Tag Archives: George Orwell

Writing Honestly 1: Emotions

What does it mean to write honestly? I look into what it means to write honestly about emotions and to be authentic in story-telling.

Honesty? Yep. To me, the number one thing a writer can do to make his fiction more compelling is to be more emotionally honest. What does that mean? Well, that’s a good question. When I look at so many writers, they can be extremely autobiographical. Orwell is a great example of this. The man didn’t seem to write about anything he didn’t experience.

Still, I’m not suggesting that we write a story about exactly what happened to you on Tuesday. That wouldn’t be fiction. What I’m saying is that writers need to tap into what they’ve felt in their lives and write about it. For example, if you lost a parent early in life, tap into the feelings you had in those moments. I’m not saying every story needs to be about the deaths of parents, but I’m saying that this is something you know, something you’ve been through, and if you’re honest, you’ll write it well.

Don’t writers always do that? Well, not really. It’s tempting to write about characters that are extremely different than us, that don’t go through anything like we’ve gone through, but really, that avoidance of self feels kind of dishonest. Writers need to embrace the hurts, the loves, the abuses, and the losses they’ve had and use them throughout their writing. I mean, where would Vonnegut have been if not for his experience in Dresden?

It can be tough to write about characters from a different time or place, or even of a different sex, because we can’t speak as them, we can’t know what they’re going through. But that’s not true. I’ll admit, I don’t write amazing female characters, but I’ve had some decent ones, and it’s because I’ve tapped into my own experience to inform the character. The reason I am able to do this is that some feelings are universal. If I’ve experienced loss, I can tap into that experience to create the motivations, weaknesses, and pains of a character, and it doesn’t matter who they are. It’ll work, and it’ll make the character feel real.

I think sometimes that we think we can’t write from that place. It’s cheating maybe? It’s autobiographical? I don’t think so. I mean, all art is self-portrait, right? It’s not about telling people exactly what you’ve done, but it’s about sharing that experience. It’s an amazing thing to listen to someone that’s been through a particular trauma or wonder. They can speak to that issue, and they can more deeply understand characters going through similar experiences.

So … So, look in the mirror and be honest. Open up to yourself about some painful or exciting moment, and tap into those feelings. Let your characters’ experience flow from your own, since they are just little brain-children, and can be no more than what you are. Maybe you wish you were more, and to that, I’d suggest experiencing more. Be honest with yourself and with your readers, and I think they will note the difference. Don’t write from false emotion, and don’t avoid emotion. Readers will see when that pain feels real and when it feels dishonest or distant. Don’t intellectualize. Stop preaching and write from a very human place. Your ideals are much better sold by an identifiable character that feels real than some robotic Adonis on a soapbox (yes, I’m looking at you, Ayn).

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In this post, I discuss the presence of classic authors on the internet and how I think they should be treated.

Him again, eh? Yes, him again. George Orwell is my favorite author and why wouldn’t he be? He was the one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, and, in my opinion, he was certainly the greatest and most influential essayist of the twentieth century. I mean, it blows my mind that Orwell is not the centerpiece of every American composition class in the United States. He makes the essay form vibrant, compelling, and convincing, and if ever I get the chance to teach composition at the college level, you can be sure that I’d bring him in.

Still not convinced that Orwell was as great as I believe? Check out a few of his quotes:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.
All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.
For a creative writer possession of the ‘truth’ is less important than emotional sincerity.

See what I mean?! The guy was brilliant, and his grasp on life, politics, love, hate, and the human condition is more clearly stated than any other writer I’ve read.

Ok! We get it! You love Orwell! Well, so there’s this website, www.george-orwell.org, that has most of Orwell’s works on it, yet the site itself is in terrible condition. It’s interesting, if you look up great classic writers on the web, someone has probably put their stuff online, yet, so often, the site aren’t given the proper attention or upkeep.

