Posts Tagged Writing

Authors’ Eye/Insights

Thursday, January 31st, 2019 | Permalink

My recent and ongoing confrontation with post-op cataract surgery complications documented on Facebook prompted my seeking inspiration from other, more eminent authors facing similar (or worse) problems. Though I’m not in their class as a writer (not yet, anyway), we share the frustration and dread for the future as far as our writing is concerned.

Reading through the thumbnail histories of these writers, what stands out is the gamut of reactions each of them have or had to encroaching blindness. As proudly individualistic as their writings, their reactions to blindness range from despair to grudging acceptance to triumphant surmounting their afflictions.

John J. Ross in his essay on medical issues suffered by four British authors cites the example of James Joyce who experienced near-blindness in the painful aftermath of his treatment for gonorrhea. Primitive early 20th century medical techniques cured the disease but he developed terrible attacks of eye pain and arthritis in the process. Despite his twelve eye surgeries and a host of other ailments, he devoted the last two decades of his life creating the paean to language that is Finnegan’s Wake.

Matt Reimann examines some classic and modern writers’ experiences with blindness. Along with Joyce already mentioned above, Homer, John Milton, and Jorge Luis Borges are prime examples of writers overcoming and becoming inspired by their affliction. For Milton blindness was “a divine benefit” which turned “his insight inward” while Borges used it as a secular motivation to become a lecturer and teacher. One of his proudest moments, he claimed, was becoming director of the National Library of Argentina when he could no longer write.

The reasons for these writers and artists’ sight impairments may not have been the most noble or sympathetic, but their responses to the affliction are similar: they found a way to use poor eyesight as motivation to continue on, whether through divine inspiration, humanitarian concern, or dogged determination. That’s a lesson from which all of us have benefited.


YA Fiction Stoked My Love for the Derby

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018 | Permalink

The draw for post positions for the 144th Kentucky Derby happened yesterday (Tuesday), and though I have little to no idea who the winner will be (Justify has the most publicity and is the favorite), I can tell you how this race influenced me into becoming a writer.

To do that we have to go back in time to provide some context. Before movies and books about Secretariat and Seabiscuit dominated the media outlets of this country in the early 2000s, stories about several fictional horses dominated the publishing and television worlds. National Velvet celebrated steeple-chasing through running in England’s Grand National and Mary O’Hara‘s part-mustang corralled horse-related sensibilities of American TV audiences with the series “My Friend Flicka.” A dearth of equine counterparts characterized what little American fiction that took place in horse racing settings.

Until Walter Farley came along. Most of you probably know him as the author of the novel, The Black Stallion which was adapted into a lyrically visual and faithfully accurate screenplay in the 1979 movie of the same name. Though the first novel culminates in a match race modeled after the real life race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral some years earlier, the novel and its sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, made into a movie four years later, are primarily adventure stories set in exotic locales that detail and celebrate the bond between a boy (Alec Ramsey) and his horse (The Black).

But undersized teenage boys do grow up and must enter the adult world. Unlike Hollywood which jettisoned the saga about The Black after Alec restored him to his rightful Arabian owner, Walter Farley faced the dilemma of what to do with his popular, teenage hero. The answer: The Son of the Black Stallion. And after that, the reuniting of the original pairing in The Black Stallion and Satan (his son). In the process Alec Ramsey transforms from a reluctant, naive jockey into a small business entrepreneur who owns his own breeding farm in the later novels in the series.

What does this have to do with my interest in horse racing, particularly the Derby? Well, in the long fictional tradition of Americans trying to save their farms (The Grapes of Wrath is one example) Alec is forced to defy tradition again by entering a daughter of The Black, Black Minx, in the Kentucky Derby. Originally published in 1952, long before the real life female exploits of Genuine Risk and Winning Colors which won the Roses in 1980 and 1988 respectively, The Black Stallion’s Filly reflects the bias of the time that quality female horses could not compete against well-bred males. Another outsider story in keeping with the exploits of her sire, Farley deftly portrayed the prejudice and excitement in Alec’s desperate bid to save his livelihood by defying thoroughbred racing orthodoxy. That story and its sequel, The Black Stallion’s Courage, provide fine insights into machinations of thoroughbred racing as practiced in the 1950s.

