Posts Tagged ‘ craft ’

Pithyism #24

2010.12.23
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A GOOD DAY IS ONE in which the artist heaves a stone and the ripples wash up smiles and murmurs.

(Or, put another way, “Blessed be the One who makes the makers.” I don’t know that one needs to “believe” in a “Creator” (or even a “creator”) for that metaphor to work. I hope not. A friend who’s a nurse speaks of the contention-avoiding “Design Group,” which both sounds cool and works well whether you take literally “impersonal forces,” Genesis 1:26 or anything in between. It’s a fine sport to find the universal metaphor embodying the idea of First Cause-ness outside of a specific agency, or even necessity. The Talmud attributes the creation of miracles to the evening of the last day of Creation itself — miracles as nothing more than well-timed and -intended natural occurrences — to which someone added “Including (blacksmith) tongs, which were made with tongs.” When I speak of First Causenesslessness, or even God, it is to just this sort of chicken-or-egg, we’re-all-here-now paradoxical origin as shrouded in mystery as the moment the first fish slithered ashore into the evolutionary chain. Somewhere or somewhen is a moment past which everything was different: the tongs were used, the chicken hatched, the amphibian evolved. It really doesn’t matter what we call it. What matters is that creating puts your hands on the moment of creation (or, if you like, the Moment of Creation). It brings something into the world that wasn’t there before — among other things, beauty, solidified intent, and self-evidence of simple existence.)

(None of which, unfortunately, fits on a bumpersticker. Ah, conciseness! thou’rt a fickle mistress.)

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Tools: Spacejock Software

2010.11.12
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THIS POST IS BEING WRITTEN in yEdit, one of Simon Haynes‘ many fine Spacejock Software products. He doesn’t know I’m writing it, and until I stumbled across his website I didn’t know he was a famous Australian science-fiction author with a taste for helping others get started in the field.

But as he offers some really neato tools for writing — yEdit, a text editor which lets you set a word-count target and track it as you type; Sonar, which manages story submissions; yTimer, like yEdit but in minutes instead of words; and the novel-assisting yWriter — as well as some sound advice (well, it helped me anyway). Check his site for additional tools and links to what looks like one hell of a terrific space-opera self-parody.

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O Hamlet! O Holden!

2010.11.07
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ONE OF THE SPARE JOYS of bohemian pretention is, and perhaps always has been, writing sad poems in the rain, letting each misty drop efface and blur the tortured scribble; pearls of moisture like the very angels’ tears weeping for the world’s slow sadness, pooling and puddling to rinse and run again.

Try doing THAT on an iPhone.

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5 Thoughts: How To Preach A Sermon

2010.10.26
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1. Make ‘em laugh with, but not at, you and your topic. But make ‘em laugh first.

2. Remember that you’re a student too, no more learned (and sometimes embarrassingly less) than those listening to you. Your task is to reveal rather than entertain, to share rather than “teach.”

3. Be honest. It shows.

4. Know what you’re talking about, but don’t be afraid of facing questions which haven’t occurred to you. They are inevitable, and can be miraculous.

5. Care about the people you’re talking to(1). Not as “subjects of ‘God’” (or “dues-paying members” or, especially, “the audience”) but as people — maybe scared or sad or in pain, looking for comfort and inspiration and sometimes a reason to get out of bed. So give that!

___

(1) This is in some ways the most important of these principles. If your care is elsewhere than the people you serve, you’ll only disservice everyone.

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Writing News: The Interview

2010.08.12
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HAVING LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY “DONE this in my sleep(1)” on occasion as ahem an award-winning reporter for the Sonoma Index-Tribune and Sonoma Sun (and freelancer for the Novato Advance, Petaluma Argus-Courier and The Bohemian) and being somewhat-to-greatly rankled by what passes for “news” these days outside of local outlets and the Daily Show, methinks it urgent to spread some of the skills needed to excel in The Game. Let’s start with the Interview.

