Archive | March, 2012

Fact or fiction. Does anybody care?

14 Mar

I care. A lot. I almost fell out of my chair on Sunday, when I read a book review in my local paper. The book is called “The Lifespan of a Fact” and is supposedly the tale of an essay that was sent in for fact-checking, and resulting correspondence between writer and checker.

Here’s a link to the review,  http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2012/03/in_the_lifespan_of_a_fact_writ.html

plus you can find other varying opinions at Amazon and other book review sites.

Such a variety of opinions! Wow. How could I not use this for the blog? I get so outraged by writers who care so little for facts or truth in their writing. Whether they write long or short, fiction or non-fiction, it makes no difference to me. Facts are facts and cannot willfully be changed at the author’s whim.  

I still recall the time (just about ten years ago) when I first encountered the phrase ‘creative non-fiction’ and caviled at the concept. I now know it can be done (and sometimes should be – I even do it myself) but I think the reader is entitled to know when this happens. Which comes first — the writer or the reader? 

Quite possibly, this is why “Author’s Notes” or whatever they’re called came into being. The author may need to fudge a historical date for a very good reason, which should be shared with the readers.

Let me digress just a bit to explain. When my first published book (Secret Shores) was written, accepted and put into the publishing system at Berkley, I was not too sure about the next book. It turned out to be Windsong, and was the story of the courtship of the parents of the hero of Secret Shores. Since Jock was of a certain age in his story, I couldn’t very well (or at least I didn’t want to) change that in the second book. This didn’t give me much leeway in getting the parents married (or at least pregnant) even though I was able to change a few dates here and there.

An important date in the creation of Windsong was the Smallpox Epidemic that swept through Indian villages in 1837, which left her a widow. THIS YEAR is not changeable. Period. It was 1837. I was boxed in by both stories, as Jock had to be an American-born citizen, and his home state of Michigan became a state in early 1837. Oh, dear. We made it, but I spent a frantic couple of weeks trying to tie up all the loose ends! This necessarily impacted other events but I did end up making two of the minor characters a bit older than they really were with no difficulty, all of which I clarified in my Author’s Notes.

Had there been an important historical happening at that time, however, I’d not have been able to make that switch so easily.

I think it’s difficult to create dialogue and specific scenes for a historical biography, for instance, especially if the person is not famous. Generally, a good deal of that information pertaining to, say, a President of the US, or the King of England, is in a library somewhere, usually in a collection of papers. If you like research, you’ll know what I mean – it’s great fun to go looking for these sources.

If you want to set a story in San Francisco in 1906, and you don’t mention the great earthquake of that year, you should explain somewhere along the way why you’re not including it.         

A brain freeze can happen to anyone – at any time, and it’s only too easy to mentally grasp a certain date or place for an event that couldn’t possibly have happened at that place or time, for myriad reasons. With luck, this boo-boo will be caught before publication, but if it isn’t, you’d better be prepared to defend yourself.

Then too, I find it terrifically aggravating to choose a book that’s touted as historical fiction set during a given period, only to find that it’s really full of very modern-acting and –talking characters in period costume. They pay absolutely no attention to the mores and manners of that era’s society, just do as they please, regardless. It’s totally not believable, even if it is fiction. Why not just set it when the characters want it to be set?  Beats me.

Excuse me. I’ll get down from my soapbox and go back to my Regency Christmas novella.

I welcome your comments and/or opinions. Cheers! 

 

 

 

Overcoming Writer’s Block –

1 Mar

First off (and please forgive me for being personal here) are you sure you really WANT to write? Do you know what you want to write? Have you written anything previously? If the answers to all three of these questions are YES!!! then please read on. If you’re not sure, go ahead and read, but then give a lot of thought to these three questions during that process. They’re really key. Okay?  Then, press on, regardless! 

So, after all that, do you really, really think you have writer’s block? Or is it that you just don’t really want to write? There IS a difference.

The best cure for writer’s block is to write something. ‘Oh, yeah?’  I hear you say. As simplistic as it sounds, the answer is YES. First thing – put your mind into writer’s gear. (Your car won’t go forward if it’s in reverse gear!) Become convinced that you can do this and that what you produce will be at least readable, if not downright wonderful!

Write something. Anything. Soon, you’ll discover that what you’re writing actually makes sense! And there you are. No more block. It is sometimes hard to write on command, I’ll grant you that. But if you really want to call yourself a writer, then you have to write. Otherwise, you’re a dreamer. Or worse. (We won’t go there just now.)

Or maybe you really do have writer’s block, but it’s because of what you’re trying to write. Maybe you’ve not done all the research you need to have done. Or you have an assignment that just really doesn’t ring your bell. The mark of a professional is to do the job at hand – regardless. If you’re aiming to become a professional writer, then you simply have to ignore all these side paths, and stick to the main road. And that road is named ‘Write’.

If you have an assignment from school or work that requires you to produce a paper and you just simply can’t get into it, then write a letter to a parent or a friend—or even yourself!—and tell them all about your intended project. Why you can’t get into it; the topic is stupid; it’s not your thing . . . whatever. But write. Write for fifteen minutes, then stop, and get up and walk around. After five minutes for a glass of water, a pit-stop, or to change the CD or radio station, sit down and start again. I find it best to listen to my favorite music (happens to be classical) rather than something to make you want to get up an dance around the room, or as the old song says ‘I can’t sit still!’ Not helpful in this instance. Don’t give yourself any opportunity to get more than a very few steps away from the computer.

Repeat this routine as many times as necessary to finish that particular project – the letter. Once you’ve read through what you’ve written, try to enlarge on those parts that pertain to your assignment. See how far you can get before having to stop to gather more information, do more research, go to sleep for the night. Whatever.

You don’t have to start at the beginning. Some writers start with the last chapter, and then go back to the beginning. Others start in the middle and work their way back to the beginning, then go back and continue on to the end.

What you’ve written here doesn’t have to be perfect, you know. A first draft is most often a rough draft, and nothing to worry about. If the spelling, grammar, punctuation and what-not need a bit of help – so what? You can do all that later. But in the meantime, you’ll have started your project! Chances are, the next time you sit down at the computer to start up again, it’ll all be much easier for you. Don’t be afraid to discard something that doesn’t agree with what you want it to be. BUT!!! I never, ever delete anything. Intentionally, that is. I save it to another file named ‘outs’.  Sometimes this file gives me something very usable, and I’m delighted to discover this buried treasure.

Do you have a small recorder? Maybe you can record yourself as you think it through – listening to the play-back could be very helpful.  Or possibly you can talk it through with a good friend, who might bounce ideas back at you. If your piece is to defend a certain position, try writing from the opposite viewpoint. Just please do try not to get into an argument with yourself!

Whatever – the great Ohio-born (and visually-impaired) humorist, cartoonist, essayist and playwright James Thurber said it perfectly!  “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

 Good luck! If you have questions about any of this or any other topic pertaining to writing, please ask! 

 

My apologies for being late with this. I went away for the weekend, and brought company back with me. We then had an electrical malfunction with which to contend, and I worked today, too. So, even though it was done before I left home last week, I just could not get it posted yesterday. So sorry!