Posts Tagged With: reading

5 Things I’ve Been Up To (or, 5 Things Every Writer Should Do)

Dear readers,

I’m back . . . again! I’ve been accidentally on hiatus, trying to avoid the internet, and keeping myself busy with other pursuits (and procrastinating, maybe there was some procrastinating involved). But today I decided it was time to get my rear in gear and get back into blogging (again!).

And in celebration of my return – and I know that you’re celebrating, of course you missed me more than you can say – I’m going to share some of what I did while I was absent, and tell you what a few of the things I did taught me about writing:

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc (altered)

1. Write a Novel. If you haven’t already, you should. And with NaNoWriMo coming up again next month, there’s no better time to get that great idea down on paper.

That’s what I’ve been working on lately; my fourth novel, and a little on my fifth, and a lot on my sixth, and here and there on my ninth and seventeenth and thirty-eighth. (No, if you’re wondering, I don’t have them planned out quite that accurately. My methods are a little more on-the-fly.) My next novel won’t be about Leo Westmacott and the gang, but they will be back, don’t worry. As for what it is about . . . I’ll keep you posted, but I’m not going to talk about it too much just now, as it’s still got a long way to go before being published. But I’ll tell you this: It’s about a golem, there are a few Judaists involved, and it’s set in Spain.

2. Write with a workshop. It shouldn’t be hard to find one in your area, whether you live in New York City or some podunk town nobody’s ever heard of. (Even if you live in Monowi, Nebraska – which of course you don’t, unless I’m talking to Elsie, in which case I would be honored – or somewhere similar.) And if you can’t find one, you could always start one yourself.

Or, for the antisocial types who want to write from the comfort of their own homes, I would recommend either A, you get some guts because it’s important to be fearless in writing and ready to go out and show the world what you’ve got, or B, find a group online. There are plenty of online writing communites you can get in on, sometimes in the most unexpected places, so don’t be afraid to look around.

Personally, I don’t trust those online workshops that ask for a few hundred dollars in return for a chance to listen to some “author” who’s never even polished a bestseller’s shoes talk about what he thinks makes a good story, so I’d avoid those if I were you. But if you feel differently, there are plenty of those around.

And if nothing else, you could always start up an online community yourself. (Which, I confess, is what happened to me a couple years ago, although it was only part choice and mostly chance.)

For the past few months I’ve been writing another anthology with the Ambage, my informal online writer’s workshop. This anthology our theme is crime fiction, and we’re a couple weeks, maybe another month from publishing. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.

(By the way, if you think you’re up for an improfessional workshop full of close-knit writers who get together to produce short story anthologies once or twice a year, you’re welcome to join us! We’re always eager for fresh meat – uh, blood – uh, talent.)

3. Try out other forms of storytelling. Poetry, songwriting, screenwriting, playwriting, comic writing – they’re essentially similar to the prose we’re used to, and yet very different in execution, and they all have important lessons to teach us about writing and telling stories. Even entirely different forms of art, like music or painting, are worth exploring.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with a little poetry, playwriting, and songwriting – even some comic strip writing.

4. Read. This is a given. Read, read, read. Always read. Read with every spare moment you have to yourself. It’s relaxing, it’ll make you a smarter, nice, more attractive, generally better person, and it’ll teach you all the essential things you need to know about writing and then some and then some on top of the then-some.

One of the things I finally got around to reading over the winter was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Masterpieces, don’t you think? I can’t believe I waited this long – these books were written for me. (You know what I mean, right? When a book touches you deeply, which is what any good book is written to do, then logically, it was written for you.) I’ve been inspired, so much so that I’ve started turning some old ideas for surrealist, literary nonsense stories into words.

That’s one of the best things about reading. It’ll give you ideas – plenty of ideas.

5. Take up new interests. I can’t emphasize this enough: artists are just people who know how to live and how to express life, and insatiable curiosity and a sense of discovery are essential to living. You never know what you could do that might be fodder for your next story. Skydiving? Bear wrestling? Extreme ironing? Or maybe keep it local – go out to the theatre or take up running or go birdwatching. You never know if you might like something until you’ve tried.

And if you’re the extreme introvert who doesn’t even want to step outside, I have an idea for you, too: STEP OUTSIDE AND SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING. But a more sensitive suggestion would be – go researching! Just find a topic you’d like to learn more about and start reading everything you can find on the subject: blogs, wikipedia articles, any material you might happen to have on your bookshelf, and anything you can find at your library (or on your Kindle).

Bonus. Blog! Personally, I sometimes see blogging as a distraction. But let’s face facts: if you’re a writer, what you do is write, and blogging is writing. Maybe it’s not the same kind of writing you’re used to – and that’s why it’s important! It’s just another form of storytelling, and I’ve already told you what I think about challenging yourself to experiment with different forms of storytelling. Blogging also gives you the unique opportunity to have direct communication with your readers, and there’s a lot to learn from that.


