Archive for July 2010
Sometimes, writing is tougher than it appears.
The last few days, I had a flurry of ideas that I felt may make up some good blogs. The first was about the difficulty of writing while overtired, the second was about the craft of writing reviews, and the third was a specific look at writing humor — it may look easy in retrospect, but it’s not.
However, when I tried to nail any of them down, I was left with the equivalent of a mouthful of feathers instead of a whole, live chicken to work with — or, if you’d rather another analogy, instead of finding the grand prize, it was as if I’d found the booby prize instead. Writing is like this, because sometimes you just have to struggle with the words until they come out.
This made me wonder if I was the only writer alive who had this problem for a bit (I know; ’twas a midnight thought) before I realized that every writer must have this difficulty time and again. So how are we supposed to deal with it?
Getting to the three subjects I considered: in order to write humor, we writers often exploit tired, hackneyed, clichéd subjects. Getting someone to laugh about seemingly nonsensical things helps get whatever truth remains in these older, seemingly-worn ideas and bring it into sharper relief.
But it’s not easy to write humor, no matter how easily the joke or phrase or pun may fall off the page. I know when I work out a good passage in “An Elfy Abroad” (sequel to “Elfy,” and as such another comic urban fantasy), I usually have to first figure out what’s going on, then write it down as best I have it, then re-work it as many times as need be in order to get both the jokes and the story right.
This may seem odd, but writing reviews often requires the same exact mind-set; it sometimes takes me several attempts to write a review. Because I have to really consider what I’m going to say, oft-times I find that I have a slightly different written opinion than I do verbally. I think this is because when I write, I think critically; when I am merely talking, sometimes what I say just comes out — and that’s not workable in any sort of credible review. Once again, while writing a review may seem easy (everyone hates a critic), it isn’t, and most reviewers try very hard to give the best sense of a book, movie, piece of music or performance they possibly can.
Finally, writing while tired is something I try to avoid at all costs. My definition of “tired” is “been up longer than eighteen hours” or “have had less than four hours sleep three nights running” — and the reason I avoid writing fiction, reviews or blogs during these times is because my words often come out not just wrong, but catastrophically wrong.
But when I can’t avoid it — the idea I have is too strong to ignore, or I have a new short story idea that must be written down or lost — I try to be as positive about myself and my writing as possible, while remembering to look over whatever I’ve written the next day (or maybe two) in order to get a better handle on it. This way I’ve satisfied the need to write without completely driving myself crazy; I am a perfectionist and as such, writing while overtired is an extremely difficult and frustrating task.
All three of these subjects have in common one thing — the need to persist. If I keep trying to get my humor right, the passage will come to me; if I keep trying to get the review right, I’ll be able to convey what I thought about the book as best I can. And if I am able to bull through my body’s attempt to shut down my creative impulses (while doing my best to get as much rest as I’m able, of course, in the process), I’m going to eventually be able to work out the idea, passage, or story to my personal satisfaction.
The moral of this whole somewhat accidental blog about “the flurry of ideas” is simple: don’t give up. Because the simple fact you have a flurry of ideas means you need to write about them, you need to comment upon them, and you need to realize that sometimes, writing takes as long as it takes.
Some days, the best thing any writer can do is get up, peruse the writing boards, and congratulate people. Because when we do — as I did today at Forward Motion, the writer’s group I’ve belonged to for seven years — we often find links to new publishing houses we’ve somehow missed hearing about in the past.
Such is the case with MuseItUp Publishing, which is maybe a year old (if that much), but already has a good reputation in the SF, fantasy and romance communities due to the strength of its publisher, Lea Schizas, affectionately called a “force of nature” by her writers.
At any rate, after reading about them, I queried MuseItUp regarding ELFY because ELFY has paranormal elements; can’t guarantee they’ll want to see it, but trying is the first step toward getting an acceptance.
Note that I normally do not discuss which agents or publishers I’ve tried here at my blog, but in this case I thought I would as I know many writers with works in the science fiction/romance, fantasy/romance and flat-out romance categories. Not to mention straight-up SF, straight-up fantasy, etc.
This seems to be a reliable place with a solid reputation; they’re young, but growing, and they have the word of giving good quality feedback, which is why I have made an exception here.
Check them out at http://museituppublishing.com/musepub/
We writers know all about the dangers of framing our own narrative. Sometimes, our best assumptions regarding plot, characters and story just do not work. And that is exactly why LeBron James needed a writer/editor in his entourage, to keep him from making his disastrous mistake in coming up with his recent one-hour ESPN special entitled “The Decision.”
