Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Top 5 Favorite Books on Writing

As I mentioned in a previous post, the most important advice to any writer is simply: Sit your butt down and write. And read a lot, too...

However, it's also good to learn about how other writers do their thing, especially if you're looking for a little inspiration, some good tips, or you need a kick in the butt to get you going. It can also make you feel like you're not so alone in this writing business.

So here are my top five favorite writing books. If you're interested in any of them for your own collection, you can click on any of the images or titles to take you to my affiliate links at Amazon. Otherwise, look for them at your favorite bookstore or library!

Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

This has a lot of great practical advice, as well as a frank look at many of the realities of being a writer. Whether you're a fan of King's novels or not, I think you'll find a lot of great nuggets in here.

Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

When reading this, I couldn't help but feel Bradbury's pure joy for writing. Very inspirational. I always think of Bradbury as the ultimate storyteller.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Highly recommended, especially to those just starting out on their writing journey. Goldberg's enthusiasm and humor act as a huge shot of adrenaline straight to your brain, heart and soul.

John Gardner's The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

A wonderful book on the writing craft. There are many great tips and techniques here, as well as a lot of great advice.

John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist

Yep, another one by John Gardner, and another great book on writing. One of my favorite parts about this one (aside from all the great advice) is how he compares the novelist's personality to that of a serial killer!

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

On Reading and the Writer

One piece of advice writers hear a lot is that to be a writer, you also need to be a reader.

This is so true. However, I've heard a number of people say they want to write a book, but in the next breath say they don't read much, if anything. "I'm not really a reader," they say.

The way I see it is that if you read a lot, the rhythm of words becomes imprinted on your brain. The music of sentences, the symphony of paragraph after paragraph, page after page gets embedded in your skull. You subconsciously get the structure of the written word locked into your soul. Can you dig it?

When I've read the work of someone who doesn't read, I can tell right away.

Reading a lot makes writing a lot easier. Simple as that, as the King says.

So, read lean and mean prose like Hemingway.

Read challenging work, like Malcolm Lowry or Faulkner.

Read poetry.

Read plays. Hell, one of the best classes I took in college focused on the plays of Sam Shepard. Though it wasn't a writing class, I learned more about writing in that classroom - the possibilities of it - than in any of my actual writing classes.

Read classics.

Read contemporary novels.

Read short stories.

And fer chrissakes, read for the pure joy of it. Because reading should be a joy.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Outernet

This school year, I supervised my daughter's after-school writing group. I basically provided advice and loose writing prompts, and they did the rest. Usually, at the end of each session, a handful of them would read what they had written.

At our last session of the school year, one of the kids read something she wrote about the outernet. Though there is an actual thing called the Outernet (which also seems pretty cool) her story was about how a kid was on the internet and the power went out. So she decided to go outside, trying the outernet for a change.

I loved that idea!
Millions of small green USB cables connected to a vast porous computer!
Our kids are growing up so connected to screens; it's important to get them into the outernet every so often!

And you - yeah you - should occasionally take a walk in the outernet, too.

All hail our giant router!
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Monday, June 1, 2015

1937 Vintage Road Trip Scrapbook, Part 15 - Los Angeles (c)

Los Angeles - Forest Lawn Cemetery

The Johnsons are still near Los Angeles, this time at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. With over a quarter-million people buried there and a million visitors a year (though I would presume not nearly that many in 1937) Forest Lawn is a sprawling place. It's got multiple chapels, works of art, fountains, and is the resting place of many celebrities. There's quite a list of the famous who are buried there on its Wikipedia page.

Included in the Johnson scrapbook is an informational booklet called Sacred Services in Sacred Ground, which includes a insert about the replica of the Last Supper painting located in their Memorial Court of Honor (pictured above).

And what cemetery would be complete without a 17" x 23" fold-out map? (above)

Our scrapbooker writes above, about the Wee Kirk o' the Heathers pictured in the postcard, "Replica of Glencairn - Annie Laurie's Church. The romantic story of Annie Laurie is recalled by the tiny church. A faithful reproduction of the one she attended throughout her life - 1682-1764. The original church was erected in 1310 and destroyed in 1885."

I'd never heard of Annie Laurie before. There's a poem about her written by William Douglas:

"Maxwelton braes are bonnie, where early fa's the dew
Where me and Annie Laurie made up the promise true
Made up the promise true, and ne'er forget will I
And for bonnie Annie Laurie I'd lay doun my head and die
She's backit like the peacock, she's breistit like the swan
She's jimp aboot the middle, her waist ye weel may span
Her waist ye weel may span, and she has a rolling eye
And for bonnie Annie Laurie I'd lay doun my head and die."

The poem was later turned into a song (there are many versions, but here is Deanna Durbin's, recorded in 1936, so very possibly heard by the Johnsons. By the way, she was only 14 years old when she recorded this song):

Below, we find the great Ripley again with a few more facts about Forest Lawn Cemetery:

According to the latest info I found, there have now been over 30,000 weddings held there!

Next stop, Catalina Island!

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The Best Writing Advice I Know

I've been to a number of writing conferences, read a lot of books and articles on writing, taught writing classes to kids and adults, interviewed writers for my blog and chatted with fellow writers.

Basically, I've garnered lots of writing advice.

