Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Describe Me a River.

We artistic writers have only eleven tools we can use to pull readers into our stories and ultimately seduce them into willingly, even joyously, reading them, and then granting them multiple "stars" and calling them "entertaining page-turners" or something similar on

Here are the tools:

1.We can write what we imagine characters in our stories are saying.

2.We can write what they're thinking.

3. We can write what their faces and their bodies look like.

4. We can engender a world around them that our characters inhabit (what it looks like and what the "weather" looks like) and the social rules characters follow (or choose to ignore) that govern this world.

5. We can write about the land that exists in this world, and in the process of writing about it, we can create a place. Place cannot easily be divorced from weather because weather has so much to do with creating why any given place looks the way it does.

6. We can write how characters get around (assuming they do get around); we can write about their conveyances, everything from riding horseback to riding inter-galactic starships. We can write how the world changes as the characters in this world go from one place to another.

7. We can write how our characters get sustenance in this world, what they eat and drink.

8. We can write about what characters smell or what they smell like.

9. We can write about sensory feelings, what our characters feel as they touch the world around them. How does it feel to touch silk? How does it feel to touch someone else's skin or hair?

10. We can write how these characters feel, both physically and emotionally, both about themselves and about the characters around them. In other words, we can write about their emotions and what drives them. Are they lonely? Are they in love? Are they in a state of hate or frustration? Are they hungry? Sad? Happy? Livid? Jealous? Bloated? Filled with shame? Filled with pride? And if that's how they feel, how do they want to feel? For example, maybe they're alone and want to be alone. We can cover every shade of emotion and physical feeling in facial expressions and affect, plainly stating how the characters in our stories feel and wish to feel. We can write about their dreams and how the difference between their aspirations and their current reality causes them to feel.

11. We can write about beings with powers greater than our characters'.  They can live in worlds beyond the one(s) our characters inhabit. Thus, we have mythological gods and super-heroes as we do in stories like Wonder Woman, or we have God Himself in Biblical stories such as The Story of Job.

Now let's "pull back" from those eleven "writer tools" and place them into general buckets:

#1 is dialog.

#2 is interior monologue.


#3 is description of characters and their behaviors. 

#4 is description of the physical world our characters inhabit, including weather descriptions.

#5 is description of places, for example, story setting.

#6 is description of travel and how the story setting changes as the character or characters in the story change their location.

#7 is description of food preperation and dining experiences.

#8 is description of smells.

#9 is description of sensory feelings, i.e., physical touch.

#10 is description of physical and emotional feelings.

#11 is description of beings with super-human powers.

I've taken the time and space with this admittedly lumbering introduction to my review of the book, Description by Monica Wood to make the point that for artistic writers this stuff called description isn't just important, it's essential. Description represents nine-elevenths, or 81.82 percent of all the tools we writers have at our disposal. You can't be a writer of any note without mastering description.

If you want to improve your ability to write descriptions, you could not find a better-informed and more complete instruction book than Description by Monica Wood.

Here's a subject breakdown based loosely on the table of contents:

-Detail, and how you can use telling details to make your descriptions come alive.

-Describing touches, tastes, sounds, smells and sights.

-Showing and telling; how your descriptions can drive both, and also, when to show and when to tell.

-Editing descriptions to pull readers through a work; what to avoid so they'll never be chore to read.

-Using your descriptions to create a writing style that matches your story's content and theme.

-How your selection of either first person, third person omniscient, or limited third-person point-of-view can place limitations on the strategies you use when writing descriptions.

-Creating original word depictions of characters, animals, places, weather and character movement.

Monica Woods' approach is clear, thorough and tremendously well informed. At every turn she demonstrates how a description would be affected by any given writing choice—either style, point-of-view or descriptive technique. She quotes plenty of noted writers including John Barth, Anne Beattie, and Raymond Carver.  (But darn, not James Patterson. Hmm. I wondered why that oversight. Really I did!) You'll find plenty of tips, reminder lists and descriptive alternatives to common verbs and nouns, and tips for editing your work. More than anything else, though, I found Woods' book Description to be inspiring. It's extremely inspiring. It convinced me that even I can go from slug-to-swan when it comes to description. For example, her explanation of the differences between simile and metaphor:

"Simile and metaphor make fiction breathe. Similes can help readers "see" what you are describing. Beware of their overuse. Metaphor is subtler; it does not compare so much as transform. A little girl becomes a kitten when described in terms of a feline mewing and skittish motion. Metaphors can be contained in one sentence or expanded to thread through through an entire story or even be made into a central metaphor. A snowstorm, a railroad, or a pair of red shoes are images that could be expanded into metaphors that express confusion, progress and heedlessness.