As most know, LeBron James is a highly paid athlete. He is from Ohio, and he’d played for his hometown NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, since he was drafted out of high school. He is now twenty-five, and he’s been told for years how good he is, how kind and generous he is, and how he may even be the best player the NBA has ever had. (A debatable assumption, one I do not agree with.) And he’s been highly marketable, even likable — the best liked player in the NBA in many senses, someone who had fans throughout the country and possibly even the world due to his play on the court and his generous nature outside of basketball.
So perhaps it’s more understandable that LeBron James would think it was OK to announce his decision on where he’s going to play basketball next year on national television in a live special that was aired on ESPN. All the revenue from his one-hour program was given to charity, something James and his people requested and ESPN agreed to do. James was even allowed to pick his own interviewer, Jim Gray, something unprecedented in the history of sports journalism to the best of my knowledge.
Note that LeBron James, at this point, had not announced his decision, which is why the program became entitled “The Decision.” (I know it’s basic, but humor me, please.) And James figured that no one would get upset with him when he announced that he was going to play for the Miami Heat alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (Wade is a perennial All-Star and Bosh is just under that caliber) — James only saw what he wanted to see, and nothing more. His plot, story and characters were all laid out — and yet what was the outcome?
As ESPN ombudsman and former NBC Sports executive Don Ohlmeyer put it here http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=ohlmeyer_don&id=5397113 :
It was billed without irony as “The Decision.” But for those who thought ESPN could agree to televise live LeBron James’ announcement that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat — ultimately served up with ample hype in the form of an awkward, uncomfortable, staged one-hour network special — and still be free from public controversy, it might as well have been called “The Delusion.”
As has been well documented, Team LeBron proposed the exclusive special to ESPN with the following conditions: (1) Veteran broadcaster Jim Gray, who has no current association with ESPN, would host the segment in which James announced his plans; (2) The network would yield the hour of advertising inventory to be sold by James’ team with the proceeds directed to the Boys & Girls Club of America; (3) The network would produce the entire show and pay for all production costs.
And Ohlmeyer’s column goes on to quote many journalists who were very upset at James’s action (along with ESPN’s questionable ethics in televising it), some of whom I’m going to quote below:
• David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun: “ESPN led the way Thursday night in some of the most debased sports coverage I can remember seeing. The hype was shameless, the lack of perspective colossal.”
• David Barron, Houston Chronicle: “LeBron James hijacked ESPN, selling the network on an hour-long glorified infomercial preceded by three hours of breathless hype and numbing repetition.”
• Tom Hoffarth, Los Angeles Daily News: “The truth is, how does anyone believe anything else ESPN reports about James from this point forward?”
Now, obviously, this isn’t what James had expected. Nor was it what most of the people at ESPN had expected, with the possible exception of Mr. Ohlmeyer (who, if he’d been asked, would’ve given an immediate thumbs-down to the whole charade). But it’s what James should’ve expected!
Listen. Cleveland is an economically devastated area. They don’t have too much to cheer about, and being able to cheer for a native son who happens to be an exceptionally gifted at the game of basketball playing for the Cavaliers was one of the most hopeful things many Ohioans had to look forward to, bar none.
What James did in framing his own narrative is to forget about the external factors going on all around him — the bleak hopelessness. The utter despair. The futility of an area that has a 9.5% unemployment rate as of June 2010 according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the most recent statistics available.
Note by any objective standard, by someone who wasn’t surrounded by “Yes Men,” this narrative — someone who’d grown up in Akron, OH, leaving his hometown team for the bright lights and big city of Miami, FL — would be a non-starter. And by any objective standard, James’ decision would’ve been made quietly and privately as most NBA player decisions are (no one really cared where former Milwaukee Bucks guard Luke Ridenour went, for example, though Ridenour was an essential cog in the Milwaukee Bucks’ surprising playoff run earlier this year)**, which means some of the criticism being leveled at James now wouldn’t have happened.
I’m sure it’s not really fun for LeBron James, a man with an enormous ego, to hear from NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, this (from http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5391478):
“There would have been something honorable about staying in Cleveland and trying to win it as ‘The Man’ … LeBron, if he would’ve in Cleveland, and if he could’ve got a championship there, it would have been over the top for his legacy, just one in Cleveland. No matter how many he wins in Miami, it clearly is Dwyane Wade’s team.”
Or, how about this from Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a Lakers standout for many years, and also a Hall of Famer, who said this to Bloomberg News reporter Barry Rothbard:
“We didn’t think about it cause that’s not what we were about,” said Johnson, whose Michigan State squad beat Bird’s Indiana State team in the 1979 National Collegiate Athletic Association championship. “From college, I was trying to figure out how to beat Larry Bird.”
