Man and Boy; Tennessee, 1932

“Boy, what you straining with?”

“Don’t know, pa. It’s fighting me, though. It’s fighting me.”

“Look at that pole bend. Ease up a bit, boy. Give it some slack. See? Your pole’s not twitching. Whatever it is, it’s not fighting you, it’s dragging. Maybe something crawling on the bottom.”

“But it’s coming, pa.”

“Want me to take her for a spell?”

“I’d like that, pa.”

“Give it some slack before we switch poles. Something that heavy, you got to work slow, might have to get upstream of it to pull it in without snapping the line.”

“Look, pa. There it is. I see it.”

“Damn thing’s in the glare of the sun. What is it? Can you see? Feels like some bottom grass. Pity if we can’t loose the line.”

“It’s a man, pa. A black man.”

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What do you mean, exactly, when you tell me to Read and Write to be an author?

It’s what they don’t tell you that’ll ruin you

Almost every writing-how-to book I’ve read has something about having to read, read, read and write, write, write to be a good author. Few books (nor any classes I’ve taken in classrooms, workshops, online, et cetera) include the two pieces of information without which all the reading and all the writing are…well, maybe not worthless but definitely worth less: How to Read and How to Write.

Reading
Read anything and everything. Read omnivorously. Read trashy novels. Read pulp. Read magazine articles, newspapers. Read onlines. Read prizewinners. Read in and definitely outside your genre.

Here’s what nobody told me; Read for craft, not content.

Pay attention to what you’re reading.

 
Pay attention to how characters are developed, pay attention to how scenes unfold, how things are foreshadowed, pay attention to how mood, atmosphere and tone are constructed to create specific effects. Pay attention to how the author does everything they do to get you to read their story.

Especially pay attention to what they do that makes you stop reading their story.

An example of the former is from Fritz Leiber’s A Pale of Air. I read this story mumbledy-mumbledy years ago and remember literally feeling cold after the first few paragraphs. No idea why and continued blissfully ignorant for ever so long. Take a moment to read the opening and enjoy the chill:
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Owen and Jessica

Enjoy your meal, my darling

Owen’s gaze went from the morning sun outside the kitchen window to his laptop screen. He closed the lid so Jessica couldn’t read what he’d written.

Besides, it was time to make breakfast.

He went to the drawer with all the butcher knives in it. There was one he never used. It was Jessica’s and she kept it sharp. God knows why, she rarely cooked. It was a game with her; she’d come home, pull out her knife and hold it up towards him. “You used my knife today, didn’t you? It’s not as shiny as it was this morning.”

He checked the whet of the knife, forgetting his father’s warning: “Scrape, don’t slice.” Blood gathered in the whorls of his thumb. He stared at it and chuckled before licking it clean.

He would kill Jessica today.

The sunlight came through the window exactly how Owen told God it had to come through if God wanted Owen to kill Jessica, and it came through exactly how Owen told God to make it come through so that was it, there was no argument about it, God approved and gave Owen the sign he’d asked for so it was okay to do it and today was the day he would kill Jessica because God sent the sunlight through the window just as they’d agreed.

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Rachel, Above the Clouds…but we’re not sure if she’s Flying

To be embraced by passion, as if set on fire by the sun

I recently had a short story, Rachel, Above the Clouds, published by an online, Across the Margins. The original title was “Rachel, Above the Clouds, While Flying” and was written for a writing class I took in the early 1990s. I updated the technology in the story some, not much. Below is the version I submitted and you can use the link above to read the published version.
I’d appreciate your thoughts on which is the better story, and why.


Joseph Carrabis' 'Rachel, Above the Clouds' on Across the Margin

 
“SolarMax Ten to Houston.”

“This is Houston. Go ahead, SolarMax.”

“Ted, you feeling okay today? You sound awful froggy.”

“Guess again, Rachel.”

“Benny? Is that you?”

“Hi, Raech. Long time no hear.”

“What are you doing riding bridesmaid, Benny? I heard you’d gone civ.”

“I have, I have. Mission Control said the last few days had been rough and thought you’d like to hear a familiar voice on your last morning up.”

“How sweet of them. I’m kind of surprised to hear your voice, though.”

“Well, you know. Mission Control wanted to do something special on your last day up and they brought in me.”

“Thank them for me.”

“Will do.”

“Anybody else down there waiting for me?”

“Well…of course, Rachel. There are lots of people.”

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Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)

Tell the same story better

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.

Can I provide specific examples from other authors, no. I may think a given author’s writing sucks or an individual piece of writing sucks and I still respect the fact that they’re putting something out, that they got off the couch.

General examples, sure:
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)”