Some of it borders on ridiculous. I once saw a first-time published author on a panel at a conference tell a packed room of attendees that all novels must consist of ten scenes. (Even as a neophyte at the time, I knew that was bullshit.)

I've heard all sorts of methods. The "Five Draft Method", the "How to Write a (fill-in-the-blank) in 7 Easy Steps", etc.

The thing is we all have our different methods and means of writing. And just because one person wrote one or three dozen novels doesn't mean that what they do will work for you.

Sure there is good, even great advice; tips and tricks to make your writing smoother. But one writer's method is not sacrosanct, one writer's advice is not The Way. Maybe it worked for them. Maybe it's worth trying out (especially if you're stuck). You never know what might get that hand of yours moving across the page.

Reading books about writing can even recharge you and get you excited all over again to write. And that's wonderful.

But ultimately, you have to find your own way. Nothing is universal.


Except that old nugget followed by all the successful writers I know, which basically comes down to:

Ass in chair. Write.

Move that pen. Pound those keys.

Then rewrite.

That's what it all comes down to.

Oh yeah, and read. That's important, too.

Oh wait - don't take any wooden nickels. That's apparently important.
And whatever you do, do NOT count your chickens before they hatch, because hoo-boy, you will be sorry.

And perhaps also

because Wesley Snipes.

Just remember; ideas are a dime a dozen. Hell, a penny a dozen. It's the execution of an idea - crafting the story or novel around it - that's the hard part.

To sum up:

Ass. Chair. Write. Rewrite. Read.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sure-Fire Way to Read Minds

Interested in mind reading? It's easy. I can show you how.

Okay, read the following quote:

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

That's a sentence attributed Sun Tzu, written around the sixth century B.C. - or about 2,500 years ago. One version of this saying was found on these 2,000 year old bamboo slips, pictured below, protected in glass tubes.

"Inscribed bamboo-slips of Art of War" by AlexHe34 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So this guy from 2,500 years ago had these thoughts and transmitted them into your brain. All he had to do was write them down in some form. Those thoughts were then passed on, transcribed from one media to another, translated, re-translated, and transcribed again. One of the places that thought ended up was above. in this blog post. I passed a 2,500 year-old thought on to you.

In other words, you read someone's mind.

See how easy that was?

And you do it every time you read a book or article or Facebook status or tweet or blog post.

You are a mind reader. Congratulations!

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

1937 Vintage Road Trip Scrapbook, Part 14 - Los Angeles (b)

(for part 1, click here)

Los Angeles - Grauman's Chinese Theatre

While in Los Angeles,  the Johnson family made a pilgrimage - as many still do today - to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The movies playing at the theater that day (after the Fox Movietone News, with Lowell Thomas announcing) were Married Before Breakfast, with Robert Young and Florence Rice, and Slave Ship, starring Elizabeth Allan, Mickey Rooney and Wallace Beery. (I linked the movies to their IMDB pages, in case you're interested.)

How do I know this? There's a program from Grauman's inside the scrapbook called The Playgoer! It's a 8-1/2" by 5-1/2" saddle stapled, 22-page program. 

In the scrapbook, there are a lot of newspaper clippings dedicated to Slave Ship. Our industrious scrapbooker pasted many clippings from the movie not only inside the scrapbook, but also in the theater program. Maybe the Johnsons only saw one movie that day, or perhaps Slave Ship made the biggest impression on our scrapbooker. Hard to say.

In the above scrapbook page, (dedicated to Slave Ship and, for some reason, Sonja Henie) you can see that racism was alive and kicking. In the clipping just below Ms. Henie, the caption reads "Black cargo is stowed aboard the Albatross." And by black cargo, they mean slaves. People.

My favorite things about the theater's The Playgoer booklet are the advertisements. There are ads for dress shops, French restaurants, the Sunset Club, flowers, candy, golf, wedding shoes, Nutburgers ("Hollywood's Most Famous Sandwich") Ron Rey Rum, fur storage vaults, the Tropics (to which "your host 'Sugie' invites you to") Holly Ho Chop Suey, Schwabs, Clarence's Cafe (whose specialty is chicken liver saute) and other fine establishments.

Above is the back of The Playgoer, with more newspaper clippings of Slave Ship glued on.

Grauman's is now known as the TCL Chinese Theatre. It was also once known as Mann's Chinese Theatre.

Above is another page in the scrapbook. There's a clipping of Ginger Rogers. Up top are a couple of what I believe to be fortune cards from a J.C. Penney store. They are both dated July 1, 1937. The top one says, "You are well balanced and reasonable and not easily swayed by passing fancies." The one below that says, "When you have a duty to perform, you are never happy until you have accomplished it." So sayeth the Great J.C. Pennies!

The black and silver postcard at top is from the Hollywood Hotel, a famous spot for celebrities and royalty. It was located near Grauman's, and torn down in 1956. The site of the Hollywood Hotel is now occupied by the Hollywood and Highland Center, where the Academy Awards are currently held.

I'll end this post with a Youtube video of the Fox Movietone News from 1937. Not sure the date on this one, just the year, so it might have been the one playing at Grauman's when the Johnsons were there. Aw, heck, let's just pretend it was!

Next up, the Johnsons visit Forest Lawn Cemetery!

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