Tag Archives: writing

Become a Patron of the Arts… for $1/month!

Do you know who this guy is? His name is Ludovico Sforza. He was Duke of Milan from 1494-1499, but most notably, he was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci. In fact, it was his money that enabled Leonardo to paint this:

Back in that day, artists relied upon patrons to provide them an income, freeing them to produce the works of art we have all come to love, and that enrich our lives. These days, however, art and entertainment has become so ubiquitous, few give a moment’s thought to how much time and talent goes into producing the music we listen to, the movies we watch, or the books we read. And often, those creators have to hold down other jobs so they can eat and pay bills while they create the things we love. If only there was a way for people to become patrons to artists today…

Enter PATREON.

Patreon was founded in 2013 by Jack Conte, a musician and YouTuber who wanted to provide a means for creative people to be able to create, and not have to worry about how they’re going to pay the bills while they work on their art. For a token amount every month (often as low as $1), you can help support an artist, and in return not only do you get the pleasure of knowing you have helped bring art into the world, but the creator will often offer “thank you” gifts for their patrons.

All this is leading up to an announcement:

I’m starting a Patreon for my writing. I’ll be launching the site soon, but I wanted to let you all know about it ahead of time so I can get some feedback.

Why do I feel like I need a Patreon site? After all, I have a full-time job. There are three main reasons:

  1. The Encouragement. Even the most seemingly self-assured writer lives in self-doubt. Stephen King will be the first to tell you he often feels a fraud, and is in fear of being “found out.” That’s why it’s always nice when people express genuine appreciation for my work. How much more encouraging it would be if people could back up that appreciation with some kind of financial investment! For published writers, that investment usually comes in the form of book sales. I don’t have anything published yet, so Patreon is the next best thing.
  2. The Extra Money. My job covers the bills, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for much else. I’d love to go to writing conferences, feel like I can afford to keep my computer working, or even just take time off work to spend writing, or relaxing with the family.
  3. The Discipline. I plan to offer patrons new flash fiction every month, and samples of things I’m working on. This means I need to have something to show for my writing efforts every month. What better way to help me keep focused than to think of all the people pledging money to help me write and looking forward to their monthly reward?

I’ll have two levels of patronage: $1.00/month gets you a free flash story, and $3.00 (or more)/month will get you the flash story, plus a sample of my current Work in Progress.

What do you think? A good idea? A bad idea? Do the rewards sound enticing? Your feedback, please!

UPDATE: Please note, comments and likes are NOT understood to be a commitment to patronize. Just let me know what you think. Also, I might not limit the reward to just flash fiction. Some months it may be poetry, or a song parody. Something special just for patrons. At the $3.00+ level, I might also throw in some cat pictures…

Some Thoughts on… The Synopsis

So you’ve written a novel, and it has been beta read, revised, edited, re-written, and buffed and polished until it shines, sings, and dances tangos around your typewriter. (Okay, so you don’t use a typewriter. But your manuscript probably doesn’t sing and dance either. Stay with me on this.) In other words, you’re ready to query.

You start going down your agent list, and Agent Number One, the “Dream Agent” (which you really shouldn’t have, but you do–can’t help it… we’ll talk about that another time), wants this thing called a “Synopsis.” What’s that? Well, etymologically speaking, the word comes from the Greek words sun and opsis, which together mean something like “seeing together.” (The Greek verb horao means “to see”; its future form, opsomai, has the same root as the noun opsis. Yes, in Classical Greek two tenses of the same verb can have different root forms. Isn’t Greek fun?) The first three Gospels in the New Testament are referred to as “Synoptic” because they have many stories in common that can be read in parallel. Over time, however, the word “synopsis” has come to mean (at least in English) a compressed overview of something. “Don’t go into detail; just give me a synopsis.” This could be a summary of the results of some experiment. Or, more commonly, a heavily abbreviated re-telling of a story. So when an agent asks for a synopsis, she’s asking for a 2-5 page summary of the novel, including all main plot points, even how it ends.

What’s the difference between a synopsis, and your 250-word query blurb? Your query blurb is meant to entice the agent to read your novel. You’ll introduce the main character and briefly describe the driving conflict behind the novel. You’re not giving away plot points, or the ending. The point is to make the agent request the manuscript so she can read what happens. Your blurb will be engaging, full of voice, and reflect the style of the story (witty? dramatic? creepy?). The synopsis, on the other hand, will be a pretty dry recounting of the events, so the agent can see how well you work out the plot, and whether the ending is worth the effort.