"The telling detail is where description begins. It is the device through which you introduce your readers—and sometimes yourself—to the true nature of your characters."


That's Monica Wood's strength. Her instruction got me. I found her book to be an instructional rhapsody thoroughly covering the topic while at the same time delivering inspiring and practical you-can-and-should-do-this-at-home advice.

Monday, August 21, 2017

How to Write a Novel in Ten Easy Sounding (But not so Easy) Steps.

With the millions of writers writing novels, it took a PhD in astrophysics to write an easy-to-read, comprehensive, thorough and effective 10-step guide to writing a novel.

Think of Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method book (How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson,, 2014) "as a humorous parable-style business book that presents an effective method for getting the first draft of your novel finished."

The parable begins when Goldilocks a wanna-be novelist determined to write her first novel attends a novel outlining seminar taught by Papa Bear, a creative writing teacher. Goldilocks tries to create an outline of her novel but it goes nowhere. She then attends an organic novel writing seminar taught by Mama Bear but again she finds the advice in this class, "No need to plot in advance, just let it well up in you," leads her nowhere. She next attends a class entitled "How to Write a Novel When You Hate Outlining and Hate Organic Writing" taught by Baby Bear, "a tiny, energetic bear."

Baby Bear promises Goldilocks "I'll teach you a method that tens of thousands of writers around the world are using right now to write their novels. It might work for you and then it might not. Different writers [need different methods], and your first mission as a novelist is to find the method that works best for you."

A few of the subjects covered in Baby Bear's class:

How to get inside the skin of every one of your characters, especially your villain.

How to develop a deep, emotionally powerful theme for your story.

How to know when to backtrack and why backtracking is essential to writing great novels.

How to test every scene before you write it so you're sure it will be excellent.

The difference between a character's values, ambitions and goals. (Values drive ambitions. Ambitions drive goals. Goals must be simple, concrete, important, achievable and difficult. They are what really drive a character.)

How to define your target audience so you can anticipate how your ideal readers will think and feel about your story.

The difference between a proactive and a reactive scene as well as the parts of each.

The fact that nothing is more important to a character than compassion.

The way characters make decisions (Reaction, Dilemma, Decision).

How characters advance (Goal, Conflict, Setback).

One key take-away I got from this book: The strength of your story is largely determined by the strength and complexity of your villain, not your hero/heroine.

I loved the way this little book with its cast of funny characters got at the benefits of thinking about stories and characters and developing them in this way. One of my key takeaways: Every character has a moral premise, an inner secret. The story shows how Goldilocks goes about discovering her character's inner secret which has to do with living courageously: "She realizes that living in fear leads to disaster, so she decided to try living in courage."

I won't keep you in suspense any further. Here are the ten steps:

1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.

2. Expand that sentence to a paragraph by describing the story narrative (the major events) and the ending.

3. Write a one-page summary for each of the main character:

A one-sentence summary of the character's storyline

The character's motivation (an abstract view of what the character wants)

The character's goal (what does he want in a very concrete sense)

The character's conflict (what prevents him from reaching his/her goal?)

The character's epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?

4. Return to the story paragraph you wrote in step 2 and expand each sentence into a paragraph. Ingermanson's thoughts here are telling:"Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends."

(Note: Most students of story structure talk about Act One, Two & Three; Ingermanson refers to "Disaster." He wants each of the Acts to end in a disaster. And what he means is at the end of each act your main character must reach a turning point, meaning your character can't go back to his old ways. In The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, the end of the first act is known from as making the transition from "The Ordinary World" to the "World of Adventure" in which most of the story takes place. One example: From the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy says, "Something tells me we're not in Kansas any more."

5. Write a one-page description of each major character which tells the story from that character's point of view.

6. Expand your one-page plot synopsis into a four-page plot synopsis

7. Expand your character descriptions from three into full-character "charts"

8. Using your expanded synopsis, make a list of every scene you will need to write the complete novel.

9. Using your list of scenes, write a multi-paragraph narrative description of each scene.

10. Write the first draft.

I already began applying The Snowflake Method to the novel I'm writing which is called Charging the Jaguar. Here's step one, my novel summary in a single sentence:

Charging the Jaguar is a literary suspense novel about a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1967 Colombia who falls in love with an undercover revolutionary soldier on a mission to determine if he's a CIA agent and to assassinate him if he is.

In my opinion this version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears can lead you to big, important themes and believable, complicated characters who make turning-point decisions that win over your target audience and turn them into fans or your stories.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Great Sentences are Rare Birds with Exotic Plumage.

