Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What If Every Book Has Its Own Mojo?

Here are only a few of the tools that great writers swear by:
--Pencils
--Pens
--Legal pads
--Stenographer's notebooks
--Moleskine notebooks
      Reporter-style
      Standard
--Spiral schoolboy notebooks
--Index cards

Now let's proceed to the writing itself:
--Long hand
--Laptop
--Tablet
--Dictation software

And let's consider the eternal questions:
--Outline
--Spontaneous creative combustion
--Number of drafts

As writers we may spend years fine-tuning the method that we say as ours--without meeting anyone who works in the same way. Though I put a lot of mileage on my laptop in the long course of writing a novel, I can't imagine not drafting it out first by hand. With what? Why, a mechanical pencil filled with thick number 7 lead.

I used legal pads for many years, gravitating to index cards because I frequently wrote on the run and liked the notion of having much of my book in my pocket. I also liked the ease of shifting pages or chapters around. Still, Moleskine notebooks came to exert a potent appeal: pocket-sized but with a solidness that strengthens my sense of a real book in the works.

So, I'm a Moleskine man for now. But I find myself starting to wonder if certain new books may call for new methods, new tools. One day I may hear the call to draft a new book on a tablet...or even use dictation software. And I've committed to heeding the call if and when I hear it.

Oh, I'll still love my pencils and Moleskines. And there'll always be a soft spot in my heart for index cards. But new footwork may lead to new journeys. And isn't that, after all, what art is all about?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wow! More News on the Seattle Adventure!

If any of you have wondered what happened to Action Manifesting: it's going stronger than ever and is now being chronicled in real time on my new Seattle blog: www.theseattlekid.blogspot.com

Today's new entry focuses on positive thinking/living/visualizing now while we work our distant plans:

http://tinyurl.com/lch7t39

You don't need to move to Seattle to put this post to work.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Short Ride on the Bus to Hell





This is a short horror story with a happy ending.

The week was half over and I was in hell. Two meetings had been scheduled with my hopes of achieving more financial and scheduling freedom. The first meeting raised my hopes. But I needed ID for the second--and had found that somehow I'd lost or mislaid a black leather wallet containing my Social Security card and my birth certificate. I never take that wallet with me except when changing jobs or traveling. So I hadn't taken it out in some time. Either I'd been burgled--unlikely since nothing else had been taken--or I'd thrown it out carelessly in my house-cleaning bouts for the upcoming move.

I felt just like Jay Penny in my short novel The Vanishing Magic of Snow: piece by piece, all he owns vanishes from his apartment--while he is inside.

Luckily, I thought, I had 'only' lost one wallet and the ID could be replaced. I still had my state ID and could replace what I had lost. Also, I could attend the second meeting and find out where I stood financially, though I might have to wait two weeks to finalize the process.

The day before that meeting, I dozed off on the bus--and was awakened by a familiar sound. It might have been a water bottle that someone had stepped on. Or--oh, no. Wait. I knew that sound. I bolted upright, hand to my pocket. My aluminum accordion wallet was gone! I checked the floor--not a trace. Think twice! I'd had it with me, certainly, because I'd used the monthly bus pas. I checked all pockets once again, then my back pack--not a sign. I checked the seat, the floor--both sides this time. Passengers started to help me. I offered a juicy reward.

But, one by one, they all gave up. So did I until the calmer voice of reason urged me to look more closely where I'd only glanced before. I'd had the wallet. And it had fallen. And I was not Jay Penny--that wallet was here on the bus!

On the far right of the seat, I now spied a tiny crevice between the seat and the wall. Leaning in and over, I now saw the silver gleam.

I had what I needed for the second meeting. And as I sit, I wonder: we all spend a lot of time trying to look outside 'the box'...but could it be that sometimes we need to look within the box of our situation--but freshly and from a new angle?

As I wrap up my new novel, I'm doing  more than proofing--I'm seeking out the crevices where nestled gold waits to be found.

Monday, May 12, 2014

This Business of Being a Writer

Call this the week of my stepping out from my little ivory tower--and taking a couple of very bold steps I should have taken years ago.

I can't release the details yet but I've set up a pair of interviews geared toward my getting more money and time. More time to invest in my writing and more money to promote my books, getting the word out to readers. Now, the business side of writing is something I've always begrudged. Not now. I look forward to buckling my helmet and going out to war.

The stakes are high. I want money and time. And I'm prepared to fight for those. I will keep you posted.

This is my report.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rejection and the Writer

As I packed for the move to Seattle this fall, I made decent progress on all but one front: a, mountain of personal papers. Imagine 3000-5000 pages--everything from old love letters to leases, poems, resumes, professional correspondence, contracts, published articles, ancient bills...Okay, now imagine all of that thrown into a barrel with 600 rejection letters dating back 20 years--picture all of this shaken wildly, then removed in handfuls and tossed pell-mell into boxes.

