Wood, Writing, and Wacky Ideas

by Steve Hooley

I love wood—growing trees, harvesting lumber, cutting firewood, making things out of wood. There’s no official name for a lover of wood, but someone proposed “lignophile” (ligno – Latin for wood + phile – Greek for love). That would be me.

I grew up in rural Ohio in a house on a wooded lot. As a boy, I roamed the woods, built a treehouse, mowed the trails, and repaired the fences. I didn’t realize how much my early years had affected me until I finished college and got married.

Being the typical newlywed with very little income, a family to provide for, and free furniture sitting on every curb for anyone to take, I began hauling old furniture home to my garage and repairing it. The style of our house was “early marriage.”

After a few years of doing this, I became interested in building my own furniture and began collecting tools. When I returned to my home community after medical school and residency, I began heating our house with firewood, cut, split, hauled, and stacked from the family woods.

Fast forward forty years, and I purchased the family property (house and 28-acre woods) from my parents. My wife and I now live in my enchanted forest, where I continue to be terminally afflicted with lignophilia.

We heat our house in the winter with firewood harvested during September and October. It is hard work, my wife continues to remind me, and we are getting older. But I enjoy keeping the house a toasty 74 degrees while the wind is blowing and the temperature outside dips below freezing. A heating bill of zero is a nice bonus.

I am always looking for easier ways to handle the firewood. We burn 8-9 cords a winter. That’s a lot of wood. And this year, because of above-average rain with soft soil and several windstorms, we’ve had five large trees blow down in our yard and on the forest trails, extra wood to cut, split, and stack.

I’ve cut up those trees into firewood, but I’m running out of places to stack it. And that introduces the topic of this post, experimentation and trying new ideas. I hate the extra time it takes to build an end to a wood stack (a crisscrossed, log-cabin-style, wood column). I’m eventually going to burn it, and then I have to build another one. What a waste of time. So, this year, I stacked the extra wood between trees. But I’m running out of trees in the wood-storage area.

And that’s when I tried a colossal, stupid experiment. I didn’t want to build any ends to brace the stack, so I thought, “Why not build the stack in a big circle? No ends, right?” So, I tried it.

Well, the stack reached about two feet. Because the circumference of the outside circle (created by the ends of the wood farther from the center) was greater than the inside circle (created by the ends of the wood closer to the center), the outer end of wood pieces dropped into gaps, and the pile started to lean.

Being a fan of experimentation, I was too stubborn to start over. “Let’s see what we can learn from “our mistake.” (I had now pulled my wife into my insane plot.) I began gradually moving subsequent layers in toward the center of the circle as I stacked higher to compensate for the leaning. Now my stack was starting to look like an igloo.

No, we couldn’t junk the idea and start over. We needed to finish what we started, learn any more lessons that could be gleaned from “our experiment.” So, we labored on.

The pile survived at 4-5 feet high without falling. We’ll see if it withstands the winter winds. The Roman arch is supposed to be a strong design element, right?

I was just beginning to close the circle, when my wife said, “How are you going to get inside the circle to put the tarp on and off the wood?”

Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. I should have put in two posts (creating an entry into the circle) that the pile could lean against on either side. But I might as well have dug a post hole at either end of a long straight pile, and I was too lazy for that. That was the whole purpose, to save time, right? And then another idea hit me. I could put in an open box structure—open on both ends to walk through, no digging required—so the wood could be stacked against both sides, supporting itself, and I would have a doorway into my magic garden.

My wife groaned. We left a “dip” in our pile at about two feet high so I could climb over it. I might yet build that box, maybe, unless I get another idea.

Bottom line, my genius circle of success, turned out to be a giant dome-shaped debacle. But…I had not given up. I stuck with my junker, wacky idea all the way to the bloody end, “learning” from my mistakes. Or as the politicians say when they’ve created a disaster, “We must investigate this, so we can prevent this failure in the future.” Right.

So, now to you, TKZ community. How far down the road that’s not working do you drive your clunker of an idea before you abandon it and scurry off to the new manuscript lot? Do you hang in there, try to repair the clunker, and see what you might learn from a “failed experiment?” Or, do you quickly trade in the old beast for a shiny new one?

Tell us about one of your “failed” experiments. Catharsis is good for the soul.

Haiku…an Introduction

Adding poetry to your writing routine

By Joyce Hooley and Steve Hooley

Today we are going to have some fun with poetry, haiku to be specific. We’ll learn the rules for writing haiku and how enjoyable it can be, and maybe even discover that we want to add it to our writing routine. Warning: This post may be addictive.

I was recently introduced to this subject, when my sister published a book of haiku. I did some searching for the rules and quickly found myself distracted, walking around the house with my fingers in the air counting syllables.

In reviewing what has been discussed here at TKZ, in regards to poetry, I found that JSB had discussed epigraphs recently. Six months ago, Clare asked who reads poetry. And Sue keeps us up to date on brain research and psychology. But I didn’t find any discussion on writing poetry, so today is a good day to start.

Our guest blogger today is Joyce Hooley, retired pediatrician who has worked in public health and clinical pediatrics in the U.S. and in Africa. She is a world traveler and has written books about her experiences in the places she has lived and worked. She currently lives and writes in North Carolina. Her recently published book is Fifty-Two Haiku, A Year on Plott Balsam Mountain.

Joyce, thanks for joining us today and introducing us to writing Haiku.

 

On Haiku

By Joyce Hooley

Most people, when asked about haiku will offer a simple definition: it is a poem written in three lines with a total of seventeen syllables. The first line, they will tell you, must contain five syllables, the second seven and the last five. But that definition does not capture the spirit of haiku. More accurately, at its essence, a haiku is a short poem that uses an image from nature to evoke a particular season in a particular place, and then uses a break in the rhythm of the poem to juxtapose that image with another image, or to juxtapose two aspects of the central image, and thereby prompt reflection. Haiku originated in Japan where it was intended to evoke Buddhist reflections on nature. But with this juxtaposition of images, haiku can also contain the elements of the most basic story: a subject (encapsulated in an image,) and a transformation (encapsulated in a juxtaposition.) It is for this reason that writing haiku can be such a great exercise for any writer. It is a method for sharpening focus. What am I trying to say? Can I distill it to a vivid image and one revealing transformation or contrast?

