boys searching for buried treasure. With this act of violence at its heart, the novel explores the unexpected ways a crime haunts people who knew the victim, inflaming their secret sources of guilt.

Linn Ullmann is the author of five previous novels, including Before You Sleep and A Blessed Child; her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. She spoke to me by phone from her home in Oslo.


Linn Ullmann: When my father died six years ago, and we were selling off his property on the island of Fårö where I grew up, I kept a diary in a big, black notebook. It was a strange thing: a book that mixed notes on practical arrangements with ideas for the new book I’d started writing then. (This book was a mix of the book I did eventually write—The Cold Song—and another book I didn’t write, about the death of a father.) The notebook was a reading diary, too. In between meetings about the funeral, and what to do with his things, and how we were going to bury him, I was reading Alice Munro.

I’ve read her in many stages of my life. I love the way her voice just sucks you in, the way her stories walk you as if to the unexpected edge of a cliff, towards moments that—in their violence or sense of life-changing possibility—are like sudden free fall. During that time of mourning, I’d written down this passage from her story “Face”:

Something had happened here. In your life there are a few places, or maybe only one place, where something has happened. And then there are the other places, which are just other places.

This quote—“Something had happened here”—resonated so much with me. I found it very moving because of where I was right then: starting a new book, having just lost my father, in the only place I had ever really called home. At the time, this was a very desolate island with a few sheep farmers living on it. Fårö was my home until I was three years old—and though I moved very, very many times, I returned every summer for the rest of my life, until my father died. These lines struck me on a profoundly personal level, and I had no choice but to write them down.

I’ve just re-read the story now, and am again blown away by it. It’s impossible to retell a story by Alice Munro, because there are so many ins and outs and digressions, before everything comes together in this surprising, magical way—but this is a strange love story about a boy who has a wine-colored birthmark over half his face. As a child, he’s friends with a girl about his age. Twice, she tries to make her face look like his—once, using red paint, and again later in a more permanent, devastating way. She does this out of love, or a destructive thing that love can sometimes be: “I love you so much that I want to be you.”

There’s so much else in this story, which gives the whole broad arc of the narrator’s life. We learn about his relationship with his father (who, moments after his son is born, remarks, “what a chunk of chopped liver”). We learn about his career as a successful radio actor, before TV—an industry his birthmark bars him from—takes over broadcast drama.  But what sticks, in the end, is the moment in the basement of the childhood home where the little girl splashes red paint on half her face and says, all hopeful, “Now do I look like you?”

At the time, this gesture deeply wounds the boy, and his family interprets it as an act of terrible, mocking cruelty. The two children are never allowed to see each other again. It’s only as an adult that he learns—the afternoon of his father’s funeral—that she later used a razor to cut his same mark on her face. This act—of fidelity? Of shame? Of atonement?—casts the moment in the basement in a totally different light. Perhaps she was a person who identified with him so completely, that she was willing to trade her unblemished face for his. The narrator begins to realize that exchange in the basement was a crucial moment of his life; even though he didn’t realize it at the time, it may have been the closest he ever came to having his marred face looked upon honestly but without reproach, with something like love.

There’s no big sign saying Here’s the turning point. There’s no Sliding Doors scene that tells you, “Here’s the big moment!” But by the end of the story, we sense that this is what matters most to this character, as he looks back. After the revelation at the funeral, he decides not to sell the house where he grew up, where the exchange in the basement happened, as he had planned. Instead, he lives inside it for the rest of his life.

In other words, he comes to see that the childhood house will always be his reference point, his stage of greatest significance. I think it is this way for many of us: There is maybe one place, when we look back, where something happened. Or only a few places. “And then there are all the other places,” Munro writes: important too, but not distinct, not above all else. Those precious few settings where something happened are where meaning resides—they contain the story, they are the story. Yes, I think that, to Alice Munro, story is place—the two are that deeply connected. You do not have a story of a life without an actual place. You can’t separate one from the other.

I think that’s why she’s intensely local in her fiction, like many other great writers (Faulkner, Joyce, and Proust come straight to mind). Munro’s stories unfold in remote places in Canada that I’ve never been to—but in these geographically small places, whole worlds play out. The best writers provide a sense of events unfolding in this specific place, a place that informs and feeds the characters and events. What comes first: the place or the story? The story or the place? With great fiction, it can be impossible to distinguish.

I’ve been a reader of authors who have a strong sense of place, because in my own life I’ve been somewhat placeless. I always traveled as a kid, and went to a new school every year. I lived in New York, I lived in Norway, I lived in Sweden—we travelled around, we moved, and I continued doing that into my adult life. I have been something of a placeless person—so I try to find that in literature, I guess. I seek out books and authors who are very place-specific. For me, in a way, the experience of sitting with a book is the closest thing I have to “home.”

And this reminds me of another Munro line, from her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”:

There are places that you long for that you might not ever see.

Some places you never actually experience yourself, but are always important in your life anyway, even if you never go. Places you learn about through literature and other people’s stories can take on intense personal significance, as Munro’s Canadian hamlets have for me. I have this second quote written with the lines from “Face” in that big, black notebook; I probably wrote them on the same day. Somehow, I feel like these two passages—because they are about place in literature, and where things happened, whether a physical place or interior place—are what Munro is all about.

In my own work—the way I actually write—place plays an essential role, too. A choreographer I whose work I love, Merce Cunningham, was once asked, “How do you start a dance?” He said, “Well, you have to begin by showing up.” I think that’s brilliant, and it goes for writing, too. You can have all these novels in your head, all these characters and ideas, but if you don’t actually show up to your writing day—the physical place where you get the work done— you have nothing.

The characters, too, need to “show up”—the story needs to happen somewhere. Again, Munro: “Something happened here.” That line could be the epigraph to everything I write. The “here” is every bit as important as the “something happened.” For me, the two cannot exist without each other; setting and character respond to and inform one another.

When I begin writing, I need to have a place.  It can be a small: even a single room, though I like to be able to see the layout, the colors, the objects inside. I need to have that stage so that my characters have a place to move around. If I can develop that sense of place—and that other crucial quality, the narrative voice—then I feel sure I will find a story, even if it takes some time.  If I don’t have the place, and I don’t have the voice, I’m writing without a motor. It all becomes just words. But once the voice comes, the “here” comes next, and then the “something happened”—what we call plot—follows from it.

In this way, writing becomes a listening experience—a way of being responsive to what you have written, and letting it guide you. Some writers say “the characters come to me,” or the “characters become alive to me at night.” Bullshit. I don’t believe that my characters are alive. But the process requires a form of artistic listening, of understanding the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. If you are lucky enough to find voice and place, there are real consequences to those choices. Together, they limit the possibilities of what can possibly come next—and they help point the way forward. Your role, then, is to not stick to your original idea—it is to be totally faithless to your idea. Instead, be faithful to voice and place as you discover them, and to the consequences of what they entail.

That’s why it’s often more fun fumbling around with notes and good ideas before the writing actually starts—it doesn’t require as much intensive listening. Most writers start out thinking “I’m going to write about such-and-such grand idea.”  That’s fine when it’s all up in your head. But the minute you start putting words down, you begin to confine yourself to certain possibilities, and you must be prepared to abandon what you thought you were writing about before.

There is a Norwegian novelist who says “Writers must beware of their own good ideas.” You have this great idea, and then you start writing—and maybe something happens, and your voice starts taking you places. But if you start to think, I’m going away from my great idea, I have this wonderful idea! I need to get back to my idea—you stop following the consequences of the place and voice you’ve chosen. This is a mistake. You see a lot of decent books and plots that are fantastic—the writing might even be really good—but still somehow feel completely dead. I think that’s because there’s a great idea, a compelling premise, but a lack of honesty that can only come from listening closely to your writing. Those beautiful moments when you’ve just got to put the book away for a while because it’s so intense—we have a Norwegian word, smertepunkt, which literally means “point of pain”—can only come from this kind of honest listening. And Alice Munro is an absolute master of it. She dares to take the consequence of a voice, and a place, and follow them to where it takes her.

Place dictates who we are and how we see—this is true in life, as well as fiction. I see it in the way my father wrote about his first impressions of Fårö in his autobiography, Magic Lantern:

If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home. If one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight …. This is your landscape, Bergman. It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colours, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections. Security is here. Don’t ask why. Explanations are clumsy rationalizations with hindsight. In, for instance, your profession, you look for simplification, proportion, exertion, relaxation, breathing. The Fårö landscape gives you a wealth of all that.

He decided because of the shape and the light and the proportions that this was where he was going to live and work. And that place is the central place in my life, too. I think probably reading these Alice Munro stories right after his death was why I copied over those quotes. They struck me—because he was dead, and also because I was mourning the fact that I was also losing my place. The island, the house on it, that’s all going to disappear now—and all the memories there, too. You cannot separate memory and place. There are certain places, if we go there, either in our writing or in reading or in life, that conjure up our deepest memories. And memories are all about who we are.

I always wondered if it really was my place. That became the big dilemma in the years after my father’s death: Was it my place, or was it his place? Places are always complicated in that way.

The island is not a place that says “Love me. Look how beautiful I am. You’ll be happy here.” It is not a place that tries to charm or seduce you. It’s beautiful in its starkness, in all its different rocky greys. There are old stone formations, called rauks, that are millions of years old. Red poppies grow in the summer. In the winter, there are countless shades of white. The surrounding sea, the Baltic Sea, is a broken sea: it’s losing oxygen, is filmed with algae on it, and very still. A dead ocean. It’s beautiful, but severe. The nature and the temperament of the whole, stark place—yes, you might fall in love with me, but I don’t know if I’m going to return your love ever. I know that I love the place, but I don’t know if the place loves me.

With some of the greatest loves you have, that’s the dilemma you have to live with.

MY POWER IN HER PLEASING

As part of my reading today I came across this passage in a work of ER Eddison:

“My pleasure is my power to please my mistress:
My power is my pleasure in that power.”

Which, compared to the surrounding work, struck me as dull and listless and uninspired. I didn’t like it and thought it could have been much better, comparatively speaking. (If it is indeed a quote cited from another work I have not as yet found the original source.)

So I decided to rework the couplet (and thereafter expand it) to see if I could render a better and more apt and more fit version (given the surrounding context). As an experiment, such as the kind of experiments I did on rewriting verse as a young kid.

 

This is what I developed:

“My pleasure is my power to please my mistress:
Her power in that pleasure is to my pleasing
Such powers, pleasing to us both
Yield pleasures sweet and e’er unending
In memory and reminiscence all alike
To the very powers of those pleasing acts.”

A LITTLE MURDER STORY

A Little Murder Story – I was working on this in my mind on my way home from town one night about 11:30 or so. It has some rough language in it, and if that offends you then skip it. (I’m not a big fan of rough language myself just to have rough language, unless it is a matter of realism, then it doesn’t bother me at all.) I couldn’t write it in the car and didn’t have my tape recorder, so I had to reconstruct it from memory. Might not be exactly what I saw in my head, but it’s pretty close.

A Murder Story is as close as a title as I’ve got, but I kinda like that, so I might just stick with it.

It isn’t the full story, as I plan to publish it. But this is my Tale for Tuesday’s Tale.

Enjoy.

_____________________________________________________

“Man, you say that shit to me again and I’ll kill your punk ass.”

I sighed. Deeply even.

“Sure kid, I have a bad case of the ‘you scared me already.’ How bout we just go back on point now?”

“I told you, I ain’t got shit to say to you.”

I pivoted. More outta habit than necessity.

“Alright then, let’s try this. I’m gonna wave my left hand in the air and you’re gonna try and track it with both eyes at once. If you can do that it’ll prove to us both that you’re smart enough to do that.”

It took him a second, but I waited through it.

“Mutha-“ he stepped towards me with his chest bowed out, hands by his side, so I raised my left hand and when he looked I hit him in the mouth with my right. He rocked back for a second, kinda stunned. So as he was still figuring the right I elbowed him across the nose with my left arm. He sat down on his knees looking up, his mouth open.

