Change is Coming

I’ve taken your advice and the census is to go ahead with the new idea. So over the next week things are going to be under construction. First, the blog will get a new look and a few format changes and the blog roll will be updated and changed. I’m consulting the right people and I’ll be putting a lot more effort into blog promotion as well. Of course I’d love to have my readership explode, but I’d also love to send more traffic to my fellow bloggers. It’s going to happen. Thanks for all of your advice and I hope you like what you see over the next week.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 8:34 am  Comments (1)  

Magical Realism and My Blog

I am a very vivid dreamer. My dreams are long, surreal, and I always remember them when I wake up. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that many of my story ideas come from dreams I’ve had. When people ask me what I like to write about – what genre – I’ve always had a very hard time putting a name on it. I usually try to do explain myself by listing a bunch of books that are similar in nature, usually books they’ve never read or even heard of.

I made perhaps the greatest discovery in my writing career this past MFA residency. This time, when I rattled off this list of books to multiple readers I received the same response: That’s called Magical Realism. Now I know what I like to write. Even better, I have a huge list of authors to read and learn from.

Now that I’ve really discovered what path I’m on as a fiction writer, I wonder if my blog should begin to reflect the fact. I’ve often thought about keeping a journal in which I intertwine the happenings of my real life and the surreal strangeness of my dreams. I didn’t realize it until recently, but this would be a practice in Magical Realism itself.

When I woke up this morning I had an epiphany. I’ll make my blog this Magical Realist’s journal…and not only will it tell these stories in word but in picture as well.

So what do you think? Each post will appear in part like your standard blog, interesting things happening in my life, my reflections etc. Mixed into this realism will be the fantastical, but not fantastical for fantastical’s sake. My goal is to bring more insight and depth to each post with these magical elements, as such elements do in MR literature. With each post I’ll include an appropriate photograph or picture that is equally strange and intriguing (I’ll be putting my digital artistic skills to work for these). The blogs will require a little more time and attention and will therefore be less frequent, maybe every other day instead of every day.

I feel like such an approach to the blog will serve multiple purposes. Ideally it will be more entertaining for the readers. In addition, it will help me create a more focused platform as an aspiring Magical Realist.

Please let me know what your thoughts are on this. If a shift in focus kills my audience than it’s probably not worth it.

Published in: on August 2, 2010 at 10:53 am  Comments (2)  

Read All About It

It’s Friday and I just can’t seem to get my brain in the writing mode. I’m going to do something that you’ll all enjoy more than hearing what I’ve got to say. Here’s a list of a few of the blogs I like to keep up on. These are all awesome people with great blogs. I’ve been entertained and informed, and now it’s your turn.

The Other Drummer.

This guy marches to the beat of his own drum, and that’s a compliment.

Melissa Pilakowski

She’s sarcastic and intelligent. She’s got a sixth sense for interesting subjects, turning her every day into something worth reading about.

Category Thirteen

Joe Owen’s website. I’ve just barely met the guy and I’ve already learned a ton from him. He’s got some great projects underway as well.

Tender is the Blog.

This one is maintained by a great writer who I’ve also only recently met. I’ve been impressed by her work since day one. You’ll see it too.

I’m going to try and do this regularly. You’re probably thinking, why don’t you just put these in your blog roll? I’m working on it. I’ve got a long list of blogs I need to go through and choose from for my blog roll. It’ll happen soon enough.

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm  Comments (4)  

I’ll take Plagues and Earthquakes over Your Opinion

Today I’d like to spin off of my remarks yesterday. Someone in the comments section mentioned description. I wrote about one aspect of writing that I think goes a long way toward making a good story: making every sentence count. Bringing up description as it applies to this concept triggers a worth while discussion. When is description too much description? When is it not enough? Isn’t all description doing work? It’s giving us more information about the story, right?

I don’t think there is a solid answer for this. The usefulness of description offered in a story can only be determined by considering it along side the other aspects of the story. Why is the description there? It may be giving us information, but how important is this information? What is the authors purpose for including it? What are they trying to create and deliver to the reader…and how is their use of description helping or hindering them?