Haiku evolved from a 13th -14th century Japanese poetry form, a hokku, which was the beginning verse of a rengu, a longer poem written by two or more poets in collaboration, line by line, back and forth. It was not until the 19th century that the term “haiku” was used to refer to the evolved form. Matsuo Basho was one of the most famous of the early writers of haiku. Below are a few examples from his approximately 1000 haiku. Notice that, translated into English, these haiku no longer contain seventeen syllables.

Clear water—

A tiny crab

Crawling up my leg.

 

The squid seller’s call

Mingles with the voice

Of the cuckoo.

 

Stillness––

the cicada’s cry

drills into the rocks.

I wrote my recently published collection, Fifty-Two Haiku: A Year on Plott Balsam Mountain, in the year 2010. As I went about my daily activities that year, my walks through the woods and my garden chores, I challenged myself to stay present to each moment, alert for an image of the season that would inspire a haiku. I jotted down descriptions of sensory images that caught my eye, or ear, or nose, and kept these in a small notebook. I was still practicing pediatrics at the time, but I had Mondays off and each Monday morning I sat down and composed from one of the most compelling of the images. The rest of the week as I had time, I edited, tweaked, and played with the poem. It was, for me, a form of the discipline that Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, calls her “morning pages.”

The practice greatly elevated my days. Robert Haas, in his introduction to The Essential Haiku, Versions of Baho, Buson, and Issa, (Harper Collins, 1994) wrote that when Buson, the great mid-eighteenth-century Japanese poet, was asked by a student if there was a secret to haiku, he replied, “Yes, use the commonplace to escape the commonplace.” I was not trying so much to escape the commonplace as to dwell in it more fully, to be alive to it, to relish it. Writing haiku helped me to pay attention.

 

Thanks, Joyce, for a great discussion on haiku.

 

Okay, TKZ community, now it’s your turn with any comments or questions for Joyce.

And then it’s time for you to try your hand at haiku. Put on your thinking caps, look around, find a sensory image that distills the essence of what you are experiencing, and transform that image into a haiku. So, lay down your pencil, get your fingers in the air, maybe get out the thesaurus, and start counting syllables. Let’s get those neurons firing and create some poetry. Where else can you write poetry and have it published in the same day?

After Jim’s recent discussion of epigraphs, and learning about haiku, it struck me that we could write our own haiku epigraphs for our books. Written by us, totally unique, and custom made for our book. An epigraph in three lines.

 The assignment for today: #1 or #2, and an introduction:

  1. Since nature is the traditional topic for haiku, look out your window and share something in a haiku that surrounds and inspires you, or is unique to your world.
  2. Write a haiku appropriate for an epigraph for a book you have written, are working on now, or have plans for writing in the future.
  3. Please give us a brief introduction to your haiku.

Here’s my nature haiku as we cut firewood for winter heat:

 

dead tree bows to ground

submits to saw and splitter

winter heat in rows

 

Okay, please share your creation.

9/11…Heroes and Houdinis

Those Who Run to Trouble,

and Those Who Escape

By Steve Hooley

 

On this 20th anniversary of 9/11/2001, let us take a few moments to pause and remember those nearly 3000 who lost their lives on that terrible day. It is appropriate to honor the first responders, 343 firefighters and paramedics, and 60 police officers, heroes who gave their lives as they rescued others. And we must not forget that more than 2000 second responders, or Ground Zero workers, died from illnesses attributed to their time at the site, working to recover and identify the remains of those lost, helping to give families closure. Heroes all.

On this Patriot Day, a National Day of Remembrance, it is appropriate to reflect on heroes.

Heroes have always pulled us together, from the time prehistoric people gathered around the campfire to hear stories of conquest and victory, to modern day gatherings in front of the wide screen TV to cheer heroes of athletic competition. Heroes inhabit our stories, keeping readers on the edge of their seats, turning page after page to see how—or if!—the heroes will escape the traps and predicaments thrown at them.

Heroes pull us together, and they pull us into stories. We need heroes, and 9/11 gave us many of them.

Here are two accounts of true heroes from Biography.com, “Real Life Heroes of September 11, 2001:

Frank De Martini, a construction manager who worked for the Port Authority, and Pablo Ortiz, a Port Authority construction instructor, were inside the North Tower when it was hit. They survived, but instead of seeking safety they began to help people trapped on the tower’s 88th and 89th floors. Along with some of their coworkers, the two are thought to have saved at least 50 lives by opening stuck elevator doors, clearing offices, directing people to exits, and otherwise providing a lifeline amid dust, flames and obstructions. They were likely trying to come to the aid of additional people when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 am.

United Airlines Flight 93 was the fourth plane hijacked that morning. Yet the plane’s departure from Newark Airport had been delayed until 8:41 am, and the terrorist hijackers didn’t seize control until around 9:30. The timing meant that when passengers and crew phoned their loved ones, they learned of the other attacks, and understood the hijackers’ intentions for their flight. At least four passengers — Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick — decided to fight back and try to keep the plane they were on from becoming another destructive missile. Burnett told his wife, a flight attendant, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”

*

On the other end of the spectrum, 9/11 created opportunists who took advantage of the chaos and the dust cloud of catastrophe to play out their selfish deeds.

One group we will call “disappearers,” “vanishers,” or “Houdinis,” for lack of a better word, a small group of people who took advantage of the chaos and confusion to escape the bonds of their identity, then disappear, never to be heard from again.

Here are two links to articles about three people who vanished on 9/11/2001 without any evidence that they were present at the World Trade Center on that day, a doctor, a banker, and an immigrant.

Sneha Anne Philip was a physician in trouble. She had lost a past job for tardiness and alcohol-related problems. She was about to lose her current job. She was in legal trouble for falsely accusing a coworker of attacking her. Her marriage was in disarray after repeatedly staying out all night drinking, with accusations of leaving the bars with female lovers.

