Friday, September 23, 2011

Many thanks to Angie for her invitation to talk about what inspires my writing.

Short answer: the magic of words.

 I began reading early, and early discovered the power of words to transport me, to show me the world in new ways, to take me to places unknown. I didn't begin churning out stories as a kid, as many seem to do. I absorbed and observed. I read, not just for the stories, but for the magic of the words themselves.

I've always read slowly. To me, a joy of reading is in the rhythm and color of beautifully constructed sentences, of images that startle me with their clarity, that cause me to read a sentence or paragraph over again just to immerse myself in it. I always will stop to smell the roses.

My early years as the son of a Presbyterian minister whose father had been a missionary to Korea, where my father was born, exposed me to a world of music, art, and spirituality. I played piano, and later, guitar and other folk instruments. I learned the power of art in its many forms to move people. And I learned, as I grew through school, that I had a talent with words.

For a brief time, I taught high school English, and my greatest reward (maybe the only one) came from seeing my kids awaken to their own power with words. I assigned controversial topics for essays and drew stories out of them. Convince me, I said. Make me believe.

Somewhere along the way, in college (isn't that where it always happens?) I began to question dogma.  New possibilities, worlds beyond worlds, unseen forces teased me to look, to wonder.

I wrote songs. Love songs. Songs of social protest. I used the power of words to influence, to move, and to entertain. I wrote poetry, unstudied, free, spontaneous, and the world around me became a live canvas from which to draw.

I'm moved to write because I can. Because the world is a huge, fascinating, terrifying place. A place of ecstasy and sorrow, of heroism and cowardice, of generosity and love and cold, hard malice.  And I've come to feel that we who write have a power to inspire the better aspects of our humanity while seeing all the colors and shying from none. We can entertain. We can offer distraction from pain. We can paint with words. We can show the strength of love in the unlikeliest circumstances.

If, with my use of words, I can transport a reader to a new place, make her look up from the page in an "oh, wow" moment, or cringe in horror, or laugh, or cry, then I've worked a bit of magic.

The pen may well be mightier than the sword. In good hands, it's a magician's wand.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writer, Do Your Work

Just write. Summer's over, I told myself. Get back in that saddle. Back in the literary social network groove. Engage, crit, comment. Review agents to query. Wait. Go back and look at that query again first. Maybe farther back, to the synopsis. (Or maybe just move on.) But do your work.

So I pulled out an old short I started months ago and made myself sit my ass in the chair and keep going, and I added about 700 words in an afternoon of writing. And I revised my last post here. I did write. Some. Didn't get back to that query yet, though.

Needing to re-engage in the aforementioned social network, I started again reading queries on the wonderful Agent Query Connect site. Most I couldn't comment on. If you don't have anything nice to say… Why oh why do new members (not all, mind you) come on board, say they've lurked and read and are so nervous about putting their work out there (who isn't?), and then prove in their first lines that they haven't done even the most basic research on query writing? There are SO many available resources and guides, and yeah, they often disagree and differ, but there are so many basics, it's amazing that these writers jump into what is a professional place only to prove their complete lack of professionalism.  

I have ranted about this onsite, and plenty of members added their comments. We want to be helpful, supportive, and AQC is all that and more. But what can you say to someone whose opener, the first line a prospective agent will see, is a run-on sentence? A hypothetical question that begs a sarcastic answer? A complete non-hook statement of theme. Telling what the book is about rather that showing enough of the main character to make a reader care and enough conflict to make said reader want to read more?

Querying rules? Discussions aplenty on them-- There are none. They're made to be broken. Stay in the mold and be mediocre. All true (usually.) But as with the craft of writing itself, first you have to know the rules, divergent as they are. Know the accepted conventions. Then make the piece your own, in your voice, in the voice of the novel. Be bold, be original.

 Does the hook have to open the query, or the genre/word count? I'm of the hook-first school, but many successful authors are not, and since I'm not among that group, I have no authority. But the importance of the first line comes home when you are reading through queries as they come in by email. By far the largest number lose me in the first line. If I were an agent, that's an instant rejection. Sometimes it's the subject. I'm not a huge YA reader, and while I was a horror movie freak as a kid, vampires to me are the Dracula type, not Edward Cullen. If I see one more opening with a teen werewolf, fallen angel, or demon, grab the barf bag. That said, grab me with a strong lead (lede) and I'll follow you anywhere. But if I see the writing itself is bad grammatically, why read on? I don't.

Pay attention to your craft, writers. Every phase of it is craft. Craft can and must be learned, or you can never be taken seriously. Even if you do learn the craft, the rough truth is you still may not be. But if you can't take the time to learn, to self-edit, to polish, there isn't much to offer you in the way of guidance. I'm no expert. We're all always still learning. Do your work. It will pay off.