Filling The Holes

I’m working on a sequel to my first two novels, the plot line tagging onto the first one. A number of readers had been asking for a sequel to that first novel, so I thought I’d let the central characters of both work together to solve a new mystery wrapped around an old one.

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It’s been a difficult challenge. I started, not by planning the story out ahead of the writing, but by following my nose, inventing my way as I went. Some writers might be able to pull that off easily, but I found I had quite a few holes. If I were going to give readers a fun read, I’d have to plug those holes, let ’em own their own segments of the mystery.

I’m now in my third major edit, am still finding nonessential passages – and still these holes. Will it ever be airtight? I’m confident I can make it happen, but it may take three more big-time edits.

 

Just stay cool, Bob. You can make it happen.

 

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The Unknown War

The Wind Is Not A River, by Brian Payton


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Did you know that during World War II, the Japanese actually invaded the American mainland? Neither did I until I followed up on the history Payton’s story was built around. Actually “mainland” may be a bit misleading; the Japanese invaded the two westernmost islands, Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutian chain. This story was withheld from the American public so as not to worry them unduly about the state of the war in the Pacific theater.

The story: John Easley, a Canadian journalist, cons his way onto a U.S. bomber in order to follow a story, using his brother Warren’s name and Canadian military rank. The plane is shot down, and only two on the plane survive: Easley and a young boy named Karl Bitburg the only survivors. They hole up in a cave on Attu, live on mussels and shore birds, keep warm by burning driftwood and coal they steal from the Japanese. Soon Karl is gone, leaving John to brave the frigid elements. Meanwhile, Easley’s wife, Helen, cons her way into the Aleutians in search of John, and the story alternates segments on John’s survival and Helen’s fated search for him.

This isn’t The Bridges of Madison County, and it isn’t Jack London’s To Build a Fire; it’s an inventive and nearly true story of noncombatants caught in the tangles of war. As such, Payton has dreamed up an inventive tale that keeps you wishing and hoping.
Payton has chosen to write his book in third person, present tense, a choice that can work well in short fiction, but in a novel it leaves this writer too much aware of the narrator, thus creating distance between reader and writer. There are ways to make such a structural choice work: leaving long narrative passages in that person and tense, but when closer to the characters and in dialogue, it would have worked better to switch to past tense. But still it’s a difficult choice. The book seems to have suffered from editing, too; there are a sufficient number of typographic and grammatical errors which my distract a reader.

But the book remains worthy of a read. I only wish Payton’s editorial choices had been ones to leave the novel more transparent to the reader. Then I would have declared the book a keeper.

My rating 16 of 20 stars.

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you

Sylvia Maner Nickels Casts a Writer’s Eye on Southern Life

It’s been a while since I’ve done this, but I occasionally post interviews with self-pub authors whose work strikes my fancy in one way or another. Sylvia Maner Nickels is a quiet one in person, genteel, amiable, considerate of comments she might hear in conversation, but once she lets down her hair with you, she does have rather fierce opinions on things. I recently read her latest book, Life Slices – A Medley of Musings After Three Score and More, and was charmed by her subtle wit and her ability to question her own perspectives. The book is exactly what the title implies – her opinions and insights on just about all facets of life she’s experienced. What more can I tell you about her before diving into the interview? Here’s her bio as she sees it:

 

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A Georgia native, Sylvia Maner Nickels has lived in East Tennessee for many years. Her award winning short stories have been published online and in print. She published her memoir, Eight Miles of Muddy Road in 2004, followed by a volume of short mystery stories, Best Served Cold, Revenge a la Carte. She has recently published a volume of her newspaper columns, Life Slices, a Medley of Musings after Three Score and More, and the first in a series of mystery novels set in East Tennessee, Disguise for Death. The first book in her second series, Requiem for a Party Girl, is under contract with a publisher.

Visit her website and blog to learn more about her and her writing.

 

Tell our readers a bit about yourself – your interests, important events in your life, places you’ve lived and visited, etc.

 

I was born in and grew up almost entirely in the state of Georgia. My family did twice live briefly in Alabama. When I was twenty-one I moved to Tennessee a couple of years after marrying and have lived in Tennessee since that time. My family is mostly still in Georgia and I feel a strong attachment to the state, but Tennessee is my heart home. Marriage and the birth of our daughter were life-changing high points of my life. Other high points were when my only grandson was born and later my two precious great grandsons.

The lowest point was my husband’s stroke and then death in 2011, after almost fifty-three years together.

I’m interested in many things, reading, writing, trying to understand the area, country, world I live in. As with most parents and grandparents, I worry about the world my great grandsons will live in as they grow up.

