Sometimes a rock is just a rock.

Writing 101’s assignment number 5 conjures Hemingway.

“The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Papa famously reacted to explanations about symbolism in his writing as evidence of someone who did not understand  his writing.

In the end, only the writer knows what their symbolism truly represents. But what others guess it to represent is also part of the effect of any written piece, intended or not. I often introduce weather in my stories. It’s generally not symbolic, but I could understand if someone inferred such intent because weather often effects the mood of a scene. It’s not a huge leap from mood to meaning. At the least, they intertwine in context and change each other. If a thread sewn into the pattern of a blossom is pulled from a quilt, is it still a flower, or just a thread without guidance?

Only Hemingway knew if his sharks represented anything more than sharks, and he took that secret to the grave, but “The Old Man and the Sea” wouldn’t have been a classic without them.

The Tease – October 2015

October’s excerpt.

I write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels, but the majority of my pieces are short fiction, the classic short story. This month’s Tease is from one such story.

The air steams with his breath. The odor of urine and burnt polymers greets him as he slips through a gash in the parking lot fence and shuffles down the riverbank to the first span. The belly of the bridge is tattooed with graffiti and swallow droppings. Every crack and defect is subverted by moss or weeds. A number of homeless people congregate on the lee side of the nearest pillars, some standing, others laying directly in the dirt, all faceless until they light a cigarette, illuminating their hollow, hollow eyes. His eyes adjust, detecting three people to his left, a large man, a smaller man and a woman, all sitting around a warped plywood remnant placed on a mound of rock. The lumber scrap is butted against the bridge’s craw, supported between the riverbank and the cement superstructure.

“Well, you gonna get up and say hi or something?” he asks the larger man. “You look like the goddam Fremont Troll sitting under there.” His words echo off the tarnished cement.

“I … err.” The large man clears his throat. “I suppose.” He rises and brushes off his trousers while ducking to avoid the granular surface of the arch. His shaved head shines, even in the dim light of the bridge’s underside. Each step he takes is solidly placed, as if the flesh of his foot is welded to the ground, not out of caution for the grade of the slope, but because Big Jake naturally tramps that way.

They meet a few feet from the makeshift table. Both falter for a moment in that odd, awkward space between a handshake and a hug. Big Jake finally extends his mammoth paw for their mutual rescue. “Heard you might be coming. How’d you find me kid?”

“Not hard. I just asked where the best game in town was. Oh, and where I could find a street goliath with a crack across his head like Valles Marineris.”

Look for next month’s excerpt on the 26th.

The Tease – A New Feature

Blogging 101 inspires a new monthly feature on Mjollnir.

One of the assignments outlined in my recent plunge into Blogging 101 was to develop and add a regular feature to my blog. I had considered this in the past, but never put the idea to code. Hearing the concept suggested by “experts” rekindled my thoughts on the matter. Since one of the central themes of EBM is writing, I have decided to create a feature that focuses on that subject.

The 26th of each month I will post an excerpt from one of my pieces. Fiction, non-fiction, published, work in progress, rough draft, polished copy, or any other passage that fits my mood. There will be no rules, other than choosing pieces I hope intrigue, inspire and edify readers, by whatever connection arises.

Why the 26th? Simple. It represents the number of letters in the alphabet, all the letters I need to write every bit of prose I’ll ever churn up.

Because this entire concept reawakened so suddenly, I haven’t had time to select an appropriate opening salvo. Instead, I will offer a guideline I have followed for years. I’m sure I wrote it down somewhere, so technically, it qualifies.

“I want my heroes to have a good heart and bad habits.”

Look for next month’s excerpt on the 26th.

The DNA of Prose

Are there enough words?

The unique form of every human and every living thing we know of is derived from the sequencing of four basic nucleobases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Just four. All the diversity on this planet is manufactured by varying patterns of these same four building blocks.

And what does that have to do with writing?

Everything.

I doubt myself at times. All writers do. Will I run out of ideas? Will I run out of words? And then I think about that double helix, DNA, that has existed in every human and every animal that has ever walked this Earth. No two have ever been exactly alike. Over eons, no two the same. And yet they all formed from a foundation built with these four nucleobases.