So what have you been up to lately? Do you have any habits that help you keep your writerly mojo fuelled?

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philosophia Venereum: Sapientiam Quaerunt

Sapientiam Quaerunt

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

— Mark Twain

“They’re not here.”

“They were here last time.”

“They couldn’t have just walked away.”

“But they could have been moved.”

“Honestly, they do this all the time. I think it’s a conspiracy. They rearrange things so that when people head straight for what they’re looking for, it’s not where they thought it was. Instead they find a lot of books they weren’t looking for, but between that and the time it will take them to browse for what they wanted in the first place, there’s a much higher chance that they’ll pick up more than what they came in for. It’s devious.”

“It’s business,” she said. “That’s exactly what they do.” She took me by the hand. “Come on. The classics must be somewhere.”

She led me through the aisles of the bookstore as our search for the elusive Lord of the Flies continued. At last she spotted the sign labeled “Classics” and we made our way to that shelf.

Photo Credit: jessamyn via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jessamyn via Compfight cc (altered)

She looked at me. “What’s his name?”

“William Baldwin, I think.”

“Okay. B . . . B, B, B . . .” Her slender finger traced the spines. “Here’s Unamuno, U . . .”

“Unamuno? As in Miguel de Unamuno?”

“Eyes on the prize. Don’t get tricked by their system,” she teased.

“Ha, ha. But Unamuno–wait, that’s not Miguel. I’ve never even heard of this guy, how did he make it to classics?” I took the book off the shelf and examined the copyright. “1997? Come on, people. Not my idea of a classic. Am I a classic? Are you?”

“We’ll debate that later,” she interrupted. “Here’s Kantor, K, and . . . Collins, Carroll . . . Burnett . . .”

“Burnett?” I echoed, diving toward the shelf. I returned with a book cradled in my arms.

The Secret Garden? I thought you already had a copy.”

“Two, actually, but one of them uses single-mark quotes where they should be double-marked, and vice versa, and I mean seriously, what’s up with that? Besides, they’re both paperback. Look at this! Leather-bound, and just smell it–wood shavings, right? I love that smell! And at a price like that, two dollars, brand new? I can’t pass that up.”

“All right, well, look for yourself, there’s no Baldwin here. It goes straight from Bacon to Beckett.”

“Uh . . .” I ran a hand down the back of my neck. “That’s probably because his name was Goldwyn . . .”

She had the uncanny ability to thoroughly deride my stupidity just by staring at me. Words would have blunted the effect. Rolling her eyes, she said, “G, then. That should be over here . . . Fitzgerald . . .”

“Frank,” I read, and looked lower; “Haggard, overshot . . . Guest, never actually seen any of his collections before. They said it couldn’t be done!”

“I see what you did there,” she answered, and I could hear her eyes rolling. Pointing with a finger she began, “Here’s–”

“Aha!” I interrupted.

“What? Do you see it? I don’t–”

“No, I just rememered, his name was Golding, not Goldwyn!”

“Doesn’t matter. Right here, goes from Gogol to Green.”

I tutted. “Not here?”

“We’ll have to try general fiction.”

“Which is–where?”

She shrugged.

As we resumed our heroic quest for our quarry, and as we wandered through the maze of shelves, she said, “Why are we even here? Why don’t you just order the book online?”

“Have you no sentiment?”

“Sentiment,” she echoed. “Like a spirit of adventure? Are you going to make some heroic quest out of this or something?”

“N-no . . .” I didn’t tell her what I’d just been thinking. “No, I only meant that here, in the midst of all these books, it’s something magical, it’s an experience. Sure, you can shop online, you can browse with your head and find what you’re looking for in an instant. But here in a traditional bookstore you get to browse with your eyes, with your hands . . . you get to browse with your heart.”

“And you get to go on an adventure,” she added.

“Well . . . yeah.” We found the general fiction section rather quickly, and began looking through the aisles for the hiding place of the Gs. “I mean, it’s one thing to get to read a book,” I went on, “one of the best things I know. But it’s something else entirely just to be able to be around them. Call me crazy, but I do it at home all the time; I pick a book up, sometimes whether I’ve read it or not, just to admire it, to feel it. You know?” I held The Secret Garden and petted its cover as an example. “Just to see it, to touch it, to be with it . . . it’s magical. It’s like you’re taking a part of it into yourself even without reading it. Pretty incredible, isn’t it, what a book can do, even before you read it?

