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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

I’m a writer. This means, of course, that I hope soon to be making my living primarily by writing. I scribble in a variety of genres. Some of what I write I call literary, while much of my works are westerns and science fiction, with a smattering of beats-the-hell-out-of-me. I do tend toward what used to be called romances. Understand that the term once meant stories about ancient Rome–in other words, tales of long ago and far away.

Today, we call those speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and so forth. Tolkien referred to them as faerie stories. But whatever name you care to give them, they all involve a narrative that pulls the reader out of the mundane and into magic. (Recall that Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology would look like magic.) But how can you know if this particular genre is what you ought to be writing?

Here’s a sentence that will answer the question:

The empire in the west had fallen, but remnants survived in the east.

What does that sentence do inside you?

If it calls to mind the Roman Empire, you have a good grasp of history.

If thoughts of the Mongols or the Chinese come to mind, you’re a multiculturalist. (Unless you’re reading me in Asia, then apply this to the first reaction.)

If your reaction is one of boredom or revulsion, I can’t help you.

But if you read that sentence and feel a wave of fascination about distant lands, shifting powers, the possibilities of kingdoms won and lost, maidens (or fine swains, depending on your interests) seduced, and mysteries to be opened and beheld in awe, then you stand in good chance of being a bard of Faerie.

The rest is the discipline of the craft.

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My advice to new writers is to write short stories. This teaches building a scene with concentrated conflict and concise action leading to a point. Novels are like undeveloped land in the South–temptations for schemers to sprawl. Of course, said tyros should also be reading such stories, but if I have to tell you that reading is a good idea, you’re probably not meant to be a writer.

Still, we do have to be clear on the purpose of the exercise:

1. You will be writing for practice. You will be writing for enjoyment. You will be writing to keep yourself writing while you’re learning the craft.

2. You will also be writing to put your name and voice out in public. Short story markets are few and far between, and even fewer last more than a handful of issues. If you write westerns, by the way, one that’s shown its intention to remain is Frontiertales.com. Check the authors page for some of my writing, by the way. Understand that when you write short stories, the public purpose is to connect your name to something that people enjoy reading. You’re building a fan base. (All your reader are belong to us–you want this.)

3. But there’s something you need to know before you start. You won’t get paid for short stories. Paying markets are just about dead. There was a time when new writers could get a foothold and make a living by writing science fiction or westerns or even literary stories. No more. No matter what The New Yorker claims, new writers don’t have a chance. Apparently, not even good ones. You don’t write short stories to make money. You write them for the first two reasons.

4. Alas, there’s a fourth lesson. Sometimes, a magazine will dangle the promise of actual money, only to pull a fast one. And thus I must tell my own tale.

In 2008, I submitted a short story to something called Astonishing Adventures Magazine. (I’d give you a link, but I can’t, and you’ll see why soon.) Said outfit claimed to be looking for pulp stories–translation, lots of plot, plenty of action, and none of the high-brow or raised-eyebrow stuff that gets published in the, um, New Yorker. Well, thought I, this is something I can provide. I had written a perfectly atrocious science fiction novel in the mid 90s–yes, sometimes, I have to learn through experience. But some of the chapters were good, so I pulled them out and polished them into a worthy short piece and submitted it. The editor said he liked what I wrote. Big smile. The editor said he wanted to publish it. Happy dance. Life is good, right?

Hold on there, hoss. A short while later, he wrote back to say that the magazine was folding due to lack of funds This happens a lot in the business, as you’ll come to find out if you submit stories. So the years go by, and in the fullness of time, I turned the story into a short e-book for sale on Amazon. Why not? It’s a good story. (You should buy it, he whispers)

Then one day, I was wandering about the aforementioned on-line book seller’s site when to my surprise, I came across this, my story, for sale, in Astonishing Adventures Magazine: Issue 4.

┬┐Como que huh?

There’s my story being sold without anyone having told me about it. After stomping about my home and scaring my cat, I talked to a few friends who told me to keep calm and carry on. This is life.

Indeed it is, regardless of how unfair it may seem. The lesson here that I have had to learn, the lesson that I’m now trying to teach you, Dear Reader, is that having my name attached to a good story in a place where people can see it is a good thing. Clicking on my name in the list of authors takes you to my own page. Truth be told, I’d rather you buy the story from me directly, but I’d also rather you read it, no matter how you do it.

Yup, keep calm, carry on, and some day, publishers will look at your novel. Until then, write.

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If you spend much time studying the writing process, you’ve heard the advice to write what you know. As with other bits of pseudowisdom, this sounds good until we analyze it. For example, I write science fiction and westerns. In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I don’t know from living on the Moon or wandering the Old West–not in the sense of personal experience, at least. So what’s a writer such as I supposed to do?

First off, a better piece of easy advice might be to write what you research. A while ago, I wrote a short story, The Driving Flame, which has my western character, Henry Dowland, battling a gang of toughs along the line of the first transcontinental railroad. All I knew about said project was what any schoolchild (who pays attention–a rare breed) knows. That wasn’t nearly enough to sustain a story about a specific period. To prepare for the writing, I read a weighty tome (redundant, much?) on the subject, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad. Some might say that reading an 816 page book for a twenty-some-odd page story is excessive, but I enjoy history, and I want to get the details right. If I’m going to say that something existed in Cheyenne in 1867, I damn well want to know that I stand on solid ground in saying it.

