The Vanity of Not Editing

I read this article on the NY Times’ Book Review today, always seeking insights from others which might better my own writing process. To me, and to most serious writers, the value of editing is obvious. So why such an article from two successful writers? To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, because common knowledge isn’t always so commonly accepted. And that made me think of an experience I’ve had that turned such common sense inside out.

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I came across a writing group some years ago that flummoxed me. I had gone through nearly a year subject to the editing pen of one of North Carolina’s finest, Doris Betts, and then nearly three years in a creative writing curriculum at the local university – not to mention membership in various critique groups, and these had greatly improved my writing – and publications’  acceptance of it. So I thought I might have something to offer this group in the way of advice on editing.

Not so.

Amazingly, this group was suspicious of any other hands than theirs on a piece of writing. Not to make the point too sharp, they, as a group seemed to think that the first glorious dash of words across a computer screen was gospel, and that any other persons involved with their writing compromised their writing to such a degree that it would no longer be theirs. I did offer to read a few of these persons’ work and make comments – – gratis – – and two or three did warily offer up their manuscripts. What I received in return wasn’t any vestige of  acknowledgement of a thing or two that would make their writing better; instead I received snarky comments and accusations of literary violation. One elderly lady swears to this day that I didn’t even read her work.

Later, one person approached me to offer criticism on a manuscript she planned to self-publish. I gave her an outline of what I would like to do, and set an abysmally low price for doing this (I did this so that, I hoped, money wouldn’t be a factor, i.e., we could concentrate solely on the work at hand). I didn’t hear from her until months later, when at a chance meeting she told me she’d given the work to someone who would do the editing at half my price. In other words, she didn’t place value on editorial work.

What then was the reason for this group to exist? Solely to sell books.

This is a group that sold books at county fairs, restaurants, various stores, etc., their approach much as one might sell a jar of honey or a set of pot holders. Having attended a few of these affairs, I noticed that the people who bought their books did so for Aunt Bee or Granny – something to set on the mantel to make it seem that some measure of literacy lived in their place. The elderly lady mentioned above, a retired school teacher, sold a great many books, according to rumor, and because of her longstanding presence in her community had a rather long mailing list of possible buyers. Was she a resource to the writing group in that regard? No. She wouldn’t let anyone else have access to any part of her mailing list and, once again according to rumor, guarded her territory jealously.

Work from such groups hardly constitutes even a hobby. After all, even hobbiers learn and take advice. Writing is a solitary enough affair, and it’s easy enough to get lost in one’s creative juices without considering how a reader might react to pages of typos, poor grammar, awkward sentences, and poorly thought out stories. Good, discriminating editing is invaluable if one seeks to have one’s writing accepted in a literary sense and to widen one’s sphere of influence as a writer.

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.

We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile

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Tomorrow, March 16, 2015, marks the official launch of Bob’s long awaited novel, WE ARE STRONG, BUT WE ARE FRAGILE, available here, where you’ll find the exciting trailer for the book, and here.

Here’s the book description:

Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

2090 A.D. – The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with a devolved tribal society called Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past. Soon, Jonathan, Jakob’s mentor, exposes the archivist to a surprising link with Abraham, which seems to set Jakob at odds with Citadel. But when Samuel leads Jakob to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, the archivist’s preconceptions of both cultures comes crashing down. Finally, a last, fateful encounter between Jakob and Abraham lays bare human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

I know you’ll enjoy this thought provoking and exciting new book!!

Magic and Belief, Complete

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The Magic of Reality – How We Know What’s Really True, by Richard Dawkins

I picked this book from my late wife’s collection of unread books and decided to give it a try. I know a bit about the author; he’s a biologist of note, and one of a growing number of thoughtful persons claiming to be an atheist. I have my doubts, though, that his claim to non-theism would be totally true, were we to share a bottle of brandy and dig deeply into the subject. What he’s really posturing about, I think, is the need of humanity to rid itself of beliefs coming from thousands of years ago, from tribal societies who feared the world they lived within and drummed up superstitions and magical claims to buttress those fears. Too, we have had some four hundred years of dedication to reason and exploration through humanity’s increasing ability to reason, and those thinkers like Dawkins see, perhaps for somewhat valid reasons, an increasing suspicion of philosophy and science and a return to antiquated belief systems that have absolutely nothing to do with the world we live within. Perhaps what we need instead today is a more holistic pronouncement of what we know now of our world, the universe we live within and, indeed, ourselves. And so to Dawkins’ book.

