Friday, December 7, 2012


 I lost a good friend today.
He has been my friend, one of my best friends – maybe my best friend ever – for fifteen years. He never lied to me. He was never disloyal. He never disrespected me – except when joking or playing, and even then, he knew the limits. He didn't have a mean bone in his body and showed compassion to many, including his sisters, of whom he felt protective.
He was a black male and I named him Kuma, Japanese for Bear (). Kuma was a felis silvestri catus linnaeus, a domestic short-haired cat. (To those who might note Kuma's inability to lie due to his inability to speak our language, I would ask: Because we have the ability to lie, does that imply that it is mandatory, or excusable?)
Kuma first came into our lives when my wife and I adopted him from the local humane society in January of 1998. At roughly six weeks of age, he exhibited a willful determination to escape the cage in which he and his three siblings were housed. At every opportunity, during feeding, changing litter, visits by potential families, he would escape and run under or around the surrounding cages to defiantly display his freedom to all, human and feline alike.

We wanted to adopt a kitten to keep company with Maggie, our young female who had recently lost her adopted brother, Rocky, after a two-year battle against diabetes and associated organ failure. Given Kuma's estimated age and the timing, we assigned Kuma the nominal, yet roughly, if not entirely, accurate birth date of Rocky's death, December 9, 1997.
Kuma was not a hunter by nature. When outside – always under our supervision – he usually preferred to smell the flowers or sit on the bench under a pergola and watch the woods or the traffic, or perhaps  contemplate life – or his navel, whatever. He was free to do whatever he wanted, except to play in traffic.

When his human sister, Sami, came along in October, 2011, Kuma's hunting nature surfaced. On many occasions, we found huge wolf spiders, dead and dismembered, in the hallway or in the guest room adjacent to Sami's bedroom. Kuma was protecting Sami from the spiders, shown by the spider parts that he regurgitated after they gave him an upset stomach. To that point, he had never hunted or killed insects; he left that to his hunter-sister, Michi, a young female.
He lived a full life of play when wanted, rest when needed, cuddling with his parents when desired, food, double-filtered water, toys, understanding, and love. He was as civil – and civilized – as any human I've ever known.

Kuma died today of a malignant tumor on one of his kidneys, the cells of which had metastasized to two other areas of his gentle body, one between his left lung and his beautiful heart and the other on the right side of his abdomen. He finally escaped the cage of his childhood – forever. We will miss him terribly but remember him fondly, the greatest legacy that anyone, humans included, can hope for.
I lost a good friend today.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Aging...the term can bring a smile to the palate of an oenophile when contemplating a fine Bordeaux or to the taste buds of a turophile when choosing a ripe Camembert.  Yet, to those of us who have happily escaped our teenage years, the word usually brings a fallen and furrowed brow while we contemplate goals met and unmet, places visited and not-yet-visited, and the one thing that we cannot give away nor escape from – our own mortality.  At the age of 66, I might have a relatively unique perspective on the issue of aging because I became a father for the first time at the age of 65.
The word, aging, connotes the passage of time and the concept of time remains a mystery to all – even to astrophysicists.  Although it can seem to move more slowly in some parts of the world than others, time passes everyone at the same speed the world over.   We can watch a clock and see the seconds, minutes and hours pass by mechanically; but, the meaning of time, in human terms, is not so easy to grasp.

Aging slowly gives birth to a paradox because its strongest and most sinister power is the authority that we, ourselves, surrender to it.  We tend to live by others' expectations of behavior  against the backdrop of age.  Of course, time, in the guise of old age, will eventually win.  Each of us will die as an individual; I cannot, for the life of me, understand why we would live otherwise.

Several years ago, I watched as a married couple reached their early sixties and decided, consciously, that they should expect to weaken and to grow frail soon.  Within months, they were in and out of the hospital because one fell while walking and the other's organs began to fail.  They not only accepted old age, they invited it.

