musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


February 6, 2009

On not being in such a hurry

It doesn’t seem possible that we can already be one month and six days into 2009. I’ve been posting so infrequently that the blog barely has a pulse. But it is alive I assure you. It’s just been sleeping, dreaming if you will.

It’s raining and stormy today and I’m grateful for that. I think this is only our fourth big rain of the season so far. My cat Tara had a bath a few days ago on a warm, sunny, dry day that got to 80 degrees and seems to have become typical weather this winter. At least it’s been easy on the heating bill. Not so easy on the water bill or my sinuses.

I’ve been away from blogs except to post my ramblings about Tarot at Spirit Blooms. I’ve worked off-line at my other computer on artwork, read or posted on a couple of favorite Internet forums (more than I should), and searched out alternatives on- and off-line to spending money that I don’t have on books that I dearly want. I started out reading about Carl Gustav Jung; now I’m reading the writings of Jung himself, beginning with his autobiography written late in life, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Still deep in my J. R. R. Tolkien adventure, I recently finished reading The Annotated Hobbit, and now I’m savoring The Lord of the Rings. I’m a little shocked by how much watching the movies in the interim has botched my memory of the original story. Still they’re excellent movies. One should appreciate each on its own merits, the novel and the movies as separate creative entities. To do the written story complete justice there would’ve had to be nine or more movies instead of three. Not that I would complain, but not everyone is the Tolkien fiend that I am. Up ahead I plan to continue with The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. Perhaps others, who knows? I’m taking my time, reading mostly late in the evening before sleep, if I’m not too tired by then.

Eric Mayer mentioned, in his comment on my earlier post about rereading favorites, that he almost never rereads books. I’ve been the same way most of my adult life. I reread a lot when I was a teen and young adult, but at some point I realized there was plenty in print to read the first time around, and life was short. I felt that I’d miss out on too many other things if I spent my time rereading favorites.

I’ve changed my attitude about that again only recently. This has to do partly with some of the newer fiction that I’ve been dissatisfied with, partly with my budget, and partly with the tiny library here in town where the tastes of the librarians don’t seem to mesh with my own — or I’m just quirky in my reading tastes. I’m sure they have some Tolkien and maybe some Jung, but I’ve come to prefer to take my time and not feel constrained by a return date anyway. I tried writing reviews here for a while, and I found that if the book was a library book I had to return it too quickly, and if I tried to write a review after that, I kept wanting to refer to the book. If I like it, I want it to stay around for a while. I also tried our library’s on-line interconnection with an ebook download system, but that didn’t work for me. Old computer or aging human brain inside user? Either way it didn’t work and I didn’t want to waste time fussing with it. I wanted to read the book. You know, just open a cover and start reading. If something is going to slow me down I want it to be the savor of words.

That brings me to the fourth reason I’ve gotten back into rereading. Mostly it has to do with wanting to read slowly. I’ve given up on reading everything out there. I’ve finally accepted that’s impossible. I’ve decided to hone down my reading list and read what I love — slowly, and as many times as I want.

When I reread an old favorite I don’t have to be in such a hurry to get to the end. I already know how it ends. There is something to the first bloom of a new story, that first time through when it’s a path of discovery, recognition, and suspense. But this time I can pause and enjoy the language along the way, let the suspense build again slowly. My old favorites have language worth pausing for. The more commercial books today tend to be heavy on suspense and bizarre plots and twists, while they seem too often short on the kind of writing I savor. Many feel to me as if they’re written in too much of a hurry, or as if the writer didn’t even like the story he was writing. The secret to great writing, I think, is for the writer to so love the story that he’s reluctant to leave it. Chances are the reader won’t want to leave it either.