The night before 9/11, Sneha had been out all night, and had not returned by the morning of 9/11. This was not unusual, and her husband was annoyed but not surprised. Surveillance video of Sneha’s apartment lobby, showed that Sneha had returned to the lobby and was waiting for the elevator, when she suddenly left the lobby at 8:43 am, three minutes before the North Tower crash

She was never seen again.

Juan Lafuente was a vice-president at Citibank, which allowed him to keep a flexible schedule. He often attended meetings related to his work without notifying his supervisor in advance. There is evidence that he planned to attend a meeting at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11, but his name was not on the pre-registered list, and the final attendee list was destroyed when the building collapsed.

Juan suffered from depression and was being treated by a psychiatrist.

Tracking Juan’s path revealed the time that he had used a Metro Card at Grand Central station, and showed that it was uncertain as to whether he would have made it to the World Trade Center before its collapse.

Juan was never seen again.

Jimenez Molinar was a 20-year-old “undocumented immigrant” from Mexico, who worked as a delivery boy for a pizzeria in New York. Jimenez called his mother on September 8th, letting her know he had found a new job at the pizzeria. The evening of 9/11, Jimenez’s mother received a phone call from one of her son’s roommates, notifying her that Jimenez had not come home. She received a similar call on 9/20. The caller refused to give her his name or address, because he, too, was an undocumented immigrant.

Police checked the government databases while volunteers surveyed the local pizzerias. Since most businesses that hired undocumented immigrants used fake papers, it is not surprising that no evidence of Jimenez was ever found, or even that he was in the country.

Jimenez was never seen or heard from again.

These disappearances could have been spontaneous decisions to disappear, or possibly the premeditation was already occurring, and these people jumped at the chance to use the situation for their purposes. And there is still the possibility that they were caught in the destruction of the World Trade Center collapse, even though their remains were never found, and there was no evidence they were there.

Our stories are filled with disappearances, but how many of them are the spontaneous type where preparation meets opportunity?

Heroes run toward trouble. Houdinis escape.

We discuss heroes all the time. Let’s discuss characters who disappear without a trace.

 

  1. Tell us about one of your characters who disappeared without a trace.
  2. What is your favorite movie or book with a mysterious disappearance?
  3. Have you used 9/11 as a setting for of any of your books?

Building the Next Generation of Readers

Building the Next Generation of Readers

Encouraging Children to Read

Steve Hooley

 

With children going back to school, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss reading and children.

Most of us have children, nieces and nephews, or grandchildren. We want them to be successful in adulthood, and one of the best correlations with success is early reading. Reading is required to learn in every area of knowledge.

As writers, we want more people to read and more people to buy our books, so we want everyone’s children to become readers.

But, like construction, the process of creating an interest for reading in children takes repetition and multiple steps. It takes time, and it takes someone (parent, relative, teacher, friend) dedicated to helping the child learn and grow.

So, how do we build passion for reading in children? What do children want to read? And what do the “experts” suggest as the best processes to achieve that goal?

Current trends

In this age of TV, computers, and cell phones, all competing for children’s attention, how do we interest them in reading? And what are children today interested in reading?

A quick look for current trends of what children are reading revealed this list:

10 Current Trends in Children’s Books

  • Empowered females
  • Dragons
  • Unicorns
  • Pugs (Yes, apparently children like that breed of dogs)
  • Wild creatures
  • Ghosts, monsters, and scary things
  • Mysteries
  • Gross and goofy
  • Nonfiction titles

And a quick look for an “expert’s” tips on developing good reading habits, revealed this list:

8 Tips to Help Young Kids Develop Good Reading Habits

  • Make reading a daily habit – read to your children at a young age
  • Read in front of your child
  • Create a reading space
  • Take trips to the library
  • Let your child pick what to read
  • Find reading moments in everyday life
  • Reread favorite books
  • Learn more about how children read

I’ll add my thoughts:

  1. Read to children at an early age
  2. Allow them to explore picture books
  3. Help them learn to read at an early age
  4. Give them access to age-appropriate books
  5. Provide/protect a time to read (with TV, computer, and phone turned off)
  6. Give books as gifts
  7. Show an interest in what they write. Encourage them to write stories.

 Okay, now it is your turn:

1. What factors encouraged you or made you a reader?

My story

I don’t remember being read to at an early age, but I’m certain I was. I do remember going to kindergarten for two years before first grade, and reading second grade material by the end of those two years. During my third-grade year, our county library started a book mobile that included a stop at our elementary school. I remember the excitement of being allowed to explore those books. I also remember a large collection of “Bible fiction” given to my father and placed in the family book shelves. I became especially interested when I discovered that many of those books contained adult material. I spent too much time exploring those books, and my parents soon discovered why. The books disappeared. One of my best influencers was the elderly librarian in our little town, who wrapped her arm around my shoulders and directed me toward “the classics” that I “needed” to read.

2. What has worked with your children or relatives to create an interest in reading?

My failure

After my wife and I spent every Wednesday, this past summer, watching two of our grandchildren, reading to them, having them read to us, taking them to the library, and working through a workbook on language skills, I asked each of them, “Has anything made you interested in reading?” The first answered, “Nothing.” The second said, “No, not really.”

My success

On the other hand, I have a granddaughter who lives two hours away whom we visit every several months. She likes to read and write. We trade stories when we see each other, and she loves to read her stories out loud to me.

3. What suggestions do you have to build the next generation of readers?

I hope you have better ideas than I did., and I hope you will share them.

Bobby Fischer and the Hero’s Journey

We are pleased to have a guest blog today by one of our regular participants, KAY DIBIANCA. Please check the bottom of this post for Kay’s background and links. Thanks, Kay, for agreeing to present this article.

 

BOBBY FISCHER AND THE HERO’S JOURNEY

KAY DIBIANCA, AUGUST 2021

Recently I re-watched the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. Although the story is based on the early life of a young American chess prodigy named Josh Waitzkin, the undercurrent is all about Bobby Fischer.

