Category Archives: Guest Posts

Using Ideas to Start A Story by Alicia Rasley

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Thanks, Wendy, for inviting me to talk today about “idea” as a way to start a story. Some stories, especially those classified as “speculative fiction,” start not with anything concrete like character or setting, but with an idea to be explored.

As science fiction writer Orson Scott Card explains, “Idea stories are about the process of seeking and discovering new information through the eyes of characters who are driven to make the discoveries.”

That’s really the appeal of an idea story. No matter what it turns out to be, it starts as an intellectual puzzle. In the spirit of that sort of intellectual mission, let’s consider some ways an idea can start a story.

Questions. For example, many mysteries start with a scene that presents a question, one of the oldest questions of all, “Whodunnit?” But most authors add some additional complication, like, what could kill a man alone in a locked room? (Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal detective story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was perhaps the first to pose that question.) The point of these “idea-mysteries” is to challenge the intellect of the sleuth (and author and reader) to go beyond the expected and familiar to speculate, innovate, and interrelate clues to come up with possible though unlikely solutions.

What-ifs. This is a specialized question that truly is speculative, as it seeks to imagine something that hasn’t happened (and probably won’t). This is more of an experiment than an exploration. A good recent example is The Martian, which poses the question, “What if an astronaut was left behind on Mars?” A great classic example is Oedipus the King, which asks, “What if the detective learns he’s actually the murderer?”

There’s also a what-if variety that experiments with the past, in alternative histories like Harry Turtledove’s The Great War inspire the author and reader to consider how the present might be changed if an important past event were changed. These alternative histories have a point beyond the mere alteration, however. Philip K. Dick’s “Man in the High Castle” takes the question “What if the Nazis had taken over the United States?” to pose the deeper question, “Would Americans resist?”

Themes. A theme is a message, a “moral to the story,” that can usually be stated in a sentence, but is better developed through story events. The film Chinatown, for example, uses the “water wars” of southern California to explore the theme of “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The difficult task in theme-based stories is to avoid being preachy. I’d suggest having the theme in mind and creating characters who have to discover that truth, but only at the END of the story. That way, the theme evolution will be a more organic process.

Perspective. A perspective-based story requires, you guessed it, an alteration of perspective, demonstrating that what you see is dictated partly by where you’re seeing from. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities juxtaposes the experience of the French Revolution in Paris with that of London, that of a victim with that of an observer. A variation of this perspective-test is the “fish out of water” plot, where our world is viewed through the eyes of an alien or stranger.

In my opinion, this is one of the most socially important genres, as it forces our notoriously solipsistic species to examine ourselves objectively—something more and more essential in a diverse culture.

Concepts. A concept is the simplest and yet most profound of ideas, often expressed in a single word— Freedom. Dispossession. Exile. The speculative aspect of this comes from recognizing that simple concepts are actually the opposite of simple and that only a story and a character can truly portray the complexities. For example, the film Casablanca explores the concept of “neutrality” through the cynical and detached character of Rick, a symbol of the isolationist United States trying to stay isolated in those dark months before Pearl Harbor.
Starting with the concept but developing it through the complications of a 3-D person within a culture is a good way to avoid the sort of closed system that readers of speculative fiction loathe.

Twists. This story takes something conventional and twists it to produce something both familiar and exotic. You’ll often see this in novels aimed at teens and pre-teens, as connecting the normal with the unusual trains them in the important mental skill of skepticism and imagination.

The trick here is to make the base story perfectly plausible (Harry Potter really is going to boarding school and taking courses, but they’re about incantations and potions), so that the twist is more fun, making the familiar unfamiliar.

All of these idea types pose the risk of becoming just tricks. To avoid that risk, consider that each of these should lead to a deeper question, and that is in the end what we want to explore in the story.

When I read Ender’s Game, for example, I found the deeper question to be, “Why do we sacrifice our children for war?” That deeper question leads to the plot development that the adults deceive the children that this is just a game.

Another way to make an idea into a full-fledged story is to embody the idea inside a character’s journey. Ask yourself who needs to learn this theme or experience this twist? Oedipus, for example, is an arrogant man who will not accept the power of the gods over him. So he has to be forcibly confronted with the fact that they control his fate.