We passed a shelf where a pair of pale hands offered us an apple; nearby several books displayed, with a definite undeserved pride, the half-naked subjects of their covers. I observed sagaciously, “And some books have a knack for instilling you with intense repulsion. Not much magic offered there.” As we passed on, I swept my hands into the air, generally gesturing everywhere, adding, “But on the whole, books are beautiful. They reach out to you . . . they touch you . . . they speak to you. What’s that?” I leaned closer to a bookshelf nearby. “Uh-huh? Uh-huh? Oh, absolutely! I couldn’t agree more.” I turned back to her. “You’ll never believe what the bookshelves just told me. I mean, I knew books were wise, but I didn’t expect them to be quite this percipient.”

She smiled a charming half-smile, amused. “What did they tell you?”

“It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but I’m impressed that they knew it, too. They tell me you’re the most beautiful woman they have ever seen.”

She laughed her trilling laugh and slapped me across the chest. “Tell ‘the bookshelves’ I think they’re the sweetest.”

I couldn’t help it. Overflowing as my heart already was with the enchantment of a bibliophile in his element, the emotions inspired by her shimmering, velvety raven black hair and the light in her eyes and the light in her smile were more than I could take. I put my arms around her and kissed her. A moment later, smiling a charming full smile and laughing still, she began again,

“Anyway–I agree with you of course, but I prefer used bookstores, don’t you? You’re the first person I would expect to appreciate the stories inside a used book. And I mean the ones written in the margins. All the lives that book has touched. Tell me you don’t love that a million times more than a brand-new book.”

“A million times more, without a doubt,” I admitted.

“And I just love the smell of old books.” She opened imaginary pages in her hands and drank in the aroma. “It’s even better than the wood-shavings smell some firsthand books have. As magical as any bookstore is, a secondhand bookstore has even more magic. When you go in there, it’s more than just you and the books. Go into a used bookstore and you’re something more than just yourself, you’re a reader. You’re another one of millions of the lives touched by these books. You’re a part of all that.”

“It’s like walking through eternity,” I breathed.

She glanced at a copy of The Screwtape Letters, then put it back on the shelf, and added, “And all that for a better price . . .”

“Always the practicalist,” I joked. “However, I agree with you absolutely. The only problem with used bookstores is that there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

“Right. Here, on the other hand, it was effortless.”

“Ha, ha.”

“That’s the best part of a used bookstore, anyway. You find so much you weren’t expecting . . . where’s there’s so much history and so much–so much, well, like you say, eternity–you make new discoveries every moment. There’s so much more more to learn, so much more around you than there is here with all these brand-new books. The only lives they’ve ever touched were the printers’.”

I stood motionless, just admiring her. She noticed me watching her and met my gaze sweetly. “My marvelous fellow-poet,” I said. “May I kiss you again?”

“Later,” she laughed.

Our search yielded no more success among the Gs of general fiction that it had among the classics. As a last resort, we approached an employee.

“Good evening, J.D.,” I greeted, reading the teenager’s nametag. “Or can I call you J.?”

He stared, “hip” oversized glasses sliding down on a face lumpy with acne. He pushed his glasses back up and slurred, “C’na hel’you?”

She looked at me and I looked back with an expression that begged the question, “Is he offering his services or threatening us?” She turned to J.D. and smiled disarmingly and said, “We’re looking for a book. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Do you know where we could find it?”

“Come wi’ me to da fron’esk, please,” he answered automatically.

At the front desk a more helpful, more vivacious young woman chipperly helped us look up the book on the store’s computers. No, she’s sorry, it’s not in stock. If we like she can put in an order– No, we’ll wait? All right. Can she ring that up for us? Have a good night.

“At least it wasn’t a total bust,” I observed as soon as we were outside, holding The Secret Garden close to my heart with one hand, and with the other holding hers.

With her free hand she was deftly navigating her iPhone. “Done,” she announced.


“Done. Lord of the Flies, William Golding, please allow 2-3 business days for delivery. That took, what, thirty seconds?”

The End


Categories: Philosophia Venereum, Short Stories | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

2013 End of Year Book Survey

The Perpetual Page-Turner hosts a questionnaire asking bloggers to review their year in books. Through the Ambage, I was forced convinced to fill it out. Here were my answers:

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (If you have to cheat you can break it down by genre if you want or 2013 release vs. backlist)

I’ll just break this into two genres; fiction and non-fiction. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald for fiction; The Conquest of Fear by Basil King for non-fiction (but I have to mention Walking by Henry David Thoreau as runner-up).

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didnt?

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

The Big Four by Agatha Christie.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Probably The Lord of the Rings (I said with a shamed face), although I’ve only read The Hobbit so far (said I with an even more shamed face).

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Mary Shelley.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Behind My Mask by Kirn Hans.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

One of the mysteries of my reading life has always been that I have rarely found a book “unputdownable,” though I loved one ever so much; The Tale of Despereaux was 2013’s top exception.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I know of a certainty that I will read both Frankenstein and The Conquest of Fear next (this!) year.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

I don’t judge books by their covers. ButI was fond of this cover for Perelandra.

