I'm a boob.
I mean, not literally, or maybe, yeah, literally, but in the sense of the way other than the way in which your dirty mind is working.
I watch TV, and thereby come by the characterization, not by gender or age driven anatomical manifestations.
I watch TV mainly because there are shows I like to watch, still,and so far.
One of my all time favorites was "Hill Street Blues." Robert Crais was a screen writer for the show. Now he writes books I like. I gave one of his novels five stars. Mostly, if I really like something, I give it a four star rating. Robert Crais does good characters. And that, I've decided, is why I liked "Hill Street" so much.
Currently, "NCIS", "Hawaii Five Oh", "Blue Bloods", and "The Good Wife" are favorites.
After thinking about it for a bit, I've decided I like "NCIS", "Blue Bloods", and "The Good Wife" because of the characters.
"Hawaii Five Oh," on the other hand, I like the music and the scenery. The characters are okay, but there are things with the script that make me ask myself, "Now how much do you like the secnery—and I'm talking Diamond Head here?" I liked the original "Five Oh," so purely in the interest of research, I went to my local B&N and asked if they had any DVDs of the original "Five Oh," and, lo, they did.
Now one of the things that I found annoying in "The Mentalist" was Red John. In my mind, he is just over done. Find him, mort him, and be done with it, I say. One of the guys I found annoying in the current "Five Oh" was invincible Wo Fat and all the stuff with McGarrett's parents.
So I got the DVDs of the third season of the original "Five Oh," expecting more credible bad guys, and who is the main bad guy in the first episode?
If you didn't say Wo Fat, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. So I was surprised to find the one guy I bought the DVD to NOT see. I will tell you, in the original, Wo Fat is, to me, more credible. Bad guys these days are invincible. Wo Fat in the current "Five Oh" is, even though, his face is burned and he should be wearing a Phantom of the Opera Mask and he is in prison, or not, he is invincible. Red John was, and that's the main reason I stopped watching "Mentalist."
The thing is, I liked "Vegas," mostly. Character consistency was an issue, but I was willing to hang with them to get that sorted. NCIS even has that problem once in a while. If you are established, a bobble now and then is okay. But, they pulled the plug on Vegas, apparently because it appeals to old farts, not youthful belchers. New "Five Oh" has the music and scenery, and the young McGarret, instead of the old Lord, for appeal.
All of this has bearing on the question, "Who do you write for?"
Every writer has a license to write for the people in answer to the question above. Before answering that question, though, I think it's important to answer the other question.
Why do write?
The answer to that one holds the answer to how you phrase your license.
To sell a book these days, unless you are somebody, you need some help. If you are somebody, it doesn't matter, for a book or two what you write, people will buy it. But to break in, to move from nobody-hood to anything beyond, you need help. To even get to the point where a publisher provides help, you need help.
Find a critique group.
"What kind?" you ask.
Find a helpful one.
There are Facebook, Twitter, other web-based groups out there commenting on the writing business. A lot of the comment tells you that critiquing others' writing is a delicate balance thing. I'm here to tell you, "Balderdash." If your concern is hurt feelings, rather than improved writing, then it doesn't matter what group you join. If you want to write more gooder, find a group where you have to check your feelings, your self-esteem, at the door.
My group meets on Tuesday. My group is helpful. Before I found them, I got input to the effect that "Good writing is hard work." A lot of us have worked hard, since, like forever, even. But how helpful is that, other than getting the implied "You haven't worked near hard enough—yet—if you ever will."
Comprising my group is men, but more importantly, for me, women. The men in the group comment on sort of big picture stuff and epidermal stuff. "I like it." or its negatory mirror image. Women, without the patience-was-never-meant-to-be-a-virtue chromosome, bring detailed line editing input to the mix. We have one or two balanced individuals who provide both big picture, story structure, as well as line edit input. But the real worth of my group is listening to the input around the table of ten to fifteen voices, who write different things, dragon stories, big-foot stories, mysteries, memoirs, essays, avatar stories to give you dollars worth of input.
