honesty in writing–#amwriting tip of the day

Apr 9, 2018 by

Honesty in Writing

I read an essay about honesty in writing in Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write last week and found the concept profound. You’d think that not be so difficult a thing to do, but I’d wager as writers, so many of us at times have struggled with honesty in our writing–trying to share something beyond our scope. And when we attempt to do so, it shows.

That led me to today’s #amwriting tip–Honesty in Writing.

When I took my dog Maycee out this morning, I was treated to the view in the picture to the right. We all know that branches of trees grow outward and we like to think that they reach for the heavenly light as they mature, like we do as writers, writing day in, day out, honing our craft. Now we’ve all heard the expression getting too far out on the limb. This happens when we write about things we don’t know well. The weight gets to be too much for the leanness of the extension and the branch begins to sag, if not snap off, and the whole thing goes tumbling to the ground. But not so with this one particular branch I saw this morning. It turned back toward the safety of the tree’s crown.

Look at the tree branch, instead of reaching too far out, the branch is bending upward to preserve its strength.

I think it is important and almost cliche to say write what you know. I think it’s better to encourage you as a writer to write from your gut. Have courage to express what’s on your mind.

I’ve always said that when I sit down at my computer, typewriter, or put pen to paper, it’s like I poke a hole in my finger and I bleed out what’s on my mind. It’s that bluntness, that sheer honesty that satisfies me in my writing that has sometimes angered those who have read my writings. But it is also what has made me such a stickler for detail.

My mother has long said I have an “elephant like a memory.”

In recent years I have reconnected with friends whom I lost connection with when I was in middle school in California–because of the Air Force–and found them again because of Facebook 32 years later.

I have reminded them in fine detail of aspects of their lives and they have been astounded. I attribute this now to my writer’s mind, not just because I have a good memory, but because I’ve had the training as a writer to record detail and the daily practice of searching for detail as a writer and putting down the accurate and honest details of events in my mind and on paper.

This of course takes practice, daily practice–another essay of Cameron’s–but more importantly, it requires being honest about what is seen and not seen. It requires discipline and honesty about what is and is not there and recording accurately.

#AmReading

At present I’m on a regular reading diet that comprises a short story every day of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and an essay penned by Ms. Cameron.

Last night I read Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Hemingway’s “The Killers.” Cameron’s essay on Practice was wonderful.

I wrote down this wonderful quote from Cameron:

“While our mythology tells us that writing is about the ivory tower, writing itself teaches an interest in life outside the tower.” 

That’s quite a mix of authors you might say. I’m about to add John Steinbeck to the mix–his notes from when he wrote The Grapes of Wrath.

I’m purposely doing this because these are renowned writers who are known for their brilliance and most of all, their honesty in writing.

Conclusion

For those of you on Twitter using the hashtag #AmWriting, congratulations. You’re doing something important. You’re using social media to grow your experiences with writing. I encourage you to come back, sign up on the email list and comment. How are you honest in your writing? What are you reading these days? What tools do you use to practice being honest in your writing? How can we all do better?

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Cameron, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Hemingway

Apr 5, 2018 by

Cameron, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Hemingway

Credibility, May Day, The Past is Important to Us & Fifty Grand

I witnessed a cosmic literary alignment this week when reading selections of Julia Cameron, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Ernest Hemingway randomly together. Each of them fit together in a unique way.

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s essay “Credibility” taken from her Right to Write fits with the others like a glove.

Four great writers who sat down and wrote to overcome their fear of whether or not they were good enough.

The essay says that in America we have a conviction “that being published has to do with being ‘good’ while not being published has to do with being ‘amateur.’ We treat the unpublished writher as though he or she suffers an embarrassing case of unrequited love.”

Her male counterparts understood the importance of the act of writing.

What if F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Ernest Hemingway had all said to themselves, “My writing isn’t good enough to publish. I’m just going to stick it in the drawer.”

Or worse, “I’m just not good enough.”

Or worse still, “I’ll never be good enough, so I’m not going to write at all.”

You may think I am joking about this, but how many people do you know who have said this? The answer is too many.

Anyone can sit down and write. And the more they do so, the better they will get. As long as they are reading, too.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “May Day,” his first great novelette, was published in July 1920, and related to a series of events that took place in his life in 1919. He feared that he had “unsuccessfully” woven the events into a pattern in his story. But he published the story regardless and it is a wonderful piece of writing.

His story details a Yale reunion on May 1-2, 1919 in New York and follows the antics of Gordon Sterrett, Phillip Dean, Edith Bradin, Carrol Key, Gus Rose, and Peter Himmel. The tale is sad, but has moments of color, yet is told masterfully.

Gordy is caught in a pickle and a situation of misery he seems to have created on his own. But reading the story one gets the sense of the true genius of Fitzgerald’s writing.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks’ “The Past is Important to Us,” in his book, Uncommon Type, introduces us to Bert Allenberry, also in New York City, who has developed a time machine that allows him to go from near future to June 8, 1939 where he frequents the World’s Fair and finds himself infatuated with a woman from another time.

Hanks weaves a great tale of Bert not being happy with what he has, all the money he could want, and longing for something he can’t have. Like Gordy, Bert’s demise is created out of his own greed. The underlying theme is very much the same between the two stories written almost 100 years apart.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Fifty Grand,” from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, The Hemingway Library Edition, involves a washed-up boxer named Jack Brennan who is facing his last fight and puts $50,000 down on himself to lose.

This is another story set in New York city. In this edition, there are extras with previous versions of the stories included. Right behind the published edition is exhibit 12A which has the note, “1st 3 pages of story mutilated by Scott Fitzgerald with his—.”

Boxing stories aren’t really my thing, but Hemingway’s writing is so rich and concise. Remember, he says 80 percent of a story should be like an iceberg—with the bulk of it unseen.

Conclusion

So how is it that I can pick up four books randomly and read four separate pieces together and they have overlapping themes?

That remains a mystery, but in part, Hemingway and Fitzgerald hung out together as best friends. They fed off each other. Tom Hanks has been an actor, screenwriter, director, and producer. His writings also have appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. His book Uncommon Type, where every story features a typewriter, is his first collection of fiction.

Each of these writers overcame what Julia Cameron wrote about in her essay “Credibility.” They, like all writers, heard the call all writers hear and did something about their need to write. They sat down with blank sheets of paper, pricked their fingers and poured their hearts out onto the pages before them. Then they went back time and again and revised and made their words better and better and better.

I’ve been studying and writing short stories of late. Writing short stories is a pathway to the soul of writing. They don’t allow for lengthy writing. A writer must be concise. The transformation of the lead character must happen in a few paragraphs. The whole story is contained to about 1,500 words. This demands practice and determination. Once a writer perfects such a medium, he/she is better prepared for novel writing. Or so the theory goes.

I’m about to do my fourth revision of my novel The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I’ve been writing short stories for about two months now. They are a joy to compose and challenging as well. My word usage is much tighter than before. That’s the biggest thing to come from this exercise, but so is the joy of telling new stories. I highly recommend such a study. Not to mention reading from masters like the four authors above. You will be surprised how much you will learn.

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A Short Story Audience with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Cameron

Mar 27, 2018 by

A Short Story Audience with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Cameron

What I am writing is one of the sanest things I’ve ever come to know in my life. Each evening of late, I’ve had private, short story audience with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Julia Cameron.

Realizing that Hem., aka Papa, committed suicide in July 1961, and that Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at age 44 in 1940, that Tom Hanks is a Hollywood A-lister and I am not, and Julia Cameron, although she is on Twitter, has never liked one of my tweets mentioning my progress in any of her five books, I understand it sounds crazy to say that I find myself in close association with each of these famed writers, but please, let me explain.

Storied Audience

Each night of late I have a special audience with authors Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks and Julia Cameron.

As noted last week, I read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s narrative that includes his time with the Fitzgeralds in Paris and their return to the States. The edition I have includes previously unreleased materials.

I’m now reading the Hemingway Library edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. For each story published, there are versions with edited portions that seemed to have little to do with the story itself. But when read with the story, these missing sections cast another meaning upon the intent.

Hemingway believed a story should be like an iceberg—mostly underwater and unseen by the reader. This has changed my perception of writing.

Yesterday’s Mr. Peabody and the Robins, is evidence of my efforts to be more laconic in wording. Initially the piece stretched to 1,200 words. It posted at 975. As I moved the story from Word to WordPress, I could hear Clive Owen from the movie Hemingway and Gellhorn offering a toast.

When I finish the Hemingway story each night, I open the 796-page volume of F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. This is the world of writing where when he was alive, Scott made more money than he ever did from his novels–particularly The Great Gatsby.

While Hemingway’s stories are more to the meaning of the word “short,” Fitzgerald’s pack a punch at their end, leaving a reader startled—truer to the ending of Mr. Peabody and the Robins.

Fitzgerald endings seem to say, “Boom. The story has ended, and you know it. Now think about what you have read because it is going to stick with you for a spell.”

When I finish with Fitzgerald I set his book on top of Hem’s and pull out Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type. All of these stories in some way include a typewriter. In the documentary, California Typewriter, Hanks says if he could only keep one of his 255 typewriters, he’d keep his Smith-Corona Silent, the same machine I used to type the draft for this post. Regardless, I read Hanks’ story, then set his book down and pick up Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write.

Cameron divided her book up, as she did with her Artist’s Way trilogy, in easy-to-read essays. Each is about four pages followed with a page or two of exercises, all healthy for any writer or anyone wishing to write themselves a better person.

Conclusions

So, Donny, you’ve taken us a long way for the setup, what happens after you finish reading Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hanks, and Cameron each night? How long does that take? What do you get from such?

Does Tom Hanks really come to your house? Do you put two sheets of paper in the Smith-Corona Silent so as not to damage the platen and leave the room and hear typing when you’re not in there?

Do Hemingway and Fitzgerald write from the grave while Hanks channels from a movie set?

And what about Cameron? Is she in Taos or in New York writing from her picture window? Traveling and doing Artist’s Way courses? Out walking?

She encouraged you to get your typewriter, is she linked to the same network as you? How does this all work? Please, tell us. Let us know before this spills into the National Enquirer, the Globe, or the National Examiner. She still has you reading those does she? Weren’t you just supposed to read those for one exercise? Is this really the sort of writing she meant to come from reading that stuff?

Now, now, I’ll have to tell you more tomorrow. I have some other writing to do today. I’m still working on my Narrative Time Line from Cameron’s book The Vein of Gold.

Tonight’s reading:

Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand.”
Fitzgerald’s “May Day.”
Hanks’ “The Past is Important to Us.”
Cameron’s “Credibility.”

Tomorrow, the conversation about all four pieces and how the cosmos aligned all four of them to make sense, magically.

 

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A Moveable Feast

Mar 16, 2018 by

A Moveable Feast

In my writing and reading, I am studying Earnest Hemingway. That led to my reading of A Moveable Feast, published in 1964 after he had died. The version I have includes a foreword by his son, Patrick, and an introduction by his grandson, Sean. There are also many newly released sketches about his son Jack and first wife, Hadley.

Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.”

The chapters about F. Scott Fitzgerald and the subsequent descriptions including his wife, Zelda Sayre, formerly of Montgomery, Alabama add a new level of color to the first celebrities of the Jazz Age. (Check out the short film I did last summer on Zelda as a ghost in Montgomery–going back home one night and visiting her old haunts in modern Montgomery.)

Hemingway paints a picture of Zelda that is anything but flattering. He all but says that Zelda ruined Scott’s writing career out of jealousy. Fitzgerald is portrayed in firsthand stories that show why he only produced a limited number of books in his career.

For instance, when they first met, Scott invited Hemingway to take a train with him from Paris to Lyon to retrieve a car Scott and Zelda had left broken down. Hem arrived at the train, Scott did not. Hem boarded, Scott did not. Hem arrived in Lyon, Scott arrived an hour later. Hem booked a room and wired Zelda where he was staying, but the message never got to Scott, who found Hem the next morning. Then there was the matter of where the two would eat breakfast. Zelda apparently hated cars with tops and so their’s had none and it was raining that day. Scott and Hem made it an hour before they had to stop in the rain. Once they stopped for the day, Scott said he felt like he was catching his death of cold. Hem kept insisting that he had no temperature and that he was fine. Scott insisted he was dying. He insisted Hem find a thermometer. The pharmacy was closed. Hem found a waiter who located an odd thermometer which he told Scott, “You’re lucky it’s not a rectal thermometer.” No temp, but that didn’t satisfy Scott. But after some doing, he then went downstairs to call Zelda and talked to her for an hour. This, he assured Hemingway was the first night the two had spent apart since they’d been married. The way Hem told it, it was a gross case of co-dependency before anyone used the term. The whole bit makes one wonder how stable Scott was himself. Then to see how Hemingway portrays the constant fighting between Scott and Zelda is eye-opening.

The first season TV series on Amazon shows they have a contentious relationship but Hemingway paints a much harsher picture. At one point they are arguing with their chauffer from France about whether or not they can put oil in their car, or whether or not their driveway is their’s or not.

But there are a few segments of the book where Hemingway writes about writing. “On Writing in The First Person,” Hemingway says that if a writer does a good enough job, “you make the person who is reading … believe that the thing has happened to him too.” He goes on to say that if one can achieve this it will “become part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”

The observations and sketches about living in Paris in the early 1920s are colorful and enjoyable. He shares what it was like to live poor and to work hard at honing his craft. He was in love with Hadley and focused, intent on becoming a serious writer and loving living in what he felt was the best place in the world to be a writer at the time.

The chapters about Gertrude Stein and her calling Hemingway’s “the lost generation” are informative, as well as his summation that every generation is a little lost.

I enjoyed the read and will likely go back through this one a couple more times in my studies. There are Easter eggs hidden here among his feast of words.

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Neil Diamond – Done Too Soon

Mar 14, 2018 by

Neil Diamond – Done Too Soon

Neil Diamond canceled a planned world tour this year. He has Parkinson’s and in the words of one of his songs, is done too soon. The disease is so bad he can’t keep traveling. Honestly, I wasn’t surfing for tickets, but this is sad news. For the past 46-47 years of my life, Neil’s tunes have enriched the musical fabric of my life.

I first remember Neil Diamond when we moved to Derby, Kansas near McConnell AFB in late spring 1972. When Dad returned from his second tour in Nam, this one as a member of the elite USAF helicopter group, the Green Hornets, he brought with him a Sansui receiver, Teac reel-to-reel, and a Pioneer turntable that fed some high powered Sansui speakers.

One of the albums that filled two bedroom home on S. Post Oak was Neil Diamond’s Taproot Manuscript. Dad played it every Saturday morning as we waited for a place in base housing. To this day I can hum every note of side two of the album–from “Childsong” all the way to the frogs fading at the end–twenty minutes later.

Shilo

When I got older, I found the jazzed up version of “Shilo” on Neil Diamond’s 12 Greatest Hits album. There’s no telling how many times I’ve played and replayed this song. From grades four through… I won’t say how old, I played air drums along with him and the orchestra.

Something about the high-hat and the drums rolling across the set has always made me as happy as Neil singing about his imaginary childhood friend. There are a couple other versions of the song but they don’t come close to the one on this album.

Now I know some of my friends reading this will mock me and make fun of Neil. That’s okay. They’re not getting sung in seventh inning stretches either. He is. Bum bum bum…. (“Sweet Caroline”)

“Do It …” the 45 single sounded better than any album or CD ever has.

The Monkeys have Neil to thank for “I’m A Believer.” It was Number One on BillBoard Magazine for weeks.

Neil had tons of hits. “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “I am… I Said,” “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” and on and on….

But now I wonder if he’s playing one self-fulfilling song in his head more often than the others.

Done Too Soon

I’ve been mindful of this song since dad brought home Taproot Manuscript, but never really understood it until I grew older. Neil goes through a litany of famous people and then remarks that all of them have something in common with all of us.

In 1970, he wrote himself a warning in “Done too Soon.” I hope he heeded it and enjoyed every minute along the way.

“And each one there
Has one thing shared
They have sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon
For being done too soon.”

We all race through our lives seldom taking the time to enjoy each day as we live it. That was the message here. Not to do that. And even if we do, Neil postulated as a younger man, that it would still happen, that our lives are but a wisp of time and then we are gone, or we are old and our days of youth are swept away before we know it.

Neil Diamond, thank you for the music and the memories. They’ve been valuable in my lifetime.

Heed Neil’s words as you live out your days. Live every day as if your last. And enjoy every single moment as much as you may because one day you’re going to look back and wonder where the days went and remark that it was all done too soon.

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The Hazel Wood

Mar 12, 2018 by

The Hazel Wood

Last week I read Melissa Albert’s debut book “The Hazel Wood,” a young adult novel 355 pages strong. Not something I would normally read, but I’m trying to better understand what tops the best seller lists and this has been atop the Costco list recently. I wanted to know why.

The is a modern-day fairy tale but dark and dreary. The first half of the book I found rather intoxicating. Night one I consumed 87 pages. The second night I reached page 167. The third page 264. I did not read the fourth night. On the fifth eve I reached page 320. On the sixth I had 35 pages to read. It took seven nights to finish.

It was what a writer would call the Supreme Ordeal, where all hope seems lost for the main character, where things seemed to fall apart for me. After finishing I saw some of the comments on Goodreads and that seems to be the consensus, too. Though I thought most of the low ratings on Goodreads read as bratty.

Melissa Albert’s command of the English language is strong. She uses word pictures to help her readers imagine what she wants them to see. Even in a first-person novel where the reader is inside the head of the main character, Alice, the entire book. That’s not an easy thing to do.

She did a good job of foreshadowing and setting up and the following through later.

Like I said, I enjoyed the setup in the first half of the book. The latter half got to be a little strange for me. Like I said, this is not something I would typically read, but I am glad I did. I gave the book a four-star rating on Goodreads. These people who hated it, don’t appreciate the art of it, and this book is a work of art.

I don’t believe that any book must have a happily ever after ending. This one has something of a HEA ending, but without providing a spoiler, maybe not in the way the bratty Goodreads commenters would like. If an author writes a book that doesn’t end the way readers think it should, the author has done his/her job. Whether that’s good for the business-side of writing is another matter. What’s true to the story first should always be the first consideration. The answer isn’t always easy, I’m sure.

Congratulations to Melissa Albert. Writing this story, no doubt, was not easy. There are lots of twists and turns to keep her up many a night as she composed this novel. I hope she keeps writing despite the few Negative Nellies on Goodreads. illegitimi non carborundum is all I have to say to that.

(You can check out my list of 101 books I’m reading and recommend by following the link here. I’m at number 61 with this book as of December 2016. I’m using these books to improve my craft. Some of them are about writing better, some of them are fantastic reads. I invite you to check out the list. If you know of something I should read, please tell me about it.)

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