Fischer’s life was worthy of a Greek tragedy. Raised by a single mother, he received a chess set as a gift when he was six years old and the journey began. Fischer was amazing. Talented and obsessed with the game, he became the youngest ever U.S. Junior Chess Champion at thirteen and the youngest ever U.S. Chess Champion at fourteen. At age fifteen, he became the world’s youngest person to ever achieve the rank of international grandmaster.

One example of his extraordinary skill was a game he played in 1956, in which he scored a remarkable victory over a leading American chess master, Donald Byrne, in what came to be known as The Game of the Century. Writing in Chess Review magazine, Hans Kmoch called it, “… a stunning masterpiece of combination play … “ Fischer was thirteen years old.

But like many great protagonists, Fischer had a personality of extremes. With an IQ measured at around 180, he had all the mental acuity of a genius – and all the charm of a horned toad. The world simply did not conform to Bobby Fischer’s standards, and he insisted on pointing it out. He railed against the Russians who had dominated the chess world for decades, accusing them of rigging the competitions by playing each other to easy draws so that they could reserve precious energy to play people from other countries. (He was right.) But his fury extended far beyond the chess board. He was rabidly antisemitic even though he was himself Jewish (through his mother), and he left a long trail of broken relationships and burned-out bridges behind him.

However, despite his many flaws, Fischer was so talented and hard-working that most people in the American chess world longed to see him compete for the world championship. As he was reaching his prime in the late 1960’s, it seemed the 1972 world championship would be perfect timing.

But the road to the 1972 World Chess Championship for an American started at the 1969 U.S. Championship. The top three finishers there would move on to the interzonal competitions, and the winner of those contests would compete for the title. However, because of disagreements with the organizing body, Fischer sat out the 1969 U.S. Championship making him ineligible for the later tournaments.

Then a miracle occurred.

In a culture not known for the humility of its participants, one of the U.S. Championship finalists, Pal Benko, stepped aside to give his hard-won spot to Bobby Fischer because he knew Fischer was the American with the best chance to beat the Russian superstar Boris Spassky.

Like Achilles returning to the field of battle, Fischer took Benko’s place and raged through the qualifying rounds, destroying all opponents. The extent of his winning streak was unprecedented, and he earned a higher rating than any player in history up to that time. More importantly, he won the right to meet Spassky in Iceland for the World Championship. The stage was set. It would be a classic cold war battle between the lone American and the Russian machine. Cue the drum roll.

But with the world eagerly awaiting The Match of the Century, Fischer balked. He wasn’t happy with the conditions in Iceland and he threatened to stay away, prompting Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to call and appeal to his sense of patriotism. Finally, after additional histrionics that rattled the chess establishment, Bobby Fischer sat down at the chessboard in Reykjavik and won the tournament by an impressive 12 ½ to 8 ½ score. He returned to the United States a conquering hero and was given a ticker tape parade in Manhattan. He was invited on television nighttime talk shows and feted by celebrities and politicians. Bobby Fischer had arrived.

But a flawed character cannot frolic in the rarified atmosphere of celebrity for long, and Bobby Fischer didn’t disappoint. He disappeared. Having lived so much of his life on sixty-four squares, he seemed unwilling or unable to move to a larger stage. Always reclusive and erratic, his behavior deteriorated and he refused to defend his title in 1975.

He did come out of hiding in 1992 and announced he would play an unofficial rematch against Spassky. But that match was to take place in Yugoslavia, a country on which the United States had imposed sanctions, and Fischer was advised by the U.S. that he would be breaking the law if he proceeded. Unsurprisingly, Fischer ignored the warnings, played the match, and won. Then the U.S. government, which had so lovingly welcomed him home twenty years before, issued a warrant for his arrest.

He never returned to America, but continued living abroad and dispensing his characteristic diatribes. In 2004 he was detained in a Japanese airport for using an illegal passport and jailed for several months. Iceland’s parliament stepped in and offered Fischer citizenship. He moved there in 2005 and died of kidney failure in Reykjavik in 2008.

If Bobby Fischer had been a polite, genteel man, he would still have been remembered as arguably the greatest chess player who ever lived. But would he have captured the imagination of the entire world if he hadn’t carried so much baggage? Would people have invested part of themselves in him if he had just quietly made his mark? I think not.

We are attracted to heroes who are complicated. They may thrill, shock, or disappoint, but they never bore us. They connect with life in a profound and mysterious way, and we’re like voyeurs, watching as they crest the ridge or wrestle the dragon.  We applaud their triumphs, weep at their failures, mourn their loss, and in the end, we acknowledge and value the impact they have had on us.

“What is chess, do you think? Those who play for fun or not at all dismiss it as a game. The ones who devote their lives to it for the most part insist that it’s a science. It’s neither. Bobby Fischer got underneath it like no one before and found at its center, art.” Ben Kingsley in the role of Bruce Pandolfini in “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

So TKZers. What flaws does your protagonist have? Will he/she conquer them, succumb to them, or just manage to get through and live to fight another day?

 

***

 

 I am deeply grateful to Steve Hooley for inviting me to guest post, and to all the TKZ community for the information and inspiration I have found on this site over the years.

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who loves to create literary puzzles in the mystery genre for thoughtful readers to solve. Her debut novel, The Watch on the Fencepost, won a 2019 Illumination Award for General Fiction and a 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for Mystery. Her second novel, Dead Man’s Watch, was released in 2020.

An avid runner, Kay can often be found at a nearby track, on the treadmill, or at a large park near her home. Kay and her husband, Frank, live, run, and write in Memphis, Tennessee.

You can connect with Kay through her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

Resonance and The Reader’s Journey

Resonance and The Reader’s Journey

Why Does Good Story Structure Resonate?

by Steve Hooley

 

 

We discuss the importance of story structure frequently on this blog site. It is often said that good structure will keep the reader engaged and will allow the story to “resonate” with the reader. But how often do we discuss why the structure resonates? And is there anything to be learned for our writing from the answer to the “why” question?

