Archive for the ‘The Art of Writing’ Category

Perspective is Everything

Posted: April 11, 2013 in The Art of Writing

Okay. So here it is in the middle of the night and I can’t sleep because my mind is filled with thoughts. So…best to get them out, right. Sigh. Sleep be damned, here they come.

I just got another review from a Goodreads reader and received 4 out of 5 stars. Although she generally liked the story, she had some issues with characters and some of the storyline. I read the review with interest and like anyone with a chronic “thin skin” condition, it stung a bit, but I took it in the way it was intended – an honest review of the novel. The criticism had to do somewhat with the main character’s (Jimmy) perspective on girls and some of the storyline centering on sensitive topics including sexual assault, bullying and a perceived slap at Catholicism (among other things).
So here’s what I think…

Jimmy, the main character, is a fifteen-year-old boy at the height of his hormonal production. I purposely wanted to write from this perspective because the young adult/crossover literature is littered (purposeful choice of a word) with perspectives of “young girl” characters. Being neither “young” nor a “girl,” I wanted to write from a young guy point-of-view in an honest, if not, politically incorrect manner. Here’s a shocker – boys see things differently than girls. Brilliant, right? The point is that from Jimmy’s perspective, girls are a mystery he has yet to figure out (news flash to Jimmy, it doesn’t get any easier later). In that regard, he does at times see them as sexual creatures (specifically, the character Veronica) that are a means to an end. At other times he uses dialog that although not appropriate, is high school accurate. Is that uncomfortable for a female reader? I would say yes, but would then ask does writing always have to avoid stepping on toes along the way? My intent in writing TOUCHED was not to offend by broaching difficult topics, but to be real and honest and try to make sense of the confusion and angst that rolls through the mind of a teenage boy. The use of Jimmy’s first-person perspective* allows his hormonally-charged thoughts to spill out of his head at a rate that may sometimes become prickly but are as close to unvarnished as they are in real life.

Whew. What a ramble. I’m not even sure the above addresses the issues the reader had, but I would guess that she may not be alone in being uncomfortable with a variety of the topics TOUCHED addresses or the way they are addressed. But in actuality, it’s not really my fault at all. I was just at the whim of a horny teenage muse named Jimmy that lived in the dark recesses of my mind.

Sorry to throw you under the bus dude. But better you than me.

*Side note: Criticism included lack of character development of Veronica. Given Jimmy’s first-person perspective it is impossible to develop all characters equally. He only sees the “Queen Beez” Veronica from a safe distance as he is not in her circle. So…he’ll only get glimpses of her character and assume the rest.

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Back to School?

Posted: February 16, 2013 in The Art of Writing

Remember the old movie, Back to School, starring comedian Rodney Dangerfield? If you say “no”, it’s probably because you’re under forty years old or in 1986 you had something better to do. Anyways, ‘ol Rodney goes back to college as a fifty-something student and tears up the campus as he proves that age is no barrier to success.

Well, I ain’t no Rodney, but I’m back at back at school just the same. Last week I started a class at the University of Wisconsin –Milwaukee Continuing Education program where I am taking part in learning how to improve my writing skills. (What? You say that’s impossible? Thank you so much my loyal fan club of two!) I wish I had taken more writing classes ”back in the day” but at that time I was more concerned with which bar had a two-dollar pitcher night than putting written words on a page. Two dollars a pitcher you ask? Yes, young Jedi, there truly was a time. But I digress…the bottom line is I’m hoping to get better at writing and I’ll do what it takes.

My instructor has graduated from the esteemed Doctorate Program of the Immortal Word Academy of Southern California’s Writer’s Guild of Hemingway’s Descendants or something of that sort. In contrast, I once got a “C” in Sister Rosaire’s seventh grade English class at St. Alphonsus. Same-same? Probably pretty much a coin flip as far as I’m concerned.

But I’ll keep going to class and see what I can learn. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn the Triple Lindy of writing just like Rodney did all those years ago in the swimming pool. If I belly-flop instead, at least I stuck my neck out which is pretty much the whole point of life anyways, right?

And thanks for the reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for TOUCHED. If you have an opinion, keep ‘em coming!

So Now What?

