Monday, November 29, 2010

Edna Ferber's Show Boat

I can’t recommend this book for everyone, but when I found a first edition of Show Boat in an antique store, I couldn’t resist. That it was published in 1926 (by Doubleday, Page & Co.) should give everyone a clue about what rests between the covers: Purple prose, and lots of it.

Very few modern readers are like me–I love prose, particularly if it’s done well. Good prose isn’t intended to be read at the lightning speed readers tout today. It’s intended to be performed. Orated. The words are to be tasted; sentences should be swirled on the tongue like a fine wine. The rhythm is set by sentence length, the pace by punctuation, the intensity by word-choice.

Prose is musical, beginning softly and rising to a crescendo and fluttering back to the earth like a leaf in autumnal death. And it’s a lost art in today’s let’s get on with it! society.

The only other modern person I’ve found who appreciates prose as much as I is Ursula K. Le Guin. The examples she used in her Steering the Craft–prose from Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Virginia Wolfe–are excellent choices for performance prose.

Edna Ferber’s style is curious. She managed, somehow, to wrest a story about the bonds of family, the pull of the Mississippi River, and the blood-deep desire to perform, from page after page of character and setting description. She opened and closed the book with Kim Ravenal, a character who had little to do with anything in between; she wove past, present, and future with amazing disregard to structure. Yet the novel still made sense.

And she loved lists. The bulk of her descriptions contained an amazing number of lists. Consider the introduction of a play performed on the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre:

Now the band struck up. The kerosene lamps on the walls were turned low. The scuffling, shuffling, coughing audience became quiet, quiet. There was in that stillness something of fright. Seamed faces. Furrowed faces. Drab. Bitter. Sodden. Childlike. Weary . . .

The curtain rose. The music ceased jerkily, in mid-bar. They became little children listening to a fairy tale . . .

They forgot the cotton fields, the wheatfields, the cornfields. They forgot the coal mines, the potato patch, the stable, the barn, the shed. They forgot the labour under the pitiless blaze of noonday sun; the bitter arrow-numbing chill of winter; the blistered skin; the frozen road; wind, snow, rain, flood . . . Here were blood, lust, love, passion. It was Anodyne. It was Lethe. It was Escape. It was the Theatre.

And the chapter closed.

Her lists weren’t restricted to setting descriptions. Here is the reader’s introduction to Parthenia Hawks, wife of the show boat captain and mother of the main character, Magnolia Hawks Ravenal:

This lady’s black hair was twisted into a knot . . . Her face and head were long and horse-like, at variance with her bulk. This, you sensed immediately, was a person possessed of enormous energy, determination, and the gift of making exquisitely uncomfortable any one who happened to be within hearing radius. She was the sort who rattles anything that can be rattled; slams anything that can be slammed; bumps anything that can be bumped.

Personally, I got a kick out of many of her lists, but I don’t recommend this style of writing for anyone who wants to be published–and read–today. But I’d love to see modern prose, short and utilitarian as it is, mount to something akin to the purple hue of the past. Fewer words can be used to describe the theater scene or to illustrate Parthy’s indomitable spirit, and if writers choose the right words, these descriptions can be even more powerful--not as musical, perhaps, but powerful.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: Things We Say Wrong

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you be richly blessed this holiday season
and remember those in need of blessings.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Resource Round-Up for Historical Fiction Writers

A few months ago I gave you a resource round up post focused on Fantasy. You can see it here.

This time, I'd like to focus on links that might help those of you who are historical fiction writers.

1.  This is a complete bibliography of books and journals from Hearth's Home Economics Archives: Research, Tradition, History, organized by both author and title or by publication year. The complete issues of Harper's Bazaar can be found here for many years.

2. Fascinating Blog with lots of great historical facts - Jane Austen's World.

3. You'll find tons of information on presidential elections at The American Presidency Project.

4. On this website you'll find some great Historic Hospital Records.

5.  I found some wonderful historic maps on Maps Etc.

6. Historical Uses of Herbal Products, has some very interesting information on the history of healing remedies.

7. Need to know about dancing? Check out the Victorian Dance Society.

8. Sometimes I need that correct architectural term. This list has been helpful to me in the past. Architecture Glossary.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ A Little Fun with English

A king reigns, but he never reins, or rains. However, he might reign in the rain, or rein in someone who objects to his reign. (BTW, why isn't a king's reign pronounced "rin"? After all, someone from another country is "foreign," right? But wait, maybe "foreign" is the odd ball out because we also have "deign" and "feign.")