In October, 1971, a series of physics experiments demonstrated irrefutably that time is not an absolute constant.  Time is mutable; that is, it can be compressed or expanded – literally.  So, if we can conjure a complete work of fiction, compose stirring poetry, and  put into words the most complex and profound of human thoughts, surely we can control time with our attitude toward living and not according to the expectations of others.

When I turned 63-years-old, I returned to college as a full-time student.  When I turned 64-years-old, I happily participated in the conception of a baby girl.  And, at 65, I became my daughter's father.  At 66, whatever I decide to do, age will not deter me.  Someday, the infirmities of old age might, but age alone will not – cannot – intimidate me.  Ultimately, aging is the tuition that we pay for the lessons that life teaches us.

Time can be our enemy if we allow it to dictate when and how we live.  Some of us die long before our bodies surrender because we carry around with us others' expectations of our behavior relative to our age.  Others welcome old age as a time to marinate in memories instead of making new ones.  I may not agree with such decisions but I fought, in our military, for the freedom to make them.  Time can also be our friend while we wait nine months for the birth of our child, the ripening of a select Camembert, or the aging of a fine wine.    I wish for everyone the opportunity to live by your own clock and no one else's.

*This post was published, in a radio broadcast, on Thursday, 11/1/12, from two NPR stations near Salisbury, Maryland.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Intelligent or Smart ? 2.0
Years ago, I adopted the personal philosophy that anyone who concluded that I was stupid or unintelligent (not the same thing – see the post below), as indicated by their words or actions, demonstrated only one thing – their own stupidity.  Stupidity is required to conclude that another person is stupid or unintelligent without due evidence prior to that conclusion.
I have long suspected that nearly everyone on the planet thinks that they are smarter than everyone else. otherwise, there would be many fewer people lying and manipulating others than there are. (Notice I didn't use the term, intelligent.)  The only exceptions may be those who have been told since childhood that they are stupid.  Ironically, many of those people are more intelligent than they think but were indoctrinated by others, e.g. parents, siblings, et al, who were insecure about their own level of intelligence.  Notice that I wrote "thinks that they are smarter."  I'm convinced that, deep down, people know, not quantifiably but subjectively, if they are intelligent or not. 
However, many people fear proving to themselves, much less to anyone else, their level of intelligence.  For example, Mensa® accepts people for membership whose intelligence is at the 98th percentile, correlating to an IQ of 130 and above.  Yet, their membership is roughly 53,000 in the United States while, given the 98th percentile qualification, six million people would qualify for membership.  Less than one percent (<1%) of those who qualify for membership take the required tests.  Of course, there are other factors, among them, lack of awareness of the organization, awareness but choosing not to join for a variety of reasons, and others.
My point remains – most people fear proving their intelligence by quantifiable means.  Some choose to "prove" their intelligence by their own means, e.g. how well they play pool (yes, I have heard that sideways argument); comparing a game of pool to a chess game (yes, I've also heard that), a game often equated, many times erroneously, with high intelligence. Others would cite their financial success (see my previous post) or memory games and regurgitating trivia, skills that can be easily learned by those with average intelligence.
Intelligence is innate; stupidity is a choice.  Conversely, low intelligence is also innate while smartness is a choice.  Granted, some studies indicate a combination of nature/nurture impact on intelligence and one would be hard-pressed to argue that a factor such as childhood diet would not impact intelligence later in life.  However, the basis of intelligence appears to be genetics, other factors such as disease, genetic mutation, or the mother's diet, drug use, alcohol consumption, and other choices during pregnancy notwithstanding.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Intelligent or Smart?
I've often wondered about the intelligence of smart people.
For years, I've wondered why many of the people who are considered successful do not always appear intelligent or act intelligently proportional to their perceived success; yet, their success indicates that they are smart.  How can that be?  In (at least American) English vernacular, intelligent and smart are used interchangeably, as are unintelligent and stupid.
I began to see a distinction between the concepts, intelligent and smart, and conversely, unintelligent and stupid.  The reason for using the term, intelligence, is self-evident, indicating an objective quantification of an individual's intellectual faculty.  The words, stupid and smart, are natural choices, given common use and understanding, to indicate an individual's usage of given intelligence, low or high.  Other words for stupid, e.g. dim, thick, obtuse, can involve irrelevant connotations.
Further, intelligence is relatively lasting, given its biochemical source, barring the effects of aging or brain trauma, whereas stupidity and smartness can be fleeting, lasting for seconds or a lifetime.
That is not to say that successful (read smart) people cannot also be intelligent.  Carl Sagan, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many others are/were intelligent and smart.  But, anyone who would argue that all successful people are necessarily, or by definition, highly intelligent would need to explain to me apparently successful people such as Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, any Kardashian, and many others.  Of course, some would further argue that those people are also intelligent, requiring the results of intelligence testing to be convincing.
Conversely, the concept does not imply that intelligent people are always smart.  An intelligent person can design and build a fully functional and innovative jet-powered skateboard and stupidly decide to immediately test its feasibility on a busy highway or over the Grand Canyon.
Intelligence is innate, relatively stable, objective, and measurable by proven and continually updated methods[1].  Smartness, like stupidity, is not innate but is the result of a conscious decision and is therefore subject to capriciousness.   Smartness/stupidity is subjective and not measurable by anyone's behavior which can change in an instant and is seldom, if ever, admitted or discovered for reasons implied below. 
Smartness and stupidity cannot be measured.  It cannot be quantified by tests or by bank accounts, for example, since bank balances are affected by inheritances, mistakes, and intelligent or unintelligent decisions.  However, smartness/stupidity can be judged, albeit without great accuracy, using success as an indicator.  There are several forms of success, e.g.  affluence, notoriety, power (pull, authority).  
If viewed philosophically, i.e. without moral judgment, there are many identifiable behaviors that can be used to gain success: deceit, lying, self-discipline, theft, manipulation, education, flamboyance, fraud, forgery, intimidation, tenacity, coercion, among others.  (See?  Not all those traits are, even in the non-philosophical sense, negative.)  The biggest difference between any two humans lies in what they are willing to do to get what they want.
I submit that using the words, intelligent and smart, or unintelligent and stupid, interchangeably serves only to confuse. The practice leads us to assume that, because someone is successful, regardless of their methods to achieve success, they are also intelligent enough to head corporations, serve in significant elected positions, or make momentous military decisions.
In the case of elected office, the more (financially) successful person can afford to spend vast sums on advertising and an entourage to maximize their chances of being elected.  Ultimately, their success depends on the intelligence of the American electorate, but that's a subject for another time.