I faced something like that. And I suppose I could blame it on a half-dozen cross-country moves...or on a miserable divorce. But I think the truer answer may lie in the staggering number of rejections received over the course of two decades (after I'd published four novels preceded by twenty more years of rejection). I believe I numbed myself in ways I never knew. As I started to sift through the wreckage, I found unopened envelopes--which I'd rightly guessed to hold tiny form rejections. They'd have broken my back on the rack at that time. But I also found a crucial, unopened note from a dear friend that might have changed my life if only I'd known I'd received it. It had gotten trapped, apparently, between a few unopened No's. And I only learned she'd moved to Portland weeks before I left.

My eyes grew misty as I tore through No after No after No. Why didn't I throw the whole lot of them out? Who needed further reminding of so many years of neglect and abuse? Did I need to remember the poor broken fool who dreaded the sight of his mailbox?

But on the project's second night, my heart began to rally. I wanted these papers in order and, by God, I needed to keep them. The greater risk lay in forgetting the System I'd chosen to fight, writing the novels I felt born to write as well as I could write them. Whatever my problems, whatever the cost, I held fast to my love of my art.

I've gone on to publish six ebooks, with a seventh on the way. So let me give the many No's their burial inside a box--and get on with the Yes of Seattle.


Coming Tomorrow: Rejection and the Writer

As I prepare for my move to Seattle this fall, I plow through my personal papers: including the hundreds of form rejection letters received in the last twenty-five years. My thoughts on how I numbed myself by not even opening some in order to save my diminishing strength. Further thoughts on the great boost that comes from putting the past in good order.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Aggress me? I'll show you the egress, you--bird!

We don't often find dialogue half that bad. And, in my own opinion, that's a goddamned crying shame. More such inspired lunacy would help us forget the bland chatter spewed by cardboard cutouts in book after book.

Now, if you Google the words bad dialogue you'll find plenty of posts on the subject. And some of them offer some excellent tips: avoid over-use of adverbs in attribution (he said robustly/hurriedly/passionately, etc.)...don't make dialogue do the work of careful exposition (John, could get me the brandy you've always kept in your rolltop desk's second drawer except for eight months after the death of your third wife, Estelle, the church-loving nymphomaniac who loved Mike Hammer novels?)...try not to sound like a music store geek emulating Tarantino (You friggin' love toy-lovin' Wop, I'll have a Big Mac with double the sauce, then groove my bop around Jay-Z and pistol whip your useless Dick, you Gaga-porkin' loser!)...

A writer who slavishly follows these rules and paints by numbers carefully will avoid such howlers as the one that I used as a headline. But nine times out of ten we'd have been better with a howler instead of the drivel we're served. Instead of offering a hundred examples of things to do or avoid, I propose two general rules that can help spare us no end of boredom:

1) Follow David (Rambo) Morrell, who advised writers to 'Enter a scene late and leave early.'  In other words, cut to the chase and get right down to business. Likewise with your dialogue.
     Let no account of a phone call include the usual opening pleasantries: 'Hello?' 'Hi, John, this is Joe Bob.' 'Why, JB, you old scoundrel, I haven't seen you in a dog's age.' 'I know, how're Betty and the kids?' Etc. BORING! Either skip the pleasantries completely, cutting to the chase: "I need to see you," I said when he picked up the phone. Or: "After a short round of civilized chat, I said: 'Do you still want me to kill her?'
    Or let's say the characters do meet for lunch. Spare us their seating and banter while they order and wait for the food. Try: ' By the time the food came, we'd grown hungry to figure the best way to murder his wife.'

2) Our characters are more likely to sound like real people if we consider the emotional content of a scene. If every scene should move a story forward, so should every line of dialogue. Something's happening if it is doing its job. And real people are affected when things happen around them or to them. It must always advance the story--and never simply supply information.
    Best example: In a key episode of Breaking Bad, Season 1, Walter White has agreed to 'take care of'' the surviving drug thug chained up in his partner's basement. But Walter still hasn't broken bad completely yet and is desperately searching for a reason not to kill the guy--who'll pose a real threat to Walter's family if he lives. Throughout the episode, Walter flashes back to an apparently banal conversation with a fellow teacher about a weird chemical equation: how all a corpse's body parts don't add up to the live person's actual weight. Could the missing part  be the human soul? A moving question since Walter, as we knew him, is quickly disappearing from one show to the next. BUT WAIT: Walter dropped a plate while serving the drug thug a sandwich, then threw the pieces in the trash. Remembering the dialogue about the missing part leads him to remove all the plate's pieces and try to reassemble them. He is horrified to see that one piece is missing--held by the drug thug, who'll use it the next time White comes close.
    And so it goes, and should go: even the simplest dialogue, if packing emotional content can shatter us as well as Shakespeare.