Here’s a pictorial representation of the difference between a query blurb, and a synopsis. First, this is your novel:

Now, here’s the query blurb.

See? Aren’t you enticed to find out more? And this is the synopsis:

Get the idea? The synopsis gives you a rough idea of the picture without any of the color, detail, or artistry that went into writing the novel.

And this is why many writers hate writing synopses. I mean, who in their right mind thinks that depiction of the Mona Lisa does da Vinci’s original justice? Sure, you get the idea that it’s a picture of a lady sitting outside somewhere. But where’s the skin tone? Where’s the detail on the trees? And where’s that enigmatic smile? The synopsis doesn’t entice. There’s no character, no depth, no artistry. You might pay millions for the original Mona Lisa, but you wouldn’t give a penny for the synopsis.

Those who want a synopsis would probably argue that the reason they want one is because they have already been enticed by the query, and like what they see of the writing in the first few pages. Before they offer representation, however, they need to know quickly whether you can construct a plot, and see it through to a satisfying conclusion. They know you can write, but can you write a marketable story? Basically, the synopsis will tell them whether or not its worth taking the time to read the entire manuscript.

Personally, I don’t think that’s fair. If an agent likes the query, and likes the writing, he should at least read the manuscript and discover the rest of the story with all the voice and color the writer intended. If he gets to the end and isn’t satisfied, he may still love the writing enough to ask for a “revise and resend” (i.e., suggest changes and ask the writer to re-submit when those changes have been made). Or he may pass on it anyway. The point is, reading a synopsis doesn’t do anything more for the agent than would reading the manuscript, other than save time because it won’t take as long. This doesn’t do justice to the work as a whole.

But what can you do? Not much. If an agent asks for a synopsis, unless you don’t really want to be represented by that agent, you have to follow the submission guidelines. On the plus side, writing a synopsis of your novel can be a useful exercise. If there are weaknesses in the plot, a synopsis will show them pretty starkly. No fluffy language hiding the fact that the dead waitress in chapter 5 is alive and well in chapter 7. Or that the major piece of evidence revealed in chapter 20 couldn’t exist because of a plot point in chapter 3.

And, so I’m told, even when you get a publishing deal, the demand for synopses won’t go away. Publishers will want to see a synopsis of each novel you write, and you will be the one to write them. So my advice is to suck it up and get used to it. Who said this writing gig was easy? Not me. Probably Harvey Q. Brakklehauser. Heard of him? No? My point.

What thoughts do you have about synopses? Any advice? Horror stories? Or do you actually like writing them?

Some Thoughts on Writing Rules

(Yes, I know this is a post about writing, but considering the feedback I received when I wrote about not giving writing tips any more, I feel a bit more emboldened to take the plunge. Feel free to comment your disagreements or alternative viewpoints.)

I’ve probably said something about writing rules in the past. If I have, it was long enough ago that I’ve forgotten, and you probably have too. In fact, I’ll probably repeat myself. Feel free to search through the blog archives to see if I’ve changed my mind on the subject. You can then quote me against myself and watch as I have an argument with Old Colin. It’ll be like watching a dog chasing its tail. On the other hand, you could just read on and argue with me yourself. 🙂

The earnest writer embarking on “serious writing” for the first time, will soon encounter “rules” they need to follow if they are to write well. These rules include such stalwarts as:

  • Show Don’t Tell
  • Avoid adverbs (totally, absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly)
  • Don’t end sentences with a preposition
  • Don’t start with the weather
  • Don’t start with the protagonist waking up from a dream
  • Only ever use “said” as a speech indicator (“What?” he said)
  • Avoid clichés like the plague

… and so on. There are lots more you can find online, I’m sure.

Here’s my main beef with these rules. When you are writing fiction, or even narrative non-fiction (i.e., non-fiction that reads like a novel), there are no rules. Creative writing is just that: creative. It is an exercise of the imagination, and where the imagination is concerned, anything goes.

Let me make one thing clear. As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in absolutes. There are rules by which the universe operates, and there are standards of morality whereby we were designed to function best to the glory of our Creator. I am by no means a moral pragmatist. However, when it comes to artistic endeavors, I am totally sold on the principle that what’s right is what works.

