Writing as Conversation with Readers

One of the guest stops on my Daughter Am I blog tour is the Second Wind Publishing Blog. I talk about a fan letter  (well, fan email) I received, and cite a quote by John Cheever, “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”

Many writers don’t consider readers — they write solely for themselves, or at least they say they do — but often as I am writing a passage (or more precisely, after I have written it), I wonder what readers will think. Will they understand my references? Will they find the humor? Is my writing clear enough? I like thinking that perhaps someday a reader will share the product of my mind.

Malcolm R. Campbell, author of Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire responded to my guest post with, “Whether it’s a book, poem, post, review, article or news story, I always hope somebody will say something. One never knows. It’s a slow conversation, so much time having gone by between the moment when something was written and the moment when somebody tells you they found it.”

Such a wonderful description of writing/reading — a slow conversation. I know I’ve read many books where I felt the author and I were having a conversation, silent though it may be. I read and I think about what I read. It’s quite a heady realization that now I am a writer with readers of my own.

If you’re interested in reading the original blog post, you can find it here: Writing Without a Reader is Like a Kiss Without a Partner.

I am also at the D.C. Examiner today: Pat Bertram speaks about her novels and her writing

Today is the last day for the Clue Game at the Simpson Haunted Mansion

Also, this is your last opportunity to leave a comment to win Daughter Am I from: Book Reviews by Bobbie

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Following the Quest in Daughter Am I

Again I will be at Malcom’s Round Table discussing Daughter Am I, but this time we will be focusing on the quest angle. The  hero’s path, the mythic journey, the quest — these are all different names for a particular form of  story, though the format is so infinitely changeable, that unless you search for all the elements, you might not see the similarities in such diverse stories as Star Wars, Tin Cup, and Daughter Am I. All, however, follow the hero’s path.

This virtual book tour is, perhaps, a mythic journey in itself.  I was called out of my ordinary world into the special world of blog touring by Malcolm R. Campbell (the herald) when he asked if I planned on doing a formal blog tour. My first inclination was to say no (refusal of the call) but then I decided it was worth  a try — I want to do whatever I can to let people know about Daughter Am I. So here I am (crossing the first threshold). There is much ahead of me in this cyber quest — tests, meeting allies and enemies (enemies don’t have to be human — they can be missed deadlines, lack of energy, blank mind, all the various ways life has of thwarting us). This quest in itself will be a supreme ordeal — 70 blog posts in 35 days? Yikes! But I’m sure there will be plenty of other ordeals before I can reap my reward. At the end, I will share what I learned with you, and this too is part of the journey. The hero never keeps the magic elixir of change for himself, but shares it with those back in the ordinary world. 

So, please keep me company while I embark on my quest — I can use all the allies I can get!

Our next stop is at Malcolm’s Round Table: Following the quest of ‘Daughter Am I.’ It will be painless, I promise.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Jock Stewart and The Missing Sea of Fire — Part I

SeaOfFireCover_154181429I added part one after the title because I know this is not going to be the only time I write about Jock Stewart. What a wonderful character! I hope you get to know him well.

I often talk about how jaded I am when it comes to reading. Apparently I am only jaded when it comes to the homogenized books published by the major publishers — I’m finding that many gems lurk in small independent presses. (Do gems lurk? Well, perhaps I should say gleam.) Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire by Malcolm R. Campbell is one such gem released by Vanilla Heart Publishing.

So much fun! Campbell staffs his books with characters such as Jimmy Exlibris who never takes his nose out of a book, and the reverend Cotton Mouth from the Church of the Painful Now. Even better, Campbell writes delicious puns. “While Monique’s dress was still in his closet, Monique was not present. He straightened the dress on the hangar and pulled up the zipper but found no closure.”

And I haven’t guessed yet what happened to the missing Sea of Fire.

Though Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire is thrilling enough to be a page turner, I am trying not to read too quickly because I want to savor every word. Which makes me wonder — is “page turner” really a compliment? Wouldn’t “page stayer” make an author feel proud that readers hated turning the page because they (the readers) knew that page is gone forever? Of course, the page is not gone forever. I am missing enough of Campbell’s slyness that I will have to read the book a second time to make sure I get every nuance.

Much as I enjoy spending time with you all, I’ve got a book I want to continue reading. Wishing you the same.

I almost forgot — Jock Stewart has his own  blog: Morning Satirical News.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Pat Bertram and Malcolm R. Campbell Discuss the Writer’s Journey

Malcolm: I’ve always liked the concept of life as a journey in which each of us walks as a seeker and/or a hero on a winding route to places we don’t yet know or understand. So, I appreciate the invitation to stop by your blog and talk about the writer’s journey.

Bertram: The mythic journey concept has infinite possibilities, both as a story structure and a metaphor for one’s life as an author. Do you make use of the mythic journey structure in your writing?

Malcolm: There are mythic qualities in THE SUN SINGER (2004) which is based on the hero’s path or the mythic journey as you call it. Ditto for the as-yet unpublished GARDEN OF HEAVEN. The upcoming JOCK STEWART AND THE MISSING SEA OF FIRE is unrelated to the others and is sort of a mystery/humor novel about a newspaper reporter.

Bertram: I like your image of writers as seekers walking a winding route to places we don’t yet know or understand. I often mention how hard writing is for me, but that’s because I don’t know how to write the books I want to write. I have to learn how to write each one separately as I’m writing them, and each takes me on a different journey.

Malcolm: My long-time mantra comes from author and teacher Richard M. Eastman’s book Style: Writing as the Discovery of Outlook (3rd edition, 1984):

“You don’t begin to write with a complete message or experience already imagined, which is then to be wrapped in language as a means of sending it to your readers. Writing isn’t so much communication as creation. In a real sense, you don’t have an outlook on anything without first having written on it. This outlook comes into being through the dozens of tests, choices, and unexpected chances which turn up as you write on some engaging topic; and most writers agree that the final creation isn’t anything you could have precisely anticipated when you first set pen to paper.”

Bertram: That makes sense. For me, blogging especially is a way of discovering my outlook on whatever it is that I’m writing about.

Malcolm: This has been true for me whether I was writing a national register application, applying for a grant, writing a feature article or working on my novels, The Sun Singer (2004) or Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire (coming soon). In each case, I began with a body of knowledge and an opinion that were very different by the time I finished writing.

In terms of subject matter, do you find this to be true with your novels? I’m guessing that regardless of what you knew about pandemics, your understanding of them and their potential impact was much different after you wrote A Spark of Heavenly Fire than it was when you were first thinking about writing the novel.

Bertram: My research into pandemics was actually quite extensive, and so was my research into the government’s response to such an emergency (I based my fictional response on actual executive orders that Clinton signed), so there wasn’t much difference in my understanding during the course of the book, but there was a big difference in my thoughts about what they want us to know and what they don’t. When I learned about Pingfan, the Japanese biological warfare installation where they did horrendous experiments on POW’s and nearby villagers, I thought I’d stumbled onto something really explosive. Yet, as happened to a character in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, the very next novel I picked up used Pingfan as a setting. It got me to thinking about the nature of cover-ups, and many of the discussions in the last half of the book took place while I was writing the book.

Malcolm: We often hear that the writer’s journey has an inner and outer aspect. I see the outer aspect plot as it unfolds with a variety of characters, locations, and challenges. You chose Denver and pandemics for A Spark of Heavenly Fire and I chose the Montana Rockies of an alternate universe for The Sun Singer. Thinking of stories based on the hero’s path schema, from Star Wars to The Matrix to Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, the emotional, psychological changes and spiritual growth of the protagonist are viewed as more central and important than his thoughts, words and deeds. In mythic terms, the hero undergoes a transformation by undergoing the trials and tribulations of the outer journey. Robert Adams undergoes a transformation in The Sun Singer just as Jock Stewart is changed by the events in Sea of Fire. Do you feel this way about Kate Cummings and Greg Pullman?

Bertram: All the characters in A Spark of Heavenly Fire undergo transformation, especially the women. I always liked Washington Irving’s quote, and wrote the book using it as the theme: “There is in every true woman’s heart, a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”

Malcolm: In my life, the deepest part of the writer’s journey comes from how the writing changes me. The Sun Singer and the darker, as-yet unpublished Garden of Heaven were each written over a twenty-year period because, other than the plot and theme the reader sees, these novels dealt with integral issues within my own life. I had a lot to work out!

Bertram: I’m beginning to see that what I write is what I happen to be living. My first four books explored the theme of public lies and hidden truths because that’s what I was studying at the time. My current work supposedly explores the theme of safety vs. freedom, but it’s really about change, and there is a lot of change in my life right now.

You have a book that’s going to be published this summer. You once mentioned that you wrote it differently from the first two.

Malcolm: In Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, I opened the floodgates and let the words flow. I wrote quickly and it felt like play because I had turned my wisecracking alter ego loose with no chains or boundaries. When I finished writing and editing the material in less than two months, I felt the good kind of tired one feels after an afternoon at a carnival or a day at the beach. This was energizing because, well, I was still capable of play and the benefits of play. Do you feel this “play value” from certain chapters of your novels or from your short stories?

Bertram: I start out playing with ideas and characters, and then when I start writing and trying to make all the pieces come together, I lose that feeling of play. One of the things I am looking for on my journey as a writer is more playfulness. I don’t know if you can you choose where you want to go on the journey, or if the journey takes you where it wishes, but I would like to experience what you did — opening the floodgates and letting the story flow.

Malcolm: I’m curious about your novel in progress.

Bertram: So am I! For a long time I had no real idea what I was writing — I thought I was writing a whimsically ironic apocalyptic fantasy — then all of a sudden one day it dawned on me I’m writing another story of a mythic journey. As my hero tries to find his place in a world that changes by the minute — cities becoming prairie, oceans appearing out of nowhere — he follows the hero’s path, and becomes transformed.

My third book, which is going to be published in a couple of months, was my first mythical journey story. It’s about a young woman who discovers that her grandparents were recently murdered which came as a shock to her because her father claimed they had died before she was born. She goes on a journey to discover who her grandparents were, why someone wanted them dead, and why her father lied to her. I purposely used the mythic template for the book (wanted an excuse to use it, actually), though her mentors and allies aren’t the typical alien or fantasy characters such as wizards, but are aged gangsters and conmen.

Malcolm: My father’s brother was murdered in Fort Collins before I was born. The case was never solved. From time to time, I wonder what happened. Time and distance are part of the challenge of finding details. It would be a journey to dig into it as your character will do in Daughter Am I. I love the concept of going back to figure out the real story.

Bertram: I do, too. All of my books follow the same underlying story: who are we, really? And how do our experiences change us? Which brings me to another question I want to discuss: does a person write a book or does the book write a person?

Malcolm: Your question reminds me of the difference between a layperson’s view of a complex and a Jungian analyst’s view of a complex. People sometimes admit that they have one complex or another. Jungians see it the other way around, saying that the complex has you.

Perhaps the relationship between author and book is the same for many authors, with the book holding a much greater sway over the author’s life than s/he–and especially his readers–may believe. At best, it’s like a marriage, author and book, and the better the book is, the better that marriage has been.

Bertram: That makes sense. I am at a crossroads in my writing life. I’ve used up the theme that haunted me for many years — public lies and hidden truths. Because of my stories, I seem to have come to an accommodation with the reality, and so I no longer have any desire to write about such things. So now I’m waiting for some other . . . passion, perhaps. Or a transformation. Because it does seem as if writing transforms us.

Malcolm: People often talk about defining moments, good and bad. Afterwards, they see themselves and the world differently. Plunging into the deep waters of a work of fiction in progress is also a defining moment. Writers experience what their characters experience whether it’s the horrors of Pingfan or the joy of my protagonist in The Sun Singer when he reaches the summit of a mountain of visions. We polish these scenes until the horror and the joy are shown to the reader in ways that cause the greatest impact. Doing this, I think, changes a writer just as much as a “real life” experience.

Bertram: In The Writers Journey, Christopher Vogler talks about writing as a perilous journey to probe the depths of our souls, and that the struggles we undergo to write, to sell our work, to deal with rejection seem to kill us, but we are resurrected to write again. And to go on another journey. Best of luck with your next journey, Malcolm.