The most successful idea stories start with an idea… but they don’t end there. The idea is more than just a statement or speculation, but rather a process whereby the reader and characters experience the idea and come to understand what it really means.

alicia by dmac croppedAlicia Rasley would rather write about writing than… well, write. Nonetheless, she has written many novels, including a best-selling family saga and a contemporary mystery novel. She teaches writing at a state university and in workshops around the country and online. Her website has articles and posts about the craft of writing. Sign up for a writing newsletter and get 13 Prime Principles of Plot and other free plotting articles!

Yin & Yang of Storytelling for the 21st Century by Jeffrey J. Michaels

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In much of the 20th century, the most basic form stories took were often based in a good vs. evil setting. As if the world were that simple. One Hero, one Villain, and voila! They struggle and fight and often the hero is simple and pure while the villain is just mean for the sake of being mean.

In our 21st century world where audiences have been subjected to reviewers and critics since birth (I blame Siskel and Ebert for making us hyper-aware of the storytelling techniques and tropes in common use), it is increasingly difficult to get away with telling a tale that is just bad guy versus good guy and let the fight begin.

The study of eastern philosophies shows us the principles of Yin and Yang. They are the active aspects and energies of balance and harmony in the universe. In the west, we have often simplified this concept as dark and light, male and female, or good and evil. This doesn’t actually work for more reasons than we will discuss here, but a brief examination of the philosophy may increase your ability as a writer to craft a more complex and balanced story.

Yang more easily and accurately translates as action or structure, perhaps even as logic. Yin translates as peaceful or creative, emotional satisfaction, or as I say, the heart’s desire.

We are not dealing with opposites. Although the symbolization of yin and yang is delineated as two equal but separate shapes, within each shape is an element of the other. A circle of Yang within Yin, and a space of Yin within Yang.

If you have a character that is quite logical, they must also possess a bit of emotional strength to be complete. Conversely, a person who is highly emotional will be more interesting if they seek to nurture some logic or structure within their lives. A character bound in one dimension is stagnant. But if that same logical character has a secret desire to be an artist or engage in some form of creative endeavor, acting against the rules of their society, you have, as a storyteller, opened up a deeper level of conflict within your story.

If your character is a wild and crazy artist, a person who possesses absolutely no structure or limits in their life, how does that affect their society? They might even be viewed as a villain by some of the other characters if they leave chaos in their wake. But if they are doing so out of rebellion against strict rules or fundamentalist laws, if they are secretly desirous of an orderly life, one where they might be happy with themselves and then, perhaps another, a partner, then the inner conflict spices the outer scenario and intensifies the storyline.

The days of one-dimensional (or single-faceted) villains Hans Gruber and Goldfinger have passed us by for the most part. In our world we know enough psychology to understand that the villains have feelings too. The agenda they create has a purpose, even if they must use nefarious or antisocial means to gain their goal.

Our story and movie heroes transformed earlier than their villainous counterparts. Our somewhat flawed Bruce Willis’ John McClain and various James Bonds lack the purity of the older cowboy films or super heroic serials of Flash Gordon and Superman. Their imperfections work in allowing us, the audience, to engage more fully with the characters. They could be us! The flaws also allow us, as writers, to more easily create intriguing tales based on the twilight area between the brightest day and the blackest night.

Never underestimate your audience’s ability to grasp complex motivations. It may not be that they are doing so consciously, but the principles of Yin and Yang hold true in every level of life. It is the seeking of a balance that drives the best stories.

Author Jeffrey J MichaelsJeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. He describes his book “A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions” as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements.

He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as “The Mystical Histories.” It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories.

In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant.
He does not like to talk about his award-winning horror story.

a-day-at-the-beach-book-cover“A Day At the Beach and Other Brief Diversions”

What if… …your perfect day never ended? …your life were to pass before your eyes, one person at a time? …the genie in the lamp had a wish? …you heard the perfect last words? Versatile author Jeffrey J. Michaels invites you to explore new ways of looking at your world and worlds beyond in this selection of metaphyictional short stories.

So You Wrote a Novel! Now What? by Katz

So You Wrote A Novel!  Now What?

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Yes, you really did write a novel, but let’s face it, what you have is a rough, first draft. The creative conception of your novel is a done deal, but your book is far from ready to publish.

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Now it’s time to let your inner editor back out of its cage and put it back to work. Now is when you get down to the nitty-gritty of rewrites, proofreading, and editing, all of which must be accomplished before you can even think about getting your masterpiece ready to submit to a publisher for consideration.

