I’ll Be (Writing) for Christmas
Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
The holiday season brings a lot with it. Presents, pie, turkey, presents. I like presents, always have. Not just receiving them, though when I was a kid, that was the absolute pinnacle. I also like to give, which is why in this month’s Pep Talk, I’m giving the gift of solace, a little thing called the holiday writer’s blues, or as you might know it in the common tongue, loneliness.
It creeps up on us when we least expect it. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving. Like a perfect trifecta of sadness and stress, unbidden yet punctual, the same time every year, and it can be a bummer for people who don’t have anyone special in their lives. Most fortunately, and thank God this is the case, I’ve never had to be alone for the holidays. I’ve got a very loving family, a loving wife, but even so, there have been occasions when I’ve had to do the one thing I don’t want to do when everyone else is decking the halls, drinking eggnog, and crushing into department stores to return those awful socks.
Writing is both a noun and a verb, and so, it turns out, is the word writer. If you consider yourself a writer in the subjective sense, you are perhaps the thing not doing the thing, potential energy instead of energy realized. In the active sense, though, you’re a writer who is, you know, as energized as a red-nosed reindeer. Regularly, it is to be hoped. If you follow the Pep Talk, you’re familiar with my attitude toward cutting yourself a break and taking time away from the craft whenever you need it. I hate seeing writers burn out, and I’ve seen it a lot.
If for the holidays you find you have to put the laptop down and decompress after a long year of hard work, I say go for it, no shame necessary. In fact, if a writer feels the need to take months or even years off, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. We practice a unique and distinguished artform, one which engages the intellect as well as the emotional center. Sometimes you need to feed your creative engine rather than letting it burn, and burn, and burn. If you can do that comfortably, while at the same time allowing yourself the freedom to recognize your desire to write is safe and sound right where you left it, then to my mind you really have the best of both worlds, because you’re the writer who writes, but only when your mind and emotions are strong, fresh, and ready enough to make it possible.
But sometimes we’ve got to work on Christmas, right? Or on any other holiday. If there’s one thing young writers learn pretty quickly, it’s that solitude is essential to the craft. But it can in fact get lonesome. Especially during a time of year traditionally reserved for friends and loved ones. So how do we work when all we really want to do is socialize and rest? How do we keep those words flowing, locked up in our writing spaces with the door closed, about as merry as a stocking full of coal?
It comes down to this: ambition is costly, and sometimes, we must choose our dreams over our immediate desires. Again, if you’re seriously in need of a break, I say take one. In any other case, though, it’s for the best if you can produce every day, or damn near every day. This season is meant to be about love and a deeper kind of appreciation. So appreciate yourself properly. Follow your dreams whenever you can, as steadfast and as boldly as you can, because to do the opposite cultivates regret. I hate regret. It’s like opening a big box with a big bow only to find novelty gas relief pills inside. I did that to my brother one Christmas, by the way. He laughed. Sort of.
The most basic thing to provide yourself, not just in the month of December, but throughout the whole year, is a daily word count limit. Now, it may seem prudent to make that limit high. A lot of writers like to do a bare minimum 2,000 words per day. That’s a great habit to get into if you can manage it, but in the long run, depending on your proclivity for exhaustion, it might turn into a liability. For the holiday season, at least, I’d recommend dropping your daily word count goal to something more manageable.
For instance, in my general daily habit, I’ve started writing a scant 430 words per day. That’s nothing, a half-hour commitment at most. But at that pace, I can lay down just over 3,000 words per week, which works out to almost 157,000 words per year. Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a pretty good sum total. In other words, you could literally write two whole standard-length novels in a year if you write for just a half an hour every single day.
Now in terms of the holidays, an easy half-hour commitment allows you to enjoy the festivities and skip the Quasimodo act. Sanctuary! Sanctuary! You could even fit in some revisions or edits between that first football game and the precise hour and minute your uncle starts snoring on the couch. The other good news with such a low word count goal is that it’s common to overshoot the target, which means in a year’s time, you’ll have written far beyond that 157,000 word benchmark. If it suits your needs, just pull back a little. You can still be productive, be the writer doing the writing, the thing doing the thing, without behaving like a hermit.
I can offer another piece of advice here, ironically the exact opposite of what I’ve told you thus far. I know, that tricksy Bowles and his tricksy ways. Yet this might help you deal with unavoidable loneliness directly. I’m not the first guy to suggest it, and I sort of wish it weren’t the case, but it’s possible the only way to combat the holiday blues is to work even harder than you normally do.