[1] There are, of course, arguments against IQ tests, asserting that they are inherently biased, inaccurate, and meaningless.  There are also arguments against evolution and for creationism.  I suspect that there is a correlation somewhere.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

FatherhoodMy reason to blog

This past October, 2011, I became a father for the first time when my wife delivered our baby girl.*  Not unusual at all since babies are born every day.  However, when our daughter was born, I was sixty-five years old.  (My wife is obviously much younger than I am.)
I have been around newborns, infants and toddlers a few times in my life but never out of necessity.  This time it was required and I have been with my daughter every day. I've witnessed the small and subtle changes in her development as she masters the skills of head and neck stability, holding her back straight, grasping, vocalizing, unsupported sitting, crawling and many other developments that I'm sure are too subtle to notice yet.
The day that we brought her home was the first time in my life that I changed a diaper.  It is not a difficult task to master, basically mechanical movements that ensure that the bum is clean, dry, and powdered; the diaper is securely but not too tightly attached; and the baby is smiling when it's all over.  That last part is not  always easy to accomplish – and doesn't always happen – but we talk to her and follow her progress in vocalization and ask her questions to assess her curiosity and responses.
Like most parents, we have high hopes and great aspirations for our daughter.  She will be tall, no doubt, placing in the 90-95%ile so far; slim, placing in the 50%ile; and with eyes which color has settled on bright blue with a dark blue outline. 