These “rules” have a place. They can guide us to better practices. When a piece of writing isn’t working, try applying some of these rules. But don’t feel enslaved to them. Sometimes (probably more often that we’d like to admit), telling makes for better narrative than showing. Sometimes adverbs are not only unavoidable, but necessary. There are great stories that start with the weather, or a dream. There are times when “said” doesn’t say enough. And a cliché might, on occasion, fit the prose better than an original saying.

But how do you know when to break the “rules”? How do you know when your writing “works”? That’s the tough question, partly because, despite what the MFA Police and the Grammar Gestapo would tell you, there is no universal standard of “good writing.” I’ve read best sellers that made my writerly skin crawl, and I’ve read freebie stories on the internet that make my literary heart sing. Even among the “Classics” there are books that people love to read even 100 years after they were first published, and books that are a struggle to get through the first 10 pages. Why these are “Classics” is an argument for the academics, and academics will disagree over which books belong in that blessed canon, which proves my point.

So how do you know if your writing “works”? In my experience… here it comes… the big answer… the key to unlock the mysteries of writing… you just know. What??! Yes, I know, that’s a bit lame, but it’s the truth. But how do I know? Because I read a lot, and I guess I have some facility with words (so I’ve been told), I know when a sentence rings true and when it clunks. I don’t always see it, which is why having beta readers is useful. But often I know when I’ve written something worthy of being read by others, and when I ought to just delete and start over.

How does that help you, O budding wordsmith? First, if you love books, and love writing, you probably have an intuition toward what makes a good sentence. You can feel the rhythm of the language, and you’re not afraid to spend minutes or hours mulling over the correct way to phrase something, or the best word to use out of two or three alternatives. In your first draft, trust your instincts. Write boldly, without fear of Strunk, White, or Elmore Leonard. Then review your work, and edit ruthlessly, giving in to that same urge that would take a red pen to a best selling novel. Then give your work to some trusted friends. They may agree with your choices, or they may disagree. Listen to their suggestions. If they say “You’re telling not showing here,” don’t immediately think you’ve done something wrong. Ask, “Yes, but is telling better here than showing?” Your friend might be hitting you with a rule simply because you broke one, not because the rule works.

Okay, enough of my waffling. Let’s have some other points of view. First, here’s an hour-long presentation writer Lee Child gave on the subject of writing rules and why he doesn’t believe in them. (It’s in two parts; watch them in the order I’ve linked them.) In some literary circles, what he says here is blasphemy, and would be cause to have him burned as a heretic. That alone makes these videos worth watching. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I urge you to hear him out and give what he says some thought:

Next, I recommend Jeff Somers’ Unconventional Writing blog, similarly packed with MFA-defying heresies, couched in Jeff’s incomparable wit and charm with a dusting of profanity:

Writing Without Rules–Unconventional Tips for Writing the Wrong Way

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of writing rules? Agree with me? Disagree? Comment below!

Some Thoughts on Reading and Writing

A while ago, there was a discussion on Janet Reid’s blog around how much you should read in your chosen genre before you write that genre.* The received wisdom is 100 books. Yes, 100 books in your genre of choice, before you commit to writing that novel. Some of you can easily burn through a 300-page novel in an afternoon, so 100 books is a summer vacation assignment. For others who, due to time constraints, or other reasons, are not fast readers, that sounds like a six-month commitment. Maybe longer. I’m doing really well if I can get through 50 books in a year at the moment. What does that mean for the person chomping at the bit, eager to write their big crime novel, who has only read a handful of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories, and maybe one or two Michael Connelly and Lee Child books? Must they wait?

Here’s my take on this dilemma, for what it’s worth. I’m an as-yet unpublished writer, so I offer these thoughts for consideration, not as proven method. Indeed, I invite discussion in the comments.

What’s the Point of the Rule?

Whenever anyone spouts a so-called “rule” of writing, I’m immediately skeptical. For every rule, there’s a successful (and talented) author who has broken it. But these “rules” end up in how-to books and Writer’s Digest articles, so there must be a reason for them.

