January Writing Goal Met

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I am happy to report that I did meet my January writing goal of writing 80 pages of the first draft of my third novel. As I have mentioned previously, I am under no illusions of the quality of this initial writing. I realized as I was putting it down on paper, that there were many problems I will have to deal with in revisions.

But that understanding is completely acceptable. Unless there is something written, there is no improvement that can be made. And I suspect, no—I know, that I will be dealing with many aspects of revision when I do finally finish this first draft: development of plot, fixing holes in the story, expanding character treatment, and timeline issues, among many others that do not immediately jump into my mind.

My next goal with this book is to draft 60-80 more pages in February. I am trying to keep on this accelerated pace in order to finish a first draft by the end of March or sometime in April, because I will soon start revisions on the second novel as well as making drafts on a large academic project—a book based on an obscure Irish playwright whose work I investigated in a chapter of my dissertation.

I hope that by the end of February, I will be able to report that I have reached my drafting goals on this third novel.

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Narrative Choices

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I am making progress on the first draft of my third novel, and I hope to reach my goal of 80 pages drafted by the end of the month. I do understand, however, that this initial draft will need a great deal of work, especially given the immediate narrative problem I am confronting.

I began the novel as a multiple first person narration, in the epistolary style of the late Victorian era, using diary entries and letters to frame the character’s thoughts. While this gives freedom to explore a variety of perspectives, it also is making movement of the plot difficult.

As a result, I began drafting a few chapters in third person omniscient, which allows me to push the events along and present commentary and needed information for the readers. I am not sure which will be best for this piece, so I am writing sections in both perspectives. I, obviously, will not keep both when I begin revisions, but I anticipate a very difficult problem when I am forced to make the choice between the two.

In the meantime, I will continue the drafting process. I will follow the advice I give to my first-year writing students—to get something down on paper. Without something written, no matter how chaotic or problematic, no revision, no redrafting, no re-seeing, or no editing can occur.

Magic In Stories

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Power of Words

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There is magic in stories. Magic is the transmutation of objects or the manipulation of the world in ways that move outside the realm of science. Whether or not magic is real in the sense of the here and now world is not the point; magic is a metaphor for fiction. Stephen King says, “books are a uniquely portable magic” (104). This magic is in the words, in their transmitting from the writer to the reader other worlds and ideas. In writing fiction, writers create a world that was not there; even so-called realistic, literary writers create an alternate world that readers inhabit when they read the book. The writers and the readers, in a mystical incantation, create another reality, one that can be so strong sometimes that readers can be moved to tears or laughter or sadness or joy or grief or sorrow or despair or hope. Readers come to care about the characters and feel empathy as if they were real. That is a kind of magic.

Neil Gaiman, in his introduction to Ray Bradbury’s  60th Anniversary Edition Fahrenheit 451, speaks to the power of the written word and stories: “Ideas—written ideas—are special. They are the way we our stories and our thoughts from one generation to the next. If we lose them, we lose our shared history. We lose much of what makes us human. And fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over” (xvi). It is through the creation of artificial worlds, no matter how speculative or fantastic, that we experience our world in more intensity and with deeper clarity. This act of magic is what we share as writers and readers. I am honored to be a mere apprentice in the magic of writing novels.

Works Cited

Gaiman, Neil. “Introduction.” Ray Bradbury. 60th Anniversary Edition Fahrenheit 451. New

York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000.

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Printed Copies of My Dissertation

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My hard bound copies of my dissertation finally arrived. While I had finished the work and graduated with a Ph.D. in English Literature in May of 2014, I had not received any printed copies of the work. Dissertations and Master’s Theses are published through ProQuest, but that is completely online as part of ProQuest’s online database.  If a writer desires to have a physical text of his/her writing, it must be ordered.

It gives me great satisfaction to see my work, From the Political to the Personal:
Interrogation, Imprisonment, and Sanction In the Prison Drama of Seamus Byrne and Brendan
Behan, bound and printed. While this is an academic writing that is unlikely to be read by many people, it still is the culmination of many years of research and writing.

I am working on using a portion of the dissertation as the basis for a scholarly text, and that is just one of the various writing projects in which I am currently engaged. I will report later in the year on my progress on this effort. I hope to have at least two chapters completed by the end of the summer.

I will keep you informed.

Another Successful Meeting

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I am happy to say that the Grounds For Thought Literary Group had another successful and productive meeting tonight at the Taylor Roasted Coffeehouse in Northampton, PA. I have mentioned this before, but it is definitely worth repeating that this is the best coffeehouse in the Lehigh Valley, PA. Not only are the owner and manager very decent people, but they also have the best coffee—roasted on the premises—and the best atmosphere for creativity. It is like having a little bit of Soho in eastern PA.