I could probably sit here for more than an hour writing questions like these. Actually, as I write this my mind is considering what this discussion is leading to…what is my gut reaction to this? In my opinion – and this is a topic that I could write a months worth of blogs on – what every aspect of the craft comes down to is TRUTH. Is the writer telling the truth? What is the fulness of this truth? And by truth I’m not referring to the fact or fantasy…is that creature real or not. The truth I’m talking about is best friends with authenticity and genuine. Let me try to clarify by asking more questions. When reading a story consider these:

Would real people in situations like this act like this?

Is that character’s action authentic to the person the author has created?

Does this character feel real, or does she/he feel like flat and stereotypical?

Is the plot moving in a direction consistent with it’s surroundings and players?

When I read a book I look for the plot, the characters, and the setting to combine and create an experience with depth and authenticity. Description is a huge part of this. Description in a story can be judged as strong and effective at proving authenticity or counterfeit. Whether or not there can be too much good description or too little is largely a personal preference in my mind. Some people are so in love the world the author has created that they can’t seem to get enough. Others feel it bogs the story down. I think as readers we can arrive at an absolute concerning whether or not description is successfully doing it’s job or not…but we can’t arrive at an absolute over whether or not there’s too much of it. That always comes down to opinion.

And as Voltaire says, “Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.”

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

I’m going to make an assumption. Everyone has at some point in their life read a book that they fell in love with. You may not call yourself a reader today, that is you may not regularly read for enjoyment…which begs the question, why are you here?.

I’m currently reading Haruki Murakami. This is my first time reading this author. The book is entitled Kafka on the Shore, and it’s fantastic. As I read the book I ask myself, what makes a good story? This question is not to be mistaken with, why do I like this story? You can ask yourself why you like a bad book. I know lots of people who do it…or at least they should be doing it (I’m talking to you Twilight fans). I’ve arrived at an answer. Of course it’s not official in any way, but it makes sense to me.

It seems to me that in every good story, every sentence matters, every sentence is significant. Some are more significant than others, but they matter. None are wasted. There’s no filler for the sake of filling, no fluff just for fun. Does that mean the content can’t be fun? No. It means that behind the fun, the action, the sorrow, behind it all is just a writer putting all of his words to work for a purpose. And when he catches you looking at him he’ll say, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)  

I’m a Magical Tornado!

I witnessed the birth of video games. Imagine a game where you control a dolphin who carries the burden of saving other dolphins across the sea. But the dolphin looks only vaguely like a dolphin, and the sea is far too blue, and the crabs far too hostile. This dolphin only travels in a single plane – from left to right, up and down – within the confines of small television housed in a classy wooden frame.

I have a friend who secretly loved everything about this game…except for the magical blowfish. They were magical because they could pass through walls. And if you killed one you’d blink and there he’d be again. One of my many fond childhood memories is watching my friend mock that blowfish and shout through spittle at the screen, “I’m a magical blowfish!”

I’m writing a story that includes a tornado as a plot device…the darkest, meanest, and most malicious tornado you can fathom. He’s a mutant of tornadoes; taking on all destructive aspects of every tornado I can find in history. Can a tornado like this exist? It’s within the realms of science and possibility. So why then is it a magical tornado? Because like the magical blowfish, the tornado is ultimately an insignificant story element that arbitrarily blocks the protagonist without any plausible explanation for being able to do so.

How do you make a tornado like that insignificant? Good question.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm  Comments (1)  

It’s a Zombie Blog

It’s a zombie blog because it’s back from the dead.
Hello everyone and if you’re still around, thank you. I’ve finally begun my MFA program in writing. Does this mean I’m finally taking writing seriously? I’ve always taken it seriously, but this marks a new direction and a renewed vigor in the craft. I’ve just finished the beginning of a new work of fiction, code name F-4.
There’s a lot to blog about in the days ahead. Expect story and poetry reviews, guest bloggers, and best of all, more Salt Shaker Claw Man. You wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm  Comments (1)  

A plot synopsis revisited.