Now, Orwell’s stuff is in the public domain of Russia, Australia, and Canada, and I believe that the owner of this site was from Canada, but to me, that doesn’t matter (since I am not liable). It doesn’t matter to me because I think this sort of exposure actually makes people more likely to buy his books. The internet will not replace books (or book-like things), but it can complement them. For example, it sucks to read a book on a webpage, but it’s great to be able to search a book for a phrase.

So, this website dedicated to Orwell is in terrible repair. I have tried and tried to find out who owns this site and contact him or her, but I’ve had no luck. I’d be happy to redesign this site for free as a favor to my old buddy Eric (Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair), but I can’t seem to contact the owner of the site.

I wish that authors as influential and important as Orwell had sites that could be given the proper attention and upkeep that they deserve. I recognize that finding volunteers for this kind of work can be laborious, as I can’t imagine money would be involved. Still, there could be donations. The thing is, the internet is always changing and improving, and sites dedicated to the works of great authors should be updated regularly, keeping things like modern formatting, conventions, a focus on readability, usability, and typography in mind. These works, I think, should be given a fitting and appropriate place on the web, with resources and contexts and the benefit of this great human network.

So, talk to him here? Ok, I will. If you’re the owner/operator of www.george-orwell.org, get ahold of me. I want to help. And, for the rest of you, if you have any ideas as to how I can find this guy, let me know.

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My Working Definition of “Art”

In this post, I wrestle with a word that I have long struggled to define. The word “art” gets used as though we all understand it, yet it does not seem so. I will attempt to define it for myself.

Haven’t you done this before? Yes, sadly. Art is a word I have long complained about. It’s not that I am opposed to art, but it just has no concrete meaning. If you ask the artist, they’ll stumble and stammer, talking about aesthetics, craft, and a certain je ne sais quoi. If you ask Joe or Jane Sixpack off the street, they’ll point to a painting or some other obvious example.

Writers often get lumped in with artists, and I’ve never felt comfortable with that. Still, I recognize that we’re often seen that way, so I decided to figure out a definition that works across the board.

So, Einstein, what is art then? Art, the way I see it, is something that is created to express a lack of understanding in the world. So, that sounds a little postmodern, but follow me. My thinking is that artists are essentially people that struggle to understand the world. They have a hard time making sense of things that perhaps a physicist or engineer would not. That’s not to say that these people occupy a special class of people, but in my mind, they often seem to be introspective and extremely curious about the world beyond a practical sense, and those qualities lead to greater and greater questions.

Art is essentially an expression of these questions. It’s an attempt to answer something that cannot be stated very simply. So, for example, you could see Orwell’s Winston Smith from Nineteen Eight-Four as an expression of Orwell’s feeling ideologically alone in the world. Or you could see much of Flannery O’Connor’s work as a struggle to make sense of her faith against the backdrop of a prejudiced “Christian” south. Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust can be seem as a Jewish American’s struggle to deal with Zionism. And not all examples are this clear cut or simple. Some are about a specific relationship struggle or fear or pain or social difficulty.

I realize this is a broad definition, but let’s face it, art must have an extremely broad definition. And one reason I like this definition is that it does not just lump in anything that is aesthetically pleasing. So, for example, a beautiful website made for a business is not art. Not all beauty is art. Yes, a website could be art, but not necessarily. It really goes into intent and expression.

What’s up with the George Bush painting? Well, by my definition, there is proof positive that old W. is something of an artist. Actually, I do kind of like the bathtub painting. It’s interesting.

Anyway, I recognize most people don’t see or define art this way, but I worked to find a commonality behind what people call art, and this was the best answer I came up with. Writing and art to me are expressions or communications, and I’ve long felt that artists are looking deeper, digging, trying to answer questions that maybe are impractical or illogical, and yet they feel compelled to do so anyway.

I think there’s something of an artist in all of us, because the world is full of mystery, but I think most people aren’t all that interested in grappling with the tough and maybe unanswerable questions of the world … and I can’t say I blame them.

So, that’s my working definition. Thoughts?

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Winston Smith Syndrome?