Before embracing or endorsing the rule, I ask a simple question: “What’s the point of the rule?” Because behind every writing rule, there are scores of literary agents and editors throwing paper, pencils, and laptops around in frustration at yet another dim-witted wannabe writer who doesn’t know his apostrophes from his asterisks, writing boring, been-there-done-that, prose, thinking they’re the next Hemingway.

Behind this particular rule is the idea that in order to write something original, you need to have a good feel for what’s been done. Also, if you want to get a good idea of how your novel fits into the general canon of the genre, you need to have a familiarity with that canon. All this helps the agent and publisher sell your book. If you’re writing another re-hash of a P.D. James plot, then no-one’s going to be interested.

That’s all well and good. BUT

You and I know there are plenty of books out there with settings and plots that all ring familiar. And yet millions buy them and enjoy them. Why? I think because each writer brings something unique to the telling of the story. Whether it’s their style, their “voice,” or their characters, or their peculiar perspective on the familiar, or something else, there’s a reason we keep turning the pages. It’s like a Columbo mystery, where we know who did it and how it’s going to end up within the first ten minutes of the show. And yet we keep watching because we love Columbo, and we love watching how he solves the murder.

If you ask me, I think writers should definitely be readers, and read as much and as often as possible. Writers should also write, and write as much as they can as often as they can. As a writer you should feel free to imitate styles, try out different genres, and find your voice and perspective. Then write whatever the heckovellia you want to write. Even if you’ve only read a couple of books in that genre. The worst that can happen is no-one will read it. But have fun. Enjoy what you write. If you’ve got any talent, you’ll know if what you’ve written is worthless dung,** or if you’re onto something. After that, all the usual “rules” about getting beta readers and so on apply.

What do you think? Disagree if you want. After all, what do I know? 🙂

* I’ve realized that I’ve probably written more in the comments on Janet’s blog articles than I’ve written articles on my own blog! Okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but that’s an imbalance I ought to redress.

** As opposed to priceless dung? I’m sure flies and beetles can tell the difference.

Dead Battery

OK, so I know Wolf-Link is not exactly a car, but it’s the best I could do!

Last week, our main vehicle–the eight-seater–wouldn’t start. My wife turned the key in the ignition and heard click-click-click-click. Dead battery? Or something worse? I am not a car mechanic by any stretch of even the most elastic imagination, and yet she turned to me to investigate. So I turned to the internet. Googled a couple of sites. Yes, could be the battery. Worse, it could be the alternator. What’s an alternator? What’s a battery? Kidding. I know what a battery is. The alternator is the piece of magic that charges the battery when the car runs. If battery’s dead, then you should be able to jump-start the car, leave it running for a while, and all should be well. If your alternator’s bitten the dust, then jump-starting the car might help for as long as the jumper cables are connected. As soon as you disconnect, the battery will drain and you’re back to square one. Batteries are relatively cheap and easy to install. Alternators are not.

Armed with this vital intel, I checked out the battery. I noticed white residue around the connectors. “What’s this?” I asked Google. Thankfully, I didn’t do the classic detective show move of tasting the stuff, otherwise I might not be typing this now. It seems this stuff is lead sulphate. I am no chemist, but that doesn’t sound healthy. Not like sodium chloride. it seems lead sulphate is highly corrosive, and toxic to inhale, let alone eat. Taking the advice of the online mechanics, I put on gloves and a mask, and attacked that white stuff with a wire brush and a mixture of hot water and baking soda. Seemed to do the trick.

I did not take this picture. This guy clearly has a death wish…

At last I was ready to try jumping the car. I hooked up our secondary vehicle using newly-acquired jumper cables (if anyone needs a jump-start, we’re ready for you!), attaching the clips in the prescribed sequence (red to dead, red to live, black to live, black to ground–i.e, some other metallic part of the car with the dead battery, away from the battery). The car started. Yay! I removed the cables, and the car continued to run. Double-yay! Probably not the alternator. I let the car run for about half an hour. Then cut it off, and tried re-starting. Click-click-click-click. *sigh*

It was evening, so I didn’t do anything else with the car, then in the morning we called our local mechanic. He said it was probably the battery, and to jump-start the car and bring it in so they can check for sure. I was able to jump-start the car again, and we got it to our wizards of all things vehicular. They confirmed the battery diagnosis, and assured us it’s only the battery. We put a new battery in, the car started, and all is well.