From the standpoint of someone such as I, a boy schooled in the rapidly progressing scientific achievements of mid-twentieth century, a man who worked in the field of engineering using that scientific knowledge to provide for a healthier, safer humanity, a lot of what Dawkins lays out in this book is rather ho-hum. But were I to scroll down through the years to today’s twenty-somethings and early middle-agers, I fear I’d find an indifference to the last half a millennium’s achievements, largely due to the increasing pressure put on educators by politicians and those who would have future generations turn a blind eye to reason for the sake of once again promulgating control through fear.

And so Dawkins goes from chapter to chapter, giving us examples of superstitions and explanations of occurrences on earth and through the cosmos from ancient cultures, phenomena that science and reason has enabled us to understand and thereby lose our fear of them. And then, unwilling to have us take his word for things, he gives us tools to help us reason what’s true and what isn’t.

His writing is down-to-earth, not pedantic at all, although one might take the book as a whole as a trifle condescending, much as an adult would do in instructing and guiding children toward an ability to think and reason for themselves. Given all the above, though, this is a book to be read and kept in one’s library for posterity, something I shall do.
My Rating: 17 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.

How Versatile Can You Get?

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Friend David Frauenfelder has just this morning nominated me – and several other of his friends, including Lyn Fairchild Hawks and Susan Rountree for consideration, as Dave put it, “A Versatile Blogger Chain Thingie,” an attempt to recognize bloggers for their, well, versatility. And we’re supposed to tell readers some seven interesting things about ourselves before we nominate other versatile bloggers. But rest easy – i’ll be brief.

  1. I’ve had seven surgeries, and lived to tell about them.
  2. I’m left handed, but can only uses scissors with my right hand.
  3. I attended the U.S. Naval Academy – – for a while.
  4. I worked as a structural engineer for some years.
  5. I’ve lived in Japan.
  6. I’m 5′ – 8″ and I played basketball. Still have a passion for it.
  7. I wrote my first novel by rising at 4 AM and writing until time to go to work. Obviously, I went to bed early during those months.

Okay. I think I’m at the end of my food chain in this blogger chain thingie, i.e., all the blogs I read regularly have preceded me in this, but there are a couple of famous ones I MUST mention:

  1. Grumpy Old Bookman – This one is pretty much depicted by it’s name. The proprietor, 75 year-op Michael Allen, from Dorset, England, posts infrequently these days, but his posts are always interesting, and can sometimes be irreverent.
  2. The Millions – this one hardly needs my support; it’s one of the best and most widely read blogs going on books.

So there ’tis. Please, if you’re a blogger stumbling upon this, take the slender thread I proffer to continue this.

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 Yin and Yang of Writing, Publication, and Readership

If you’re a writer out there, or a practitioner of any art form, for that matter, what does success mean to you? And before we go any further, let me ask you to read this article.

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Another recent article, this one on writing, argues that publication is only a means to an end. But what is that end? It’s your readership. I believe this to be true. How many of you writers out there seek publication beyond friends, neighbors, readers of a similar perspective as yours, or from your geographical locale? Each step outward in developing a readership is valuable, so why are you content to sell to your own insular group? To people of your particular mini-culture? Or are you brave enough to take your writing to the larger audience out there, the one that doesn’t know a thing about where you-or your characters-are from, or why you and your writing matter?

But then there’s the writing itself. Is your writing compelling enough to Europeans, say, of maybe to a Japanese reading public, to have them want to read you and slaver after your next book-and the next?

So here we have two main problems writers face:

  • Is your writing good enough to attract readers from more or less alien cultures? Do your characters and your story display some thread common to readers in Poland and South Africa that will pull them in?
  • And how do you, daring writer, go about reaching these “exotic” readers? The article above recommends finding ways to plant your books in cities such as New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, that have a cross pollination of cultures, where readers aren’t so insular. The article argues that MFA programs do that, as does developing a relationship with a known writer, publicist, etc. who has those connections.

The problem is-and here the issue is having a growing readership at your disposal-that there are ways to develop your writing to be read world-wide. But those avenues don’t in all likelihood open you to a wider audience. Many teachers are writers themselves, and as I’ve found, not a few are jealous of their own audience, unwilling to share that audience with someone they might view as a competitor.

But the problem has a “Part B,” and this is my constant complaint about MFA programs, writing conferences, seminars, and the like. They may offer the brass ring of reader-laden connections, but, particularly MFA programs, they don’t offer legitimate ways to develop you as a writer. For instance, let’s talk agents: One agent may read part of your manuscript and, based on his/her connections, like/dislike certain things. Another agent may react in an opposite way.

This, then, is the state of writing, publishing, and reading these days. But so that this not be considered a rant, I’m seeing good writing in abundance these days. So there must be ways to bridge the above implacable forces.

How? Sorry, but I don’t have an answer for you. That’s because every manuscript from every writer is likely unique in style, vision, and impact on readers. Thus each must be developed and managed uniquely in a book industry that has little interest in such a unique approach.