This week in the Writer’s Links, I found a bonanza of general writing tip articles for your reading pleasure. Improving our craft should always be at the forefront of our objectives of being better writers and these articles will be of help in this endeavor. I hope you enjoy them.
gene for traveling
popping among my time stream
trapped in the family tree
*poem first published in Far Horizons Magazine – October 2015
A Scifaiku by Wendy Van Camp
Illustrated by Wendy Van Camp
Scifaiku poem is inspired from a famous time-travel story of science fiction literature.
Welcome to No Wasted Ink Writer’s Link Mondays. This week I have a nice grab bag of articles for you to take a look at. There are ones on general writing tips, a fun look at Robert Silverberg’s past work for the government, and an archive of English Dialects that might be of interest. I hope you enjoy them!
Eighteen months ago when I first started this roller coaster of an MFA ride, me and my small group of scrivener cohorts all had essentially, the same innocent, naïve dreams dancing through our madly scribbled prose. We were all going to land the same fortune cookie tale. You know the one. When cracked open, it tells tales of highly praised, sought after scribes writing prolific prose in the genre of choice, with agents camped out on lawns and multi-gazillion dollar world-wide book sales jamming up our inboxes. And of course, ditching the day job as soon as possible in exchange for hunkering down in some great old Italian Villa to write full time to our ever growing, overwhelming international demand. Yeah, as far as tall tales go, it’s a nice one.
But then the sun crashes in hard through that dream, abruptly waking you to the realization that last night’s four-hour grueling workshop all but incinerated your words on the page, and that cotton candy dream spun high on the stick has melted just a little bit more leaving you with nothing but a stick for a pencil, and one that needs sharpening to boot. Well, not exactly. But after repeated similar late night takes in a seemingly never ending semester where you’ve watched your work get slammed over and over, heard others get slammed, and seen only the occasional blue moon praise for those lofty enough to be deemed worthy, that’s kind of what it can feel like. And it can leave you wondering if there isn’t a better way, a less soul-crushing way, to refine the chosen craft. Strangely enough, the answers seem to lie in querying the traditional five W’s of solid journalism, and you’d be surprised what you might find if you do.
WHO: First off, success of the workshop really depends on who’s at the helm leading the charge. In her “Open Letter to Crabby Writing Teachers Everywhere” author/blogger Karen Gillespie pretty much laid down the gauntlet to this dilemma in her response to another very public blog post written by ex MFA professor Ryan Boudinot, who gave the impression he was more than a little happy not to be teaching anymore:
“Your students and their clumsy, inelegant prose irritate you. (Never mind that you were just like them a couple of decades ago.) Their naiveté is grating…your dismissive attitude…shows in your teaching. You can get nasty during workshop. Your comments on students’ manuscripts are terse, bordering on cruel, especially if you’re not having a good day. Your lectures are phoned in…What does it matter? It’s not like writing can be taught. Or can it?” (Gillespie).
Bravo Karen. From my experience as one of those clumsy, inelegant and naïve students, I’d say this is about right. Of course, this see-saw can easily swing the other way if you get lucky enough to draw this instructor’s opposite: encouraging, informative, and helpful. In my workshops, I’ve experienced both types. And the benefits derived seemed to mimic the teacher directly. Case in point: my progress all but screeched to a dead end halt during an interminable semester with the former, but grew by leaps and bounds with the latter. My advice? If given the option, pick and choose your professors carefully. You won’t regret it.
WHAT: What you’re workshopping plays a big impact in the kind of help you might get. I learned this the hard way. If you’re professor and peers have made it clear they’re not fans of romance and you bring in the latest installment of “Moon over Miami” with crooners cooing over house cats and housewives getting it on with pool boys, you might as well just stay home. Your feedback will be death by slow torture. What you thought was clever, interesting, and exciting will most likely wind up streaked through with red and comments such as “Is this really realistic?” and “why don’t you try a little poetry instead.” The big lesson here? Know your audience, and cater to them, at least a little. If, that is, passing grades place anywhere on your immediate radar.
