Personal Life Update: Graduation, Grad School, and Humor (but not mine)

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Cthulhu Flower needs a hug.

I’m going to try and continue writing in this, consistently, until I finish my studies at UIS.

I have four research projects, 10+ pages each. I have been running crazy for over a month. In many ways, time moves so slow. So very slow: only a month? In many other ways, my life passes me by. Thirty three years old. I won’t go down the list my mother has engrained in my head since I was a child. The shadow CV, as Bella calls it. The things I should have done. The things I could have done. The things I didn’t do. Couldn’t, under circumstances. I’m in a place of processing, revisiting old experiences, old lessons in my large book of life.
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Sunshine Awards

Something to soothe.

Something to soothe.

Hey I haven’t written much of late. If anyone’s still following me, I warned you a year ago this would happen. It’s the way of my job. I LOVE MY JOB. Not really. But I want to write, so I’m forcing myself to pander some inkling of a post to those who want to read of me. A little.

Anyway, Miss Vinegar over at (Piss, Coffee, and Vinegar) nominated, well, everyone she knows to do this. Since she (somewhat) knows me, I’ll dracula bite. I must:

1) Thank the Blog who nominated me
2) Answer the previous blogger’s eleven questions
3) Nominate bloggers to answer similar 11 questions. Usually writing-related. I think. I’ll make it so.

SO THANK YOU FOR NOT NOMINATING ME YET NOMINATING ME NONETHELESS, Emily.

HERE ARE YOUR ANSWERS. ENJOY!

1) If you had to survive on one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

An oddly complicated question, given the parameters. I’m sure the expected response is something like “Pizza” or “jerky,” but if I’m to answer truthfully, and with the greatest level of creativity, I’d say Stew. Given the vast array of ingredients that could go into stew, my palate boredom would be much less than something with pizza. Or jerky.

On the other hand, if I were to say my favorite food in the world to eat, I’d have to say salt and pepper squid from a delicious hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place in the middle of nowhere. I love food…

2) What’s more important in a story: character, plot, or voice? 

Voice. Hands down. I can stomach weak characters. I can stomach cliche plot. I can’t stomach a weak voice. I love this question. Voice introduces so much to the story that would leave everything else tone-deaf. I have often set down books with strong characters, strong plot, and an uncertain, or meandering, or inconsistent voice.

Books with (my idea of) a weak voice:
First three (3) Harry Potter books,
Twilight books,
Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk (DISCLAIMER! I LOVE THIS MAN’S WRITING!) (Also note: italicizing all book titles for this post due to the use of Bold for question headings)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggars

I hope I didn’t just make a bunch of enemies.

3) What’s the first book you remember being deeply affected by?

Windchaser, a Dinotopia series book. The first one in the series, in fact. It cemented a very antiqued interest in complex emotional characters while simultaneously kindling a love for adventure books and exploration reminiscent of 18th century seafaring journeys. Plus the idea of arriving on an undiscovered island full of sentient dinosaurs via dolphin back seemed quite fantastical, without the magic, a vein of the fantasy genre I still write in (mostly) today.

4) How important is good grammar in a novel to you?

As important as a strong voice. If you don’t write with skill, even if it is simple and direct and without flourish, you lose me as a reader. The ONLY exception I see to this is a writer so skilled at writing he knows how to bend, or break, the rules of grammar. Take Finnegan’s Wake, for example. Read two sentences into that and you know you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And it’s brilliant.

5) Would you rather get blackout drunk in front of
A) Your mother-in-law, or
B) Your boss?

Boss. My boss is a laid back, carefree cowboy. He’d shake his head, all embarrassed-like, and give me shit for the rest of my days working. My mom, on the other hand, wouldn’t ever let me live it down. I’d suddenly be a danger to myself, needing observation, and quite possibly suicidal. Nope. B, please.

6) In honor of the season, tell me one good memory you have about Halloween as a child. (The first year I was diabetic for Halloween, my dad traded me my candy for a guitar. My dad is, obviously, very cool.)