The turnout was good—about 13-14 people, with a good mixture of writers and listeners. In these meetings, no one is compelled to do anything, but all are encouraged to read some of their work or a few pages of writing they have enjoyed. If they prefer, they can simply listen and enjoy the readings.
I read another chapter of my novel Evil Lives After, a supernatural thriller. This chapter, as do several others, deals with historical events that some of the characters lived through. This one takes place during the second battle of Fallujah and features two important characters in the novel. I was concerned about the narrative showing realistic and believable fighting, and I received useful feedback.

Several others read chapters from their books, including novels, memoirs, and nonfiction. All of the writing was strong, and the participants gave useful and positive critique. I was very pleased that the writers and listeners all took a very serious and respectful approach to the session.

I look forward to the next session, which has yet to be scheduled, but it will be sometime in February.

First Draft of the Third Novel

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One of the joys of writing for me is that I am approaching my novels from many different directions. The first book is set in the present and is a supernatural thriller. The second text is a post-apocalyptic young adult novel set in the far future. The third book is a gothic thriller set in the late 1800s. For future writing, I have in mind more disparate times and genres, including a Renaissance novel on an obscure philosopher who died by burning at the stake, a horror novel set during an academic conference, and a novel about reincarnation. I will be able to keep busy!

It is still early in the month, but I am well on my way towards meeting my first draft goal of 80 pages this month. As of right now, I am on page 53 of the first draft of the third novel. I am under no illusions of the quality of the work. As with all other writing, this piece will require many drafts and much revision, but I do think that getting the initial work down on paper is crucial to the process. Without a draft, there is nothing to revise.

I will try to keep up this pace, because I expect to begin working on a third draft of the second novel sometime late this month or next month. At that point, I will begin to include a certain amount of time per day to work on revision first, and then I will move to drafting afterwards. As long as I am disciplined in this approach, I should be able to manage this work along with my teaching. This may sound like a ridiculous amount of time committed to writing, but it is not. It usually amounts to about 2 hours a day. And I have found that time often is taken up by less important tasks, like watching TV. So, that is not a great sacrifice!

I hope that I will be able to report on reaching this initial goal of 80 pages by the end of the month.

Characters’ Recipes: Sam’s Fiery Chili

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In my horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I, one of the main characters is Sam, a retired homicide detective.  In his spare time, he fancies himself a good cook of basic foods, and one of his favorites to cook and eat is spicy chili.

I was thinking about what some of my characters like to eat and cook, not necessarily because this information appears in the novel, but because the more I know about the idiosyncrasies of the characters I write, the better I can show them. This idea is similar to actors creating biography sheets for roles they are playing.

So, what is this recipe?

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Sam’s Fiery Bowl of Red Goodness

Ingredients:

One pound chuck roast,
One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes,
One Spanish onion,
One sweet green pepper,
One poblano pepper,
Four habanero peppers,
Two chipotle peppers,
Two jalapeno peppers,
One can dark red kidney beans,
One can black beans,
Ground black pepper,
Twp. cumin seed

(Because this is chili, substitute more or fewer peppers according to taste and heat preference.)

The process:

*Cube the chuck roast, then sear completely in a hot, slightly oiled pan,
*Place in Dutch oven (Sam uses a well-seasoned cast iron pot) with crushed tomatoes,
*Slice the onion and green pepper and add to tomatoes,
*use a hand mortar and pestle to crush the cumin seed, and add to Dutch oven,
*add black pepper,
*de-vein and remove seeds from chilies—BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO TOUCH THESE WITH YOUR HANDS!!!!! If you do, wash your hands thoroughly and do not touch your eyes. Yes, I am speaking from bad experience. Use a small food processor and make the chilies into a mash. Add to the Dutch oven,
*bring to boil, and then reduce immediately to a simmer.
*With about one hour left in the simmering time, drain and add the two cans of beans.

This is very important—do not cover during the simmering. Check the chili every 20 minutes or so, and if needed add a little water, and stir. The chili cooks best if done very slowly and uncovered.

Give it about 10 hours to become fully tender and mixed.

Sam also likes to add cheddar cheese or sour cream to the bowl when serving. Good Italian or French bread also works.

But be warned, with the chilies Sam uses, this should become a hot bowl of goodness. If you want it milder, go to one or two habanero peppers.

Enjoy!