Author Archives: Paul

About Paul

Life in General I'm a retired university professor of English. I taught at Alcorn State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) for thirty-seven years. For twelve of those years I served as Department Chairperson. I loved my job. I loved teaching. Even now I remember how I always loved the "first day" of class when I would meet my new students. As any teacher will tell you, a classroom has a distinct personality. I have always felt that teaching has kept me young...well, young in spirit! But, I have always felt myself to be one of the lucky ones who managed to grab hold of a career and hang on to it. During my tenure at Alcorn, I wrote plays in the seventies and had a few of them produced on the university stage. Eventually I gave up playwriting as the medium of creative expression and turned to fiction. I love poetry but I've never thought of myself as a poet. In the late seventies I attended a writers' workshop at Bennington College, and there met John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. I had work sessions with novelists, Nick Delbanco and Frederick Busch, both of whom were wonderful writers and teachers. The Bennington experience did not translate into book sales or publications, but it was a turning point in my writing life. I returned to the teaching world a different person. In the eighties I got caught up with marriage, children, job and eventually divorce and financial disaster! In the nineties, I earned my PhD in literature and theory from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. There I worked with so many wonderful people such as Patrick Murphy and my dissertation director Karen Dandurand, a truly great woman and scholar. Interesting enough it was during this period, early nineties, that my writing life exploded with activity. I think it's mainly because I have never cared that much for academic research. I know. I know. There were moments when writing literary research that I became excited and all of that, but my great love was fiction. While at IUP, I wrote story after story. I read them at coffee houses, literary gatherings, parties. It was wonderful. With the millennium, I kept writing. My career started winding down, and my writing life began. In 2012, I married a lovely Japanese woman, and I'm learning Japanese. I will say writing is easier. We have visited Japan five times since we've married. My wife's mother lives in Osaka. Essentially, I want to learn Japanese so that I can hold a modicum of conversation with people I meet and especially with my Japanese mother-in-law who is a most fascinating woman. She is eighty years old and gets about like a teenager! Currently she is engaged in her own project of riding every train in Japan. How amazing is that? Sadako, my wife, and I plan to go to Japan in the Fall 2016, about a year from now. Not only is the country lovely, but the people are amazingly patient, kind, and gentle. Most everything about Japan appeals to me. Here's one example: One evening Sadako, her mother, and I were returning from a late evening meal at an Italian Restaurant in Osaka. It was around 10:30 at night. We had to walk a mile or so back to her mother's apartment. I'm talking inner-city here. Half way there we passed several children playing on the sidewalk, laughing and talking. Once we got to the apartment, I realized I had witnessed what to me was a miracle. In a modern city of 10 million, second or third largest in Japan, children can play outside at 10:30 at night! Here in Decatur, a city less than a quarter of a million, parents won't even let their kids go trick or treating without adult supervision. In Japan, guns are outlawed. It's that simple. The number of homicides in Jackson, Mississippi, in one month, outnumbers the homicides in all of Japan in one year. I'm not a gun lover. I don't condemn those who do love firearms. But I must say, the force of the reality that I was walking in a gun-free society was stunning. It still is. And that realization helps me with self-definition as well as my self-cultural definition. Who am I as a human and who am I as an American. It's something to write about. What I like I love writing. I've published one story thus far. "Walter Lee Comes Home from Vietnam." It was published in "The Sun Magazine" in 2013. Since then I've piled up a ton of rejections, but I'm still happily at it. I love reading. I read tons of Asian poetry with a emphasis on Tang Dynasty poets of China. Poet Du Fu is my absolute favorite. I have read everything written by the Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata. His novel, The Sound of the Mountain, is, so far as I'm concerned, one of the greatest novels ever penned by human. I wrote my dissertation on Anthony Trollope and must say I still love his novels...all 47 of them! I'm a big fan of the Victorians. George Eliot is at the top of the list. I'm currently reading Elizabeth Gaskill's lengthy novel, "Wives and Daughters." It's not long enough. Movies I love movies, especially International movies. Technology has been a godsend in this arena. In the seventies and eighties, if you wanted to see a movie from Europe or Asia then you had to travel to New York City to do so. Now, all you need is a Netflix account or some such. It's wonderful. The most amazing thing though is between reading and writing, I find it difficult to sit in front of a screen watching a two or three hour movie. Photography I came to photography late. My faculty gave me a camera as a parting gift. It was a huge surprise and I soon got taking nature pics. I lived in the country in Mississippi...deer in the front yard and all that...it was nice. I also had a pond so there were wood mallards and herons...and my life as a nature photographer was on its way. It has taught me patience. Other Hmmm, I am a moderate drinker. I love to sit out on our deck at midnight with a bottle of sake or wine or both and the temperature around 65 to 55, and with a log fire in the fire pit, and watch the moon rise from behind the trees. Autumn is my favorite season. With the temp between 50 and 65 degrees, I feel as if I can sit out on the back porch and write forever. With the temp between 30 and 49, I can sit inside by the gas log fire and forever again. Yes, I'd love to have a "real" fireplace, but what can I say. We're out in the country but it's a modern house. Nevertheless, I'm insanely happy and fortunate so I ain't complainin'.

