Friday, October 30, 2009

The Philosophy of Writing

This isn't what I was going to write about for my first real blog post on The Scribblerati blog. You can blame Lisa for the sudden shift in direction. It's her fault that you're seeing a muggle like me trying to write about philosophy.

Now, let's get something straight at the outset: While it is true that I do have philosophical training (one class in college that I passed with a C) I ain't no philosopher.  Lisa is The Scrribblerati’s resident philosopher and at this point I'm sure she's shaking her head in horror, hoping that none of her fellow philosophers in crime see this blog post. But don't worry, Lisa, this isn’t what you think.

Or maybe it is?

Let's get on with it, shall we? But first, readers, before you read the rest of this post, go back and take a look at Lisa's previous post.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

(Fingers drumming…)

Okay.  Good. Now, did you see this part?

“…I think all of the writing I do starts from the same place.  I want to figure something out. And I want to figure it out badly.  I want to figure something out so badly, that I’m going to write and write and write until I’ve got it figured out…”

You may disagree, but in my opinion that is the very heart of what writing is about.

I think that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a good thinker. Maybe not a philosopher, at least not a trained sense, but you need to be the kind of person who thinks about stuff and puzzles it out.

My own experience certainly fits with that -- dare I say it? -- philosophy. My current work in process, To Kill the Goddess, was born out of my own need to understand the male centric focus of the world's major monotheistic religions. Women do factor into all of those religions, but the focus of these religions is predominantly male.

What’s up with that, anyway?

So, very long story short, all that thinking and pondering has led me to write a book set on a world where the Goddess is the predominant divine force and the male God has little influence.  To Kill the Godddess, is just the first chapter in a much larger attempt to understand the dichotomy between the male and female divinity that exists here in our world.

And I’m going to write and write and write until I’ve got it figured out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing and Rooting

Here I am:

Looking out into the blogosphere….

Big toe testing the blogowaters….

Allright, I can do this.

Deep breath…

hold it…



Hey there. Sorry about the above. It’s my first time swimming in this mighty ocean and I needed a moment.

And now for a confession: I’m a published writer. Five times over. Oh, and then there are the Cons – to date, I’ve been accepted to read from my work at fourteen of those. I’ve also been invited to talk about my writing at Colleges in Vermont, Michigan, Iowa, and even right here in Minnesota.

Scroll down to Shawn’s first entry. Go ahead, it’s a good one. The first Scribblerati post ever. And notice how he describes our writing group: we be five aspiring writers. Guess I forgot to mention some stuff to Shawn, huh?

Because, the thing is: I don’t think of myself as a published author. All the stuff I blathered on about above? That’s all academic writing. The writing you do when you’re faculty at a college or university. Maybe you’ve heard that saying? You know the one: publish or perish? It’s pretty much true. In most academic jobs, until you have tenure, (if you’re lucky enough to have a tenure-track job—which I don’t, btw,) you have to publish, or you’ll find yourself kicked out of those ivory towers. And so, in an attempt to avoid having your head smashed open after they’ve chucked you out the attic window, you publish. (Or you change your name to Rapunzel, grow your hair freaky long, learn some rodeo tricks and free yourself from the blasted tower.)

Anyway, I’m a philosopher by trade, so I have to write philosophical papers, which get read at philosophy conferences, (which we don’t actually get to call Cons,) which, hopefully, get published in philosophy journals. So I can keep getting paid for being a philosopher.

I’m also a fiction writer. Who is very, very much not published. And, in all honesty, not yet ready to be published. But hopefully, with the help of my Scribble-mates, my current project is nearing the state in which the story that I’m trying to tell is told as well as I can possibly tell it. Whether that story, even at its best, is publishable is, of course, another matter. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

Recently, when my work was up for critique by the group, someone (Shawn again) remarked that the writing I do professionally must be pretty different than the writing they’ve been critiquing. And in many ways that’s true: one doesn’t typically get to say things like “freaky-long hair” in an academic article. And yet, at its most basic, I think all of the writing I do starts from the same place.

I want to figure something out. And I want to figure it out badly.