Winston Smith. My favorite author is George Orwell. I’ve read everything he published, and he is an inspiration for me. His famous book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is not my favorite of his novels, but he has an amazingly lasting character that I tend to identify with named Winston Smith. While considering that character the other day, though, a strange question came to me … what if Winston Smith (and Julia, I suppose) is the only unhappy person in Oceania? As in, with this dystopian society, maybe everyone else is quite aware of the situation, the rationing, the wars … and is happy.

“Nonsense!” you scream, pounding your keyboard (my readers are rather overdramatic at times, it would seem). It isn’t nonsense. Think about it. One of the bigger issues with dystopian stories is that we get it from the perspective on the discontented. Maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem, but Smith taints our ability to see that. It’s a bit like hanging around a cynical and negative person (here’s where I come in).

He doesn’t quite fit. See, we have these societies, both real and imagined, and we like to think that there’s a place for everyone … fact is, there isn’t. We take that for granted. We don’t like to imagine some people will absolutely fall through the cracks. I mean, when we see an old homeless man on the side of the road, we think one of two things: 1.) He’s a lazy, sick, drunk who just wants more money to make himself sicker and more drunk. 2.) He’s a poor, poor man who just needs an opportunity to succeed.

Here’s the thing … both of those may be true at times, but there’s a third answer. Some people just don’t fit into the way we do things in life. The world doesn’t make sense to them, and they don’t know how to function. I’ve often said about artists that they are people that the world doesn’t make sense to, but are trying to make sense of it through some expression.

Implications? So, Winston Smith … and Julia, were they like the homeless or the artist or the discontented? Does the world make no sense to them but make sense to many or most others? I think so. What that says about the book, I’m not quite sure, except to say, that I get that feeling. The world often doesn’t make sense, and I often feel, as John the (original) Baptist put it, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23 KJV).

I wonder how many other characters could be read this way?

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The Author Isn’t Quite Dead!

Roland Barthes

Greatly exaggerated. Perhaps the actors in Monty Python said it best when they screeched, “HE’S NOT QUITE DEAD!” In many creative writing and literary circles, the idea that the Author (capital “A”) has met his demise is an accepted fact. What does it mean that the author is dead? Well, I’ll tell you in more simple terms than Mr. Barthes, the originator of this backward thinking (though, he would argue that there is no originator), did in his famous essay “The Death of the Author.”

Essentially, Barthes argues that the author does not have final say of truth concerning his own work. He believes that somehow a writing does not originate from the author, but transcends him, and he becomes simply the person who pens it.

… all writing is itself this special voice, consisting of several indiscernible voices, and that literature is precisely the invention of this voice, to which we cannot assign a specific origin: literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.

In Barthes’s (or … I’m not sure who he’d like me cite) mind, the author’s life, politics, experiences, religion, family, country, etc. do not matter, as it concerns the truth found in a book. Essentially, he believes that it is the reader that holds final say on what piece means. This sounds very democratic indeed (though his prose, in my opinion, feels rather elitist), and though he argues that by handing the evaluation of truth off to the reader, we undo the power of the critic who only seeks to figure out the intention of the author. Sadly, though, I believe his ideas have done little more than to create a new Author (capital “A”), and that is the critic, or perhaps more accurately these days, the Professor. If truth is wholly rooted in the reader, then how can we teach criticism? Isn’t that just essentially steering readers to a particular bent? How could a reader be wrong? As I once asked a professor about this issue, does it mean that I can read Barthes’s essay as a recipe for potato soup? She said, “No! Of course not!” I asked why. It became messy and confused after that.

A text without an Author is a text without a context. Certainly, the most obvious answer to the question I asked my professor would be that the text does not support a recipe for potato soup. And that’s true. I think many would leave it there (though, again, if it’s up to the reader, I feel like we do not consider that the reader can be WRONG), but the problem is, that leaves the writing with a rather incomplete understanding, and it will often lead to misuse.