My alphabet has twenty-six nucleobases. ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. My words are made from six-fold as many differing pieces as the number required to build every living creature on the planet. All I have to do is order them in unique, intriguing, meaningful combinations. It sounds simple. It should be simple, and yet, it is often a challenge.

But when the ugly cloud of writer’s block breaks thunder over my creative landscape, I need only think of the DNA of prose. Those twenty-six blocks that promise endless possibilities. Could I run out of words? Can the universe run out of stars?

Happy writing.

Text Book vs. Cook Book – Writing Guides

Books on writing can be utilized in different ways.

 

To be honest, I would rather read a well written novel than a book explaining how to write a well written novel. But all writers read books on writing sooner or later. How you view the material can make all the difference.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou just purchased a new book on the craft of writing. You can approach it with traditional trajectory, scribbling notes in the margins, highlighting, completing the exercises, uh… I mean, prompts. But before grinding through its pages like required reading in a text-book, consider viewing your new guide as if it were a cook book. Skim through it until something catches your eye. Something fresh, nourishing, creative.

And, like a cook book, you can either follow the author’s recipe in exact fashion, striving for a dish that appears just like the picture on the cover, or you can experiment. Add your own ingredients or toss the ones you don’t like. Change the cooking time and the temperature. If their prompt is a hairbrush, write about a plunger. If their target is a thousand words, cut to five hundred. If their muse is a sunlit glade, make yours a dumpster, pelted by acid rain.

Expand your library. Like switching from American cuisine to Italian, try writers’ commentary over step by step processes. A Moveable Feast is no “how to” book, but it is edifying, as well as entertaining. There are lessons to be learned in Hemingway’s exchanges with Scribner and Fitzgerald.

Reading good writing, fiction or otherwise, can be as helpful as any book on execution of the craft. Immersing yourself in Smiley or Steinbeck is like bathing in ink. No matter how vigorously you scrub afterwards, some of what you read is going to stain your next manuscript, whether it seeps in consciously or not. And yes, I must admit, I read that last piece of advice in a book on writing.

Now get cooking.

Get Lit! 2013

Spokane’s annual literary event once again delivers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery April in Eastern Washington, the snow melts, the green buds appear and the goldfinches return. That’s when those of the literary persuasion arise from their winter isolation to share what they have written, read and dreamed. Each new edition of Get Lit! (now in its 15th year) offers something for posers and prosers alike, and 2013 was no different.

We enjoyed a choice of venues and topics that covered the spectrum, from library balconies to hotel conference rooms, from pie and whiskey to red-eye gravy. The list of participants was long and varied, from regional favorites Kim Barnes and Jess Walter to the back east based Jaimy Gordon and Joyce Carol Oates.

The panel discussions are my favorite events. They are the most intimate, and therefore, the most interactive. I enjoyed discussions on philosophy, facial wounds and simmering sauce. Kim Barnes was most impressive.

Hope to see you there next year.                           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oops, NaNo’d Again – the Sublime Insanity of NaNoWriMo

What do November, 50,000 word rough drafts and coffee (lots and lots of coffee) have in common? Answer: NaNoWriMo.

If you know anyone that writes, chances are during some previous November, they mysteriously disappeared from your life. Blame NaNoWriMo. Generic-73x73The impulse to put 1667 or more words down every day in the month of November can overwhelm anyone’s free time.

NaNo is a free-wheeling online creative event that covers the globe. Although it’s completely free,those that can donate are encouraged to do so. The event raises money for the Office of Letters and Light, an organization that supports literacy and writing creativity in youngsters and adults. NaNo includes sponsors that provide technical and financial support and various writers that  provide motivational blurbs. NaNo forums give the participants a place to lean on each other or laugh with each other. The OLL adds some fairly entertaining videos to keep spirits up. Currently, the NaNo homepage shows the 2012 tally at 3,288,976, 325 words written world-wide, the Spokane Region alone created a 6,398,490 concordance.

Winner-120x240When I visit the county fair’s midway, I see people exit rides, wrung out from spinning around for five minutes straight, heading rapidly to the bathroom to expel the cotton candy and corn dogs from their stomach, but they still manage to slap their partners on the back and exclaim, “Wasn’t that fun?”

I say to myself, how can that be fun?