I devoured both of these books in my early teens, rereading them again and again until their dust jackets crumpled into shreds. Alec and The Black’s exploits ultimately ventured into other fictional genre realms of mystery, science fiction and archaeology (The Island Stallion) series, and spin-offs such as harness racing (The Blood Bay Colt) and equine treatment (The Horse Tamer). Meanwhile, my fictional interests expanded into those areas along with history and metaphysics (The Razor’s Edge). My nascent interest in horse-racing transferred to the real life pageantry and lore that surrounds horse-racing–here, in Europe, and around the world.

I’ve never enjoyed the gambling aspect of horse racing (I have placed a bet or two–some successful) nor have I ever ridden a thoroughbred (my only horseback riding experience ended in my clinging to the saddle horn for dear life while my ancient gray gelding cantered back to the bag of oats in his stall), but I retain a fondness for racing life. As such, the Kentucky Derby still thrills me as the premium example of America’s contribution to the “sport of kings.”

What do you think about the Kentucky Derby? Or horse racing in general? And Walter Farley–what is your favorite work of his? I only mentioned Flame, the Island Stallion, in passing. Do you think he’s the better horse? I find Steve Duncan’s story of how he and his friend Pitch found Flame on a deserted Caribbean Island to be more thrilling and compelling. What do you think?

My interview with David Alan Binder

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 | Permalink

David Alan Binder is an author who has interviewed over 200 writers, fiction and non-fiction in various genres. His questions reflect the emotional eddies and cross-currents that make up a writer’s interior life. My answers are particularly revealing in light of the several narratives that occur in Mission: Soul Rescue. The link to my answers appears below:

What do you think?

C3 Anthology

Friday, September 5th, 2014 | Permalink

armor_shield2-300x295Received official confirmation from Denise Camacho, President of Intrigue Publishing, that my short story, “Blessings for the Living,” will be included in the 2014 anthology of stories written by authors appearing at the “Creatures, Crime, and Creativity” conference. Held again at the Hunt Valley Inn in Baltimore, Maryland, this second installment of C3 runs from Friday afternoon, October 10, through Sunday morning, October 12, 2014. Guest speakers include keynote speakers, Rebecca York and John Gilstrap, and guest interviews with authors Brad Park and C. J. Ellisson.

Based upon a real life incident at the prison farm outside my hometown in Waupun, Wisconsin, my short story centers around a boyhood experience of Victor Furst, the shaman/psychologist protagonist of my forthcoming novel, “The New Immortals.” On Halloween night, Victor discovers all of the spooky, malevolent things occurring on the farm, including the killing of his dog, Monte, may not have been committed by one of the prisoners who has befriended him.

Building Effective Online Author Plaforms

Monday, March 31st, 2014 | Permalink

George_Burns_2_Allan_Warren ADoesn’t every author have an online platform? Seems a silly question with all the books being published and their related promotions on Twitter and Facebook. Yet, many of the web sites associated with these writers are unfocused and ineffective according to Michael Kelberer who conducted the local SinC presentation on the topic, March 29, 2014. These web sites promote their books but not their brand, i.e., the potential reader has little or no idea who this author is or what his or her books are about.

Though authors as a group are used to researching the backgrounds for their novels and stories, they aren’t as comfortable researching strategies and techniques for marketing their writing. Urging us to “look at other people doing what I want to do,” Kelberer supplied tips to maximize traffic to an author’s web site, identified online resources to find and retain readers, and surveyed the web sites of a half dozen successful authors.

Though this information was extremely helpful and in many cases, eye-opening in its scope, the most important points he made during his two plus hours boiled down to two, one practical and one philosophic. The practical one was to use your research, visits, travel, and other information related to your books as subject matter for your blog. To keep readers informed and interested in your work, sharing the research and discoveries made along the way helps make authors real people to their readers.

The philosophical point dovetails with the practical: Be consistently true to yourself in your web site and social media presentations. If an author’s goal is to share his or her writing with readers, the web site should reflect the writer’s interest and personality. More than that, doing so forms a bond, a sort of online handshake that this writer is authentic, i.e. that the site reflects his or her writing and world view and are worth a perusal.