So, what’s the point of the story? Amazingly, there is one–aside from bragging about my new-found mechanical prowess fighting lead sulphate and wielding jumper cables. And it’s to do with writing.

You see, at the moment I’m feeling pretty uninspired. I started on a short story the other week, and it’s… boring. Dull. I like the idea behind it, but I’m not doing it justice. And I’m not sure I have the energy to right now. Work’s been really busy of late, and I’m sure having a head full of code and being tired play a large part in my current writing malaise. I’m like a dead battery. Occasionally I’ll jump-start myself and write a few lines, or something like this blog article. But then I’m drained. I probably just need the right kind of inspiration, something like being hooked to a healthy battery for ten minutes, where I can then run on my own for a while to get me going. I need to give my writing alternator a chance to power up my creative battery.

I’m just not sure what that inspiration is at the moment.

Anyway. In the event anyone else out there is feeling like a dead battery… here’s some empathy. Got some inspiration? 🙂

Writing about Writing

You might notice that the tag-line to this blog says “Reading Writing Music Theology Etc.” If you’ve been following for any length of time (well, not any length–I mean, if you’ve been following for a few days this wouldn’t appy) you’ll have seen book reviews, Music Mondays, Sunday School Notes, Doctor Who stuff, and other things. But where’s the writing? Sure, I’ve posted some flash fiction from time to time. But you may have noticed I’ve gone quiet when it comes to writing tips and publishing advice.

Back when I started this blog, oh some six years ago now, I did a mini-series (a costume drama, I think) on querying agents, giving tips and suggestions. I was, at that time, querying my first query-ready novel. I had done a lot of reading, and I wanted to sum up all my research and offer it up to the world.

Since that time, however, I’ve done some hard thinking. You see, I am, and remain to this day, an unagented, unpublished writer. So my expertise in publishing is as good as my reading and conversations I’ve had with agents and published writers. I don’t have anything to offer by way of good, positive experience. When I look for query advice, there are two types of people I consider SMEs (Subject Matter Experts):

  • The people who read queries as a job requirement and necessity (i.e., literary agents and editors)
  • People whose queries have secured them multiple requests from agents, or, who have secured agency representation as a result of their queries. In other words, people who have written successful queries. Queries that have produced the desired result.

I am in neither of these camps. So why should anyone listen to what I have to say, when you have plenty of SMEs telling you what you want to know?

As for writing tips, sure I can tell you what works for me. But I have nothing to show for my writing so far, so why should you care what works for me? Clearly what works for me doesn’t yet work for many other people. Again, when I want writing tips, who do I turn to? Published authors whose work I like, people who have demonstrated ability with the craft of writing, and have, as a result, written work that is salable and/or critically acclaimed.

So, at least for now, until I have a credible enough platform from which to pontificate, I’ll gladly point you to SMEs. But unless, for some strange reason, you want to read my thoughts on writing, how I go about composing prose, or whatever, I won’t be posting “tips and tricks” here. Or anywhere else. It just seems a little presumptuous, and a bit arrogant, of me. After all, in the immortal words of the Eighth Doctor, “Who am I?” (Whovian in-joke). So here are some SMEs to get you started. You can easily Google for more:

Query SMEs:

Query Shark/Janet Reid

Carly Watters

Publishing Crawl (Pub Crawl)

Various Tips from Literary Agents

… and other Literary Agent blogs.

Writing SMEs:

Stephen King (his book ON WRITING)

Jeff Somers

Writer’s Digest

James Scott Bell

Birthday Flash!

Don’t worry, it’s nothing inappropriate. As you may have observed, I’m not doing the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge this year. For the past three years, I’ve posted flash fiction every day in April for this challenge. This year, however, I wanted to work on stories I intend to sell instead. When I told my wife, she was a little disappointed (awww!), since she enjoyed the stories I posted in previous years. “As long as you post one for my birthday,” she said.

My wife’s birthday was on Monday, but I wanted to wait until today to fulfill my end of the bargain, since I knew articles would post on Tuesday, and I didn’t want her to miss it.

But what to write about? I usually have a word or title prompt, so for today’s story, I turned to the trusty Random Word Generator. Here’s what it gave me:

  • square
  • curtain
  • cork
  • socks
  • capital

So, here’s my 200 word story using those five words. Happy birthday, wifey! 🙂

The Cheeder’s Dance

It’s the strangest square dance I’ve ever been to, but we haven’t been out for a month, and I don’t want Amy to think something’s wrong. Besides, she says the Cheeder’s Dance is legendary.

