Editor’s Corner 101.15

House of Words

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” …Lewis Carroll.

Scribe smallWhen I was a kid, aside from wanting to be a writer, part of me wanted to be an architect. To design and build houses – and castles – from the ground up. To focus on the 3-D aesthetic of what goes where and how it all fits together. As I grew up, I realized that you don’t have to build houses to focus on the elements of construction. And so today, I want to talk about literary structure, about how, as writers, we are architects with words. shot02

First, let me clarify: I am not talking about plot. Personally, I tend to be a little lukewarm about plot. But I love structure.

And at heart, structure is largely a matter of knowing – and keeping – a story’s time.

Long ago, one chilly Paleolithic evening, our storytelling ancestors sat around the hearth and talked about their day tracking woolly rhinos and dodging cave bears. And when there was a lull in the tale someone would invariably say, “What happened next?”

Such an A-to-B-to-C progression is, after all, how we live, and literature – even at its most fantastic – tends to mirror life. It is this familiarity, no matter how tenuous, which draws the reader in and lets them (us) say, “Yes! I can relate to that person/dormouse/dragon. They have elevenses before tea just like I do.” Time (1)

This is the natural flow of time, the requisite of history books, biographies, and Dickensian tomes beginning with “I was born.” Chronology. Day follows day, week follows week, year, year, in a logical progression. Just as you build a house floor to wall to roof, so you build a tale beginning to middle to end. This is the skeleton upon which we drape characters and plots, themes and lofty metaphors. Spanning an hour or a century, a linear sense of time serves as the most simple – reliable – framework for a story.

So, your foundation runs deep, load-bearing walls are in place, no holes in your roof. You have a solid structure; now, within reason, you can do most anything with it. As long as the ornamentation suits the tale, go for it. Add a tower for lofty perspective or a priest’s hole full of subplot and tangential intrigue. Paint the walls with psychedelic murals or line them with yard after yard of leather-bound books. These are the details of character and text that make fiction more than a string of events. Though remember: adding gingerbread to an intimate tale for the hell of it tends to read as just showing off. You want to enhance, not distract. cm-forbes-home-nw-corner-vista-and-park-8343-1892

You can even start having fun with time, an increasing used conceit of contemporary fiction. One of my favorite plays is Harold Pinter’s classic, “Betrayal,” which spins out across the stage from end to beginning, from good-bye to hello, last awkward look first fervid touch. And yet, as much as Pinter manipulated the presentation of events, his frame’s always solid.

Jeremy Irons, Patricia Hodge - "Betrayal"

Jeremy Irons, Patricia Hodge – “Betrayal”

Or you have something like William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” in which, without strict regard for chronological order, the Compson brothers (and Dilsey, the family cook) explore not only their relationships with each other, but also their personal relationships with time. In the end, Time takes on a character all its own, defining the Compsons as profoundly as any human connection they might have.

Leaving typical notions of chronology even further by the wayside is Julio Cortazar’s interactive lyric novel, “Hopscotch.” Escheresque in its complexity, Cortazar so fractured his temporal world that he provided reading instructions for the book – a sort of temporal GPS, if you will, lest you get lost. (If you haven’t read it, give it a shot; it’s a treat on many levels.) But even Cortazar doesn’t abandon a temporal framework entirely. It is still there, the underlying – if extreme – blueprint to his work.9780764946448_big

One last thought, strictly from an editor’s perspective. Flaws and deviations from sound structure are often easy to see and usually easy to fix. If you find yourself getting lost along your way, step back and see where you went down the wrong hallway, opened the wrong door, and backtrack to the basics.

Granted, not everyone has architectural sensibilities. If you can’t see something yourself, go to someone who can. That’s what editors are for.

OK. I’ve rambled quite enough.

For now.

Editor’s Corner 101.14

Deviling the Details

Scribe smallThose of you who visited the Editor’s Corner last week will likely think I am working in a backasswards fashion. Given that I am never quite sure what I will tackle until I set fingers a typing, I am actually surprised this doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

Be that as it may, last week I spoke about going macro and reclaiming your Big Picture. Today, I want to turn the telescope around and talk micro: the realm of detail and what particular details tell the reader. A character can have breakfast, sure. But a breakfast of corn flakes and black coffee says something very different than eggs benedict and fresh pomegranate juice. A simple suburban house tells us far less about its occupants than a Cape Cod on a corner lot with a thriving vegetable garden around back. John Cheever would certainly never settle for the former! It is the details which define our setting, our characters, their actions, and are, at times, as important as all the broad brush thematic flourishes on which we prefer to focus.