A bare bear has no hair. But a hare definitely bears hair.

A beau holding a bow can bow while balancing on a bough, but it is probably rather hard to do. However, if he bows while standing on the bow of a ship with his hair in a bow, that might be easier.

You can write with your right hand about a Scottish rite, but be sure you get it right.

Once upon a time, two boys chopped a cord of wood to sell for four cents. There at the fore, their mother cored and baked apples to sell too. However, the scents stole their senses and now they're singing chords that rhyme for thyme.

Due to the dew, do you think the ewe will lay under the yew?

Eight bald babies bawled as they ate.

When it comes to betting dough, you may need to know whether a wether can weather the weather better than a doe.

And one last one...

Merry Mary was all set to marry principal Larry, but now he's overdue, and she's standing at the altar feeling quite hostile and piqued. She doesn't want to overdo, but it's the principle of the thing. Perhaps she will alter her plans and peek at the Apennine peaks and roam the hostel in Rome on her own.

Happy Friday, everyone! :D

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does (My Character) Kiss My Mother With That Mouth?

One of my favorite online magazines of the last decade was Deep Magic magazine, whose tagline was 'Safe Places For Minds To Wander.' I thought that was a clever tag.

But what if you're looking for something just a little less careful, a little riskier? Is there room for authors to let their characters explore darker or edgier themes?

Doug TenNapel defies description. (One reviewer called him 'a genre unto himself.') Doug is an author, graphic novelist, videogame designer (The Neverhood and Earthworm Jim), animator, Eisner Award-winning artist, musician, and blogger. His 2007 graphic novel, Black Cherry, tells the story of a two-bit mob wannabe who steals a body from his own boss. Only the body's neither dead nor human.

Eddie Paretti fell in love with a stripper named Black Cherry. He was about to propose to her when she vanished, after which he hardened his heart against women and God.

But TenNapel has more up his sleeve than tragedy and clich├ęs.
Mary is a crack-addicted ex-stripper who doesn't know if she is forgivable. She keeps returning to her junk and questions if she is just destined to be 'bad.' Eddie Paretti has scars up and down his arms from his dad using his arm as an ashtray…these are the scars left by bad father figures in his life. Father McHugh is the only good dad he ever knew, yet Eddie clearly isn't cut out to be a card-carrying Catholic.
There is a common theme in Black Cherry that is the dark side of religion, what about the condemned? That's why crime-noir became such an important aspect of this story because it often deals with heroes that are too bad to be redeemed. It's like life has chosen some men to be ground up and left face down in the pool.

There is an another character who feels redemption is denied him because Christ appeared to die for humans, not his kind. There are demons and angels and surprises so weird and uninhibited I wasn't sure whether to laugh or gasp. Most times, I did both.

Doug TenNapel uses the grittiness and anti-heroic elements of crime noir to explore both the mean streets of present-day LA and the redemption waiting for those who have ears to hear. He doesn't shy away from showing skin or violence, and the character's street language would make even sailors blush. And so when the final twists unfold, we cheer for Eddie in his battle against demons within and without, and his final sacrifice is both touching and unexpected.

TenNapel blazes a trail and shows how a raw, brutal story can pack a wallop of a punch. Personal failures leave ragged wounds, however, healing and victory mean that much more when we grow with such a damaged character to the place where love conquers all and the guy has the opportunity to finally get the girl. TenNapel manages to march us right through the sewers, down into Hell, and back out again. These aren't stories you'd want to read to your kids, but you might want to save them for when they're older and are ready for something more real than safe.

And then you might want to start taking some risks yourself...
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Checking for Plot Holes

This week, AC is pleased to share with you a guest post by Joseph Bates. Joseph’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. For more information please visit Nighttime Novelist and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Checking for Plot Holes

To make sure your plot is as solid as it can be—before some legendary film director discovers a plot hole while trying to adapt your work—consider the following questions and see that you have them answered in your novel.

  • Have all subplots and supporting character arcs been concluded? You might want to go back through the novel and mark those moments with subplot and supporting cast that seem to demand revisiting later . . . and make sure you did revisit and conclude them in some satisfying way.

  • Do you find any of your characters indulging in excessive monologue toward the finale? Late-novel monologues often indicate that certain information should have been introduced earlier but wasn’t—and now your character is trying to catch the reader up on that omitted information in one big breath. These one-breath wonders suggest a hole in the plot that the character is now trying to plug, poorly. Be aware of any such information dumps you come across, and consider how you might plug the hole yourself earlier in the text.