The caller, Mary Beth, leads us through some traditional moves, then

“Curtain!”

I’m confused. Is this part of her patter? I stand with the other guys, while the girls dance around us. Amy puts her hands in front of my eyes. Ah, yes—curtain. I get it. As her hands fall away, I smell something familiar. But we start promenading, before I can ask.

“Corkscrew!”

The girls remove scarves from around their necks and waists. Amy pulls one from a pocket in her skirt, then begins twirling it around my head as she circles me. I’ve seen that scarf before, but I don’t recall Amy ever wearing it. And we’re promenading again.

“Now then ladies, take your bleeders, let’s get capital with those cheeders!”

The girls in unison pull switchblades from their socks. Cheeders? It come at me in a rush. The scent on her wrists, the scarf… she knows.

There’s that perfume smell again.

The flash of a blade.

A tug of my hair.

Darkness.

The Manhattan Trip, Day One

My FirstBorn, Sarah, is in the process of applying to various schools, pursuing her dream of a career on the stage. As one might expect, schools that specialize in the performing arts usually require applicants to audition. So Sarah has been saving up her hard earned pennies to travel around, giving monologues and singing songs in the hope of getting an offer of admission.

Last Friday and Saturday (January 27th and 28th), she auditioned for Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Both auditions were in New York City. I thought it might be fun, and helpful to her, if I tagged along. That way, we could split costs and both get to see some of the Big Apple. We set off on Thursday morning, flying down to Charlotte, NC, and from there to John F. Kennedy Airport.

The last time Sarah traveled by plane was eleven years ago, when she, SecondBorn, and I flew to England. She wasn’t even a teenager then, so for this trip, I let her take the window seat so she could enjoy watching the earth fall away from us, and the cars and houses shrink as we flew high over the trees and into the clouds. Flying gives you a whole new perspective on places you think you know. I always find it incredible how green North Carolina is, something I don’t always appreciate at ground level. And I never realized how many little islands there are off the shore line of New York. They sit on the water like broken fragments, some with a few roads and a building or two, some seemingly unpopulated. Do people travel to these islands? Is there anything worth visiting on them, or are they just cast-off bits of land, like strips of discarded cloth on the dressmaker’s floor?

Our New York adventure started with a twist. Just as we were making our approach to JFK, the captain came on the intercom to tell us that we had to circle and land on a different runway because the plane in front of us encountered some birds on touchdown. The aircraft was okay, but the runway had to be cleared of the… results, which meant we needed to land elsewhere. Sarah and I had no agenda for the day other than getting to our hotel, so we didn’t mind the slight delay. The plane eventually landed, and we got out at JFK…

We then spent the next two hours getting to the hotel. Yes. Two hours. First we had to take the AirTrain from the airport to the subway. If you’re not familiar with New York City, like other big cities (Washington DC, London, Paris, etc.), it has an underground railway system that enables people to get around relatively cheaply and quickly without having to deal with traffic and parking. New Yorkers make much use of the subway because New York is very big. Very very big. Our hotel was (and still is) on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, so we needed to get a train on the E-line. This meant we had to get off the AirTrain at its last stop, buy a MetroCard, and then take the next E-train to Seventh Avenue. From where we were, that was about 20 stops down the line. It would take about thirty to forty minutes normally, but our train had to stop part-way into the journey because the train ahead of us had slammed on its emergency brakes. I have no idea why–our driver didn’t go into detail. But we had to wait for that train to go, and then wait a few more minutes to allow for time between trains.

Macy’s of Times Square, the largest store in the world. I think it would make a nice library.

When we finally emerged onto Seventh Avenue, Sarah pulled out her phone and checked Google Maps. The hotel was on the other side of Times Square, about a twenty minute walk. So we headed down Seventh Avenue, surrounded by the bright lights, billboards, and sky-scraping buildings for which New York is renown. It’s hard to try to take everything in and not get run over by pedestrians. New Yorkers are people on a mission. Whenever we crossed a street, the hoards lined up on either side like warriors on the battlefield waiting for the light to change so they could engage. As soon as the signal turned to “Walk,” the two sides charged, and so help you if you got in the way of someone trying to make it to the other side. Thankfully, Sarah and I packed relatively light, so we didn’t have a lot of luggage to slow us down.