To keep it moving at a brisk pace I caught him by the shoulders, bent him back double, and slammed his head back into the chewed up pavement. Hard enough his skull bounced. Then just to be sure I grabbed him by the sides of the head and did it again.

While he flirted with a concussion I rolled him over onto his stomach and cuffed his left wrist (I had been watching him, he was definitely a southpaw) to his right ankle. He was kinda fat and big boned so it was a bit of a stretch for us both, but I had come prepared for all contingencies. Sure, they always looked funny that way but then again it usually did wonders for cooperation. This guy looked like he’d at least try and dance under duress, once he was moving again, but ya just never knew. Nine outta ten times this setup did the trick.

After that I rolled him onto his side and watched for signs of life. Sure enough he began to display a few. So I pulled out my knife to firm it up a little.

“Okey-dokey, here we go city bang-bang. Now you do believe in blood at first sight? Right? Cause I think this is the part where you tell me all about how you’re gonna saw my head off with my own knife, rape my mother, eat my dog, and commit all of the other higher level functions you’re so expert at. Boo-yah and brimstones! Or, on second thought, we can just skip that part, if it’s all the same to you, and you can go ahead and tell me who murdered the girl. I mean I’m sure you’re frightful and all but that’s my real interest. And I’m salaried, so sooner is better.”

“Man I din’t kill no little girl.” His lip was already swelling and the blood around his nose was already blackening. That would be useful in a minute or two.

I started to step over him and when I did he tried to use his right hand to catch my leg. So I stomped on his hand. Hard. He groaned, I smiled.

“I thought we had a working negotiation. But I guess we’re still gonna hav’ta work out a few mutual misunderstandings. I’ll go first if you don’t mind.”

I kicked him in the solar plexus and all his breath ran out in a huff. I think he also started to cry a little. Sometimes I had that effect on certain people.

“Isn’t this exciting? Now first of all, I said murder, not kill. And secondly I said girl, not little girl. So clearly we’re still having definitional difficulties. But we can work that out. Let’s start over, for old times’ sake.”

I bent down and took my knife and cut his cheap windbreaker off him. Then as he caught his breath I cut his sweatshirt off too.

“Wooo-weeee. That really looks cold. Old Man Winter sure does bite iffin you give him a reason, don’t he? But that’s okay, I just had coffee and a hot Danish. I’m good for an hour or two.”

He spat and cursed some. Wiggled on the icy ground. I waited politely for him to finish.

“Boy, that was an illuminating display. Thanks for that. I’m gonna write that down for later, but for now you just try and track with me for a moment, won’t ya? See, you seem to be under two unfortunate misimpressions about our situation here.

First, I don’t have a murder warrant out on me, nor have I ever done time for a previous murder conviction. Bet you’re wondering if it’s because I’ve never killed a man, or if, unlike you, I’m just good enough to have never gotten caught. Well, we’ll get around to that part later this evening, during the entertainment interlude.

And I guess the second problem is, although I’d think it might be kinda obvious by now, even to you, that I’m not exactly what you’d call a real cop. Maybe I’ve never been a real cop. If we have time tonight we might get around to that part too. Just for giggles.”

“Man, I’m telling ya I ain’t KILLED NO GIRL!” He practically roared the last part and for the first time in our whole brief relationship he said it sincerely enough that I knew he really wanted me to believe him.

“Isn’t that sweet? We’ve finally reached the stage where you care what I think. Or think I care what you say. See, we can make progress. All we gotta do is really work at it awhile. Eventually we’re even gonna get at the truth.

But before that I’m gonna take my knife and cut off your pants. And just before you’re shivering so hard you go numb all over I’m gonna cut your balls off. You’d be surprised at the amount of truth that causes to spill out of a man. So hold on tight now, we might hav’ta go around the block a couple of times before you finally figure out where we’re headed. But I promise ya, it’ll be well worth the effort when we finally get there. And if at any time you wanna take a shortcut then just let me know. Like I said, I’m salaried. So the quicker we get at the truth, the better for everybody. Especially you.”

Then I took my knife and went to work.

It didn’t take long. I’m pretty good at my work.

IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU SAY, IT’S WHAT YOU IMPLY BY OMISSION

This statement is entirely true: “It’s what is left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers.”

This image, and the accompanying lyrics, are superb examples of this.

Lyric Of The Week: Traditional, “Barbara Allen”

Written by March 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am

Forget_Me_Not_Songster_-_Barbara_Allen_p.1It’s been beguiling audiences for a half-millennium or so, perhaps longer than that. It’s been covered by artists ranging from the sublime (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Everly Brothers) to the slightly ridiculous (John Travolta and, in the 1951 Warner Brothers short “Robin Hood Daffy”, Porky Pig.) So what is it about “Barbara Allen” that makes it so enduring and affecting?

The first known reference to this mysteriously captivating folk ballad dates back to 1666, in an entry by the famed English diarist Samuel Pepys. Pepys called it a “Scotch song”, and it flourished throughout the United Kingdom in that era until it was brought to the U.S. by immigrants. As the population of the America slowly spread westward, the song went with it, as noted by famed musicologist Alan Lomax in his book The Folk Songs Of North America. “This ballad, if no other, travelled west with every wagon,” Lomax wrote. “As someone remarked, they sang ‘Barbara Allen’ in Texas ‘before the pale faces were thick enough to make the Indians consider a massacre worthwhile.”

What transpires in “Barbara Allen” is simple enough on the surface. Yet since the lyrics provide little exposition or back story, the reasons for the behavior of the main participants are enigmatic. The song tells the story of young William who, as he lies on his deathbed, calls out for Barbara. She takes her time getting to his side, only to treat him coldly due to a social foul he committed against her at a tavern. On her journey home, she hears the “death bell knellin” and, knowing it tolls for William’s death, suddenly regrets her hardness and knows she will soon die of grief for him.

Harsh stuff, right? Maybe too harsh, even for audiences who were used to Shakespeare’s plays and their numerous deaths. As such, a variant on the song quickly arose that included a leavening epilogue whereby the lovers are buried side-by-side. From William’s grave grows a rose, from Barbara’s a briar, and the two flowers eventually intertwine, providing the deceased pair eternal unison.

It’s whats left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers. If all William did was drink a toast to the wrong ladies, surely he didn’t deserve treatment so nasty from a girl he truly loved. Or was this single incident indicative of his wayward behavior as a whole? And what changed in Barbara’s mind and heart from the time she left him to when she heard that bell? In that short journey, she transformed from hard-hearted to sympathetic without any middle ground spent in consideration of all that had transpired.

This sort of unexplainable behavior from characters was also emblematic of Shakespeare (think King Lear or Hamlet), so maybe the original writer had that kind of strangeness in mind. It makes the song more psychologically realistic, since we all tend to do things when guided by passion or spite that defy logic and reason.

The murkiness of the motives and the beauty of the melody is an irresistible combination. As such, many legendary contemporary artists have found the song irresistible. Dylan, for one, not only covered “Barbara Allen” at various times in his career, but he also used Barbara’s home base of “Scarlet Town” as a jumping-off point for an equally mysterious song on 2012’s Tempest.

While there have been many powerful and moving renditions of “Barbara Allen”, Art Garfunkel may have given the definitive modern reading on his 1973 solo album Angel Clare.  Whatever lesson you take from the song, whether it’s that even a moment of taking the one you love for granted can come back to haunt you, or that life is too short for petty grievances, you’ll likely be mesmerized by the mercy Garfunkel’s ethereal vocal grants these two lovers. It’s just too bad they didn’t show each other that same kind of mercy until it was far too late.

THE SORCERER’S TONGUE

THE SORCERER’S TONGUE

The Sorcerer’s tongue an adder crawls
To slither through the hearts of men
A viper coiled in roils of lies
Seduces all with poisoned ends,
The Necromancer of the Age
Raising up deceit and death
From tombs and tomes by ruin lost
Has given form and stirred cold breath,
Enchantments webbed and eldritch spun
Like spiders creep across the mind
So even men who seem themselves
Are slaves to him, enthralled like kine,
Hades vast and oceans deep
Are hidden in his crafty art
The conjured word is as he speaks
A servant dim and set apart,
The warlock’s gloom – bespoken like a spell
Has snared the fool and baited traps
To line the road of Truth along which
Even brave men cannot make their maps,
The Waystaff of the Witch’s word
Has charmed the Wise with venoms dark
Bound in blood men sound in every other way
By sound of him fall all unnerved
Their manhood washed away in flood,
The alchemic base of rank and rot
Has made a potent portion of regret
Yet who still speaks of deeds begot
When dread by sorcery yet abets?
The Witch’s teat, the serpent’s tongue
Eidolons frozen in the soul
Glams and dictums (dicins) doom us all
Who should by wit the Witch atone,
We have fallen all and one
Under shrouds envoked by terms of fraud
Cultic does the lie allure
Guile the noose of little gods,
If we will not soon this wrong dispel
Cut out the tongue that binds us so
Then sorcery shall be our gaol
The price of prison be our soul.

GUILD OF THE GOLDEN DOOR

GUILD OF THE GOLDEN DOOR

I searched for the Guild of the Golden Door
Across the Fields of Filidhic Lore
To the House of the Wights who shielded the Scop
Neath the blouse of the night through the tales that crop

When grown under moon, and groaned under woe
Sprout slew from the Earth, as above, so below
Then the Master’s Apprentice to servitude bent
Broke under sentence, in fervor all spent

(Chorus)

Guild of the Golden Door
Gild yourself in guilt
All the wrongs adorned
All the harm you’ve built

Guild of the Golden Door
Gate of the ruined hoard
Facade of the secret morn
That dawns on the desperate horde

Golden Door, Golden Door
Hide and then reveal
Guilded Door, Gilded Door
Open wide, conceal

I sought for the Guild of the Golden Door
In the high merchant hills and the long shipping shores
I went to the banks that circled the world
Found all was lank loss, not a swine for a pearl
All the gain hidden, and all the made-men
Chains long forbidden, the same once again

Golden Door, Golden Door
Open, hide, conceal
Guilty Door, Giltied Door
Despised in your appeal

I watched for the Guild of the Golden Door
In the streets of the cities, in the eyes of the poor
It would not appear, was disguised far too well
The shrewd financiers were as crafty as hell

Guild of the Golden Door
Gate of the wasted hoard
Arch of what comes before
The birth of the desolate horde

I tried for the Guild of the Golden Door
Heard they governed the Halls of the Temple Floor
Found them buying and selling dressed in their rags
Pretending to credit; deceit, theft, and swag
All the pain ridden, your principles thrown
You claim to be bidden, you’ve purchased your thrones
Disguised by your voices, a’swim in your vice
Covet your choices, then play them like dice

Guild of the Golden Door
What is it that you’ve built?
All the wrongs so long adorned
All the blood you’ve spilt

Guild of the Golden Door
Won’t you share your guilt?
Yes drink of the cup of your own reward
For all the blood you’ve spilt

You should drink of the cup of your own reward
By the door of the world you’ve built

 

 

THE CORRUPTION OF THE GUILD OF THE GOLDEN DOOR

This is my next song for FAWM.

I worked on this until about 3:00 one morning. Then went to bed and got up around 9:00 or so and worked it again. Finished it that day.

I’m pleased with the final product, though I may change it around a little more before I eventually post it to my blog and use it on my new album, Locus Eater. It came out to be a lot longer and far more complicated song than I had anticipated. (I had expected it to be a small song and the short tie in to the Myrddin’s Tower poem.)

Originally it was a song about government claims to be assisting the poor and they are really just disguised profiteers seeking to use government as their “Golden Door” for personal advancement. Using government tyranny to line their own pockets by deceiving the ignorant and the naive.