250px-Butterfly_magnification_series_collage

In short, I am talking world building via vivid detail, the “life blood,” as John Gardner said, of fiction. And though ‘world building’ is a phrase more familiar to those of us who delve into the sci-fi/fantasy genres, I believe it remains apt for all.

Caveat emptor: I, as a rule, am one of those fantasy/sci-fi folk. I stride across landscapes alien and strange even when set in the relatively familiar environs of our home world. This often requires world building of the highest order, from geography to flora and fauna. That said, not anything goes. Quite the contrary. When we world build from scratch, we can be outrageous as long as the core structure is 100% authentic and believable. Natural law must apply. We can, of course, rewrite natural law but that usually demands far more exposition than most readers will abide. Thus, the best sci-fi/fantasy is grounded in a relative degree of familiarity. Air and water and gravity are constants for life; fish – or their counterparts – swim, and dragons –or their counterparts – fly. Within such parameters, all sorts of things can happen and the more detail you give your world, the more believable it becomes; the more clearly your reader can imagine your tale.

394174_412710242122807_1287515408_n

Example:
I am currently (still – I mentioned this story a couple of weeks ago and chide myself daily for my slow progress) reediting a short story which takes place on very foreign soil, the planet Asru-Nai. Though Earthlike in terms of atmosphere and livability, there are notable distinctions. Geographically, Asru-Nai is closer to Venus, with mountains that would dwarf Everest and a shallow sea twice the size of the Pacific. The latter creates real-life problems, like massive storms and tsunamis. This requires a believable solution: the colonists must terraform a vast archipelago of barrier islands to mitigate nature’s chaos. The flora and fauna are a treat to create, though I admit I spent 2 hours today trying to find the right name for a harbor delicacy that was both unusual and demanding no explanation. Tricky that, but the sort of thing which is essential flesh on a story’s bones. (I settled on braised jawfish on a bed of fern-root.)

Now, you don’t have to travel across the cosmos to build worlds. Every detail is important. More to the point, those details we choose to include in our work – as opposed to the plethora of authorial backstory – should BE important. We are painters with words and without detail the best we can hope for are rather ill-focused monochromatic sketches. From warm skin to fairy hair, from a praying mantis waltzing through the rhododendrons to the floral sweetness of saffron in bouillabaisse, these are our tales, the colors of our palette, the building blocks of our fictive worlds.

I will try to respond to messages as I am able. At times it may be in the form of a post or a direct email response. Guests who post, I will forward messages addressed to them. It is up to them how they decide to correspond.   — Shawn MacKENZIE – MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest

Editor’s Corner: 101.1

Editor’s Corner: 101.1
Written by Shawn MacKenzie
Post Tuesday 11th November 2014

Scribe smallFrom the Outside Looking In: Read.

I was recently approached about undertaking a weekly sojourn through all things editing, and I thought, sure, why not! Of course, on second thought, I realized that much of what I do as an editor is informed by my work as a writer – even when I edit others. As such, it is internalized and occasionally idiosyncratic, certainly not the sort of thing I normally ramble on about. So, bear with me; this should be an interesting journey for all of us.  — Shawn MacKENZIE

As an activity and a passion, editing, like writing, runs the gamut from macro to micro, from broad strokes on plot and character to the minutia of comma v. semi-colon.

Personally, I think it’s best to start big – so big that you’re not even dealing with your own work. To that end, my advice for today: Read.

Read everything and anything. The classics, the paper, your favorite guilty genre pleasure. Read Chekhov for dialogue, Christie for plot, dictionaries for joy, and Shakespeare because he’s Shakespeare! Whatever strikes your fancy. Become a sponge, absorbing what works and wringing out what doesn’t. Internalize the basics of tense agreement, point of view, and active v. passive voice. I assure you, it is a hell of a lot more fun this way than sitting through a grammar class (which may teach you the rules, but not necessarily how to use them, let alone break them).

When you’re read-out, treat yourself to a clear, inspired mind: go to a museum or cafe or wildlife park. Look at art and animals and people, how they shimmer and move and connect. For it is all connected, be it words on a page or life in the world. That is the heart of our storytelling. It is not only good for the spirit, but will help you return to your words with invigorated eyes.

And then, at the end of the day, if you’re not too weary, thumb through Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for good measure.
But more on that next Tuesday.