I imagine if someone were able to peer inside my writing space during NaNo, they might ask the same question. But to me, that is part of the attraction. Knowing that most people consider such an endeavor a punishing waste of time further compels the few hundred thousand of us spackled around the globe in various clusters, typing away, prostrate before the glow of our laptops.

And, bonus … I’ve never puked coming off the NaNo ride.

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To learn more about NaNoWriMo, go here.

Is Point of View Sacred?

After reading Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent , I wonder.

I like finding old copies of old books in old book stores. Last summer, I happened upon the Steinbeck classic, The Winter of Our Discontent, in a little shop in Depot Bay. It was stamped with markings from the Multnomah County Library. I was hooked.

This spring , I finally got around to reading it.

Somewhere in the first few chapters, the story changes from third person omnipresent to first person. Is this a mistake or a risk in style only masters are allowed?

Curious as to the genesis of this oddity, I read several reviews online, some from when the book was first released a half-century ago. Although many reviewers made reference to Steinbeck’s shift in p.o.v., none seemed to have an explanation. It made me wonder, had he ever explained his choice? I found no evidence that he did.

I have never considered changing p.o.v in midstream. It would be like changing the setting or a character’s name without explanation. But, apparently, Steinbeck found it a useful lever with which to propel his story. Hopefully, someday, I will learn the reason why.

Which Title Would You Choose?

On the passing of Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451.

If you are one to hit the “writing” tag,  by now you have certainly heard of the passing of Ray Bradbury yesterday at the age of 91. For pure entertainment purposes, I prefer Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and some of his other short fiction. Dystopian futures are not exactly a pick-me-up, but reading Fahrenheit 451 is a necessary endeavor for anyone that cherishes the written word. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here and go immediately to your local independent bookstore and purchase a copy. A used paperback version will likely be under $5.

Those of you familiar with the story, know why I ask what title you would hope to be.

My first thought was Hemingway and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Brilliant, but I’m not sure I want to become such violence, such stupidity thrust upon fellow human beings. I thought of  Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Again, too much violence, even if it’s fantasy violence. The trilogy is even bloodier. Fantastic stories all, but not ones I would wish to carry in my very fiber.

I thought of Le Clezio’s Desert. Spiritual but filled with war. Smiley’s The Greenlanders, no war but violent at times. I started to go through all the books I love and soon realized there was probably going to be some violence, no matter which one I chose. I’m not sure if that is a statement about me or literature.

And so I came full circle, back to my favorite writer, Hemingway. A book with mighty struggles but little violence. And every retelling would be like a trip to the Caribbean. My choice: The Old Man and the Sea. I can feel the warm, blue sea splashing around my toes already.

What would your choice be?

Get Lit! 2012

Last week’s installment of Spokane’s annual literary festival offered many famous authors.

The annual April gathering of words and wordsmiths was once again a success. The Bing was filled for the American Place Theatre’s presentation of “The Giver”. The panels at the Hagan Foundation were well attended as were the community workshops for youth and aspiring writers.

My favorite new venue was the Founders Theater at Saint George’s School. That was where Sherry Jones read from her upcoming novel, “Four Sisters, All Queens”. You know her from her other works, “The Jewel of Medina” and “The Sword of Medina”. As we left the auditorium, we could hear wild turkeys on the hill above. Stochastic.

We also attended a unique presentation of “The Giver” at the Bing Crosby Theater.  It started with a reading from Lois Lowry, the author. She read from her fourth book in the series, “Son”. Following intermission, the story was presented as a play, a one person, abridged version brought to life by a virtuoso performance from Mara Stephens.

My favorite presenter was Susan Orlean from The New Yorker. She spoke about her newest book, “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend” and various other aspects of her writing career. Her humor and ethical passion were inspiring. She gave me hope that journalism will survive this current era of infotainment.

I regret missing HooPalousa. Imagine a group of famous and not so famous local literary faculty, such as award-winning author and WSU professor Sherman Alexie, going at it on the court – sporting fogged safety glasses while talking literary smack and missing shots from three feet out. (My money was on the Spokane Dirty Realists) And all the proceeds go to a graduate fellowship in creative writing. Priceless.

Oh well, maybe next year. And speaking of next year, it’s never too early to plan.