I don’t remember much, but when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I built my own Halloween costume out of Constructs, an (at the time) futuristic type of lincoln logs. I spent hours on it, and I managed to make a praying mantis headpiece (really difficult to wear) and a pair of splayed wings in the back. I finished it up with a bit of construction paper taped on the wings to achieve a “rainbow” effect, and viola. I was a praying mantis. None of my classmates understood or cared about it, but the teachers were impressed. I was happy as can be to have done it. I wonder where that can-do attitude is nowadays…

7) One word or phrase that really annoys you.

“It is what it is.” No kidding, it is. It’s pointless filler for a completely different meaning intended. “I can’t change it” works SO MUCH BETTER, and it conveys the exact thing you wish to communicate. I recently caught myself mid-twitch when someone said it. And on top of that, it isn’t even true half the time. You CAN change it, but you don’t want the responsibility of doing so, therefore use passive voice to push off the idea that you can actually affect a change. “It is what it is.” “Yeah, but you can change that.” “I guess you’re right. Whatever.” Blah.

8) Give me five single words that describe your writing style.

Florid, divergent (from definition 2 of dictionary.com), complex, introspective, FUN!

9) What’s the best part of an average day for you?

There’s a little someone I love talking to. It doesn’t happen terribly often–usually we just text throughout the day–but talking to her elevates my day to a new level. I love being outside, even in the rain. I’m strange like that. Mostly talking to her.

10) If you’re writing, somebody somewhere encouraged you to do it. Who?

I hated to write when growing up. I was terrible at it (third grade), and it drove me nuts I couldn’t write as fast as my parents. My father had one of the first commercially available computers, and he wrote on it quite quickly. Nobody ever encouraged me to write, though. By fifth grade I wrote at a decent speed, home row keys and everything, and I dreamed vivid dreams. So being able to write them down became a kind of therapeutic way to handle them. That being said, even though I won an award in 8th grade for a short story (best in all the city), nobody’s ever encouraged me to write. In fact, both my parents preferred I wouldn’t. Even college professors told me to give up that dream and work on something more income-worthy. Being grounded frequently for my sharp mouth, confined to my room quite often and unable to talk to people about things led me to simply sit down and write things down. My first book was written entirely on a yellow pad of paper. Page after page. A fanfic of Dinotopia, in fact. Haha

11) What makes you decide a story is bad?

Poorly researched details usually slow me to a stop. Poorly thought-out characters also hurt a lot. If a writer posits his MC is “brilliant,” that character better damn well be brilliant. If the setting is a bustling desert city, that city better be dry, people better be dressed right, and I better feel the desert. Also. Writers who cut corners because a bunch of writing may be difficult irks me to no end. A novel I tried to read involved a courtesan who became advisor to the king, from nothing. She walked into a city on one page, opened a bakery the next, and sold sweetbreads to royalty on the third. The writer literally cut out all the meatiest parts of the story. Why? Because she doesn’t have the writing chops. Bad story. Bad!

And pace. I have a lot of opinions on this question. Haha Poor pace, poor momentum really hurt a story. Five pages of intricate set-up for a character and setting, all detailed and perfected and descriptive, and page six switches perspective to the girl he just met, leaving all that info behind for three chapters.

I don’t know if anyone still reads my stuff, so I can’t really nominate anyone. I’ve kept up on several bloggers throughout the past year, and they’ve provided me with a lot of enjoyment and entertainment (and insight). ScifiFantasyLitChick, for one, doggedly reviews and discusses her favorite writing/TV/Movies with SPUNK and an awkward vulnerability I’ve grown to love. In particular I enjoyed her Gotham reviews (and since I recently started watching the series on Netflix, I went back and reread her insights. SPOT ON). Confessions of a Broccoli Addict for two: lighter, shorter posts usually adorn this blogger’s page, with a mix of insight and discussion. This blog is a warm teacup full of words, meant to be sipped. A new blogger and personal RL friend of mine decided to start up a small project here on wordpress, Soccer Parent Etiquette. A Guide. Current exploits include rocking out, sucking up as much politics as he can, and a brand of sarcasm that makes you laugh if it isn’t directed at you. Finally, I’m a bit of a fanboy for this writer: S. Zainab Williams dominates the ethereal comic/graphic novel scene with finesse and gothic skill. She also knows the importance of the business side more than most I’ve found, and she’s living her dream.