She is the main reason I started this blog.  I have learned a few things during my life and I want to pass them on to her. Still, I want to include input from others so that she has, not only my view, but those of other people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and philosophies.

* I am lead to believe that I have a child, born in 1968 in northern Japan in Aomori Prefecture, but have not been able to confirm that.  It's a long story.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why blog? 2.0
(This is a continuation of my 5/24/12 post below)

Well ... the e-sphere offers much more than a method to conveniently order products online; rapidly research a Kia's fuel sender unit and other innumerable bits of information; and assertion of political, religious, commercial, and social agenda.  It offers an opportunity to share views across cultures, scientific disciplines, religions, social strata, and countless other perceived barriers.  Of course, this is only true if we are willing to maintain duplex communications, i.e. speak and listen or, more accurately in this case, write and read.
Human society has evolved, through tens of thousands of years, into its current format of parochial, self-serving, defensive enclaves, i.e. countries, nations, states, cultures, religions, political affiliations, etc.  The reason, irrelevant now, can be summed up in three words – prehistoric human nature, but that is not justification for its continuation into what we generally – and charmingly – refer to as modern times.  Those enclaves will continue to exist as long as their leaders are given the power to sponsor and promote the differences that define them. 
The e-sphere – the internet, the web, blogosphere, email and the electronic matrix that supports and flows from it – provides an opportunity for rational individuals the world over to understand all other rational individuals the world over – through personal blogs.  Granted, there will always be those individuals who will stick to their views regardless of rational discourse and the opportunity to learn from and about others. However, those are not rational individuals and, if they blog, their site is not personal; rather, it is an interest blog, a site that perpetuates a self-serving view, a rigid perspective, a conclusion prior to evidence.
That is the reason to blog – to put forth into the e-sphere rational thought, civil discourse, and differing views.  As the strongest metals rely on mixtures with other metals and chemicals, e.g. chromium-nickel-copper stainless steel, the strongest philosophies, thoughts, and perspectives will rely on hybridization and input from many sources rather than a single, inbred source.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why Blog? 1.0
Why blog?  Hmm ... good question.  What causes people to start a blog?  After all, there are roughly as many English-language blogs as there are drops of water in a backyard, 6,000 gallon, above-ground swimming pool[1].
It seems there are three types of blogs[2]: 1) personal blogs, 2) interest blogs, and 3) commercial blogs.  The number of blog sites has been increasing at astonishing rates[3] since software applications designed specifically for the format were developed in the late 1990's[4].
As of this writing, May, 2012, there are estimated to be 450 million English-oriented blogs[5], up from an estimated 200 million blogs in 2009[6].   Including non-English-oriented blogs, the number is estimated to be one billion blog sites[7].
Commercial blogs are, of course, designed to promote products and/or services, essentially extensions of a company's advertising and marketing efforts, albeit at much lower costs than traditional advertising.
Interest sites are those that highlight a specific focus of a group, e.g. political, religious, social, environmental, etc.  Essentially advertising for that group's interests – as opposed to products or services – they still are designed to have others 'buy into' the perspective or hype of the group.  No different than company-oriented blogs, they are essentially selling an idea, an ideal, a perspective.
Personal blogs are a different story.  It is easy to argue that personal blogs also assert specific views of the author and, in very loose interpretation, therefore attempt to 'sell' a view.  However, a personal blogger who does not also expect to learn – not just receive feedback – from interaction with others falls out of the personal blog into the interest blog, simply representing a group of one. 
With no well defined assessment available, it is virtually impossible to determine the number of blogs of each type; however, many blogs are abandoned and many others lay dormant long enough to render them irrelevant.  Therefore, the blogosphere is not as large and pervasive as the numbers imply.
I repeat ... why blog?

