Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dialogue tags

My husband was reading a book last night and remarked how much he liked stand-alone dialogue. No "he said," or "she tossed him a look," added onto the dialogue. Just a plain ole by-itself line of dialogue after line. I took slight umbrage, because I really like adding those little bits to give the reader a picture of how the speaker is acting, but I see his point. Elmer Leonard says tags are anathema, and while I respect the man as a writer, it just isn't my style. I read (or tried to) a book that was page after page of dialogue, with no quote marks so you never knew when the talking stopped and the exposition began, and gave up because I never knew who was saying what. I'd count 1) he said 2) she said in my head, and I'd have to go back three pages and start over on my counting mission. That one hit the trash basket right fast.

First person, present tense - it's becoming more the vogue, I think. I hear from people who say they hate it, and I admit to being disconcerted when I start reading a book with FP, PT, but the discomfort goes away after a bit. I've even tried writing that way, and while I like the immediacy of what's happening on the page, it does get awkward. At least for me. First person, past tense I had to learn by starting out with a few chapters converted from third to first, before I could begin in FP right off the bat. It's my comfort zone now, but it took a while.

As to tag lines, I'm not willing to give them up just yet. Maybe I'll try cutting out a few here and there and see how it feels when I re-read the page.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Richmond Race and Eudora Welty

Despite a steady rain an hour before start time, the race got going pretty much on schedule and without thirty laps under caution to dry the track. The racing, per usual, was stellar - lots of 3-wide battles - and the Vickers/KyBusch battle is well documented. Not too many people took serious note of Matt Kenseth's (deliberate, it looked to me) stop in Michael Waltrip's pit stall, forcing MW to drive through pit road. MK was ticked off about getting blocked in his stall by Waltrip, and decided to take out his frustrations at a bad car and a bad season on the most likely target. Being a small man, he couldn't hop out of the cockpit and threaten 6'5" Waltrip, so screwing up the #55's night was his chosen alternative. Petty and mean, huh, Kenseth? Great combo.

The weekend disappeared like easy money, and it's back to work. New book gelling in the brain cells as I get SIGNS in order. One thing I never lack, and it's ideas, LOL.

I've been thinking about celebrity tell-alls. And even non-celebrity public (US and Newsweek, anyone?) vomit. Having been raised with Southern manners, I find it extremely distasteful to publish family secrets and problems (or the author's version of the same - who knows the real story?) for the world to dissect. Does being the daughter of a famous writer give you license to expose the seamy side of your mom's addiction? Who wants to read these literary train wrecks? Rubberneckers and voyeurs, is my guess. I re-read George Garrett's chapter about Eudora Welty in GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT and found it charming and laugh-out-loud funny. The story about Miss Welty eating everything in sight was chuckle-laden because it followed a description of EW reading "Why I live at the P.O." The lady had a wicked sense of humor, as well as a dead-on ear for dialogue. She would have approved, I bet.

BTW, if you haven't read "Why I live at the P.O." in a while, go back and do so. You can hear those people talking. Talk about dialogue lessons - there're a hundred in that one short story.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

More Rantings

I forgot in my last (too long) post to mention buying and reading a novel published by one of those tenure-track creative writing people. Just awful. I could, with half a brain firing on half its cylinders, pull out every sentence, every scene, that had been mangled by fellow creative writing academics. Maybe the mashed-up, artsy final version was better than the original but Lord, I hope not. Clearly, too many hands had passed the red pen over its pages, and its tortured existence placed no credit at the door of its author's academic institution. My final salvo on this topic, at least for now.