But eventually the song became about financial and monetary corruption in general (such as crony or socialistic-capitalism), and in all fields, but especially by those who openly pretend to be working on behalf of the poor but are actually using them (and everyone else around them, including their partners) for their own grasping, covetousness, and greed. Hence the corrupting aspect of the Golden Door , and the corruption of the song itself from my original intent.

I didn’t plan on the song going that way, it just did. It became much bigger than I had expected.

I still, at this point, plan to use it as the sister-song for Myrddin’s Tower but it may have grown far too big for that. It may have to stand entirely alone.

WRITING FOR E-KIDS

As someone who writes books for kids, and enjoys writing books for kids, I both enjoyed this article and found it quite useful.

How to Create Picture Ebooks for Kids

Picture ebooks

Today’s guest post is by Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider and Picture eBook Mastery.


Until recently, creating ebook versions of children’s picture books was something publishers reserved for their best-selling authors and illustrators. If you wanted to self-publish a picture ebook, you either needed to be a whiz at writing code, or you paid an ebook creation service to do it for you. (That said, it was possible to find a few services targeted toward publishing books for kids on Apple devices, such as Book Creator.)

Last September, Amazon released KDP Kids’ Book Creator, which allows the average Joe to create illustrated children’s books for the Kindle and upload them directly to Amazon. These books can be designed in the landscape format (to mimic the layout of print picture books) and can include text pop-ups that enlarge the text with a tap or a click, making it easier to read.

Side note: Using the KDP Kids’ Book Creator means you’re publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. You can choose from several royalty structures within that program, and also choose whether or not to be included in KDP Select, which gives Amazon exclusive distribution of your ebook for a certain time period in exchange for marketing perks.

While the KDP Kids’ Book Creator still has a few rough spots (which Amazon is presumably ironing out in response to user feedback), it’s a good start. Those of us who have worked in children’s publishing for years recognized this move for what it was: a game changer.

Just how much has Amazon’s new free software changed the game?

With the release of the Kid’s Book Creator, as well as the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition tablet, Amazon is investing in illustrated ebooks. And they need content.

So now comes the big question. Are you ready to ride this wave?

Not every self-published picture ebook will make it. Many will slip into oblivion as soon as they’re released.

Does Your Book Have a Fighting Chance?

Here are some positive signs.

You have a book that appeals to a niche market. Often publishers reject a manuscript simply because there isn’t a big enough audience to justify their expense to bring it to fruition. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the book shouldn’t exist. You’ll just have to make an effort to directly reach the consumers searching for the specific topic in your book.

If your story features a child with certain food allergies and how he must navigate snack time in preschool, you can write guest posts for parenting blogs that focus on these issues, or even blogs about nutrition and cooking. Many mommy bloggers welcome guest posts about all aspects of child care, and you can mention your book in your bio.

You already have a good online following. Jessica Shyba’s popular blog Momma’s Gone City, featuring photographs of her toddler and puppy at naptime, prompted publisher Jean Feiwel to offer her a two-book deal. Naptime with Theo & Beau was published by Feiwel and Friends in February, with a huge social media campaign using the hashtag #theoandbeau.

Could Shyba have chosen to self-publish the book and do the same thing? Sure. These days, authors and illustrators reach readers directly via their blogs, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels. Even if your blog is attracting the kind of people who would buy your picture book, you still have a potential customer base.

You want to begin establishing yourself as a professional author or illustrator. Waiting for an agent or editor to say yes can take months or years of submissions. Getting two or three picture ebooks out now means you’re working on creating a name for yourself and building a platform. If you do these books well, and market them smartly, you can build a reputation that can lead to more opportunities and possibly traditional book deals.

You have taken the time to study your craft. The quality of your work will be compared to those authors and illustrators who appear on the bestseller lists, so it must stand up to the scrutiny. Take classes in picture book writing and design, attend workshops, join a critique group, hire a professional editor. You want, and need, for your book to garner five-star reviews on Amazon, and not just from your mother. 

Why Your Book Might Not Make It

Your book has been rejected 25 times and you’re tired of submitting. Self-publishing won’t fix the flaws in a manuscript that had received nothing but form rejections from editors. Nor will it camouflage an ill-conceived story or writing that doesn’t appeal to the intended audience. You first need to figure out why the manuscript was rejected, and fix the problem.

You don’t have a solid marketing strategy. Complain all you want, but there is no way around it—if you want to sell books, you’ve got to market. And this goes for authors who are traditionally published as well. Don’t expect to post a link to your book on all your friends’ Facebook pages and call it a day.

You lack quality illustrations. This is crucial if you want your picture ebook to attract an audience. Remember that your first sales tool is your cover, and your second sales tool will be the first two pages of your book if you have Amazon’s Look Inside feature. If your illustrations look amateurish, the overall impression you’re giving potential customers is that this is not a professional product.

If you’re not an illustrator yourself, get the best illustrations you can afford. Start by checking the rates of some experienced illustrators. You can search the Illustrator Gallery of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, or find freelance illustrators at sites like elance.com.

If you decide to design your own illustrations, it’s wise to take a graphic design class so you learn the basics of font choices, image placement, and how things fit together best on a small screen. And speaking of the smaller screen, remember that the images should be clear and without too many tiny details so they can be easily viewed on a Kindle or iPad.

At the very least, the biggest hurdle toward successfully self-publishing picture ebooks doesn’t need to be the technology. Trust me, the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software is easy to use. Hundreds of authors and illustrators have already taken advantage of this opportunity, and are selling their books on Amazon—and they’re not all young upstarts who could use an app before they were potty trained!

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Laura Backes

For 25 years, Laura Backes has published Children’s Book Insider, The Children’s Writing Monthly. She is the co-creator of Picture eBook Mastery, an online course on how to use the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software to produce, upload and market picture ebooks on Amazon. To get her free, four-part mini video course, “Yes, You Can Publish a Kindle Picture eBook!” go to www.pictureebookmastery.com/yesyoucan. Laura can be reached through writeforkids.org.

THE EXERCISES

Writing Exercises Scientifically Proven To Redirect Your Life

Need to find a new direction or reclaim inspiration? Grab a pen and paper. These writing exercises can help.

We’re total suckers for self improvement: The self-help industry brings in billions of dollars each year from countless books. All that encouraging advice can feel empowering and commonsensical, offering a simple path to a better life.

But there’s a problem with this approach. “Reading a self-help book is like buying a lottery ticket,” writes social psychologist Timothy Wilson in his newest book Redirect. “For a small investment, we get hope in return; the dream that all our problems will soon be solved without any real expectation that they will be.”

While the power of positive thinking—the seeming bread and butter of self-help as we know it—is a nice thought, according to Wilson, there’s no evidence that simply thinking positively actually works. We can’t just will ourselves to be happier a-la The Secret. “Our minds aren’t that stupid,” says Wilson. “It’s not like you can just tell you mind, ‘Think positively.’ You’ve got to nudge it a little more along.”

In Redirect, Wilson offers an alternative he calls “story editing,” based on the research of social scientists over the years. This approach operates off the premise that we each have a core narrative or story that we tell ourselves about who we are and what the world around us is like. It’s a story that influences our choices and way of experiencing the world. But it’s also one we play a major role in shaping for ourselves.

Using specific writing exercises, according to Wilson, we can begin to shift that story and redirect our way of thinking. “Writing is an act of creation. You are creating as you go,” he says. “That’s what can make this personally so helpful.”

Write through a challenging problem

We can never simply write painful or difficult events out of our lives, but we can make them far more graspable and change our relationship to them, according to research by psychologist James Pennebaker. Over the years, Pennebaker has developed an approach he calls “Writing To Heal,” that uses writing exercises as a way to help people deal with difficult events their lives.

To try the Pennebaker writing exercise, think of an event or worry that’s been most on your mind recently. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the day to write about that specific problem. Do this for four days in a row, setting aside at least 15 minutes at the end of each day to record your thoughts. As you write, don’t pause or second-guess yourself—just write without stopping.

Through his research over the years, Pennebaker found that this simple four-day exercise helped improve people’s health, and well-being in various studies. “It’s how we deal with setbacks that’s so important,” says Wilson, who has worked with Pennebaker over the years. While the writing exercise can be difficult at first, people tend to gain clarity as they continue doing it. “Often what they first write is jumbled and unorganized,” says Wilson. But eventually “they view what happened to them in a way that makes more sense.”

Distance yourself from negative experiences

Research has also shown that having some distance from a difficult event allows us to step back and better understand it. There’s a writing exercise Wilson calls the “step-back-and-ask-why” approach that allows us to create this distance and understanding in order to reframe negative events.

To do this exercise, close your eyes and bring yourself back to a specific moment or event that was upsetting to you. Then, in your mind, try to take a few steps back from yourself in the moment so that you can see the story unfolding as if it was happening to a distant version of yourself. Write about what that distant version of yourself is thinking and feeling. One way to do this effectively, suggests Wilson, is to write in the third person, rather than the first person, which automatically builds some seperation between you and the moment you’re writing about.

Don’t simply rehash a play-by-play of what happened; instead, try to explain why it happened. “Don’t recount the event,” Wilson writes. “Take a step back and reconstrue and explain it.”

Determine what your best possible self looks like

There’s a reason Saturday Night Live‘s “Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley” was such a hit in the ’90s. That focus on self-affirming mantras is practically begging to be made fun of, yet even today, you’ll find that same advice given in total earnest.

But as Wilson points out in his book, rather than telling yourself you’re doing the best you can and are the best you can be—a pretty text-book self-help mantra—try actually imagining what the best version of yourself might look like in the future and what you need to do to achieve those goals.

He calls this writing prompt the “Best Possible Selves Exercise.” Like the Pennebaker prompt, take 15 to 20 minutes a night for four nights in a row to do this exercise. Imagine your life in the future as if you’ve achieved all your life goals. Write not just what those life goals are, but also how you will be able to achieve them. “Focus on the process of achieving an outcome rather than the outcome itself,” says Wilson.

Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong

Gratitude journals are another self-help go-to, but research has shown they can actually have the reverse effect of making you feel less happy. There’s a pleasure to uncertainty—not being able to pin down the specific details of an event were was pleasing.

While reducing our uncertainty about negative events can help us bounce back from them more quickly, reducing uncertainty about positive events can take some of the pleasure out of them. Wilson calls this a pleasure paradox: “People want to understand the good things in life so that they can experience them again, but by doing so they reduce the pleasure they get from those events,” he writes.

For example, research has shown that asking people in a relationship to tell the story of how they met their partner doesn’t make them particularly happier. But ask those same people to write about the many ways in which they might not have met their partner or their relationship might not have worked out and they get much more pleasure out of the exercise. “People don’t like to do that, but when they do, it makes the relationship look special again, at least for a little while,” he says.

This translates well into a writing exercise Wilson calls the “George Bailey Technique” named after the protagonist in It’s A Wonderful Life. For this exercise, think of one of the most important or special events, relationships or accomplishments in your life. Then imagine all the ways in which it might not have happened. Doing this can introduce mystery and excitement back into the experience again.

Maintain a sense of purpose

These last two exercises aren’t so much writing prompts, as they are calls to action. In their studies of what make people feel happiest and most fulfilled, social scientists have found that having a clear sense of purpose is critical. This means reminding yourself of what your most important goals in life are and finding ways to move forward on those goals, says Wilson.

He identifies three ingredients to well-being: hope, meaning, and purpose. Writing exercises that help reframe the way you feel about negative events in the past can help create a sense of hope and meaning, but it’s also important to maintain goals that provide a sense of purpose in your life. “We all have some choice over what we want to pursue and those of us who are really lucky can get paid to do it, but plenty of people find other ways,” says Wilson.

Do some good in the world

Research has shown that it’s not simply having a sense of purpose that contributes to our well-being, but that those who help others are actually happier than those who don’t. These people have a greater likelihood of forming bonds with others and having a positive image of themselves.

“If you want to have a positive outlook and feel like a good person, go out and be a good person,” says Wilson. “The mind is a very good observer of ourselves.”