Malcolm: This has been fun, Pat. Of course, I’m not the same person here at the end of the post that I was when we started. But that’s what it’s like being on the path.

See Also:
The Writer’s Journey
Celebrating Five Years of The Sun Singer

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

The Writer’s Journey

Malcolm R. Campbell, my guest today, worked as a college journalism instructor, corporate communications director, technical writer and grant writer before publishing The Sun Singer in 2004.  Malcolm says:

Writers’ journeys are filled with highs, lows and limbos, and down at the what’s-my-next-word level the path often looks like a mess. Joseph Campbell suggested that our lives often appear disorganized when viewed close up. Yet when the point of view is pulled back far enough, the route from here to there and back again stands out as perfect and well orchestrated. 

I wrote my fantasy adventure novel “The Sun Singer” in 1983 because there was a story inside my head that I thought I ought to tell. A young man suddenly becomes psychic when he visits a bronze statue of Apollo. At first, it’s fun. Then he sees a tragedy and his gift is immediately tarnished and he tries to ignore it until he ends up in a mysterious alternative universe in the western mountains. He needs the gift to survive and to complete a mission his avatar grandfather couldn’t complete. 

When I found an agent who liked the novel, that was definitely a “high.” While she thought literary fiction with a teenaged protagonist would be a challenge to market, she liked the story and settings and wanted to try Within a month, I withdrew the novel when she told me one of her other clients books suddenly became a bestseller. That meant my novel would sit on her shelf for potentially a year before she could actively work with it. This was definitely a “low.” 

The low got lower when the manuscript was rejected by about 100 publishers, many of whom liked the book but said that nobody could successfully sell a literary novel to teens or a teenager’s story to adults. This was pre-Harry Potter! They wouldn’t touch the book unless I added ten years to the character’s life. This began a 20-year period of limbo when “The Sun Singer” sat at the bottom of the sock drawer forgotten until I self-published it in 2004. 

The agent did me a favor. She saw the novel in a pre-PC era. The book was a paper manuscript typed with an electric typewriter. When I took it out of the sock drawer in 2004, I had to scan it into a file with an OCR program. What a mess. In the process, I fine-tuned the book a great deal. It became a much better story. 

I suspect most writers can tell similar stories. Manuscripts that look hot, then look cold. Stories buried in the back of a file cabinet that suddenly come to life years later. 

My upcoming novel, “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” is quite a different story. I had been trying to market a companion book to “The Sun Singer” for over a year when a publisher told me that in today’s market, no publisher was going to take a risk on a 240,000-word, push-the-envelope literary novel by an unknown. 

Intended or not, I heard a challenge in those words: do something to become known. That meant putting another manuscript in the sock drawer and writing a much shorter book for a mainstream audience. I wrote the first draft straight through without stopping. The story seemed to tell itself because it was sitting right under my nose. My alter ego “Jock Stewart,” a hard-boiled 1940s-style reporter, had been running a blog called Morning Satirical News with exactly the style and focus I needed. 

After taking 20 years to publish “The Sun Singer” and 10 years to write the companion book, writing a book without all the angst of creation was a very empowering experience. It represented a jog in my writer’s journey that I had never foreseen. I’m still rather stunned by what’s happened. I have a feeling, though, that one day I’ll stand back and see everything from another perspective and feel that what happened had to happen as though the trail was always clearly marked on an old map I’d forgotten about.

See Also:
Pat Bertram and Malcolm R. Campbell Discuss the Writer’s Journey
Celebrating Five Years of The Sun Singer

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Waiting For an April Time

My bloggery of yesterday about where to go from here generated a few emails, with people telling me not to give up writing. No fear of that. Writing is a part of my life, and I still have many books in me, but I am at a crossroads, on a plateau, standing still . . . choose your cliché. (I haven’t yet told you about my love affair with Microsoft OneNote, but I just found another use for it! The WordPress article editor doesn’t add the accent mark on cliche, so I wrote the word on OneNote which does add the accent, and I copied it here. You gotta love such a versatile application!) 