But then I’m not a hurrier, never have been. I think it’s too easy to get into an “I’ll miss something if I slow down” mindset in our day and age, though it’s a valid concern to some degree. In the work world, one must hurry enough to show up when needed, and if one slows down one is in danger of not getting important work done, of missing opportunities, or of not being able to do one’s job anymore because one hasn’t kept up with hyperactive technology. There are sometimes valid reasons to hurry. I don’t want the emergency room team to dawdle, or firefighters to take their time arriving at a fire. For readers who want to keep up, there’s such a huge amount being published, in spite of aspiring writers’ concerns that no one is publishing what they write, that it’s easy to think one has no time to reread or to read slowly the first time. There are also such a great number of people who want to be writers that it doesn’t appear we’ll ever have a shortage of reading material, even very good reading material leaving out the bad. It’s a crowded world full of people with something to say, many of them excellent writers.

Still I think we miss out on too much by trying to do or read everything. I’m not well-read, mainly because I’m a slow reader. Maybe that’s why I appreciate books that take a long time to produce. I can sense the love and time that was put into them. I can linger, relish, and wonder why. I can spend a relatively equal time enjoying them, and feel gratitude that the authors took the time to do it right.

Tolkien took something like 13 years to write The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. He took longer, when one considers all the thought prior to beginning it that he put into creating the world of Middle-Earth, from the time he was a boy, and the time between 1949 and 1954 that he worked with his publisher to get everything just right. That time shows. And it’s not as if by taking that long he missed out on sales, which seem these days so unforgiving of anyone lagging behind. The only time any of his books went out of print was during Word War II and the after-war years, when paper was rationed in England. Oh, and there was the problem of some proofs being destroyed in a bombing or a fire (I don’t remember which) that caused further delay in getting one edition of The Hobbit back into print. Of course one important factor in his print longevity was in being Tolkien. There have been many imitators and, as Eric seemed to hint in his comment, most imitations have not held up very well. Time is, I think, one reason.

I’m certain that the biggest problems with many books is that they’re devised and written in too much of a hurry, and because they aren’t true to the writer’s own creative promptings. I can see some publisher urging a writer to create something like Tolkien wrote, but to do it right now. Imitation done in a hurry can rarely hold up to the proper process of creation. Sometimes, but not usually. Imitation as a whole is an iffy and questionable practice. Readers may say they want another story like The Lord of the Rings, but they’re not saying they want an imitation. They want more Tolkien, and that’s simply the best possible compliment to the original creator, not to any would-be imitator. Perhaps we sometimes, as readers, make the mistake of confusing the two ideas ourselves and go looking for another Tolkien when we should be looking for something else that’s new and fresh, and over which someone labored long and lovingly.

It’s been said that most of a writer’s work doesn’t take place at the typewriter or keyboard, or even necessarily with paper in hand. It happens inside the mind of the writer. I personally think every writer’s workspace needs a comfy couch, or a bed, and a window with a view of a natural setting or garden, as well as an immense library. I also think it’s safe to say that most great fiction writers have lived what they write. By that I don’t mean they’ve experienced it in physical reality. I mean they have a fertile and active imagination, an ability to visualize the experiences they haven’t actually lived. A relentless imagination at that. We use our imaginations to read, but the writer uses his imagination far more, over and over again, actively reliving the scenes he writes in his mind, working them out until they feel right, until he’s ready to translate them into written language. They get to know their own unconscious realms and facets of their own characters, as well as the archetypes of the collective unconscious, even more than we do ordinarily when we dream at night.

Now I know that some writers create at the keyboard on the fly. I’ve done that too. But the stories I’ve written that I felt best about were usually those that I had in mind for a long time before I dared to put any words down. They were an integrated collection of many things that occurred to me, including some fantasies, day dreams, things I wondered about, and even whole scenes, characters, or settings that occupied my mind well before I realized they’d formed anything close to a story worth sharing or writing down. Some were ideas I couldn’t put away because they begged to be told.

Fast writing may be part of the problem. I once rewrote a novel (Snow Angels) in the course of a few weeks, retyped the whole thing from scratch, from my head. But that story had been in my mind for a long time, in various forms, and even on paper in a few forms, before I did that. I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo, but I think it is possible for it to produce something of value, provided there’s something already percolating in the writer’s mind before they begin, perhaps for years before they begin typing it out. I’ve done fast writing exercises, and I know they have their value. But I wonder if the trend in fast writing is the reason so many new books I read leave me flat these days.

There is fast writing that’s great, and there have been many great prolific writers. But if we make the mistake of thinking their greatness lay in their proliferation, we do them a disservice. The secret to great writing also doesn’t lie in taking forever to produce something. I’m sure there are plenty of slowly written pieces of rubbish passing for fiction. But prolific writers are the exceptions to the slow writing rule, I think, and like Mozart’s music, great fast writing is great for other reasons than its speed of production or lack of revision. Of course everyone should write at their own speed, but fast writing of a single draft usually requires slow thinking up front, and long, slow revisions afterward. If one doesn’t take the time to do it right, to follow through, to consider it worth some effort, then even that smaller portion of fast writing time is wasted, not to mention the time anyone else takes to read the result. If it’s not worth spending lots of time writing, then maybe it’s not worth reading either.

In spite of how long Tolkien’s work has remained in print, it’s still possible that work of this kind is best done for oneself, with any idea or intent of publishing as a mere afterthought. One should, after all, consider oneself worth writing well and respectfully for. From what I understand of Tolkien, he only shared what he created with a few colleagues, friends, and his children, until the friend of a friend mentioned the possibility of publishing The Hobbit. Maybe that’s why it’s so good. He took time to shape and polish it to be what he wanted for himself and those he loved. Only after that did he shape and polish it for publication. Surely that provided him a great deal of satisfaction in what he wrote, regardless of whether strangers in his own land or across the pond liked it later on. He was also a real-life expert regarding myths of a world similar to the one he created and regarding the language he used to create it. But was he an expert who happened to come up with a story he was best suited to write, or was he a writer in the making, even as a child, who lived in his head creating a world first and who worked all his life to become expert at just what he needed to recreate that world on paper? Either way, he took his loving time about it, and that’s a good thing for all of us. After all, what’s the rush?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:55 pm PST, 02/06/09

January 11, 2009

Favorite things

I’m rereading a favorite book in a new form, and watching some old TV shows I’d forgotten were so good, so it’s been a week of favorites for me and I thought I’d share.

I’m also a little desperate for something to blog about, and I must be growing jaded, because my favorites are old, and sadly far too few.

Favorite Books:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I’m currently reading The Annotated Hobbit, an edition annotated by Douglas A. Anderson. I’m loving it, though I think most of the annotations will be something to enjoy on my second reading of this edition. It’s been so long since I read the story, that I find myself just sticking to the story and not reading footnotes (marginal notes in this case). But I did read the introduction, and immersed myself in some fascinating biographical and publishing history. Now and then my gaze veers into the margins and my curiosity is piqued.

I decided to read this story again because I’ve read that Peter Jackson is finally involved in a film adaptation of it, which I’ve looked forward to ever since the LOTR trilogy that he produced and directed. This time I want to view the film adaptation fresh from the written story, rather than from the perspective of more than a decade of fogging over of my memory as I did with the trilogy. Which means I’m reading it now and likely will read it at least once more before the film is released.

I’m also rereading this, and plan to reread LOTR, because the film trilogy has become a mini-obsession of mine and yet every time I watch the movies I keep thinking how much I want to read the books again.

Tolkien is easily my most favorite author, ever. I’d be hard pressed to name a second favorite who comes anywhere close. Maybe it was his relationship to language, as a philologist. He also had a deep, abiding love of the fairy story and ancient poems and songs. (Many of his dwarves’ names are borrowed from the Elder Edda.) I like that he was unapologetic about his errors. He didn’t try to hide them and, if it made sense he fixed them in later editions. If fixing them didn’t make sense, he lived with them without shame or excuse. He was still a teen when he began to create his own language, that of the elves that he used in his stories, incorporated so elegantly into the film version of LOTR a few years ago. Tolkien wrote circles around anyone else, and almost singlehandedly invented the modern fantasy genre. He seems to have recalled something both childlike and ancient, and filled it with something else profoundly basic to humanity, all of which make him seem himself to have been a wizard — of storytelling. Stories are his version of Gandalf’s fireworks, and even of Gandalf’s defeat of the Balrog and death. Tolkien is pretty much at the top of the mountain and well beyond compare, in my opinion. All the rest, even my other favorite authors, are still down there in base camp, wondering about the weather up there on high. Keeping in mind that when climbing the highest mountains in the world, just getting to base camp is something, nothing to sneeze at. Most of my favorite books that even come close to Tolkien’s, though, are older, the authors also long dead.