The goal of the Interview is to extract information from someone who has it: whether they’re an eyewitness, a neighbor, a mayor, a relative, a senator or just a bunch of old guys reminiscing about Frank Sinatra in the backroom of an old Sonoma bar at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday. You will want to have the following:

- Tape recorder (smaller the better, and with a counter)
- Pad and pen(cil)
- Relevant and brief questions (what, when, where, how, maybe why, and — most importantly — “Anything else you want our readers/listeners to know? Anything I should have asked you, or that you’d wished I’d asked you?” This often yields the best quote of all.)

(Make sure that either tape or pad includes “the scene.” Include lots of color and context, body language, etc., but don’t go overboard at the expense of the nut-o’-story(2); include at least three relevant details. Some disdain tape recorders, but if you’re like me you’ll want people to tell you things in their own words — and you’ll want to quote them accurately. The counter’s for noting what point in the Interview contains The Quote.)

Two types of Interview there are: Field and Telephone.

Field Interviews are, by their nature, unpredictable; this is where your tape recorder is paramount. Identify yourself to the interviewee and give them a graceful way out: “I’m Clark Kent with the Daily Planet; mind if I ask you a few questions?” Keep as open and friendly a face as possible(3). If they consent, begin recording with something like, “This is Clark Kent of the Daily Planet on today’s date, and we’re speaking with …” Let the interviewee speak (and if necessary spell) name and title into the recorder; it both indicates consent and is a good way to break the ice.

If your interviewee is an emergency responder at the scene of something horrible, look for the guys in the white helmets (fire) or in a vehicle on the radio (police or also fire). Remember that while California Penal Code section 409.5d gives you legal access anywhere (your state or country may vary), you are a low priority to those trying to bring things under control. Keep your questions brief and to the point (that’s also a good general rule) and stay well out of the way (I usually back against a tree or something).

Interviewing witnesses and families can be dicey: some folks want to be in the newspaper and some don’t. Don’t push it; some may have a beef with the paper, or reporters in general, or be drunk, or indefinably weird in a way which makes you wish you’d studied finance. Be professional, as though you’re doing something serious (you are). Sometimes that can be contagious.

Interviewing someone who’s been traumatized by tragedy is invasive and, occasionally, necessary. Use extreme care. There is no other advice I can give you.

Other types of Field Interviews (e.g., press conferences, meeting interviewees at their office) are similar enough to the Telephone Interview as to make a good segue.

Telephone Interviews are easier in one way than Field Interviews, if you’re typing the conversation directly into your word-processor (typewriters, not so much). You’re limited in that you can’t see your interviewee’s eyes or body lingo, but if they’re not answering the phone you get to tell the secretary or voicemail “If I don’t hear from you by 2 p.m., I’ll have to write “Could not be reached by presstime.” (You’d be surprised how often this actually works, especially for those whose newsworthiness depends on public image.)

* * *

As nothing else comes to mind at present, I hope this helps those either curious about The Game or eager to play. As Edward R. Murrow said, “Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.”(4)

———-

(1) Much to either the amazement or confirmed suspicions of my former editors, if they’re reading this.
(2) Picked this up from a former editor-in-chief, who referred to the summing-up paragraph of any story as the “nut graf.” Being a hick, I don’t know if that’s a universal term.
(3) On the other thumb, I used to work with a guy (also award-winning) whose favorite tools were gruffness and insouciance. Whatever works. It’s my nature to befriend people, so I go with that; also, I’ll come right out and say “Explain this to me so that I can see it the way you do.” It seems to me that a successful reporter should pretend to be the dumbest guy in the room — and pay close attention to the people trying to explain things.
(4) He also said “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful,” which is even more important. Your byline is your reputation — cherish it!