Let’s talk about some of the tools you’ll need to begin taking your novel to the next stage.

Your Next Stepsrainbow

Your first draft is the block of marble from which your final product will be carved. Michelangelo is said to have been asked how it was possible to find something as grand as “The Madonna” in a raw block of granite. His reply was, “Simple. You just carve away everything that does not look like The Madonna.”1

We urge you to remember these words, carve them on your heart and in your mind. Then learn to see your writing with the eyes of a master artist. The early draft of your work is the rough, chopped lump of marble. When you finish your first draft, you’ve done nothing more than create the rough lump of granite from which your final masterpiece will emerge. Now, you must chip at it, and sand it, and polish it, until it shines like the brilliant star you imagined in the beginning.

Every good writer learns and understands that there are many steps in the process of writing a novel before one achieves a Masterpiece.

If you haven’t already discovered your own style and method for proofreading and editing now is the best time to get started doing so.

Proofreading Your Worksunglasses

Can you read this? Take a few minutes and try. I think you’ll be surprised. It really isn’t all that hard.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!2

It is amazing how the human brain works. Unfortunately, the very capacity that enables you to read the above piece of mish-mash is your enemy when it comes to proofreading, especially so when proofreading your own work.

You know what you’ve written, and your mind has a tendency to skip over many basic spelling and punctuation errors.

The first thing you should always do is run your computer’s spell check and grammar check programs. They will target many of your errors. But, your computer program does not know every accepted spelling, nor all accepted meanings for every word in the English language, so you can’t stop there. Grab a good dictionary and double check every word you thought was spelled and/or used right that your computer flagged.

Next go through your piece, chapter by chapter, and really look at each and every individual word to make sure you have the correct spelling for the meaning you are using in that context. One of the easier ways to do this, without allowing your brain to skip ahead, and miss things is to start at the end and go through each chapter backward, from ending to beginning. Because the sentences don’t make sense backward your brain and your eye will be less likely to slip ahead. You will be more likely to spot sneaky little spelling boo-boos waiting to ambush you and embarrass you in front of your editor or publisher.

This step covers your spelling and most punctuation errors.

Next, you need to go back and read each of your chapters for grammatical errors and plot inconsistencies. Don’t just sit and read them to yourself. As in spelling, here too your brain will have a tendency to skip forward and fill in the things you know you meant to put in there—even when they are missing!

Go somewhere where you won’t bother anyone or be interrupted. Take the time to read each chapter out loud. Again go slow and read your piece word for word as it is on paper—not how you intended it to be—but exactly as it is written down. You will be surprised at how many things you missed when you checked for spelling or sat and read the piece silently to yourself.

Now ask someone else to read your chapters out loud to you. Don’t interrupt them, but as they read make notes on any errors you hear.

Repeat the above steps as many times as needed, until you are sure you found all of the problem areas.

Just proofreading isn’t enough to bring your work to that final point of perfection. Once the proofreading is done you must go back and correct the errors, remove the inconsistencies, reweave the weak areas, and trim away all un-needed extraneous material that does not move your story forward.

Avoiding Wordinessman

Wordiness is a common problem for prose writers. It’s important not to “clog up” your prose with extra words, phrases, or paragraphs that aren’t necessary to move your story forward. Following is a list of methods you can use to eliminate wordiness in your writing.

♥ Convert word groups or phrases to single words whenever possible.

♥ Convert modifying clauses into phrases or single words whenever possible.

♥ Use expletives sparingly, if at all.

♥ Use active instead of passive verbs.

♥ Avoid using too many noun forms of verbs.

♥ Write infinitive phrases as finite verbs or brief noun phrases

♥ Eliminate circumlocutions with direct phrases. For example: change At this point in time to Now.

♥ Omit words which state the obvious or provide excessive detail. Remember: If a second grader can understand it, you have explained it.

♥ Omit repetitive wording.

Making your writing crisp, precise, and concise will move your story forward at a steady pace and help keep your reader engaged.

Rewriting and Editingnotebook

There are a number of different ways to go about the rewriting and editing process. Let me warn you here—none of them are easy. Rewriting and editing is time intensive, hard work. It doesn’t really matter which method you use as long as you buckle down and do the work.

Take the notes you made during the times the piece was read out loud. Then go through the entire novel line by line, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. Rewrite every single poorly formed sentence, every paragraph that isn’t clear, and every action that does not move your plot forward. Eliminate anything that is not absolutely necessary to tell the story in a clear and concise manner.

Do this over and over until you feel you have each chapter as close to perfect as you can get it.

There are numerous writing resource books on the market that explore proofreading as well as editing and polishing. You should have at least two different resource books in your personal writing reference library in addition to your dictionary and thesaurus: one on writing style and basic grammar, and one on rewriting and editing. There is a list of my favorites in the Printed Resources section at the end of this article. Check them out and then go find those that suit you the best.

One last thought . . .lightbulb

As writers, we all have a tendency to become attached to our precious written words. For proper editing and rewriting you cannot cling to them. I had an instructor once who said, “Until you are ready to ‘murder your darlings’ you will never be a good writer.” So I repeat here if you want to do a good rewrite and reach perfection you must “Murder your darlings!” But never worry! Even better words and phrases will rise up and live to take their place – if you work hard!

Now pull out those reference books. Get out that red pen. Warm up your DELETE key. It’s time to go to work – line by line, page by page, and chapter by chapter!

Resources Online

♥ The Owl at Perdue – Free Writing Help and Teaching Resources
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

♥ Fiction Factor – Honing Skills
http://www.fictionfactor.com/honing.html

♥ Painful Prose: How to Edit Your Paragraphs to Make Them Great
http://www.stepbystep.com/Painful-Prose-How-to-Edit-Your-Paragraphs-to-Make-Them-Great-152111/

Resources In Print

♥ Write Right – A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar and Style by Jan Venolia Publisher: Ten Speed Press Berkeley ♦ Toronto Date: 2001
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/write-right-jan-venolia/1111609915

♥ The Elements of Expression by Arthur Plotnik Publisher: Henry Holt and Company New York, New York Date: 1996 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-elements-of-expression-arthur-plotnik/1110796062

♥ ReWrite Right – Your Guide to Perfectly Polished Prose by Jan Venolia Publisher: Ten Speed Press Berkeley ♦ Toronto Date: 2000 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rewrite-right-jan-venolia/1004089614

♥ Getting the Words Right How to Rewrite, Edit & Revise by Theodore A. Rees Cheney Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books Cincinnati, Ohio Date: 1990
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/getting-the-words-right-theodore-a-rees-cheney/1012529512

New and used copies of all the above books listed in this Resource Guide are available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and/or Alibris.com.

Author’s Note: I learned many of the ideas and methods shared in this article through the years in college classes I took, from online reading and classes, and from participation in several different writers’ and critique groups. I’m sorry I can’t give full credit to the originators of some of the techniques and ideas I shared here. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly who you are, but I know you share my passion for helping others improve their writing and I hope you don’t mind that I’m passing on what you so generously shared with me.

Footnotes
1 I believe this quote came from the book. Vasari on Technique by Georgio Vasari, Published by J.M. Dent & Company, London 1907
2 Can You Read This? by Green Chair Marketing Group
© Copyright 2016 Katzendragonz (katzendragonz at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Katzendragonz has granted Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.

sarah-in-redSarah Elizabeth is also known as “Katz” around the online writing world.

As a young child she made up stories for her friends and told them like an old time story teller. She first started writing her tales down in grade school. In Junior High School she won an award for and published her first fantasy story.

Several of her stories and poems have been published in fantasy fan publications over the years. She’s written three novels, one science fiction and two that are a cross between classic fantasy and alternative history. She also has four additional fantasy novels currently in progress.

She spent two years tutoring all types of writing while taking courses at Southern California ‘s Fullerton College in the late 1990’s.

Sarah now teaches fiction writing online with New Horizons Academy. She’s developed and instructed courses in Grammar, Short Story Writing, Novel Writing, basic Fiction Concepts, and Character Creation and Development.

Every year in November she participates in National Novel Writing Month and has been working with the organization for ten years guiding and mentoring harried, exhausted novelists through the process of writing an entire novel (at least 50,000 words) in thirty days.

A Lesson In Character From Superman by D.H. Aire

 

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I can’t think of a better character to explore than my favorite, Superman, particularly with Batman v Superman currently in theaters.

Everyone knows that Superman (who first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938) was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. That year they were paid a “kill fee” of $130, signing over all their rights to the character and story they had been developing for five years. This was a significant sum back then for two young men from immigrant families.