This makes me wonder if we’re ripe for a literary renaissance. And when I say literary, I mean a STORY renaissance. Preparatory to that, if Tolkien’s work isn’t now required reading in school, I think it should be. I would love to see a new generation fall in love with language and with story.

Favorite TV series:

Star Trek The Next Generation. There’s no comparison, and even viewing old dilapidated recordings of it compares favorably, in fact stunningly so, to most of what I see on TV today.

I was saddened to hear of the death last month of Majel Barrett, and I felt as if her death marked the end of an era (started by her husband, Gene Roddenberry) in science fiction and in television.

While watching old Star Trek TNG episodes, I can’t believe how often I have to reach for tissues because a story line touched me deeply, or I’m still amused by the always tasteful humor some 20 years later, or I’m struck dumb by a profound insight or bit of ageless wisdom. At the same time it’s immensely entertaining, and frequently filled with suspense. There’s nothing like it.

I have a second favorite TV series — actually two sister ones: Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Still, Star Trek the Next Generation is another top of the mountain favorite that is difficult to compare to anything. Who knows, Tolkien himself might even have loved it.

I like The Closer, mainly because the female lead is a character, someone I can relate to. She’s over thirty and still attractive, but it’s not in-your-face plasticized starlet attractiveness. Kyra Sedgwick is beautiful in a way that goes beyond starlet appeal, and you get the impression this is a woman who’s actually honest-to-god aging and struggling to maintain, rather than magically stopping time until the powers that be disappear her from TV as soon as she shows signs of (horrors!) appearing to be over forty. She holds her own in a man’s world without needing to act like a tough chick. She’s spunky and vulnerable, and she doesn’t have to show us the inside of the body as the bullet passes through it for cheap thrills, or make us help examine the vomit under a microscope or eat bugs (honestly, some TV cannot be viewed while enjoying dinner), or be right there for the bloodiest new surgical procedure of the century, spurting arteries and all. I need some mystique left in my mysteries, some characters I can relate to, and not to feel as if I have to learn how not to be squeamish along with the interns in my medical shows. I also wonder why there are so interminably many “realistic” detective and medical shows. Isn’t there anything else to write about, guys? Is the sitcom dead? I guess so.

I like Ghost Whisperer, though I’ve discovered it only recently, so we’ll see how that works out.

I liked Dead Zone, until they killed off Walt the sheriff. I thought he provided an important obstacle between Johnny and his former love, Sarah. Conflict in the form of strong romantic and other obstacles is critical to good series fiction, even a paranormal series that has a new problem to solve each episode. Without the core conflicts and tension to fall back on, a series falls flat because no one seems to be trying very hard, day to day. They’re just biding time until the next psychic flash, murder, ghost, mystery disease, or demon appears. A good series has several backup sources of tension. In Star Trek TNG, nearly every character has a known source of personal conflict that’s always simmering just under the surface, and the series as a whole is full of those tensions sometimes rising, and frequently interacting with others’ conflicts. Killing Walt off, in The Dead Zone, was like letting Marshall Dillon marry Miss Kitty, or letting The Fugitive catch the one-armed man. You just don’t do that, until the very last episode ever. The End.

All that said, I would be hard pressed to come up with new series or episodes from season to season and week to week as the best TV writers do.

Maybe we need a television renaissance as well as a literary one.