I want to figure something out so badly, that I’m going to write and write and write until I’ve got it figured out. That’s what got me writing my dissertation, Knowledge, Communication, and Difference: An Integrative Theory. It's also what got me writing my novel, Once We Were Bears. (And, on their titles alone, which one would you rather read, dear reader?)

So that’s what my writing always is: I’m rooting around to get clearer about something that’s bothering me. I was bothered by white folks saying stuff like: “I can’t understand what people of color go through.” Bothered by it even though I know there is truth in the statement; bothered even knowing that one can say it with the best intentions. Because, I thought, shouldn’t we whites be trying to understand what folks of color go through? And since philosophers had done a particularly bad job of addressing the question of whether or not we can communicate what we know to others who differ from us, I thought, “well, this philosopher? she’s gonna try to do better.”

The thing I’m rooting around with in the novel, the thing that’s bothering me, pestering me like tongue worrying a loose tooth is my own participation in the destruction of the wilds. In very large part, our human ways of life, including my own, are making it such that there's a real possibility that the Wildthings won’t be found in our living world anymore. Instead they’ll live on only in books and movies and memories. So, I wonder about the bears.

What would a bear think about me, about humanity? That’s the question I’m trying to answer in my novel.

In the dissertation I argued that we can come to know what another human knows, even if we come from differing knowledge communities. In the novel, I’m trying to see myself and our shared world from the perspective of a bear. And how can I possible come to know that? I’m not sure I can. But maybe, just maybe, by writing and writing and writing, I’ll figure it out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Claudia's Very First Blog Post Ever: TMI

Because of an odd series of circumstances, I am, ironically, writing this, my very first blog post ever, in a coffee shop, on notebook paper, with a pen.

This is how, for a short time after personal computers became readily available and affordable, I insisted was the only way I could write. “Philistines!” I'd cry, in between cranking my Victrola and scrubbing my linen finery in the creek out back. It didn’t take me too long, though, to give writing on the computer the old college try, and I almost immediately discovered that it pretty much rocked. First of all, it’s faster. Right now, as I scribble this down the old fashioned way, my brain is about 4 sentences ahead of what I’m actually writing, plus later I’m going to have to go type the whole thing out anyway. Also in the plus column, it’s a boon being able to move great swaths of text hither and thither, willy-nilly. No more Rube Goldbergian arrows and cross-outs and teensy notes squished into the margins.

I get people who still write on paper, though. There’s that connection to the words and to the ink spilling out onto the page that just isn’t the same on a computer. Also, what with the aforementioned arrows and margin scribblings and whathaveyou, you can see the evolution of your work – where you started, where you’re going. Still, I’ve thrown away my chisel and slab, my chalk and slate: Give me a computer any day.

There is a caveat. In the last several years, a new element has been added to the writing-on-the-computer experience: the readily accessible World Wide Web. The Intertubes. The Webbynet. It’s a dangerous distraction for me as a writer for a very specific reason: T.M.I. Or should I say T.M.P.R.A.I.: Too Much Promise of Readily Available Information.

The novel I’m working on right now is about a Temporal Investigator, Ursula Evermore, who travels back to a manor in rural England, 1928, to solve a murder that was never supposed to take place. An Agatha Christie Cozy meets a Sci-Fi Comedy. I know. Neat, huh?

Naturally, this involves a lot of research. For one, I’m not British. For another, I don’t live, nor have I ever lived in 1928. While outlining my book, I researched the big things upon which the plot was contingent, but while writing, a lot of little stuff has cropped up that I hadn’t anticipated. For instance, did they have envelopes in 1928? Sunglasses? Plywood? (Yes; Yes, but nobody wore them; Yes). The danger, then, is having that big ol’ pile of Internet out there, waiting with the answers. Instant Gratification. (Or Sift-through-the-2000-tons-of-misinformation-and-wikis-out-there-until-you-come-across-the-real-answer-Gratification).