The best piece of advice I ever got was: "It's just a stupid man story of a bunch of stupid men in a bar trying to out-stupid each other."
I got this input after listening to some women's stories about bears eating peoples' faces off, about castrating mindless males with a rusty fork, and a few other things that made me cringe. All of this brought to mind those "W" questions writers should ask of themeselves. Who do you write for? Why do you write? When and where do you want to write about?
For me, the best writing advice I've been fortunate enough to get has been aimed at my writing, and my parental feelings about my words be damned.
A worthy critique group, just like Proverbs 31:10.
And even if you're an atheist writer, God bless you with a worthy critique group, as He has blessed me with mine.
Richard Paul Evans visited the St. Louis County Library last Monday. He always draws a crowd and did Monday. He was promoting the fourth book in his Walk series. The book popped at number five on the NY Times list, with the new Dan Brown book on the list, above.
The appeal of RPE's books is amazing to me, as are the Chicken Soups. Lots and lots and lots of people buy those books. I don't know, maybe it's that there are a lots and lots of souls that need warm verbal chicken soup. Maybe lots and lots of souls need colored Bandaids for scraped knees. Maybe lots and lots of the hearts of souls get pounded with a meat tenderizer hammer, and those hurt soul-hearts need the touch of a soul-heart-healer specialist.
I was half finished with Jan Bettag's "Normal," a book about surviving and recovery from a burst aneurysm of the brain, when I went to see RPE.
All of this got me to thinking about Why they write, the Chicken Soupers, Jan, RPE. Some of the why must be a desire to help people. That seems to be there in "Normal." When i listen to RPE speak, i get the notion that this is a man on a mission. He has ties to people in grief counseling and he speaks of chance encounters where he counsels grievers, himself.
I do think RPE is on a mission to heal souls, and that is why he writes. I think that Jan wanted to share her story, to describe what happens when your mind is wounded, to help others who encounter similar problems to better understand how abnormal it all is, and what a wonderful thing normal is when you can't be it. She wanted to help people.
If you don't know Jan, I will tell you she is normal now. She is real normal. She is exceptionally normal. Anyway, the mind is a fascinating thing. Everybody ought to have one or two. I learned some things about the mind from her book.
Why do I write? I wish the answer to that one was as clear to me. All I can tell you is that I don't want to Not Write a whole big bunch.
And God bless those with soup, Bandaids, and healing for hurt souls.
John Sandford visited the St. Louis County Library last week to promote Silken Prey. I enjoy and appreciate hearing him speak, as well as to read his books. One of the questions the audience generally lobs at an author is, "Who do you like to read?"
Some of the authors, apparently, don't read for fun. One said, "I read up to fifty books researching one of my novels. I don't have time to read for fun." Another, "Reading novels of the same type I write is not fun. I can't help quibble over how the author said something or plotted the story." John Sandford, however, mentioned a couple of authors he reads, including Alan Furst. I picked up Night Soldiers on the recommendation. I am 10% into it, but I am hooked and impressed with what seems to be an authentic rendition of the slavic soul.
Another writer who captured the feel of Russia (I caught the briefest personal whiff of it in 1992 on a visit to Kiev and Moscow) is Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series.
If you are interested in a musical rendition of the Russian soul, try "Salvation is Created," by Tchesnokov. In the chorale, in my mind, the long suffering Russian peasant soul resides in the baritone notes, whose bare feet feel the soil, while the alto and soprano notes, cling to life in the same soul and reach for salvation and heaven.
Most of us have a soul.
Some music does too.
Good writing makes it three.
Thanks Mr. S. for the recommendation in the answer you gave.
When I read a history book, I like to read reportage, not editorialization.
When i began research for The Ensign Locker, one of the things I did was to read all the St. Louis Post Dispatch newspapers from 1965 and 1966. I had carried the impression away from those years that the press didn't give the military a fair shake in reporting the war. After reading two years worth of newspapers, I was surprised to find that the reporting was good, factual, and didn't appear to me to be biased. The editorial pages, however, I didn't care for.