Recently this question hit me and made me start looking for answers. I was watching the news about the Surfside Condo collapse in Miami-Dade County, specifically the ceremony that took place at the end of the rescue efforts and the beginning of the recovery phase. It struck me, at first, that this was a necessary step to prevent victim’s families from being upset that the rescue efforts were ending. But as I watched, I began to realize that people need ceremony.

  • To memorialize significant events
  • To aid in transitioning to the next stage in life
  • To reflect on the past
  • To plan for the future

Then the idea hit me that this is similar to story structure. Readers need structure, with all the signposts, pillars, and doorways along the way.

  • For the story to resonate
  • For the reader to be captured by the story
  • For the reader to identify with the main character
  • For the story arc to feel right

But that still didn’t answer the question: Why does the story structure resonate?

I began looking for answers in the psychological research literature. There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of routine and structure in making life more meaningful and more productive. We all know that. There are studies that shine light on the techniques (and hormones) that increase tension and empathy. But still, what is the connection between structure and resonance?

Let’s first look at resonance. It is defined as “the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.” And from Physics: “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.” For example, in a stringed instrument, the walls of the instrument pick up the vibration of the string, multiplying and enriching the sound.

Thus, we are looking at a story touching something within the reader that is captured and begins to vibrate along with the story, magnifying and enriching the story. In other words, what is it within the reader that he/she identifies with the structure, that is similar in some way, and reverberates and resonates?

I offer the following theory for discussion. Agree, disagree, or give us your theory:

 Story structure resonates with readers because it causes the reader to subconsciously identify their own life’s milestones, ceremonies, and arc, with the story structure (either as their life has been lived out, or as they wish it had been, or could be in the future). In other words, the reader hangs their life on the story structure (subconsciously), and hopes for a better outcome.

Here are some quotes from Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey, about “the Hero’s Journey” (story structure based on patterns of mythology and the work of Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces):

The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler:

Preface, Second Edition:

p. xiii

“I came to believe that the Hero’s Journey is nothing less than a handbook for life, a complete instruction manual in the art of being human.”

p. xiv

“The Hero’s Journey is a pattern that seems to extend in many dimensions, describing more than one reality. It accurately describes, among other things, … the passage of a soul through life.”

“In the description of the Hero’s Journey they might have picked up some insight about their own lives, some useful metaphor or way of looking at things, some language or principle that defines their problem and suggests a way out of it.”

“…the pleasurable shock of recognition as the patterns resonate with what they’ve seen in stories and in their own lives.”

“…shared attitude about myths—that they are not abstract theories or the quaint beliefs of ancient peoples, but practical models for understanding how to live.”

p. xv

“Joseph Campbell’s great accomplishment was to articulate clearly something that had been there all along—the life principles embedded in the structure of stories.”

Introduction, second edition

p. xxvii

“Good stories make you feel you’ve been through a satisfying, complete experience. You’ve cried or laughed or both. You finish the story feeling you’ve learned something about life or about yourself.”

p. xxix

“The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life…”

p. xxxii

“The Hero’s Journey has served storytellers and their listeners since the very first stories were told, and it shows no signs of wearing out. Let’s begin the Writer’s Journey together to explore these ideas. I hope you find them useful as magic keys to the world of story and the labyrinth of life.”

And from Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

Chapter 9, What Can Go Wrong, Must Go Wrong – And Then Some

Cognitive Secret: The brain uses stories to simulate how we might navigate difficult situations in the future.

Story Secret: A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.

p. 167-168

“What is the benefit, survival-wise, that led to the neural rush of enjoyment a good story unleashes, effectively disconnecting us from the otherwise incessant Sturm and Drang of daily life? The answer is clear: it lets us sit back and vicariously experience someone else suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the better to learn how to dodge those darts should they ever be aimed at us.”

And here are some ideas for life events and corresponding structure milestones:

  • Birth                                                                     Opening Disturbance
  • Graduation                                                           Doorway of No Return #1
  • Midlife crisis                                                         The Mirror Moment
  • Retirement                                                           Doorway of No Return #2
  • Recovery from life-threatening illness                  Final Battle
  • Determination to make end-of-life meaningful     Transformation

Please give us other ideas for life events and corresponding milestones. Could these be built into story structure?

 And here are the questions:

  1. Do you agree with the proposed theory?
  2. Or, what theory do you have for structure and resonance?
  3. What life events would you correlate with other milestones?
  4. If this theory is correct, what can we build into our story structure milestones to better grab the reader and make him/her feel the resonance?
  5. Do you have any unique milestones that you build into your stories’ structure to grab the readers and make them feel like they have been through “a satisfying, complete experience?”

What if You Were the Main Character

What if…?

What if you decided you wanted to write a novel that would join the “50 most influential books ever written?” You wanted your book to be studied in literature classes 100 years from now. You had a concept and premise that would address a problem and make this world a better place. And you felt you had it within you to pull off such a feat.

And what if you wanted that novel to address social injustice or something just as controversial. I included the Literature and Society sections from the “50 most” list for examples of such books.

Literature

From creating characters and stories that have become foundational elements in cultures around the world to upsetting undesirable standards and inspiring the imagination of many, these works of literature have touched the world in significant ways. These are the most influential books in literature.

  1. The Canterbury Talesby Geoffrey Chaucer.
  2. Divine Comedyby Dante Alighieri.
  3. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
  4. Moby Dickby Herman Melville.
  5. 1984by George Orwell.
  6. Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley.
  7. The Iliad and The Odysseyby Homer.
  8. Don Quixoteby Miguel de Cervantes.
  9. In Search of Lost Timeby Marcel Proust.
  10. Madame Bovaryby Gustave Flaubert.
  11. Arabian Nightstranslated by Andrew Lang.
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitudeby Gabriel García Márquez.
  13. War and Peaceby Leo Tolstoy.
  14. The Tale of Genjiby Murasaki Shikibu.
  15. Uncle Tom’s Cabinby Harriett Beecher Stowe.
  16. Crime and Punishmentby Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  17. Things Fall Apartby Chinua Achebe.
  18. Faustby Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  19. Belovedby Toni Morrison.
  20. The Lord of the Ringsby J.R.R. Tolkien.

