Litlets

November 7, 2010

Book Review: Brewing Fine Fiction

Filed under: books,e-books,Fiction,reading,Reviews,What I'm Reading — crcb @ 10:18 pm
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Brewing Fine Fiction: Advice for Writers from the Authors at Book View Cafe (http://bookviewcafe.com/)
edited by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff and Pati Nagle

Brewing Fine Fiction is a collection of fiction-writing articles by many authors. I read the ebook version, but it is also available as a printed book. (Disclaimer: I received this book for free through LibraryThing. Reviewing the book, whether positively or negatively, makes it more likely that I will receive other books in the future. I am receiving no other compensation for this review.)

The articles in BFF are primarily about genre fiction, mostly of the fantastic variety (fantasy and science fiction), but most would be just as relevant to mainstream fiction. Authors ranges from the famous (Ursula K. Le Guin) to the less well known, at least to me (Chris Dolley). The book is arranged into five categories: The Basics, Craft, Research, Marketing Your Work and The Writer’s Life.

I find little to take issue with in this collection. The distinction between The Basics and Craft escapes me; I can see any article in either section being put in the other. A couple of pieces made me wonder whether the editors were padding the book out to a contractually determined page count. For instance, “How to Escape from the Slushpile,” by Madeleine E. Robins, has the virtue of brevity (about 500 words), but makes only two points: follow standard submission and formatting procedures, and write a good book. Any writer who finds this helpful isn’t ready for most of the other articles gathered in BFF.

But the bulk of the articles are far better than this, and any fiction writer would find much in here to like and use. Standouts for me include Sherwood Smith’s “Sweating the Little Stuff” and Judith Tarr’s “The Alien in the Pasture: A Brief Disquisition on Horses for Writers.” The latter should be required reading for any writer of swords-and-sorcery fantasy, or westerns. (I’ve been guilty of treating horses as grass-fueled motorcycles in some of my attempts at fiction.)

One of the nice little features of this book is the use of literary quotations between articles, for reinforcement or counterpoint.

Overall, Brewing Fine Fiction is a worthwhile addition to any fiction writer’s reference collection. I know there are some articles I’ll be going back to multiple times.

September 24, 2009

What I’m working on, 9/24/2009

I’ve started a new novel in the fantasy genre. I’m excited about this one because it’s the first time I’ve ever begun a story with a clear picture of the protagonist. I’m prone to tepid main characters, saving all the spice and color for the supporting cast.

I’ve created names and descriptions for the major players and places, I have a sketchy idea of the overall story arc, and I have a good view of an important early scene. I suppose I could do some more diagramming and brainstorming and planning, but I think it’s time to dive in. I plan to write — not necessarily the opening scene, but a scene — this weekend.

Without giving too much away, I think I can describe it as Gulliver’s Travels meets Candide meets Gargantua and Pantagruel, except that it’s not much like any of them. (And I’m not talking only about the quality.)

July 10, 2009

Writing Exercise: 7 sketches

Filed under: Fiction,Litlets,Prose,Writing — crcb @ 9:49 pm
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Seven brief fictions, if they have enough narrative to be called that.

Stray Dog
I hadn’t trimmed my beard or hair for six months. A woman walked up to me on the street and barked in my face — r-r-rarf! arf! — then rejoined her laughing friends.

I had kissed her once in a rose garden.

Orphan
His father, who had buried both parents and a sister without a tear, cried for hours when his favorite cartoonist died.

Lap Dance
The stripper smells of cotton candy and sweat. She whispers something in your ear. You catch the word “death.”

Anniversaries
He went barefoot only in bed and the shower; she danced naked on the balcony. Their friends knew the marriage was doomed, and hung back from the impending carnage.

Finding themselves isolated, they clung to one another. He forced himself to wear sandals without socks. She learned to love the drag of fabric during sex.

Bent Twigs
Despite teaching geology, he still expects limestone to taste like limes.

Filters
She had learned to sleep through the gunshots, choppers and sirens of her new neighborhood, but would often lie awake until morning waiting for the next yip from the neighbor’s spaniel.

Losing It
Once, she could name the seven races of ETs, the ten pre-human civilizations, and the nineteen ranks of demons. Her faith wandered off when she forgot to feed it. Now that she was alone again, it came nosing at the door.