Now I wouldn’t recommend this for someone with a lot of family obligations, but look, workaholism is a thing because it actually can be effective on some basic emotional level. To paraphrase the Christian aphorism, idle hands (occasionally) do the work of loneliness. Sometimes it does no good to stay stuck in your head. Maybe try expressing yourself and your feelings on the page. Pour that pent-up stuff into whatever you’re working on, and don’t be afraid to get real about it. As Ernest Hemingway said, writing isn’t hard. What you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed. Now, I’m not suggesting you bleed all over your nice, brand-new, Santa’s workshop custom Dell notebook, but look, people choose to soothe themselves in a lot of ways, some of which are pretty unhealthy. Writing a whole bunch? It’s not the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Loneliness sucks. So if you’re doing it to yourself by working too hard, or conversely, if you don’t have a choice about it because at this point in your life, you really do feel alone, adjusting your regular work routine may be the ticket to feeling a bit more jolly this season. Don’t overdo it. That’s all I ask. Look after yourself first and foremost. I really do mean that. And don’t forget that nice shiny sense of pride and fulfillment. This is a high calling, after all. Maybe not as high as buying Jeff Bowles some presents, but you know, pretty high.
By the way, that’s:
1234 Nowhere Street
Care of the Grinch living on top of the mountain
All right, everyone. Thanks for reading, and Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Now for some John Lennon! War is over, if you want it. The war within yourself, that is. Cheers!
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In November we’ve been seeking out children’s and young adult fiction on Writing to be Read. There are a few differences in writing for our younger readers from writing for adults. As authors, we are in a position to shape young minds, and that’s a big responsibility.
Fiction for adults relies on our words to paint a visual image for the reader, but stories for beginning readers rely heavily on illustrations to enhance our words for youngsters. Authors who have the ability to illustrate their own books may be at an advantage, because illustrations can be a sizable expense for authors like myself, who do not possess such abilities. (Long time Writing to be Read followers may be aware that I once tried to have the first book in the My Backyard Friends series published, but a halt was put on the project after a five year publication process, when the arrangement for illustrations fell through. So, I speak of this added obstacle for children’s authors first hand.)
My interview with author and artist Judy Mastrangelo talks about her Portal to the Land of Fae series and her other works, and shares several of the author’s bright and colorful illustrations. I found her work to be delightful in both text and illustrations in my review of Flower Fairies, and I’ve no doubt that her stories are enjoyed by both young and old.
Young adult authors are faced with a different dilemma, because the audience they write for still have the curiosity of children, but they are beginning to deal with adult issues in their lives, although they are not yet adults either. Controversial topics must be handled with sensitivity and finesse, because the Y.A. critics can be relentless, as is illustrated in this NY Times article about Y.A. author Amélie Wen Zhao.
On Writing to be Read, we looked at how Y.A. fantasy and science fiction author Carol Riggs deals with issues that might be frightening for adolescents in her Junction 2020 series on “Chatting with the Pros“, and saw how Jordan Elizabeth handles a dark fantasy story which deals with the controversial and often taboo topics of teen suicide, cutting, and depression in my review of Tabitha’s Death. Jordan also talks about the inspiration behind her fantasy novel, The Goat Children, which deals with the issue of Alzhiemer’s disease, on “Writing for a Y.A. Audience“.
Also in November, Robbie Cheadle also looked at the pros and cons of classic vs. contemporary children’s fiction on “Growing Bookworms“, and Jeff Bowles took a look at Disney’s new video streaming service, Disney+, on “Jeff’s Movie Reviews“, where we can find all the great tales of the Disney classics. What a great way to introduce our children to them, (or just re-watch them ourselves to indulge our own inner children).
In addition, we said goodbye to a great author, who was known and loved in the online writing communities in my “Tribute to Tom Johnson“. Tom was originally a pulp and science fiction author, but in recent years, he’s been writing children’s stories for the Wire Dog story collections. He will be greatly missed.
November has been a great month and we’ve explored a lot of children’s and young adult fiction. I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as much as I have. There is no theme for December, as I’m taking this time to breathe before the next round. I’ll be updating you about the changes that will be coming for 2020 on Writing to be Read, reviewing a couple of books which didn’t fit under this year’s themes, and throwing in a few surprises. I do hope you’ll all drop by and check it out.
