Thursday, May 31, 2018

REVISING


“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

I am a compulsive reviser, but I must admit to having ambivalent feelings when I rewrite a manuscript. I find revision to be a constant challenge, in the absence of professional editorial input.

This is the way things used to be. When the muse was with me I could often write a first draft without stopping for food or rest. This could take many hours, but I usually finished with a sense of satisfaction that was short lived.

Writers are often advised to put the manuscript aside and let some time pass before revising it.  When I pick up the draft again, my emotions have cooled, my eyes have become jaundiced, and I recall Hemmingway’s dictum that “all first drafts are excrement.” Barnaby Conrad reminded us, “Books and stories aren’t written-they are rewritten!”  Irwin Shaw said that he rewrites, shows finished drafts to his publisher and a close friend, and then does a revision.
I yearned for criticism, but my sole critic, my roommate, pal, lover, and wife is inevitably away at work when I need her.  I endure the wait by removing unnecessary dialog tags, adverbs, and adjectives.  I try to replace narrative summary with dialog, I check tenses, search for clich├ęs and stronger verbs.

The moment the door opens I pounce on her.  “Hi. I’ve written something.  I’d like you to read it.”

She insists on removing her coat and expresses the need to visit our facility first. Don’t they have bathrooms where she works? I thrust the manuscript into her hands and hover. Her typical response after a rapid perusal is “It’s good.”

Sol Stein maintains that when applied to a manuscript as a whole, such a response can be destructive.

“No,” I demand.  “Read it critically.”
“Can it wait until after dinner?”
“Could you just read it now?”  There’s a pleading note to my voice.
“I read it already,” she tells me as I follow her into the kitchen.  I’m hungry, but I need a critique like an addict craves a fix.
“What do you think?” I persist as she pours oil into a skillet.
“I told you, it’s good.”  She starts to slice an onion.
“I mean what do you really think of it?”

Criticism even when solicited is sometimes hard to accept and often provokes defensive explanations, but total deprivation of an analytical assessment can be frustrating.

Sometimes she makes a good suggestion that I incorporate into the next revision, but today she says, “Look, I’m not an expert.  What do I know?  You need an expert.” Further pleas and demands are futile.  She is totally absorbed in culinary activities.  Exasperated, I return to the computer with my oil-spattered manuscript.

I’m anxious to move on, to write more, eventually to submit something to an editor.  The work usually improves with each revision, but when does one stop There is always the risk that further revision will diminish the draft.  Each revision takes the story further from the original.

This is how things are now. “Never ask a family member or a good friend for a critique. This is as useless as tits on a boar hog. The inevitable response will be, ‘It’s good.’ ” Paul D. Ellner (1925-20--)


Thursday, May 24, 2018

MAGNETS AND LADDERS

Behind Our Eyes recently honored me when they included an excerpt from one of my novels in their spring edition of Magnets and Ladders. Behind Our Eyes Inc., a writers group, was created in 2006 and includes members from all over the United States. Members of BOE meet twice a month by moderated teleconference. Each Sunday night, they alternate between working critique sessions and listening to presentations from writers, poets, journalists, teachers and people in the publishing industry.The only requirement for membership in BOE is that the writers have a disability such as blindness. Their material is varied and includes poetry, short stories, essays, etc. 

Magnets and Laddersis published quarterly, and is edited by a member elected for that purpose. In my case, the editors were gracious enough to include an excerpt from my novel And Evil Shall Come. This was a large excerpt describing how Kate Morrison pursued by the Al Qaeda takes refuge in her best friends apartment and how the friend betrays her. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to promote my book. The editor, Mary Jo Lord, purchased a copy of my most recent collection of short stories Bright Figures Sinister Shadows.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

THE DISTANT FUTURE?

I cannot help thinking about global warming, climate change, countries developing nuclear weapons, Muslim terrorism, random shootings, etc. and wondering what will happen.  In Incident in Geneva I decided to use myself as the protagonist and the novel to determine what would or could result from these potential catastrophes. So I, thinly disguised as Professor Charles Handler, and his wife, residents of a tiny hamlet in Northwestern Connecticut, find themselves on a train in Switzerland. They are coming from a visit with a colleague in Zurich heading to see family in France before returning home. En route, Charles plans to tour the Hadron Collider in Geneva, considered to be the world’s largest machine.  While there a freak explosion propels Charles into an alternate universe, where he finds himself back in Connecticut five hundred years into the future.  The people are survivors of a thermonuclear war and a worldwide pandemic.  Society, political structure, religion, and customs have all radically changed. Many of the social changes appear to be beneficial while others are baffling and difficult for him to accept until he learns that everyone has been genetically modified to eliminate aggressive behavior and greed. Charles is accepted into society until a warrant for his arrest from the World Court leads to his arrest on charges of attempted manslaughter of the Human Race.

How these many problems are resolved or addressed make interesting reading as you contemplate their possibility or probability.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

READERS AND WRITERS

I think all writers are serious readers. Some of them may be checking the competition or looking for ideas, but I believe they all read for pleasure. I’ve always been an avid reader. Since my retirement in 1989, I read (listen to) about three books a week, usually novels.

Many detective, thriller, and spy types are so predictable that by the time I finish the second paragraph I can guess the ending. My preferences are stories that deal with universal concepts. The books cited below are examples that meet these criteria.

Cider House Rules by John Irving relates how young Homer Wells grows up under the tutelage of Doctor Wilbur Larch, the obstetrician and abortionist at St. Cloud’s Orphanage in Maine.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is the story of poor Oklahoma farmers trying to escape the Dust Bowl by migrating to California.

In the Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, three families in Appalachia lead lives entwined with each other.

Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey is a nonfiction gem that describes the lives of dolphins and how they interacted with humans since ancient times.

Irma Joubert, Afrikaans novelist has written Girl from the Train, the touching story of two disparate characters, six-year old Gretl, the sole survivor of a train bound for Auschwitz that is destroyed, and Jakob, a Polish freedom fighter who bombed the train. Jakob finds Gretl and cares for her before arranging for her safe life in South Africa. But they never forget each other.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the saga of seven generations of Koreans striving to survive under the domination of the Japanese who despise them.

You do not have to read these books. I only list them as examples of wonderful stories of the human condition. Our book club has read and enjoyed some of them.