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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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 6 – Opinions are not Facts)

Listen. Understand. Act.

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.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).

A woman read the opening of a play at a writers’ group I recently attended. She had four characters talking to each other for about eight pages. Not doing anything, just talking.

Ever been at a party and walk up to a group of people talking then discover both they and their conversation are boring as hell?

You look around for another group, one where voices are raised or there’s laughing, one where, even though the people are standing, they’re animated, moving their arms, nodding or shaking their heads to whatever’s being said, stepping back and forth, their bodies demonstrating their feelings about the conversation.

You strategize ways to get out of the boring group and into the interesting group simply because it is interesting!

People reading your story or watching your play behave much the same. If your characters, setting, situation, whatever, is dull, they’ll stop reading, change the channel, get up and leave the theater, take your pick. People need a reason to put their attention on your material. Give it to them.
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Setting Scenes with Props

Reality Makes Fiction Believable. Threat makes things interesting.

Deveraux stared at the calendar on the wall while he waited: a pastoral farm scene above a month of days and dates. Young men haying in the foreground, scythes in hands, an older man – broader back, heavier build – guided a horse-drawn cart. A few passes remained. In the distance a setting sun. One of the field hands stood wiping his brow with a bright red neckerchief. Another leaned on his scythe, watching him. A white-sided farmhouse and barn with two towering red silos in the distance, at the far end of the field.
Why didn’t they start here and finish at the barn? Wouldn’t it be less work that way?
Under the picture a woman’s delicate hand wrote over specific dates: anniversaries, birthdays, doctors and vet appointments – cat? dog? He hadn’t seen any pets when he walked in – school meetings, church cookouts. Two gold stars where kids won awards. A red heart on a Friday, a church holiday. He’d have to step carefully when he explained why he was here.
Someone approached, a woman, her step light, delicate – the same woman who marked the calendar? The smells of fresh washing line-hung to dry, a lemony furniture polish, a light soap and talcum came through the door before the woman did, wiping her hands on her apron as she did, speaking his name as a question, welcoming a guest yet unsure of his purpose, her voice rising at the end, “Lieutenant Deveraux?”
He held his gray fedora in his hands, his fingers on the brim, spinning it slowly like a kaleidoscope showing nothing but dull browns and blacks and grays.

Now consider this:
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