Next Rant: Bobby Labonte has replaced David Gilliland in the #71 Start and Park car for the seven races that HoF racing got stuck with Eric Darnell because of sponsorship issues. How humiliating. I never thought I'd see Bobby drive a SnP car. David Gilliand deserves better as well. He's done everything asked of him and more by TRG racing, and to get bumped to the curb like this is as bad as the way Labonte was treated by HoF and Yates Racing. Karma, as they say, comes around and payback can be a rough row to how. Or something like that. May Yates (and Roush, who engineered Bobby's ejection), and TRG get what's coming to them.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Writing and Academia

I’ve been thinking about the arts and academia, heaven knows why. Perhaps it’s because I’m seeing parallels between my daughter’s architecture studies and those I went through in creative writing courses, and I’ve always been fascinated by the creative process. Anyway, I was watching Masterpiece Theater the other night (Inspector Lewis, yes!), and was struck for the first time by the creative freedom afforded Oxford art students. Yes, I know it’s a TV drama, but give me some latitude here. In contemplating the role of art schools in real life, I decided that sure, that’s the purpose of one’s college years, to produce and experiment with art in a way you’ll never get again because. . . . lo and behold, with the handing over of the diploma, you must cease playing in the art box and get a real job. One that pays the rent, etc. Accounting majors know this is coming, but art students avoid thinking about it as much as possible. (I confess this with complete pride: I have a BA in Art History, which qualifies me to recognize painters and movements and a few other bits and pieces here and there, and that’s it.)

The dichotomy between the real world and that of the artist at university solidified for me a few years ago when one of my offspring was undergoing the routine matriculation seminar mandatory for new freshmen and their parents . An announcement that grad students would now teach first year creative writing seminars set off cries of dismay from a parent sitting behind me. After we’d all trailed out of the finished seminar, I tracked the father down to try to reassure him. I had, in fact, many many years before taken those same beginning creative writing seminars from tenured profs with big reputations. In later classes, I been paired with grad students, and as far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter who taught the class. I reassured this agitated parent, who was paying, as I was painfully doing as well, big bucks to this private university so his child could graduate with the reputation of having studied in the top writing program in the country. I tried to tell him, obliquely and with Southern manners, which means thinly veiled ugly truths couched in sugary terms, that creative writing classes don’t teach you to write or how to publish. They don’t even teach plotting.

If you want to be a writer, you have to write and teach yourself what you need to know. Writing is the ultimate school of hard knocks. Finding out how to get past those first hundred pages and track the all-crucial plot points, dissect the hero’s journey and how to find the way into the cave, theme and character-driven v. plot driven – all of that isn’t going to be taught in a CW seminar. Lord help you if you want to find an agent and shop a book. The narrow focus of most CW teachers is in the literary and poetical world, a narrow strip in the publishing landscape and geared towards university presses, bless their hearts as we say in the South. That’s because that’s what those so-sincere CW teachers learned in their undergrad and MFA programs, and because the academic writing world is so incestuous, that’s what they produce in their students when it comes time to take the tenure track.

Writers need to write, to live, to get out in the world and hear different speech patterns, meet people who haven’t heard of W.H. Auden and don’t give a damn about a library card. Living life makes a good writer a better writer. I have friends who were extolled and praised to the roof top in CW classes who today haven’t done a blamed thing with their writing. Once released from the cotton-wool cocoon of academia, they found the real world of publishing to be a cruel and vicious creature that eats its young. Definitely not for such delicately nurtured artistic souls as they.

A few years after that seminar for freshmen, I tried to steer a young woman just graduating from college towards an agent who specializes in paranormal books. This young woman had been working on the manuscript in high school and college. I didn’t know if it was any good, but I gave her props for wanting to get it published. For an hour I discussed marketability and query letters, how to write a tight synopsis, how to make her pitch in person. She’d learned none of this in all the years she’d studied creative writing, even though her stated goal was publication of this magnus opus. I felt sorry for her, and for all the other writers who thought they’d graduate with everything they needed to know about how to survive the publishing world. What writer wants to keep her words to herself? Not a blamed one of us, if we’re honest. We have a story to tell, a truth to reveal, and the world will be better off if it can find us in a book store, at least that’s the way I feel.

While spending four years writing angsty poetry and obscure prose is fun, it isn’t where the real writing world reposes. So don’t worry who teaches what classes, because the true writing work starts when the diploma is on the wall. Then, a real writer will get down to the brass tacks of the job and figure it out, or quit. As the cliché puts it so well, it’ll be time to fish or cut bait. And little if nothing learned in academia will land the big fish.