Showing posts from 2013

"What a heavy oar the pen is, and what a strong current ideas are to row in!" -Gustave Flaubert

The French novelist Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, is no lightweight in matters of the imagination. Famed for his hard work and perfectionism, it is said that "He worked in sullen solitude — sometimes occupying a week in the completion of one page — never satisfied with what he had composed."

Flaubert considered finding le mot juste--the right word--to be the aim of a writer, sometimes spending an entire week to write one page to his own satisfaction.

No doubt his pen felt heavy, but it was also the ideal oar for the strong currents he observed in the changing social ideas of his era. As Wikipedia notes, "The publication of Madame Bovary in 1856 was followed by more scandal than admiration; it was not understood at first that this novel was the beginning of something new: the scrupulously truthful portraiture of life. "

Here the creation of an entire literary movement, Realism (often called Naturalism, espec…

William the Conqueror and the importance of diction

Everyone knows what diction is--you find it in dictionaries! Really, though, diction is fundamental to writing. The diction you choose determines much of the tone and mood of your writing. Here's how.

Diction=word choice. Just that simple. For example, in, English, I can choose a simple word (spit) or a fancy word (expectorate). They have the same meaning, but vastly different derivations (origins) and connotations (emotions and attitudes attached to the word). Spit has this origin: [Middle English, from spitten, to spit, from Old English spittan, ultimately of imitative origin.], so it's a sturdy peasant word straight from ye merrie olde Anglo-Saxon England. Expectorate is much more explicit: [Latin expectorre, expectort-, to drive from the chest : ex-, ex- + pectus, pector-, chest.]. It's from Latin and came into English either directly or through French, the language of William the Conqueror, whose French court ruled England after he successfully invaded the island in 10…

Writing frenzy

August and September have been spent writing. I've managed to finish about half of the book I'm currently working on, 21st Century Religion. Now it's snugly put away, hibernating till we return to the US to live next month. After the dust has settled from the move, I'll tenderly unwrap it and finish it, as by then I'll have enough distance to see my errors of perception and complete my tentative conclusions. I will be very happy to finish this book, which has preoccupied me for 4 years.

Writing is not glamorous!

We were in Poděbrady a few days ago, and my husband met some people who were looking for the best spring in town. He led them there, then brought them back to our hotel cafe for a drink in the sunshine.

As we chatted, one of the woman asked what I do in Prague. I told her I am a writer. Her eyes got big and round, and she said respectfully, "that's so great!"

What could I say? For me to say I am a writer is no different from saying "I am a chef, a teacher, a bricklayer or a masseuse." It's what I do, and it's hard work. I know she meant well, but I am so uncomfortable being elevated in someone's eyes because I do what I am compelled to do. I write.

 If I had a choice, I'd be an Olympic ice skater, perhaps, or a polar explorer. Maybe I'd rather be an actress, or a mom with seven kids. But my gifts lie in writing in various genres, so I am a writer. I have been at it since I can remember, at first in my head (when I was quite a little kid). It mi…

The 3 Most Common Errors in Writing in English

While writing affords an infinite number of ways to make mistakes (such as tone shifts, mood shifts, problems in pacing and plot for fiction, problems in logic and support for non-fiction, and so on), there are three areas that account for more than their fair share of errors in writing in English, from the perspective of one who has graded thousands of pieces of student writing (that is to say, my perspective!!!).

These errors are confusing shifts in point-of-view, unjustified verb tense changes, and careless mistakes with the little words.

1. Confusing shifts in point-of-view. As writers know, point-of-view (or perspective) is one of the most valuable tools for conveying mood, tone, meaning and purpose. The most commonly used perspectives are 1st person singular (I) and third person (either omniscient or limited). Rarely is a serious work in 2nd person (you); this is used mostly for ads and instruction manuals "You should try the new Coca-Cola"; "You now insert tab A i…

Read, read, read...then write

My friend Tash is in graduate school pursuing two different doctoral degrees at the same time. She, therefore, does very little besides read and write. Her books all sound fascinating, if not "light reading". She writes oodles of long, academic papers on very interesting, if not merely entertaining, topics.

Her most recent Facebook status shared the fact that she has to spend much more time reading than writing. Good for her! When I taught high school, I had many students (some of them bright and talented) who did quite the opposite--they wrote their paper, then glanced at a few books to pick up some quotes that supported their thesis. The quotes were the chocolate chips in the cookies, and served the purpose of fulfilling my assignment, which was to support an original thesis with appropriate quotes from respected authors. They got the job done, quickly and efficiently.