Barring that, we may need to let all the Marshall Dillons marry all the Miss Kittys in a big Sun Myung Moon style wedding — and then give TV one big funeral service and be done with it. Most of the shows are so lame, and the commercial breaks are so long these days, that I frequently leave the room to finish the dishes, make a snack, or check my email, and then lose interest and forget to return to see how the show ends. They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and television, as a whole, seems to be trying awfully hard to prove it.

Do you have any new/old favorites to share? What entertains you these days?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:34 pm PST, 01/11/09

July 7, 2007

The Universe In A Single Atom

A post by Susan at Spinning reminded me of a book I recently read, written by the Dalai Lama — The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. The Dalai Lama has nurtured a lifelong interest in science, and this book explores the gaps and meeting places between religion and science, in what I found to be a thoughtful and profound treatise. It was interesting to read how a religious leader views science, which sometimes threatens his long held beliefs and at other times seems to support them. Granted, Buddhism is one of the least dogmatic religions, and Buddhists don’t believe in a personal God or a specific creation myth, as far as I can discern from this and other readings, so he tends to be much more flexible toward science than other religious leaders might be.

I’ve often seen science as exploring the underpinnings, materials, and physical characteristics of the same great work of art (the Universe) that religious leaders and philosophers explore the ideas and impulses behind. Both, at their best, explore the best ways to live within that great work. To me their goals seem to mesh perfectly, so long as greed, dogma, and power plays don’t get in the way. But then I don’t have a set religious belief to try to fit everything into. I think the more set in concrete one’s beliefs are, in either science or spiritual teachings, the more difficult it may be to see the common ground and bridge the gaps. Flexibility is important, and we already know that some of the greatest scientific discoveries are results of either accidents or imagination. Einstein considered imagination more important than knowledge —

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Perhaps the most important way we’re made in any creator’s image is that we’re creative ourselves. It’s that very imaginative nature that can enable us to be flexible and love the mystery of life, rather than try to impose steadfast answers on others.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:32 pm PST, 07/07/07

March 14, 2007

Free books, first cars, and nightmares

I’ve been struggling for topics to blog about, but surely there can be no more chilling thought for a writer than people not wanting books even when they’re free. Someone posted, on a mystery mailing list I belong to, that she boxed up what I’ll presume were mystery novels, and placed them out in front of her home, labeled as free . . . and had no takers. This was in a small university town.

The story surprises me, because in our former neighborhood, where our back yard faced a community college parking lot, we had excellent luck putting things out in the driveway for free, including boxes of used books. Sometimes people took entire boxes rather than a book or two. Nearly everything we put out found a home, including an old sofa we’d acquired already well-used, which I was certain we’d wind up hauling to the dump. Ours wasn’t a busy street except during classes, when students parked there, so I have to assume it was sometimes students who took those items. Then again, my experience with that was ten years ago. Now everyone I see walking around has a cell phone stuck to one ear, and I’m lucky if they avoid colliding with me. Maybe they wouldn’t SEE the books, even with a big sign.

When I was a student, I would’ve browsed through any box of free books on offer, even though I had plenty of other reading that I should be doing instead, for school. My grandmother used to say that no one in our family could clean an attic, because we’d stop to read everything. (That was before bubble wrap, when we used newspaper to wrap fragile items.)

Which reminds me, I dreamed just last night about the car I drove as a student. I hadn’t thought about that car in years. It was a white 1964 Mercury Comet that had a lot of miles on it before I got it. The dream was a mini-nightmare, not because I found myself in that car, but because this creepy guy who’d just followed me out of a bank removed what I thought was a disguise — a wig, under which he had a shaved head — then tried to get me to give him a ride. I was suspicious of him, so first I told him that if I did that my dad would kill me. (I must’ve been a teenager in the dream, which explains the car.) He argued with me, but I got into my car and locked the doors. It isn’t the sort of dream that usually qualifies as a nightmare for me, but it woke me up, heart racing.