BABA YAGA STANZAS

Some of the experimental stanzas for my song Baba Yaga on my new album Locus Eater.

…Bind me in a chain of gold
With silver teeth to chew your babes
Fires, wolves, and howling ghosts
I bred (or bled) the Witches Crone and Queen
Baba Yaga, yarn and thatch
A trap of thorns, a bowl of blood
Baba Yaga, dark and dread
I’ll stitch (or break) your bones inside my hutch…

BABA YAGA and THE CAVE OF THE UNKNOWN PROPHET

Well, I got registered with FAWM (which I only became aware of on Monday) and started work on my first two songs: Baba Yaga, and The Cave of the Unknown Prophet.

It’s not really so much of a songwriting contest as a songwriting/album creation version of NaNoWriMo.

Both songs will be for my new album Locus Eater.

PLATFORMING

Author Platforms 201 – Part Two – Consistency

Starting last Tuesday and continuing today and next week I will be exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one.  At the conclusion of this series of blog posts, The Steve Laube Agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.

__________

Last week, I talked a little about the need to develop a “message platform”, which must be in place before you get a website, Facebook page or start any social media effort.

Today I am still not going to talk at all about how to use Twitter or Instagram or any specific social media. Media is the vehicle to communicate. Maybe at one time “the media is the message”, but in the 21st century, with ubiquitous media, “the message is the message” and that is where it belongs.

Today we will continue to explore how to determine what your message platform is and what you need to begin implementing it.

Most people have heard the term “branding” or “brand management” as it relates to consumer products like breakfast cereal and cars. Simply defined (so even I can understand it), effective branding limits creative expression within certain boundaries. If you are a label designer for Campbell’s Soup, there is a template you use to maintain the Campbell’s brand so anyone can recognize a product at a glance.  An artist who desires to express herself creatively would view that job as a start, but probably not last long in that highly controlled environment.

Authors are brands as well. When anyone, from an agent to a reader looks at an author some immediate thoughts will come to mind, whether positive, negative, clear or confusing. Of course, you desire to project a positive and clear image, but often times, the way we operate is contrary to that.

I am not talking hypocrisy or sinful behaviors or walking the talk. I am referring to having a consistent message, delivered creatively, one that attracts readers and followers and meets the expectations they have for you.

Toe-stepping alert#1: Many less-than-interesting messages from authors have been posted in various media because “I need to post something today, but I can’t think of anything right now.” Until you become truly a rock star and people really want to know what kind of shampoo you use, don’t lose focus and talk about things that lack connection to your message. (Unless your message platform is about hair care, then shampoo is fine)

Whether you recognize it or not, you have a theme to what you write.

  • A novelist might have an approach that shows how characters can learn from mistakes.
  • A non-fiction author might use extensive research to undergird whatever they write and is known for attention to detail.
  • Another novelist shows how people go about their lives unaware of the spiritual world in the background.
  • A writer of Bible reference works desires to make the Bible understandable to everyone.
  • A writer of children’s books might want parents and children to interact about important things.

None of the above are necessarily the topic of a book…they are an author’s approach to their writing. That is their message platform, which is the first step for developing the author platform we hear so much about.

Toe-stepping alert #2: Most authors have no idea what their message platform is until someone else tells them.  If you try to figure it out yourself, you are engaging in a form of self-deception. We never see ourselves as others see us. Ask someone who will be honest. Don’t ask close friends or family. They will be nice and usually agree with whatever you say.  “Of course, you are smartest person in the world”. Thanks mom.

Bloggers, columnists, talk-show hosts, comedians, teachers, pastors and others who are responsible to deliver regular presentations make it a habit to always be on the lookout for illustrations and content. In many cases, they carry a small notebook with them everywhere they go, ready to capture a thought. Of course, these days, a number of people use a notes app or voice memo function on a smart phone. Use whatever you want, but do it.

Eyes and ears open, antennae up.

Look for stories to support your message platform everywhere. Let’s say your message platform is to highlight the good things people do for one another every day. That’s an easy one. You look for people doing things for one another.

Toe-stepping alert #3: If you don’t write or record the idea immediately, you will forget it. I don’t care how smart you are or how much you can memorize, the first time your phone rings you’ll forget what you were thinking about and the thought will be gone like a coin dropped on the couch.

Suppose your core message is harder to define. This is where asking multiple people is extremely important. Tell people to be straight with you. Anything else will not be helpful or at best, will send you off on a rabbit trail.

Finally, the framework for all message platforms is a commonly used item. A calendar. There are dates that mean something, like MLK Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, your grandmother’s 100th birthday, the anniversary of the day you got your driver’s license, etc.

By mapping out your message framework with a calendar, you will have a much easier time acquiring a specific message than if you try to figure out something without it. An idea from this afternoon might be great for next Spring or two years from now.

Toe-stepping alert#4: If you do not consistently plan your platform messages, then you will have regular moments of brain-freeze and you will shelve your carefully crafted platform for something less-than-important. The more you waste the time of your devoted followers who expect something from your core message platform, the less devoted they will become. (Unless you are super-famous, then we want to know what flavor of hummus you like best)

Next week, I’ll close this series of blog posts with a specific approach you can view the way you conduct your author marketing.

But if I forget what to write, anyone want to know how I feel about buying food from vending machines at rest stops along interstate highways?

Author Platforms – Part One

– See more at: http://www.stevelaube.com/author-platforms-201-part-two-consistency/#sthash.w12ysvl6.dpuf

CREATIVE WORK RELEASE

I almost never face Writer’s Block. I almost always have the opposite problem, too many ideas to pursue at once.

But for those who do have Writer’s Block problems then maybe this will help.

How to Work Through Difficulty: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

by

“When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

In addition to having authored my all-time favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll was a man of extraordinary and frequently prescient wisdom on matters of everyday life — his nine commandments of letter-writing offer timely insight into how we can make modern digital communication more civil, and his four rules for digesting information are a saving grace for our age of information overload. In The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (public library; free download), this blend of timelessness and timelines so characteristic of Carroll’s thinking comes vibrantly ablaze, but nowhere more so than in an 1885 letter to one of his child-friends, a young lady named Edith Rix.

Carroll addresses the age-old question of how to overcome creative block. More than a century before psychologists identified the essential role of taking breaks in any intense creative endeavor, and long before our earliest formal theories about the stages of the creative process, Carroll offers spectacularly prescient counsel on how to work through creative difficulty and seemingly unsolvable problems — a testament to the fact that in the study of creativity, psychology often simply names and formalizes the intuitive insights artists have had for centuries, if not millennia.

Carroll offers young Edith three tips:

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand. When I was reading Mathematics for University honors, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.

His second tip is particularly noteworthy for the way it compares and contrasts Carroll’s two domains of genius, writing and mathematics — for, lest we forget, behind the pen name Lewis Carroll always remained the brilliant mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson. He writes:

My second hint shall be — Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence — don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.

In a way, this dichotomy also illuminates the difference between reading and writing. Writing is almost mathematical, in the sense that it requires a clarity of logic in order for the writer to carry the plot forward. A reader may be able to read over a muddled sentence and still follow the plot — but only if that sentence was unmuddled for the writer in carrying the plot forward. In that sense, while Carroll’s advice to Edith considers her experience as a reader, his advice to a writer regarding creative block would be more closely aligned with the mathematician’s experience — if a writer were to skip over a difficulty in the construction of a story, which is essentially a logical difficulty, it too “is sure to crop up again.”

Illustration by Tove Jansson for ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.

Carroll’s third tip is at once remarkably simple and remarkably challenging to apply for anyone who has ever tussled with the mentally draining but spiritually sticky process of creative problem-solving:

My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest, or your penalty will be that you will never learn Mathematics at all!

The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll is a wonderful read in its entirety, full of the beloved author’s thoughts on happiness, morality, religion, identity, and much more. Complement it with the best illustrations from 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, then fortify this particular bit with the psychology of the perfect writing routine and more ideas on overcoming creative block from Brian Eno, Carole King, and some of today’s most exciting creators.

THE DAUFIN AND THE EGG?

In my Other World novels the Sidhs use a code word (or the Samarl and his allies do in any case) to describe a being they believe to have existed for a very long period of time using a most unusual method of life extension. (Or possibly it periodically dies and is reborn again.) The Samarl and his allies believe this being to be evil and an enemy.

The word used to describe this being among themselves (so no one else will understand who they are really talking about) is Daufin. The Daufin is typically also identified or represented by a code symbol, as well as a drawing of a mythical beast (which actually exists and is controlled by the code-named Daufin, though few believe it actually exists anymore), and by a code phrase.

The term Daufin is not to be confused with the French term Dauphin though I readily admit that I took the term directly from the French term. And yes, for those who know me well you must be thinking, “French?” As you know I have little interest in modern things French, but in Ancient things and Medieval things French (the Franks for instance, and Charlemagne, and the ancient Romances, and the Gauls) I have great interest.

And I have great interest in the Dauphin, both the one denoting the Medieval prince and the more ancient term I suspect it is derived from, and what that implied. The Dauphin has always fascinated me though I rarely mention it.

In any case before I insinuate the conspiracy surrounding the Samarl and the Daufin too deeply in my novel I have been trying variants on the term, as I actually very much adore the term Dauphin and think it perfect though being French, even if it is early French, it is not linguistically suited to the Sidhs and the other Eldeven peoples of the novels. With that in mind here are a number of variants upon the term Daufin which I might use. If you have a favorite variant or you wish to suggest one of your own that strikes you as particularly pleasing then please leave a comment and let me know. If you want to explain why I’ll be happy to know that as well.

Variants on the term Daufin/Dauphin:

Daughfin

Dolfign/Dalfign

Dalphin

Dahlfin

Dalphang

Dolfang

Daufang (this sounds a bit too Oreintal to me, but given the origins of the Daufin it might serve well)

 

Below is the code phrase (in verse) used to describe the Daufin, and it seems a sort of song, and it is, but it is also a set of codes by which the speaker identifies what he knows about the Daufin. As more is learned more verses are added. It is obviously translated into English from the original Eldeven:

“Arose the Daufin from the seas, as deep and dark as Tântalos
Whose ruin ran the riven world three times round the sunken hosts,
What is this thing, whence did it rise, who sired it or set it loose?
How many times to be reborn, how many mortals yet seduce?
A secret thing crawls in the Egg, the Sun has never seen its face  
When will it hatch next in the world, all other things to then erase?”   

 

The seeming symbol for the Daufin is a mythical beast,  but the symbol for the real Daufin is of a multi-headed sea-serpent hatching from a giant egg along the flooded beach of a sinking island.

 

WATCH AND SEE

These are the lyrics to a new Blues song I wrote this past weekend. Actually I wrote this song, and two new poems (When Night is No More, and First the Enemy, Then The Fool) on the same day, but I only finished the song that day. The poems I didn’t finish until Sunday night.

Then last night I rewrote and edited the song and put it into its final form. I’m really pleased with the way it turned out.

WATCH AND SEE

Well you ain’t got nothin in you
And you ain’t left nothin out
I’m telling you now baby
Even if you scream and shout
That I won’t just come a runnin
Cause you make a fuss
You don’t do nothin baby
But a’ mess around with us

So throw your temper tantrums
Or curse us both by name
Don’t make no difference to me
It all comes out the same

But if you want me round ya
Then you better tighten up
I’m telling you now baby
Your time with me is up

Well you play the fool in public
You act the witch at home
You feed me all your poison
Then you won’t leave me alone
You ask me where I’m going
When I try to get away
I’ll tell ya, “not your business
Just sit right there and stay!”

You tell me that you’re coming
But I tell you not with me
I’mma headed somewhere diff’rent
Ain’t you smart enough to see?