Anyway! Me 11 questions:

  1. Are you more of an Early Bird Coffee or Night Owl Energy Drink person? AND WHY!?
  2. What is your favorite genre of music to listen to while driving? What is your favorite band and song within that genre?
  3. A lot of people nowadays get creative inspiration from movies/tv shows. What’s yours and, of course, why?
  4. You’re self-sufficient on a deserted island. Ample food, shelter, water. No interest in being saved. What are the three books you want to accompany you? Go.
  5. Do you prefer a male or female protagonist? Why? Who is your favorite?
  6. What makes you decide a story is bad? (reused from previous survey. Love the question)
  7. NaNoWriMO: do you speak it?
  8. What is your greatest single memory of writing/creative success?
  9. What is your totem animal/creature? Why?
  10. Would you be willing to beta read for me? (pandering, I know)
  11. Spin on number 4: All the same parameters, but, you have a typewriter with reams of paper. What story would you write? Why?

Thanks for everyone who read. Given this is the kickoff day for NaNoWriMo, and I rarely do it (because work), I posted this in part to inspire (perhaps) someone to write, and in part to try and inspire myself to write. Good luck to everyone out there. And  keep the words flowing! May you all find yourselves on deserted islands with chocolate-covered bananas as far as the eye can see.

Chris

Let’s Talk About Drugs!

Said the clown to the priest.

No. Writing a book based on any level of “realism” (or at the very least, depth) requires the writer to study the periphery. The periphery could involve any number of things. In fact, in fantasy (and dare I say, in reality) the possibilities are damn near endless. Writing an urban fantasy novel (UF from here on out) usually brings about images of sardine-packed apartment buildings, grungy streets, dark alleys, bricks and concrete and unnatural yellow streetlights. What good city doesn’t have those? Farther on the periphery, the main character (MC from here on out) hears dogs barking–which a friend of mine once wrote a very in-depth analysis of what part these barking dogs have in our subconscious; interesting little read–or perhaps people talking in the distance. The MC passes shadowy shapes in alleys, perhaps, or nobody at all. The MC is silhouetted against bar windows or restaurants or vacant buildings. The MC stops in front of graffiti. All important.

Yet. One major aspect of the Real Life Urban scene is drug use. I haven’t read much UF with drug use as a periphery. I don’t know why. Given I’ve never done illegal drugs, never inhaled mary jane, never rolled Ecstasy, perhaps most fantasy writers haven’t either. It’s something they know nothing about, therefore it is either overlooked or ignored in the story.

I understand it. I don’t like it. We write about dragons but not drugs? We write about hellfire but not drug-use? The only time I see much discussion of it is when it’s a pivotal point of the story, where some supernatural investigator seeks the truth in some drug-user’s death–usually, where the drug is the magical, I dunno, tool used to move the story forward. Which is cool. I love those stories. I just want more of it. Especially in UF.

And high fantasy (HF from here on out) included! What? Pirates didn’t use opiates? Your scoundrels exist in a drug-free world even though there’s an ecosystem as complex as anything that exists on Earth? Hell no. I refuse to believe it.

Now if you want a fairy tale with no drugs, that’s fine. Plain and pure and storytelling at its best? Sounds perfect. Go for it. It has its place. Drugs are a dark side to society most people want to escape from. It might not have a healthy place in your story.

But I want more of it. I want the guy that’s high as a kite, he just might, stop and check the MC out. I want the Trent Reznor-type in an intimidating-as-shit black duster roaring in the MC’s face as he’s hyped up on PCP. Why not? It’s scary. A kind of scary a lot of people don’t want to get involved with. Perhaps a little Too Real. But it’s UF. And, if you do it right, it’s a damn easy way to make an intimidating Antagonist downright terrifying.