Or how about Michael Jordan himself, who said this at http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5391478 :
“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,'” Jordan said after playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. The interview aired on the NBC telecast of the event. “But that’s … things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”
In other words, LeBron James’ attempt to frame the narrative failed with his own peers or at least those he truly wants, some day, to be among — Hall of Fame caliber players. They saw this as a sell-out, in short — they saw this as a player who’d proven he wasn’t enough to win with a good supporting cast around him take the easy way out and join a team with two other superstars in order to win a championship — something most of them would not have countenanced under any circumstances.
So we see what’s happened in retrospect: James’ “story” has taken a marked detour. From a beloved near-demigod playing for his hometown team, James has become a carpetbagging, narcissistic athlete who will do whatever he wants for fortune and glory — something which should be a cautionary tale to us all.
The moral of this tale, if there is one, would be for James to run his decisions by someone who is outside himself and outside his circle of “Yes Men,” for the same reason fiction writers have first readers. Because someone who could’ve told him, “No, you don’t do this if you want your fans to still love you,” and “No, you definitely don’t go on ESPN in order to announce you’re leaving economically depressed Cleveland for Miami” would’ve saved James an inordinate amount of grief.
** Note: Ridenour went to the Minnesota Timberwolves this off-season, quietly and without fanfare.
Talking about persistence — the refusal to give up and give in — may seem like an odd topic for a writer’s blog. Especially when compared to Milwaukee Brewers left-handed pitcher Chris Capuano’s personal experiences — that is, if you don’t know anything about Capuano, who came back from a second “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery on his pitching arm and fought his way up to the major league level earlier this year.
But the two things have more in common than it might appear at first, because we writers need to refuse to give in to the small voice inside us that says, “You’ll never sell another thing. No one will ever read what you’re writing, so why bother?” And Chris Capuano needed to say to his small voice, “You know what? I don’t care how long I’ve been injured. I don’t care what you, small voice, are saying, because you are wrong — I’ll make it back to the big leagues, and I will win.”
Tonight Chris Capuano won for the first time in three-plus years. He did it because he overcame adversity and made his way back to the bigs, and then by refusing to give up on himself as he was only given one start back in June, then placed in the bullpen, seemingly to languish. But Capuano didn’t take no for an answer — in fact, he seemed pleased to be back in the majors, and was not worried by the length of time his comeback was taking.
We all could learn a great lesson from Chris Capuano. And that lesson is, persistence pays off. We just need to keep trying, because if we can just keep working away at our writing, slowly but surely, and trust enough in ourselves to know that it will matter in the end.
Here’s the story of tonight’s win:
And here’s a relevant (albeit lengthy) quote from that article, including some words from the hero of the day, Chris Capuano:
Starting in place of the injured Doug Davis, Capuano (1-1) notched his first win in the big leagues since he beat the Nationals at Miller Park on May 7, 2007. He would spend all of 2008 and 2009 recovering from his second career Tommy John surgery, a grueling elbow procedure from which some pitchers never return.
But there he was in the box score with a “W” next to his name for the first time since Ned Yost was the Brewers’ manager and Monday’s catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, was a Draft hopeful at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Now 31 and married to his college sweetheart, Sarah, who was in the seats Monday night, Capuano allowed three hits over five innings. He struck out four and issued one walk, which led to Pittsburgh’s lone run.
“The winning and losing part of it becomes a lot less important when you’re faced with, ‘Am I going to be able to play again?'” Capuano said. “Going through a time like that, where you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to make it back, it really puts the bad stuff in perspective.
“So, coming into this year, I wasn’t really thinking about [the winless drought]. But tonight, pitching in the game and then coming out [to] watch the rest of the game, I surprised myself how much I was aware of it, how anxious I felt. And how good it felt for the team to get that win.”
We, as writers, need to believe in ourselves. And remember that no matter how long it takes, the only one who can take you out of the game is you.
Believe in yourself. Be like Chris Capuano. And live to write another day.
. . . which is a site which purports to say which famous writer your style is the closest to — and I got David Foster Wallace. This guy was a major icon, and he was most concerned with irony — his last book completed before his death was called Infinite Jest. And he also believed fiction was meant to make us “feel less alone inside” — I saw an interview he did with Charlie Rose where he said that.