Every Tuesday Starting Tuesday November 11th 2013 “the secret keeper” Will Be Posting Sequential Archived Posts of the “Editor’s Corner” by Shawn MacKENZIE of MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest on ‘the secret keeper’

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

I will try to respond to messages as I am able. At times it may be in the form of a post or a direct email response. Guests who post, I will forward messages addressed to them. It is up to them how they decide to correspond.   Shawn MacKENZIE - MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest

Private Moments [Pre-Epilogue]

 

“For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poet’s brain.”
~Michael Drayton~ (1563-1631)

talking serious (c) jkm 2014Talking Seriously

hands reaching out into rain

“they hear nothing”
By mt

They hear nothing
Eyes wider shut

An homage made
A mysterious end

Now evil enters
Return to stage

Know thy words
Nano particles filter in

Cinders sting the eyes
Blinding in their destruction

Consciousness altered
World of slaves

Masters return
With Unbroken chains

Never know imagination
Daydreaming thoughts

Worlds we build
Our minds now dismiss

Realness has been lost
The fantasy begins

© jkm

candle flame flickering gif

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Composer Rachmaninoff – Pianist Maksim Mrvica

garden waterfall private gazebo overgrown 4pmip&p

“Doorway to a Place of Enchantment”

“Creating is having the courage
to allow the seer into the private
moments of our imaginative lives.”

— jkm the secret keeper
aka Jennifer Kiley McCormack

black_shamrock_ribbon green reverse

* * * * * * *

(c) jennifer kiley 2014

Private Writings: Chapter #83 “THE FEAST” aka “La fête”

private writings a novel of true fantasy by jennifer kiley [shawn's 2d blue name]

“The Feast”
Private Writings #83
Written by Jennifer Kiley
Post Tuesday 14th October 2014

WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE AND CONTENT
Not Suitable For Children.
ALL CHARACTERS ARE FICTITIOUS.
Anyone Resembling Anyone Living or Dead
Is Purely Coincidental.

1 alice-down-the-rabbithole [use best one]

Crypticistic Synopsis:

private writings to dr. annie haskell psychoanalyst

I am the storyteller using imagination fantasy feelings & thoughts

to discover self soul eternal serenity & bliss

but to most importantly tell the best tale ever after upon a time.

see you down the rabbit hole.

Private Writings: Chapter #83 “THE FEAST”

Letters #83 “THE FEAST” 8th April 2009

Dear Maria,

Angela, [Angie], started to describe to all the ghosts and myself, not a ghost, what she remembered of the evening she was murdered. What the motives were. What the murder weapon was. A bite too much of something good. She heard her husband Clifford Huntington, of the New Port Huntington’s, who knows for sure. He was talking to a woman in full flirt with him. He wasn’t resisting. He told her he would be free soon to marry her. Poison was the name of the game, to go into her piece of game.

It was a terrible Movable Feast. There is much to say but I don’t want to wander. Angela belonged to the underground group publicly called WUFFDE [World Union Foundation for Doctors Everywhere]. A front. There funds helped the sick & weak unwanted in countries overseas. Barely noticeable to the World. Not really to WUFFDE either. It was a cover. They really didn’t give a shit. [tha truth stated in a song: “…”…some people were born not to help people…”]

They held a Private Party each year. The buy in was $500,000. “The Movable Feast” was the fond name they used to call it because each year “The Feast” moved to another unknown location, not even to members. Fear of being discovered. Reason, they eat endangered species of animals through their feasting.

But back to the murder. Angela thought her friends were real. Not so. They were sycophants sucking up to the succubus Clifford Huntington. He was actually having an assassin kill his wife so his hands would remain pure. Reason for the sacrifice: to earn points and lots of money and Power.

Where was the poison actually hidden, her husband, Clifford told his tramp girlfriend, it was in the main course. The server would have a special exotic rare flower on Angela’s plate. No flavor existing to detect its presence. Angela ate everything that was served her through the multi-coursed menu. From exotic animals, the Turtles from the Galapagos, turned into a form of soap, Okapi & Bonobo, both endangered of being non-existent. Did these heartless group give a shit. Of course not. Not one of them. They drank their Cristal, 1988

This Year’s Menu Galore: the Theme from the film “Babette’s Feast” blended with the theme of the jungle and barbarians.

M E N U

Theme is In the Night of the Jungle

Choice of Film Feast

Babette’s Feast

An Exotic Meal

Three Choices of Meat: Okapi (Giraffe Family but Smaller)
A Bongo & Saiga (Last Are Variety of Antelope)

Turtle soup

Puffer fish (Fugu) – sushi-mi

Crystal 1988 & 2006

Caviar – Beluga

Makers Mark; Glen Fiddich ; Aquavit ; Welsh whiskey

Grey goose ; Cognac ; Absinthe

*******

Babette’s Feast

The menu responsible for their pleasure features

“Blini Demidoff au Caviar”
(buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream);

“Potage la Tortue” (turtle soup); “

Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine”
(quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce);
[replaced with the choice of Okapi or Bonobo & prepared accordingly]

“La Salad”
featuring Belgian endive
and walnuts in a vinaigrette;
[altered to taste]

Les Fromages” featuring
Blue Cheese,
papaya,
figs,
grapes
and pineapple.