For example, of late, the religious right in America has latched onto the writings of Ayn Rand, particularly her famous work Atlas Shrugged. Yes, they may agree with her economic ideas, but Rand saw religion as a joke, and believed that altruism was a vice and greed a virtue. This bears out in her writing, and yet, it gets abused by “readers.” Without the context of Rand, we don’t fully understand her work.

Similarly, George Orwell’s 1984 get used by people of every political and ideological bent. But, when we know he wrote the book in 1948 (reverse of 1984 {duh}), we know that he was writing about post-war rationing in England. When we understand the historical context of the book, we are able to achieve greater insight. And room 101, the Ministry of Love’s torture chamber, the room where Winston Smith’s greatest fear would be put on him … room 101 was the room where Orwell worked for the BBC. We’re taught 1984 in schools, in my opinion, because of its perceived anti-Soviet message, yet the detail about room 101 tells us that he was talking about England and not the USSR. Facts like that about the author allow for a deeper and more thorough reading.

So, for example … Let’s just say, we set up an experiment. In this experiment, we have 100 normal people in an audience. On stage is a panel of ten of the world’s finest readers (Critics / Professors), as well as a young man, the author, in a sound-proof booth. The readers go through a story written by the young author in the booth, and they explain the “truth” in it. They find all sorts of themes, like oppression of the middle class, questioning of gender roles, and frustration with modern colonialism. Once they have had their say, the young author is allowed to exit the booth. He is then asked what the story is about, and he says it’s about his dog, Pogo, who died recently. Who do you think the audience is going to believe? The trained readers or the author? Who will hold the final truth to the average person? I would bet lots of money that the author would be given the benefit of the doubt over the readers.

That being said, a text must support these claims. But that’s just it. Fiction isn’t some language derived from some transcendent spirit who chooses “artists” as mediums. No, fiction is simply communication. And yes, it is the author’s communication to a reader, just as an email is a communication from one person to another. We try to separate all sorts of writing, but, in the end, it all serves the same purpose. I have an idea in my head, and I want to transmit it to you. And when the idea gets jumbled along the way, gets lost, I would argue that ineffective communication has taken place. Orwell fantastically blurred the line between fiction and rhetoric, and I would argue that Muriel Rukeyser did similarly with poetry and rhetoric. The walls in academia between the various sections of English (Lit, Rhet/Comp, Creative Writing, etc.) are arbitrary and false. Writing falls along a continuum of styles, but the purpose of writing is the same.

So where does that leave the reader? I’m not suggesting that the reader doesn’t have any say. I believe that the reader is going to bring what he knows to a book, and yes, the reader can apply interpretations that were not originally part of the authorial intent (the best example of this that I can think of is Alice in Wonderland), but to understand the author, his context, his experiences, will lead to a greater understanding of a work. No, we don’t always have the luxury of asking authors what they mean or intend by some passage, but certainly, when we get that chance, it’s illuminating.

Perhaps I don’t get it. Maybe I was missing the point, but to me, fiction, and all art for that matter, is self-portrait. Or do you disagree, readers?

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“Artificial Roses” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Cool little story. If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve been talking about Garcia Marquez a lot lately. He’s been very influential to my writing these last couple of years, in more ways than just “magic.” Although, this gets me to thinking … maybe he’s not so much influential on my writing as he is validating of my writing choices. It’s like I’ve found a kindred writing spirit who feels the same limitations, and feels the need to make some of the same choices I do … like this one for example:

Hints. One of the things I love about Garcia Marquez is that he sets up the reader to be ready for something supernatural to jump into the realistic story, but sometimes, he leaves us wondering. A great example of this is the story “Artificial Roses” from his collection, Big Mama’s Funeral. In “Artificial Roses,” Marquez hints that a character has a supernatural skill, yet, he leaves open the possibility that it could simply be a coincidence or maybe the character is just extremely shrewd. Nevertheless, he has the ability to leave us wondering because of the context of his catalog.

