Bedraggled Bird

All right, yes, I admit it. This post is little more than an excuse to announce the publication of a new short story. It’s called Windborne, and it is appearing in Strange Fictions Zine, Friday, April 28, 1:30 EST. Oddly precise, I know, but I guess that’s just the way it is with online zines. But if you’re reading this, the story must be up and ready for viewing. You should check it out. It only takes about five minutes to read.

It is a little disingenuous of me to call it a new story. Windborne is at least 12 years old. It was the first story I ever wrote, at least since my college days. The truth is, I never particularly wanted to be a writer, at least not of fiction. Songs were what I wrote, lots of them. I sang them with several rock bands, then by myself, then only for myself. My musical career traced a long and squiggled line, but that line had a decidedly negative slope.

After that, I got married, had some kids, and settled into a life where my only creative impulses were realized in idiosyncratic woodworking projects. And that was fine. If I was experiencing any great lack in my life, I wasn’t aware of it.

Then one afternoon, I was standing on Moonstone Beach. The kids were playing in the water by the big rock. There were a lot of people there. It was windy but warm. I was standing on a flat rock near the runoff. The wind was blowing full in my face, rifling my clothes. It was one of those winds where a sudden gust can jostle you, knock you off stride—almost, if you let your imagination unreel a bit, lift you up off your feet and into the air.

That’s where the story was born. I stood there, buffeted by the sea wind, and wrote the whole thing in my head.

Later that evening, I wrote it out for real. I showed it to my wife. She liked it. I’m fairly sure I didn’t show it to anybody else for a good—oh, I don’t know—maybe six or seven years. Continue reading “Bedraggled Bird”

So You Want To Build A World

(Also posted at the Writer’s Co-op.)

 

“You see, to be quite frank Kevin, the fabric of the universe is far from perfect. It was a bit of a botch job you see. We only had seven days to make it. And that’s where this comes in. This is the only map of all the holes. Well, why repair them? Why not use ‘em to get stinking rich?”

–Randall from Time Bandits

So you want to build a world, eh? Are you ready to be God? Because that’s what you’re doing. Creating a world, populated with millions of beings. They’re your responsibility now. What happens to them—well, that’s on you, isn’t it? And more than that, you owe it to your readers to create a functional world, an elegant mechanism guided by a clear plan and exquisite craftsmanship, a Swiss watch kind of a world.

Or—maybe not.

I know. A lot of writers LOVE world building. They revel in creating dossiers, elaborate histories, mythologies—even whole languages. It’s part of the fun. And backstory can certainly add depth and richness to a narrative, making it more believable, more real, more engaging.

But how much is really necessary? All fiction writing is world building. You set the stage, you paint the backdrops, you provide the props. You populate that world with living, breathing people, give them history, put flesh on those dry paper bones so that they rise up off the page. And no matter how closely your fictional environs hew to the real, recognizable world, it is new. You built it. Continue reading “So You Want To Build A World”

Order Please, Mr. Adjective

Not so long ago I caught a bit of a podcast from Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl, talking about the correct order of multiple adjectives in an adjectival phrase. (I know. Sounds like a wild party, but let’s try to focus here.) When using more than one adjective to modify a noun—and for the purposes of didactics, let’s ignore the fact that you probably don’t want to do that most of the time—how do we decide what order to put them in?

Most native speakers have little difficulty with this task. We tend, without even thinking about it, to follow the same basic order for the most common types of adjectives:

Opinion
Size
Age
Shape
Color
Origin
Material
Purpose

Most of these are second nature to us. We would never refer to “a yellow, stupid shirt” (color before opinion) or “an Armenian, old carpet-seller” (origin before age). These examples just sound wrong. There is some give and take—shape and color can sometimes go either way—but the basic litany is pretty well fixed. We might refer to “a dismal, mud-grey, slack-shouldered, American, polyester leisure suit,” (opinion, color, shape, origin, material, purpose) but surely never “a polyester, mud-grey, American, slack-shouldered, dismal leisure suit” unless purely for comedic purposes. Continue reading “Order Please, Mr. Adjective”

Me and Hemingway

The other day, this blog post appeared in my Facebook feed with the title: “This Surprising Reading Level Analysis Will Change the Way You Write.”

Once you get past the clickbait title, it’s a pretty good post. The reading level analysis the post is talking about is called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, a method developed in the 1970s for evaluating the difficulty of a text. Basically, it analyses a text for complexity and assigns it a reading level.

Just for kicks, I fed a brief, randomly-selected chapter from my newest book, Whisper Blue into the analyzer over at ReadabilityScore.com and clicked analyze. My score? A whopping 4.1. Fourth grade reading level. Ha! Shows what an erudite elitist I am! Continue reading “Me and Hemingway”