Who’s Got the Power?

whos got power
 
A week ago today, I helped staff a Hanover Safe Place information table at an Ashland event. I was reminded that relationships are crucial to a person’s health and well-being—whether that person is real or fictional. Today I’m starting a series of blogs on relationships. I’ve written about relationships before from various angles, but they are worth revisiting.
whos got power
I’ll start with good two-person relationships. Although much of this is phrased for intimate partner relationships, it applies to other close relationships as well (e.g., family, best friends). 
 
As illustrated in the wheel above, good, healthy relationships are based on equality and nonviolence. They include

 

  • negotiation and fairness
  • non-threatening behavior
  • respect
  • trust and support
  • honesty and accountability
  • economic partnership (regardless of who has the money)
  • shared responsibility
  • responsible parenting

 

Note to writers: Too often fictional characters are presented in idealized (and clichéd) relationships based on physical characteristics and/or sexual appeal. Make your good relationships richer along the above dimensions.
 
whos got power
 
Various elements in the power and control wheel apply across types of domination, whether physical, sexual, or otherwise, and across settings (e.g., in the family, workplace, church, or community). These methods include

 

  • using intimidation
  • using emotional abuse
  • using isolation
  • minimizing, denying, and blaming
  • using coercion and threats
  • using economic abuse
  • using male privilege
  • using children

 

Note to writers: The examples presented in each of these categories are especially helpful in making your villains realistic—and varied!
 
As the historian and moralist Lord Acton said as long ago as 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 

And one more note: it is a maxim of social psychology that the person who cares the least has the most power. Think about it!

Check Out These Online Literary Magazines

check online literary magazines

Summer is a big season for literary magazines to publish big work. Many publications take submissions in the spring and fall, and post their issues in the summer and winter. That being said, so many great literary magazines have put out new issues this season. Here are just a few:

What are your favorite online literary magazines? If you’re an author, what have been your favorite publications to send submissions?

If you’re interested in submitting to literary magazines, check out The Review Review‘s suggestions for writers working on submissions.

How Do You Read Now?

how read now
A friend sent me an excerpt from this article by Adam Kirsch, published August 3, 2018. Does this apply to you?
 
“Another way of putting it is that when Americans read, we mostly read for story, not for style. We want to know what happens next, and not to be slowed down by writing that calls attention to itself. According to one familiar indictment of modern literature, today’s literary writers are unpopular precisely because they have lost interest in telling stories and become obsessed with technique. In the 20th century, this argument goes, literature became esoteric, self-regarding and difficult, losing both the storytelling power and the mass readership that writers like Balzac, Dickens and Twain had enjoyed.”

 

Do you agree? Why or why not? Let me know, please.

When Less is More

When Less is More
I love this list, even though I now have no idea where I came across it. It beautifully illustrates the value of getting rid of flabby modifiers. “Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger.

 

Closely related to this is adding modifiers to terms that have specific meanings. Consider these impossibilities:
  • very unique
  • fast/slow minute
  • quick second
Another search—one that must be done by you or your beta reader—is eliminating unnecessary modifiers. One version of this is linking two words where one would do. For example:
  • tiny little
  • great big
  • quick glance
  • slow saunter
  • quiet whisper
  • loud shout
  • low mumble/mutter
  • loud scream
Other red flag words/phrases are those that pull back or even deny the meaning weakening what’s being asserted. Examples here include:
  • somewhat
  • sort of
If something is somewhat clean, what does that mean? If something is sort of pretty, what should the reader see?

 

These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!

 

Nimrod Hall: Something for Everyone

I go to Nimrod for the the summer arts program for writers. Hence, much of my appreciation is based on the writing time, the individual consultation, the group critique, the opportunity to read my work and hear others. Writers working with both Cathryn Hankla and Charlotte Morgan (this year’s writers in residence) gave rave reviews to everything related to the writing support and advice.

 

This year, there were two opportunities for writers to read plays (or parts thereof) by two fellow writers. Fun experiences, though I doubt they really did justice to the work being read.

 

nimrod hall

But no matter how many hours are spent butt-in-chair, there is always time to experience the place. I took lots of pix of bits and pieces around the buildings and grounds that I find charming—many of which I’ve posted on Facebook during the past week, but not all by any means. E.g., these heads I call family.

 

And then some of my other indoor favorites:

 

Outside, I tend to focus on blooms—most of these pictures snapped along the roadside and mowed walkways.
 