I visited New York City and Washington, DC once many years ago on my high school graduation trip, and I was fortunate enough to take a ten day tour of Israel and Rome, Italy, almost twenty years ago. I’ve visited all the Southern states, but never been west of the Mississppi River.

 

How did you come to begin writing?

 

From childhood the idea was in the back of my mind, but it was the ‘impossible dream,’ mostly. I didn’t consciously frame the thought. I loved books and read constantly. Books opened my mind to a wider world than the red-dirt farming country of my youth. In school I only wrote what was required, but my head was filled with dreams I would not commit to paper. After graduation I worked at a business in Atlanta, where I met my future husband. Always and always I read books, jotted a few things down. But not until my daughter was in high school did I seriously consider writing as something I might actually do. In the next few years I submitted a few things which were rejected, with good reason, they were bad! Only after I had taken early retirement did I have a story accepted and published. I continued to work at improving, took a short online fiction class, joined an online critique group because I did not know any other writers in my area. Other acceptances followed, online and in print.

 

“Life Slices” would seem from its subtitle to be a random series of musings, as you call them, but they’re not random. How do you see these pieces tied together?

 

The book, Life Slices, is a volume of my weekly columns for a small local newspaper, actually three papers, Kingsport Daily News, Washington County News and Scott County News, and the column is published in all three. The columns themselves are random, each week I write about whatever strikes my interest. The owner of a local indie bookstore who has been very supportive of local writers urged me to publish a book of the columns. I didn’t want to just throw a bunch of them together, though it probably would have been okay. So I read and re-read to determine several categories that a reasonable number of them might fall under. When I began the column I wanted it to be varied, not just about family or writing or nostalgia. I still do and think I’ve managed it pretty well.

 

You seem to want to identify with the South’s “redneck” culture, but these pieces clearly depict you as more than that. Can you talk a bit about the other cultural influences that “Life Slices” portray?

 

Thank you. I think! You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Don’t try to git above your raisin’,” or something to that effect. I was raised in what’s often referred to as the ‘redneck’ culture. Definitions differ, but it seems to me that the general understanding of the term, ‘rednecks,’ is ‘poor white trash’ (poor and white maybe but I dispute that most were/are trash),’uncouth’ (and some are), ‘uneducated’ (lack of opportunity, at least in my youth).

If I am ‘more than of the redneck culture,’ I submit that it’s only because I’ve had opportunities many don’t/didn’t. So maybe I’m overcompensating/identifying because of a bit of feeling unworthy of my blessings!

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint other cultural influences. Though I did not earn my college degree until later in life, I believe my wide reading interests educated me. Probably living for years in a different place than that I grew up in, interacting with people from many different walks of life through work and church activities, and now with my writing, has been a big influence in my life and the book and columns.

 

In a number of instances, your writing here is filled with irony. Did you intend this, or is this a characteristic of your makeup? Can you explain?

 

I think it is a characteristic of my makeup. At least now it is. And of my love of words, how they can express different meanings. I see irony in much that people do. I observe others, and myself, whose aspirations sometimes outstrip ability to do. I don’t think that’s a reason to give up, as we often do just before the goal would have been ours. Another ironical aspect of our human nature is that we say one thing, but our actions clearly show we believe something else. What a handicap. I want to say, ‘just be who you were meant to be.’ But most won’t hear that, so I write/say it in a way so that maybe they will see the ironic humor. Some sarcasm creeps in, but a little of that goes a long way.

 

Many of these pieces beg to be extended to include much more. Why did you decide on such short pieces?

 

You’re right. And maybe someday they will be lengthened. But, as I said, these pieces were originally a newspaper column, which I try to keep to between 300 –350 words. This has been good for me. It has reinforced my ability to more easily spot redundant words and phrases, how to keep to the point and not ramble all over the place.

 

How has your writing evolved over the years? What, as you see it, are your strong points, the points you’re working on to make stronger?

 

I’m convinced that new writers realize that their writing must reflect themselves to an extent, and they resist it. So the writing is stilted and wooden and not very interesting. I know mine was. I believe my writing has become more honest over the years, even in my fiction, which doesn’t sound reasonable, but I think it is. And that is one area I’m working on to make even stronger. For most of my life I was too shy to say ‘boo to a goose.’ The growth in strength of my writing probably parallels my gradual overcoming of that handicap.

 

I know you write fiction as well as personal essays. How do you see writing such essays as different from writing fiction?

 

Personal essays by their nature are more openly about the writer. Even if the writer is not the main subject, his or her thoughts, beliefs, etc., color the writing. Many writers, myself included again, start out with essays, and get cold feet about submitting them anywhere when they realize, subconsciously, how they have exposed themselves. We use all manner of excuses, ‘it’s not good enough yet,’ ‘need more information,’ ‘more editing,’ on and on. My motto finally became ‘Just do it.’