I know I shouldn’t  overthink everything — as Theodore Roethke wrote: “A mind too active is no mind at all.” — but this is one time in my life that I feel like indulging myself in an orgy of thinking.  During the past eight years of learning how to write, writing my four novels, studying the publishing industry, sending out query letters, dealing with hundreds of rejections, finally finding a publisher, preparing the books for publication, and then waiting for their release, (to say nothing of learning how to use a computer, to navigate the internet, and to promote) I had the idea that I needed to write a certain way to be acceptable to a publisher. So I tried to become a writer some mythical publisher would be willing to accept. Well, unlike other authors who’s options are limited by a publisher who wants them to continue writing in the same genre — often with the same characters — I have a publisher who loves my writing and seems to be willing to publish any novel I produce. So that leaves me untethered. If I don’t have to conform to the dictates of the publishing industry, that means I have to conform to my own. Which means I have to know who I am. But the fact is, the last years of writing have changed me, so I no longer know. (Which makes me wonder: do we write a book, or does our book write us? It seems as if changes in our lives affect what we write, and what we write affects our lives and brings about changes.)

Basically, what I’m doing with all this overthinking is opening myself to the changing seasons of my life. Trying to figure out where to take my writing and where my writing (and my resistance to writing) is taking me. 

A couple of weeks ago, during my online discussion with Lazarus Barnhill (author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People), Barnhill mentioned that Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests writing three pages every morning. Basically stream of consciousness stuff. Well, I got the book, and now I’m doing the morning pages, and surprisingly, I love it! I thought it was the puzzle aspect of writing I like. Maybe it’s just the writing. So, even though it’s not creative writing, I am doing three pages a day. And I’ve mostly reclaimed my blog for myself instead of using it to promote other people, so even though that’s not creative writing, either, it also is writing. (I am still doing a bit of promotion, though I’m gearing it more toward discussions than guest appearances. Right now I am having a discussion with Malcolm Campbell, author of The Sun Singer. That discussion about the writer’s journey will be posted on this blog in another week.)

In her book The Stillwater Meadow, Gladys Tabor wrote: “People have seasons . . . There is something steadfast about people who withstand the chilling winds of trouble, the storms that assail the heart, and have the endurance and character to wait quietly for an April time.”

Well, that’s what I’m doing — waiting (not so quietly) for an April time.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Developing A Smell-O-Meter: How Do You Tell If What You’ve Written Is Good?

I’m participating in an interesting discussion on Facebook today about  . . . you guessed it! Developing A Smell-O-Meter: How Do You Tell If What You’ve Written Is Good? It’s a topic I’ve been considering a lot now that my books are released and feedback is trickling back to me. I always knew A Spark of Heavenly Fire was good – even when it was bad, I knew it was good. I can’t tell you how I know – probably that smell-o-meter. Or perhaps an ingrained feeling for the flow of a story. That belief kept me going through multiple rewrites and hundreds of rejections. It’s nice to know that agents and publishers do not know what individual readers like. Today, Malcolm R. Campbell, author of The Sun Singer, left me a message on my facebook wall: I just finished reading A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE. When I stay up past my bedtime multiple nights in a row just to read a little bit more, I know I’ve found a winner of a book. Darned good, Pat.

On the other hand, I never got a sense of More Deaths Than One. Even after all the rewrites, it just didn’t seem to be as good as I wanted it to be. I entered it into a contest on Gather.com eighteen months ago, where the first chapter was posted for people to vote on. Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Mecine People and Lacey Took a Holiday, was impressed with that first chapter of More Deaths Than One, and he eventually became one of the book’s first readers. When he finished it, I asked if he was disappointed in the book. He said no and gave a little laugh. When I finally got up the nerve to ask why the laugh, and he said, “I laughed because anyone who knows anything about writing would know how good it is.”

So, apparently my smell-o-meter works only half the time.

As for telling if sentences, words, paragraphs, scenes are any good, it’s mostly a matter of reading them, changing a word, reading them again, changing another word until the piece flows. If the words flow and if the story flows (and if  the story is worth telling), you don’t need a smell-o-meter. It will be good.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook