Model dinosaurs on their way to the New York World's Fair via the Hudson River in October 1963. I imagine a boy watching from the shore ...
An essay of mine, How I broke up with my book, is in very good company over at the Humber Writer's Blog ... David Mitchell, Timothy Findley, Miriam Toews, Erin Bedford. I am so very lucky!
(The soundtrack for this blog post, by the way, is Sesame Street's "One of these things is not like the others ... " )
I've always loved the sound of the word soliloquy. This one is used far less, but is just as easy on the ear:
noun 1. a way of speaking that is mellow and agreeable
Etymology: from the Latin dulcis for sweet, and loqui, to speak
Source: Collins English Dictionary
READ LIKE A WRITER
If you want to be a writer, I think you'll agree: Reading is important. For all the idealogical reasons you've heard a thousand times before, people will be better versions of themselves if they read. But if you are a writer or a want-to-be-writer, it is even more important. Than what? Than everything. Don't believe me? Take his word for it:
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” STEPHEN KING
Reading is a writer's best teacher. With that in mind, here are a few hints on how to get the most out of the next book you read.
Make reading your job
With practice, critical reading will become second nature. Until it does, it will seem like work. At first, you should separate reading for enjoyment from reading for education. Also, choose stories that you know well, and love to read. It will make work seem less like work, and it will be easier to put your finger on the things that you really love about the writing. Before you sit down to reread your favourite books, imagine you are interviewing the author, trying to discover why and how they wrote the book the way they did.
Because I write and read fiction, my questions naturally focus on characters and setting, narrative style, and dialogue. I pay particular attention to beginnings and endings. Why did the story start at that moment, and not another? Why is the story over now?
As you begin, do your best to read critically at least once a week. You don't have to read Ulysses to be a serious reader. Short stories, magazine articles, cereal boxes. They are all trying to communicate something to you. The questions you must ask if you want to improve your own writing are :
It is easy to be a genre snob, but don't ever turn away great writing. We learn from people who are experts in our field, yes, but we also have a great deal to learn from people who do things differently than we normally would.
Also, read everything. I know this seems like repetition, but what I mean this time is that you should use your interrogative mind all the time. Books are not the only thing we can or should be reading. Movies and television and songs--somebody wrote them, so it follows that you should read them too. This is critical analysis though, don't forget, not an excuse to binge-watch Downton or Game of Thrones.
For More on this Topic --
Author Interviews from:
Writers and Company with Eleanor Wachtel
The Paris Review
Authors on Reading
Another NPR series, You Must Read This: books recommended by authors
Ten Famous Writers on How to Read
Books about Reading Books
How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Like Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose
How Fiction Works, By James Wood
Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, by Wendy Lesser
Next time In The Workshop: Easy Fixes
The real story: Hugo Gernsback helped start the science fiction genre, along with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but before that he experimented with electronics. In 1925, he created The Isolator, a helmet to improve concentration by pumping pure oxygen to the wearer while also rendering them deaf to outside noises. I don't know about you, but I could use one of these today.
This is an onomatopoeic word, so say it out loud and you'll get an idea of what it means.
noun 1. the act or an instance of making a soft rustling sound; whispering; murmuring
Etymology: 19th century, from Latin susurrāre, to whisper
source: Collins English Dictionary
Just as you won’t write a good book without reading plenty of them yourself, you will have difficulty selling your book if you don’t research the market. Know what books are out there in your genre. Pay special attention to cover art, jacket blurbs, and interior formatting. Find out what readers are looking for in your genre and make sure to mention this in your book synopsis and marketing material.
The following sites provide publishing services with no up-front fees to you, the writer. As payment for their services, they take a percentage of every sale you might make.
This is where the self- and traditional publishing worlds collide. Most authors, (even agented, big-advance-contract, NYT-bestselling authors) are expected to have an online presence. If you go it alone, and you want your book to find an audience, you should think of publicity and marketing as a part-time job. Social media is an important marketing tool for your book, no matter how you might feel about it personally. Word of mouth is one of the largest deciding factors in book purchasing.
The real story: In 1931, Augusta Maria Hoyt adopted a baby gorilla after her husband and his hunt guides killed the mother and father. She named the gorilla M'Toto (little child in Swahili) and raised her like a daughter for ten years. Hoyt told her story in Toto and I: a gorilla in the family What's your story?
Today's word is a throwback. I don't know if anyone has used this word in five hundred years. Still, say the word out loud--quietly, though, or in private, unless you're going for that medieval vibe that all the hipsters are into these days. (Hipsters do a lot of weird stuff and call it cool. You can't blame me for trying to start something.)
Anyway, this is a perfect sounding word, in my opinion.
noun 1. a vision or dream
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English swefn, sleep
source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
How to deal with rejection:
Next time In The Workshop: Read like a Writer
On Vashon Island in Washington state, this tree continues to grow around a bicycle left there since the middle of the last century. The local stories are plenty. My favourite is the one about a boy who got this bike for his birthday but abandoned it in the forest because he was too ashamed to ride a girls' bike. So, what's your story?
Before tin cans tied to car bumpers, there was charivari (also called shivaree) to send off a newlywed couple. In most cases, charivari was a middle-of-the-night party on the bride and groom's front lawn that didn't end until the rabble rousers were fed by the newlyweds.
noun 1. a cacophonous mock serenade, performed in derision of an unpopular person or in celebration of a marriage
Etymology: mid 17th century: from French, perhaps from Ancient Greek καρηβαρία (karēbareia, “headache”)
source: Oxford English Dictionary
I knew that I'd be posting book and author reviews here, but I've been hesitant because I didn't know what I could bring to the discussion that was new or interesting. There are so many fabulous professional and hobby book critics; what I have to say about a new book will not add much. But I read a lot, and my tastes are eclectic, and I have no reason to be current. So, if you want to read the newest, greatest book, visit The New York Review of Books or BookPage. But if you want to hear about an outstanding book or author you might have missed, then read on.
You Might Have Missed ... an incredible journey through Siberia.
Book: Silverland: A Winter Journey Beyond the Urals
Author: Dervla Murphy
Pub. Details: John Murray, 2007.
I discovered Dervla Murphy by accident. Ten years ago, I was browsing, with no intention of buying, in the travel lit. section at my local bookstore. And there was Dervla. I knew I couldn't leave the store without her. (If it sounds like I'm talking about meeting my soulmate, trust me, that's not far off the mark. That book, South from the Limpopo, began a great book love affair.)
If you have the good sense to read Murphy's book, you will find yourself asking, "Why have I never heard of her before?" I know, because that is exactly what I said. Silverland is her twenty-first of what is currently a twenty-three book tally. And she didn't start travelling or writing professionally until she turned thirty-two.
Murphy is not a typical travel writer. Her first journey, in 1963, took her from Ireland to India --- by bicycle. Later, she treks through the Andes with a mule --- and her nine year old daughter in tow. South from the Limpopo is a journey by bike more than 9,000 kilometres and through all nine provinces of South Africa --- during the tumult of post-apartheid democratic general elections. Silverland finds her travelling from Moscow to Siberia by slow train in the winter --- at age seventy-four.
Dervla boards this slow train in Moscow. Instead of the posher, faster Trans-Siberian, she chooses the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM). She likes it "...partly because these trains' favourite speed is 20 m.p.h." For three months, she enjoys the company of her varied Russian co-riders and during stop-overs, she finds hospitality, as she always does, with generous and curious people that she has met along the way, or with hosts that have been recommended by friends. This way of staying lends all of Murphy's work an intimate look at local people and beliefs, but especially does in this area of the world where centralization has made independent voices rare.
A nature-lover and solitude-seeker, Murphy revels in the beauty of the taiga. "To the north, beyond gleaming white flatness, miles of coniferous forest stood out blackly against a curtain of molten gold ... while the slim clouds turned rosy, a weirdly static crimson orb remained poised above the trees, not sinking perceptibly. Then very, very, slowly it disappeared -- and a wondrously lingering red-gold suffusion tinged the whole landscape."
On a solo morning hike along a logging track near Lake Baikal, near the northern border of Mongolia, she meets a large brown bear. "Siberian bears like their meat and are six to seven feet tall when upright, a posture occasionally adopted to kill reindeer or people." Later, nearly back to Moscow again, she encounters a duo of human predators. "The driver leant out, still in his seat, and silently pointed a revolver at me -- the long sort, carried by Russian policemen." Her reactions to both, are classic Dervla moments, something you will come to love and appreciate as you read more of her wonderful books.
I found this photograph online last night and, as I sat staring, thinking about all the stories this one picture could inspire, I decided to make a new theme day: Photo on Friday.
I hope, for writers that visit, it will inspire a few thought experiments--perhaps even a new project. And for everyone else, I don't think anyone has ever said---Nah. I'd rather not see something amazing.
Today's word is one of my favourite beautiful words, but I keep forgetting it, so I am putting it here to help me learn and remember it and for the future when I inevitably forget.
noun 1. a collective term for starlings.
Etymology: from the Medieval Latin, murmuratio
source: Collins Dictionary
But as much as I love words, this is a time when they fail. So please, watch this murmuration of starlings ...
and here is a link to find out how and why starlings behave this way.
Erin Bedford, writer.