I am preparing to send out another slew of query letters. Having spent some time away from all things concerning The Dreamers’ Atlas, I’ve come to the task with a fresh look at things. As a result, I have rewritten the plot synopsis. I think it’s quite a bit more powerful and intriguing. What do you think?

Let me speak to you from years of personal experience, spending sixteen years in a wheelchair will result in loneliness, bitterness, and thoughts of suicide – the only early escape from a terminal disease. Life as a teenager is cruel enough, but you’re going to feel like God himself is playing the joke. Worst of all, you’re going to fall in love with someone who only sees your wheelchair. For most, a life like this only exists in nightmares. For sixteen-year old Danny Birkwood, it’s reality.

Danny has all but given up on life when an intruder breaks in through his window in the middle of the night. Of course he’s helpless to do anything, that’s par for the course. What’s worse is that he doesn’t care. As it turns out, this burglar is no burglar at all. He’s just a boy, running from a life just like Danny’s, fraught with pain, sorrow, and loneliness. Flight, time travel, notoriety, what this stranger offers is impossible. But he’s come to the right place; here is an individual desperate enough to believe it all.

What follows is a heartwarming adventure, through the skies, across the barriers of time, and even into his dreams. What once consumed his every thought, the life threatening disease that will one day claim his life, is now the last thing on Danny’s mind. He’s lost, and his only hope of finding his way home is in the pages of a strange atlas. But there’s more to this guide than maps and information; The Dreamers’ Atlas has been banned for its teachings concerning a strange magic powered by emotion, a magic that threatens to challenge the dominion of a fascist ruler.

In the company of a bookworm, a slave boy, and a young woman from thirty years in the past, Danny must decipher the atlas and find a way home. But the more he learns the more powerful and valuable he becomes. Pirates seek to ransom him, soldiers are commanded to capture him, and nightmares come alive to take his life.

Danny is determined to find a way home. Yet in this journey, he’ll discover more than he anticipates: friendship, love, sacrifice, loyalty, and a capacity to hope and dream in the face of impossible odds.

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Reader’s Choice

It’s been a little while since I’ve made a post here. I’ve set a goal for myself this week: to blog every day. I do my best to come up with topics that everyone will enjoy, it’s pretty tough sometimes. So I’m going to start a weekly trend on this blog, I’ll call it:

Reader’s Choice

It’s pretty self explanatory. On Monday I’ll lay out some guidelines. For example, I might ask that you – the reader – ask me a question and I’ll dedicate a post to it that week. Or, I might ask for a volunteer to guest write on one day.

For our fist Reader’s Choice, I’m not going to lay any ground rules. Just throw out a request and i’ll choose one that tickles my fancy. If I don’t get any participation…well, that won’t happen, right?

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

What scares you?

I have a reoccurring nightmare from when I was kid: that I am trapped in my house while a pack of evil, man eating dogs wait outside.

I suppose this is why I’ve read every one of Stephen King’s books except for Pet Cemetery. Buried animals that come back to life, rabid and blood thirsty, is not my idea of entertainment. On the other hand, many of my story ideas originate from a situation of fear. Waking up to find that the world is empty, being trapped in your basement as the tornado of all tornadoes comes to take you, laying in bed, helpless as a stranger breaks in through your window.

I don’t like to form an entire story around these singular situations. That is, I don’t want to write thrillers or horror novels. I like the story to focus on the why, the explanation behind fantastical events and how the characters deal with it. I don’t want to study how the monster is going to kill me, I wan to know why he is there and why he wants me dead.

I think fear, when used in a particular way, can be a very compelling way to keep the reader reading. After all, doesn’t everybody ask, why? Most people don’t like to focus on the violence, or the tragedy. They’ll look at it, they always do (you know, train wrecks and that sort of thing), but only for a minute. Then they always ask, why?

What scares you?

Published in: on February 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment