books, writing

A Personal #Writing Milestone

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I would say more, but I am speechless.

Seeing my story officially for pre-sale (with the correct cover image this time!) at Barnes and Noble is beyond anything I imagined.

I have no words…

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sara-when-she-chooses-cat-jenkins/1127073094?ean=9781945805653

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writing

Show Me

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I’ve been obsessed lately with the difference between telling a story, and showing it. So…some vagrant thoughts on a dull and dreary day:

 

Tell: A melancholy day

Show: Silver laces the canopy of green. Rain shoots down the leaves like tiny prison bars. This maple tree, ancient and immense, is no match for the vast, heavy lead of the sky.

Tell: She is a writer

Show: A single tear leaks from one corner of one eye. Cradled within it are the words that will never coalesce; words whose pressure builds to a vacant explosion. Stories everywhere. But she cannot tell them all.

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Tell: Her words hurt him.

Show: When she had finished her tirade, he felt slow awareness of a spot of damp on his chest. His fingers quivered a path upward, but stopped short; afraid of dipping into his own hearts-blood.

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Tell: My cat has me trained.

Show: Evil, yellow slits track my progress. Or maybe they are counting the welter of red scratches on my ankles. Feline amusement. Also, a warning. I change direction and head for the kitchen where kibble and cans await. She is hungry, and I am running out of bandaids.

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books, writing

Oh, Simile, Dear Simile…

blogsimile1Consider the simile.

The simile can be a thing of beauty. It can strike a respondent chord in its audience, both illuminating and inspiring. Used to effect, the simile is like a grace note, adding a touch of richness and life to the overall musical score.

I’m a big fan of the simile, so it cuts me to the quick when I find it wantonly abused. This doesn’t happen often, because most writers have an innate simile-sense. They can test and taste and savor and know when they’ve hit the proper target; when the chemistry is compatible; when the simile zings and flies.

But some writers feel obligated to overreach the simile’s simple purpose. They imagine themselves dazzling the reader with hitherto unperceived comparisons that melt away boundaries and elevate communication to a newer, higher art.

More power to them, because, usually, they fail. They become so entranced with their own words and labored imagery that they force the simile into place with all the finesse of a jackhammer. Such was the case in a book I only today finished reading. The author was working in a decidedly Gothic arena, but was flitting between two disparate timelines. It was ambitious; not totally successful, but palatable. Or would have been except for her slavish inability to write more than a few sentences without feeling the need to bolster her efforts with a simile.

An awful, inappropriate, misguided simile.

For instance: “Momma [was] buried beneath the soil like a broken butter dish.”

Eh? Am I the only one who hasn’t embraced the practice of consigning ruined crockery to the ground? Who takes a broken plate or bent fork out to the back yard and digs it a grave?

Strike one.

And then, at the apex of a particularly emotional scene wherein the heroine realizes her family secret: “…the disparate parts are coming together like bits of a space station locking soundlessly in airless black…”

What the…? Remember, this is a tale written in a very Gothic atmosphere. The space-age imagery was so jarring, it became comedic for me. Instead of aligning myself with the heroine and participating in her turmoil, I was laughing at the writer’s strained effort.

Strike two.

And finally: “…the past dropped over her like a lobster pot…”

That did it. My chuckle became a guffaw. I suppose I could have googled ‘lobster pot’ and tried to discern where this simile was meant to take me, but by then…

…Strike three.

I considered the book a lost cause.

In retrospect, it reminded me of Brechtian theatre where actors suddenly address the audience, make eye contact and explain, the purpose being to snap everyone out of being passive observers and jolt them into a different level of thought and participation. But this wasn’t live theatre. It was a book; a book rife with similes that grasped and labored and went off-track with tedious, and then comic regularity.

So, please, let’s all try to respect the simile. Don’t force it. It’s a marvelous tool that should strike a respondent chord…not one’s funny bone. At least, not in most instances.

And now, I move onward…like a dog scooting its rear across a newly waxed floor…

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books, Just bitchin'

Literary Candy

blogtaste1Inclement weather is a bookworm’s friend.

We have an excuse to stay indoors, pull the ‘Welcome’ mat in after us, and immerse ourselves in the printed word to an extent that would make us feel guilty on a bright, sunny day. I began my annual literary hibernation over the nice, long, stormy Thanksgiving weekend.

I was looking for a holiday read. You know… the kind of thing that will be a mild diversion and can be consumed with ease, or, alternatively, be abandoned without remorse at holiday’s end. The kind of book called ‘fluff’ or ‘inconsequential’ or ‘brain-candy.’

I also wanted something more, shall we say…meaty.

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I selected two novels. One was authored by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The other was a joint effort by two women whose steady day-jobs are in the fashion industry. You can probably guess which was ‘fluff’ and which was ‘meaty.’

But the read was totally unexpected.

I opened the Pulitzer’s offering to be greeted by a two-page family tree. Dozens of names, some of which were only mentioned in passing throughout the course of the long, long story. I had to bookmark this reference tool and return to it every few pages, working out the relationships of characters that drifted in and out.

It was well-written. It was richly written. The gamut of characters and dialogue and situations and eras was beautifully done. Yet I felt unsatisfied at the end. It required effort to read, but for me the finely detailed portraits didn’t go anywhere. It was masterful, but it didn’t touch me.

It was a Rembrandt painting hanging behind velvet ropes. I could appreciate it, but, having looked my fill, I moved on.

Then there was the brain-candy book.

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I couldn’t put it down.

It accompanied me everywhere so I could devour a few pages at every opportunity: stop lights…lines at the post office…lines at the store…waiting rooms…

It contained grammatical errors. It was completely predictable. It’s characters were thinly-drawn. But it was riveting, because it left enough blank spaces for me to fill in myself and realize I knew these people!! Everyone knows these people! And I know these situations!! Everyone does!!

It was thoroughly enjoyable and when I finished it, I was sad there wasn’t a sequel. I also wondered how many agents would choose the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work over the crowd-pleasing fluff, if they didn’t know the author’s background and the impressive accolades she’d won with previous work.

It’s a puzzle. It’s also a statement about art.

I’m grateful that Rembrandts exist and are available, but a cartoon can speak volumes, too.

So, hats-off to the majority of writers who will never pen the Great American Novel. But their less-exalted work will touch our souls.

And sometimes you just gotta have candy.

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poem, writing

A Goreyesque-ly Good Day

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The weather is savage.

Wind churns the bay into frothing whitecaps.

The waves batter against the bulkhead with force that resonates through the cottage’s foundation. Two feet of concrete seems like a flimsy barrier upon which to depend when salty droplets pepper the windows.

Leaves and pine needles fall before the gusty assault, turning into missiles that sting the flesh, scoring it with reddened welts.

You feel small and mortal and anxious before such force.

It’s the perfect start to Halloween weekend.

To make it even better, the online literary journal Goreyesque has published my poem ‘Ogre’ in their Halloween edition.

http://www.goreyesque.com/cat-jenkins

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Always a fan of the subtle, sublime, and unsettlingly brilliant author and artist Edward Gorey, I am honored.

Once again…

…Happy Halloween…

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writing

Voices from the Heart

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It took me some time to come to a workable understanding of what ‘voice’ is in writing.

So when it’s challenged, I get a little panicky. My back arches. My ears flatten. I discover I have hackles. I discover they can rise and point. And I have to circle back over the ground I thought I’d claimed and check all the territorial markers to see if it’s still mine…if I can still work with it and defend it.

‘Voice’ in writing perplexed me for a long time. I’d get the inevitable rejections, but somewhere along the way editors and agents began attaching little notes: ‘Nice voice.’ ‘Interesting voice, I’d like to see more.’ ‘Keep developing your voice.’

It felt as though they were talking about something as tangible and declarative as a fingerprint, but I couldn’t see it, or, more accurately, hear it. Then I was told a writer’s ‘voice’ can change from genre to genre and character to character.

Fingerprints don’t do that. Not without acid and intent, anyway.

So how do you grab this slippery, inaudible thing and wrestle it into submission? It squelches around in your hands and defies examination. I mean, ‘voice’ is ‘voice!’ If it’s so identifiable and individual and recognizable, then why is it so hard to see in the plain light of day?!

Because ‘voice’ is a misleading, kind of crappy word to use for it.

I’m stuck with it because it was adopted and put into use long before I wondered if I had one. Or wanted one. Or had even the vaguest hope of producing something other than the harshest of caws when endeavoring to display one.

But when I realized what everyone was talking about, I also realized it’s not a voice. It’s a heartline. It happens when you’re so immersed in writing that the rest of the world disappears. It happens when the words come from the center of your being without artifice or detour. It’s a direct line from your writer’s heart to the page.

Heartline.

It is as changeable as mood and emotion and the sky. But at its core…unchanging.

So ‘voice’ be damned. Write from the heart.

They’ll hear you.

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writing

Niteblade Magazine & The Newbie: A Fond Farewell

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A couple of years ago I stumbled across something sharp and edgy and winsomely wicked. It was inspiring, and it sort of felt like home. It was Niteblade, a magazine devoted to horror and fantasy and sporting an encouragingly feminine…yet sinister…logo.

I’m a newbie compared to the seasoned writers comprising an astonishingly vast subculture that feels like a simmering presence once you’ve discovered the literary haunts of the internet. But newbie or no, I was compelled to submit to Niteblade. I just had to.

When my story was accepted, I gave a fan-girl squeeeee!! and then began to worry about how the editing process might work. Every editor is different. And I had no idea what Rhonda Parrish would be like.

I’d only had a couple of stories published, but for one, the editor rewrote at will, adding his own bits that only came to light when I received my contributor’s copy. It was then I also realized he’d written my bio himself, publishing my full name and the city where I lived. This led to readers tracking me down and coming to my door. A bit unsettling. I moved and got an unlisted land line.

But maybe that was par for the course, my newbie-brain thought. So, drawn by the magnetic lure of Niteblade, and yearning with every fiber of my writer’s soul to be granted a place among its contributors, I waited to see what would happen.

What transpired was courteous, professional, yet painstaking, as Rhonda led me through her editing process. It was like being steered with velvet reins. I learned a lot. I was proud of the final product. It was also the first time a story of mine had been illustrated. I promptly bought the original rendering and hung it over my workspace.

It proved inspirational, because Niteblade accepted a second story.

And soon after, Rhonda short-listed two more for inclusion in her anthology ‘Metastasis.’ The one that made the cut was shorter and tighter and more powerful than at its birth, thanks again to Rhonda’s scalpel-keen editor’s sensibilities.

I’ll miss Niteblade as it prowls off into the wings, but I’m grateful for its edgy, sharp, winsomely wicked influence on me and my writing.

And I have a feeling it might sweep back to the forefront someday, black wings spread wide to foster other newbie-writers…

So on the eve of Thanksgiving it seems appropriate to say….thank you, Niteblade…and thank you, Rhonda Parrish!

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cat image from theinfinityplane.com

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