WHERE: Timing and place in workshops is more important than you might think. Generally speaking, late night, thrice weekly workshops that meet once a week for four hours or more mean someone is going to get short-changed when reading. Grad students are busy. We have classes, work, and families to tend to which means no one has much energy to spare. So whoever draws the unlucky straw to read last in the line up will inevitably be reading to a grouchy, tired and half asleep audience at best. But we all deserve to be properly read, critiqued and considered thoughtfully. That is, after all, the whole workshop point, so consider time carefully when registering for classes. Place plays a key role too. It was rumored that a professor at my school once held workshops on her boat. Another, to have opened up their home. Both ideas seem stellar for breaking down the intimidation factor by providing a more homey, intimate workshop feel. Not a half bad idea, considering the reading experience, especially for novices. can be akin to opening up a vein and bleeding all over the page.
Why: Something to consider is why you want to workshop a certain piece in the first place. Is it for plot feedback? Content relevance? Grammar and punctuation help? Again, knowing your audience is key. If you have several self-proclaimed grammar Nazi’s in your class, and your professor is the same way, then you know going in what kind of critique you’re going to get. I learned over time to workshop only what I needed in terms of helping my story move forward. Anything else could wait. And asking specific questions of your readers to direct their attention where you want it and away from what you don’t, can be very helpful. Bottom line; keep what works, and toss what doesn’t. You are, after all, in charge of your own masterpiece. And no one knows better than you, how the story should go.
When: Another big lesson, keep your own counsel, first, foremost, and final! Maybe, just possibly, it is time to dig out that story you started long ago which your advisor saw briefly but which now inhabits your bottom-most drawer. The one they’ve poked you consistently about to both workshop and expand on. But, maybe not! Like the Mama’s and the Pappas’s sang about in “Seasons in the Sun” every story has its time and place and only you can decide when that might be. Remember, not every tale you have brewing will be right for the intense workshop experience that is grad school. Don’t forget, audience is key. So if you don’t feel comfortable sharing, stick with a piece that you do. It’s your show after all, and too many cooks in the kitchen can mess up your menu fast.
If you’re in an MFA program, congratulations! You’ve already done the hard work. You got in! Compared to that, the rest of it should be more simple. And it can be, if you grab the reins of your experience, shut out the many voices hurtling at you like a meteor and guide it how and where you want it to be. It’s a challenge, but doable. And most of all, keep writing! Think full steam ahead, and good luck as you scribe on into the new year!
Lisa Ciarfella is methodically making her way through her second year of the MFA program at California State University, Long Beach. Her writing interests slant towards the noir, hardboiled, and crime fiction tales, channeling inspiration from the like of iconic greats Jim Thompson, Paul Goodis and Raymond Chandler, and present day authors Paul D Marks, James Lee Burke and Paul Brazill.
Lisa’s writing includes a series of connected short stories and, she is in novel writing mode as we speak. And this January, Sezpublishing will feature her very first published short story, “Midnight in Alaska” in their debut Halloween anthology collection: Frightening.
She looks forward to graduating and on the weekends can be found throwing Frisbees around the beach with her boyfriend and two pups, Lola, and Boo.
No Wasted Ink is proud to present an original, approachable science fiction and cyberpunk author with so many stories in his head that he can’t hope to publish them all…short of becoming one with the singularity. Please welcome, Thomas Gondolfi.
I’m a father of three, consummate gamer (board or role-playing) and loving husband and claim to be a Renaissance man and certified flirt. I was raised as a military brat, I spent the first twenty years of my life moving to a new place every few years giving me a unique perspective on most regions of the United states.
Educated as an electrical engineer and working in high tech for over twenty years, I have also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and even as the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.