That first car had some real-life nightmarish qualities. One was its tendency to overheat if I drove it to a higher altitude. I love the mountains, so not being able to drive my first car to the mountains without it overheating frustrated me no end. As the car aged, it developed other idiosyncrasies. I think my dad and I were at one point the only two people on earth who knew how to start it, which involved pumping the gas pedal just the right number of times, then holding it down . . . oh well, I don’t remember the sequence now. It had other problems too, and I have to wonder now at my desire to drive the thing, but when you’re young I guess you just want to go. You don’t care what you put up with to do it.

That car’s most nightmarish problem was the front passenger door’s sticky latch. My parents paid for my gasoline on the condition that I drive my grandmother anywhere she wanted to go. One day the door didn’t catch, and it flew open when I made a turn. Grandma didn’t fall out, but that incident qualifies as more nightmarish than the dream that ratcheted up my heart rate last night.

What about you?

Do you rummage through boxes of free books whenever you see them?

What was your first car like?

Do different things scare you in dreams than in real life?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:38 pm PST, 03/14/07

February 25, 2007

More poetry

Aside from the novel, I’ve been reading, writing, learning about, and pretty much immersing myself in poetry. I’ve posted some bits and pieces, mostly practice and works in progress, over at Spirit Blooms in the Poetry Sketchbook category. Feel free to drop by there if you’re curious. Though I’ve taken creative writing workshops in the past, I’ve never taken a poetry workshop, and I think I have a lot to learn before I go even that far. Right now I’m refreshing my memory with basics that I learned when I was young but are now a bit fuzzy.

Beverly Jackson has been an inspiration with her poetry posts, (not to mention her abstract paintings — wow!). She recently shared her experiences at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway – Cape May N.J. and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival on her blog. She also provided examples and book recommendations she got from poets there. Dig into her January archive to read the first of those posts, beginning here.

Right now I’m reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I mentioned in a previous post.

HW Longfellow Postage Stamp

My renewed interest in poetry arrives just in time for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s bicentennial, which the United States Postal Service is commemorating with a special stamp — the second to bear his likeness. Longfellow is one of only two writers to be immortalized on more than one US postage stamp. Herman Melville was the other, a distinction he earned, in my estimation, with The Encantadas alone — his sketchbook about the Galapagos Islands.

The stamp displays a portrait of Longfellow, as well as a depiction of Paul Revere’s famous ride. The Smithsonian Magazine’s online biography, Famous Once Again provides lots of interesting details about Longfellow’s life. I never knew, for instance, that he was proficient in so many languages — ten altogether, at one point in his life. He’s considered the “uncrowned poet laureate” of the 19th-century US, and February 27 will be his 200th birthday.

I’m out of touch with today’s curriculums, but when I was young, just hearing or reading the first line, “Listen my children and you shall hear,” could set the cadence of Paul Revere’s Ride beating in my mind. Do kids still learn Longfellow in school? I was older when I read Evangeline, but the first verse is just as deeply embedded in my mind. I’ve since gone back for a taste, drawn in by the same first lines:

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers –
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
(read poem)

I had no idea what a Druid was when I first read that, but the poet drew me into that forest and I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about it. I wanted to know what happened to the Acadians who once lived there.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:23 pm PST, 02/25/07

September 29, 2006

When reading is impossible

I’m in what I hope is my next to final re-read of my novel before I start submitting it. I’m attempting to just read, without editing, to get a feel for how the reader will receive it.

I loved to read, as a girl and a young adult. I still do, but I often wish I could read the same way I did back then. Once you’ve been a writer, editor, or proofreader (and I’ve been all of those), it becomes nearly impossible to just read, without editing or analyzing or noticing parts of speech. I can barely make it through almost anyone else’s writing anymore without wanting to stop and edit, or at least correct a typo here and there, or think about some aspect of it besides the story being told, the information or advice being relayed. Plot structure, characterization. Wondering why the author did that, or admiring a description rather than staying in the story.

It’s even worse with my own writing. No matter how many times I’ve been through it, no matter how good anyone else thinks it is, I find it impossible to just read what I’ve written. I’ve heard that near the end of his life Ernest Hemmingway could barely compose a single sentence, he’d become such a perfectionist about his writing. But, I wonder, how was he at reading? That’s the thing that kills me.