The grand finale dessert is

“Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glace”
(rum sponge cake with figs and glazed fruits).

Numerous rare wines,
including Clos de Vougeot,

various champagnes [Cristal] and spirits,
complete the menu.

Babette’s purchase of the finest china, flatware, crystal and linens with which to set the table ensures that the luxurious food and drink is served in a style worthy of Babette, who is none other than the famous former Chef of “Café Anglais”. Babette’s previous occupation has been unknown to the sisters until she confides in them after the meal.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

Not to mention the decadence and carelessness of such a menu but it disguised not only the murder of the wild creatures sacrificed but Angela was one of the rare who met her demise. And now we knew part of the picture. Huntington was a mastermind sociopath. What else was he capable of doing if her could cold bloodedly murder his wife without doing a thing except hire the assassins. There had been other attempts on Angela’s life but they never were pulled off successfully. But one murder is enough. But there were more and will be more if Huntington is not stopped.

Sylvia told me she figured out he killed her father Sidney Vincent, the film director. His people did. Her father was going to expose them in a film he was in the process of making during his off time from playing doctor. A bit bipolar was her father. It is what gave him his energy and his madness. Catherine couldn’t deal with his behavior. She turned to CH, Clifford. Yes, she had Sidney infected with the AIDS virus in a strong strain. He was dead in due course.

Sylvia had to be shut up because she found these things out after she died. Her father told her when they met up as ghosts. Those who were murdered were all coming forward. Their deaths were either deemed suicide or accidental deaths.

Madison felt she had to communicate this to the police as quickly as possible before so someone charted for death could be prevented.

What do you make of this Maria? A secret organization which arranges high profile deaths & they cover them up so deeply no one who speaks against the cause of death is believed. They are judged to be the crazy ones imagining the bizarre & weird. Everyone laughs and moves on continually.

Well, I plan on making a run at this one. Even though being in Redcliff might prejudice my case. I will have to have Scottie’s help. First by getting me out of Redcliff. It must be done. It is the only way the ghosts I have met will be set free. Released to go home or reincarnate. They may have had enough of life but maybe not.

That is enough for now. This one’s a whooper.
Night,
Madison

Ps. I am not crazy nor am I making this whole thing up. Ghosts told me the whole story. As much as they have been able to sort out on their own.

© Madison Taylor 2008

“I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person. That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame.“ — Alice Walker

Schubert – “Serenade 

5 photo of white rose with red framed in blue

“A Dream
The beginning always starts out
With a dream.
It is all a dream
In our own nightmares”
— Madison Taylor

Le Chateau de Rocher - Home to Madison & Scottie   Their Cats & daughter Alison. She has her own place on the estate

Le Chateau de Rocher – Home to Madison & Scottie
Their Cats & daughter Alison. She also has her own place on the estate

play is not just play meryl streep“Pretending is not just play.
Pretending is imagined possibility”
— Meryl Streep

So You Want To Be A Writer

a writer's word polished or raw

“So You Want To Be A Writer

Written by Charles Bukowski

Post Sunday 12th October 2014

Created by Jennifer Kiley

So You Want To Be A Writer - Charles Bukowski – Read by Tom Bedlam

“so you want to be a writer”

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

 a. comes roaring out of you dont do it bukowski on writing poster neg

Charles Bukowski on Writing

“Writing is…being fiercely alive”

a writer's word polished or raw

 “Writing is…being fiercely alive”

Written by Mary Gaitskill

Post Sunday 5th October 2014

Created by Jennifer Kiley

 

“Writing Is… Being Fiercely Alive”

“Writing is….
being able
to take
something
whole
and
fiercely alive
that exists
inside you
in some
unknowable
combination
of thought,
feeling,
physicality,
and spirit,

and to then
store
it
like a genie
in tense,
tiny
black symbols
on a
calm
white page.

If
the wrong
reader
comes across
the words,
they will
remain
just words.

But
for the right
readers,
your vision
blooms
off the page
and is
absorbed
into their
minds
like smoke,
where it will
re-form,
whole
and
alive,

fully adapted
to its new
environment.”

― Mary Gaitskill

smoke billowing black the dance crizzcrozz

Typewriter Song played by Boston Pops

[Reminiscent to the days of the battering the keys & the famous bell at the end. Time to throw the “carriage” back.]