I’ve been writing fiction for over thirty years and doing it professionally for at least fifteen. Most of my short stories have been commissioned for use in gaming products, such as Babylon 5 Wars and Star Fleet Battles. I’ve honed my abilities through writing well over a million words.
When and why did you begin writing?
I started in high school. I had a friend who took creative writing and threw down the gauntlet that he had written the longest story his teacher had ever received and received nothing but As through his class. I couldn’t let that pass. I wrote two works longer, got consistent As and had the teacher tell me I should write for a living. I continued to write and finish my first novel in high school. As you can imagine it was awful. Along the Paths of Dreams had ever cliché, and mistake a writer can make. But I learned from each dreadful painful scene.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I finally felt I’d made it when I finished Toy Wars and the yet to be published novel Wayward School. I’d already been paid for a number of short works but to me it was a novel that make it work. I didn’t really feel I was an author until I had a number of people who purchased it and gushed over it.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
The Bleeding Edge – CorpGov Chronicles: Book Three is the culmination of a war that began in Thinking Outside the Box. As a funny side note, I’d intended Thinking Outside the Box to encompass all of the material in both books but as I got close to the end of my outline (about 300 pages) for TOTB I realized that I’d mistakenly summed up an entire war in two outline bullet points. I tried to make it fit anyways but it rang hollow. I knew I would have to do yet another book to make it work. So TOTB ended up being the political lead up to the war and The Bleeding Edge was the war in all it gory.. I mean glory.
What inspired you to write this book?
If we assume Thinking Outside the Box and The Bleeding Edge as a single book, the reason I wrote them as a follow-up to An Eighty Percent Solution was that I could never understand why power blocks around the previous junta would sit still after a successful coup. The Bleeding Edge itself is to show how a badly one-sided conflict can suddenly turn and go the other way as in what happened to Germany in WWII. In our more highly technical society the flip could be so much faster.
Do you have a specific writing style?
My style varies from series to series depending on the needs of the book. Toy Wars is 1st person with a great deal of mentation on the part of the main character. CorpGov Chronicles is third person following a different character (including the bad guys) for each few page segment of the story but maintaining the flow of the story.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
All the titles of the CorpGov Chronicles are corporate catch phrases. In this case it is too appropriate. The Bleeding Edge is the vast amounts of money required by businesses to stay on the forefront of technology. In this case it is more literally referring to the blood spilled in a war of aggression.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’ve said this many times in my author’s note. I write for entertainment, not to forward a social agenda. I do have many personal/political opinions, many of them very strong. However, I don’t use my writing as a venue for shoving them down others’ throats. You want to talk to me in person about something, I’ll be more than happy to disillusion you that I might have all the answers.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
No. I’ve never been part of a coup or been part of a guerrilla organization.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
The name of my publishing company, TANSTAAFL Press, should be a clue. Robert Heinlein influenced me in a number of ways including the opinions I’ve mentioned earlier. It seems ironic that I wouldn’t forward the messages Heinlein wrote about in my own works but I’ve always believed that people should have the chance to look at their surroundings and choose. Why should I be trying to inflict my will upon anyone else?
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
Steve Kay. You’ve likely never heard of him unless you watch Voyager closely (he has two story credits there). He was forced to delay his burgeoning career because of twins. Steve taught me that talent doesn’t equal craft. I always had talent. I needed to learn craft. There is a quote of his I use with new authors… “You don’t know what you are doing until you have written a million words.” It took me many years to learn the truth behind this simple statement but now I can’t emphasis it enough.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
Two different people you are talking about. Illustrator was Tony Foti an exceptional commercial artist that is easy to work with and reasonably priced. The cover design was yours truly.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
It may be trite but Write. Independent Review. Rewrite. Publish!
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I can’t do any of this without your help and support. I will remain approachable, always. I’m just a person and the moment my head gets too big my wife will pop it with the story of the cooler on the banister (ask me some day for a chuckle).
The Bleeding Edge