I love how he takes Realism and bends it and twists it until we can’t be entirely sure what we’re seeing, as readers. He does successfully what so many genre writers seek to do, in my opinion. He reinforces his conflicts by pressing against the limits of Realism, yet, his characters and the problems they face are as real as a gravelly road.

How I use it. Right now, I am getting my MFA applications ready to send out, and I have two stories. One of them has a supernatural element, and the other does not. Still, the reading of one will affect the reading of the other. Obviously, this bears out better in a collection or in a catalog of work, but it’s wonderful to make the reader question. Isn’t that the goal in the end? Make the reader question something? Orwell challenges us directly, Vonnegut forces us to face harsh truths, making us question what we believe, but Garcia Marquez makes us question what is laid out directly in front of us in clear, plain text.

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A Nice Cup of Tea

Dobra Tea Asheville, NC

Inspired by the greatest. When I went on my trip visiting MFA Programs in the South, I had a chance to swing by Asheville North Carolina (a town which my family told me I would like), and I stopped by this tea place called Dobra Tea. It was great. The selection was excellent, and the tea was fine quality. If you have a chance to swing by there, it’s worth it.

Anyway, this all got me to thinking about Orwell. He’s got a great essay called “A Nice Cup of Tea,” and you can see how passionate he is about this heavenly beverage. This is something he and I share, so I thought, in keeping with our shared love of the leafed liquid, I would write my own version of “A Nice Cup of Tea.” So, here goes.

Point by point. The audience for Orwell’s essay was a bunch of Englishmen who have very little excuse for not making tea properly. I’m writing to an American audience that does not value tea. We see the dirt-looking leaves in a Lipton bag and think, Oh yeah! Now that’s tea! We also have this notion that tea is a feminine drink, and though we have great resources for tea available to us, we rarely make good on them. So, here’s how you make a nice cup of tea.

  • First of all, you have to have the right tea. I’m with Orwell on this one. The tea should be Indian in origin, and I favor a nice strong cup. Personally, I prefer Assam or Ceylon teas, not a blend, though I do not mind Kenyan black teas. The leaves should be big. The quality of tea is often defined by the size of its leaf, which will help us know how much flavor we can expect to extract. Loose leaf teas are getting easier to find, but shops can be expensive, so I sometimes like to go to an importer like Upton Tea Company.
  • Next, after the tea, you have to find a way to infuse the tea into the water. I believe in using boiling hot water, but unlike Orwell, I am not for throwing the tea leaves right into the pot. Nowadays, we have excellent inventions for this purpose, like the IngenuiTEA Pot. But no matter what tool you use, you need to allow the tea leaves to expand fully. This is why I am against tea bags or awful little ball infusers like this.
  • I would say, if you use the IngenuiTEA Pot that I recommend, that you have one good heaping spoonful of tea in a full pot (though I’ve been to known to add a little more), because as Orwell said, “one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones.”
  • Once you have it in there, let it steep for at least three to five minutes. Some people use time as their measurement, but I just watch the color turn. It should turn a nice deep brown. Very dark. We want this tea to kick, and if we’re impatient, it’ll be weak
  • Finally, what goes in tea? Orwell and I disagree on this one. I would say a good rich black tea, as I’ve listed above, should have a little cream and about half a spoon of honey. The cream, I would say, is necessary to balance the bitterness of the tea itself. With the cream, it rounds out the flavor. I’d suggest a tiny bit of honey (raw and unfiltered of course) because the flavors are so complimentary. If you use too much honey or spoonfulls of sugar, you’ll just drown out the tea flavor. That is not the aim. I think the added flavors should complement the strong bitter flavor of the tea, not equal it or overpower it.

I don’t think any of this is strange or shocking to anyone familiar with tea, but unfortunately, in the US, we are often discouraged to drink tea by associations and by the weak selection we’ve had. Now is the time to reclaim this wonderful drink, because as the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition points out, drinking tea may be healthier than drinking water. Just something to consider.