Cause if you stay around me
Then you better loosen up
I’m telling you now baby
That your time is almost up

Yeah, you tell me that you’re coming
But I tell ya not with me
I’mma heading somewhere diff’rent
That’s the way it’s gonna be!
Yeah I’m heading somewhere diff’rent woman
Just you watch and see…

IF CHRIST PREVAILED (Merry Christmas)

IF CHRIST PREVAILED

(My Wyrdwend Christmas Card, 2014)

If Christ prevailed men would not cower
If Christ prevailed God’s Holy Tower would
Stand a rampart in this world that none could
Raze nor hope to break, nor should
His Kingdom ever quake for fear of being over-run

If Christ prevailed men would fear not Death
If Christ prevailed men would not fear to truly Live
If Christ prevailed there would be no tribes
At endless war, no pointless hate consuming every shore
With riot, hatred, fire, and fury circumscribed

If Christ prevailed “Repent!” on every tongue and wrong
Would be avoided, not relived eternal in profitless cycles
Of sorrowful sin, evils would be un-grown and long buried
Not watered with grasping human grievance, a song of
Festering harm sung to our children like Grimmaged fairy tales

If Christ prevailed all men would as brothers walk long
Beside another, traveling from place to place in happy peace
While laughing of marvelous discoveries made and deeds
Redeemed in better fortune than they had first imagined
When humbly in their abandoned pride they were again Reborn

If Christ prevailed then Justice would rule this Earth
Not vengeance, not crucifying and murderous retribution,
If Christ prevailed then innocents would not lie dead
In pools of blood or lay breathless and abandoned
In favor of our own prideful assumptions about the Truth

If Christ prevailed all men with Mercy would extend themselves
To rework wrong into a better thing, a home fit for
Good and Godly conduct, Law would be Great and not merely law
No man would flee responsibility, Duty would reign, and
Sacrifice would paint and decorate our halls with Holy Acts

If Christ prevailed we would need no government of man
For God would live within, and Man Himself, once so ennobled
Could neither bow nor sit for any other king, and all
Other governance would seem a dream of despair long deserted
In the desperate nightmare of an unreal and wasted world

If Christ prevailed then such a Kingdom as the world has never
Known would be everywhere apparent, its Frontiers swollen
With ceaseless growth, no enemy would want to stand against it,
Old foes would be absorbed and made equals, no Jew, no Greek,
No Gentile would be alien or stranger in that Better Land

If Christ prevailed all men would be equals, anxious
To outdo the other in holiness and good, competitive in our
Desires to be more like God, not less of honor and of grace,
Our Feats would be of Saintly Salt, Virtues would accrue, and
Our Peeraged Manhood we would hold a Holy Thing from God

But Christ does not prevail

For we are sorely and surely most ourselves, self-absorbed,
Split into endless, bickering tribes, minted into our
Mindless classes, divided in our sickened hearts, soulless
In our lack of faith, impotent in our works, spiritless and
Dead within ourselves – we guard nothing, build nothing,
Claim nothing, oppose nothing, promote nothing, become nothing

For deep inside we are afraid, and we are small and we are
No men to build Mighty Kingdoms of, and so

Christ does not prevail, for we are cowards all by choice,

and so instead we prevail unto our doom.

MERRY CHRISTMAS ONE AND ALL
MAY YOU HAVE THE WORLD YOU MOST DESIRE…
THE YEAR OF OUR LORD, 2014

FRUIT OF THE BERRY

To a large degree I agree with the man.

Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair Are the Two Great Enemies of Creative Work

by

“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.”

“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary. Few writers have come to write about it — and to it — more directly than the novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who describes himself as “a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts.” In his wonderful and wonderfully titled essay collection What Are People For? (public library), Berry addresses with great elegance our neophilic tendencies and why innovation for the sake of novelty sells short the true value of creative work.

Novelty-fetishism, Berry suggests, is an act of vanity that serves neither the creator nor those created for:

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.

Wendell Berry (Photograph: Guy Mendes)

Berry paints pride and despair as two sides of the same coin, both equally culpable in poisoning creative work and pushing us toward loneliness rather than toward the shared belonging that true art fosters:

There is the bad work of pride. There is also the bad work of despair — done poorly out of the failure of hope or vision.

Despair is the too-little of responsibility, as pride is the too-much.

The shoddy work of despair, the pointless work of pride, equally betray Creation. They are wastes of life.

For despair there is no forgiveness, and for pride none. Who in loneliness can forgive?

Good work finds the way between pride and despair.

It graces with health. It heals with grace.

It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.

By it, we lose loneliness:

we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us;

we enter the little circle of each other’s arms,

and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance,

and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments.

Illustration by Emily Hughes from ‘Wild,’ one of the best children’s books of the year. Click image for more.

Echoing Thoreau’s ode to the woods and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips’s assertion that cultivating a capacity for “fertile solitude” is essential for creative work, Berry extols the ennobling effects of solitude, the kind gained only by surrendering to nature’s gentle gift for quieting the mind:

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness…

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

The return from such humanizing solitude, Berry cautions, can be disorienting:

From the order of nature we return to the order — and the disorder — of humanity.

From the larger circle we must go back to the smaller, the smaller within the larger and dependent on it.

One enters the larger circle by willingness to be a creature, the smaller by choosing to be a human.

And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.

In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.

Indeed, so deep is our pathology of human striving that even Thoreau, a century and a half ago, memorably despaired: “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” But the value of such recalibration of our connectedness in solitude, Berry suggests, is that it reminds us of the artist’s task, which is to connect us to one another. He returns to the subject of despair and pride, which serve to separate and thus betray the task of art:

The field must remember the forest, the town must remember the field, so that the wheel of life will turn, and the dying be met by the newborn.

[…]

Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?

[…]

But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.

To work at this work alone is to fail. There is no help for it. Loneliness is its failure.

It is despair that sees the work failing in one’s own failure.

This despair is the awkwardest pride of all.

But Berry’s most urgent point has to do with the immense value of “thoroughly conscious ignorance” and of keeping alive the unanswerable questions that make us human:

There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers.

The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.

In ignorance is hope.

Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance the teachers will come to.

They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.

All of the essays in What Are People For? are imbued with precisely this kind of light-giving force. Complement it with Berry on what the poetic form teaches us about the secret of marriage, then revisit Sara Maitland on the art of solitude, one of the year’s best psychology and philosophy books.

KILLING COPPERHEAD

This is a draft copy (an advanced draft, third edit) of part of a short story I wrote to accompany my novels, The Other World.

Stories such as this will not appear in my novels but will appear in a  separate set of short story works to accompany or supplement my novels.

In the story the Knight Garend is summoned to a chieftain of the Laėrehl (Lorahn) to discuss the sudden appearance of a creature we would call a dragon, and that the Laėrehl call Nemaljeyhk, or “Copperhead.”

The Laėrehl have never before encountered such a creature; do not know it, or its motives. But having heard of the Knight and his reputation they summon him in to consult upon the creature, and if need be, make a decision upon what to do.

Following the summons the Knight accompanies his escort to the hall of the Laėrehl.

_____________________________________________________

Skłýda-Nemaljeyhk

“Killing Copperhead”

Garend stood before the Konnacht. The rain was almost blinding; cold, bitter, and sharp. The mounts stamped and snorted. Steam rose into the air and the clouds hung thick upon the ground. Neither moved, but then the Konnacht motioned for the foreign man to mount and follow. And so Garend did.
They rode in silence for some unmeasured distance; time being a different affair in the land where diverse worlds do meet at odds. Garend’s escort sat atop his mount as if he had been carved from stone erect. His mount seemed to trudge with heavy effort, but did not slouch or dip to ground with weight of mud or storm.

Garend, by contrast, a man hardened and yet hale through many long campaigns ‘gainst restless foes did nevertheless sink low in upon his horse’s back, bent against the wind and rain, which sometimes drove in sheets, and sometimes drizzled down like mist falling from a boiling pot. But there was no heat in this storm, only an unremitting wash of toil.

Garend’s steed, too, fought hard to slog forwards on, each hoof deep buried by each new plod. The horse seemed to breathe with effort, snorting out each fresh exhalation as if trying to blow away the suspended vapor that lingered on the path. Yet the rain kept on, and where the overhang of huge trees gave shelter, still the mist hung motionless in the air.

By late afternoon the road seemed to widen, formed more solid, and then did part. In its place they came into a clearing, bordered on every side by thick groves of trees, some beautiful, open, tall, and proud, some smaller, gnarled, and thick with branch. The dell upon which they now traversed did seem worked by art, each grimed plod of the mounts upon the seeping earth seemed to plow up dark and comely soils, black and yet speckled with micaled bits of silver and gold. And atop the soil there sat, as if a taělőynd-bird could perch upon a leaf, a shoot of tall and blue-green grass, which when crushed by stride did give off such a fine and perfumed, pungent smell that the beast seemed newly heartened, even above the cold and rain.

The open land was encircled complete by an almost arcane wood and other wilder growth, and was not wide, easily crossed from end to end. But in the center rose a timbered hall, not long completed, so that one could see the joints and new work outstanding from the new formed frame. It was well made, seemly in her draft, pleasing to the eye, and hardily stout of build. The wood was alternating dark and bright, so that sections seemed to glow, and others seemed to sheen with shadow. To the drowned and heavy eye of the enquested man it seemed both to forbid approach, and to invite advance.

Garend paused his mount, and looked askance to his escort, who dismounted and seemed to peer into the hall as if he could gaze through the walls.

“They wait upon us,” the Konnacht said, his voice bereft of any hint of what that truly meant.
Garend turned to look full upon him, but he did not change his mark or measure, but merely remounted smooth and effortlessly. Then they both moved forwards again until they had come near unto the rain-polished black and argent flagstones that paved the path that led to the hall.

There they both dismounted and walked across the flagstone way that led to the doors of bright and milky wood that barred the entrance to within. Garend made to knock at the threshold, but the Konnacht caught his hand in his own to still him. Instead he took a horn, burnished, and trimmed in ashen silver from an unnoticed chain that hung nearby. He blew a note with lingered measure and the doors swung open, as if by some unseen impulse, and the inward firelight and illumined glow did bathe them both with rain-reflected lustre.

Inside a sort of subtle golden casting made the lambence of the place seem worked all by crafted art that seemed unreal to human eye. The fires did burn natural and appeared hot as if true with twisting flame, but the gleam of the light was suffused like the dreaming illuminations dreamt by the blind. The inner workings were clear, and the fittings all trim, the furnishings bright and the walls shaped and painted like wonders. But wherever the folk of the Konnacht sat or stood their shadows seemed hard, and yet did tremble like enfeebled ghosts. And a sort of pall seemed to grow as Garend espied each new thing which seemed to dampen all the gathered glow as if an unfocused dimness ran among the hall that did not blacken, but did oppress with gloom. Garend could not though see any other darkness, and the open, roomless hall seemed as shadowless as the full summer sun at noon.

The Konnacht walked forwards and the soft light seemed to absorb and diffuse him as he strode. Garend made to match him in stride and yet the glow of the space seemed unaccustomed to his manner, and so did seem to stick to his moon painted skin and sheen him like a foreign sweat. They continued on until they came near the far wall, where on the left side of the tapestry covered hall they approached a large and well-made chair of fire-hardened wood, decorated by subtle craft, covered in glyphs and embellished with delicate wares of gem and jewel.

A chief sat upon the seat, his manner brooding, his face fixed and searching.

“Man among us, do you know why you are here? Are you apprised of the nature of your summons?” asked the chief in his chair.

“I am,” replied Garend, without further remark by word or gesture.

“Will you then what is of you best most required?” And the chieftain did stare, and his eyes were fixed and aglow upon the hosted man.

“I will if I may, if such things lay in my power.”

“Do you doubt your arms?” said the chieftain of his kind in a keen, unbending voice.

“I do not, though I have never tested them against such a foe.”

“Do you doubt your will to do this thing?”

“Nay, I doubt not my will, if by that you mean will I falter at the start.”

The chieftain then sat silent, as if turning in his mind some other inquiry of heart he wished to test. But then his brow did knot with reconsideration, and he pursued a different path.