Take The Professional, for instance. The movie made in ’91 (or was it ’94?). Gary Oldman stars as the bad guy, a crooked cop that’s actually head of the DEA. The guy’s a loose cannon. Not someone you want to play Russian Roulette with. Add his little pill he pops (literally pops) in his mouth, he transforms into something else. Every single aspect of what makes that man sane, and with boundaries, is gone. Whisked away with the intense high.

Here’s the thing. It can be just on the periphery. It can be a secondary character that simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be an average joe the reader trusts. And he can change in an instant. That stuff is powerful.

To extend the thought–magic. Oh crap, magic! You can have a magical drug that does nothing to most but changes a few. You can have a time-delay magical drug that simply gives all the peaceful effects of a steaming cup of tea, but have three successive loud noises, whoa Nelly! Run for the hills. It allows you to create monsters out of timid mice, sleeper agents who truly know nothing of their place, or just, heck, plain old frostbitten Josh Nobody looking to take the edge off his gangrenous foot. For as long as humanity has existed, drugs have coincided. Alcohol aside! I think there’s a huge market for any writer willing to get his fingers dirty, understanding drugs and, farther in, humanity’s need of them.

A professor once told me to use the rule of ten doors. Major decisions require ten outcomes. Write them down. Pick the best. Go to a smaller choice. Rule of ten. Write them down. Choose the best. And so on. It helps with writer’s block and everything. It also does a great job of painting the picture when it comes to drug use: drugs have different effects for different people, even the same dose. It makes for wonderful storytelling and, given the magic world the MC lives in, could possibly turn bad into worse or good into terrible.

I’ll do it now!

Dashing Tom Perfect just had a run-in with Josuha Random Reefer Toking while on his way to deliver a medallion!

1) He puts his head down and ignores him, creating foreshadowing for JRR Toking later in the story
2) He takes a moment to listen to JRR Toking and his far-out stories of Nevernever Earth and inadvertently adds humor to the otherwise stoic, dry story
3) He realizes Mr. Toking is smoking Magical Marijuana, and any contact high could relinquish DTP’s perfect mental control over himself, creating small conflict
4) He listens to JRR Toking, who is really an escaped torture victim for (Antagonist’s name here), and he can only survive this hellish life by smoking the reef and drifting through the world as a vagrant
5) JRR Toking is smoking to get up the courage to talk to Dashing Tom, because he has Vital Information!
6) DTP has had a negative experience with potheads, where his half-brother (half-elf) smoked too much pot and burned his life away to mediocrity, despite having a brilliant mind. DTP therefore puts Toking in a choke-hold and ties him up in the back of his pedivan.
7) DTP smells more than marijuana on JRR Toking’s breath, recognizing the effects of a much more damaging drug, the Soulfie, where JRR Toking slowly gives his soul away to a powerful douche-cerer.
8) JRR Toking is a conspiracy theorist who loves to think about the possibility of a universe whole-mind, where everyone can talk to each other psychically and nobody has to poop. That’s all. Oh and he’s a cunning thief in disguise and steals the medallion.
9) DTP recognizes the sociopolitical ramifications of JRR Toking walking the streets in such rags–but wait, isn’t that the insignia of a freedom fighting group he wears as a patch on his skinny jeans?
10) JRR Toking reminds DTP of a friend DTP once had, stops the man, talks to him a moment, and realizes the poor bastard is a war vet with A WHOLE LOT OF STORIES TO TELL. And firearms training.

Alrighty. That’s just one line of decisions, all rife with information. I’m not feeling particularly inspired at the moment (Really stressed) so I bypassed some of the deeper thoughts. Any one of those decisions could lead to another major decision. So on and so forth.

So. I advocate drug use. In fantasy novels.

My Brand of Fantasy Magic

…isn’t really fantasy at all. Magical realism, perhaps?

I recently re-watched Constantine (starring The Man of One Face: Keanu Reeves), where the protagonist spends his life fighting to keep the balance between heaven and hell via magical relics, know-how, and insight into traveling to hell and back. He’s dark, brooding, quippy, and so self-destructive he’s dying of lung cancer. It’s a delve into what I consider magical realism: people, many people, believe wholeheartedly that the ability exists (even if it’s only for one person) to… insert random miracle here. Be it travel through hell, talk to the dead, turn water to wine, transform into a totem-animal, talk to rocks, converse with ancestors long dead, see auras, dowse, possess another person/animal.