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All Purpose Disclaimer

2010.08.04
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THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR may not reflect whatever he’s thinking about now, or however he’s thinking about it, although they most likely did when he wrote whatever you read; thus and likewise, he is not responsible for anything you do before, while, or after you read whatever he wrote. The author’s responsibility is to communicate as clearly as he can at the time he’s writing, and if he’s failed in that mission then by “God” buckle up and try again. While his views may differ from yours, he is a creature like yourself, although perhaps a bit wittier (unless you’re his wife) and with a great delight in Lower North America’s free-speech guarantee, which, despite that some rascals who would abolish it like to hide behind it, he feels to be the greatest thing since Gutenberg. The author further notes that any disagreement is best handled a) openly, b) tactfully, and c) with the calm assurance that “God” makes us all special, and that if you continue to be offended, irked, troubled, disturbed, bored, annoyed, disgusted or negatively impacted by his words, the author sincerely suggests consulting your pineal gland. (Or maybe, read something else.)

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Pithyism #104

2010.08.03
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WHEN COMPUTERS SUPERSEDED TYPEWRITERS, SPELLCHECK superseded the dread of whole-page retyping — and encouraged laziness.

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Advice to (Young) Writers

2010.07.27
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SEEK IMMORTALITY THROUGH YOUR WRITING — not your writhing.

(Adapted from a quip by Ann.)

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Three Reasons Why I Like My New Yorker Rejection Slip

2010.07.13
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1. THEY RECOGNIZE THE SUPERIOR QUALITY of my work by admitting that they “regret that (they) are unable to carry it in the magazine.” You can’t regret doing something that’s not regretworthy, right? Right?

2. They spelled my name right. BOTH names. I could plotz from that alone.

3. It gives me a chance to plug the original (as well as its backstory: Drifting into a reverie one afternoon, a series of images — colored panels in the style of Nicole Claveloux or George Herriman — began flipping before my eyes. I could barely write them down fast enough. That usually doesn’t happen to me; I usually compose either at the keyboard or while pacing the room. The version I sent to TNY omitted the dialog, which is inconsequential anyway; I didn’t know what else to do with it, so I sent it off. As William S Burroughs so famously quoth in Naked Lunch, “Wouldn’t you?”).

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5 Thoughts: Fiction- v. News-Writing

2010.07.05
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1. YOU STOP WRITING A NEWS piece when you run out of facts. But when do you stop writing fiction? When you run out of story, I suppose.

2. In news, the most important information goes up top. In fiction, it’s in the reader’s head — at least with genre pieces. There has to be some connection between the reader’s mind and the writer’s expression in terms of shared assumptions or expectations. A science fiction author knows his readers are unfazed by three-headed alien bankers, so doesn’t need to waste valuable real estate on justifying same beyond adhering to strict internal consistency. Someone writing for a general audience needs to adjust their bankers, but touch not the consistency!

3. Both news and fiction require a suspension of disbelief on the part of the writer. The newswriter must disbelieve her own narrowness of perspective; the fictioneer, the narrowness of his publisher’s pocketbook. And both must believe that they offer an important, if not indispensable, message.

4. The task/mechanics of newswriting can be visualized as assembling a Tinkertoy set: all the pieces are there, and it’s the writer’s task to assemble them in as compact and easily recognizable a form as possible. Fictioneering feels more like holding one end of a handful of ropes which fade into the misty distance; the idea being to draw in the slack and tighten the lines until the sails fill of themselves.

5. Dialog. In fiction, it advances the plot or builds character or atmosphere. In news … well, it can also advance plots and build (or tear down) character and atmosphere. Perhaps news and fiction are less dissimilar than they appear (no FOX or MSM jokes, please); the difference may be whether we corroborate with our senses or our emotions.

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Posts That Never Were

2010.07.01
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THE IMMEDIACY OF BLOGGING CREATES, for the blogger, a whole new way of looking at the world. It’s not much different from the world of any writer in terms of the compulsion to record, comment on and embroider every living moment; blogging just makes it easier and less private.