“What then?”

Garend stood silent, uncertain how to answer him. At length though he made reply.

“I know not. I have never done such a thing. I doubt not my arms, if strength of arms can true prevail. I doubt not my will, for my will never fails once turned with real and constant force upon my end… I… perhaps, I doubt my desire. I cannot say more than this for being inexperienced in such affairs, I can say only, in sooth, I doubt, but not enough to turn away.”

The hall was still, but restless in her shadowless gloom. And the chieftain’s eyes did pale like embers fading at the dawn of day.

“So be it.” Then the one upon the throne rose and made a signal for all of the others to gather firm and the doors of the great hall did close and they all made unfastened feast, as if feasts were made of whispered haunts. But Garend watched them all while they ate at uneasy leisure, and he held his tongue unless spoken to, and they likewise held to their own counsel until such time as it was meet. So they feasted, but there was little merriment, and all was quiet among them til they came to contend.

After all of their folk had feasted seven among them took up their jireans with blood-red strings and did play as was their wont, and the music was high and well-made, and yet somber and adrift. And the most skilled among them took from above one of the great hearth-fires the Yolian Harp and hooked it across his wide but slender shoulders and plucked at the shair strings as if he mourned with his hands some unspoken loss.

Then four of their women-folk, after their kind, made chorus, each voice octaved in turn of lead or lament as accord and concord makes true among them. Their song seemed to linger, and then to torse, and turn, running away from itself, and then rejoining in peculiar ways until Garend realized that subtly, almost without notice, they had blended one with another, so that all made the same music, and it was the song of the “Counselor’s Guest.”

‘Asair befirthun ςëlonquar ja-sholestua yaré
Adair nosayth yá-mairstin kiħl,
Megíra lamaŗnosaratĥ
Keikara cönayronǽ laiskõo tiu-khôona nue guare,
In samask yue lahmyst —
Degoli né mae,
Inė samist jyu jihnask
Degolae nìe sae,
Aplu lee-ëfar
Ŷist fareign a’-soon?
Ja-kamos layr ǽblę
Tyrm nahkü-estūhn?

And Garend thought it strange and foreboding that they made that lay, for he had come to tell them what he feared they were least willing to hear.

Then the chief among them, the one of the chair, stood, and all instruments were retired, and the hall fell silent, and there was no sound, and Garend thought that he alone still breathed.

“My people, we come to you today to hear this stranger’s voice, and give weight to his counsel. For he is familiar, after a fashion, with the nature of our concerns. So is as our custom, we will grant him right to speak both first, and last, and we will give credence to his view upon this matter. No matter what he says.” The people listened to their chief and bowed their heads as one in brief acknowledgement of what he spoke. Then the chief turned and spoke to Garend. “Man among us, you are famous even here as being just, and true, and brave. And if the accounts about you are as honest as your mien then we must measure whatever you say here with some solemnity, even if we do so against our own first intentions and against our own fullest wishes… Speak then. And say all that you will, as freely as you would. I am Tairåyrn, chief in this hall, and great of my Ghan.”

“It does not matter how wise or noble in nature you think him. He is still wild, and untamed in nature. I have encountered his kind before in the swamps of fens of my native homeland. They are bred within themselves to kill, and being as they are they are all the less likely to be as you preconceive them. In my lands they are not at home, but being strangers they wander aimless seeking whom they may devour. But I do not conceive that this beast is native or well-disposed to any land, for I think it rather a thing of probable corruption, that whatever it was before it is now by working of things unknown to me a vast and wholly untamed terror. It is Korreupt, and all korreupt are fiercesome, and full of grief.” Then Garend paused as he spoke as if he wished to gather to himself a hoard of potent words by which to well-adorn his speech and thereby truly express the dour visions in his in-most mind.

“The danger of this beast lies not in his thoughts, but in his heart. For he will grind your bones between his jaws, and he will rend your flesh within the thorny and hot cauldron of his dark mawl. He will drink your life’s blood as water and sup marrow from the barrow of bones he has broken among your people. And then, only then, though you may never chance to utter any voice to the despair of your fate, then in your own consideration of your self will you say, ‘The Man was right, and now I and all my folk am murdered because of the pride of our preconceptions.’” And a murmur of shock and discontent ran through the assembly, for the kin of the Laėrehl only speak with due decorum and in a careful and circumspect manner before strangers in their midst, and they were disturbed that anyone would speak to them with such brutal force, and with such rough and unworked plainness. But still others said to themselves, “Can this be actually true, and does sooth proceed for uncouth tongue?”

Then Wyndfuil stepped forward and spoke clearly and true for all his people to hear, for he was unmoved by Garend’s speech, and sought to turn his people back upon their accustomed way. “I do not countenance you Garend upon this matter. For you are merely a thing of war, a man used to sword and battle and conflict. But this creature is not native to your world, as you yourself have thus admitted. You also speak firmly of the Korreupt. But what can you really know of this matter? They are a thing long studied among us, and we know them and their kind well. We know their ways, and his, better than you and we are untroubled. You are strong in arms and dark of word, but you are no prophet fit to pronounce our doom.” And Wyndfuil smiled as he so spake, as if to emphasize the forthright nature of his words, and the people took new heart in their determined course, reassured that what they planned was sure and true. For Wyndfuil was a hunter without peer, and a mighty runner, swift, yet also far moving, and he feared none might catch him in his haste. Among his people his name had become ripe with fame, and he was known as a leader among his people. So he likewise feared no counsel contrary to his aims, and he was sure his words had run as true as he in flight. And so it seemed indeed to be among them that for a long time silence fell like a grey and troubled shroud within the hall while all who were within did well consider both argued sides in quiet thought.

Then Garend answered Wyndfuil, “A prophet, no, you surely speak a’right. I am not for the future; I am man of this day. Yet Gott in Himmel you foolish folk, I have eyes with which to see the doom that does now slither upon you from the ancient ways and in the form of the new-born thing.

You say I am but ignorant of this beast, and of all the other Korreupt, whom you know well. That you have studied such as these, and being well-pleased in your own knowledge of what you have discovered you are confident in both your own strength and in the preparations you have devised form what you know.

Perhaps in this you speak true enough. I have not long sat to watch these creatures. I have studied or pondered on them long. I do not know their most secret and peculiar habits, in this I fully admit to you that your mastery overtakes my own.

Yet what I know is this. I have seen the sorrow made and disgorged by this kind of thing upon all those whom it will make havoc. I have seen the ravage, the wreck, and the rapine. I have seen many folk all torn and bloodied, animals corpsed, consumed, and drained. Have seen the ruin it tends to visit upon all but the most well-defended of homes. I have seen hunters hunted and soldiers scalded, women crushed and children plundered, their parent’s dead and left for worms. You speak true Wyndfuil; I do not know these great beasts in their inmost hearts. And I do not care. But I know what they do. I have studied the remains of their own surest actions. You will be no different when it turns its eye upon you. It will come, and it will come hard and mighty. It will come as confident in its own nature as you are in yours. And it brings you death in fire and sorrow. So, if you are as wise as reputation makes warrant, then think on these things, for wisdom makes a better weapon against doom than the sharpest of arms.” Then Garend broke off and bowed to the people.

“Nevertheless I have sworn my word. I will do what I can to help you in this quest. And when you are all dead, I will bury your scant remains and weep for your great pride. And then I will take up my spear, and my helm and my sword, and I will hunt, and I will kill the Copperhead, the one you call Nemaljeyhk, or he me, and so in either case our tale will go forever unsung. For if he kill me too, then none will ever know what we did, or what we attempted. And if I kill him at the last then what shall it matter? For you will be utterly gone from this world, and to whom will I sing the dirge of your passing?” All again fell silent and many did lean forwards, it seemed, to see if he might speak again. So he did, but only once more.

“Yet still, you may choose wisdom.”

Then Garend did turn from the people and walked from the hall. Having ended his counsel he dismissed further claims. And the night was black, and the wind did moan. For he knew what they would decide.

LIVING THE BLUES – a song

LIVING THE BLUES

Ain’t got no future
Ain’t got no past
You’re through with me
I’m through with you
Ain’t got no reason
But I got proof
I’m livin the blues
Cause baby, come high or low
I’m livin, oh must be dying
Living with you
But,
Still, ain’t got no future
Ain’t got no past
Done thought about it
Can’t make it last
Now, ain’t that a shame
Don’t know what to make
Of this…
This mess o’ ours
Now, this ain’t good
This sho ain’t right
But I ain’t gonna fight
No mo about it
Cause baby, I’m living the blues
You know it’s true
Now woman
You bringin the blues
Ain’t got no reason
But I got proof
Don’t matter the season
Cause you tha proof
I’m living the blues
Woman, don’t you know
I’m livin, ought not be trying
To live with you…

Living Proof (by Buddy Guy) inspired me to write a new Blues Song of my own, Living the Blues (even though they’re on completely different subjects), which I did while I waited on the girls. Or I wrote 90% of it anyway. I’m going to edit, rewrite, and finish it today. Everyone who has read it so far really seems to like it.

Over the weekend after listening to the whole Guy CD I also began to write four inter-related songs which I call the “Bad Road” songs. I was going to call the first song, Hot Sun on a Bad Road. But then as I started writing lyrics I got the idea for a set of four related “bad road” songs, each dealing with a different point on the compass. All will deal with a similar theme, a bad woman who leads a man in the wrong direction.

So now I intend to call the songs: Bad Road Down South, Cold Road North, East Road to Nowhere, and Hard Road West.

The South song will be about a Black woman, the North song about a blue-eyed blonde, the East road about a green-eyed brunette (jet black hair, a Witchy woman) or possibly a red-head, and the West road about (possibly) an Hispanic woman, though I’m still thinking on that one.

I’ve got about two thirds of Bad Road Down South written, and sketch notes for the other songs already developed.

11 STEP GUIDE TO SCENE/SCREEN WRITING

11 STEP GUIDE TO SCENE/SCREEN WRITING

This is not my Tool, I did not write or create it. Nevertheless I think it is a very useful tool, and one worth using.

NOT THE WAY

Friday, December 12, 2014

How NOT to Query an Agent

Working for a literary agent, definitely has its moments of hilarity. My most recent reason to LOL? I was pitched to.

Yes. Me. The administrative assistant. And here is the crazy part: I was pitched a manuscript to an email address that really isn’t really common knowledge. And on top of that: I don’t get the query emails. That goes to a completely different person.

So why did it come to me, you ask?

I have no idea. Which prompted this post: how NOT to query a literary agent. Sharpen your pencils; get out your note pads, this is going to be riveting (and maybe save you the embarrassment of making easy, amateur mistakes)

  • You hear it everywhere. You’re about to hear it here too: READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ON OUR WEBSITE. Yes, I just used about every function on the Word program to emphasize that statement. Seriously, all your problems will be solved if you take a few minutes to get these few facts straight. When you do, you’re a sight for sore eyes for those of us who get the queries (or shouldn’t get the queries as the case may be…)
  • Don’t put your entire chapter outline/back cover copy/reasons why you wrote this story in the query letter. Take an hour (or two) and Google query letters. Figure out how to write a good one. Have a critique partner give it a once-over (at the least). This is your first impression. It needs to be a good—GREAT—one.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you are going to be “the next NYT bestseller” or “Nicolas Sparks” or “Janet Oke”. Yes, these things just came through in a query letter that landed in my inbox. And if you are going to claim to be the next hot name, please be sure to at least spell it right.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you need them to publish their book. Um, excuse me, but duh. Be humble when you approach an agent. They have a ton on their plate. Usually many, many authors that they are managing their books and careers. To take the time to read your next best synopsis is a chunk of time out of their day. Realize that it’s not all about your needs and frame the tone of your query accordingly.
  • Don’t give your life story. The reason why you wrote the book. The story behind the story. Nothing. Don’t go there. Stay away. The agent doesn’t care. Now, if he/she picks up the book, reads it, signs you to their agency and you become friends, well, then yes, you probably will tell them the why behind the book. But right now you’re not BFFs, you’re strangers. You wouldn’t walk up to a handsome stranger-dude at a cocktail party, stick out your hand and tell him all about your dog dying when you were four, right away would you? Of course not. Don’t do that to the agent you are querying either.

