Tag Archives: nonfiction

Writing Updates

This year has continued to be a particularly challenging one for the United States, and with the pandemic still raging, for the world. I just read this week of two new variants of the SARS-CoV2, and one is even more contagious than the Delta variant. While I received my J&J vaccination last March, I am thinking about getting either a Pfizer booster or the Pfizer full vaccination in the next few weeks. As I wrote before, the coronavirus is here to stay and will mutate at will. It’s up to us to take measures to protect ourselves from it now and in the future.

In July, I left my day job at the Minnesota Board of Barber Examiners and began a new job at the Minneapolis Community & Technical College. I’ve cut my commute down to 20 minutes each way but that means less time for reading on the commute. I only recently emerged from the initial job training and returned to a hybrid of work in the office and teleworking, then hunkering down at home and staying away from people (as my pulmonologist insisted that I do). Over the summer I also had to replace my laptop, printer, and modem. At least my health has remained fairly stable this year and my writing has gone well.

THE PERCEVAL SERIES

I continue to write on weekends, working on the fourth novel in the series, Perceval’s Game. I’m over halfway through but finding it somewhat difficult to get back into my writing mind on Saturdays. I continue to write notes for the last novel in the series, and any thoughts I have about the previous three novels. One character in the fourth novel is named after a friend who chose to have a character named after him in a fundraiser I ran a couple years ago. I recently updated him on the character’s development.

I had planned to launch at least two marketing campaigns, one in the first quarter and one in the third quarter, this year for Perceval’s Secret but did not. Posting the Aanora story did bring more sales for the novel, however, although sales remain disappointing.

The second novel in the series, Perceval’s Shadow, remains on the shelf for the moment, fermenting. I will eventually find a professional editor that I hope will stay with me for the entire series, but to work on the second novel first. I’m still thinking about gathering some beta readers and have talked with a couple people about doing it. Depending on what I learn from the editor and/or the beta readers will determine how I proceed with that novel. I don’t think it’s ready yet for publication, but just how much more work it needs is the big question. And Perceval in Love continues to ferment.

AANORA

This sci fi novella remains at the Fan Fiction website until next August. I did a bit of a push for it before it was scheduled to be taken down this past August. Then I decided to do some editing and cleaning up, and that actually bought me another year on the site. Yay! If you haven’t yet read it, you can find it here. I had a blast writing it!

ESSAYS

For most of this year, my essay writing (as well as blog writing) waited in the wings for attention. I finally worked on an essay I began last year and I think it’s about ready to send to the editor. I have been working sporadically on a collection of essays about classical music and how it’s affected my life. The working title is Music and Me. I’ve been writing down ideas as they come to me but haven’t yet begun writing the essays. I’ve decided that I’m committed to this project, so one way or another, I will finish it. Writing essays makes a nice break from fiction.

READING

Reading as much as possible and as widely as possible is an essential part of a writer’s life. I read science fiction, espionage thrillers, mysteries, and the occasional nonfiction. Since the America in the Perceval novels is an autocratic dictatorship, I was most interested to read Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, an examination of Trumpism, the damage it’s done to America, and what needs to be done to repair the country and society. Other standouts this year: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre, Still Life by Louise Penny, and Forever Young: a Memoir by Hayley Mills.

ANATOMY OF PERCEVAL

I’ve been terrible this year about writing at this blog. A part of me feels guilty about that, but I need to focus on the fiction in my limited writing time. I think a lot about this blog, and write down ideas for posts. So who knows? I may be able to squeeze in more posts as time goes on…..

A Lost Earring

Obsession. Ludwig van Beethoven, obsessed with a lost penny (pfennig), composed a little piano masterpiece.

Obsession. Today, I’m obsessed with a lost earring and it’s so occupied my mind that Evan Quinn’s sojourn in Chicago of 2050 has been obliterated for the moment. How could this happen? I thought obsession fueled creativity. For me today, it’s blocking what I want to write. So, instead, I decided to write about the lost earring.

Here is its twin, the one that was in my right earlobe and made it through yesterday secure in my right earlobe.

Sorry about the slight blurriness, the earring was dangling, moving from side to side in front of my computer camera (because I’d discovered that a battery corroded in my little Olympus camera and it won’t turn on), and I was challenged to click the camera icon to actually snap the photo without moving anymore than I was. These earrings are of mauve and green crystal beads, faceted to catch the light like prisms. I’ve been startled at times when they’ve caught sunlight and reflected it to a nearby wall in sparkling purple light. They are pretty. They are fun. And they are in my two favorite colors. I love them.

The loss of one destroys the pair. The pain I felt, standing in my bedroom after I’d arrived home from work, seared through my chest. I took out the right earring, but there was nothing in my left earlobe. I wanted to scream.

Why? It’s just an earring, right?