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Applying Editing Advice

Easier said than done. So, I am one who is OK with criticism. I have worked with other writers for years, and I enjoy having my writing scarred with red pen. Still, applying the advice given can be difficult. A lot of stuff is in-line edits, and that stuff is easy, but that’s not the real concern of mine. I want to know if a story has emotional impact, if it moved you, if it challenged you or made you love or hate something.

Earlier this year, I got advice from a famous writer about one of my short stories. The last thing he said to me was,

But the one bit of heartfelt advice: a young writer has to work hard on the editing level, esp cutting, to distinguish himself from the herd. You have to be 100 percent responsible for EVERY sentence. So slow way down and CHOOSE. Be a very harsh gatekeeper – a sentence has to be very important and good to get into your story, that sort of thinking. Trim all cliches. If a metaphor is familiar, off it goes.

I’ve heard this sort of advice before. Orwell said something similar, yet, though the ideas seem simple, I have some difficulty applying them.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 For me, everything feels cliche and familiar. It’s in my own head. I don’t know. I think maybe that I’ve become too careful, and by doing so, I have made my work lack punch, lack shock, lack raised stakes.

I’m working more on cutting and consolidating, and I’m trying to ensure that everything is in my story for a reason. That being said, everything usually is in my story for a reason … just maybe not the reason that the story calls for. As in, sometimes I add things that speak to themes and ideas that are in the periphery, yet, to me, they speak to the main conflict and the character.

It feels sometimes like we have an obsession with getting right into it. No extra fat, but sometimes fat is delicious. Right now, I am trying to cut anything excess in a story I am editing for MFA apps. I ended up cutting whole pages out, and now it feels thin to me. Maybe I’ll need to get used to it, or maybe I need to be able to simply focus on the conflict at hand.

Falling in love all over again. I don’t know. I’d like it if some writing felt good to me right now, but it doesn’t. I’ve written a lot this year, but nothing I love. It’s a confidence thing, I know, yet I wonder when my feelings will change. Maybe I need to try something new, or maybe I need some sort of validation. Getting into an MFA program will help, I hope, but I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s like people often say. MFA Programs (or writing groups or editors or online advice, etc. etc. etc.) cannot make you a writer. You must simply do it. I am doing it right now, and yes, words are on the page, and maybe that’s what counts, but I want to love it. I want to fall in love with my work again. I’m not sure how to do that.

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The “What” and the “How” of Writing

The basic idea. So, I was having a discussion with a writer friend of mine. This writer had an interesting element connecting all his stories, yet the sole reason to have that element was that it was “interesting.”

I think when a reader finds something off like that (for example, let’s say every character in the story has spaghetti for hair), the first question they will naturally ask is “WHY?!” This is reasonable, and it’s a powerful tool for the writer, because it allows him to steer the reader, but to add spaghetti hair for no specific reason makes for an intellectual wild goose chase.

I think all writing requires a “What,” which is simply what a writer wants to say. Example, George Orwell thinks English imperialism is lame in Burmese Days.

The “How” is simply how the “What” comes out. So, in our Orwell example, he didn’t just have the main character preach on the evils of imperialism. He used a journalistic style, showing the corruption of the British in Burma, and humanized the Burmese people. The easy and popular thing to do by writers before him was to show how savage the native people were, but Orwell countered that … he “exposed a lie” as he loved to do.

So, the question for every writer must simply begin, “What do I want to talk about?” and then follow with “And how will I illustrate that point?”

Some more examples. So, we’ve talked a bit about Vonnegut, but I want to talk some more about him, because he’s great at this. The man chose, it would seem, to break the idea that there are good guys and bad guys. His life experience as a P.O.W. in Dresden affected a whole lot of his writing, and much of his writing illustrated the point that the Allies (good guys) did some evil things to the Germans (not all bad guys). Vonnegut is basically satirizing nationalism and the notion that some people (though certainly not us {wink}) are “pure evil.” Because of this, Vonnegut uses humor in horrific situations. It’s disarming, but in the same fact, it’s shocking. It shows the sort of emotional disconnect people have in war time about the death of the enemy people, even if it’s civilians.