Yes, that’s a lot of don’ts. Believe it or not, these all came out of a query letter I should have never gotten this week. So: read the guidelines. Write a pithy, word-catchy query. Have a great product to share with the agent. Be humble. Be patient. Email the right person and you won’t become an illustration on some agent’s blog anytime in the near future. 😉

HARD LOVE (a song)

Woman you got hard love
The kind that cuts and bleeds
Woman you got hard love
The kind I’m gonna need
Woman you got hard love
Make it sting and burn
Woman you got hard love
Make me twist and turn

Woman want your love
Woman want it now
Woman you ain’t near as tough
As you pretend no how,
Yes you’re mean and angry
But you’re lonely too
I’m the man with love so strong
I’ll fix what’s wrong with you

Woman I got hard love
Love so hard it breaks
Whatever’s down inside of you
Let’s see what you can take
Woman I got hard love
You ain’t seen nothing yet
I’ll get so deep inside of you
Be begging me to quit…

READING SIGNS

A sky like freshly melted lead and I am re-membered of that age so long ago when men stood atop the crops of living stone that grew like towers from the Earth, and carrion fowl

circled the sky searching for the dead.

The green of cyprus tall and dark, the hidden grasses bent beneath the menhired burden of a vanished race that raced the sun of every season to see who could catch the summer first.

Winters come, and yet is past, and still the grey and shadowed corners linger along the Elder Trails were men no longer read the signs

and the signs no longer signify.

A scarecrow raised like Rome’s own crucified to draw the ravens to his eye, so plucked away it cannot see any sight again but prophecy.

Still not enough is known to unknow anything. Worth unknowing.

Another bird, a hunting hawk, wending north of winter’s range will read no time until he marks the movement of a preying heart, and then picking from the scampering fields the blood and bones that once were knit, unmakes them for another day.

The bear scats, the fox turns, wolves howl, mountains rise, seas dry, roots rot, bones break, stones crack, echoes abound, vines creep, roads Wyrd, trails fade, streams cut, wounds bleed, words falter, men forget…

The signs are there, for all to read.

Most will not.

                  Surely,

Most will not.

THESAURUS

http://tomeandtomb.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/product-review-the-storytellers-thesaurus-fantasy-history-horror/

CLOSE TO HUMAN

The Art of Close Writing

By posted at 6:00 am on August 5, 2014 10

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coverJonathan Russell Clark sits at his desk, writing an essay about free indirect discourse. Surrounding him are books by authors who employ the technique with considerable skill: Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Dixon, and Joshua Ferris. He recalls a time when he did not even know what free indirect discourse was, and a time, later, when he knew the term but viewed it more as a descriptor than a crucial component. He remembers how his relationship to the term evolved over the years: his initial distrust of it, as many of his favorite writers cavalierly disregarded the tactic; his frustration with its limitations: how would he communicate the thoughts of other characters if he couldn’t leave the brain of the protagonist?; his eventual understanding of its importance while reading James Wood’s illuminating (though much debated) book How Fiction Works, in which he refers to it as “close writing”; and then, finally, his acceptance and full embrace of the method. Though he still admired novelists who could successfully avoid using free indirect discourse, he knew he would never break from it himself. It was just too liberating, the way close writing allowed his sentences to spill out of him, effortlessly, like thoughts, rapid and rabid and rampant, just spit out onto the page––it was so easy, or, well, easier, because it’s not as if he’s without problems, creatively speaking, oh he has problems, like how is he supposed to know which thoughts are important and which simply aren’t? and why is he unable to write economically, why are his pieces always longer than they need to be?––but yeah anyway, he now loved close writing because it made writing fun.

To be clear: close writing is not vital to all fiction. In fact, it doesn’t even speak to most fiction. For instance, first-person narrations cannot use free indirect discourse. When a character is speaking directly to a reader, the aim of close writing is already happening; no technique required. Also, novels and stories that feature an omniscient narrator are similarly excluded––all-knowing narrators simply tell us information. The skill required to pull off such a voice is its own subject. No, close writing only relates to third-person limited narrations, and, even more specifically, ones with an active interest in the inner lives of the characters. Not all fiction cares about that.

Here’s how James Wood explains close writing:

So-called omniscience is almost impossible. As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking. A novelist’s omniscience soon enough becomes a kind of secret sharing.

And later:

Note the gain in flexibility. The narrative seems to float away from the novelist and take on the properties of the character, who now seems to “own” the words.

Without being able to articulate it, free indirect discourse appealed to Clark greatly. Novels that used the style effectively gave him a giddy sensation, the prose seeming to not have been written but transcribed from a person’s mind but filtered through the ostensibly distancing third-person point-of-view, and though he didn’t know it, he came to depend on such techniques to let him “settle” into a character. Even more striking, when he read a piece of fiction (especially in a workshop environment) that failed to use close writing and didn’t effectively employ another style, something irked him as his eyes moved over the words. He was made uncomfortable by these stories, but he didn’t know why. What the hell was it?

When he finally learned the term––in a college course, he thinks––he started to understand what it was that had been bothering him. Once he read How Fiction Works, he knew with satisfying finality. Free indirect discourse. Close writing. Thankfully the grey cloud hovering over his frustration had a name. Nameless things give aimless dreams.

coverHow important is free indirect discourse? In the history of the novel, it’s extremely important. Clark at first didn’t even realize that the technique had to be developed at all, but in fact it was an astonishing feat. According to Michael Schmidt’s monumental and astounding work of scholarship and criticism, The Novel: A Biography (a book so big and important it merits its own essay, which is forthcoming), early iterations of the novel concerned themselves less with verisimilitude than outright deceit. When Daniel Defoe composed Robinson Crusoe (or, to use its full title––no joke––The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein All the Men Perished but Himself. with an Account of How He Was at Last as Strangely Deliver’d by Pirates), “he believed he had to honor readers’ expectations of a true and edifying story. An untrue story had to seem true.” The nuanced psychology of the characters was irrelevant to the task of moral tutelage. But the method of mimicking eventually morphed into the representation of human thought.

covercoverGenerally, the development of close writing into its modern form is attributed to Gustave Flaubert in novels like A Sentimental Education, but the early traces of “inner monologue” are as subtle and elusive as the technique itself. Gabriel García Márquez “detects the original use of ‘interior monologue’” as far back as Lazarillo de Tormes, a picaresque work from 1554. James Wood points out an example in Pope’s mock-epic The Rape of the Lock from 1712. Jane Austen, who died four years before Flaubert was born, occasionally abandoned her lofty point-of-view in order to take the reader into the character’s mind, if only briefly, as in this passage from Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed being engaged by Wickham for those very dances:––and to have Mr. Collins instead!––her liveliness had been never worse timed. There was no help for it however. Mr. Wickham’s happiness and her own was per force delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins’s proposal accepted with as good a  grace as she could. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry, from the idea it suggested of something more.––It now struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.

Austen’s tactics are very subtle––the exclamation point punctuating the shock over Mr. Collins, the italicized she, and the sound of contemplative flow in “There was no help for it however”––but those little moments of language all belong to Elizabeth, not Austen. It is Elizabeth who can’t believe she has Mr. Collins instead; it is Elizabeth who can’t believe that she was selected from among her sisters, and it is Elizabeth who doesn’t think there was any help for it however. A reader may not be able to articulate with precision the, as Wood describes it, “marvelous alchemical transfer” that just took place, but they’ll feel it. They’ll understand Elizabeth a little bit more.

Flaubert took it a bit further. He organized his entire style around close writing. In A Sentimental Education, the prose moves into the protagonist Frédéric’s mind without any explicit hint at the shift. Here is Frédéric’s first seeing Mme Arnoux, the older woman with whom he falls in love with:

Never before had he seen more lustrous dark skin, a more seductive figure, or more delicately shaped fingers than those through which the sunlight gleamed. He stared with amazement at her work-basket, as if it were something extraordinary. What was her name, her place of residence, her life, her past?

Those last questions are Frédéric’s, as if transcribed verbatim from his thoughts. But where did that shift happen? There was no, “He thought…” Instead, the language slips first into the character’s vernacular––the words “lustrous,” “seductive,” and “delicately” are all Frédéric’s––and then into his mind. It’s quite a nifty trick. “Thanks to free indirect style,” James Wood writes, “we see things through the character’s eyes and language but also through the author’s eyes and language. We inhabit omniscience and partiality at once.”

If this all seems very basic to you, consider that there was a time when close writing simply didn’t exist. Additionally, though readers and writers often implicitly understand these ideas, sometimes the act of naming something and recognizing its traits leads to understanding. Like David Foster Wallace’s fish parable, sometimes you have to say: This is water.

coverMoreover, once the modernists enter the picture, close writing is taken to new depths: the inner thoughts of characters become just as important––or more important––than the plot. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce went so far as to construct novels that took place in a single day, Mrs. Dalloway and Ulysses, meaning the reader spends most of the narrative inside a mind as it thinks. Joyce loved to catalogue very ordinary thoughts, and through Leopold Bloom he mastered close writing like nobody before him. Here is Bloom just after he is first introduced, as he prepares breakfast for Molly:

Another slice of bread and butter: three, four: right. She didn’t like her plate full. Right. He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out. Cup of tea soon. Good. Mouth dry.

Listen to the fragmentary nature of Bloom’s thoughts as they mingle with action. Taking Flaubert’s technique even further, Joyce gives us full access to Bloom’s mind with almost no indication he’s doing so. His thoughts aren’t profound––they’re quotidian, mundane, banal. Clark’s favorite moment comes when Bloom is unable to recall someone’s name:

Stream of life. What was the name of that priestylooking chap was always squinting in when he passed? Weak eyes, woman. Stopped in Citron’s saint Kevin’s parade. Pen something. Pendennis?

Who hasn’t had a similar moment, a name stuck on the tip of the tongue? Then, a full 25 pages later (in the 1922 text, that is), as Bloom assists a blind man across the street, and whose face strikes him “like a fellow going in to be a priest,” it suddenly hits him: “Penrose! That was the chap’s name.” The image of a priest brings to mind the “priestylooking chap” whose name he couldn’t recall earlier and he’s able to conjure the name, except Joyce doesn’t clue the reader into the association. The line is simply plopped down in the middle of another scene.

Virginia Woolf wastes no time delving into her titular character’s inner life. After her famous opening––”Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”––the prose immediately becomes one with Mrs. Dalloway’s ruminations:

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning––fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”––was that it?––”I prefer men to cauliflowers”––was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace––Peter Walsh.

Who’s Lucy? Why does she have her work cut out for her? Why is Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers? And who is Peter Walsh? Why does he suddenly appear in her mind? Remember: this is the first page of the novel. In 1925, when Mrs. Dalloway was published, people still expected some exposition, some introductory orientation, but Woolf provides none. She doesn’t have to. That’s the power of close writing.

>Since then, free indirect discourse has become an integral part of third-person novels. Grab any one at random and you’ll probably find that it employs close writing. And there are still writers who experiment with this voice in their fiction. Stephen Dixon’s I. plays around with the separation of author and subject. The protagonist’s is named I., which means Dixon gets to write sentences like: “I. met Fels more than twenty years ago.” Yes, it’s third person, but it’s also first.  Dixon, then, further erases the gap by having the character, I., also be the writer of the prose, so that he can stop in the middle of a paragraph (which, in Dixon’s fiction, are always long) and say, “Oh, he’s not explaining himself well,” or “What’s he going on about?” Then, those murmurs of uncertainty become full-blown self-doubt:

Oh, stop with the crypt of memories swinging open and all that. Fine, then what? Simply this: he finished something yesterday––okay, a short story––wanted to start something new today––story, novel, two-page short-short: what did he care? A fiction of any length––even a play if it was possible––because he gets agitated with himself and grumpy with his family if at the end of the day after the one he finished a fiction he still doesn’t have something to work on the next day. In other words––but he thinks he explained that okay.