Well, first of all, this pair of earrings was a gift from a good friend a long time ago. They cannot be replaced. They have always been one of my favorite pairs of earrings. I don’t wear much jewelry, but I did get my ears pierced as a freshman in college and have enjoyed wearing earrings — all styles, colors, shapes — ever since. I have a pair of black chandelier earrings that I love but one broke. I couldn’t bear to throw them away. Could they be repaired? If they could, I’d love to have them back, you see. So, I took them to a neighborhood jeweler’s that specialize in custom-made jewelry and asked if they could repair them. Yes. And they did. It cost me probably 3 times what they were worth, but I have those earrings back.

There’s no repairing something that’s lost. Only finding it. And I believe I know what happened. It’s the face mask. Having to wear a face mask for protection against COVID-19 has affected my earrings. Sometimes the mask just hides them. Sometimes the earrings get caught in the mask or stick out at weird angles from it. I believe that at some point yesterday when I removed the mask, the earring in my left earlobe slid out of my ear from the mask brushing it. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Considering the number of times yesterday I put that mask on and slipped it off, it could have happened at any time during the day. On the bus. On the train. In the office. At the train station downtown. Some of my wire earrings have wire guards to prevent that from happening from any cause. I wish I’d thought yesterday morning to take the extra precaution of putting wire guards on these earrings to protect them.

That darn face mask! I’ve been wearing face masks for a year now, every time I go out of my home, on the city bus, on the train, at the office, in stores, at the bank, to get the COVID-19 vaccination, and to go to the restroom at work. Even at the hair salon as my stylist trims my bangs and the mask catches snippets of hair against my face and mouth. I can now say that my lost earring is a casualty of COVID-19 because if I hadn’t needed to wear a mask, it would never have slid out of my earlobe and disappeared. Maybe that’s the reason I’m feeling the loss of this earring particularly acutely. I have lost my pre-COVID life when I wore earrings and no face mask, and didn’t need to worry about a face mask pushing an earring out of my ear.

Will the vaccination I received 10 days ago protect me from infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus? I believe it will for a while, but no one knows how long, really. Everything about this virus and its effect on humans is a mystery. Except its deadliness. I recently read about an antibody treatment that, if begun within the first week of symptoms, can actually shorten the course of infection and decrease the severity to mild symptoms. This morning, I read an article in the April 2021 Atlantic Monthly (“Unlocking the Mysteries of Long COVID” by Megan O’Rourke) that described the damage the virus does to the human autonomic nervous system and heart, and how it resembles a difficult to diagnose disease that can be treated. Medical researchers are questioning the relationship between the virus and the human body’s immune system, i.e. does the virus trigger the immune system to go on a rampage against the human body rather than defending it against the virus? A virus that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Amazing how something so tiny could cause such devastation and pain.

I suppose I should count myself lucky if all I’ve lost (to date) is an earring from a beloved pair of earrings. I do know people — co-workers, friends — who have been sick with COVID-19 and recovered OK. I know others who have lost family members, relatives, and friends to this virus. I will continue to wear a face mask (and be more careful about my earrings), stay at least 6 feet away from people, wash my hands frequently and telework. There is hope for an end to this pandemic.

Just as I hope that when I go into the office on Monday, I’ll find my lost earring on the floor by my desk.

Book Review vs. Book Critique

The November 2019 issue of The Writer has an interesting article about “How to be a good Critique Partner.” I’ve been asked often enough to critique someone’s manuscript, both as a member of writing groups and individually, and one of the things that will always be at the top of my mind before I start is this: Focus only on the work. The second thing is: Stay positive, even when pointing out a negative by being constructive in criticism. I’ve heard horror stories about critiquing sessions that attacked the writer personally or shredded the writing. That kind of experience can be extremely traumatic. That kind of critique actually reveals more about the person critiquing rather than the writer or the writing and is far from helpful.

Anica Mrose Rissi, the author of The Writer’s article on critiquing has some good points I’d like to share here:

  • “Be discerning about what you sign on to read” — From my personal experience, I know I’m not the person to critique (or edit) a military story, horror story, or western. I don’t like those kinds of stories and so I haven’t read many of them. A good critique comes from someone who loves the genre of the book, has read a lot in that genre, and enjoys it.
  • “Ask questions first” — talk with the writer about the work and what stage it’s in. Find out what the writer’s expectations are, and what the writer wants to know about the book you’d critique for her.
  • “React with your head, heart, and pen (or comment button)” — what every writer wants to know about their work is this: what’s it like to read it when you haven’t written it? Be kind. Be generous with feedback.
  • “Don’t hold back on the compliments” — Noting what the writer has done well is just as important as what the problems might be with the writing.
  • “Be kind but straightforward” — or in another word, be professional. Be honest in your assessment. Say what you mean and move on. And be respectful of the work.
  • “Remember, it’s not your work” — I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of this when I start to think about how I’d change what I’m reading. That’s not my job. My job is to ask questions about what I don’t think works, point out problems, and help the writer see what I see. Then trust the writer to do what will be right for her characters and story and leave it.