Society

These are the most influential books in terms of impacting society, texts that helped changed people’s views on racism, feminism, consumption, and language.

  1. The Diary of a Young Girlby Anne Frank
  2. The Vindication of the Rights of Womenby Mary Wollstonecraft
  3. The Second Sexby Simone de Beauvoir
  4. A Room of One’s Ownby Virginia Woolf
  5. Waldenby Henry David Thoreau.
  6. A Dictionary of the English Languageby Samuel Johnson
  7. Critique of Pure Reasonby Immanuel Kant.
  8. The Jungleby Upton Sinclair.
  1. What other titles would you add to this list?

And what if there would be consequences for writing such a controversial novel? Stakes (JSB, Plot and Structure): such as harm – physical, professional, psychological – even death. Do you still want to write that book? Have you thought carefully about the possible consequences?

So, what if you decided to protect yourself by inserting a buffer or a decoy – a main character who was on a quest to write such an influential novel, thus adding another layer to the story, and taking some of the heat off yourself?

What if, even though that main character was really you, you knew you must put your MC through the ringer.

  1. How far would you take your MC (you), or how close to physical death would you put yourself? Could you handle torturing and nearly killing yourself?

Commando squads showing up during the night to haul you off, never to be seen again? Or being ruined professionally where you could never find a publisher? Or being driven mad with the whole quest where you would finish the book as a deranged writer?

And, before you write your answer, we are talking “social disasters” outside your own country, not your own country’s political battles. No politics, please!

Okay, so how close to death would you take your MC (yourself)?

  1. Upping the ante

Now, finally, let’s up the ante. Or as Donald Maass says (in his books and classes), pick the worst possible scenario, now make it three times as bad. Let’s take that writer, the MC, you, out of the equation. You no longer have the MC to hide behind. You are writing that great influential, transformational novel yourself, without a decoy or a safety net; you face the stakes of death, in reality, not in the story. Do you still want to write it?

So, now, how badly do you want to write that story? What stakes would you be willing to face? What sacrifices would you be willing to make? Do you have it within you to make the ultimate sacrifice?

  1. Gaming the game

And knowing that some of you are already figuring out a way to publish without pain, what tricks have you devised to deceive? I’ll steal the easy ones: publish posthumously, hide behind a pen name, ghost write for someone else who is willing to take the heat. What others?

  1. Do you still want to be the Main Character?

 

Explosions in the Sky and at the Table

by Steve Hooley

Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Two days ago was Canada Day. You may have a long weekend off. You may be traveling to or hosting a family get together. In short, you may want a short blog today so you can get back to the festivities.

When I thought about a shortened version for today’s blog, I began looking for a topic. And since we always need conflict for our stories, I thought fireworks would be a good metaphor for family conflict on a 4th of July, or a Canada Day, weekend.

I don’t know about your family, but mine traditionally argued at the meal table—big time. My wife, when first exposed to the tradition, thought it was terrible, a real fight. I always thought it was just a lively discussion. As my siblings grew older and we became more stubborn in our opposing political leanings, we had to ban politics from the “discussions.” But we could still find something to “discuss.”

Our family did not consume alcohol at family gatherings, and we did not carry weapons, so there were never any physical altercations, injuries, or deaths. But after every holiday, our blood-thirsty media announces that somewhere in the U.S. some family has suffered a tragedy as a consequence of an argument which has gone explosive.

So, the discussion today:

What family conflict, at a holiday gathering, have you witnessed? Or what such mayhem have you created in your writing? Give us the explosive details.

And, I wish you a safe and happy 4th of July weekend! For those of you who are Canadians, a belated Happy Canada Day!

Sarcasm and the Snark Mark

by Steve Hooley

My wife and I were once members of a small group, the majority of which were from the same family. The “joking” consisted of sarcasm and was often so abrasive that it felt uncomfortable. When new people joined the group, they were subjected to the same abuse, almost like an initiation rite. Eventually my wife and I realized this was not healthy and left the group.

I never thought, at the time, about the possibility of underlying problems, except maybe “clan mentality,” but years later as I’ve explored sarcasm, I’ve been intrigued by some of the possible psychological issues that may exist below the surface.

We all chuckle at the character with the humorous, snarky voice who seems to have found a way to entertain while he pokes fun at someone else. And we use sarcasm in our characters to create a distinct voice, but do we look beneath the surface to find the pathology that might exist or even explain why the character uses the sarcasm?

So, let’s take a look at sarcasm today.

First, what is it?

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

The root, “to bite or strip off flesh,” comes from Latin “sarc” – flesh or muscle – and from Greek “sark” – flesh, piece of meat.

Definition of sarcasm

1a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

2aa mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

“Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny. For example, saying “they’re really on top of things” to describe a group of people who are very disorganized is using sarcasm. Most often, sarcasm is biting, and intended to cause pain.”

According to Wikipedia, sarcasm was first recorded in English in 1579, in an annotation to The Shepheardes Calender by Edmund Spenser:

And what is some of the psychological pathology that may be hiding in the user of sarcasm?

From an article posted in Psychology Today, 7/28/19, “Sarcasm”

“Sarcasm comes from the Greek sarkasmos, which means “the tearing of flesh.” The intention behind sarcasm may be to be humorous or playful, but there is frequently an element of poorly disguised hostility or judgment. When we grow up in families in which sarcasm is frequently used, there can be an insensitivity to others’ sensitivity to it. It can feel hurtful or hostile to the person on the receiving end of it. It frequently diminishes a feeling of trust and safety, provoking feelings of anxiety or defensiveness due to never knowing when the other shoe is going to drop.

“Sarcasm is a thinly veiled attempt to disguise feelings of angerfear, or hurt. It can be a means of diminishing feelings of vulnerability that may be experienced in the willingness to acknowledge the underlying feelings. When the deliverer of the sarcasm gets angry or defensive at the recipient of it for “taking things too personally” or being “too sensitive,” they are trying to invalidate the other’s feelings and avoid feeling guilty or responsible for causing them pain.”