He continues to edit himself as he goes, noting, at one point, “that last parenthetical sentence could be clearer, and he knows it’s going to take work.” After a lengthy explanation of I.’s morning, he writes, “He could have done that so much more simply: he finished writing something yesterday, wanted to start writing something today, saw the obituary and started to write.”

The transfer of voice from the author to the character, here, is thrown right back to the author. Dixon’s I. is also the writer, so close writing here traces not simply the character’s thoughts, but the very words he’s typing. Thinking and writing meld into one organism. Dixon’s metafictional approach could be thought of as elaborate autobiography, but whatever it is it shows how close writing can still be stretched and expanded for new purposes. Dixon’s work is often neglected, or deemed too difficult for casual enjoyment. Too bad; he’s wonderful.

coverThe last writer Clark wants to focus on is Joshua Ferris, a writer noted for his experiments with voice. His Then We Came to the End is written in first-person plural, an entire office represented with the narrative we. Recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (in the first year Americans were considered), Ferris is one of contemporary fiction’s most assured practitioners. His abilities with close writing are prodigious, as unequivocally demonstrated by his New Yorker story “The Pilot.” It basically focuses on the neuroses of Lawrence, a wannabe television writer who gets an email invitation to a producer’s “yearly blowout.” “He’d R.S.V.P’d,” we’re told, “but not immediately. Two days after the message came in. Two days plus maybe an hour.” When he receives no reply from her, he starts to worry:

He would have liked a reply. After a few days went by, he’d have liked a reply a lot. Was his e-mail too effusive? Was it a mistake to use the word “sick” to describe her show? Or maybe she was just busy shooting the season finale. She was just busy shooting the season finale. He should have just written back quick-like, something like “Thanks for the invitation, Kate. See you then.” Then she might have quick-like hit Reply, with a confirmation, and he’d have known that she knew he was coming. Did she even know she’d invited him? Sometimes, with e-mail, some programs, you hit All Contacts or something and invite people you didn’t even mean to invite. Of course she’d meant to invite him. He just didn’t have any confirmation that she’d received his R.S.V.P. That was kind of unnerving. But, think about it, would he then have to confirm her confirmation? That wasn’t really feasible. It was just…Everything was fine. She was just wrapping. He was too effusive. “Sick little fuck-you”: that might have been––no, it was fine––just a little insulting? No, no, it was fine, who knows, not him.

That is a virtuoso stretch of comic writing, and a better representation of human thought as it occurs than almost anything Clark’s read in his life. The thoughts interrupt each other, the narrator oscillates between two poles of neurotic uncertainty, even repeating himself to emphasize a statement’s validity (yet inadvertently showing how questionable Lawrence finds that validity), and yet the reader never loses the train, the writing is crystal clear, the rhythm natural. Even though Lawrence isn’t technically narrating, he owns every single word on the page. The reader is in his mind.

Close writing really is an amazing thing. Consider that this essay right now has been narrated in the third person, and yet there is no question as to what Clark’s opinions are. There was never any confusion over “who” was asserting the statements made above. The “marvelous alchemical transfer” made it so the separation between Jonathan Russell Clark and some ostensible narrator disappeared––after a while, you probably stopped noticing, except for the occasional use of Clark’s name. Here, of course, Clark and the author are the same, but the same technique used in fiction functions the same way. The writer disappears and only the character is left––the voice, the thoughts, the little details that make us human.

SETTING THE STAGE

Brain’s reaction to virtual reality should prompt further study, suggests new research

by Stuart Wolpert
brain
Credit: Rice University
UCLA neurophysicists have found that space-mapping neurons in the brain react differently to virtual reality than they do to real-world environments. Their findings could be significant for people who use virtual reality for gaming, military, commercial, scientific or other purposes.

“The pattern of activity in a region involved in spatial learning in the virtual world is completely different than when it processes activity in the ,” said Mayank Mehta, a UCLA professor of physics, neurology and neurobiology in the UCLA College and the study’s senior author. “Since so many people are using , it is important to understand why there are such big differences.”

The study was published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The scientists were studying the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. The hippocampus also plays an important role in forming new memories and creating mental maps of space. For example, when a person explores a room, hippocampal become selectively active, providing a “cognitive map” of the environment.

The mechanisms by which the brain makes those cognitive maps remains a mystery, but neuroscientists have surmised that the hippocampus computes distances between the subject and surrounding landmarks, such as buildings and mountains. But in a real maze, other cues, such as smells and sounds, can also help the brain determine spaces and distances.

To test whether the hippocampus could actually form spatial maps using only visual landmarks, Mehta’s team devised a noninvasive virtual reality environment and studied how the in the brains of rats reacted in the virtual world without the ability to use smells and sounds as cues.

Researchers placed a small harness around rats and put them on a treadmill surrounded by a “virtual world” on large video screens—a virtual environment they describe as even more immersive than IMAX—in an otherwise dark, quiet room. The scientists measured the rats’ behavior and the activity of hundreds of neurons in their hippocampi, said UCLA graduate student Lavanya Acharya, a lead author on the research.

The researchers also measured the rats’ behavior and neural activity when they walked in a real room designed to look exactly like the virtual reality room.

The scientists were surprised to find that the results from the virtual and real environments were entirely different. In the virtual world, the rats’ hippocampal neurons seemed to fire completely randomly, as if the neurons had no idea where the rat was—even though the rats seemed to behave perfectly normally in the real and virtual worlds.

“The ‘map’ disappeared completely,” said Mehta, director of a W.M. Keck Foundation Neurophysics center and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute. “Nobody expected this. The neuron activity was a random function of the rat’s position in the virtual world.”

Explained Zahra Aghajan, a UCLA graduate student and another of the study’s lead authors: “In fact, careful mathematical analysis showed that neurons in the virtual world were calculating the amount of distance the rat had walked, regardless of where he was in the virtual space.”

They also were shocked to find that although the rats’ hippocampal neurons were highly active in the real-world environment, more than half of those neurons shut down in the virtual space.

The virtual world used in the study was very similar to virtual reality environments used by humans, and neurons in a rat’s brain would be very hard to distinguish from neurons in the human brain, Mehta said.

His conclusion: “The neural pattern in virtual reality is substantially different from the activity pattern in the real world. We need to fully understand how virtual reality affects the brain.”

Neurons Bach would appreciate

In addition to analyzing the activity of , Mehta’s team studied larger groups of the brain cells. Previous research, including studies by his group, have revealed that groups of neurons create a complex pattern using brain rhythms.

“These complex rhythms are crucial for learning and memory, but we can’t hear or feel these rhythms in our brain. They are hidden under the hood from us,” Mehta said. “The complex pattern they make defies human imagination. The neurons in this memory-making region talk to each other using two entirely different languages at the same time. One of those languages is based on rhythm; the other is based on intensity.”

Every neuron in the hippocampus speaks the two languages simultaneously, Mehta said, comparing the phenomenon to the multiple concurrent melodies of a Bach fugue.

Mehta’s group reports that in the , the language based on rhythm has a similar structure to that in the real world, even though it says something entirely different in the two worlds. The language based on intensity, however, is entirely disrupted.

When people walk or try to remember something, the activity in the hippocampus becomes very rhythmic and these complex, rhythmic patterns appear, Mehta said. Those rhythms facilitate the formation of memories and our ability to recall them. Mehta hypothesizes that in some people with learning and memory disorders, these rhythms are impaired.

“Neurons involved in memory interact with other parts of the hippocampus like an orchestra,” Mehta said. “It’s not enough for every violinist and every trumpet player to play their music flawlessly. They also have to be perfectly synchronized.”

Mehta believes that by retuning and synchronizing these rhythms, doctors will be able to repair damaged memory, but said doing so remains a huge challenge.

“The need to repair memories is enormous,” noted Mehta, who said neurons and synapses—the connections between neurons—are amazingly complex machines.

Previous research by Mehta showed that the hippocampal circuit rapidly evolves with learning and that brain rhythms are crucial for this process. Mehta conducts his research with rats because analyzing complex brain circuits and neural activity with high precision currently is not possible in humans.

LE GUIN’S GOOD ADVICE

By the way I’ve said for years that “Show, don’t tell” may just be the single most juvenile and straight-jacketing piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Show, don’t tell is an appropriate device for certain genres and in certain situations, it is the kiss of death for great literature and poetry.

 

 

10 Writing Tips from Ursula Le Guin

At the National Book Awards a few nights ago, Ursula Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a fancy sounding award that basically means she’s the bomb (she really is).

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin for a long time, since I first discovered The Earthsea Cycle, which re-invigorated my love for fantasy.

She’s also famous for her science-fiction, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and was one of the first to show the world that women can not only write great science-fiction, they can often do it better than men.

Le Guin is a “genre” writer who constantly worked to push the boundaries of what we think of as genre. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, she wrote poetry, creative non-fiction, and literary fiction.

I honestly believe she will go down in history as one of the greatest writers, literary or otherwise, of the 20th century.

Ursula Le Guin’s Quotes on Writing

With that in mind, here are ten quotes from Ursula Le Guin on her process as a writer:

1. “Show, Don’t Tell” is for Beginners

From ursulakleguin.com:

Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented.… This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present.

2. So Is “Write What You Know”

From ursulakleguin.com:

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.

3. Do Your Job as a Writer, and Do it Really Well

From Paris Review:

But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer (tweet that, emphasis mine). I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.

4. Shoot for the Top, Always.

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

When asked what authors she measures her work against, Le Guin says:

Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. And then, when I finally learned to read her, Virginia Woolf. Shoot for the top, always. You know you’ll never make it, but what’s the fun if you don’t shoot for the top? (tweet that)

5. Write Like Who You Are

From Paris Review:

Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.

6. Learn from the Greats

From Paris Review:

It was Borges and Calvino who made me think, Hey, look at what they’re doing! Can I do that?

7. Writing is All About Learning to See

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them— yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. (tweet that)

I love this, by the way. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”

8. Begin Your Story with a Voice

From Paris Review:

How should you begin your story?

With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.

9. Focus on the Rhythm of the Story

From Paris Review:

I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey—you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.

10. Don’t Waste Time

From Paris Review:

And one of [the things you learn as you get older] is, you really need less… My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there…. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.

How about you? What do you love about Ursula Le Guin? What has she taught you about writing?

PRACTICE

Use tip #5 and write like who you really are.  Write like a woman or a man or an American or an alien or an Ursula Le Guin or a Joe Bunting. Write just as you are.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

THE ABILITY HOARD

This is an introductory essay I wrote for my gaming blog but it has far wider applications, especially in the realms of Business, Career, Self-Development, Writing, and Work.

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to my own characters (be they fictional or gaming) and even the players and characters I DM I think of Skills, Capabilities, Abilities, Attributes, (innate personal and individual features) and so forth as much more important character elements and possessions than magic items, spells, money, and other types of what is normally thought of as “standard treasures.”

To me the single greatest types of treasures a character (or a real person) can possess are what they can actually do for themselves (and for others) in the world, devoid of all outside help, material/materiel, and extraneous accoutrements. So I’m going to call this idea and post the Ability-Hoard, or the Treasure of Personal Capacity. I think that this is where the true emphasis of “characterization” should be evident, and most brightly shine.

Let me, at this point, briefly define the Ability Hoard…

The Ability Hoard is that accumulated set of skills, talents, abilities, capabilities, extraordinary qualities (be they physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual), educational and individual merits, virtues, and sensory capacities that a character or person possesses which allows them to resolve difficult problems or to gain some beneficial advantage over others or over a particular set of circumstances.