Tash, however, is not in a hurry to half-digest what she reads and writes. It seems she doesn't want…

Tone: the slippery element

My mother, the wardeness of my mind, was extremely sensitive to tone. I could say the most innocent word--"yes"--in response to one of her directives and suddenly be in big trouble if she detected sarcasm in my tone. She commented on the tone of TV newscasters and commercials, the tone of supermarket cashiers and gas station attendants (I am old. When I was a kid, a man pumped your gas for you.), the tone of preachers and politicians, and the tone that I used with her, my dad and my brother.
So now I am extraordinarily sensitive to tone, in voice and in writing. The problems start when I apply my own definitions of tone to someone else's speaking or writing. It doesn't work, and this presents a problem for writers.

Example #1, written tone:
"Czech-Saxon Switzerland, a small sandstone island in the middle of Europe, was announced the national park on January 1st, 2000. Many touristic paths, marked and linking the unique nature localities with the historically v…

Book swap

When people say "book swap," they usually mean that people trade books. Books that are actually written--actual books.

Last week, my husband Jarda and I had a book swap, but we traded unwritten books, not "real" books. We have been working on a book, 21st Century Christianity, for at least 3 years, with no end in sight. I think part of the problem is that we writing it together, but we don't share a common vision for the book. My husband leans toward the theoretical, I toward the practical. So the book is passed back and forth, with little progress or clarity of direction gained.

We had just met a nice German man, from Bayreuth, at Dacicky restaurant in Kutna Hora. Our seats were in the beer garden, which has long tables and benches. He was alone, there on business, so he sat by us, and we began to chat.

This man had grown up in Dresden under communism, so the topic of conversation became my husband's long, convoluted saga from Prague to Macon, Georgia. Alo…

Publishing your book: a brief look at some options

As I work on my two (soon to be three) novels, I am researching how to publish and sell them when they are done. Here is some of what I've found, so far.
1. Use a printer such as Gorham Printing in Centralia, Washington, to do a "page and screen" deal, where they design and print some number of hard copies for your own pleasure and to sell to people, face-to-face. They also design and produce an e-book, properly formatted with a professional cover. You pay for and own all of this. We have used Gorham twice to print our books as regular books, and been very happy with their staff and their products.

2. If you go with an e-book format, consider the choices for selling e-books online. There are lots of websites out there to choose from, based on your book's genre and your own preferences. Here, for example, is how Amazon does it. Even if you don't use Amazon, this gives you a frame of refe…

creativity and dreams

I have been dreaming very intensely for about the past year. The dreaming coincides with some family drama that has kept me preoccupied during the day, and with deciding that I was not going to look for a job in Prague, a task that had preoccupied me for the past two years.

My brain must be feeling free to be creative, because my dreams are remarkably detailed and full of import. When I wake up, I can remember big portions of the "dream de jour" and often have to jump out of bed to record what I've just dreamed .

The two novels I'm working on were also started in response to dreams in which the characters talked to me directly and forcefully about their existence and their need to be put into a book. Okay, okay!! I am working as fast as I can!

Then a few nights ago, I dreamed about knitting a scarf. I designed the pattern and knit it in my dream, then considerately showed myself what I had done and how I could, when awake, knit the scarf and write the pattern to share…

desperately in need of inspiration

Writers need constant inspiration, Naturally, this is true of humans in general, and more specifically, of artists in all media.

But I will argue (right now, in fact) that writers need more inspiration than anyone else, for 6 reasons (having said 6, I now need to find 6 really good ones--there are, of course, hundreds.)

1. The writer uses words as his or her artistic medium, and words are clumsy great things that wear you out.

Expressing an artistic impulse is never easy, but I think that people who sketch, paint, create with textiles, sing, play an instrument, sculpt, or stack up boxes as performance art all have it easier than writers. All those people have one major instrument they can hold in their hands: pencil, brush. bobbin, throat, piccolo, clay or boxes. They can draw inspiration from the instrument itself as well as from  their poor aching brains.

Writers, on the other hand, are faced with an infinite multitude of instruments: words. Each word has so many connotations, denota…

whose book is it?

I have a friend who has written a book. She would like to have it published by a large, well-established  publisher, with a marketing department, and is working with an editor she's hired, who has said that he will  helping her find an agent, who can then connect her with a commercial publisher.
For the past month or so, I've been helping my friend by reading her book and responding to her questions about the characters, the plot and the pacing. She has other people giving her feedback, besides me. My comments are just my opinion, as I am not a professional editor working in a large, well-established publishing house. I do own and manage a very small publishing house, but it's not Random House or Scribner's by any means!

Yesterday we had a detailed discussion about what she can expect from the editor she hired. In the process, I po…