A lot of people don’t. And that’s cool. A lot of people pursue religion as a form of self-government, so instead of spending the time to understand themselves, they look to religion: “This is bad (according to the Book), so I won’t do it.” It also kills multiple birds by creating a community of similar-thinking people, which reinforces the feeling of “this is right.” Which is cool. That’s what certain governmental bodies do. And we’re governed by many circles, be it personal, family, friends, religion, spiritual (separate from religion), communal, work, local, federal, world. And that’s just what I pulled off the top. This is a digression and I’ll stop it now. I’m trying to show how this also holds its own forms of power: any single one of these bubbles could specify “this is bad” and a person follow it simply because, well, someone says to. Even the “personal” circle. Which in itself is a form of mind control.

I had a simple purpose when I began writing twelve years ago: have fun, connect with people, share my thoughts. It’s still the same purpose, albeit a little evolved. My thoughts developed into something a little stronger: magic is real. Some magic is real. Not all. Magic Missiles and two hundred foot orc giants with enchanted tree trunks for armor isn’t. Science keeps trying to say it has all the answers worth knowing (while people touting Science as the new religion also try to say, like a marijuana enthusiast, Science has ALL the answers), but it doesn’t. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, “That’s what’s so great about science. You don’t have to believe in it for it to be true. It exists without your permission.”

Mostly.

I know enough about Science to know the importance of “observable” and “human fallacy.” I’ve been reading about human beings having more than five senses. More like nine. Pressure, balance to name two. It really doesn’t matter how often Science revises what truths it accepts as fact. What matters is it’s always changing in its definition, always updating its databases.

Next, to define science into two subcategories: hard science (physics for one) and soft science (psychology for two). I know too many well-meaning Science worshippers who put it all together. Soft sciences, the stuff our thoughts are made of, the stuff of our dreaming, of our extra-sensories, of our deeper knowledge, of our abstract pattern recognitions, is very wide open and mostly unexplored, despite the 100 or so years we’ve had to study it. Why? Unobservable. Or, difficult to observe. Assumptions based on calculations and patterns of tests.

Magic is a soft science. In fact, eventually, all that “magic” will fall into some sub-sub category of either a sense or quirk of one or two chromosomes in some errant mutative family line (or, you know, something a person develops through meditation and a proven set of practices). Since our realities are subjected to the extent of our senses, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–to say I can’t dream another person’s dreams, for example. Or travel a place constructed wholly of peoples’ thoughts, over time, like a great big living world placed overtop our own. Or fight constructs of modern religion with sheer self-certainty alone.

We all give off energy. That’s a fact. We exist because of it. Byproducts of processes going in in our bodies. We can’t see it. We assume the effect of said energy release is negligible to our surroundings simply because, since we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

I find a new awakening going on, in this culture. In this society. A long, long time ago, during the time of the birthing religions (200 BC to, say, 1000 AD), the understanding exploded of a second, third, and perhaps even fourth sublayer above the Real. This is the stuff of the new old religions. It is the backbone. Now that religion is failing so many people of this time of “Scientific Certainty,” they’re turning to Science and Atheism. Which is cool. They do their thing. As long as they aren’t killing in the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s all gravy.

The New Reformation, I guess, comes. Or a Second Enlightenment. I’m only sorry I don’t get to know it fully.

So the magic I use in my writing comes from a deep place, a sub-tonal to the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Gitas, and the Books of the Dead, and whatever else. It comes from a constructed place–a governing place similar to those I listed–where the reality is multi-faceted, science is currently too short-sighted to involve itself, and energy talks with the voice of long-dead preachers. The magic I use is energy, plain and pure, built up on the shoulder-plates of imaginative thinkers and socio-pariahs like Einstein and Twain and Jung who, in another century (or life), would be heralded as prophets or even gods.