So, for a time, I would pause in my writing in order to jump online and find out, say, in what year the song Stardust was first recorded. (1927). It turns out this is a very efficient way to never get any writing done. It took me a several months of fervently and repeatedly drowning myself in the vast sea of global information before I finally came up with a method of stopping the madness. At first I tried logging out of the Internet while I wrote, but this was no good, as it turns out it’s really, really easy to log back in. Now all I do is highlight the section or word that needs researching in red, take a deep breath, and move on. Sure, sometimes I have to whisper, “Later…later…” to myself in a sultry voice, but for the most part: simple and effective.

Now there are a lot of little red sections in my book. This is good. It gives me something to work on when writing fails me.

Like right now. Ouch, my hand is tired.

- Q

Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting to know me, getting to know all about me...

Hi, there!

Welcome to the Scribblerati’s new Group Blog. Glad you could make it.

My name is Jon Hansen, I’m a founding member and, believe me, that is as impressive an accomplishment as it sounds, if not more so.

But anyway, this is our place, and we plan on putting up regular posts every Friday, rotating the authorship between members, with random ones snuck in every now and then just to keep you all on your toes. So, with that in mind, and in the interest of getting down to brass tacks here… let’s get this week started.

As Shawn covered in his first post, we, the active agents and members of the Scribblerati, are a Twin Cities Writing Group formed out of Lyda Morehouse’s Sci-fi Loft Class. This happened a little over a year ago, give or take, and we’ve been chugging along ever since then. And as our projects progress, well, now comes the part where we begin to establish our presence on-line. I hope you stay awhile, have a look around and get to know us all.

Now, it’s true, at first glance, our group does tend to skew a bit genre-ish, and sometimes this can put people off. This particular implication doesn’t bother us, of course, however, it should be noted that we’re not exclusive to that type of fiction. Not at all. In fact, we are open, willing, and interested in any and all types, but since we met in a genre class, well.... what do ya’ want? Regardless, even within the boundaries of genre, I think it is safe to say that we’re a pretty eclectic and talented group, with each of us currently hard at work on our own particular projects.

Myself, (Jon Hansen… again. Hi.) I have recently begun the Query Process. My book is entitled: Gunslingers of the Apocalypse and it is basically Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead. It is a tale of love and war and life after the end of everything. I’m hoping, that due to the current market, the fact that it all takes place six months after the zombie apocalypse turns out to be a good thing for me.

Six months ago, the Dead rose and the world came to a sudden and violent end. A virus, new and deadly, burned its infection across the face of the planet. Everything changed then and a new world was born from the ashes of the old. In the aftermath, the choice was clear: You either learned the rules of survival or you joined the legions of the walking Dead.
“Black Magic” Jack El-Hai learns these rules; this is how he manages to stay alive in the fiery ruins of the Collapse when so many others did not. Amidst the chaos, Jack meets a young woman named Noelle Easter -- tattooed, resourceful, and rowdy -- they are a perfect match and soon, wild in love.
Together, they survive the end of the world.
However, staying alive means hard choices, it means spilling blood, it means killing. So when they finally find refuge in a small Midwestern town -- a place spared due to isolation and a tall fence -- Jack and Noelle also find a new purpose: scavenging. They spend their days among the ruins of the old world hunting for the things people need to survive. It’s a dangerous occupation, a daily battle against both the ravenous Dead and the murderous living alike, but the town’s people depend on them.
And while it’s not a great life, it’s better than most…
Lately, though, things are getting worse. Trouble is coming; Jack knows it. The Dead are gathering at the town’s borders in greater numbers, scavengers are dying beyond the fence, and the shaky truce struck with the rival camps of survivors is beginning to crumble. When the town is invaded and an iron-fisted new rule threatens everything he holds dear, including Noelle, Jack quickly discovers that the true monsters are not the ones locked outside the fence…they’re locked within.

Ooooooh… neat, huh? I think so… So, yeah, anyway, after much time and even more effort, I am finally done with the book and I am busy querying Agents, but what does that really mean?

Well, mostly, it means I get to wait. Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more. After that? More waiting. It’s kind of like being in the Army, you know? Hurry up and wait? It’s like that…except minus the hurry part. Each day, I wait for responses while obsessively checking and rechecking my e-mail. I expect rejection and I hope for acceptance, but mostly, I just wait. You see, my “plan” is to send out five Query letters at a time, when one comes back, why I’ll just send another one right out… and right now, they’re all still out there… somewhere… doing something…

And I get to wait.