Arthur Rosch Copyright 2019
A Guest At The Eternal Passover Seder
“Avraham, give our guest some more gefilte fish.” Mother Rachel spoke in Yiddish and gestured towards the man seated at the place of honor on the long holiday table.
Evidently the man couldn’t speak. His eyes bulged from his head, his arms went this way and that. Some hidden force seemed to glue him to his chair so that he could not even rise.
“He looks funny,” Avraham, eldest son, tried to conceal a giggle. The man was indeed a comical figure. His little mustache, his hair combed over his forehead, these were unusual accoutrements at the Eternal Seder. In the Spirit World the Eternal Seder was just that, an unending celebration of Passover. It occupied an archetypal place in the Cosmic Order.
“Why is he doing that?” asked Sipporah, younger daughter. The guest was thrusting his right arm out, almost straight, but bending and sagging from the fatigue of eons of attempting this salute.
“It’s supposed to mean Victory,” Zeyda Moishe said skeptically.
“I think he is perhaps deluded,” Baba Zifnah decided. “Don’t let him spoil the Seder.”
“There is always a guest at Seder,” said Cousin Frankl. “They are not always so unpleasant.”
The candles glistened, filling the chamber with soft light. More light, soft but differently colored, emanated from the spacious double windows.
“It is our tradition to welcome everyone, from all the Worlds and Spheres,” Mother Rachel declared. “Even the Hell Worlds.”
“Do you think he’s from one of those?” little Micah interjected with excitement. His eyes gleamed with ghoulish fascination.
“It is not ours to judge.” Zeydah Moishe said. “Sins are put aside during Passover. That is the whole point. The Angel Of Darkness passes over our house.”
There was a sound entering the chamber, a sound as of a colossal wagon loaded with tons of lead. It groaned with a sound so deep that most of it was felt rather than heard. Shadows covered the windows. The light was attenuated. Little Gavril, the toddler cousin, rose with curiosity to look out.
“Don’t!” commanded Mother Rachel. “Sit down! Our Guest’s crimes are rolling past our house. Praise God they don’t stop here.”
The grinding sound continued as if forever. Sledges pulled by immense demon-steeds yanked them forward a bit at a time. At last peace was restored. The Guest seemed to sag. It was possible to see a hint of remorse in his countenance. Then he straightened and attempted his rigid arm-salute.
“I thought for a moment that he might regret his crimes,” said Sipporah.
“For a moment, perhaps.” Zeyda Moishe replied. “But look: he is again celebrating his imaginary victory.”
“Too bad.” Baba Zifnah commented quietly.
“Without regret, without an accounting,” said Zeyha Moishe, “Crimes cannot be forgiven. It will take this one some time. Perhaps twenty eons, perhaps a thousand. Regret and remorse will come to him, but not for a very long time. Let us say a special prayer for his soul.”
Those at the Seder, all but the one who glared impotently, bowed their heads and began the traditional benediction. “Baruch Atah,” they intoned, “Blessed Be You.”
This is the time of year when we count our blessings and give thanks for the people and things that enhance our lives. There are many things for which I am thankful for, which I’d like to share with you here.
My flash fiction story, “The Haunting of Carol’s Woods” came out in Dan Alatorre’s horror anthology, Nightmareland. This anthology is book three in Dan’s The Box Under the Bed series and it is a #1 bestseller! This book is a must for horror fans with 23 stories from 14 different authors, and I am thankful to be one of them.
Another short story, “The Woman in the Water” appears in the first ever WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers of the Past. This anthology includes eight paranormal stories from six seasoned authors, including the winning story from the 2019 WordCrafter Paranormal Short Fiction Contest, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Known”, by Jeff Bowles. I am thankful for WordCrafter‘s success in publishing its first book, and I’m looking forward to next year’s short fiction contest. I’ll be announcing the theme and guidelines for the 2020 contest next month, so watch for it.
Dusty Saddle Publishing has graciously offered to republish a re-edited edition of Delilah with new front and back matter, including recommendations from noted western authors. I’m told that the re-release date is January 13th, so about that I’m both thankful and excited.