We were staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across the road from Madison Square Garden. The hotel looked nice, and from the lobby area you would think it quite plush. But our room was a bit primitive. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the fact that whenever I travel for work, we usually stay at nice hotels, so I’ve come to expect little details like a coffee maker that I can use to get hot water for my tea, and a shower that takes less than five minutes to produce hot water that comes out of the shower head at a fair clip. And this was supposed to be one of the newer rooms. At least we didn’t pay a lot for it, and Sarah and I agreed it was worth putting up with for a couple of nights for the sake of being in midtown Manhattan, close to where her auditions were being held.

For supper that evening, we visited Korea Town, which is a street in midtown Manhattan given over to the Korean community (kind of like Chinatown, which is elsewhere in NYC). There we found our choice of Korean restaurants, as well as Korean stores and bakeries. Both Sarah and her sister (SecondBorn) enjoy Korean food and music (K-Pop), so a visit to Korea Town was inevitable. We ate at a restaurant called Han Bat, and I ordered a dish called Bok Eum Bab. I don’t recall what Sarah got, sorry. Our meal came with side dishes:

As best I recall, from left to right we have potato squares cooked in some kind of pork broth, thin strands of radish (pickled?), kimchi (fermented vegetables–a traditional Korean dish), lettuce with a kimchi-style dressing (quite spicy), what looked like strips of cooked eggplant–it had that kind of texture, some kind of green vegetable, and crunchy seaweed.

My Bok Eum Bab was essentially fried rice with broccoli and tofu squares:

As you can see, they served a lot of food. It wasn’t bad, but it needed a splash of soy sauce to give the flavor a bit of a kick. It was expensive, however (at least compared to what I’m used to here in North Carolina). I don’t think any of the menu items were less than $15.

After dinner, we ventured back down Korea Way (yes, there’s actually a street called Korea Way, with the street name in Korean underneath the English), and checked out the Korean book and music store. I mentioned Sarah and SecondBorn both love K-Pop, so this was heaven on earth for Sarah. Shelves of K-Pop, as well as merchandise, and posters. I was taken with the rows of books, all in Korean. Down the center of the store they had a table with stacks of books that appeared to be Korean translations of popular novels (GAME OF THRONES, and REVIVAL by Stephen King to name a couple I remember).

After some hot beverages at the Besfren café (I got a chai “Teappuccino”), we took a walk past the Empire State Building, and then back to the hotel.

That was Day One. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about Day Two, which includes Juilliard, the Lennon Memorial, Mood, Hell’s Kitchen, and a Shark at New Leaf…

Why Do You Write?

I’m a writer. Whether it’s flash fiction, or my growing mound of as-yet-unpublished short stories and novels, or this blog, or academic papers, or Sunday School notes, or devotionals, I enjoy writing. But why do I write? What is it about writing that makes me want to do it? Some writers say they can’t not write, or if they don’t write they feel sick, or their world is out of kilter. For some, writing is literally a life-line, saving them from mental stagnation, or perhaps from engaging in less positive activities.

These aren’t my reasons. There are other things I can do (most not nearly as well, however), and I don’t feel like I have to write every day. I don’t believe this makes me less of a writer. But if I don’t live to write (or write to live), why bother? Here are some of my reasons:

To Communicate. I don’t consider myself a sharp speaker. I’m not one of those people who always has the right word on the tip of his tongue. Writing gives me the chance to think about what I want to say, choose the correct words, and craft the sentences so they sing–or at least make a pleasant noise–and do this in my own time. With writing, I can also edit before I publish. Once a thing is said, there’s no taking it back. It’s out there, hanging in the air, and echoing in the ears and brains of all who heard it. When you’re writing, you can let your words sit for a day or two, and tweak them before making them public.

To Create. I have a very strong creative impulse. My non-verbal outlet for creativity is music; my verbal outlet is writing. I enjoy creating worlds and characters in my mind, and breathing life into them on the page (or screen). I derive a lot of pleasure from dreaming up possible (and impossible) situations, “what-if” scenarios, and letting them play out in a story. And I love the power stories have not only to entertain, but to educate, and to make you think about things you may never have given thought to before. This gift of creativity is a divine gift, one of God’s communicable attributes, as theologians would say. No other living organism on this planet has been given such creative ability. That alone is good reason to exercise it.

