“We’ve all heard the expression ‘one person, one vote’ used to promote the idea that every human being deserves a voice in the political process. Well, I like literature that’s ‘one person, one truth’ – that each person’s experience, no matter how marginal, has the power to tell us something vital about what it means to be human. It’s true that, in many ways, fiction has not been universal: It’s probably been a middle-class form, and there are definitely forgotten people whose lives have not been chronicled. I don’t think writers should be self-congratulatory. But one of the ideological things that the novel form helped accomplish was to expand literature’s focus. The novel tends to show us that the lives of ‘ordinary people’ are as full of drama, emotion, and even political significance as those of the greats.”
—novelist Tom Perotta in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed by Joe Fassler (2017)
“—A caller reported a woman tried to steal from a local grocery store and was allegedly driving a small red pickup. Employees reportedly recovered the cart before she could get away with the groceries.
“—A woman who allegedly attempted to rob a local grocery store called to request access to her personal belongings that she left behind. In her rush to escape with the cart full of goods, she had reportedly left her purse behind.”
Something tells me that when employees discovered the purse, they called the sheriff—and that this isn’t going to work out quite the way she expected.
“In almost every major literature there are works that make you love being human, and make you love and revere the humanity of other people. That is the great potential of any art. Viewed this way, our language—and especially literature, that special, potent case—has incredible power. “Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express. When you enter into the dance with language, you’ll begin to find that there’s something before, or behind, or more absolute than the thing that you thought you wanted to express. And as you work, other kinds of meaning emerge than what you might have expected. It’s like wrestling with the angel: On the one hand you feel the constraints of what can be said, but on the other hand you feel the infinite potential. There’s nothing more interesting than language and the problem of trying to bend it to your will, which you can never quite do. You can only find what it contains, which is always a surprise.”
— Marilynne Robinson, in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed by Joe Fassler (2017)
I’m a big fan of literary agent and teacher Donald Maass. I’ve attended both his Break-out Novel Intensive (BONI) and his BONI Graduate Retreat, intensive seminars where 30 writers gather for a week of classes with Don, Lorin Oberwenger, and other instructors. When I attended BONI in Hood River, Oregon in April 2012, I had a 3-book contract with Berkley for the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries. The first manuscript was due August 1; I had about 60% of a first draft and felt pretty good about it. I went home and started over.
And Death al Dente won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
Each of Maass’s books on writing is filled with insight, easy-to-grasp analysis, and detailed exercises. I recommend them all, but particularly the most recent, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016). We read in large part for an emotional experience, and Maass’s book shows us how to evoke that on the page for our readers. Easy to say, difficult to do, but so much easier with a master teacher.
Most of the books I’ve mentioned in the last few weeks have been reference books or craft guides. Today I want to spotlight Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, by Dan Blank (We Grow Media, 2017). I first encountered Blank and his work on Writer Unboxed, a terrific group blog that mixes writing craft, promotional advice, and inspiration. He no longer blogs there, but writes a weekly newsletter to which I subscribe. Blank works directly with writers to, as he says, “develop their author platforms, launch their books, and create marketing strategies that work.” (More on his website.) His newsletters and his book are not places to learn technical details of SEO, how to increase your Facebook following, or how to build a website. Instead, he focuses on giving writers ways to develop connections with their readers. As I said last week in raving about Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction, readers read in part for an emotional experience. If you give it to them on the page, they’ll read your next book. And if you market and promote your work with that same goal, istarting by dentifying your passions, why you write, and what experiences you want to give your readers, you’ll not only connect with them, you’ll enjoy the process.
Wow. Believe me, it’s true. That’s a big part of why I’m doing these Writing Wednesday posts. Sure, I hope you’ll buy my books. But I also want to share some of what I’ve learned in the process of writing and selling them you, and engage with you in the process. Because that’s a big part of why we’re driven to create, isn’t it?
“You must listen to your inspiration. You must let your inner vision be your Pole Star…. You must never be deflected by unpleasantness…. Although it may not be apparent to others, your duty will become as clear to you as if it were a white line painted down the middle of the road. You must follow it, Flavia…. Even when it leads to murder…. If you remember nothing else, remember this: Inspiration from outside one’s self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world.”
— Aunt Felicity to Flavia, in The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan C. Bradley
A continuation of an occasional series of, well, things you shouldn’t do.
From the “You got through dental school, but you didn’t think this was a bad idea?” files: According to The Missoulian newspaper, three men from Utah and Idaho were cited for cooking chickens in a thermal hot spring in Yellowstone National Park in August, 2020. Two spent two days in jail and paid fines; the third—the dentist—avoided jail but paid a larger fine. All three are banned from the park for two years while serving unsupervised visitation.
“A park ranger heard that people with cooking pots were hiking toward the park’s Shoshone Geyser Basin. The ranger found two whole chickens in a burlap sack in a hot spring. A cooking pot was nearby, Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Veress said,” according to the newspaper.
According to this piece from the Yellowstone National Park Trips website summarizing the dangers of the more than 10,000 geothermal features—hot springs, geysers, steam vents, and my personal favorite, stinkpots, many are literally boiling. One’s as hot as 250 degrees. Not a good place to soak your feet, as another tourist attempted to do. (In a cooler but still hot spot; he survived, with extensive burns.)
Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. But have fun trying!
Decades ago, in college, we were all required to buy Fowler’s Modern English Usage, originally published by H.G. Fowler but then in a 2d revised edition by Sir Ernest Gowers. It was brilliant, and it didn’t always make sense to my ears because — well, because I am an American. And my idea of “modern” wasn’t quite the same as old HG’s or Sir Ernest’s.
So I was elated to discover Garner’s Modern American Usage, by Bryan Garner, published by Oxford University. (Shown is the 3d edition, 2009). It’s modern. It’s American. And it’s just what every writer needs. It even includes a “language-change index” which does exactly what it says.