Of course, there is the launching of WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services to be thankful for, as well. It’s off to a slow start, but honestly, with all the life events and obligations that have been keeping me busy lately, perhaps that is a good thing. You may be aware that I lost two lifetime canine companions this past summer, and now, the unexpected death of a loved brother-in-law. These events have knocked me off course more than once, but I have no doubt that WordCrafter will take off at full speed in 2020. Drop by and check out WordCrafter Quality Writing & Author Services to see what WordCrafter can do for you.
I am extremely thankful for the Writing to be Read team members and the contributions that they make to WtbR, and all the Writing to be Read authors who have so graciously shared with my readers this past year. (The “Chatting with the Pros” series has been quite successful and in October we even had two segments. My “CwtP” author guests included women’s fiction author Barbara Chapaitis, non-fiction author Mark Shaw, western author Scott Harris, thriller author John Nicholl, crime fiction author Jenifer Ruff, mystery author Gilly Macmillan, Christian fiction author Angela Hunt, horror and dark fiction authors Paul Kane and Jeffrey J. Mariott, and young adult author Carol Riggs. (There were at least as many authors who offered supporting interviews, too.) And one more thing which I am thankful for is you, my readers. Without you all, and all of those mentioned or alluded to above, Writing to be Read wouldn’t be what it is today. So, my gratitude goes out to all of you.
It’s been a pretty great year and I am indeed thankful. Now you know some of the things that I am thankful for as this holiday season comes round. So, now I invite you to share what you are thankful for in the comments.
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Where Does Poetry Come From?
I keep inquiring into the nature of poetry: where does it come from? It’s a question that opens a lot of introspection into the nature of literature itself. Poetry is the ultimate ancestor of literature. There was the spoken word, the saga, told around fires surrounded by rapt listeners. Poetry came from the telling of heroic stories. Beowulf, the Eddas, the Greek epics, the Chaldean cycles. We’ve come a long way from the spoken word, the recitals that spawned the invention of text itself. People cared enough about the preservation of their cultural history that they made the effort to write it down. Ancient stories survived the eons, so that we still have them, we still can read The Odyssey or learn about the trials of Gilgamesh. In truth these long recitals are almost unbearable in the real world but they are like artifacts in museums. We have them. We can reach into their labyrinths and return with answers to questions that we must always ask. Why are we here? What are we doing?
Poetry is the literary equivalent of cave drawing. Mankind, many thousands of years ago, felt the impulse to make an artistic statement, whether it be for a ritual gathering of game animals or to praise the gods for their benevolence. We are still, when we write poetry, drawing on cave walls. We are traveling backward in time to re-enact the original creative impulse. What came first, I wonder? Did poetic recitation pre-date the drawing on cave walls. Or did they come at the same time? I wonder what anthropologist will research that question and tell us about the history of art. All of this speculation is to invoke the origin of Art itself. Poetry has changed with the human race. We are not the same people who told and re-told The Odyssey. We are modern people with a modern poetry, a poetry that has become more free as we re-invent the structures of literature.
We must ask another important question, one that I will address in a later essay. What does poetry do? We must break this down into two parts. What does it do for the poet? What does it do for its audience?
The poet writes to express his or her state of being. It may be emotional, intellectual or both. A poet, however, usually needs fire to lure an audience, so poetry begins in the emotions, where the fire lives. There are three things that literature needs to provide in order to attract an audience: information, inspiration, and entertainment. Who will listen to poetry if it’s not entertaining? Many are the yawns I’ve seen at poetry readings, glances at the wristwatch, restless fidgeting. Entertain us, poet! Or go home, get off the stage.
I’m rushed this month. We’re moving into a house, a beautiful house!
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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Get Some Mouse In Your House
by Jeff Bowles
In the future, all forms of video entertainment will be called “Disneys”. I’m sure of it. Saw it in an old sci-fi movie once, and with the release of the brand-new video streaming platform Disney+, the House of Mouse is one step closer to future dystopian entertainment dominance.
Disney+ puts together an admirable and alluring package. But only if you’re a Disney fan. More or less, that’s the dividing line of the whole experience. Featuring many of the best films, shorts, and television series the company has ever produced or co-produced, the platform attempts to appeal to a wide swath of the general video-viewing population, which is to say, anyone who grew up with Disney. Which is more or less everyone living on the planet today.