There are fine o-l-d trees dotted around and about. They have a beauty all their own.

 

And then there is the allure of water. Here I’m sharing not only my pictures but also some taken by other writers. (I’m not the only person drawn to water. Note the picture of writers tubing down the Cowpasture River!)

 

Some people especially appreciate the big picture of our location, and atmosphere.
And then there is the fauna. Most years I see rabbits, but I didn’t get a picture this year. Think any size! (A few of these were taken on day trips near Nimrod)

 

And speaking of places near Nimrod:  often people go off in  twos, threes, or fours to enjoy a break with others who are free at the same time and of the same mind.This year, those off-site trips included kayaking at nearby state/national parks and my visit to a National Champion sycamore tree.

 

BOTTOM LINE: The writing program at Nimrod is incredible. It’s an opportunity to focus on writing in the midst of supportive writers and mentors. It allows for breaks to enjoy the surroundings and reset for refocusing. Incredible people. Incredible bonding. Incredible creativity. And some bonds will last beyond the time there.

 

nimrod hall

Waiting

waiting
My Nimrod week this year has included much more waiting than usual.  The usual includes waiting for morning coffee and three abundant meals a day.

 

The usual includes waiting for afternoon conferences and workshops and evening readings.
Some years—including this one—it’s not unusual to wait for the rain to stop.

 

virginia weather
Because I’ve been technologically impaired this week I’ve spent a lot of time reading and pondering. And I’ve spent a lot more time than usual waiting for the dedicated writing time to be over so I could socialize, or play, or just relax.

 

But the best wait of all was a couple of hours Thursday morning. I’d heard rumors that a quiet, polite young man who is working in the dining hall this summer can perform computer magic. And he did so for me! He came over after DR cleanup and unlocked my documents!
waiting
So now I no longer have to wait to go home, to spend hours in the Apple Store waiting for a seat at the Genius Bar. I no longer have to wait to write!

 

waiting

Surviving Technology Dependence

Surviving Technology Dependence

So, I’m here at Nimrod for the week, and it is gorgeous as ever in spite of the daily showers and thunderstorms. I arrived with great optimism and enthusiasm for the days ahead. And then it all went to hell in a handcart.

Surviving Technology Dependence

First my printer wouldn’t print. It signaled low ink so I replaced the cartridge, and still it won’t print. Yesterday was my day to be “on”–i.e., have the conference with Cathy Hankla (writer in residence), followed by group critique, followed by reading to the group after dinner (not the work that had been critiqued). I was disgruntled about the printer, but I’d brought copies of all my work for critique and I figured I could do my evening reading from the screen.

Surviving Technology Dependence

I spent yesterday morning reworking my 1,000-word piece. My computer started frustrating me. I’d have the document up and all of a sudden– and frequently– the screen image would go from 125% to 100%, 73%, 50%, 27%… but I persevered and was pleased with the results. I saved it before going to lunch. And after lunch, the document wouldn’t open. I got a message that the required index.xml was missing– whatever the h*ll that means! So I tried to get online help, ended up spending more than an hour and $44 with no apparent effect, so I cut that off and pondered what in the world I’d do about my reading.

Surviving Technology Dependence

I ended up reading a timed writing. I had done that for my fiction class earlier this summer. It wasn’t great, but it was well-received.

So last night, I was reviewing the day and decided that whatever else, my conference and workshop had been great! I’d submitted “The Doll’ and the first draft of a short story murder mystery set during the Civil War at Chimborazo Hospital. Cathy concluded that both pieces shared the same strengths and weaknesses. And BTW, both dealt with amputations and body integrity– which was not a thought that had crossed my mind! The group’s appreciations, trouble spots, and suggestions are going to be extremely helpful with re-writes.

Surviving Technology Dependence

Participants send work to Cathy ahead of time and one of the things she does is bring in books with marked passages she thinks will be helpful to each participant. She recommended a section of Steering the Craft for me. Coincidentally, I’d brought that book with me, having bought it on the recommendation of Amy Ritchie Johnson, my VMFA Studio School teacher. So if you are a writer, get thee a copy. And more importantly, read it. (Do as I say, not as I did.)