Privacy in today’s age of Instant Personal Broadcasting[1] (blogs, vlogs, YouTube, reality TV, chat, texting, Facebook and definitely MySpace) means something different than it did when the cautionary “1984″ loomed in our future, before we collectively became Big Brother for both fun and profit. The aware writer — i.e., aware that his writing is for other people to read — will thus exercise privacy as a form of active self-discretion; despite that he can now tell his readers any thing at any time, he doesn’t want to overdo it and collects a quick pile of unshared observation. Here are a few of mine, at least for now:

Taste Test: Breakfast Cereals — One of my favorite snacks is a bowl of cereal, but as I get older I find myself less enamoured of sweet snacks. Why can’t They make something better, like a less sweet Corn Pop with pecans?

My God Has Balls — Although a staunch brother of my sisters in the struggle, I can’t help but notice that the degenderization of “God,” necessitated for those who confuse Hebrew’s gendered pronouns with sexism, has clunked up the liturgy and made it harder for many to feel less self-conscious about praying — and diluted the Warrior Spirit inherent and necessary to any disciplined spiritual approach.

Elena Kagan Is Hot — If a man can’t see the inherent beauty in every woman, he’s not really a man. (Of course, he might also be gay, but then the point would be that if he can’t see the inherent beauty in every man he’s not really looking. Or so I imagine; I don’t think men have any inherent beauty.) This would also spell the difference between women and girls, and how the latter limit and make the former look as bad as boys do for men.

Tawdry Tidbits From The World Of Small Town Politics — Shame on you. (Besides, the town’s small enough that everyone knows them already.)

I Just Submitted A Story To _______ — Puh-LEASE. Believe me, I’ll post enough when they’re published; if my rejection : acceptance ratio is like anyone else’s, posting each of my many, many subs will make me look (and, inevitably, feel) like a loser. (Besides, the New Yorker frowns on such things.)

Cute Things The Cat Did — There are some things which I simply cannot do. One is ask someone a question without an intimidating bulldog machinegun style. Another is to be less intense. A third is to write anything profound about our little woojums. (Ann can, though — she’s even got a whole category for it.)

Vicious Deconstruction of Modern Writers In An Obvious Bid For Attention — I sort of did that to Douglas Rushkoff’s uninformed and whiny Nothing Sacred, but then felt so bad the next day that I had to apologize. Not only is such behavior rude and transparent, it may prevent me from cadging a beer from the inhabitants of the lofty realm I pretend to despise.

Great Quotes from Star Trek, Star Wars or Whatever I’m Reading Now — Those who know, know; those who don’t, don’t care.

EFT and the Death of Retail Banter — How can we talk weather with the checker if we have to keep pushing all these damn buttons? And would I feel the same if I still worked at the bookstore?

That should do for now. If you can think of anything else I shouldn’t write about, I’ll be right here … waiting.

[1] Phrase copyright 2010, Neal Ross Attinson. Ka-CHING.

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5thoughts: James Joyce

2010.06.16
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James Joyce

Fig. 1: James Joyce

IN HONOR OF BLOOMSDAY 2010, five thoughts on the man who made it possible:

1. James Joyce is yet another proof that one man’s mind can be bigger than his skull. (If not, generational banks of Joyce scholars would have quit writing about him long ago.)

2.) Until Finnegan’s Wake, no Irishman had ever beat the Jews for mind-stretching eloquence. (Since the Talmud, the best we’ve done is Groucho Marx and Yehuda Amichai.)

3.) Come to think of it, FW and the Talmud do make two nice bookends for the Western literary tradition: what the Talmud does to Aristotle, Joyce does to Webster. (Said comeuppances piercingly beautiful to see.)

4.) If a man can spend a quarter of his life writing his Perfect Book, there’s hope for the rest of us.

5.) But only if we can manage not to be humbled by such wit-wraps as “Nations have their ego, just like individuals,” “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake,” or “Men are governed by lines of intellect – women: by curves of emotion.” Or: “Agenbite of inwit.” Or even:

O

tell me all about

Anna Livia! I want to hear all

about Anna Livia. Well, you know Anna Livia? Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia. Tell me all. Tell me now.

(O, now, what’s the use? Another Guinness pour my muse, poor favor, purring kittenkilkenny of katzenjammers … [tape ends])

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