My brand of fantasy magic comes from the coupling of intelligent thought and passionate realization, of fever dreams and deep stillness. My brand of magic is the extent of the human condition, of spirituality that exists for itself, of ripe power sieved through governing filters. And that’s just in the reality.

In my writing, it collects the results of What Ifs and runs tests until the pattern is undeniable in its repetition.

Sorry. Magic is a lot of things. For me, it must stem from reality. It must stem from science and its branches are religion. Its fruits are you and I, the readers and writers, and it’s more than simply an axe-like tool. It’s a whole undiscovered place, like a continent with slightly different rules. It’s a way of breathing. It’s a way of bleeding. It’s a way of interaction.

It’s so. Fucking. Sexy.

Why Twitter is So Cool (For A Writer)

I have three followers on my Twitter account (unless that changed sometime today).

On the other hand, I am following 21 people and growing. I created the account to accomplish one thing only: to help me get published.

Before last week I found Twitter annoying, overwhelming, and uninteresting. It wasn’t for me: I don’t update with my every thought (I don’t have any followers anyway, so that didn’t matter x2), I don’t have many RL friends that visit/update, and those who do simply aren’t interesting to me. So why did I set up an account?

To stalk people. I would add maniacal laughter after that, but the medium simply won’t allow for it. I am “following” all the agents I have submitted to in the past, or plan on submitting to in the future. On the surface it’ll probably seem like a step sideways: I don’t get my name tothem(it’s not like they noticed my little “click”) and they are busy people constantly tweeting about upcoming events, how-to-write seminars/blogs/novels, and the release of their clients’ work. You might ask yourself:where do I fit in? I know I did when I stared at the “sign up and follow The Rock or Barack Obama!”

Because it shows you care. It seems (I might be wrong) that start-up writers are 20% writing, 75% resume/public face, and 5% luck/masochism. How does it show you care? When it comes time for me to query a letter to XYZ at CoolAgency, I can, with authority, say, “I’ve been following your releases, and believe X Author’s Y Title Urban Fantasy novel is very similar to mine, and while the styles are different, I think you’d like the similarities.” Boom. Fireworks. Maybe.

If you’re a reader, or if you’re just starting out, reading about these agents’ workshops and releases will also help get you involved with the scene. You can read what they’re publishing (as a fun hobby) and possibly find a workshop taking place in a city near you (you’re bound to have them). When you’re confident enough with your WIP to send out, you might be surprised how far a little “connective” comment in the query letter will go.

Write on.

Fiction Writing as an Invention of the Observer

My titles probably seem pretty vague: I’m not in a creativity phase. I’m in a no-caffiene (heh. somewhat), focused force-to-be-reckoned with. It means, basically, Some Of The Best Writers Aren’t Writers At All. They are observers. They are adventurers. They are experts in their field, and know so much about a thing, they can write flawlessly about it. As fiction.

This blog continues on an earlier post (probably the most recent) where I run down rabbit-holes looking for answers to something I can’t quite ratify.

1) Writing is more than writing. Or should be. Otherwise, it’s just a plot biting holes in the tail-end of ideas masquerading as characters-of-motion.

2) Some of the strongest writers aren’t. They’re sometimes emotional, sometimes violent, sometimes drug-addled, sometimes starving and living out of garbage cans. They fight daily through a mire of retail, or customer service, or assisting a dying parent (or two) while desperately looking for a personal life. Some writers have to chew and tear through every piece of fabric and wall to explode into an editor’s office. Some writers are simply surviving. Some of the strongest writers are, simply, the daydreamers that feel so explosively compelled to write that they sit down, scream to a keyboard, and walk away with bloodied fingers. I used to be this way. If I were single, I’d be a volatile, poetic, violent writer. I’m not. I’m content.

3) Some writers write to make money, or be noticed, or be applauded, or be back-patted; the mama’s-boys after soccer practice hoping to impress their friends. Others write to learn about themselves; crises survivors or manic dreamers stretching possibilties between characters to understand–or perhaps explain–themselves to others. Still others write to connect constellatory dots in their heads, pursuing an internal hypothesis that invariably ends with the culmination of the story, or shortly before; researchers, drug-users, all those people diving into the possible what if of fiction. All have their places. A good, critical eye can see the writing of each. Usually it comes from an underlying fear or focus, like knowing the difference between scifi and fantasy in Avatar. What does Avatar focus on? The magic? Or the socio-political?

