Sunday, October 14, 2018

Not What's the Point But the Wholeness

I've recently watched a couple of Netflix movies--started them and then fast forwarded through sections, ending the film, and then going back and closely watching key scenes. It was either fast and dirty or just turn the darn thing off. Then I clicked onto IMDB (International Movie Data Base) and read more about the movies and checked out some reviews.

Evidently, according to many reviews, I'm a shallow viewer who is so conditioned to the standard plot sequence normally presented that I cannot appreciate a truly artistic flick. And, according to the reviews, I am not the only creativity-challenged viewer.

The films viewed were Hold the Dark, a movie or survival and alienation set in the far, frozen North; and Under the Skin, a sci fi flick about an alien femme fatale with a gentler modus operandi than the Predator franchise.

I was tempted to ask what's the point of the movies, but I understand the concept that art doesn't need to mean, just be. Art's existence enlivens the mind and pulls one from boundaries to the unbounded. It expands.

In the two films mentioned, a lot happens--death and destruction, despair and tragedy. However, in the end, I was not left with any sense of wholeness. I did appreciate the craft, but the vision was, as one reviewer wrote, left on the cutting room floor.

I'm not here to bash Netflix, but as the company pours millions into new material, I certainly hope it doesn't end up being a lot of "B" grade material bought on the cheap because it got no traction anywhere else.

And as I write my current short story, I am reminded that although art doesn't have to justify its existence, that's only true when it is existence, when it is the drop of water that reflects the ocean. Without the reflection, the boundaries are too restrictive. I don't want my writing to reflect grey water in a grey world; neither do I want to watch movies where the only color is the grey sheen of lead bullets or the grey grime of roadside snow. Where's the sunshine? It's out there (and in there), and, Lord, let me not be distracted by all the shades and shadows between black and white.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Words Per Day Make the Day

It has been a week of writing on my short story "Blade," and I am reporting that moving back to my old standard of minimum words per day has been successful.

I began with a story fragment of 154 words and have written for a week, holding myself to at least two hundred words per day. Now the story is at 2,200 words. The good news, though, is that as I've been writing, the words written each day have grown, the last two or three days much more effortless and sustained.

I even missed one day of writing when I had an early doctor's check-up and other commitments, but I was already a little ahead of schedule, and the next day wrote more and caught up to my scheduled words.

The most engaging experiences have been those moments where I begin following a thread of plot possibility that I hadn't thought of until I began writing. Then I'm off into new territory, and it's quite fascinating witnessing myself write down the progressions and open in my mind. My experience is that this becomes more possible when the daily flow of words is established by routine.

That's the process, though, the first draft opening all the doors and windows. Or as e.e. cummings described the "spring" season experience: mud-luscious. Can't you just feel the mud squeezing up between your toes as you make your way down the path to the river?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Words Per Day--Inspiration by the Paragraph

When I was writing The Stone Dragon, my routine was to write two hundred words per day, Monday through Friday, and then to write a thousand words over the weekend . . . minimum. Often I wrote more, but the minimum word count maintained my writing discipline. This was a reasonable routine for someone working full time and writing in spare time.

My experience is that once I begin writing every day, I begin to think about the story throughout the day, to have realizations about the action and characters, to imagine new possibilities. On some quiet level, I begin to live the story; by that I mean its creation becomes a part of my everyday experience, which is enjoyable and also enchanting.

Now I've chosen to write a short story, tentatively titled "Blade." I've decided on the technical point of view, good old third person, and I feel pretty comfortable about the tone--telling the story as a legend in the making. So I'll write and write, and at some point it will feel like work because writing does take energy, but once the story is unfolding, a certain curiosity also pervails.

Now I need to get the dern thang written, and I'm falling back on my tried-and-true method of assigning myself a minimum daily writing amount--two hundred words. This, of course, is a very low "assignment," but I feel that will establish my daily routine for this duration of this story, and that the momentum of the story will carry the writing for a higher productivity. That's the plan!

Let's see in a week how far I've gotten.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Putting Another Short Story on the Map


Spilling from the ancient Colina Calderon is the Lavan Labyrinth, lava spewed like outspread fingers creating grey wastes of razor-sharp rock interspersed with tiny, hidden valleys of grasses and secret round meadows of lying like islands of green amid volcanic desolation.