The other thing David Foster Wallace has in common with me is that he wrote fiction and nonfiction and he didn’t let genre boundaries bother him whatsoever. He had a passionate interest in politics (so do I) and he suffered from bouts of depression his entire life from what I’ve been able to tell. (I’ve read about David Foster Wallace before; when he committed suicide in ’08 it was a shocking, stunning blow to the literary world who’d embraced Mr. Wallace even as he made fun of them. One thing I can say for the literary folks — they knew quality when they saw it, even if it did come in a way that probably made them manifestly uncomfortable.)
Btw, to see who I compared to, I posted the most recent section of AN ELFY ABROAD, then posted an early section of ELFY, then posted yet another section of KEISHA’S VOW. I got David Foster Wallace, David Foster Wallace, J.K. Rowling (for some of KEISHA’S VOW; the earlier and later parts of KV to date also came up as David Foster Wallace), James Joyce (for my novella in progress, “The Gift,” which is not Elfyverse), and finally one of my other stories in progress came up with Dan Brown. My husband’s stories (with my additions) came up with Margaret Atwood — if this site is at all accurate, that makes me feel better about what I’m doing because they, at least, see a cognate to what I’m doing (and to what Michael did, for that matter) even if I haven’t managed to yet sell an agent or publisher on it as of yet.
Read about David Foster Wallace (via Wikipedia; best I could come up with on short notice) at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace
Here’s the link to the badge which proves what came up most:
And just in case any of you want to try “I Write Like,” please go to: http://iwl.me/
Today’s subject is simple: what is my book, ELFY, about?
ELFY is about Bruno (né Jon), a young, rather confused person from a parallel universe which houses the Elfy Realm. The reason for his confusion is that the Elfy High Council, which is afraid of Bruno’s potential power, has had him intentionally mis-trained, to the point where Bruno feels he has no power at all. He gets sent to our version of Earth, ostensibly to study the aberrant mage currents coming out of Northern California, and is promptly captured by two people who mean him no good: the parents of his love interest, Sarah. They are protegés of a charismatic minister who is masquerading as a human, but isn’t; instead, he’s a Dark Elf, who’s intent on corrupting as many humans (and Elfys) he can get his hands on, and has started with Sarah’s parents. When Bruno’s mentor, Roberto, tries to save Bruno, he instead gets captured by Sarah’s parents (which allows Sarah to hide Bruno), upping the drama and complexity immediately.
Because Bruno’s been lied to about everything, including his age, how much power he has, who and what he is, etc., he doesn’t think he has a thing to offer anyone, and he doesn’t know how he’s going to fight that Dark Elf. But he’s wrong about the former, as Sarah shows him from the start, and in the process of ELFY he figures out how to successfully defeat the Dark Elf, save his mentor, forge an unusual yet powerful romance with Sarah, and return to the Elfy Realm in triumph. Bruno learns that no matter how screwed up things are, life as we know it is worth fighting for, love is worth fighting for, and becoming yourself is the most powerful gift of all.
As for how ELFY starts, it’s as follows: Bruno (né Jon) is a prisoner who’s listening to two adult humans fight. These are the two people who’ve captured him; they are the parents of his love-interest, Sarah (née Daisy — kind of). Within the first two pages Bruno actually hits the man (Sarah’s father, who hasn’t told Bruno his name and won’t, though he eventually finds it out via other means) across the back. Bruno is a short person — he’s three feet tall — and that’s as close as he could get to hitting Sarah’s father upside the head.
When that doesn’t work, he goes into the kitchen to feed himself because Sarah’s parents don’t think he needs to eat ’cause he’s magical (being an Elfy); that’s garbage, and Bruno knows it, but they won’t listen to him.
Fortunately, that’s when he meets Sarah, their daughter, who’s also been badly treated by her parents, and they go to discuss an immediate alliance so they may escape her parents’ clutches forever.
All of the complexities that follow are due to a 240,000 word plotline — and the complexities include: why is Sarah’s house haunted? What is that Dark Elf doing on Earth, as they are deadly enemies to humans and Elfys? Why doesn’t Bruno remember more about his parents? And why won’t everyone stop telling Bruno about the facts of life, ’cause whenever they do, he faints?
ELFY is a comic urban fantasy/mystery/romance, folks. It’s tough to sum up a big, fat fantasy (or BFF) of this nature in a short blog post/article like this one. But it’s a fun book, an interesting book, and a deeply romantic book, all in its satirical way; I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it. I know that I am proud of writing it, and also proud that I completed it while Michael was still alive to enjoy it, too.
Hoping this helps — and that the formatting will work this time,
Barb Caffrey, who writes the Elfyverse — and all points west.