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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I Can’t Tell You — A Father’s Poem to a Daughter

Mar 9, 2018 by

I Can’t Tell You — A Father’s Poem to a Daughter

This is a father’s poem to a daughter. Years ago, circa 1998, maybe early 1999, before her twin sisters were born, I wrote this poem for Chandler. I found it in the garage the other day, the pages worn and stained the way a poem written twenty years ago should be. Here it is in digital form so that won’t ever happen again.

This may be my poem to Chandler, but I dare say it’s probably a message most fathers have about their little girls. I could apply it to Reagan and Haley as well and have. Looking back, I think we’ve done just about all of the things I mention in the poem–though I never had to sample mud pies!

They are now little women, but I forever hold them in my heart like you see Chandler in the picture to the right. That’s her in my lap where she and the twins will always be in spirit.

I Can’t Tell You

I can’t tell you how much I love you,
Or how much I like to hold you.
I can’t tell you how happy you make me feel inside
How you make my heart pound so hard with pride.

I can’t tell you how much I love to watch you grow,
To learn to walk, to run, to catch and throw.
I can’t tell you how much I’d like you to play piano
To learn to act, or dance or sing soprano.

I can’t tell you how much I like to kiss you
Or measure when we’re apart how much I miss you.
I can’t tell you how I want you to be so smart
To do well in science, English and event art.

I can’t tell you how much I want you to know,
The feel of grass, of fallen leaves and snow.
I can’t tell you how much I want to walk with you
To climb big rocks, to talk, to jump and sing songs, too.

I can’t tell you how much I want to learn with you,
About computers, cooking, baby dolls, and mud pies, too.
I can’t tell you all I see when you’re at rest
And think about my limits you sometimes test.

I can’t tell you how much I love to see you read
And to reach out to me when you feel in need.
I can’t tell you how excited I get every day
When you come to me and say, “Daddy, let’s play.”

I can’t tell you how much I love to brush your hair
To tickle, and tumble and to tell you I care.
I can’t tell you how much it hurts to see you fall,
Or to not be there in the day when I know you call.

I can’t tell you about all I want you to know,
But for now, I’ll work on “Red light stop. On green you go.”
I can’t tell you I’ll always be at your side,
One day you’ll grow up and become a bride.

I can tell you it will be hard to walk you down that aisle,
But I promise you now, I’ll be wearing a smile.
I can tell you I’ll be thinking of so many other days then,
How much I’d like to go back and do it all again.

And I can tell you right now that makes me sad,
So today, I’ll just concentrate on being your Dad.

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Gonna Write You A Letter….

Mar 8, 2018 by

Gonna Write You A Letter….

Not long ago, I bought resume paper and matching envelopes. Not to send out resumes but for something more special–letter writing.

Once I load the paper into my 1951-model Smith-Corona Silent, (taking care to ensure the letterhead is correct), I write someone I’ve not corresponded with in a while. Maybe someone I have never written before. 

My penmanship is better after months of hand-written Morning Pages. But how often these days does anyone receive the gift of a letter composed on a typewriter? Yeah, rarely.

My goal is a letter a day. One-page to let a special person know they were on my mind. This is so much better, not to mention cheaper than Hallmark. More original. More personal. More caring.

I don’t ask for a letter in return, though a typing pen pal would be nice. these days we dash emails and texts off with so little thought behind them. I enjoy my time at the typewriter taking the care to send genuine thoughts and to do my level best not to make any typos.

Dumping By Snapchat

A friend of mine had her son dumped by a girlfriend recently. She sent him a Snapchat message. He read the Dear John and it disappeared, forever. They’d been going steady for more than a year. They are 14, but still. This from a girl born in Alabama. She knows better and her mother taught her better, too. Emily Post is rolling in her grave.

Better Mail

My friend Harold Duncan often tells his mail carrier he wishes the Postal Service would bring “better mail.” The other day Harold had his wish fulfilled with a one-page letter thanking him for many years of friendship and support.

Typing With a Butter Knife

Owning a typewriter is rare these days. I bought my first last fall–a Smith-Corona Super Sterling like my dad had when I was a boy. In the documentary California Typewriter, Tom Hanks turned me onto the Smith-Corona Silent model. Hanks says that of the 250 typewriters he has, the Silent is the one he could not do without. I concur. It’s like typing with a butter knife.

My typewriters have changed how I write. The rhythm of the intricate machine slows my thought process. Words form pictures in my mind as the letters flow to my fingertips, depress a key, activate a series of levers and springs before compressing the fibers of a black ribbon and leap onto the white canvas of the non-glowing, porous page.

I revised my novel “The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club” on my typewriters. Instead of cutting, they helped grow the story into something new and magical. Yesterday I started querying agents.

Times are crazy busy. I’ve enjoyed the responses from friends who’ve received my letters. Writing them was worth it. Every clickety-clack….