This goes against another bit of pseudowisdom that a person ought just to write. That’s fine for writers who enjoy going back and making huge changes ex post facto, but I’m not that kind of writer. I write slowly, and only when I know what I’m talking about. Is that writing what I know? It’s writing what I’ve researched. Again, I didn’t live in the period, so I can’t claim to “know,” if by knowing we mean something that I’ve experienced.

The beauty of writing in this present age is that information is available. If you want to know what the top of Mount Everest or the inside of an Old West mine, pictures are on the Web. As a substitute for personal experience, this works well for an author, though it removes the excuse of needing a vacation to be able to write. (Really, honey, I do need to spend three months in Nepal for this stunning piece of literature that I’m working on…)

But as I’ve said, this is not the form of knowing that our Founts of Wisdom (TM) proclaim. Uh huh. So? The real question here is what writing is about. Travelogues are about a place and time. Good for them. But literature is about human beings. (Even if they’re rabbits or Klingons.) When we write stories worth reading, we’re exploring what it means to be human.

That takes a bit of explaining. Good stories are about characters, not events. The plot is a vehicle that shows us how characters act and react, based on their natures. Bad stories are just a series of events. (And no, Dan Brown, you don’t get a link.) That being the case, authors who care about the craft are writing something of what they know.

There’s more to be said, though. (You knew that was coming, no? [Just as you knew there’d be a parenthetical statement?]) Various writers have said words to the effect of “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” What that means is that writing is the process of discovery. What we know expands when we write. We see the world in a new way. We explore a new means of dealing with life. We plumb new depths of the human condition.

As an example of this, I now see that “write what you know” in fact does have some good advice in it. How would I have known about that if I hadn’t written it?

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A Draft of Moonlight is now available for sale in print version or as an e-book. Here’s the blurb:

Every schoolchild is supposed to know that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren were the first human beings to reach the Moon on the 20th of July 1969. But what if that is not the true story?

In Greg Camp’s new science fiction political thriller, Robert Smith discovers a plot hatched in the Cold War Soviet Union to reshape the balance of power decades in the future. As he struggles to save Earth from disaster, he has to weed through the tangles of corporations and the Lunar government. Along the way, he finds something even more important: human connection.

Enjoy.

Crossposted at Greg Camp’s Weblog.

moonlightcover01-1

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Dear Readers, you have the chance to enjoy my foray into Bigfoot fiction:

http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/rock-of-ages-277525.html

The story is actually titled, “The Rocks of Ages,” but that’s a small matter. If you want a print copy, order it here:

http://www.highhillpress.com/

It appears in the anthology, Bigfoot Confidential.

Crossposted on http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/

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I’ve seen a measure of advice on the subject of whether an author should express opinions about politics, religion, and other such topics as a part of his own blog. The consensus, both from people that I respect and from some that I don’t, is that it’s best for said wordsmith to remain mum about things controversial. We don’t want to alienate potential buyers, now do we?

The trouble is that I have lots of opinions, and I’ve never learned to keep my mouth shut. I blunder or charge right on in to the thick of whatever “discussion” is going on. I love to argue. I love to stir up controversy. But more than that, I’m right (or so I think), and you should be made aware of that (or so I think).

What’s an author to do?

For you, I cannot speak. My own choice is to be myself. I set up this weblog to focus on the writing and reading life, among other related topics, but if you’re interested in my various and numerous opinions on politics, religion, and all those other things that may offend, you can find my articles here.

If you want to read what I write–and more than that, if you want to buy what I write–I hope that it’s because the text is interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, or whatever other good term you care to use. Who I am as a person really shouldn’t be relevant to the text. Yes, I follow the New Criticism school. The author’s intention is none of the reader’s concern or business. The text must speak for itself.

But if you’re curious about the author, do you want to learn about a bland, milquetoast, and soulless person whose one goal in writing and in life is to be inoffensive?

I didn’t think so. Or, at least, I hope not. To quote Popeye, I yam what I yam. Controversy is one of the things that makes life a pleasure for me. In a related vein, part of the writer’s job is to take on a point of view when writing fiction. When I inhabit a character, I have to be that person, so far as I am able. When I write nonfiction, I have to be myself. Even if you, Dear Reader, dislike one persona, there are others to get to know.

In seeking controversy, I not only have fun. I also learn things that I would never have known otherwise. I learn what others think and feel. That’s good for creating characters, and it’s good for functioning in a democracy. I learn about different ways of seeing a subject. That means that I may end up changing my mind. Therein, alas, lies the reason that some people won’t look at anything that isn’t in support of their own positions. But such people aren’t likely to read what I write, anyway.

You, Dear Reader, of course, are open and willing to explore. You’re curious about the universe. You’re also good looking and wise. (Enough flattery yet?) You are my audience.

I can’t write for anyone else.

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Yesterday (12 June 2012), I finally finished a short story that I’d been asked to write. I started it last August, and the dratted thing has been plaguing me ever since. I can’t account for the difficulty in writing it. The main character, Henry Dowland, is someone I know well. He’s been the hero of two other short stories and a novel that I’m working on getting published. I even had an outline for the story. But the words didn’t want to come.

What did I do? I kept typing. Even if I only added a few words in a day, I kept typing. Now it’s finished. And it works.

Lessons to be learned:

1. Even if you have to cuss up a blue streak, write the damned thing. Even if only five words get added after hours of work, write the damned thing.

2. How you feel about the story doesn’t matter. You may hate it. That’s not the story’s problem, and really none of the story’s business. The story deserves to be finished.

3. Excuses don’t get the writing done.

The good news is that I’m moving on to the next piece. Of course, now I have a new blank screen. . . .

Keep writing.

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