. . . Or at least the map I drew when I wrote my fantasy novel The Stone Dragon indicates. I've written five short stories set in the geography of that map since The Stone Dragon was published, and now I've started another, set in the Labyrinth and based on 154 words written by me eight years ago. I've been thinking about these 154 words for a few days, and now I have a direction to play around with. I always begin slowly, finding the voice of the tale by rewriting and experimenting with the beginning. 

Once I get a good feel for the beginning, then I can sprint! I have to turn off my editor on the first drafts, though, to allow myself a chance to try something new, anything--to give myself the chance to miserably fail, with no failure since the only rule is to let creativity flow.

Here is the original sentence and two recent experiments:

  • Again the faint click of claw on riverstone, and he silently stood to face the sound.
  • Again the faint click of claw on river stone. He turned to face the sound, his turning as silent as a dragonfly’s flight.
  • It happened this way. Blade, he heard something, maybe a scree-scrape of claw on riverstone, but he’s not sure because it was gone too sudden, like an owl took it.
As I read these, I'm telling myself, "Don't judge; don't judge!" You can see I'm playing around with tense, point of view, and characterization. Am I going to tell a tale passed down from parent to child? Is that too busy? I have no presumptions, just a willingness to play with the idea for a bit.

Oh, and it will include a mountain lion.

Wish me luck! I've already got the joy. I'm writing this right now from Lake Wapello State Park in SE Iowa. Pretty scenery, but (so far) no volcanoes or mountain lions!)

(Note: The last three posts I've boosted with a free $30 trial from Facebook. I'm not interested at this point in paying to boost more posts, since I'm focusing on writing now and not marketing. However, if you wish, feel free to share on FB, Google+, or whatever platform you are familiar with. Thanks!)


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Integrating My Writing into My Physical Environment

Lake Sugema lies to the north of our campsite, blue water and blue sky and the sun rising to light the lake. Last night the stars were brilliant in the sky. Thank you, a week of rain to clear the air and my rural setting to eliminate the light pollution of the city. Even with my ignorance of constellations, I could identify the Big and Little dippers and Orion's Belt. The Milky Way was a flung haze of stars in a swath across the heavens.

My wife and I are here for five days, camping in our tiny trailer, she working from her mobile office and I writing in a variety of formats--daybook, text app, and online. I took a small hike this morning and a small nap this afternoon. I identified two varieties of oak, bur and southern red, this morning, sketched a bit with pen and colored pencils.

I've always enjoyed learning more about the world around me. I'm tired of knowing no more than "that's a tree," or maybe "that's a deciduous tree." Robert Hass's poetry book Field Guide is one of my favorites, a creative interaction with the natural world. I also love Donald Hall's Kicking the Leaves, especially the series of poems where he writes a poem for each season from the perspective of a bluff overlooking a river.

Today I saw a magnificent tree with wide branching limbs, some as huge as the trunks of lesser trees. I knew from the leaves that it was an oak. Pulling out my Peterson First Guide to Trees of North America, I discovered there are over twenty variety of oak in North America. I knew the tree wasn't one of the evergreen oak varieties, and by comparing the leaves and acorns with the book's illustrations, I determined the oak tree was a bur (mossycup) oak because of the shape of its leaves and the fringe of elongated scales (the burs) on the acorn cups. Having identified the tree, I drew a sketch of the leaves and acorn in my daybook, including coloring with my dozen Crayola pencils. Great fun! Later I identified a southern red oak, its distinguishing features the thin shape of the leaf and the shallow shape of the acorn cup. A page in my daybook was dedicated to a leaf rub from the tree, followed by a written account in the daybook of my adventure. Not exactly Lewis and Clark, but fun research culminating in a better understanding of the trees around me and a unifying of my immediate personal life with my writing life.

Now as I walk the trail and view the trees, I am aware of the many varieties of trees, the different leaf shapes and textures of the bark on the trunks. Such intellectual analysis isn't the only way to interact with the natural world, of course, but stimulating my intellect doesn't diminish my emotional appreciation or spiritual connection.

I want to see the forest and the trees. Learning the names of the trees is a gesture of respect, an act of kinship. If you fear I might now describe how I hugged the trees, fear not. I am cautious. My wife and I also identified poison ivy turning read as we move toward fall. I have to be careful. How can I type if my hands are blistered from shaking hands with our colorful cousin?