It’s a mad dance with myself, trying to read this book. But I hope that as I read through this draft, if I can distance myself enough from it, I’ll see it more the way other readers will. I also hope to come to a final decision about a title for this book. Finally I hope to see the big picture of the story, and notice any gaping flaws or errors in logic, rather than the little nit-picky things I’ll focus on the final time through.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:55 pm PST, 09/29/06

September 20, 2006

Please ban my books

Some of my best days are those on which the postman brings a bundle of mail held together by a fat rubberband that includes a package. The package usually contains a book. Sometimes yarn, but more often a book.

I’ve read a lot of books. I haven’t read as many as some people, and not as many as I wish. I plan to read a lot more before I die. I’ve never bothered to keep count, I just look around me at those still on my shelves, and I think about those I’ve given away or sold, those stored in the attic because we ran out of shelves, those that I’ve borrowed, and—most important—those that will be alive in my mind forever.

Whenever Banned Books Week rolls around, as it will next week (September 23 – 30), many of us look at a list of banned books and count up those we’ve read. But the single curious fact that stands out for me is how many banned novels or their authors have won Pulitzer Prizes.

If that’s the company banned books and their authors keep, then please ban my books.

Vote for your favorite challenged book here.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 3:42 pm PST, 09/20/06

March 10, 2006

Why we blog

A recent Washington Post column queried Bloggers on the Reasons Behind Their Daily Words. Reading it got me to thinking yet again about why I blog.

I started my website back in 2000, when Shadows Fall was first published, for the same reason most writers do, to promote my work. Four years later I started this blog as a way to provide up-to-date content on my website and let visitors know what I was working on—basically as a way to keep the website from stagnating when too much time passed between novels. Little did I know at the time that the blog would engage so much of my attention.

The immediacy of this format holds a certain attraction. Type, click a button, and what you’ve written is published. But that has its drawbacks. As easy as email, which carries its own risks, a blog can suck you out into public view in a way that’s scary and in some ways deceiving. It’s easy to forget you’re putting yourself “out there” to the degree we do online. After all, I’m seated here alone at my home computer as I type this into a little window on my screen. It doesn’t feel public at all, at the time I write. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:55 pm PST, 03/10/06

February 19, 2006

Dialog

There are times when dialog seems to come by means of mental torture and pretzel twisting, and to be the most difficult writing I do. I continue to learn. In reading through my second draft, a few weeks ago, I checked for those places where the story dragged or faltered, and I found those were often the same places where dialog stumbled or rambled on too long. Nothing much seemed to be happening, even though something was, because I’d buried it inside too many words.

I got lost in the accompanying narrative, the setting, the characters’ activities, movements, body language, or overwrought cleverness. Sometimes I bogged down in the minutiae of sighing, nodding and eye gazing. Writers can get so caught up visualizing each detail of character interaction they rob readers of their mental interplay, their own visualizations based on common human experience. We presume readers don’t know how a character might deliver a line in a given situation. The stream of dialog reads as dammed up where it should flow. It loses its surface tension, its sparkle, and its undercurrent. It becomes stagnant.
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— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:39 am PST, 02/19/06

January 8, 2006

Do you read when you’re writing?

Susan, at Spinning, posed this question to writers, in her post on Reading & Writing, after she answered it on another blog. It’s a writing question on the surface only. It can apply to a lot of things people do, mostly creative. It only starts out in a context of writing. I suppose it has a lot to do with our ability to multi-task. I guess I tend to have more of a one-track mind.

When I’m writing fiction, I tend to read mostly nonfiction, often research related to what I’m writing, or a good book on writing, creativity, or personal growth. Anything that helps understand people and their motivations better is helpful to fiction writers, as well as anything that improves our story building skills and instincts—which isn’t necessarily limited to books on writing. I don’t go for the type of self-help books that offer quick fixes to personal problems. I classify most of those with fad diet books. But I’m drawn to books that help me understand human nature and the human experience on a deeper level.
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— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:53 am PST, 01/08/06


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