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My Social Media Break & Journalism Slamming 101

Feb 19, 2018 by

Just today, Fox News is using SLAM in two of its headlines. Either someone at Fox News has a slim vocabulary or they have nothing better to write than stuff that does not qualify as news.

My Social Media Break

I’ve been taking a break from Facebook the past month or so.

I’ve been working to cut down my amount of time on Twitter and certainly how much time I spend looking at the Fox News and CNN websites.

Since The Dallas Morning News began charging to even look at their content I don’t bother with local news. The TV news product long stopped being news in my mind so I gave up that habit a long time since. As a result, I must say, my mind feels better each day.

If I could kick the habit of looking at what Fox News and CNN feel passes for “news,” I’d be a good bit better. Each time I’m on Twitter I spend a good bit of time blocking people who feel the need to broadcast ugliness and hate rather than making intelligent comments. But instead of the Universe of ugly getting smaller, it seems like the size of the ocean remains the same.

“Slamming” 

I’ve noticed of late that Fox News and CNN have taken to using the verb “Slam” in headlines. Anderson Cooper Slams Trump… CNN Slams North Korea … So and So Slams Fox News for….

I don’t remember there being a Slamming 101 class in journalism school. That must be a new development. I wonder who the professors are for such a class and how they teach it. Which university print press has the rights for the text book and how much it costs? So much for objectivity from the news desk. I thought that’s what journalists were supposed to be. Objective. How can they do that when they’re slamming people? And what gives them the high and mighty right to do so? How did we elevate them to such a social rung to be the deciders? I don’t recall doing that.

This isn’t news that’s being reported and the problem is people keep reading this garbage. When we stop clicking on this, CNN, Fox News, and anyone else who posts this noise will get the hint.

But I guess that’s what the news business has devolved into. Reminds me of Mrs. Reid in eighth grade in Atwater, CA. My first newspaper class. I got an F on a paper and a D for the six weeks because she insisted we write a short fiction story. I maintained that we should not be practicing writing fiction in a news writing class. My short story ended up being an accounting about how we should not be doing what we were doing. Hence the F grade.

Now journalists write fiction in the news all the time and don’t think a thing about it. Congratulations Mrs. Reid. You were 40 years ahead of your time. And the world has gone to hell because of it. Mrs. Reid should have a Fake News award in her name.

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Thanksgiving and Week 31 of Julia Cameron

Nov 21, 2017 by

Thanksgiving and Week 31 of Julia Cameron

In that time I’ve not missed a single day of Morning Pages. I’ve had my mom and daughters tell me, when I’ve encouraged them to follow suit, that they can’t do something like that–write something daily where they must commit to writing three pages before doing anything else every day. Mom says it feels heavy handed.

I even had a doctor two weeks ago tell me that “it’s hardly traditional medical therapy.” He scoffed. He was asking what I was doing to improve my mental health while I’ve been recovering from my back surgeries, getting off ten-and-a-half-months of opioids and trying to put my life back together.

He can doubt it all he wants. I know what it’s done. It’s brought me closer to God. My Morning Pages have helped me focus on what’s most important. They have helped me understand what I have to be thankful for. And as my daughters and I celebrated our Thanksgiving early this past Sunday, I kept those things in mind.

Thanksgiving

Now what I’m thankful for in large part is my own business. There are some obvious things. My church family. The love of my God, my daughters, my dear dog–Maycee. My own family–parents, brothers, and sister. A handful of church friends who have become what Julia Cameron calls my reflecting mirrors. People who are positive and supportive. People who give me encouragement and who are supportive to me as an artist. Who help feed me with positive support and ideas. People who are safe to share ideas with and who won’t make fun of me because I made myself vulnerable. I am blessed to have these rare and few people in my life and to have take comfort in their kind words.

May art has thrived because of them.

I still struggle daily because of what has happened to me. It’s been 18 months now and I am still afflicted with pain. This past week a doctor told me that a secondary aspect that I was not aware of may not ever go away–a result of the opioids, one that I had before that has been compounded because of the opioids–migraine headaches. It’s Monday, Nov. 21. I have an entry in my phone from Nov. 21, 2016–a year ago today that notes being hardly able to do anything because of my headaches. A year later, the pain is not much better, in spite of a high dosage of a med called Trokendi. I’m functioning but their are side effects, and I have had my present numbing headache for seven days now. I’m not thankful for that, but I’m doing my best to manage.

Julia Cameron

I have come to enjoy the days when I do work in Walking in this World, the third book of the Julia Cameron self-improvement trilogy. My mentor, Suzanne Frank from SMU says she believes it is the best of the three books and I can see why she says that. There is so much that is good in this third book.

Used to be I would put on Facebook about the progress I’d made on writing in The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I’m not doing that anymore, and I know why now. It does drain energy from the progress of the book when it’s done. Tis far better to put that energy into the production of the work and safe it for when it’s done. So much so that I even hate to mention it here. So that’s it for now.

I keep a stack of books next to me for reference. They are great tools. Some of them I’m learning to memorize. And where would I be without my Smith-Corona Super-Sterling. Want to change how you write? Get a typewriter.