Knowing the genesis of Superman, helps us understand why people embraced this character then and why Superman endures. The following historical information about the creation of Superman comes from Arie Kaplan’s From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books.

Superman’s creators, Siegel and Shuster, came from Jewish immigrant families. Jews in that day were seen as weak, a minority that faced persecution. In the United States the comic book industry, like the movie industry, offered opportunity. So, Siegel and Shuster tried to break into the industry, envisioning an immigrant (an illegal one, as it turns out) who epitomized their aspirations – a superman, who falls in love with an American girl, just like they hoped to.

They gave Superman a Kryptonian name, Kal-El, which in Hebrew means Voice of the Lord. (That’s both a statement and an inside Jewish joke that’s been a point of pride to many a Jewish kid reading or watching Superman.) Creating Superman, who fights for truth and justice was more than a story for them. Superman was written at the beginning of World War II, at a time when the Third Reich’s genocide policies against Jews, gypsies, trade unionists and anyone who they labeled as a threat, were being enforced.

They wrote during the cusp of the beginning of World War II, where anyone (such as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, even trade unionists) the Third Reich chose to claim as a threat to making their nation great was targeted. Thus, a superhero who fights for truth and justice, was more than a mere story for Siegel and Shuster.

Siegel and Shuster, like other comic writers and artists of the day made Nazis the villains at a time when the American public was often enamored of the rhetoric. They and many other Jews in the Gold Age of the comics helped change that perception through their stories of Superman and other heroes, preparing Americans for seeing Nazi Germany’s evil.

Even though Superman was written during a turbulent and horrible time in history, he still endures. So, why do I love Superman? Why do I think so many others do, too?

Perhaps we secretly wish we were Superman. Not necessarily that we want to be a hero, but that we know we have a secret identity – one that we know is the real us. Maybe we know deep down we have a gift, a power, which when we talk about characters is called “agency.” This may not be a superpower like the ability to fly faster than a speeding bullet, but still the power to make the world a better place in our own way (through what each of us does to help others).

Perhaps, it is something else. From the perspective of an author who writes speculative fiction, thinking about the character of Superman’s appeal, he’s not invulnerable. At key times he depends on Lois Lane or an average person like Jimmy Olsen to save him from exposure to Kryponite. He also has human frailties. He’s suffered personal loss. He’s lost his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, and his biological parents – even his home world, making him the ultimate orphan, a classic aspect of those on the “hero’s journey.”

Better yet, Superman has great duds. I really like the red cape. Okay, I’m not a fan of Clark Kent’s glasses, which I guess are intended to make him look smart. Superman’s costume is red, yellow, and blue, which might have been better as red, white, and blue, except for the fact it likely would not have looked quite as good in the comics…

But I digress, the costume itself makes Superman bigger than life, suggesting the Man of Steel is a knight in armor in the modern day. What I mean by that is more apparent in Man of Steel. In that film, the costume literally is Kryptonian body armor. There’s also resonance in him being a knight, as an aspect of his character. He’s a defender of the weak, not unlike the ideal knight or samurai.

That’s always inspired me – just as seeing Superman fly on the movie screen does.

That’s a take away for me as someone who creates characters. I believe that in order to create a memorable character there should be something inspiring about them. Like the rags to riches tales of Cinderella, who appears in a variety of cultures in their folktales, Superman is a small town boy, who becomes the ultimate prince – someone who could almost be any of us with such hopes and dreams.

Another way to look at such resonance is to think of Superman as mythological. He’s godlike powers and emotional human frailties. Think of Hercules, a demi-god, who has amazing strength and fights the good fight on behalf of humanity against evils, human or monstrous. Tapping on the resonance of such old tales makes Superman’s stories feel truer somehow, more epic. That makes for strong story-telling, which comes from creating a wonderful protagonist.

So, Superman is my ideal memorable character and an excellent example of what goes into creating a, well, superb character. And if such insights helps you or I make a memorable character or two along the way, thank you Siegel and Shuster.

***

D. H. Aire has walked the ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem and through an escape tunnel of a Crusader fortress that Richard the Lionheart once called home. He’s toured archeological sites that were hundreds, if not thousands of years old… experiences that have found expression in his epic fantasy series with a science fiction twist, Highmage’s Plight and new Hands of the Highmage Series. The seventh and concluding book of his Highmage’s Plight Series, Paradox Lost is being released in 2017.