Ubiquity serves the company well, of course, but it seems Disney isn’t taking anything for granted. For a startup streaming service, Disney+ offers an impressive cross-section of an almost century-long legacy of family-friendly entertainment. Boot it up for the first time, and you’ll find stuff going all the way back to 1928. Steamboat Willie, Snow White and Seven Dwarves, Old Yeller, Pete’s Dragon, Tron, The Little Mermaid, it’s all there. And if you happen to be an adult of the nerdy persuasion, the platform also leverages Disney’s recent acquisitions of Marvel, Lucasfilm, and to a lesser extent, 20th Century Fox. Right on the home screen, a set of helpful studio icons cuts out the middle man and gets you right to the saber swinging and web-slinging. They even have their own animations. Look! The Marvel icon plays that verbose movie intro we love so much! Hurrah!
Perhaps most amazingly of all, the price point is a good deal lower than other competing streaming services. For seven bucks, you get all this and more. It should give Netflix, Apple, and Amazon a run for their money, though Disney owns Hulu now, which I guess means they get to keep all their commercial-interrupted, cut-for-television Avengers movies. Hurrah?
Evidently, Disney+ is a big hit already. Not two weeks after launch and Disney has declared 10 million initial subscribers. Disney stocks have gone through the roof, and every major media outlet seems to have reported on it. It’s good news for a company that’s had plenty of ups and downs in recent decades. And it’s good for the consumer, too. Sure, the dream of non-segmented television services may be dead, but the golden age of digital entertainment surges on. Disney, in all its varied manifestations, has a lot to do with the direction Hollywood has taken in this regard.
Only thing is, some people don’t like Disney very much, and their reasons for not doing so are valid. Even in light of its impressive legacy, the entertainment giant has taken a beating now and then for cultural insensitivity, outdated gender politics, racial stereotyping, and if you’re a storyteller of any kind (like most people here on Writing to Be Read), pretty dull and repetitive cookie-cutter narratives.
There are some elements of the initial lineup—particularly a few of the older films—that stand out as uniquely offensive by modern standards. Even something seemingly innocuous like 1953’s Peter Pan contains elements that are, put simply, shockingly racist. Disney has added a short disclaimer to certain movies that suggests they understand their own culpability in this, but the disclaimer’s bare language may not go far enough for some. Unfortunately for Disney, it’s hard to embrace the beloved past without acknowledging there may be skeletons in the closet.
But it can’t be all bad, right? The good outweighs the bad? Right? Right? Ah, for Goofy’s sake, what about all the Marvel and Star Wars! And all the Lion King and the Aladdin and the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Fantasia and the… and the…
See how quickly that escalates?
Interestingly enough, Disney has really thrown themselves a little consumer party here. Some of the heaviest hitters in Disney+’s lineup are in full 4K HDR resolution, which is kind of mind-blowing considering Netflix charges more than twice as much for the same feature. To go back to Star Wars and Marvel for a moment, every single film in both catalogues is in ultra high definition. If you were to buy 4K blu-rays of the same movies, they’d run you thirty bucks a pop. Here’s another little secret. The original Star Wars trilogy has been covertly remastered and released on Disney+ before fans are even able to purchase it on disc. That’s a huge deal if you love the series… and if you can afford a 4K TV.
This serves to illustrate the odd dichotomy that defines Disney+. At the same time cheap and built for people with at least a little money, simultaneously as warmhearted and as calculated as anything else they’ve ever made. The basic user interface is fine, colorful and user-friendly, with additional improvements forthcoming. Designed by the same people who built the Netflix interface, it bears many commonalities to the much older platform, including the constant inability to find what you need at the exact moment you need it.
Would it kill you to stop recommending me The Mandalorian? I’m already watching it for cripes sake! He’s a more enthusiastic version of Boba Fett with a Force-using green infant as a sidekick. #BabyYoda – you’ll know what I mean when you see him.
If you’re a fan of Disney and all the many properties they own or co-produce, I do believe you won’t be disappointed in the service. It houses, after all, a pretty large assortment of movies and shows that are easy to digest and generally satisfying. And to tell you the truth, it’s way too cheap for what it offers. Look for them to jack up the price at some point, I’m sure, but for now it’s kind of a no-brainer. If you’re into this sort of thing.
Jeff’s Movie reviews gives Disney+ an 8 out of 10. Now where are my Mickey ears? Who’s got two thumbs and hasn’t seen Fantasia 2000 in exactly nineteen years? This guy!
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