11. Most memorable character in 2013?

Easily Amory Blaine, This Side of Paradise, apparently a previous incarnation of my soul.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

You’re killing me. I’ll pick The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

In different ways, This Side of Paradise, The Conquest of Fear, and Frankenstein had the most dramatic impacts on me.

14. Book you cant believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?

The Hobbit.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

Have mercy on me! This would take days to decide. I’ll go with two lines out of a poem in The Hobbit:

Follow, follow, stars that leap
Up the Heavens cold and steep

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Without going into the technicalities of a novel versus a novella, Heart of Darkness (approx. 70 – 100 pp.) would be the shortest book of fiction I’ve read; The Good Earth (357 pp.) would be the longest.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?

Just like it’s rare that a book is “unputdownable” to me, it’s rare that I read a book I’m not dying to talk to somebody about. Prime example of the year? The Secret Garden, I guess (yes, again!).

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Aguirre and Luna of Luna Benamor broke my heart; Mike and Ellie of Endless Night twisted it and rent it and kind of tore it up into shreds.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author Youve Read Previously

Perelandra, the best Lewis I’ve read to date (I really need to get around to That Hideous Strength!)

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

The Secret Garden . . . again. Recommended by a good friend (my respect for her opinions has gone up even more, if possible).

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Easily mystery, mostly (if not solely) books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

I’m brave enough to answer this. Sallie McBridge of Dear Enemy by Jean Webster stole my heart.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

Behind My Mask by Kirn Hans (notwithstanding that it was the only debut I read).

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Perelandra again. The Hobbit, close second.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices was pure, hilarious fun.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

I don’t cry over books very often; but I’ll be honest, I had an emotional breakdown after finishing Endless Night.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Walking by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau had a beautiful way of looking at the world, but his thoughts and writings were sadly unappreciated during his lifetime.



Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

How Real Writers Learn to Write

How Real Writers Learn to Write

Writing is not a science. Writing is an art. If you want to learn to write, there’s only one way to do it.

You have to write.

Learning to Write

That’s not something anyone can teach you to do. It’s something you learn to do yourself, by writing. You can bury yourself in a pile of books and learn everything there is to learn on the science of writing, or you can relax and let your own creativity flow.

You can flout every rule and still be great or you can follow every rule and still be rotten. This is creative writing. Where’s the creativity if you’re just doing what someone else told you to do?

There’s a writer inside of you. Your hands are itching to write. Get them off the covers of a book and onto a sheet of paper. Let your inner writer out.

How You Can Write Like a Professional

Are you one of those people who have had dreams of writing but always figured you didn’t have the talent or the time?

Would you like to learn to write, right now? Give me fifteen minutes, or even just five.

Put away those writing workshop applications and those how-to books.

The only way to learn to write is to put the goldarn pencil to paper and write. This is creative writing. You won’t find creativity sitting in class or reading someone else’s book. You’ll find creativity by sitting down at a keyboard and being creative.

I’ve made the mistake of reading how-to books. I’ve made the mistake of expecting other people to teach me how to write. Do you want to know what I learned from them?

They taught me that they have nothing to teach me. That is the most important lesson, and just about the only lesson, anyone can teach anyone else about writing.

You have to teach yourself. How do you do that? Sit down right now and write something. Start with this:

afaslfh emhg

Feel good? Don’t stop now; keep going. Pretty soon you’ll realize that you’re writing.

How Real Writers Improve

Now here’s a neat trick. Wanna know what real writers do to improve their writing?

They read.

Fiction and nonfiction, novels and magazines, advertisements and street signs. Just read. Exercise those mental muscles that feed on words. Bodybuilders get stronger by exercising and eating right. Writing is great, but if you’re not feeding your mind on words, you won’t build much muscle.

Even how-to books have their place here. They can’t teach you to write—but they can give you ideas.

Go read. Broaden your horizons. You’ll be amazed by the places inspiration will hit you from.

How to Excel

This is where it comes down to separating the wheat from the chaff. This is the one uncontestable law, outright law, of writing. If you do not obey this commandment, you will not succeed in writing.

Be passionate.

That’s what makes good writers great writers. That’s what turns ordinary people into artists. Passion.

Without passion, your writing will be flat. Without passion, you won’t find creativity. Without passion, you won’t be able to dedicate yourself.

Because writing is tough, it’s true. It takes hard work and dedication; two things that come from the root of all writing, passion.

Do you love writing? Do you really love writing so much that you couldn’t live without it?

That shouldn’t be hard to answer, if you’re passionate. Are you?

Good. That’s what I thought.

Now do yourself a favor and go write something. “Once upon a time adujiahfuehg . . .”


Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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