East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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The Good Stuff

john-d-macdonald-60sYesterday I wrote great writers are those that can actually write down what we feel, but we so far have been unable to express with the same economy and focus.

Here’s John D. Macdonald, from the introduction to his short story collection, The Good Old Stuff.

First, there has to be a strong sense of story. I want to be intrigued by wondering what is going to happen next. I want the people that I read about to be in difficulties–emotional, moral, spiritual, whatever, and I want to live with them while they’re finding their way out of these difficulties. Second, I want the writer to make me suspend my disbelief…. I want to be in some other place and scene of the writer’s devising. Next, I want him to have a bit of magic in his prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing. And I like an attitude of wryness, realism, the sense of inevitability. I think that writing–good writing– should be like listening to music, where you pick out the themes, you see what the composer is doing with those themes, and then, just when you think you have him properly analyzed, and his method identified, he will put in a little quirk, a little twist, that will be so unexpected that you read it with a sens of glee, a sense of joy, because of its aptness, even though it may be a very dire and bloody part of the book. So I want story, wit, music, wryness, color, and a sense of reality in what I read, and I try to get it in what I write.

He makes it sound almost easy.

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Travel guides

A map indicating trading routes used around th...

A map indicating trading routes used around the 1st century CE centred on the Silk Road. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everything finds its use, sooner or later.
And if one’s a writer, everything finds a writing-related use, sooner or later.
Back when I was planning my after-graduation Silk Road adventure that never happened, I got me a few maps and guidebooks.
These went to form the core of my still-growing collection of books on the subject.

As of now, I’m also sort of a Travel Guide collector – as Blondie used to sing, dreaming is free.

Now, almost fifteen years later, I dug out some of the stuff to document a story I’m writing.
Guidebooks are great for local detail – and one can even find out how things change through time by comparing guidebooks from different decades.

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Dealing with plain hostility

As many friends of mine know, I collect books about writing – handbooks, critical collections, author memoirs.
I’ve been through close to 100 volumes on the subject of “writing” – and while not a single one of them holds “the Truth”, there is not a single one of them that did not teach me something.
Which is cool.
And yet…

A classic chapter in almost every writing handbook is something called “Dealing with rejection” – an essential set of “rules” for those bad days when a letter or a mail comes telling us that our story sucks.
Boy, it’s useful – because our stories do suck, sometimes.

What I find sorely missing is a chapter about “Dealing with plain hostility” – a set of rules for those bad days when someone decides to slam us, basically to vent their own frustration and make somebody else miserable. Continue reading

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Give it and take it cheerfully

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I liked it so much I decided to post it here as a reminder.
It’s from the 1920s, a time in which criticism was not a form of aggression through the web.


Yesterday I was asking about helping my fans lose their shyness.
Now I’d also like to point out that criticism – public or private, in the form of a review posted somewhere or a direct message to the author – is what keeps writers going, and what helps them improving.
Give it and take it cheerfully.