That's what I prefer in the history books I read. A writer can't help but slip a little editorialization in now and then, probably. I remember a Halberstam book, I'm pretty sure it was The Coldest Winter. I was about 80% finished with the book, and appreciating it, when he sticks in a short paragraph of what I'd characterize as editorializiing. Then he went back to reporting. I've wondered whether he put that in just to see if the reader was still paying attention. Whatever his purpose, it was cleverly done. In that book, the beginning of chapter 53 has as good a summary of world events in the late forties and fifties as any I've seen. Reading a little editorializing to get to that was a very small price to pay.
One piece of history book editorializing I have appreciated is the note to the reader in the beginning of volume 7 of the Durant's Story of Civilization. One sentence in the second paragraph of the note talks about "the rise of murderous nationalism and the decline of murderous theologies." I'd never thought of the age of reason that way before and appreciated the suggestion.
At any rate, ten editorial words amongst 1,000,000 or so words of reportage, that's the right balance
Readin' writin', rithmatic. One of the things I've admired about those three is how balanced they make each other, and isn't acheiving the right kind of balance important?
Yesterday I discovered a Tom Lehrer cassette I probably hadn't listened to since 1966. I had errands to run and I had Leonard Cohen already in the pickup CD player. I planned the errands so I listened to Leonard on the way out and Tom on the way back home. When I conceived of this idea, I thought there would be some sort of balance achieved by back-to-backing them. Going I listened to "Everybody Knows" and "Hallelujah" as a dirge accompanied by bagpipes. Returning I heard "Werner Von Braun" and "The Vatican Rag" ended with recorded applause as I pulled into the driveway. I turned off the motor and was pondering the things I'd heard. I was thinking that, you know, those two guys had looked at a lot of the same world, sort of like through a kaleidoscope though, and the crystals just wound up arranged differently for them. That's when the tornado siren went off. Clear blue sky, bright sun, not a ripple of breeze. "What the hell have I done?" flashed through my mind.
I hurried in the house and flushed the toilet to see if the water swirled backwards or not. Rats. We'd had eco-potties installed. The water doesn't swirl. The sirens stopped, and after two seconds of silence it dawned: first Monday of the month siren test. Phew.
The next morning I went out to get the paper. I bent over and tumbled ass over teakettle. Fortunately, the paper had landed on the lawn that morning, not the driveway like it had every other day this year.
Which goes to show you, it's better to be lucky than good, or balanced.
Still it'll be a cold day in hell before I back-to-back Leonard and Tom again.
I am partial to the little guy book stores. They sponsor and promote newbies, whereas the big guys ...
Anyway, I do go into the big guys sometimes to look around. I always check out the DVDs and what did I discover on Monday, but a DVD of Donna Leon Commisario Brunetti movies, I thought. Turns out her books have been turned into a series of German TV shows. So, here's this crew of Germans, speaking German, portraying Venetians. But, the Venice scenery is glorious. The story lines (I only got episodes 1 & 2) are true to the narrative in her early books. The only thing not quite true to the book is that the Patta portrayer comes off as too human. Maybe there just isn't a German anywhere who can slip into the skin of Sicilian Patta as depicted in Leon's books. And the Commisario readily pulls a gun, which I don't recall from the books. But I liked those DVDs. Partly because I really like Donna Leon and I really like Venice. And the Germans make pretty decent Venetians. And spoken German, with an occasional, "Ciao," and subtitles is not enough to be off-putting. It was finding an Easter Egg after the field had been picked clean by the hordes.
I checked Amazon, and apparently a lot of her books have been scripted into TV shows. I'm not sure I will get more episodes or not, but I did enjoy episodes 1 & 2.
John Zerr is the author of four novels, The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, Noble Deeds, and The Happy Life of Preston Katt.
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