Time to get back to what I do. Writing.

I saw a post on the Internet today that has become more and more obvious to me. It says that the secret to being a good writer is 3 percent talent and 97 percent not being distracted by the Internet. Time to enforce the 97 percent….

 

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MY NEW WRITING TOOL: A TYPEWRITER

Oct 13, 2017 by

MY NEW WRITING TOOL: A TYPEWRITER

The 1960s Smith-Corona Super Sterling typewriter. My “new” writing tool of old.

I have a new writing tool this week. It’s probably almost as old as I am–a Smith-Corona Super Sterling typewriter. The same model my dad had when I was a kid. Same color, same everything.

Now why would a writer with three Mac computers and an iPad Pro with the cool keypad and Apple Pencil possibly need with a typewriter that’s nearly a half-century old you might ask?

The answer is simple: it’s slowing my writing down.

JULIA CAMERON

In either The Artist’s Way or Finding Water, the first of the two trilogy books by Julia Cameron, she writes about many of her writing friends getting typewriters. But she also encourages in the daily writing of Morning Pages that they be done by hand–not on a typewriter and certainly not  on a computer. Why? Because on a computer we don’t go deep enough in our thoughts, particularly with Morning Pages.

Guess what I’m finding in four days of having a Super Sterling on the desk next to my MacBook Pro?

I’m going a lot deeper in my writing on my novel than I ever have before when I slide paper onto the drum of the Smith-Corona and I begin to type.

Now maybe an argument can be made that I’d go even deeper if I were to write the book in hand, but I think there are limits to how far back I need to go with this experiment.

SMITH-CARONA

The reason I bought this respective model is, like I said, it’s the same one my dad had when I was young. From age 10 on, I also began using his typewriter to compose stories or whatever it was I was doing at the time to pursue a life-long dream to be a writer. I’d previously had a toy red plastic typewriter at that point in my life and it was time for an upgrade. Being able to use Dad’s mint green Smith-Corona put me on the big stage, or so it felt.

It still feels that way.

There is excitement in feeding a blank piece of paper into the drum of the machine, setting the paper so it is aligned straight, and then snapping it into place.

Writing with a typewriter is changing how I write. It’s allowing me to go DEEP.

I don’t have to worry too much about typos. This isn’t going to be seen by anyone but me, but what comes out is intimate. Already. The writings are far better. I’m finding I can put myself in the place of my character I’m writing about. My character is living in the same period as I was as a boy. In the same location. With the same typewriter. I’m getting back some of the play I had as a kid. I’m finding some of the innocence that was lost. And I’m dreaming of a simpler time. A happier time.

But I’m also able to find ways to turn the screws tight on my characters now. I’m enjoying this. And it’s all making more sense now. This is what I’ve been needing.

And with the help this week of Donald Maass, Heather Sellers, Jack Bickham, K.M. Weiland, and Julia Cameron, I’ve found a new gear for my writing.

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Novel Writing Tips: Let the Images do the Storytelling

Aug 29, 2017 by

Novel Writing Tips: Let the Images do the Storytelling

Julia Cameron has an exercise in one of her books where she asks you to list your favorite authors and then write something you feel they would tell you as writing advice if they were sitting at the coffee table with you. So far, I’ve come up with 16 and over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of them.

I feel funny doing this, being an unpublished author. One dealt a setback Friday at that. But one determined to persevere regardless.

But as I’ve seen on YouTube, the Net is full of unpublished authors giving all kinds of advice about the publishing industry.

What I’m offering is a little different. Almost like telepathy. In someways I can hear each of these authors, and in some cases, multiple authors, whispering, saying, sometimes SCREAMING, their advice at me as I sit across the table taking copious notes.

Today’s advice:

“Keep the writing simple and let the images you compose do the storytelling.”

Keep the writing simple. A variation of KISS, but on the eve of the release of the movie Swallows and Amazons, this seems fitting.

Now you may ask how in the Devil can I ascribe this to Earnest Hemingway, Arthur Ransome and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Read most anything from Hemingway. It’s simple to read. Easy to understand. But draws you into complex thoughts because of what he says.

Read Swallows and Amazons. The words are pictures. All of them. Simple scenes. Ones that sail you away on an adventure.

Zelda writes like this, too. Her letters to Scott. They lift you away with the purest of love.

I can hear all of them telling me, not yelling, well Hem might yell, not in a whisper, but in simple terms,  Zelda might use a little Southern directness, but their point would all be the same.

Good creative writing is about putting images in the mind of a reader and letting them interpret for themselves the abundance of the details. This gives the reader a chance to escape and the ability to leave where they are and be transported to somewhere else, which is what they seek when they read fiction.

It’s not about barebones writing. I think I’ve learned that mistake. I’ve learned there is a balance there, too. Readers don’t want news writing, either. Not when they’re reading fiction. Just the facts ma’am worked in the papers, but it doesn’t work on the pages of a novel.

 

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