An Author of eleven fantasy and science fiction novels, including those in the urban fantasy Dare 2 Believe Series and the space opera Terran Catalyst Series, Aire’s short stories appear in a number of anthologies, including in Street Magick: Tales of Urban Fantasy. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Aire resides in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

This article originally appeared at dare2believe.

Why Gene Wolfe? by Jeff Michaels

science-fiction

“My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.” Gene Wolfe in a letter to Neil Gaiman

Recently I invoked the name of my favorite author, Gene Wolfe, in an offhand comment on Facebook. I am quite certain that no one caught my point. It is not uncommon for me to invoke Gene’s name; he is a vocabularic virtuoso, a poetic maestro, a genius level wordsmith, and a heck of a nice guy.

My oblique reference was to an early short story of his titled “A Method Bit in ‘B’” which concerns an actor in a werewolf movie, likely filmed in black and white. It is one of my favorite stories and I do not entirely know why.

It is also, to the best of my knowledge, uncollected at this point. To read it you must find a copy of Orbit 8, edited by Damon Knight – which I encourage you to do. It is easy enough if you are one of the first to hit Amazon’s second-hand third party market. At the time of this post $9.99 gets you the hardcover, while $2.99 gets you a paperback. Hurry. There were not many available. It is worth the price for Wolfe’s story, but there are also many other excellent short stories waiting to be discovered by you, including a second Wolfe short about the future of pets. Grim and funny stuff.

One of the things I will say about “A Method Bit in ‘B’” is that it is clever. By clever I mean sly. By sly I mean devious, unobvious, sneaky, O. Henry-esque in its own Wolfean way. It does not ask the reader to understand, nor does it explain the conceit of the story and it steadfastly refuses to let the reader in on the secret with a wink or a nudge of exposition. This is a tale that respects the reader’s intelligence. Sadly, many readers are unwilling to invest their time in Gene’s often dense, always literate prose.

There are few writers working in this day and age who are daring enough to leap from the hidebound rules of the MFA programs of monolithic institutions. Rules which change, by the way, based on the perpetual “new normals” instituted by those who dare. What is taught is often what last succeeded. Heaven forfend that we try something new! Gene Wolfe knows the rules. He also knows how to re-engineer them in interesting ways.

There are, among the few authors that take the leap, still fewer who have the actual skill to make the leap. Some do it once, by sheer awesome hutzpah and the amazing lack of knowledge that tells them they cannot possibly succeed in their mad endeavor. Often their second leap is weak and injurious to their career.

Gene has been taking that leap, and making it look easy, for over forty years now. That takes skill and confidence. Also daring. I suspect that Gene is such a veteran of the publishing world that he does not view what he accomplishes as a feat of derring-do. I also believe that he does not take each new leap for granted. Like any good magician (the word I want to use is Wizard) he works hard to make it look easy.

Although I mention Gene Wolfe often and hold his art in the highest esteem, I do not always recommend him to readers. The reason is the same as to why I do not recommend a film of the caliber of say, Citizen Kane or Shakespeare’s histories to someone who prefers watching reality television programming. Their interest is in lighter stuff.

Wolfe can be playful, the story deceptively light, but there is never anything simple about Gene’s storytelling. He is often purposely deceiving. You can never quite trust a Wolfe story to be what it first seems or is labeled. There is surprise within the forest of language and often you are well along the path before you realize what you have witnessed.

Rereading Gene Wolfe’s books and stories will almost always reward the attentive audience with a missed twist or reference. For a writer you will likely find yourself educated in the matter of style, with your sights set higher regarding your own work.

Why do I like “A Method Bit in ‘B’” or any of Gene Wolfe’s crafty tales?

I am never quite sure.

jeffreyjmichaels4wendy2Jeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. His describes his book “A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions” as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements.

He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as “The Mystical Histories.” It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories.

In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant.
He does not like to talk about his award-winning horror story.

a-day-at-the-beach-book-coverA Day At the Beach and Other Brief Diversions

What if… …your perfect day never ended? …your life were to pass before your eyes, one person at a time? …the genie in the lamp had a wish? …you heard the perfect last words? Versatile author Jeffrey J. Michaels invites you to explore new ways of looking at your world and worlds beyond in this selection of metaphyictional short stories.