Posted: August 2, 2012 in The Art of Writing

Writer’s write. It is as simple as that. And to get better at anything, be it basketball or tiddlywinks (look it up, youngsters), one must practice in order to get better. Writing is much the same way. My first attempt at writing was a children’s book about an oversized frog aptly named “Frogzilla”. I was certain my story about a mutant pond creature would set Dr. Seuss’ hair on fire. Alas, instead the work ultimately ended up on the bottom of someone’s birdcage. As I re-read it recently, it occurred to me that may have been the perfect place for it.

So what’s the point?

The point is I try to write something each day whether it is re-writing a previous work or something as silly as the musings of Master P and his fantasy football genius. It is the only way to improve my skills. And lately I have undertaken a new genre and am entrenched in writing a memoir. Mine? No, that would be silly. What would I write about? How yesterday I watered the garden and picked up doggie doo? Or how when I was ten I hit a home run in little league (never mind the three errors)? No, I’m helping a friend who has undergone some hard times with an extremely dysfunctional family and a hellacious battle with alcoholism that left him contemplating taking his own life in the Milwaukee River. It’s a story of redemption that I hope I can capture adequately in words. At least I’m going to write as well as I can and continue to try and improve doing something that I enjoy.

My own memoir can wait. Perhaps someday I’ll have something to write about more exciting than folding my boy’s boxers while watching a toothless hillbilly shoot a poor gator in the head.

Then again, don’t count on it.

One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to critique their own work. When I started writing I believed every word that dripped from my brain and hit paper was so golden it would make writers like Dr. Seuss and Hemingway tremble in fear (Yes, I know they’re both dead. I guess that would make trembling difficult.). In retrospect, I’m betting the only shuddering done was by readers that patronized me and told me how wonderful my work was. (Case in point: my dear mother still has my scribbles on a napkin from when I was three – she’s sure it’ll be Pulitzer worthy someday!) 

So what’s my point? 

I’d like some unvarnished opinion on a newer work. Entitled THE OLD MAN ON THE LAKE, the story is about an old man’s search for meaning in the latter days of his life (sample on the website). I believe it is a worthy effort but would like some opinion outside of close family members. Criticism, although hard to take, is invaluable into improving the final result. As a writer, I have more than once discarded the opinions of readers (sometimes you just gotta trust your instincts), but other times the reader has pointed out a flaw in character, timing, plot or some other element that I could not see because of the trees blocking my vision. 

So do you want to take a stab at it? 

If interested my offer is to send out a document in Microsoft Word format to the first five interested parties. It could be read via computer or it could be printed off (275 pages). Drop me an e-mail and I’ll get it off to you lickety-split. 

Who knows, just like the scribbly napkin it might be worth more than a nickel someday.

I’ve been asked more than once a very simple question about writing, “How did you ever think of that?” I interpret that question in a variety of ways: 1) “That’s really weird dude, there is something seriously wrong with you.” 2) “I don’t really want to know the answer because then I think I’ll be afraid.” 3) “Wow, Paul, you look so regular on the outside.” 4) “I really, truly wonder how you think of all that stuff.” Okay, so this blog is for anyone who voted for Number 4. The rest of you can talk to my team of therapists but under HIPPA laws they cannot reveal any of my miscellaneous mental defects. 

With apologies to The Monkees (RIP Davy Jones), I truly am a Daydream Believer. I can honestly say that some of my best storyline twists come at times when I am miles from my laptop. In the car (radio on or off), pulling weeds, riding a bike or walking the dog are typical times when random thoughts bounce around my head. And what is the common denominator there? I’m alone (except for Theodore the dog) and my mind can travel to Happyland or Darksville or wherever else it is destined to go. I’ve rushed in the door after a dog-walk and jotted down notes, scribbled on a receipt in the car (no worse than texting, I’d say) and memorized a thought while biking so that it became tattooed on my brain. Last week my son discovered thoughts captured in both a notebook and in the overhead recorder built into the Trailblazer (it’s amazing how droid-like my voice is on tape). The point is when inspiration strikes (or crap, it all depends on your point of view) a writer better grab that puppy by the scruff of the neck and capture it any way possible. 

So there. Is everything clearer now that I …umm, what was I saying? I just had a random thought about a vegetarian T-Rex with a bad complexion… I’ll finish this blog after I write down that bit of brilliance on the back of my hand.