Freud was the master of finding a problem where none exists. But it is true that passion can turn on a dime. That includes writing. Every writer knows we have a love – hate relationship with our writing. It’s why everywhere you hear the phrase, “Write everyday.” Habits can overcome our passions, or lack of them, and get us through. We find comfort in our habits, but also find a way out because of them.
There are times when we become too self-critical. I didn’t think it possible for a very long time, but after reading some truly terrible books to review, I began to find myself falling into the trap, becoming hyper-critical of my own work. Whatever I wrote wasn’t good enough. And a paralysis of inadequacy took over. I didn’t write for quite a while. But what I found when I picked up a best-selling book and began to read, was that I was good enough. Yes, I’ve written truly awful stuff. But after a few rewrites, and a solid period of walking away to get a better perspective, I learned an important lesson: Nothing kills creativity more than a paralyzing fear of inadequacy.
There’s only one thing certain. That is one’s own inadequacy.
~ Franz Kafka
Kafka was the martyr of self-criticism. His constant frustration over the excruciatingly exacting bureaucrats of his day, helped him create his masterpieces. I’ve had my own issues with bureaucracies, so I understand. Dostoevsky called the attitude of a bureaucrat, “administrative rapture,” and Dr. Ben Carson said, “[they] love the process more than helping people.” But Kafka’s passion drove him to write some amazing stuff. I often imagine that if he lived today he would rail even louder about the bureaucracies, primarily because they’ve honed it to a dangerous point. Still, we can be our own dagger of disappointment and failure, and too often are.
Allow your passions to erupt, then come in days later and pluck that thread to its full potential of resonance, but don’t let it overtake the truth of what you’re writing. Anger can be a great source of creativity. So can pain. We all know love has created some of the greatest poetry ever written. But we need to make sense of our emotions or our readers won’t. Sobriety can also make bland copy — that is sobriety of emotions, not drink — and we learn that emoting can spice it up. Understand that hate informs love, pain helps us understand joy. Self-criticism should help us to work harder, to grow, not keep us from writing. It should help us understand that great writing takes discipline. Rewriting a hundred times might be extreme. Yet, rewriting doesn’t always make it better. I did that to a story and found what I originally wrote was better. Discipline teaches us to know the difference, that sometimes the 100th rewrite really is the best, and sometimes the first is.
We writers walk a tightrope. And if you write simply because you must, then don’t give up on yourself. Take that step to put yourself out there, and don’t criticize yourself into a box that resembles a coffin. Remember that even the best writers have written stinkers.
SHH! Is silence just not speaking? Or is silence the removal of something, as a sculptor removes rock to expose what is inside? Could it be standing still? Or complete inaction? Stilled body movements? This begs the question: What is silence? Maybe it isn’t just one thing. Perhaps it could be many things.
Paul Goodman wrote:
Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.
When writing we must be aware of the different kinds of silence. Someone once said (And I wish I could remember who) that historians tell you what happened, but writers tell you how they felt. It’s our job to describe terrain and culture, but more importantly, we should describe feelings. If all we do is talk about body movements and action, we lose that special moment to stop and talk about the five senses, and sometimes that elusive sixth: prediction, reading the other person’s intentions. Silence is the perfect opportunity to juxtapose the silence of the room or the terrain with the busyness inside.
As we head into the noisy celebrations of the New Year, maybe it’s time to reflect on silence.
Merry Christmas, My Friend, was first published in Leatherneck in 1986 when the author, James M. Schmidt, a Lance Corporal stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. wrote it. He intended the poem to be for his buddies in his barracks, by posting it on their doors. His superior officer saw it and submitted it to Leatherneck. The rest is history. Today, there’s a soldier and sailor version, but this is the original. God Bless Y’all!
by, Lance Corporal, James M. Schmidt
Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give and to see just who in this home did live
As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree. No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand. On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind, a sobering thought soon came to my mind. For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen. This was the home of a U.S. Marine.
I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more, so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door. And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone, Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.
He seemed so gentle, his face so serene, Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine. Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read? Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan. I soon understood, this was more than a man. For I realized the families that I saw that night, owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.
Soon around the Nation, the children would play, And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day. They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year, because of Marines like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone, on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home. Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye. I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice, “Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more. My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep, I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still. I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill. So I took off my jacket, the one made of red, and covered this Marine from his toes to his head. Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold, with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold. And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride, and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight. But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure, said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.” One look at my watch and I knew he was right, Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.
Recently, I heard of an author who put their editor through a word mill with a flurry of emails and argumentative assaults, grinding the poor soul into tiny pieces, nearly to the point that the editor began to wonder why they took on this particular author in the first place. It made me think through the delicate relationship between an editor and writer, and the unheralded art of editing. The colossal ego that communicates in such a controlling fashion may put so much pressure on their words they dull the fine point of their pen. What does that mean? I believe they fail to create that thin line of clarity, of defining well-written words from a sharp tip that makes each word they write so clear they each stand out and sing. Why do I know this? Anyone who fights with their editor over a few words, without presenting their case calmly and with a sweet disposition, doesn’t deserve to be a writer.
Few authors can write something so perfect that there are no typos, no spelling errors, or grammatical oddities in their manuscripts, even with the frequent use of the spell checker. John Fowles notwithstanding (the only writer, I suspect, in history to turn in a draft that was perfect), there are many things that can go wrong with a book, both fiction and non-fiction, that a professional editor can help a writer correct. The errors can be everything from subtle to glaring that you may be too blind to see, making a potential masterpiece not so masterful.
The relationship between an editor and writer is a crucial one. A good editor can get into the depths of a story, to dig into the minds of the characters, and even crawl inside the writer’s head understanding what the author intended, making a home there if the writer graciously allows them in. They can tell the writer what is working, what makes the reader stop reading, what is annoying, what will make it better, etcetera. That part of editing can make or break a book and the future of a new author in the writing game. . . Presently, I’m a writer at a small press and I work with a professional editor, who thankfully points out or corrects those kinds of things, saving me from pulling out my hair, and preventing me from being publicly humiliated. I check my ego into a locker and allow her to do her job. She draws my attention to areas where I may need to write more, and, sometimes, to write less.
Yes. Excising my remarkable prose may be painful, but necessary, which does make me wonder whether it’s not quite as wonderful as I believe it is. Truth is the hardest thing to take. Then I remember, I did check that ego. That snarky thing is behind a locked door, and I refuse to let it out to play. Phew! My editor can even say that a character wouldn’t do certain things, and if my mystery failed to explain certain points to help the reader keep up with the story, or whether it works at all. She admonishes me to dig deeper and solve the problem, massage those words until they squeak. She’s had me write more chapters to get it right, and take ones out that don’t add to the story.
I don’t want to know what it would be like to not have a good editor at my side. They are my conscience, keeping me true to the story and my characters. I listen to their opinion as much as I listen to my husband’s; which is a great deal. Because of their honesty, I find I need to listen to their advice, taking it seriously, understanding that they want me to be successful and will do whatever it takes to get me there. Do we disagree? Sometimes, and it’s usually resolved quickly. On those occasions we discuss it and find our way through it with a great deal of humor. And then, there are those times when that disagreement becomes a wedge between us. However, I remain open, willing to take their advice, and they are usually willing to listen to my explanations. But once, I couldn’t continue with the book. We had to separate and I pulled the book. How they envisioned it was not the way I had. Suffice it to say, you will not always agree on everything, and there might come a day when you have to say goodbye. Searching for someone new is difficult, but not impossible. Still, I know I grew as a writer in that relationship, and look forward to a future relationship that I will benefit from.
I read once about a famous author saying that the one person who mattered to them in the business of writing books was their editor. They couldn’t stop singing their praises, feeling that without them they wouldn’t be able to produce a salable book. I’m there. I’m so there. I realize that I can let my ego out to play when I receive good reviews, but mostly because I let my editor help me and didn’t let my ego rule when it counted. But neither can you allow an editor to take over your book and shape into theirs. It’s your vision, and they should always be there to help, and not bully you into publishing something completely different from your original artistic endeavor.
Ladies and Gentlemen, do not forget that you are not always the best arbiter of your work. After you’ve won a Pulitzer Prize, maybe you can be, but not today. When I receive a rejection, I usually take a jaundiced eyeview of my work, and try to find out why it was rejected. You also must take into account every agent, editor, publisher, award committee, and slush pile reader have their own likes and dislikes. Everything is subjective in the Book Publishing industry. I’ve had judges who loved my work, and wanted to read anything I would write. And yet, I’ve had others who didn’t. Keep in mind that if you’re rejected, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer. On the contrary, remember all the great writers who were rejected over and over and over, when someone finally took a chance on them and they went on to become bestselling authors. Frank Herbert’s, Dune was first published by Chilton, the publishing house who usually put out auto repair books. Imagine that! Dune was rejected by everyone, and is the most famous Science Fiction masterpiece ever written! And Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, took up the franchise and has become a success on his own.
So, don’t give up. Find yourself an editor who gets you. Submit, submit, submit! But also read, read, read! It’s how you grow, too. I did finally come to the conclusion, after slogging through the story without being pricked by all the exclamation points, that this writer was taken to the cleaners by her so-called editor. Yes, the grammar was correct. So, was the punctuation and the spelling, even with all the exclamation points. But, a good editor is more than that. If she had hired a professional, the editor would have told her to go back and rewrite it, to dig into the heart of the story and pull out the meaning, then submit it. I can only assume that the author believed her work only needed to be checked for those particular things, and paid the minimum to achieve the state it was in, and the unprofessional hack complied because they wanted the money.
Once again, I wish to warn all you self-published writers out there to have an editor do more than check for grammar and punctuation. Every book requires more than the minimum to sell, to be successful, to make a reader want to recommend the book to a friend or family member, and to return to buy the next one, if the author makes it that far. So much for self-publishing, and self-appointed editors trolling for the selfies business.
Don’t forget that authors and editors go hand in hand. They belong together, and are an intricate part of the book selling business, of your book selling efforts. Authors don’t stand alone. Without editors we would have excessive exclamation points and stories that fall on their faces, breaking their wee noses into bloody messes, and humiliated in front of the world. Editors are God’s gift to us writers, and I say a prayer that they never go away. So, check that ego, hire a professional, and take their recommendations seriously. You might just write that next masterpiece.
Artist is Kubin – an illustration of man versus his Saurian Tail
Carl Jung didn’t invent archetypes. They’ve been around since the Greeks wrote tales of heroes and gods and villains. But Jung brought another dimension to the idea: the psychological. As an author I’ve never intentionally sought to do a particular archetype, just the idea behind the Shadow and The Hero Archetypes. It’s why I named my series with shadow in the titles. The first book, The Night Shadow, employs the ballet of the same name, and the idea of the killer-stalker in the night. It’s also why I put the first case my Private Investigators conduct is staking out a Peeping Tom’s territory. He’s also the shadow in the night.
“Taken in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries.” Carl Jung in The Integration of the Personality (English translation).
Composes both negative and positive elements of our personalities. The shadow of the personality is that which we do not integrate into ourselves. We may feel shame or be a source of great anxiety. But it can also be traits that the personality views as positive, yet should not be acknowledged because it doesn’t fit in with the narrative the personality wants to be. That might be a person who is truly empathetic but wants to appear to be tough. Individuation will not occur if they don’t integrate all the aspects of their true nature and deal with the negative ones to not let them take over.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is a perfect example of the Shadow archetype unincorporated into the personae. Hyde is the larvated portion of Jekyll’s personality. But Jekyll is not all good. In fact, he’s icy cold, has few friends, and has no relationships with women. He’s isolated, rigid, unwilling to accept his bad characteristics and overcome them. He allows the Hyde personality to burst forth, take over, flooding his entire personae with the parasitic evil of Hyde. Jekyll is the unacknowledged Hyde. That vile character hides behind the mask of a rigid and cold structure Jekyll uses publicly.
The Hero Archetype:
The foremost of the Jungian archetypes is the hero. He overcomes all obstacles, all difficulties thrown at him in order to realize his destiny. He is the quintessential role-model, urging all of us to pursue our quest.It is said that the hero myth is the ultimate formula of self-realization, and is the nexus of Jung’s myths.
The above two are Jung’s foremost archetypes. The following are of lesser importance on the scale.
Wise Old Man Archetype or Wizard or Sage:
There are many examples of Wise Old Men. Some of us have them in our families and know them well. They are quiet, thoughtful, and offer gentle guidance to the younger members of the family. Sometimes they are prophetic, seeing into the future.
Literary archetypes are plentiful, including Miyagi of The Karate Kid, or Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings.
Great Mother Archetype:
The Great Mother archetype personifies the idealized personality traits of the mother figure. Caring, compassionate, and absolutely dependable, and always loving. Much like the Wise Old Man, she offers guidance and wisdom when asked. The Maiden Archetype is the Great Mother‘s counterpart.
Literary archetypes are Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, and the Fairy Godmother in fairytales.
The Self Archetype:
This represents the striving of every personality.
The Personae Archetype:
This is the mask we all wear, the pretense we use to hide our true selves.
The God Archetype:
This archetype is the perfect image of the Self.
The Child Archetype represents the milestones in a person’s life, the individuation process, the future potential. We see the budding possibilities of maturation.
Literary constructs in this are both dark and light. Everything from Damian in The Omen, to Linus Van Pelt in Peanuts.
Trickster or Clown Archetype:
He always seems to have a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and plays tricks ignoring or disobeying rules and convention. He acts as a catalyst, exaggerating or forcing the hero into recognizing his character’s flaws, or creating discomfort for others with his comedy, but he never seems to experience any pain himself.
Folklore and Literary examples are rife with everything from the coyote, to rabbits, and crows. Bugs Bunny is the quintessential trickster.
The anima (in males) or animus (in females) is the opposing gender to one’s self. Men repress their feminine side, such as empathy, and a female represses their male side, such as forcefulness. By uniting oneself, you once more become the true person you are. Anything else is an unrealistic idealized impression of what constitutes being a male or female.
Literary examples might be Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. Because Elizabeth Bennet causes Mr. Darcy to think about how distasteful his prideful behavior is to others, Mr. Darcy does some soul searching and recognizes that aspect of his personae. Although he defends himself eloquently in a letter to Elizabeth, he also realizes the harm he has done to his friend, Charles Bingley, by casting doubt on the man’s love for Elizabeth’s sister, Jane. Mr. Darcy makes a selfless and sympathetic move by insuring the wicked Mr. Wickham marries the wayward Lydia Bennet to make an honest woman of her, and renounces his jaded opinion about Jane Bennet, encouraging the marriage. He is the perfect example of masculinity merging the softer aspects into his personae.
The hermaphrodite, represents the amalgam of opposites.
The beast, represents the primitive past of man.
The scapegoat, is the quintessential character who suffers the sins of others.
The fool, is the character who is confused and constantly travels in the wrong direction.
The artist, is typically the visionary, and represents inspiration, and unique ways of finding the truth.
Checkout all the great short stories by members of Sisters in Crime (SinC), and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of Eclipse is available to order from Wildside Press or Amazon. To celebrate, here’s one I cooked up over a picture I saw on Twitter:
Matilda Boucheron—although she preferred the moniker Tilly to the full tilt version of her name—lowered her shapely bottom onto the edge of one of two crypts resting side-by-side in the private cemetery. She slipped off one of her black stilettos and held it by the long, slender heel. There were diamond studs in a line from the top down to the hard tip, flashing in the sunlight. Tipping the heel over, she casually let an annoying pebble to fall to the ground. After wiping her black, silk stockinged foot with her hand, she slid the dangerously pointed toed, designer pump back on her foot.
“I love this place,” she said in her Louisiana syrupy drawl. She drew herself up from the cold marble. “It’s so restful.” She giggled. “I’m sorry, darlin’, I shouldn’t be so disrespectful to the dead.” The word dead was drawn out into almost three syllables.
She was completely alone in the cemetery, although she never behaved as if she were alone anywhere, always acknowledging the presence of someone watching her, and listening to her every word. In this case, it was the dead who were watching and listening, and in her way of thinking, they were enraptured with her every word.
“I keep seein’ that damned snake, though,” she continued. “I kin smell it, too. I’ll be walkin’ to the kitchen, or in the garden, or doin’ my ablutions, and there’s that smell… a stinkin’ whiff of evil… The ol’ devil serpent.” She sighed in a dismissive way, waving her hand under her sculpted nose. “I miss y’all,” she said while spreading a big smile across her face. She shook her head. “Really, I do. I promise.”
Falling to her knees on the grass, her cool gray eyes were not fixed on anything. She ran her hands over the cold, smooth stone of the crypts, as if she were trying to comfort the occupant within. Then, she laid a white rose on the stone cross, rose from her knees, then strolled around the crypt toward the other. Gently, she laid a rose on the second crypt. Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement under a palm.
“There it is,” she said pointing. “I am sorry that spirit won’t leave y’all in peace, but I don’t think that varmint likes you. Someone must have put a gris gris on y’all.” She giggled. “Imagine that… a gris gris. Hale, you never believed in such things.”