Here is a link to an article that may go a little deeper into understanding the problems a chronically caustic, sarcastic individual may be hiding:

Behind the Scenes of Sarcasm

Note the key words:

  • pessimistic
  • low self-esteem
  • jealous of others

And the phrases:

  • use of sarcasm to feel superior to others who are “not able to take it”
  • deep emotional turmoil may be the driving force
  • the fragility lurking below (the sarcasm)

And, if you want to have some fun exploring rabbit holes, check out all the punctuation marks that have been proposed for denoting sarcasm in the article on Irony Punctuation on Wikipedia. My favorite is the “snark mark” (.~)

Okay, we’ve now had our sensitivity session for the day. And the next time you’re giving your character a sarcastic voice, you’ll know that a paper tiger may be hiding behind that voice.

Now. It’s time to have some fun.

What is your favorite sarcastic response in film or print? Or, what sarcastic line have you given one of your characters that you are particularly proud of? And/Or, what sarcastic line can you write and display to the world today, here and now? Show us your creative snark.

How to Break into a Library

How to Break into a Library

by Dale Ivan Smith

Today, we are honored to have one of our TKZ community, Dale Ivan Smith, as a guest contributor. Dale has worked as a librarian in Portland, Oregon, for over thirty-two years, so he brings us years of experience and some great advice for authors who want to work with libraries and librarians. Thanks for your post, Dale.

No, I’m not talking about how to break into a public library. Okay, I am, but not in the criminal sense. I’m here to talk about how to get into the library as an author. Not just the physical public library, but the digital one, too. I spent over thirty years working in Oregon’s largest public library system, Multnomah County Library, which, at least prior to the pandemic, was one of the busiest libraries in the United States.

Though I worked in public libraries, including managing the science fiction and fantasy collection at my regional branch, I’ll also share a couple of tips for getting into schools and school libraries as an author. I retired in December 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, in conversations with my former boss and others still working at the library, there’s every reason to expect that libraries will still operate after the pandemic much like they did before, which means they’ll need programming and new books.

The modern public library is a dynamic place—people (“patrons” in library speak) come in order to borrow all sorts of physical media, books, DVDs, CDs, etc.; and to use computers and Wi-Fi; meeting room space for book clubs, neighborhood committees, job seekers, chess clubs, etc. Especially important are programs, ranging from story times for children and families, to puppet shows, art and craft events, local history presentations, computer classes, etc.

Meanwhile, the digital side of the library is open 24/7 via the Internet. eBooks have become very popular with patrons, as have digital audiobooks, which can be downloaded directly to your tablet or smart phone.

During the pandemic, Multnomah County Library has continued to offer story times and other programs via Zoom, including the library sponsored Pageturners Book discussion groups.

What is in it for you, the author?

Libraries have avid readers, and thus are always on the lookout for great reads, and informative non-fiction, so this is a chance to reach another audience, and make some new avid fans. Libraries give you the opportunity to meet readers, too.

Local author love

Libraries love local authors. Lead with that when you introduce yourself. If your book is about a true crime based on a local incident, or a mystery novel set in the area, mention that. It’s an important connection to the community, and libraries really value that connection. However, simply being a local author is important, because you are part of the community the library values, and the librarian will be interested in you as an author because of that local connection.

Incidentally, chances are the first staff member you encounter will not be an official “librarian.” People naturally consider anyone who works at a library a “librarian.” However, in library-land librarians are a professional job class requiring a master’s degree in library sciences. I was a para-librarian, called a library assistant in my system, because I had a degree in history but not an MLS. I could do most of the things a librarian did, except for cataloging books and other materials, and I wasn’t considered the last word in information service (just close to it). The staff who might check out your books are probably library clerks, access service assistants, etc. ASAs and “pages” do much of the shelving, helped by volunteers and other staff, including often para-librarians. So, when you drop by for a visit, that first staff person you encounter will take you to the librarian, unless it’s a really small library, in which case that person very likely is the professional librarian.

Calling to speak to a librarian about your book or a possible speaking opportunity is a better option than “cold emailing” out of the blue. My last boss told me he was regularly barraged by emails from authors from other parts of the country, who composed generic emails which they sent to libraries nationwide. A much better approach is to start with your local library and work outward to other neighboring libraries, and then libraries in nearby cities, and eventually in neighboring states. You establish contacts with librarians and begin to build a track record of presentations and as well as being able to point to other libraries that already have your books in their collections. It also helps emphasize you being a local author.

If you end up having to email, it’s worth taking the time to visit the library’s website and learn more about them. But, in my experience, a visit or a phone call is preferable.

Giving a program at the library

Speaking of speaking opportunities, giving a reading by itself can be a tough sell for librarians. A better approach is to look at leveraging an aspect of your book or writing and offer that topic as a program event to your library. Are you a former homicide detective? Then giving a presentation or program on forensics would appeal to librarians. Write about true crime topics? That would be a draw. Write culinary cozies? A cooking program or culinary presentation might make a great program for the library. If there’s a local history or local culture aspect to your book, that works too. Many readers dream of writing, so a writing program is another angle. Almost any area of knowledge from your books can be turned into a potential program item, running an hour, an hour and a half, or even two hours. That could include a reading from your novel, non-fiction or true crime, perhaps at the end of your presentation.

Another speaking opportunity is to see if your book might fit a book club or discussion group held at your local library branch. Once again, being a local author will increase potential interest. Book discussion groups in my library system typically select the books they are going to read for the coming year in late spring or summer. Check with your local librarians about this, since one of them is probably the library contact for the group and let them know you would d be interested in having your book considered. You could then “guest star” at the book discussion and give a short reading. The same if your library has a kids or teens reading group, and your book fits either of those ages.

The Power of Suggestion

Libraries heavily favor patron requests and recommendations when it comes to purchasing books. They want to build a collection that will be used. They keep abreast of trends, and current reader interests. Incidentally, libraries need their physical books to be checked out. Around half of our books were checked out at any time. There isn’t typically enough shelf-space to hold all the books in a library collection. Which means owning books which will be borrowed, and discarding books that aren’t being used, to make room for other books. The digital library side is a different matter, of course, since physical space isn’t an issue.