Comedian George Burns once said, “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” While authors are in the business of spinning yarns and telling lies, if they wish their writing to be read and expect people to pay for the privilege, their presentations of themselves must be sincere and genuine. Their author platforms are the most important part of establishing their online contract with their readers.

A Lesson Repeated at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference

Sunday, October 27th, 2013 | Permalink

One thing the keynote speakers at this conference did that speakers at many other conferences don’t do is discuss the amount of labor involved. When writers discuss the “iceberg approach” to their writing, they could as easily refer to the amount of person hours involved as the technique that implies something deep lies beneath the surface of their narratives.

Jeffrey Deaver was quite upfront about the work aspect during his Saturday night keynote address when he pronounced writing “is a business.” When he started out he was like most novices “who like and write books as we all do.” But as he became more proficient at his craft, he realized that even though he enjoyed being “paid to make up things,” he also found particular aspects of his profession that he detested, particularly what he calls the “dreaded explanatory” chapter in which the author has to wrap up the loose threads and make sense of them for the reader. More and more he found himself “to hate, hate, HATE writing those chapters” and putting off the chore until he absolutely had to.

Allison Leotta equated her work day to that of juggler’s who wonders “which balls will be dropped.” This “female John Grisham,” as one reviewer called her, realized after publishing her first book that she needed to spend two hours a day just for marketing to “build an author platform.” And if she were to meet her ambition and reverse the simile, i.e., for Grisham to become regarded as the “male Allison Leottta,” she would need to work doubly hard and “really have to hone my talents.”

All too often, novice writers (me included), regard writing as a matter of a seamless process of inspiration, perspiration, production, and adulation. After a book or two, they figure they have reached the starry firmament where they can rely on the strength of their reputation to communicate with their readers. Celebrity authors aside, few professional writers have such luxury. Each novel builds upon the ones that precede it which ups the ante on the reception the current publication receives. For that novel or short story to be a success with the public and for the author, a writer must conclude sooner rather than later as Ms. Leotta and the attendees at this conference have, that the writing life is all “about working your ass off all the time.”

To view my photos of the C3 conference, check out my Facebook page at:

Author Blog

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 | Permalink

Compose, design, advocate: Comments on an IAS roundtable discussion

Sunday, April 1st, 2012 | Permalink

Writing is writing–except when performed on a Web editor such as this one and displayed on countless types of browsers and tablets with different settings, screen widths, and a host of variables that include video and audio. Then the process of assembling words in understandable order becomes the art of  “communication” in all its myriad forms.

That was the message that emerged from the roundtable discussion with Professors Dennis Lynch and Anne Wysocki at the University of Minnesota’s Nolte Center on Wednesday afternoon. The bulk of the discussion as led by Prof.  Wysocki focused upon the notion that the advent of social media has changed how people communicate and their conceptions of literacy. No longer the mere interpretation of words, reading “differs through all our basic technologies.” Where reading and writing once were the basic skills that determined literacy, Wysocki’s search in an ERIC database revealed 84 different versions of the term including computer, emotional, and sexual literacy.

With reading and writing no longer the “be all and end all” of literacy, the people in attendance, mostly writing instructors, addressed the dual challenges of how this expansion of the definition of literacy shapes a writer’s audience and how it can be used to encourage students to take chances as producers of text. Some in the audience sought to expand the definition even further by not limiting literacy to words alone but to the interpretation of all oral and visual texts. A writer’s “performance” in the print medium incorporates multi-modalities that bring his or her body into the foreground of composing a text.

No doubt expanding the definition of writing to include variant forms of graphic design does encourage students to have fun creating their texts and try alternative technologies to reach different audiences.  But despite the literacy displayed by both parties in crafting and reading a message such as “My ♥ bleeds 4 u,” how effective can such communication be if the writer fails to supply the Web editor with properly written instructions to mount it? In their efforts to instill the “physical pleasure” of creating texts in their students, instructors overlook the fact that their students must be conversant in the basics of English syntax to appreciate the ironic subtext of such a deviant message. Sometimes, a clearly written set of instructions is worth a dozen wordless diagrams. Anyone who tackles assembling a piece of  furniture created from IKEA’s interior designers can attest to the truth of that observation.