Standing between the two crypts, she kissed her manicured fingers, then laid them on each one. The rusty face of the sun shown through the cypress trees, casting its light onto the prehistoric palms and the crypts beneath them. The diamond on her finger flashed, and she admired it, raising it up to let it sparkle.
“Oh, y’all wonderin’ about this,” she said, holding up her hand to show off her ring. “It’s just a dreegailles, a trinket. Just a little ol’ thing that I needed to help ease the pain of losing my husband and my sister at the same time.” She raised her black veil. “It goes with this.” She ran the back of her fingers under the diamond necklace. “And these.” She flicked an earring. “I do regret killin’ the snake. One of God’s creatures. But it had to be killed, even though it was only doin’ what snakes do, and that was defendin’ itself by bitin’ y’all. Why y’all wouldn’t have noticed a hurricane. Probably, cuz you were so distracted. I mean, y’all were havin’ sex in my bed. That would have been enough to distract me, too.” She leaned forward as if she were about to impart a secret. “He was very good at it, wasn’t he Kallie?” She turned to walk away, but paused, and faced both crypts. “C’est sa couillion, Hale,” she said. “Oh, I forgot.” She placed her fingers over her mouth. “Y’all never did understand Cajun, did ya? You were a fool to be with Kallie, ya cheatin’ bastard,” she said with deadly earnestness. “Y’all should never have slept with my sister. And Kallie,” she directed her eyes to the other crypt, “ya lyin’ bitch. Seducin’ my husband in my bed is a treachery that just can’t be forgiven. Y’all had to die.”
The sun disappeared behind a large fluffy cloud, easing the heat of the day. Tilly couldn’t get the image of the two of them in her bed out of her head, moaning in delight, their naked bodies locked in a climatic sexual embrace. Glancing down at her ring, she stretched a wide grin across her face, then turned to wave her fingers at the two crypts.
“The money does help ease the pain, though. See y’all in hell.”
She turned and strolled toward the gate, leaving the crypts behind.
All of the social media work has begun to take over my life. Something has to go, and I’ve chosen my blog. It takes so much time to do it justice that it’s cut into my more creative work, which is writing short stories and my books. Therefore, I’m retiring this blog for several months while I get caught up with my books and short stories. Bless Y’all. I hope to meet y’all soon at a lecture, or on my FB page. For a unique blogging site, go toNiume.
(My guest post as seen on Nina Romano’s Website: NINA)
Don’t write dialogue the way people talk
Sol Stein, the great author and editor for luminaries like Elia Kazan and James Baldwin, taught a class on dialogue that had never been taught to writers before. He taught at University of California at Irvine and had to hold the class in a medical amphitheater to house the number of writers taking his course. The first thing he said was critical. Dialogue is a foreign language. What that means is when you write you don’t write the way you were taught to speak. It must be adversarial, filled with nuance and revelatory language, but not so much for what is said, but what is meant. I love the example he uses:
Elmore Leonard: “Let’s get a drink, and talk for a few days.”
This line is rife with meaning. And, I’m sure you didn’t learn to talk like that.
Conflict is critical in dialogue
This doesn’t mean people need to shout, or to use profanity. Yes, use profanity sparingly. Curse words should only be used when absolutely necessary. So far, I haven’t found them necessary in any of my stories. Using lots of profanity is an easy way out of designing dialogue between characters that reveals what they are made of and where they are going. It should express conflict in order to thrust the story forward. Using the f-word does neither. It also shows a lack of imagination. Think of this. How do you write a scene between two people where one is so angry they are ready to kill? It would be easy to say, “I’m gonna kill that motherf——.” All this line shows is anger and nothing else. I personally love the line that Alan Rickman uses in Robin Hood where he screams, “I’m going to cut-out his heart with a spoon!” Hmm. Don’t you think that gives you a better visual?
Dialogue should also show an adversarial bent
Sol Stein says it should “show sparks.” Crackle is another way of expressing it.
Here’s an example from my book The Night Shadow:
“And to think I could be at home cleaning the cat box,” Esther Charlemagne said. “Watching for a Peeping Tom is so much better.”
You know at least a half dozen things about this character. Her relationship to the job and her partner is definitely adversarial. It’s the opening gambit and you already know she’s sarcastic, bored, she owns a cat, and it sounds suspiciously like they are on a stakeout… well, you get the point. Dialogue that snaps and crackles and lights a fire will make your story unforgettable. Readers love those sparks, and you won’t just have a reader of one book, but a follower.