  • Do the events in your novel follow the rules of the story as you’ve set them out? We already discussed rule breaking in terms of the “twist” ending, but the same applies to every turn your story takes. If your protagonist is launched on his adventure when he saves a young woman from drowning, but then at Plot Point 1 he lets the antagonist get away because he’s not a very strong swimmer, that’s obviously a problem, and everything that comes after that point will be looked on with suspicion by the reader (if he’s still reading at all).

  • Do the events in your novel follow, and account for, the rules of logic? If it’s revealed at the end of your novel that your time-traveling hero has fallen in love with his own grandmother and is now his own grandfather, your reader will likely either scratch his head or kick your novel across the room, depending on what kind of day he’s having. It’s absolutely true that, as an author, you control the powers of time and space in your book, but even so you’re still bound by the general rules of logic; what you do has to make sense. Thus anything that doesn’t seem possible, or at least believable, is a problem you’ll need to fix.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the momentum of our story, in the fun of telling it, that we forget to properly account for, explain, or excise inconsistencies along the way; even Raymond Chandler can let a dead chauffeur slip past him. But the smallest plot hole might still be big enough for your reader to fall straight through, so be mindful that your plot be as solid as it can be. And if there’s anything in the story you can’t reconcile, you may want to consider what the offending element is doing there in the first place.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

How Not to Succeed at NaNo

1. Sit in a straight, comfortable chair in a well lit place in front of your computer.

2. Log onto MSN and ICQ (be sure to go on away!). Check your email.

3. Review yesterday's work carefully, to make certain you know where you left off.

4. Walk to the kitchen for some chocolate to help you concentrate.

5. Check your email.

6. Call up a friend and ask if he/she wants to go to grab a coffee. Just to get settled down and ready to work.

7. When you get back, sit in a straight, comfortable chair in a clean, well lit place.

8. Read over what's already done again to make absolutely certain you know where to start.

9. Check your email.

10. You know, you haven't written to that kid you met at camp since fourth grade. You'd better write that letter now and get it out of the way so you can concentrate.

11. Look at your teeth in the bathroom mirror.

12. Grab some mp3z off of kazaa.

13. Check your email.

14. MSN chat with one of your friends about the future(ie summer plans).

15. Check your email.

16. Listen to your new mp3z and download some more.

17. Phone your friend and ask if she's started writing yet.

18. Head to the store and buy a pack of gum. You've probably run out.

19. While you've got the gum you may as well buy a magazine and read it.

20. Check your email.

21. Check the newspaper listings to make sure you aren't missing something truly worthwhile on TV.

22. Play some solitare (or age of legends!).

23. Check out

24. Wash your hands.

25. Call up a friend to see how much they have done, probably haven't started either.

26. Look through your friends' Facebook photo albums.

27. Do some more serious thinking about your plans for the future.

28. Check to see if has been updated yet.

29. Check your email and listen to your new mp3z.

30. You should be rebooting by now, assuming windows is crashing on schedule.

31. Reread your work one more time, just for heck of it.

32. Scoot your chair across the room to the window and watch the sunrise.

33. Lie face down on the floor and moan.

34. Punch the wall and break something because you let the night go by without making your word count.

35. Check your email.

36. Mumble obscenities.

37. 5am - start hammering on the keyboard until it's time to go to work.

38. Complain to everyone that you didn't get any sleep because you had to reach your word count.

39. Start over again tonight.

And the winner of Billy Coffey' debut novel is:

Congrats, Lorna!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Snow Day, by Billy Coffey

Before he appeared in the "Breaking In" segment of Writer's Digest (November/December 2010 issue, page 18), debut author/philosopher Billy Coffey showed up here in AuthorCulture for a two-day interview event (Part One and Part Two).

And I got to review his book!

By law, I have to reveal that the publisher, Faith Words, provided a book for me in return for a review. But the truth is, I was half-way through the copy I bought before the freebie ever entered my mailbox. I was that anxious to read it.

This means I have an extra copy to share! If you leave a comment, you'll be eligible to win this inspiring novel in a drawing to be held at the end of the week.