Stay calm–and think of November

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To stay “calm” does not mean to be complacent. It means to do the right thing: wash your hands regularly and to maintain social distance. Why is it so difficult for some folks to figure this out? Something very frightening occurred to me last night after watching a YouTube vid on the state of affairs in Italy. The video first showed a crowded hospital with doctors and nurses moving frantically from patient to patient, and then it showed a convoy of military vehicles rolling down a city street under the cover of darkness. They were, according to the speaker, full of bodies headed to a burial site.

It occurred to me that when it really turns nasty here in the states, which it will soon do, we might well see the same sort of thing. Sadako and I are not going out. If I, who am 71 years old, contract the virus, the last my wife may ever see of me is my being carted off in an orange and white ambulance.

Therefore the only going out I do is to walk Cody, our black lab, (above). I asked Sadako, who is Japanese, to not accompany me when I walk Cody. Why? Because our abject, ignorant, vile president refuses to stop using the phrase, “Chinese virus.” His base, a large number of whom live here in Alabama, are beginning to associate Coronavirus with Asian. Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, they’re all the same to Trump and his base. Hate crimes against Asians are now occurring in this country.

The fact that “We are all in this together” does not resonate with Trump nor with some senators. Senator Burr of NC comes to mind. He sold $1.7 million of stock upon early information from his Senate Intelligence Committee briefing on the coming pandemic. Burr didn’t jump up and say, “Wait, we must immediately prepare our people.” He didn’t rise up before his beloved president and declare, “We need tests, dammit.” He made no effort to purchase PPEs for hospitals in NC or anywhere else. That wasn’t his concern.

He could have admitted that he had sold those shares and donated that money to the production and effective delivery of face masks, gowns, gloves, and respirators to the hospitals of New York, but he didn’t. No, Mr. Burr PROFITTED, as did Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is also a member of the Intelligence Committee; James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma; and Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia. All four should be investigated rigorously–after being discharged from their duties as United States Senators.

So, yes, I do wake up in the middle of the night and feel some anxiety.

Categories!

Getting my first novel online was easier than I thought it might be, but there was one particular moment that gave me pause—choosing two categories for my novel. Amazon supplies the list from which one chooses only two categories from the Main genre type of the novel, in my case: Fiction. There are eight sub-genres beneath fiction, none of which applied to me, e.g., African American, Christian, Fantasy, Mystery Detective, Sci Fi, etc.

The first descriptive category I checked was Contemporary Women. That was easy enough, but the second category was more elusive. Some other choices were Gothic, Historic, Horror, Lesbian, Literary, Magical Realism, Religious, and Satire.

I wavered between Literary and Religious. Girls Who Don’t Believe is not a Christian novel. It definitely doesn’t push a Christian agenda. I paused. Maybe I should check Literary? I went back and forth and finally, as you see in the pic above, checked Religious. Maybe that was a mistake. I don’t know, but here’s why I did.

While my novel isn’t a “religious” novel, as in promoting Christianity, it does have much to do with the downside of faith-based belief, such as:

  • a resistance toward reading texts other than the Bible and Christian related works;
  • an objection toward imaginative literature: Sci Fi, fantasy, horror, etc.;
  • a sustained and promoted aversion toward the other;
  • a sustained and promoted disdain for the earth and its non-human life forms;
  • a fostered belief that mediation, cooperation and/or negotiation are suspect actions and can lead to moral depravity;
  • a sustained resistance to any historical fact reaching beyond the constraints of the belief;
  • a sustained resistance to any scientific achievement that challenges institutional precepts;
  • a persistent desire to control the image, the dress, and the function of the female body; and
  • a deep belief that posits the female mind as naturally secondary to the mind of the male.

To make all of this clearer, here’s a short scene from the novel that reflects some of the above issues.

Background: Protagonist, Nikki Lowe, a biology teacher and evolutionist becomes romantically involved with Cory Thomas, a Christian fundamentalist. She is unaware of the depth of his fundamentalism, and he is unaware that she is a non-believer. He asks her to serve as Nature Counselor for three weeks at a Girls’ Christian summer camp. He is the Director. She agrees because she envisions three weeks of sensual bliss with the man of her dreams.

Scene: Nikki, as Nature Counselor, takes a group of girls on a nature hike. One of the girls, Joy, has been moody, negative, and resistant the whole time. A thunderstorm comes up, and the girls run to an empty barn for shelter. Once in the barn, Joy separates herself from the group and retreats into a stall to pray. Noting that Joy is not with the other girls, Nikki leaves her assistant, Camille, at the front of the barn to check on Joy.

***

She found Joy in a stall midway down the breezeway, sitting on a crate in a bare corner. Thin lines of light slanted across the floor.

“Joy?”

The girl lifted one hand to signal silence; then, she raised her head. “Oh, hey.”

“You’re all right?”

“Sometimes, I feel the need to pray. I have to get away from—everything.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“You want to pray?”

“I want to talk.” Nikki hunkered down to Joy’s level.

“Oh, well, sure, I guess.”

“Joy, I have no problem with your being in the Nature Group, but I can’t help but wonder why you signed on. You’ve made it obvious that you don’t care for hiking.”

“I’m actually not an outdoors person. I mean, I’m just not.”

“Well, that’s my point. Why did you choose this group? If you don’t…”

“Nobody wants to believe that God created the earth. I want to prove them wrong. Cory said he’d help me.” She sat slightly bent with her arms crossed. “Cory told me that if I joined this group, I could use the knowledge to show how God created everything that God put us here as carin—care—?” she looked up towards the ceiling.

“Caretakers?” Nikki suggested.

“Caretakers,” Joy said. “We were the last created. We take care of everything else, and God takes care of us. Cory told me that.”

“Okay.” Nikki wasn’t sure how to respond. She knew she didn’t want to talk about Cory with an intractable girl in a horse stall.

“Cory’s so awesome.” Joy lowered her voice. “You know he once met Donald Trump.”

“Whoa!” Nikki raised her hands in mock horror. “We won’t hold that against him.”

“You’re a Democrat?”

The question took Nikki by surprise, and even more surprising was the positive expression on Joy’s face. Was this Joy’s subversive side? “Well, let’s just say, I believe in moderation, toward all things.”

“You believe in abortion?” Joy stared at her through narrowed eyes.

“No, Joy, I do not believe in abortion.” Nikki paused. Joy’s expression was that of a fox when it catches the rabbit.

“Then what?”

“I believe that you and I, as women, should live in a world where a girl’s sexuality is not the sole measure of her worth. Instead of focusing on an after-effect, I consider a world where girls are smart enough, Joy, not to experience unwanted or unnecessary pregnancy in the first place. And by smart, I don’t mean that you make straight As in math. I mean that meaningful and positive activity fills your life, creating the person you can become. It goes the same for boys. If respect and compassion guide our lives and relationships, then things like rape, sexual ignorance, and abortion, which are all avoidable, would cease to be. We create our culture, and that, in turn, defines us. It’s circular.”

“Cory says we’re all born into sin and depravity.”

“And what do you say?”

“Me? I don’t say anything. That’s why we have preachers. Don’t you go to church?”

“I go when I can,” Nikki shot back. She didn’t want to get into an accusation war with Joy. “Let me say this: if you want…if your goal is to prove that God created the earth, then fine. Let that be your goal. But you must go about it with discipline and an absolute desire to learn everything you can from people who know.”

“Such as?”

“Such as scientists—biologists, botanists, chemists, geologists.”

“But not preachers, men of God?”

“They know theology.” Nikki was getting tired of Joy’s baiting game. “If you want to understand and study how the earth came into being…”

“I know that already. God created the earth in seven days. You don’t believe that?”

“I tell you what. Why don’t we make that our topic for our next discussion group? I want to hear more about what you have to say.” Nikki raised herself. Her legs ached. “Is that okay with you? Would you like that?”

“I’d love it. Thank you.” Joy beamed. She looked about the dark stall. “Maybe Jesus was born in something like this, hm?”

Nikki acquiesced with a nod. “Maybe so.” She pushed the half door open. “You want to join us, or would you rather have more time for yourself?”

“I’ll be out in a minute.”

“We’re right out here.” Nikki backed out into the breezeway.

Camille was still sitting in the doorway, her back to the girls. A thin rain was falling.

***

I hope you enjoyed that scene! Why this scene? Joy is twenty years old. She’s a non-college graduate who lives with her single-parent mother, Betsy, who is also a counselor at the same camp. Joy suspects, as it turns out, rightly so, that Nikki is not Christian. In the above scene, we see Joy’s attempt to trick Nikki into admitting that she isn’t a believer. Nikki manages to side-step each indirect accusation, but for Joy, the side-stepping is nothing more than proof of Nikki’s deception.

Eventually, Nikki will wrestle with her own human frailty and vow to correct it, that is to say, she’ll stop being deceptive regarding her stance as a secular humanist. Joy never wrestles with her Christian belief because she is convinced, uncompromisingly so, that she’s right.

So, did I do the right thing by choosing religious as a category? Did the “stall scene” make sense?

I’m interested in your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Works

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Cover Reveal

I’ve just published the ebook on KDP and the print on Amazon. OMG! They’re doing the review and all, so it’ll be another 48 hours before it shows up. I guess. It wasn’t as “easy” as THEY said it would be. The cover for the print copy was problematic. I had to go back to the designer to have him resize.

I decided to put the novel out there in one volume. What the hell. It was too much trouble to break it up into three parts–which meant three different covers and all that. I need more experience with this indie publishing before I do something like that. Plus, my nerves are shot to hell just getting this one book published.

The cover was chosen from a bunch of possibilities. I went with a company called 99designs. And while they were a bit pricey, it was worth it. The above was a top contender in my own polls with my nieces, nephews, friends, and my neighbor’s daughter down the street. Sadako and I both agreed that the cover design works on several levels. For instance, the novel targets 21 – 45-year-old women (Well, if you’re 67, that’s okay too.) And if you’re a guy, have at it. But back to the cover. The faceless females do not reflect any particular age, a fact that is appealing. And I really liked the racial diversity that’s reflected in the images. No other design had that.

I told my older sister that I had finished my novel and the title is Girls Who Don’t Believe. Her response, after a lengthy pause: “Don’t believe what?” I told her she’d have to read the book.

My next post will be more on how I approach the idea of “belief” in the novel.

First Sunrise of 2020

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First 2020 sunrise over the Tennessee River as it runs past Decatur, Alabama.

Happy New Year Everyone. I figured if I’m going to resolve to be a better blogger then I ought to start the year with a post!

I’m hoping to start the New Year off with publishing my novel online. I’m in the process of getting my cover design. Once that’s done, I’ll be ready to roll! Thank you for all the great support throughout 2019.

 

Looking for Feedback!

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Last night as I was plowing through online discussions on ISBNs, and the necessity for copyright, and tons of advice on how to get my novel “out there.” I was suddenly struck, as writers often are, by the fact that I know absolutely zero about marketing.

It was unnerving, but not overwhelming. I can learn. And I’ve got my blogger friends who know about these things. Great! I stated in my last blog, At Last, that I’m going to self-publish which, I’ve slowly come to realize, means starting my own publishing venture—and that means marketing! Yikes!

Here’s my first marketing issue. I’ve just finished my first novel, Girls Who Don’t Believe. It is my intention to publish it online. The novel is 147K words in length, which when printed out, comes to 523 pages. I’ve gotten excellent comments from a marvelous Beta Reader, and I’ve killed tons of “darlings.” I’m done with revision. I’m done with rewriting.  So, at 147K, it will remain.

Now, having made that declaration, I’ve read that online readers can’t handle long novels. For instance, this passage from Gundi Gabrielle’s book, Kindle Publishing.

Short books do a LOT better on Kindle than full length 60-80K word books. Fiction writers find that their short novellas are often much more popular than big long novels though there certainly is a place for those as well.

12K-24K is a good range on Kindle. More feels overwhelming to many readers because the way we read on digital devices is different from holding a book in your hand.

It’s more effective to split a complex topic – or novel – into a series of smaller books, than overwhelming your readers with one, big chunk.

So, I’m looking at this as a marketing issue. My solution is to put my novel out in five separate volumes. I’ve found separation points for each section–turned out to be easier than I thought. But this is NOT five separate novels, but rather five separate sections. The Title and cover (I’m using Vellum) will be the same, but each volume will have a different subtitle.

Question #1. Is putting out five volumes sensible?

Question #2. Should I put the five volumes out at the same time or wait a few weeks or longer between each volume?

Question #3. Should I just forget about multi volumes and put the whole 147K out there at one time?

If you have any thoughts about the above, I’d be happy to hear from you!

At Last

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The manuscript

At Last! I’ve finished my first novel. It’s been three years. I hope my next novel doesn’t take so long! While experiencing the usual ups and downs this sort of project entails, I can honestly say, I’ve enjoyed writing this book. It has gone through several drafts and tons of revisions and chapter rewrites, and yes, many “darlings” have been killed in the process. Above is the latest draft. My system is to write online then print out and then pencil edit. Here are the basics:

Title: Girls Who Don’t Believe

Word length: 142,752

Genre: Literary fiction

Summary: The protagonist of Girls Who Don’t Believe is Nikki Lowe, a non-Christian, staunch evolutionist biology teacher, who loves nature and books. At an end-of-the-school-year conference, she meets Cory Thomas, a well-spoken, intelligent, computer programmer, and devout Christian who quotes poetry. When he asks her to serve as  Nature Counselor at a Girls’ Christian Summer Camp, a.k.a., Silverbridge, she readily agrees. After all, how hard can it be to pose for a few weeks as a nature loving confused Christian? Her strategy is to use that time to bring her love interest, one Cory Thomas, around to her way of thinking, which is that a young man who is incredibly handsome, cultured, and drinks wine, can’t be all that devout. Edenic Silverbridge, where lush gardens rest in the quiet shade of old-growth trees, becomes the backdrop for Nikki’s crumbling relationship and existential ordeal. Her one simple, unremarkable act of deception ripples into tiny waves of overlapping complications that grow and swell until she and all the population of Silverbridge are caught up in an unexpected tsunami of horrendous violence.

For the past half-year, I’ve gone back and forth—should I travel the traditional publishing route: write a query letter, get an agent, get a publisher and get published and try to keep the book alive for at least three weeks OR go independent and and learn the basics of becoming my own agent, publicist, designer, and publisher? I’ve decided on the latter for a number of reasons. One, as Benjamin Franklin once said: Time is money. If I go the traditional route, if things go well, it will still be over a year before my novel gets on the shelf and then its shelf life is dependent on a number of tenuous factors. Two, the more I read, regarding the hows and wherefores of traditional publishing, the angrier I get. For instance, in one’s query letter to an agent, it is advised to list one’s age. Why? One answer is that agents and publishers shun the first novel of aging adults. Why? The old geezer might not last another year, hence he or she is a poor investment. Three, hooking your wagon onto a monster publishing institution train means losing all control of your book. They change the title. They decide on the cover. They decide on the length. Ultimately, they may or may not even publish the work. You aren’t going to get much payback if they do. And finally, if the book doesn’t sell, the publishers aren’t going to “try again” next year. Your life as an author is pretty much done.

So, I’m going independent. I’ve gotten several books on how to do it because I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m willing to learn, and I’m excited about it all. So, I will do my best to keep everyone informed as to how things are progressing with my publishing effort. It won’t officially begin for at least another month…sorry. I’ve got a small revision to get done. Plus, I need to read through just one more time. Any advice is welcome!

 

 

 

 

Agent Orange

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Orange can be beautiful

I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now…at least two years! And that’s the give-a-way isn’t it? Two years. At this point in time, anyone who mentions the past two years is most assuredly referencing the presidency of Donald J. Trump—which is exactly what I’m doing.

The question that interests me is how can we writers use the current political situation in our novels, stories, poems? There is a sizable non-fiction library already out there. Beginning with Fire and Fury, (I loved it.) and most recently The Commander in Cheat, a book I highly recommend. In between the two, you have, among many others, e.g., Bob Woodward’s excellent work: Fear. So the thought struck home, what about fiction?

What indeed? I’m going to list some topics that I believe may work as plots for whole novels or subplots within novels or short stories or indeed, poems that tackle such themes as power, dominance, authority, control, truth, deception, the list goes on and on.

In regard to the criticism that all of these topics have already been written about—well of course they have. Everything has been written about! It’s how you dress these ideas that will make them your own.

Plots for writers of Dystopian novels:

Three fascist dictators (think Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong-un) publicly conspire to wage war against each other but in fact bomb key cities the world over, setting in motion their ruthless plan to rule the earth. Each dictator secretly intends to kill the other two.

An American journalist, by way of a digital anomaly, receives a highly secretive document that reveals a plot hatched among the President and select congressmen to destroy American Democracy. The document reveals a violent take-over of liberal media (enemy of the people) networks.

A novel centered around a liberal-activist family who, while hosting a neighborhood barbecue for their like-minded friends, hear that several cable newscasters (think Anderson Cooper, Ari Melber, Van Jones, and Rachel Maddow) have all been arrested for “high crimes and treason” and their whereabouts unknown. And in the next twenty-four hours MSNBC and CNN become pro-Republican networks?

Any of the above could be plotted as a Sci Fi or even Fantasy novels. Power is power, right?

Plots for YA novels:

A freshman college student sends pics to her mother, an analyst who works for the CIA, that show FBI agents pushing several liberal professors into unmarked black vans on her college campus. And then the student’s phone goes blank.

A young teen couple who ride out to their favorite “spot” to be alone and witness a group of fundamentalists marching out of a church carrying torches and guns.

A junior high school girl realizes her boyfriend has no problem lying about his past as he desperately campaigns for president of the senior class.

A young man believes his pastor, who preaches that global warming is fake news, until he finds out that the preacher is secretly using church funds to build an expensive retainer wall around an exclusive park area that he owns. The wall will effectively hold back rising tides due to global warming, while allowing total flooding of contiguous working-class properties.

Plots for Literary novels:

The Trump presidency offers up tons of themes around which any number of novels could be penned. Here are a few suggestions.

Political rhetoric vs reality

Hatred as a motivating force

Dehumanizing the “other” engenders or reveals the dehumanization of the aggressor

Domination is weakness.

Capitalism’s miracle commodity: ignorance.

The fundamentalist notion that Evil is acceptable when it works toward an imagined good.

So what do you think? As you watch the news, do you find yourself mulling over things to write? Has the Trump presidency already made an appearance in your current work in progress? I look forward to hearing from you.

Sad Note:

Last night as I was finishing this post, I saw the online news of the latest school shooting. The young man, Kendrick Castillo, of Hispanic descent, threw himself at the shooter, saving his classmates and died as a result.

At a Florida rally, a supporter responded to Trump’s railing against Hispanic migrants with the following remark:

“Shoot them.”

Trump laughed

What’s your Brand? I don’t know, what’s yours?

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the issue of “Building my Author Brand.” I’ve read several articles on this sort of thing, but I’ve yet to do it—i.e., construct the Brand that will identify me as a writer. At any rate, I thought about it this morning, and of course like all writers, my mind began to wonder a bit and hence this dialogue. I hope you enjoy it.

 CRUEL AGENT: What’s your Platform? (He looks at you the same way he looked at the homeless person outside the building—the one with the upside down MAGA hat on the sidewalk.)

YOU: Uhm, well, I have a blog.

CRUEL AGENT: Is that a fact?

YOU: Yes sir. (You always used sir as a sign of respect—being a country person and all.)

CRUEL AGENT: (Bored) How many followers?

YOU: Oh, let’s see maybe a couple hundred. Well, (looking up and to the right. Something you’d told yourself not to do because it means you’re lying…which is exactly what you’re doing.) could be more than that, because a lot of them are, you know, car dealers and insurance companies, and stuff. Yeah, more like a thousand.

CRUEL AGENT (Leaning back in his chair.) What’s your brand?

(If it wasn’t a smoke-free building, he’d probably light up. It’s a cigarette pose. You want to remember that for your next novel.)

YOU: (Deer in the headlights.) Brand?

CRUEL AGENT: You do have a Brand don’t you? (Stares at you with open mouth—totally derisive. The same way your ex looked at you upon realizing you’re broke.)

YOU: Sure, of course. (Wracking your brain for a brand.) Well, I’m not a sci fi, or mystery writer. I think my brand will have something to do with uhm…I want to write literature, so something literary?

CRUEL AGENT: You need a Brand. Something that LABELS you. IDENTIFIES you.

YOU: Yes, of course. No, I realize that. I mean…sure.

CRUEL AGENT: We can do that for you, right here and now. You want a Brand?”

YOU: (Brightening.) Sure. (You look down at the manuscript in the leather portfolio in your lap. When you look up, your agent is lighting a cigarette off a brand of red-hot steel. You hear a sizzling.) Oh?

CRUEL AGENT: Bare the hip. It won’t hurt—much.

HOMELESS MAN: (Watching you run down the sidewalk screaming.) That’s number seventeen for the week—a record. (Shouts.) Could-a left me some coins!

 

As you can see, I’m having a lot of fun mulling over this branding business, but I suppose at some point I have to get serious and do it.

Have you constructed your Brand? Have you thought about it? What sort of problems have you faced when you pondered the notion of “how people will identify your creative output?” Look forward to hearing from you.

The OED and Me

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Some time ago, I purchase a 1972 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: all thirteen volumes. I even built a special stand for them. (Shown above. My dear wife, Sadako, did the felt cover on the top shelf–so they can rest comfortably.)

I love these books. Not so much though that I intend to read the whole work, as did Ammon Shea, in one year, and then wrote a book about it: Reading the OED. I did read his account of reading the OED. So, let’s move on.

The British poet, W. H. Auden, was asked what one book he’d wish to have if stranded on a remote and uninhabited island. He responded without hesitation, “the OED.” I believe I understand this fascination with the world’s greatest dictionary of the English language. Here’s why.

A few months back, I was working on my novel—I’m currently slaving away on the second draft. Early on in the narrative, my female protagonist begins a relationship with a young man. For her, one of the most fascinating aspects of his character is that he quotes poetry. The first instance of this occurs when he delivers the whole of Emily Dickinson’s famous poem: There is no Frigate Like a Book.

Now, while I am familiar with the poem, I can’t recall each and every line from memory, so I did the next best thing—I Googled it. I pasted the poem into the scene and immediately became interested in lines 5-6:

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

I got up and pulled the T-U volume. One downside of this multi-volume dictionary is that one can’t easily pile all twelve volumes next to the keyboard. That’s why I built the stand, but I still have to lug the heavy book to the desk. It’s a small price to pay.

I looked up traverse. I knew it meant to move through a place, but what I didn’t know, and the OED pointed in a bracketed note, was another meaning:

“Traverse, a toll paid for passing through the limits of a town or lordship.” And from the 1852 Hull Shipping Dues Act 2209, we learn that “Certain tolls are…Toll Traverse.”