[1]  Assuming the scientific standard of twenty drops of water per milliliter
[2]  http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2011/01/too-many-blogs/
[3]  http://techliberation.com/2008/05/06/need-help-how-many-blogs-are-there-out-there/
[4]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog
[5]  http://www.hattrickassociates.com/2010/02/how_many_blogs_2011_web_content/
[6]  ibid
[7]  ibid

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Literary Tics
After finishing the first draft of my novel several months ago, and excited about the accomplishment, I soon began editing the second draft.  After the first few pages, I recognized patterns in my writing that I termed "literary tics". The tics were repetitive use of words with which I felt comfortable and which I thought conveyed the scene I saw in my mind as I was writing.  In fact, they did convey the scene; however, in that first draft, I had not considered the impact of repetition of those words on the reader.  Examples of the words are as, just, down, and up. Use of these words is not a tic, of course, but the overuse of them is.
I used the word, as, repeatedly when other words such as when or while would have applied equally well. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with the word, as, only in the frequency with which I used it.  The phrase, "As I looked at Momma ...", can be replaced with, "When I looked at Momma ...", with little, if any, change in the connotation.  Of course, the risk then becomes overusing the word, when, a possibility that is easily addressed with balanced use of all words at the writer's disposal.
Likewise, I used the word, just, many times when it was just not needed (like that). For example, in the phrases, "He was just sitting there or "She just didn't know the stranger," the word doesn't add anything of substance to the statements. However, in some cases in narrative and, especially, in dialogue, the word carries a different connotation and is warranted. For instance, there is a difference between, "Carol, I don't know" and "Carol, I just don't know" in dialogue, the first imparting fact, the second perhaps frustration.
Another literary tic of which I was guilty is the use of up and down. For instance, when the setting is described as a woman standing and her son sitting to her side, there is no reason to write, "He turned and looked up at her." The word, up, is not needed and the same is true for the word, down, in similar situations.
I am sure that experienced writers are not afflicted with literary tics to the extent that beginning writers are, although they may have been as beginners. The goal, of course, is to identify and prevent them, thereby making writing more efficient and effective.  The good news is that repetition of words is easy to highlight with modern word processors.  They can be reviewed and changed during the edit. 
Other literary tics may include routinely, but inadvertently, changing POV; verb tense mismatches; and habitual use of non-standard punctuation.  In any case, taking care of these "literary tics" allowed me to also review surrounding material while editing.  In addition, getting the literary garbage out of the way allows me to concentrate on style, POV, show-not-tell considerations, etc.  It is rather like cleaning the dust and dirt off a vintage car to determine the work needed to restore it to a polished finish.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Maple and Miss Red
I sat down slowly in the porch several mornings ago with my first cup of coffee and soon heard a familiar tat-tat-tat outside.  Not far from the porch was a female red-bellied woodpecker drilling into a heavy, dead branch on a dying maple.
As she relentlessly struck the limb in beats of three, slivers and shavings of wood floated to the ground, fifteen feet below.  I wondered how long she could strike her head against the wood, presumably without her first cup of coffee.
Sluggishly, I began to realize that Miss Red's struggle to survive was a fitting metaphor for the writing process.  Compelled by instinct beyond my ken, she was certain that a tasty bug was escaping the overnight cold within relative warmth inside the decomposing flesh of the dead branch.  She was determined to reach the morsel in the same way that we sense a good story within an inspiration and strive to reveal it.  Much the same as she repeated her tat-tat-tat on the wood, writers tap-tap-tap on a keyboard, trying to uncover the story within.
Miss Red was mulish in her labor, much as a writer must be tenacious to coax a story from words.  Without her drive she will starve, certainly with the specter of winter literally on the horizon.  In some cases, litterateurs face the same future although it can be worse – the unfulfilled need for self-expression.  Of course, even as there may be no reward for the woodpecker's work, the same may be true for the writer.  But, any woodpecker or scribe worth their salt wouldn't let that stop them.
As she worked, Miss Red was unconcerned about the debris that fell to earth.  They were bits of wood, obstacles in her way much as many words are in the way of writers, words that must be cast aside during editing to reveal the meat of the story. 
If her concentration was interrupted by someone slurping coffee or my wife's footsteps, the bird stopped momentarily, but always returned to her work.  In the same way, we may find our efforts interrupted by the cry of a baby, an important phone call, or the call of nature.  The dedicated will return to the task at hand as quickly as possible and continue chipping away at the wordy wood.
In fact, the hundred-plus-year-old maple itself is a metaphor for the art of letters.  The farthest reaches of its root system represent the beginnings with The Epic of Gilgamesh, if not stories told in pictographs on cave walls.  The trunk, main branches, water sprouts, and limbs represent the styles of fiction and nonfiction through millennia of human history, snaking off in different directions as the human imagination strives to explore all forms of written expression.  Even its leaves, returning each year in similar but different arrangements and colors, symbolize the literature styles of the day.
As I saw her struggle to survive as a metaphor for writing, I wondered if Miss Red sees writing as a metaphor for her struggle to survive.  I think we both shall miss that maple.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Screenplay's the Thing
"The play's the thing."  So said Will Shakespeare through his character, Prince Hamlet.  That line has been cited countless times by writers, philosophers, social media pundits – even scientists and economists.  The context varies, of course, depending on the purpose and perspective of the user.  I recently conceived of a new – for me – context and use for the line, i.e., to highlight the ultimate purpose of fiction writing, and by inference, the role of the writer with respect to the reader.
The novelist's goal, as well as the short story writer's and poet's goal, is to use words to transfix and transport a reader's mind to a scene, to action, to dialogue.  More importantly, the goal is also to keep the reader's mind in place – bonded to the scene – and pursue the journey that the writer has laid out.
I recently reread a short story, Proof of the Pudding, by William Sydney Porter, also known as O. Henry.  A Mr. Westbrook, editor of Minerva Magazine, chances upon one Shackleford Dawe, a once successful but now failing writer for Westbrook's magazine, among others.  We learn that Westbrook's main objection to Dawe's writing lies in the author's use of common, ordinary dialogue in response to a dramatic event.  Dawe argues that his writing is consistent with human behavior whereas Westbrook argues for more dramatic responses, reminding me of Shakespeare's works.  Dawe responds to Westbrook's argument, claiming, "Not in a six hundred night's run anywhere but on the stage." Interestingly, they both seem to view a work of fiction like a script for a play. 
To be expected of O. Henry, Westbrook and Dawe, discovering in the same letter that their wives left them to pursue better lives, respond in manners exactly contrary to their staunchly held positions.  My intent is not to argue for either position.  Rather, the story pointed out to me that a novel or short story can be much like a screenplay, wherein the writer can evoke, in the reader, all the senses employed in film through skillful – and practiced – word choice.  A film or a novel can embody captivating action or poignant stillness, vivid sound or momentous silence, and the illusions of hideous or appetizing tastes, tactile sensations of luxurious suede or asphalt, and the strength of a pleasant perfume or revolting stench.
For me, what is new, if not news, is the concept of a novel played out on a soundstage inside the reader's mind.  By viewing a novel  as a movie, the writer, similar to a film's screenwriter, producer, and director, can bind the reader's mind to the moment, like the effect of a good movie on a viewer.  Choosing a film as a writer's perspective instead of a stage play has the advantages of grander special effects, and breadth of scenery selection and dialogue, relative to a play.  In any event, like Westbrook and Dawe intimate, the screenplay's the thing, in the form of a novel, that will hopefully fill a reader's mind with the story that is in the writer's mind.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Dollar Bill