Ayn Rand. She’s unenjoyable to read, and here is why: She never figured out how to effectively come up with a compelling “How.” Rand is barely even considered a writer today. She’s a philosopher. In that sense, I am impressed by her. She was rather revolutionary to me. I like to think of her as a feminist, in that feminism, in my definition, is for a woman to do whatever she wants despite societal pressures. She had radical ideas, and, though unpopular among most people (religion is bad, altruism is bad, greed is good), she was willing to stand on her soapbox and be unaffected by criticism. Sadly, though, she was bad about illustrating her philosophy. She chose to simply just have her main character say it … AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN … and so on.

Simple idea. What I’m talking about is simple, and maybe it’s obvious to everyone, but sometimes I think we overthink writing. Sometimes it is as simple as figuring out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to illustrate your point effectively.

Reading a lot of stories both in college and for my fiction magazine, Eastown Fiction, I see a lot of authors that do not seem to get this idea. Either they have a solid idea that they approach from the most basic way, patronizing and irritating the reader, or they try something weird and unique, but the images or methods don’t illustrate anything.

It’s easy to focus on tiny details, but unless we get the “What” and “How,” our stories will lack a cohesive thought, and we will not be able to be the perspective-shifters we hope to be in society.

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Sports & Literature: Can they mix?

Writing Today. Wrote 1,576 words today to finish a first draft of the ninth story in my collection. It’s called “Worms with Marinara Sauce.” It took a very dark turn today … wasn’t expecting that.

I write a lot about the relationship between fathers and sons. Therefore, I write a lot about what it is to be a man. This has got me thinking … what kind of man is it OK to be as a writer?

Past Examples. There are plenty of manly writer examples in the past: Orwell, Steinbeck, Hemingway, etc. But I don’t feel like it’s that way these days.

I went to AWP this year for the first time, and I noticed the ratio of women to men was something like five to one. And the men I saw were not what I typically think of as “manly.” There was one guy who spoke at the conference who struck me as manly, and I found it interesting. I think he was the acceptable type of literary manly, which is the loner woodsman.

What I didn’t find there was anyone I could ask for the score in the basketball game, or shoot ideas about who would be drafted at what spot in the NFL draft coming up. This doesn’t necessarily make one “manly,” but I find myself somewhat alienated from a lot of the literary crowd, because in a way, I guess I’m more stereotypically male than many of the men I saw there.

What makes sports “manly?” Well, they represent confrontation, aggression, war, and masculine camaraderie. It’s about taking on another man and defeating him. It’s testosterone embodied in an acceptable 21st century fashion, and I get it. Growing up with four older brothers, I had to. Sports was a bonding agent, like pink bellies, wet willies, wrestling matches, and fist fights.

Feeling jock dumb. Recently, I’ve been trying to read Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. I’ve struggled to break into it. It’s so heady. It’s like reading T.S. Elliot without the footnotes.

Sometimes I get irritated … offended by writers. Sometimes it feel like they’re trying to make me feel stupid. This may be the case with Lowry, I don’t know. I’m about ready to give up on his novel, though. Still, I get self-conscious. I feel like so often literary texts are like the emperor’s new clothes.

The King’s tailors (professors / critics / intelligentsia) shout out, “Oh! What a lovely green robe he has on!” The crowd then begins to say, “Oh yes! I see it! It’s a beautiful emerald green!” And it builds and builds from there.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they all do see what I can’t see, and I have the brain of someone who enjoys football (which is a way smarter game than people give it credit). I don’t know. I don’t like feeling that way.

I don’t want to be the writer who sets out to confuse or irritate the reader. Maybe that makes me “low-brow” as a professor once said about me … *EUGH* … but I feel like low-brow is better than pretentious dick.

My attitudes, my libertarian politics, and my love of baseball will keep me out of academia, I think. Time will tell.

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