Dickinson’s poem There is no Frigate Like a Book was written in 1853.

I had not known beforehand the relationship between the words Traverse and Toll. The OED gives us these remarkable and often illuminating examples from known, as well as obscure, sources, that add depth to our understanding of words and their historical usage.

The dated, usage samples listed in the OED are priceless, and I often find myself studying those more than the definitions. Admittedly this knowledge didn’t help me one whit with my novel, but it made me feel better, stronger somehow.

Oh, and I recently came across this word: canorous. It means Singing, melodious, musical; resonant, ringing. One of the stated examples is from Thomas DeQuincey’s famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: A long, loud, and canorous peal of laughter.

Hmm, maybe I can find a place for canorous in my novel…we’ll see.

A quick note: I don’t always use the OED. I more often than not work with the smaller and more manageable Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

Do you find yourself on occasion thumbing through the pages of your good, old dictionary and finding some nice surprises?

Writing Technology

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Many of us writers, including myself, have written on current issues regarding electronic communication networks. We have delved into our love/hate relationship with the world of hi-tech: the wonder of it all—the speed, the ease of use, the universe at your fingertips, as opposed to the horror of it all—the waste of time, the manic distractions, digital unreality.

Today I’d like to discuss even yet another dimension we writers must deal with and that is: writing technology. For example, I’ve just completed a scene in my novel (I’m working on a 2nd draft revision.) that involves I-phone use.

The scene had to do with the heroine having to use an incapacitated person’s cell phone to make a 911 call. She needs to use his phone because her own phone battery is dead, and she has misplaced her charge cord…something I do all the time. She’s not at her own home, so the missing cord is her only charge method. Now here’s where it gets complicated character-wise. At first, I was going to have her NOT call 911, but I quickly realized that was out of character. She has her flaws, but for her not to call 911, even when the incapacitated person is reprehensible, would flip her moral compass to the extreme. So, she must call, and she does.

Enter the plot problem. I’m working with a two-year old first draft. I had forgotten what comes next. In my first draft, she doesn’t call. She asks her ex-boyfriend to call. And now I realize that to avoid my heroine from looking like one who is a moral coward, I need her to make that call, but I also need her, for the sake of my plot, to ask her boyfriend to make the call. What to do?

Google to the rescue. I Google “911 calls that fail.” It turns out that 911 has yet to be able to locate all cell phone calls as opposed to landline calls, especially in rural areas—such as my heroine’s. It all works out. She makes the 911 call. The 911 rings—stops, and a CALL FAILED message pops up on the screen. So now, she must call her ex, (which is what I want her to do) and ask him to make the 911 call on his landline. Whew!

After writing this scene, I realized just how much of this novel, set in 2019, has required use of current technology from I-phone use, including Skype and FaceTime to Television-computer-telephone hook ups and everything in between.

Here’s a real-life narrative. Some years ago, I was involved in a relationship with a woman who professed herself to be a Republican, Christian, conservative. Upon her first visit to my humble home in Mississippi, she let me know that it was a major disappointment. My home was not up to her high standards. Her two children from a previous marriage, both in their early teens, did not agree but knew better to argue. They left after two contentious days of bickering, back-biting, and arguing. I remember my epiphany: that the relationship was headed south. I waved good-bye as she pulled out onto the highway. Back inside, I poured a hefty glass of Merlot from the bottle I had hidden during her short visit. I picked up my remote to check the weather on my 52” flat screen. What immediately popped up was GOD TV. Until her visit I had no idea such a thing existed. It was all she watched. I hit the channel button—nothing happened. I hit it again. Again. Again. To my horror, I realized she, or her tech-savvy, fifteen-year old daughter, had locked my television on GOD TV. I had no idea what to do. I called a good friend who told me to pull the plug wait a few seconds then plug it back in. The TV would reset to its default position. I did, and it worked. I used this real-life episode in my novel.

So, have you found yourself in a tech-related plot problem? How did it turn out? I hope to hear from you.