Sometime in September of 1962, my high school English Composition teacher assigned us the task of writing an essay describing an unusual occurrence in our life during the previous summer or spring.  His purpose was no doubt to assess our writing abilities which would indicate the amount of work he was facing during the school year.
Barely old enough to legally drive and living in a relatively quiet area of the country, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and a relatively quiet area of the century, I could think of nothing unusual or essay-worthy about which to write.  I was a farm boy whose summers were filled with unexciting work, e.g. hoeing, pulling weeds, feeding chickens and cultivating seemingly endless fields of beans and corn.  As any farmer will attest, the results of farming can be anything but dull, given the weather and the economy; however, the work toward that end is exceedingly dull.  Leisure time was filled with easily predictable pursuits, e.g. fishing and swimming in local ponds and horseback riding.
And so, I faced the daunting challenge of recognizing an event in my recent life that warranted treatment in an essay.  I could think of only one pathetically feeble event.  During the summer, while feeding the chickens, I found a dollar bill amidst the litter in the chicken house.  It was a crumpled bill covered in chicken manure and pine shavings, totally unusable in its found state.  In the essay, I described my wonder at finding the bill, the value of which at that time was not insignificant, and the process I went through to clean it and render it useful.  Visions of spending it on three gallons of gas or five cheeseburgers the next time that I was allowed to drive to town made the effort seem worthwhile.
Although my essay was not exactly a description of an earth-shattering or dramatic, life-altering event, I was horrified when Mr. Bloodsworth chose my essay to read to the class the next day.  He did not divulge the author’s name but, as he stood at the front of the classroom, reading the essay, I began to feel like the main character in a Stephen King short story, years before I heard of the author.  I cringed as I heard the expected snickers and whispers of my classmates who were, for the most part, city-dwellers, sixteen-year-olds who didn’t know a chicken house from a chicken coop or the value of a dollar.  I recall hoping that a fire drill would interrupt the class and terminate my misery.  No such luck!
When he finished reading the essay aloud, still without divulging the author’s name, Mr. Bloodsworth looked around the class, and without his gaze landing on anyone specific, advised the author to pursue writing because the piece showed promising talent.  In spite of the expected condescending reactions of my classmates, I took some enigmatic pride in his advice although, at the time, I was unable to comprehend its significance.
That is one of the events that, remembered decades later, imparted a measure of confidence in me to accept the challenge to write a novel.  And strangely, after starting, I somehow imagined the kernels of several more novels, not to mention several short stories. 

