Revolutions and Writing



It’s been said that the best creative writing comes from periods when political and social revolutions are happening. I suppose the drama of a revolution is a part of that, and the intellectualizing or rationale for the revolution generates situations and characters that writers can easily work with. But a quick survey of modern revolutions and their run-ups reveals different sorts of creativity.

Nothing much in the way of literature came directly out of the American revolution, but in its aftermath, as American society began to settle in, we had novelists Melville and Hawthorne, poets Whitman and Dickinson. The French revolution? Here think foremost of Hugo and Marat, who wrote their stories amid the revolution’s action. And similarly in Russia, the great writer Tolstoy. However, preceding the Soviet Union’s dismantling – a relatively gentle revolution – we have firebrand novelist Solzhenitsyn and poet Yevtushenko.


In later years, the literary medium changed. The Cuban revolution and the U.S.’s almost-revolution of the fifties and sixties brought a new form of creativity to the fore: songs. Things were happening so rapidly, in the U.S. particularly,  that songs quickly written, recorded and put on the airwaves were the best way for energy to coalesce about the day’s drama.

In South Africa, the grander literature preceded the revolution outright, in the novels of Coetzee, and Gordimer, to name a mere pair of many.

And so we see the great fertile literary periods of the twentieth century were in times of ideological change and consequent revolution. What will this century bring, with its social media and blogs – something new and as yet undeveloped?


Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

From Book To TV Series?


If you’re an avid reader (excuse the cliche, please!), you just may be familiar with Meg Wolitzer’s fine novel, The Interestings. A group of stoned kids at summer camp give themselves this title (We’re the most interesting people in this place!), and the book follows them into their adult years – their marriages, their careers, their personal ups and downs.


Now Amazon has made a pilot of this book. You can watch it for sure if you have Amazon Prime and their app for movies. As with all books turned to cinema, it’s not quite the same as the book – which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. In fact, I rather liked the pilot. The casting and acting are well done, and the screenplay mimics the book quite well. Still, it’s different; it reminds me of another movie from the eighties, Indian Summer. Same initial setting, same sort of character interplay.

Oh who am I kidding? It’s very nearly a soap opera. But then doesn’t every drama on TV strive to be one? This one deserves some attention, though. It’s smart, witty, edgy.

And another thing. Apparently you have to vote on which pilot your prefer. If The Interestings gets the most, it goes forward in production and is shown on Amazon…if you pay up and have Prime. So give it a watch. Vote. TV watchers deserve this one, even alt TV watchers who pay for Prime, like me.

Yes, It’s Me. But Who Am I?


Yes, it’s me. But who am I?

This is a tandem question sure to amuse writers, whether they write fiction or nonfiction. And not a few savvy readers will offer up a smile at this as well. I met a woman once who performed body massage work called Rolfing. She was also a decent folk singer and songwriter. Her avocation(s)? Sports and physics. Discovering all this about her, on one occasion I asked her, “Which of these is the real you?” Without batting an eye, she replied, “Oh, I enjoy all my personalities.”

I could identify with that. I worked as a structural engineer for quite a few years, meanwhile studying the philosophy of and testing my own theories of complex geometries. I’ve played guitar since the 1970s, written poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and edited the work of others in these three fields of creative writing. Not to mention an abiding interest in military history and politics.

Okay, I admit: this might sound like someone who should spend time on a shrink’s couch, or perhaps in the infamous rubber room. But the more I get to know people, the more I realize that when given the economic freedom to allow their minds to wander, virtually everyone has multiple-sided personalities. This, I think is why readers enjoy modern fiction, particularly, as well as biographies of and books of essays by popular personages. We’re all complex people, and we enjoy seeing the complexities in others.

When I first started writing fiction, I first wrote down lengthy, detailed descriptions of the characters who would people my stories. Soon I realized that bits and pieces of all of them were strands of my own personality. In fact, I began to see myself similarly to a piece of rope – you know, fibers twisted together into strands, and these strands twisted together into the rope itself. I saw my characters, then, as an un-twisting of the rope of my own personality only to discover characters hidden within.

Readers will pick up on a trait of a character here, another there, that belong to me, and remark something like this: “I get it, Bob! That Phil character in your book was really you.” This grates, I admit, because identifying Phil as me is only a (very) small part of the truth of either Phil or me.

Still, it’s simply astounding that people who read about Phil and understand that there is a connection, however tenuous, to me, recognize one of the personalities that are parts of my makeup.

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 Angst of Choices Made


Redemption is a recurring theme in modern literature. I think it’s because we moderns are more aware of choices not made as well as those made. Ah, the simple life, it hardly exists anymore, does it? At least that’s what Bernhard Schlink’s book The Weekend, (Das Wochenende) seems to say.


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.

Growing In Fiction

Writers, how many others like you do you know who resist publishing, not wanting  to see their creations criticized? Further, how many have you known who don’t want editing help, even when it’s offered at bargain basement prices, or even for free? Know anyone who won’t join a critique group because, well, no one there will see the oh, so inspired creativity there?



The only thing I can offer to writers with such fragility in them is that no piece of writing is ever perfect. Sure, you can improve, in structure, in appeal to readers, and in ideas put forth in story. Take this piece on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel. The novel in question here wasn’t perfect,but there were moments of genius, pages of inspired prose. In a sense, Fitzgerald was lucky to see this one published. But if he hadn’t listened to his peers, principally Hemingway, a subsequent and acclaimed novel, The Great Gatsby, would have been a rehash of the first, with the same flaws, and his career would’ve stalled long before it did.


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Growing Slowly Toward Literary Perfection



If you’re a writer (and you avid readers will nod at this, too), you’ve surely heard from agents or editors that you should begin a novel with six guns blazing and go higher from there. Or you have thirty pages to capture the reader’s complete attention.

Fortunately some books grow slowly, setting the table piece by piece. But to do this isn’t necessarily a condition of plot; instead, it’s more a case of how gifted the writer is.

Mischa Berlinski showed in Fieldwork that he’s just this sort of writer.


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Teaching the Law And Order Short Story/The Millions


If you’re an avid reader, you probably wonder sometimes why movies made from the best novels disappoint. Well, here’s Kevin Clouther’s rationale, and I think it’s a good one:

“Good fiction grants you sustained, nuanced entry into a character’s mind that is difficult to achieve on the screen. This is one of the reasons the best books rarely translate into transcendent films, no matter how many times studios try…”

And in a related vein, most neophyte writers are so in thrall to the visual media of TV and movies that when they take on a short story it disappoints in similar fashion. Mr. Clouther explains further in the link below.


The Millions


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