Patrons can fill out online “suggestion for purchase” forms, usually by first logging in with their individual library card and tell the library about a book they want the library to add to its collection. Pro tip: put a call out to your newsletter to let your readers know that they can request that their local library purchase your books. This is a great service to your readers, because it gives them the opportunity to read your books for free.

Availability

If you are an indie author, making your books available in print via Ingram Spark will make it much easier for the library to add them to their collections. I have had print editions of my novels purchased by libraries via Kindle Direct Publishing’s print on demand option, but librarians are much more comfortable with the options provided by IS, which also lists with Baker and Taylor, one of the bigger book distributors for libraries.

As for eBooks, library systems in many countries use Overdrive as their eBook platform. Bibliotheca and Hoopla are two others. As long as you are not exclusive with Amazon for your eBooks (i.e., they aren’t enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program), you can make them available to public libraries.

Kobo Writing Life, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords all let you put your books in the Overdrive catalog. D2D also lets you list with Hoopla, which is a streaming service for libraries which can include eBooks, as well as Baker and Taylor, and both D2D and Smashwords let you include your books in Bibliotecha.

Another way for your self-published book to get into the library

Another option is to check if your library has a library writers project, a program which lets self-published authors submit one of their books to be considered for the library collection. These writer’s projects are for local authors (there’s that local connection again), but in the case of my library system, “local” is a pretty broad area.

The book trifecta: Content, presentation and format

Not only do librarians want books that readers will enjoy—engrossing thrillers, fun cozy mysteries, gripping true crime stories, for instance—they want books that are edited and proofread, with professional covers, well-written back matter copy, and proper formatting. Formatting matters, both eBook and print. We saw a number of self-published print titles that had small fonts, or odd line-spacing to pad out the book, as well as covers that didn’t effectively convey the genre. Professional-looking presentation and formatting signal that this is a title worth adding to the library’s collection.

Librarians also rely on reviews for making many of their book purchasing decisions. Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and others are important for both making librarians aware of new titles and giving them a sense of quality and who the audience for the book might be. These mainly review trad-published books. However, if your indie-published novel was reviewed on a website or in a publication, by all means mention that in your conversation or email.

Tips for School libraries

Again, start local. Visit your local library and chat with the youth librarian and see if they can refer you to their local school counterpart. You’ll likely have to call or email the school librarian. Personalize your email. Emphasize being a local author, see if they would be interested in an author visit, and mention any program ideas you have, for example, a presentation on medicine aimed at kids.

You can also check the website of your local school district. It will probably list individual schools. Locate an age-appropriate-to-your-books school and look for the school librarian. Some districts have district librarians, so that could be a great person to begin with.

Like public libraries, schools also rely on professional journals and publications, including Hornbook, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. They do the bulk of their purchasing through “book jobbers” that provide cataloging and processing services, and which include reviews in their ordering interfaces.

Another resource

An Author’s Guide to Working with Libraries and Bookstores, by Mark Leslie Lefebvre

An excellent, in depth looking at working with librarians and libraries. A deep dive into the details, including a plan for starting locally and then expanding outward. The author does a terrific job of laying out what libraries and librarians want, as well as discussing pricing strategies, further advice on connecting with librarians, etc.

Q&A with Steve Hooley

Do you think most librarians will prefer physical or zoom meetings as we move into 2021? I think once libraries open up again, librarians would love to have authors drop by to introduce themselves. Programming in building will eventually resume, too, though it’s certainly possibly that programs and book discussion groups may also continue via Zoom.

Is it a good idea to offer a free book? Would a librarian hope for or expect a free book? You can certainly ask if they’d like a copy of your book to look at, but very likely they won’t be able to add the book to their collection, unless they are a small, single building library. My library has acquisitions librarians who order books and multimedia. Distributors would already have done some of the cataloging work and labeling before the book reached the library, which really helped, since my system was processing as many as fifty thousand new items each month.

Would most librarians prefer to hear from writers occasionally, or are they so busy that they would be happy to hear from writers only when they have a new book out? Librarians tend to be pretty busy, so when touching base when you have a new book out would be appreciated.

Is it appropriate to offer librarians the opportunity to sign up for a newsletter? I don’t think it would hurt to mention that you have a newsletter, but unless the librarian is personally interested, they may pass, given how busy they are.

Is there any etiquette for an appropriate gift to a librarian after a speaking engagement arranged by the library? Chocolate is almost always appreciated. But a gift isn’t necessary, after all, if you give a presentation, or program, or guest star at a book discussion group, you have already given the library the gift of your time!

What do librarians want most from writers? To keep in mind that libraries aren’t bookstores, but places where librarians love connecting readers with books they’ll enjoy, as well as community meeting places, where programs offer patrons a variety of interests.

***

I want to thank Steve for inviting me to guest blog today, and to the entire TKZ community for all the inspiring and informative posts and comments and interactions over many years, it’s truly made a difference for me as a writer and author.

***

Thanks, Dale, for a wonderful post. I’m certain we’ve all learned some new ideas.  And now, TKZ community, here’s your chance to ask our resident librarian questions about libraries and librarians:

Dale Ivan Smith is a lifelong resident of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He got into trouble in grade school for sneaking off to the library during math class, so naturally he wound up working as a librarian for Oregon’s largest library system, Multnomah County Library, in Portland, Oregon, where he worked at four different branches. After thirty-two years, he retired in December 2019 to write full time.

Dale’s published novels include the contemporary fantasy series THE EMPOWERED, which begins with EMPOWERED:AGENT, the urban fantasy GREMLIN NIGHT, and the space opera SPICE CRIMES. After wanting to combine his love of mysteries and libraries for years, at long last Dale is now working on a library mystery series. His website is https://daleivansmith.com. He’s on Twitter as @daleivan.

Who says librarians can’t be pirates?