Does anyone else remember similar - or different - experiences in their young life that imparted the drive or confidence to write fiction?

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Novice Novelist
Within the realm of fiction writing, I readily admit to being a neophyte by any standard.  As a contributing columnist addressing real estate topics at a local newspaper, my writing was journalistic and factual.  Years later, in college at the age of sixty-three – yes, sixty-three – my essays and theses for history, English and philosophy classes were interpretive and conceptual.  Although neither foray into writing directly addressed fiction-writing skills, positive responses in the latter experience fostered within me a desire to write a novel, the general storyline of which had been percolating in my mind for years.
In a fit of blind exuberance, I began writing the great American novel eighteen months ago.  Painfully aware of my limited expertise, I also began reading everything within my grasp about the craft, including magazines, books, online references, blogs, agent reviews, etc.  Naturally, I wanted to learn how to seize my readers’ interest on the first page and kidnap their minds until the very last page.  Of course, I also wanted to recognize the potholes and detours on the road to publication.  In all that research, I never encountered an article written by a relative newcomer to the art.
In the name of all that is rational, why would anyone listen to the views of a novice, an amateur, a beginner in any field?  Because NASA listens to high school students who suggest viable and valuable experiments in space.  Because rare is the parent who, when asked a seemingly simple question by their young child, didn’t pause to question their own conclusions about life or their philosophical view of reality.  Because most home builders, auto mechanics and other trades encounter a new hire who suggests a better, faster, or less expensive technique.  Because to ignore meaningful input from a fresh, even amateur, perspective can mean neglecting that glint of insight that we were unaware was missing.
Therein lies the reason I started this blog – to document my journey from novice fiction writer to – well...hopefully – publication.  During subsequent drafts of my first novel, I noticed repeating patterns of beginners' blunders, and during a review by a professional editor friend, I was forthrightly, albeit diplomatically, apprised of others.  I intend to highlight pitfalls, potholes, and detours that I have encountered -- and will encounter -- along the way.  Maybe it will help other beginning writers.