June 21, 2009

Call for Submissions: NPR Three-Minute Fiction Contest

NPR is running a flash fiction contest for the summer. The maximum length is 600 words — a story that can be read aloud in at most three minutes. You do sign over perpetual (non-exclusive) rights to your work, which I know will be a deal-killer for some. Must be 18 or over to enter.

The challenge: send in an original short story “that can be read in three minutes or less”

Entry fee: none

Prize: check the website for details, but the prize includes an autographed copy of James Wood’s How Fiction Works and major writing cred

Deadline: 7/18/2009

Details: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105689057

March 16, 2009

Writing Exercise: Flashprompt: “Dot”

The exercise: use a random word as the prompt for a prose piece from 100-300 words long. The word for this exercise: “dot.”

The story (if one can call it that) below is completely fictional.

Dot

I’d assumed it was short for Dorothy; I was wrong. She had two brothers, Bob and Bill. Not Robert and William.

Dot wrote in the George Bernard Shaw way, using no apostrophes in her contractions: didnt, youre. She wasn’t a bookworm, and didn’t know who Shaw was until I told her. She read half of Man and Superman, then gave him up. If she was going to read, she preferred nonfiction.

On our fifth date, she invited me to her apartment for coffee. Her home was tidily cluttered, if you know what I mean; there was too much stuff, but everything had its place and a reason to be there.

As she was grinding the coffee beans, I kissed her from behind and tried to slip a hand under her blouse. She gently pushed it away.

“People think they want sex,” she said, “when they really want intimacy. It takes time to know someone.”

I cut the visit short, and the relationship, but we remained friends. I introduced her to my cousin Richard (not Rich, or Rick, or Dick), an English professor who wrote his thesis on Shaw’s language reforms. I was best man at their wedding, and now they’re expecting their first child.

The argument over baby names threatens to end their marriage.

February 15, 2009

Some Thoughts on The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison; introductory material by Paul Edmund Thomas

Coleridge, and others after him, have written of the “willing suspension of disbelief” involved in reading imaginative literature, but I’ve seen nothing on the “willing suspension of disapproval.” Just as we must accept the physical world of the story – whether it includes dragons, shadow governments, or people who talk in aphorisms – we also must accept the moral world of the story.

For The Worm Ouroboros, this means accepting the glorification of war, which is implicit throughout. The virtues the characters admire are warrior virtues. It has this in common with the Icelandic sagas and Homeric epics that, according to Paul Edmund Thomas’s introduction, were major influences on Eddison.

I don’t read Icelandic or Greek, so I can’t say how much of Eddison’s prose style was based on his sources. Ouroboros is written in a pseudo-archaic dialect of Eddison’s own invention. This is part of the world the reader must accept. However, after a few chapters, I found the style mostly unobtrusive, sometimes delightful, and only rarely painful. As Tolkien and others have noted, the names of the characters don’t seem to belong to any unified cultural context, but I don’t think that’s a flaw. There are obviously a number of nations in Eddison’s world, with much contact and commerce among them. In the mundane world, my own circle of acquaintances provides names from at least five continents, and from too many languages to estimate.

Thomas, despite my snarky comments in an earlier post, is understandably defensive about Eddison’s powers of characterization. The heroes are mostly indistinguishable from one another. The one who stands out in my memory is Brandoch Daha, who is both a dandy and a berserker – and having told you that, I’ve told you all I remember of him. Eddison sometimes does a better job with the villains. King Gorice XII combines courage, cunning, charisma, and a number of other alliterative traits. The aptly-named Corsus, who panders his own daughter for a command position, is also memorable. But the most intriguing and nuanced character in the novel is the counselor Lord Gro, a bit player whose fidelity to his own principles (and they are not selfish ones) leads him to be a traitor to multiple sides.

As you might expect from a tale weak on character, events are plot-driven. Despite (or maybe because of) the careful construction of the symmetrical narrative, which circles around to bite its own tail, the novel feels episodic. Most acts and decisions seem to arise from force of plot rather than force of character. The “and so” is provided by a scheme outside the world of the story; within, all is “and then.”