So…. in the meantime, I am getting back into the already begun second “Black Magic” Jack El-Hai book. Right now, it is tentatively titled: Bastard out of Minnesota. My short term plan is for this book to serve as a distraction from my empty inbox, not to mention the querying process in general. My long term plan is, if I manage to finish this second book and find that I am still un-agented, I will type up the notes on the intended third and forth books, print them out, trunk the whole mess, and then move on to something else.

Until that day though, I continue to establish the series. After all, they say series are an attractive set up when pitching your work and that said series are made all the more shiny to Agents and Editors by having more than one volume completed, or at least started, at the time of initial query. And while, I’m not sure if that’s necessarily true or not, or if there even is such a thing as a hard and fast truism when it comes to walking the path to getting published, hell, I guess every little bit helps, right?

We’ll see…

So that’s me…. Jon.

Any questions?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Writing Tips ala Swamp Thing

Last weekend I visited a lifelong friend who had just acquired a huge comic book collection. He had thoughtfully pulled aside all the Swamp Thing comics for me, remembering that this was one of my childhood favorites. (Thanks Peter!) Swamp Thing #6 was actually the first book I ever purchased as a kid with my own money (while at Wall Drug, no less). Of course I did whatever any comic book lover would do when offered free comics—I took them!

Now looking through these newly acquired treasures I am reminded of why I loved the Swamp Thing series (DC Comics) so much in the first place. The writing of the first 20 or so issues that hooked me is really quite good—the original team of Wein/Wrightson did some great work that (for me) later writers/artists in this series never quite seemed to match.

Writers are influenced by what they read and for good or for bad I know Swamp Thing clearly was one of my early mentors. Flipping through these comics I realize there are many things that anyone looking to improve their writing today can learn from the gnarled, green, mossy one. I give you:

How to improve your writing, Swamp Thing style:

· Have something exciting happen right away. In one of my favorites Swamp Thing is being chased by a T-rex on page 1 and is breaking the dinosaur’s leg by page 3. You don’t see that everyday.

· Give us an original, compelling main character. When a bomb destroys his bayou lab, Dr. Alec Holland is fused with the swamp around him to become Swamp Thing—a monster longing for his humanity. Good stuff.

· Conflict, conflict, conflict. Give your character no quarter. In every issue Swamp Thing is being persecuted, hunted, blown up, put in a gladiator’s ring, flung into outer space, and so on. Between episodes he hides in the swamp—but in each story he is wading chest-deep in action.

· Put your character up against strong villains. The mutated, mad scientist, Arcane, was Swamp Thing’s main nemesis, but Swamp Thing fought and won against devils, space aliens, androids, pitchfork wielding mobs, bounty hunters and several different varieties of undead (even Batman on one occasion.)

· Don’t get preachy. The worst thing that ever happened to Swamp Thing (again, my opinion) was the environmental movement. The original Swamp Things stories were never about having a spokesperson to stop pollution or to help us become better global citizens—it was about a cool character and the crazy things he was experiencing.

· Reveal character through their actions. Swamp Thing hardly ever says a word on the pages he battles across, yet you know he is a hero by what he does. He goes looking for his lost love, he helps strangers in need, he steps in front of bullets aimed at the innocent, and he rips the arm off a killer robot and uses it to bash it to pieces. You get the idea.

So how has Swamp Thing influenced my writing? Don’t know if I can pinpoint it for sure—like most writers I have many, many books, movies, life experiences and teachers that brought me to where I’m at today as a writer. I do know I took a great graphic novel class at the LOFT last year, and found out that although I still love reading a good comic writing them is not my thing. However, the main character of my novel BLACKHEART is a kick-ass antihero who doesn’t say much and enjoys punching out minor demons. Coincidence? Probably not. ß in case you want to check out the early Swamp Thing stories yourself ß in case you’re in/near MN and want to learn more about being a graphic novelist

Mark Teats