A writer doesn’t have to be trained. In fact, most hugely successful writers ignore all those molds and write what they want. I’ve read so many “So Yuh Wanna Write uh Fantasy?” novels my head spins. My best novel, in terms of cohesiveness and connectivity, is still the first one I finished in the fledgling years of college. It’s fun, compelling, all the story parts work together, no fat to the plot, no regurgitation to the dialogue, and all the characters grow without infodumping. The content is pretty bitchin, too.

Training sometimes stunts the writer. Some of the greatest advice I got in college came from one of my professors: “You want to be a professional writer? Get a science degree, make money, and focus on writing after you get settled in. You’ll be a better person for it.”

I didn’t follow that advice, even though I was obsessively in love with science-related fields. He understood something I didn’t: world experience only strengthens the writing. And I agree. It does. It’s incredible how much experience I get in understanding group dynamics by working in an office.

I’m working on a friend’s MS: he wrote an autobiographical (perhaps memoir) account of his college days, and the damaging effects it had on him. The work is tense, powerfully so, with sarcastic quips to separate bouts of intense frustration. He’s never written, or pursued a career in writing. He loves to write, and he’s been writing for a bit, but he had all but given up on getting published before I asked to see it.

I’ve read hundreds of books, fiction and otherwise, and his is a work I’d actually want to read if I found it on the shelf. I’m a picky guy, too, when it comes to all types of media (see previous entry).

It all comes down to a simple bit of advice: don’t worry about knowing everything writing-related. In fact, don’t worry about it at all. Finish your book, send it to someone you trust to read it, and let it flow. If you’re thinking about writing, do it. I know so many incredible writers who decided not to put any effort into the book, and let it dissolve in the alka-seltzer. So many brilliant ideas wasted, or ignored, or forgotten.

Even if you have only One Good Idea, write it. It could be world-changing.

Ain’t No Southern Twang

I await with bated breath. Or is it waiting baited? Or with breath abated? Turns-of-phrase easily drive me nuts. In fact, a friend I’ve known all the way through gradeschool writes (and speaks), “sorta speak” instead of “so to speak,” and I’ve never had the heart to correct her.

Personally, I feel it gives her character. On the other hand, the writing Nazi in me screams for reparations. Given my gutteral response, she is now the framework for a character in my latest work.

Should you use turns-of-phrase while writing? The simple answer is yes, sometimes, depending on the situation. Should the whole book be entirely in a conglomeration of phrases? No. Never. Just like some neurobiologist writing latinate in some science periodical should use it sparingly—even for the experts in his field—or a drummer that only hits the drums hard and fast with no rhythm to speak of, one should always avoid drowning the reader in slog.

I also prefer turns-of-phrases remain in dialogue (unless you’re going first person: different animal altogether). Again, there are always exceptions, but they’re like pieces of flair: too many of them and you’re in danger of glaaamorizing to the detriment and, sometimes, death of the book. A fabulous character and a fabulous style are two very different things. If you can keep them separated, more power to you. If you can bring them together to work well? Even more power.

But, power corrupts. Remember. The fool leads the king, doncha know.

Of course a writer can follow the phrase turning to the basic structure of the sentence: it worms its way into everything. By the time a writer gets there, he’s given up on writing a book and decided to do A Study… of a Sentence: Diagramming a voice. Or simply being anal. I’m not talking about the roots of the matter (heh), I’m talking about the stumbling blocks. The “Hell yeah! Pardon my French.” Topped with “In my humble opinion.” Stephen King did a lot of this–A tisket a tasket–to develop the mood and environment. It helped to put a creepy song in the reader’s head, and overall, it worked: he’s wildly successful. And I like him, to boot (there’s another one).

Turn-of-phrase can be a garnish, or it can be a plate full of gristly filler. Divide and conquer, cut the fat, and dodge the bullet, sorta speak.
~x