According to Thomas, many readers have a problem with the beginning of the novel, which introduces a quickly-dropped framing narrative. I have more trouble with the conclusion, where the exaltation of war becomes explicit. If you can buy into that ethos, the ending gives the body of the tale more meaning. If your morals, like mine, are a little old and stiff and just won’t bend that far, the ending makes the main part of the book meaningless.

But I shouldn’t let that be the last word. I enjoyed the novel enough to go on to Eddison’s Zimiamvia trilogy, as soon as I find the volume I’m missing.

December 29, 2008

My goals for 2009

I’m too self-skeptical to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’ve set the following goals. (These could also be considered my list of Big, Fun, Scary Things for 2009.) This list is subject to additions, deletions and alterations at any time.

  • Find a permanent job. I’ve been doing the IT contracting thing for a while now, but that puts me in a volatile sector in a volatile career field. Choosing a place to settle down is a gamble. What if they have massive layoffs, or move the office to a distant state? (Both have happened to me, and I had been happy in those jobs.) What if the company looks good on paper, but turns out to be another Dickensian, Dilbertesque or Kafkaesque environment? (I’ve worked in all three. A sense of humor is mandatory.)
  • Start learning Polish. I’ve often threatened to learn a second language. In addition to high school Spanish, and German and Koiné Greek in college, at various times I’ve toyed with Italian, French, Latin, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Icelandic. I couldn’t ask for a cup of coffee in any of those languages. Polish, with its scarcity of vowels, is intimidating, but I admire Polish culture and have enjoyed many Polish writers in translation.
  • Start learning yoga. I have the For Dummies book. I don’t intend to become a human knot, but I would like to become more fit and less stressed.
  • Start meditating. I’ve meditated sporadically, by which I mean about five times a year, for a couple of decades. I need to start revving down my type-A personality. I might even begin sleeping eight hours a night. (Why is everyone laughing?)
  • Write a play. I’ve written plays before, but that was in my dadaist period; they made no sense and were completely unstageable. (As I recall, one ended with the destruction of the universe.) I’d like to script something that could actually be performed.
  • Write song lyrics. I’ve written the lyrics for two or three songs in my life, and I still don’t know what I’m doing. I hope to learn. Composing melody is beyond me.
  • Write at least one poem a day in April. I do this every year for National Poetry Month, but I think it still counts as an adventure. I usually end the month with at least one or two keepers.
  • ScriptFrenzy. This is the cousin to National Novel Writing Month; the goal is to write a full-length film screenplay in one month. Unfortunately, ScriptFrenzy coincides with National Poetry Month. (There goes my “eight hours of sleep” goal.) I’ll be collaborating with my wife, Anne, in this adventure.
  • Create my personal website. I’ve owned the domain for years. I keep tinkering with the site design. It’s time to just do it.
  • Publish a piece of fiction—for pay—in currency, not copies. Just to prove I can.
  • Make a good start on that philosophical-epic-dramatic poem I have notes for on a million scattered scraps of paper. (Working title: “Polyphanic Idiographies.”)
  • Recycle the abandoned items on this list for 2010.

December 5, 2007

Near Christmas

Filed under: Christmas,Fiction,Humor — crcb @ 10:49 pm
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Mood: paginated

Now Ronald Butterworth was a deacon of the Second Salvation Church, and a police officer. And one night an angel spoke unto him and said, “Take off thy Kevlar, and put thy trust in the Lord.”

And Ronald answered him and said, “Thy?”

Then the angel sighed and said, “People believe better when they have a little trouble understanding the message.”

“Oh,” said Ronald. But he heeded the angel and went to the bust unarmored, and he was gunned down, and died in the street.

Now when Ronald came before the throne of the Lord’s glory, he said, “I thought you had my back. What happened?”

“Yeah,” said the Lord, “sorry about that. The dealer promised to give his soul to Jesus if I’d do this for him. My son’s a collector, and his birthday is coming up.”

And Ronald said, “All my adult life I’ve served you and guarded my neighbors, and you favored a criminal over me?”

Then the Lord’s wrath grew, and he said unto Ronald, “Three nights ago, did I not help you fill an inside straight? Fair’s fair. Do you want me to answer prayers, or not?”

“Oh, when you put it that way,” said Ronald. “But who will take care of my wife?”

“I’m on it,” said the Lord. “She’s been asking me that for years.”

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