 

Do you have a project in the works now? Can you tell us about it?

 

I’m so glad you asked! I actually have two series of books in mystery fiction going. The first book in one series, Requiem for a Party Girl, is under contract with a publisher, Oconee Spirit Press, release date unknown to me yet.

I recently published the first book in the other series, Disguise for Death, through CreateSpace. It and my other books, Life Slices, a Medley of Musings after Three Score and More, Eight Miles of Muddy Road, a small romance book, Love Comes Home, are available from online retailers, in print and ebook, and may be ordered through bookstores or myself. A tiny volume of flash fiction, Just Deserts, is available only as an ebook.

 

 

How Do You Keep Your Writing Unique?

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This post is celebrating a new and eminently deserved day of recognition: International Authors’ Day! And if you’re the fifth person to send me an email from my website, you’ll win an e-book copy of my novella, The Blue Bicycle.

 

We all have our favorite writers. Personally, my greatest influences have been some of the earlier writers of the Twentieth Century: Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Sylvia Plath. And so when I began to write I did so in the style of Hemingway and his muscular prose. I tried to conjure up unforgettable characters such as Steinbeck’s. And I sought to evoke Plath’s moods. We all begin by mimicking our greatest writers, but don’t let imitation go too far. Agents and authors are constantly looking for a new twist to old stories. A groundbreaking writing style. A voice so vivid that only you can own it.

Some of this simply comes from writing, writing, writing. Being tutored by the most capable of writing instructors. Workshopping your writing time after time until it shines. But in the end, you can’t rely on imitation or instruction in order to keep your writing unique. If you’re to gain a wide readership, readers must be entertained and provoked by your writing, and they will ultimately want to see the true “you” in your stories and books.

So how do you keep your writing uniquely you? You have a life experience that no one else has. You’ve fought in a war and gained new insight into its damage, its challenges. You’ve survived a difficult childhood, or poverty, or lost love, or even the burdens of riches. What’s unique in any of these things is you, how you dealt with them. Using your unique perspective on such life experience, reach deep for something universal, something common to all people. This is what readers will want from you: to see how your characters have overcome obstacles. But whether your readers know it or not, they’ll want you to strike a chord in their own lives; they’ll want to believe the TRUTH of what you’re writing, and perhaps apply it to their own lives.

So look outward. Take in all the drama happening around you. You’ll discover that each person you meet will seem a universe of his or her own. Feel the wind blow, the seasons change, experience the ups and downs of life as they happen to you and to those around you, whether they involve you or not.

Then look inward. Digest all this outward experience, the world of the senses you live within. Stories will come, and they’ll be uniquely yours. Learn how to tell them; give the reader what he or she wants: an experience of life in the parallel universes you’ve created, ones they can be inspired by, can learn from. Stories they’ll know came from you. Only you.

 

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Kudos to Debdatta for organizing this blog hop and for encouraging the celebration of writers, their value to society and to each of us as readers. Please link back to thank Debdatta for doing this.

The Writer’s Eternal Quandary

Are the best writers those who simply live a detached life, perhaps, always observing the world and its people, or are they the ones who live life to the max? Is the best situation for a writer to live day to day, royalty check to royalty check? Or to have a parallel career track, such as teaching?

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Roberto Bolano chose the life fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse lifestyle. In the process, though, he reared children and left a body of work that defies genre, that is inventive and nakedly observant.

The answer to the writer’s quandary? Make the best of the life you fall into, I suppose.

 

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

The Moving Picture of Ethics in Literature

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I think Leo Tolstoy had a hard time with ethics in his culture, particularly in his day, when the socio-political ground was shifting, much as it is today. A devout Christian, he found himself excommunicated for saying that one should gain one’s guidance from within, not from the Russian Orthodox Church, and for likening the church’s rituals and theology to witchcraft.

I’m tempted at this point to write a rant about the rigidity, the inability of all religions to mirror the best practices of human culture, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I think Tolstoy had it exactly right.

He was forced to turn to literature to depict in real life-like characters and stories how the Russian people spontaneously act by ethical rules, which are largely adapted to the minute, the specific cases, of human drama.

The book of his linked above, Hadji Murat, as relevant a story of the interactions of Islamic and Christian cultures as could be written today, is a shining example of how a deep study of the best of literature brings to life the malleability of true human ethics. Literature is also a moving picture of how literature, particularly the novel, has become the ethical device for human interaction, something literature has taken on by default because of the intransigence of religion in promoting ethics as the world continues to change.

 

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.