Monday, March 28, 2011

William G. Tapply

I usually keep up with the authors of books I enjoy, but somehow I missed the death announcement of mystery writer William G. Tapply. Tapply was the author of more than 40 mystery novels. The ones I read and loved the most featured attorney Brady Coyne. Coyne was a fictional character who loved life and was able to take the difficulties and disappointments of life in stride. It doesn’t get much better than that in the world of literature, or in real life for that matter. There is a little bit of Brady Coyne in all of us, and I suspect there was a lot of Tapply in Coyne,

Tapply was the professor of English at Clark University in Worchester, MA, where he was the writer in residence. He was married to mystery writer Vicki Stiefel. Tapply will be missed by the mystery fans who enjoyed his thoughtful and well-plotted novels.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is Writing and Obsession, or is it Madness?

A friend of mine who has sold short stories to several major magazines decided to ‘move up’ to writing longer fiction. I thought her plot was rather good, but she found herself bogged down in all of the endless details that go into creating a longer work of fiction.

“I thought I left all of the stress behind me when I quit my job,” she complained. “Considering my past experience, this was supposed to be easy.”

Welcome to the real world of writing, I thought. There are two kinds of writers. Those who enjoy what we are doing so much it would be impossible to quit, and those who slog through a morass of details like the Doughboys in France during WWI.

Having recently completed book number two in a three book series, I am well familiar with the details involved in creating a work of fiction. From conception to completion of ‘book one,’ I wrote four other novels and a large number of stories and articles. I didn’t want to write a series, but the plot and the characters kept nagging at me and often kept me awake at night. Mostly, it was the bookkeeping end of the task that kept me from moving forward at the same satisfying pace to which I was accustomed. There was always just one more detail to research. It took time.

It is within the realm of possibility that some books could be written without the author making a note, doing any research, or agonizing for long hours over plot details. It is possible, but not likely.

Some author once answered a question from a magazine writer who wanted to know, ‘what is it like to write a novel?’

‘You just sit down at your typewriter and open a vein,’ was the answer. Others have pointed out, rather accurately I thought, that writing is not what you do, but what you are. This naturally carries us over into the discussion of whether writers are born into the craft, or if it can be learned. From my own observations, I have come to the conclusion that most of us were born that way. It is not to say that the craft cannot be improved by much study and practice, but I believe that it is another of those driving obsessions like drug abuse, or kleptomania. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I need to get back to my novel . . .

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love in Camelot

I try to read books from many different genres because I don’t want to limit my reading pleasure to just one type of literature. A year or so ago, fellow writer Joyce Scarbrough got tired of my criticism of romance literature and challenged me to read one of her books. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed her YA novel once I propped my motorcycle boots on the coffee and started to read. Over the weekend, I found another delightful YA novel by Janice Hanna entitled ‘Love Finds You in Camelot, Tennessee.’ I liked Ms. Hanna’s book for all of the usual reasons, but I was especially enthralled by the fact that this novel could easily have been a recap of what happened to me in 1976 while celebrating the national bicentennial. Hanna’s novel involved a group in a small village near the tourist resort of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The villagers decided they needed to tap the tourist dollars by staging the musical Camelot in their village. The description of the wonderful, yet quirky characters that staged the production, brought back memories of our adventures in producing something similar at our local state park. The fact that no one else was doing anything to celebrate the bicentennial caused the news media to focus on us. Rather than the three thousand or so that we anticipated, two hundred thousand showed up as estimated by a local television station that viewed the crowd from their news team’s helicopter. I still get sweaty think about it . . .

. . .which brings me to the point of this post. All of us are familiar with the axiom, ‘write what you know,’ which is very good advice. Ms. Hanna’s experience of working with a drama group while she was in college spawned the wonderful tale she used in weaving the plot for Love Finds You in Camelot. Having a very similar experience– but with less imagination– I did not write about the amazing events that held us captive during that magical summer.

So here is my observation. Many of those things you have done, or observed, or wrestled with, have the potential of becoming a lot better book than spinning your tale from whole cloth. After more than thirty years, my experiences in writing that musical and helping perform it are still fresh in my mind. What about the things that have happened to you that you have never acted upon? A flat tire on a dark, rainy night, organizing a political canvas of your neighborhood, what about your friend’s marriage to the right mister wrong? I’ll bet you’ve got a million of them waiting for your next bout of writer’s block. I’ll be looking for you on my next trip to the bookstore, and I know you won’t disappoint me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Getting to the heart of the matter.

In the past few weeks I have read books by three different bestselling authors that were good in all the usual ways a book is good, yet some indefinable something was wrong with each of them. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem at first, and then I realized what it was. In one of the books written by a California writer, the main character ‘blew out air’ at frequent intervals, which was the author’s way of calling attention to his impatience. In another book, a girl narrowed her eyes frequently at her clueless boyfriend. In the third book, a rancher grunted a lot more than I do when I have a bad day. I wondered why these talented writers had made this particular mistake, and then as I continued to examine the passages, I think I discovered what it was.

There are as many different writing styles as there are writers, but all of us fall into only a few patterns. Shelby Foote, the well-known historian, is said to have composed everything in his head before he wrote it down in his calligraphic style, using a crow-quill pen he dipped into an inkwell. James A. Michener accumulated vast piles of notes, and then culled it down to the bones before he put it into its final form. Another writer, this one’s identity escapes me at the moment, claimed he wrote three pages at each session, then did a final edit before the end of the day. There is no ‘best’ way to write, but I think some writers could improve their edited work if they read rapidly through the almost edited manuscript. We are all told to read through our work slowly, meticulously, and to even go through it at least once reading it aloud. So what, you are wondering, is the benefit in reading it rapidly? The mistakes I mentioned early in this post occurred when the writer read the manuscript much slower than the average reader. Slow editing will not expose the oft-repeated phrases like ‘blew out air,’ nor are you likely to notice how many times the protagonist grunted. Edit your next manuscript slowly, patiently, and with great care, but somewhere in the process, give it a fast read as well. I bet you will find a number of unnoticed things if you read it the way your fans will be reading the published book.

Oh, and another thing. Now that you are finished with this post, get back to work. I have waited a lot longer than I wanted for that next book of yours, and I am growing impatient.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Do you need an Ebook?

When the first computers became available for home use, I rushed out and purchased one, excited over the many things I would be able to do with it. A typewriter’s usefulness was limited, most of it confined to just placing words on a blank sheet of paper. Revisions were a nightmare. A computer was a lot more exciting than a typewriter, for they had spellcheckers, a thesaurus, plus a number of programs that could be used for research. The advent of the Internet created a great advance in fulfilling the wish list of almost every writer. A completed novel is a long body of text that can be scrolled through rather easily, and I wondered why you could not market the finished manuscript in that form. I searched until I found a company that was attempting to market books on computer disk. My first book was off and running– I thought– but sales were slow and disappointing. I still thought it was a good idea, but many good ideas take a long time to develop because it simply isn’t their time. I was pleased when Ebook readers finally came on the scene. There was a saving for everyone concerned. Fewer trees were consumed, affordable prices, no expensive presses to run, no postage, and immediate acquisition of the purchased product. No one could argue with that.
I have just placed four of my books on an Ebook site at a reduced rate. Ninety-nine cents for each of them is a bargain if you like to read. You can find each of them at Smashwords, and I think you will like the variety of literature they represent. There is a little something for everyone. Click the title at the top of the this post and it will carry you to the site.