Everyone at one point or another must face the gauntlet that is trial and tribulation. Scourge and punishment. And despite this woe, many are unprepared because most of us have never enrolled in wizard school. Nor have we fought an oppressive empire in a galaxy far, far away. We haven’t carried a magic ring through Mordor to drop it into a volcano or sailed home through monster-filled waters. But that doesn’t mean we’ve never undertaken a task that required heroic effort!
I wonder … during a pandemic when we are quarantined, what do we gravitate toward to read? Is it time for a view of the human condition that pokes fun like Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Or the quirky essays of David Sedaris? Or how many of us want to escape into the reliable formula of a romance? Perhaps the times call for the doom and gloom of a psychological thriller or gasp, a pandemic trope such as Emily St. Johns Mandel’s Station Eleven? What is it precisely that we read when we know there is a killer outside, but we can’t see it.
I belong to two critique groups. Because of stay-at-home orders, both groups have switched to online meetings via Zoom.
For years, one group’s meetings included a member in Portland, thanks to Facetime. We’d pass the cell phone around the table when sharing our feedback. So, I’m not a newbie when it comes to online meetings. And Zoom is user-friendly. It’s a quality program. And there are side benefits to online meetings. I drive an hour each way to attend, so Zoom saves me a lot of time.
I tend to crave isolation until I get it. Suddenly, I find myself wondering what the rest of the world is doing out there, how are people fairing during quarantine, ruptured routines, and in some cases, significant upheavals. Some folks work from home. Others hope to have a job on the other side of all this. Still, others have already lost businesses or positions, all within the space of a week or more.
There has been some confusion lately about the mission of the Northern Colorado Writers. Despite our motto, “helping writers navigate their way to success,” there are some who have taken to social media promoting NCW as a politically conservative organization.
WRITE, RIGHT, RITE: THEY SOUND ALIKE, BUT THEY MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS
The confusion seems to stem from the third word in our name, Writers. Spelled with a W, it refers to those who write. Righters, a quaint nickname for conservative citizens, is a homophone of Writers. IT ISN’T THE SAME THING!
I’m sitting at the airport waiting to board my first of four work trips this month. As I look around, so many people are sniffling, coughing, and blowing their noses. I wonder how many people have coronavirus. Probably all of them. I know for sure the coworkers who will be sitting next to me have it because she’s coughing and feverish. I’m going to try very hard not to breathe.
But let’s say that coronavirus does decimate the population (which it won’t), all-digital operations cease, and only Bear Grylls and others with strong survival skills remain. What will be the most venerated aspect of humanity? Storytelling.
The annual NCW conference looms on the horizon. Many of us are sprucing up those manuscripts to impress professionals of the literary world, not least of which are agents you hope to woo.
You’ve got 50,000 words to show off, but you’ll only have a page or two to make a solid impression. Story elements are in place. Taking steps to make sure it is as strong as it can be. One of the keys to good writing is strong external critique. The good news is many common shortcomings are avoidable.
I liked poetry in high school. Loved it, even. In that time and place, the only people who got enthusiastic about poetry were the English teachers, and even some of them weren’t keen. These were the days before being a nerd was cool. Kids my age were into popular music, popular culture, and football. I learned to keep my poetic inclinations to myself, none of my friends would have understood.
You are likely familiar with narrative arc (the path that characters take within a story’s plot) and character arc (the changes characters undergo throughout the story). But you may not be familiar with symbolic arc—the evolving use of a recurring symbol in fiction.
I first encountered this important concept while reading Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry, a collection of short stories depicting the author’s experiences during the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921). Simple images like a burning candle are introduced in brightly lit night scenes with romantic fervor. By the book’s end, candles are grimy, dim, and spent.
I’m about to jump into the querying trenches again. This time with a new novel and hundreds of writing hours under my belt on this recent work of magnificence. My last magnificent opus inched up the ladder of success until the ladder was unceremoniously yanked from under my feet. I’m second burn shy. Is it going to be easier this time around? It’s possible, but unlikely.