Lately, I’ve been writing more book reviews than doing critiques. What’s the difference, you might ask? Well, there are some very big differences, starting with the fact that book reviews are done for finished and published books, and critiques are done on manuscripts that could go through several more drafts before they’re ready to publish. The approach for each is different: for a critique, I’m thinking about the writing and how to help the writer see its potential as well as its problems, while for a book review I’m trying to answer the question: would I recommend this book and why? Every time I finish a book and sit down to write a review, I’m thinking about the book’s strengths and weaknesses, what’s unusual about it, what I really disliked as well as loved about it. What was the experience of reading this book like? It’s rare that I find nothing to recommend about a book, actually (and I feel much the same about classical music), but there are two aspects that can make or break a book for me, i.e. the characters and the use of language, or just how easy is this writing to read?

Characters: I don’t have to adore all the characters. In fact, I expect not to like the antagonist, although I do hope to find him or her interesting in some way. I think of George Warleggan in the Poldark series, for example. I cannot stand this character but at the same time he fascinates me — I want to know why he does what he does, and I want to know how he’ll end up. He is not an evil person, just a selfish narcissist who has felt hurt and slighted in the past by the Poldark family. But what he does often turns out to be evil in its results. Characters need to be real to me, as if I could invite them for coffee and a chat some afternoon, with plausible motivations, thoughts, behavior, and reactions to the world of the story.

Language: Word choice, syntax, paragraph construction, and dialogue all affect the ease of reading and establish a writer’s “voice.” Right now, I’m reading a novel by Jennifer Lash entitled Blood Ties. Lash’s language is dense which makes for slow reading. In fact, her writing style reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf. I continue to read because her word choice, her English usage, is so rich and colorful. It’s a literary novel. Such writing in a thriller would probably hurt the pace and suspense of the story that belong in a thriller. How a writer uses language can challenge a reader or make it a smooth, easy ride.

Book reviews are not the same as book critiques, even though both are about reading a book with a critical eye.  Both can be valuable to a writer for improving the writing of future books. And doing either one can also be helpful in being a better writer.

The Different Types of Editing Explained

One of the prevalent strains of flu knocked me off my feet this past week and I’m still recovering. As a result, I have not done much writing, but I have tried to keep up with email. I ran across an interesting blog post at “Writer UnBoxed” that defines and explains the different types of editing. There wasn’t a reblog button, so the link is here.

Professional writers need to know about the different types of editing in order to hire the right kind of editor for their books when the time comes for the professional editing process to begin. I would dearly love to find an editor who could stay with me for all my novels, who could do a developmental edit as well as copy editing. An excellent professional editor is like gold. But there’s more to it than just being able to edit, I’ve discovered. It’s also important that the editor have an interest in the kind of writing I do, the subjects of my writing, and be open to learning if the knowledge is not yet there. It can be a disaster if an editor just doesn’t get your subject matter or has no interest in it.

More soon….

Being a Writer

My father

“You can’t write.”

My father said that to me, looking me straight in the face over a beef stew dinner, and with a voice that held finality in its tone. I’d just announced to my family that I’d quit my fulltime advertising agency job to write.

“Being a writer is the same as being a prostitute.”

My brother said that to me the next day when we were running Christmas errands for our mother. I remember we’d just exited the car and were trudging through a snowy mall parking lot toward the entrance. He went on to explain that even though the entire family read lots of books, no one thought of writing as a legitimate job. I held my tongue. At the time, I knew a high-priced call girl whose bodyguard was a good friend of mine, and she thought of her job as a lucrative business and quite legitimate.

When I made my announcement, I did not know where my family’s responses originated, only that they were against it, and once again, I’d be completely on my own without their support as I’d been in college when I declared my music major. Now I understand that my parents wanted me to live the life that they wanted me to live, ignoring me as a person, my desires, skills and talents. My brother was just parroting them. I really don’t believe he cared one way or the other what I did. But he did care about staying in our father’s good graces. I decided since they were ignoring me that I’d ignore them. By the next summer, I was earning money with my writing.

An article in the December The Writer sparked this memory for me today. In “Girls Like Me,” Anna Kahoe wrote about the voices in her life that told her the things that she couldn’t do, and as a result, she thought she couldn’t do what she wanted to do, i.e. write. Eventually, she figured out that it was her choice, her decision, and she started writing. She described confiding to an actress that she wanted to write, and the actress told her “Writers write.” The actress went on to tell her that not everyone was an artist, but Anna held onto that truth: Writers write.

Being a writer means a lot of things, but above all, it means writing, choosing words to craft sentences into paragraphs that build one on another to become a story for people to read and enjoy. And there it is — story. Whether writing nonfiction or fiction, writers tell stories. Without a story to tell, the words have nowhere to go, nothing to say. This is the part of being a writer that can’t be taught — coming down with a story that gives the writer a fever of creation and the visceral need to express the story in a creative way unique to that specific writer. Everything in a writer’s life informs the imagination, the creative process, and leads to the stories.

I write. I tell stories. I am a writer.