Surviving Technology Dependence

Last night I concluded that boiling frustration and irritation are not good. (Duh! You heard it here first.) As soon as I return home I’ll take my computer to the Apple Store Genius Bar. In the meantime, I’ll just go back to yellow pad and pencil and make the best of it. (Those of you who’ve read my blog on old writing technology will know how difficult this will be for me. But I shall persevere!) I’ll take copious notes on work to be revised after my word processing function has been restored. I’ll read Le Guin and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) to improve my writing and other books for pleasure.

Technology will not ruin Nimrod for me! I’ll still enjoy soaking up Nimrod’s atmosphere as well as the enthusiasm and wisdom of all the writers.

The Changing Looks of Books

Once upon a time—and it wasn’t that long ago—books were pretty distinctive.

 

oh places youll go dr seuss
There were picture books for young children, often read to them, often teaching some life lesson.
wonder woman comics
[Source: IDW]
There were comic books, periodicals geared mostly for older children and teens, pretty much equal parts drawings and text. They were/are fast reads, typically 22 pages. Although all are called comics, many were action/adventure, super hero series. Advertisements abound.
harry potter sorcerers stone jk rowling
Then there were “real” books, hundreds of pages of text, complicated plots, and virtually never with pictures. (Oh, yes, I must give a nod to so-called coffee table books, in which photographs are their reason to be. Such books tend to be incredibly expensive. I don’t think their existence undermines my general point here.)

 

contract god will eisnercontract god will eisner
Graphic novels are cartoon drawings that tell a story and are published as a book. Will Eisner is typically credited with popularizing the label “graphic novel” after the publication of his book in 1978. By the mid 1980’s, the public was generally aware of that genre.
 
illuminae
 
Last week, at the beach, I was introduced to yet another emerging book format. Illuminae is bestselling science fiction that tells the story through a mix of realistic graphics, ships logs, text messages, lists of the dead, etc. Unlike cartoon drawings, these are ultra-realistic, from the use of acronyms and abbreviations right down to the occasional typo in text messages. Here are what some of those pages look like.
 
 
This format continues in two subsequent books in the series. Perhaps people are embracing the visuals. Th the very least, readers are not deterred. 
 
illuminae gemina obsidio
 
Another example of the changing looks of books is Night Film, touted as a gorgeously written, spellbinding literary thriller. 
 
night film pessl night film marisha
 
A friend read, recommended, and gifted the book to me. I haven’t read it yet, but just opening it at random I find large chunks of narrative and dialogue interspersed with realistic images representing everything from the results of on-line searches to purported magazine covers to newspaper articles.
 

castagnello drowning accidental

 
And just to add another little twist, at the end of the book one finds the following page. It begins, “If you want to continue the Night Film experience, interactive touch points buried throughout the text will unlock extra content on you smartphone or tablet.
 
night film
 
All the traditional formats of books are still out there. Cathryn Hankla’s lost places was published earlier this year and is completely in traditional text format. It is being very well-received.
 
lost places cathryn hanklalost places cathryn hankla
 
BOTTOM LINE: The visual appearance of books is evolving. I suspect it’s the massive moves in technology which allow such printing diversity. Readers have more choices than ever before. And so do writers!

Characters’ Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words

Some things seldom if ever appear on the page because they are just taken for granted. If your characters leave the house—unless you specifically say otherwise—the reader assumes they are wearing shoes and street clothes appropriate to the season, have combed their hair, had breakfast, brushed their teeth. . .  If you’ve established quirks for your characters—e.g., Sue Grafton’s detective Kinsey Millhone works out twice a day—even these individual habits or routines aren’t mentioned every time they happen. The reader assumes those actions as part of the background.

 

Consider the power of not doing the usual. Under what circumstances might a character wear the same clothes for a solid 48 hours? Does it make a difference if those clothes are pajamas? What are the implications of skipping showers, hair washing, and tooth brushing? Why might a character eat sardines and Great Northern beans straight from the can? All of these possibilities imply powerful motivation or situational constraints. Is your character held captive? Lost in Alaska? Deeply depressed?

 

Even if your characters aren’t doing what’s expected, they’re doing something. Maybe it’s computer solitaire, or a jigsaw puzzle; reading trashy novels and eating bonbons; getting knee-walking drunk; or maybe it’s only sleeping, or staring into space—but it’s something. What that something is—and the feelings that accompany it—say a great deal about your character. Is your character in survival mode? Overwhelmed? Feeling rebellious? Guilty?  Ashamed? Weak?

 

TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS

Sometimes what a character doesn’t do is as telling as what s/he does do. Use it!

 

Characters Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words