Snow Day rolls the wisdom of Max Lucado and charm of Norman Rockwell into one reflective novel. Peter Boyd is facing a pre-Christmas lay-off from the best paying job he can get in his small Virginia town. His snow day couldn't have come at a better time. He needs to think, evaluate, learn. And God has lessons for him. Eye-opening, stirring life lessons that offer hope, faith, and promise, all delivered through some very enchanting, quirky characters.

A man who rests in the security of God's guidance can face the worst with optimism. If the readers get nothing more from Billy's novel than that simple tenet, they will come away full.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

What Isn't Said: Subtext in Dialogue

Dialogue is all about getting things said—usually important things:

“I am your father.”

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

We spend a lot of time polishing our dialogue and learning how to make it sound as lifelike and powerful as possible. But amidst all this polishing, we can’t afford to miss one of the most important dichotomies in fiction.

Sometimes the most important moments in dialogue are about what isn’t said.

Words aren’t always strong enough to convey the impact of certain emotions. At times, silence speaks louder than words. And, surprisingly often, silence (or its equivalent in the form of seemingly mundane dialogue that pulls double duty by communicating far more than the face value of the words themselves) offers blinding insight into characterization.

So how do you know when you’re better off telling your chatty characters to stuff a sock in it?

  • When strong emotions are at play. “I hate you” just doesn’t get the message across as strongly as an icy stare (and, yes, Revenge of the Sith I’m looking at you).
  • When an action communicates more strongly or more succinctly. Whether that action is something as dynamic as an angry wife throwing a chicken at her husband’s head, or something subtler, such as her pretending to be so absorbed in cutting the chicken that she doesn’t have time to respond to his entreaties, it’s hard to argue with body language.
  • When dialogue adds nothing important. If small talk isn’t moving the plot forward, cut it. On the other hand, if that same small talk is offering insight into the situation at hand (such as, perhaps, the characters’ fear of discussing deeper subjects), the very “uselessness” of the dialogue becomes a sort of silence unto itself.
  • When too much information damages the suspense. If your characters are spouting off everything they know, it’s probably time to clap a hand over their mouths. Characters with secrets are always more interesting. Just make sure you’re making the existence of those secrets clear to readers. A character who avoids answering a question or who chooses to change the subject skyrockets the value of what he doesn’t say.
  • When it best serves the character. Some characters just aren’t built to be motormouths. The strong silent type can be a challenge to write (as I discovered in my medieval novel Behold the Dawn), but their taciturn natures give authors the opportunity to make sure every word counts.

Never be afraid of the silence. Use it to your advantage (as do experienced interviewers) to make characters and readers alike perk up their ears and pay attention.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: Eliminate Grammar Embarrassments

Everyone has certain grammar quirks, things they should know better, but don't. The word that tripped me up was 'macabre.' Phonetically, it looks like it should be 'ma-ca-bray,' but it's actually pronounced 'ma-cobb.' Weird.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review of Writer's Guide to Places by Don Prues and Jack Heffron

This “one-of-a-kind reference for making the locales in your writing more authentic, colorful, and memorable” is a wonderful jumping-off point for doing just that. It includes a look at all fifty United States, ten Canadian provinces, and fifty-one cities that, while certainly not comprehensive, may be just what is required to spark the writer’s imagination.

Each state profile includes historical facts, common food and drink of the residents, myths and misperceptions about the area, a population count, and a list of interesting places in which to set a scene.

Cities are given a little bit more in-depth look, including common likes and dislikes of the city’s denizens, in addition to lists of newspapers and other publications, local restaurants, and places in which a certain type of character may live, work, or hang out.

Provinces are not treated in quite so much detail, which is rather disappointing because most readers are likely to know far less about Canada than they are the United States.

All profiles include a handy list of resources for use in further research—something that is necessary if one wishes to go beneath this scratch-the-surface glimpse into the locales listed here.

As a whole, Writer’s Guide to Places is a handy guide for any writer creating a setting with which he is not extremely familiar. However, as the authors state in their foreword, this book “is certainly not the last word on any of these places.” With that in mind, the average author should still consider this an essential tool to add to his library.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Marketing ~ Interview w/ Author Matthew Peterson on Marketing Strategies

This video is rather long, but has some great information in it - especially toward the end. Note that this was created two years ago so some of the information may be a smidge outdated. (I'm thinking particularly of the part where they talk about paying to link your book to best selling books on Amazon - Amazon has discontinued that practice, as far as I know.)

Anyhow, I think you will find some great information if you take the time to watch this video all the way through.

Are you an author with a published book? What is the best marketing technique that worked for you?
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