To Affect. Stories, like music, are powerful. They affect people. This affect might be fleeting, or it might be quite profound. It can be no more than giving someone a laugh, or a scare, making a few minutes’ down-time that much more enjoyable. Or the story might comfort someone through a difficult time, or help someone deal with a major issue in his or her life, touching deep into the soul.

When I was young, I was prone to temper tantrums. My mum could tell you stories of the hissy fits I pulled because I did or didn’t want to do something I was being told to do (or not to do). Often these tantrums would end up with me being sent to my room in tears. I would lie on my bed sobbing angrily into my pillow, sometimes hitting the floor or the door (depending on how mad I was) to get my parent’s attention, so they would understand how upset I was, and perhaps have a change of heart. (I’m glad to say, they always held firm and never gave in to me.) After a while, the tears would subside, but I would smolder under a cloud, like a spent fire billowing smoke. That’s when I would go to my bookshelf and pick out a book. We had a set of “Wonderful World of Disney” books, each volume dedicated to a different aspect of the Disney film output (nature, fairy tales, live-action adventure, etc.) One of these books contained fiction stories. This was my go-to book for when I was smoldering. And my go-to story featured Donald Duck (no surprise). I don’t recall the details of the story, but it involved Donald getting really upset about things, and having to choose between following the angel duck on one shoulder, or the devil duck on the other shoulder. Donald ends up learning his lesson and doing the right thing. By the time I got to the story’s end, my cloud had lifted, the smoke dissipated, and I would be back to my better self, possibly even feeling a bit guilty for getting so angry.

I don’t know who wrote that story, but if my writing could have such an impact on even one person, I’d be very gratified.

If you’re a writer, why do you write? Are you one of those “write-or-die” writers, or do you have a much more casual relationship with writing?

Links and Stuff

Hello, again! Or if this is your first visit to my blog, HELLO!! Sorry–was that a bit too loud and overbearing? No… wait… come back!! *sigh* Well, I guess it’s just you and me again, Mum! 🙂

It’s all packing and cleaning here at Chez Smith as the hunt for that elusive right-house-at-the-right-price continues. We’ve looked at some more houses this week, a couple of which have promise, and one in particular everyone seems to like. Except I’d need them to come down on the price. I know everyone’s getting sick of me saying it (“What do you think, Dad?” “Very nice… now, if they could drop the price by about $40k, we might be able to afford it and still eat!”), but someone has to make sure we don’t fall into ruin for the sake of having nice digs. Those who are of a praying inclination, please feel free to offer petitions on our behalf, mostly for wisdom, and patience.

Sam the Cat’s loving all this new empty shelf space, though. We’ve often pondered what he looks like. A loaf of bread? An oversize Pikachu? It seems he thinks he’s the next “Game of Thrones” novel:

SamTheShelf

Can you believe it’s August already? I set myself two goals for the end of July: finish ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow, and finish another short story. As you can see from the review I posted on Wednesday, I completed the first of those goals, and thoroughly enjoyed the book. I also managed the second, which is good since I’m trying to write a short story every month. My hope is to build a little collection of them that I can submit to magazines. Having stories published in well-regarded magazines always looks good to agents, and can give a little bump to the finances, which is not to be sneezed at when you’re contemplating the size of a mortgage.

Forbes issued its list of the World’s Highest-Paid Authors. Now, I know we don’t write for the money, but many of us would at least like to make some kind of a living with our words. So, in a strange way, it can be encouraging to see authors earn lots of money from their books. After all, if these few can make millions, then isn’t it possible for many of us to at least pay the bills and buy food? To me, it was fun to see Veronica Roth on the list. I remember reading the blog posts when she signed with her agent, Joanne Volpe, now with New Leaf Literary Agency. And then her YA dystopian novel, DIVERGENT, was published to great fanfare. It became a bestseller, then the sequel came out, then there was talk of movie deals… and now she’s in the Top 20 richest writers list. Well done, Veronica!

What are your thoughts on writing and money? If you’re a writer, have you ever written for the money–even if it was just one short story to help pay a bill?

That’s it for now. Have a great week! 🙂