This month I review How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One (HarperCollins)by Stanley Fish. While I have qualms about Mr. Fish's overarching argument, this book can be for lovers of good-to-great writing what a bird-watching guide can be for bird lovers, a compendium and an appreciation of great sentences in the wild, in all their varied splendor.

Unfortunately, the book's flaws show up in its opening pages when the professor of humanities and law at Florida International University makes the case that, when it comes to writing great sentences, content is irrelevant. The most important issue is form.

Professor Fish might as well be arguing that the sentence is the essential building block of life on our planet, also on Mars and the moons of Saturn. While I believe sentences are important, and while I admire some sentences every bit as much as Fish, I disagree with him over the issue of content. Content is not only relevant, it's the determining factor.

As Fish finally admits on page 35 of his book, "Content, the communication in a thrilling and effective way of ideas and passions, is finally what sentences are for." A page later, he hones in on what's painfully obvious to many: "Sentences are meaningless without context."

Fish states that the worth of a sentence is the degree to which it achieves its desired effect. That is why the prescriptive advice found in books like Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is useful only in relation to some purpose. The first thing to ask when writing a sentence is "What am I trying to communicate? What is my purpose in writing?"

Yes, I agree; only I would go further: Writing is about creating a meaningful, seamless, well-formed argument or involving story that, in a way, "chooses" its own rhetorical and writing rules so as to deliver most effectively the content one wishes to express.

Once a writer knows her purpose and the larger context of a piece, she can figure out the best way to express it in a seamless, convincing, and appealing way. It's all about content.

In my opinion, when Stanley Fish writes about the beauty of certain sentences in his opening chapter, "What is a good sentence?" and when he writes movingly about great opening sentences (in chapter eight) and great closing sentences (in chapter nine) he supplies the context because he knows those works.

That's my only criticism. In fact,I love this book for its willingness to quote authors and their sentences voraciously, everyone from Romans like Cato and Cicero to Milton, Jonathan Swift, D.H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Philip Roth, Elmore Leonard, and so many more.

Just a few examples Fish mentions in his "First Sentences" chapter:

"In the afternoons, it was the custom of Miss Jane Marple to unfold her second newspaper." (Agatha Christie)

"One day Karen DeCilia put a few observations together and realized her husband Frank was sleeping with a real estate woman in Boca." (Elmore Leonard)

"The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses." (Philip Roth)

And from his "Last Sentences" chapter:

"It is a far, far better thing that I do then I have ever done before; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, then I have ever known." (Dickens)

"In my case, an accident of birth, but you, sir, you're a self-made man." (What Ralph Bellamy's character calls Lee Marvin's character a bastard in the movie, "The Professionals" (1966).

"He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance." (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.)

And arguably the most famous last line of all:

"So we beat on, oars against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

More than just a collection of great sentences, I found the author's discussion of them to be uniformly smart and well informed. It is by far the most valuable feature of the book.

I recommend it as a guide to great sentences.

While it may not teach you how to write a sentence as the title claims, it will help you to spot and appreciate the great and colorful ones when they fly by.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How I became a Happy Dog.

When it comes to writing my novel,Charging the Jaguar, of late I've changed my bark. At first, I was not a happy dog. Then I had a series of insights when my dog, Coco, licked me on the face as I awoke from a meditation. I saw my purpose as a writer and the way I wished to spend the rest of my writing life in a new light.

It hasn't been exactly pork chops and gravy since, but thanks to Coco's  intervention, I'm now a happier, more fulfilled writer.


I was not always a happy dog.

My novel was not going the way I had hoped. I had reached what appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle in the middle of it.

The first third of the novel is a chase. The last third of the novel is a thriller. The second third had elements of fantasy and farce. It's no wonder the novel seemed to come off the rails in the second third.

Two years ago I nearly stopped writing my novel at this point. Now I was at that exact point in my novel again, and, guess what? It seemed to be an all-out contest between my writing grit and my desire to quit. I was a very unhappy dog, indeed.

But this time, my wife and best friend, Gina, suggested that I take ten days and decide whether I want to continue writing this novel or give it up altogether.

The story behind my novel.

My novel, Charging the Jaguar, tells the story of Jake Lancer, a young Peace Corps Volunteer in 1967 Colombia who is riding on a bus when it is attacked by the FARC*, a Maoist-leaning revolutionary group. Jake is wounded twice in the attack; nevertheless, he administers first aid to some of his fellow bus passengers who are also wounded. In the process, he undergoes a near-death experience.

Although Jake has always been strictly heterosexual, on this day, directly after the attack, he falls in love with a young man named Jesus who bandages his wounds. Indeed, Jesus and Jake are very compatible, and they share a great deal in common.

It soon becomes apparent to Jake, however, that Jesus, the humanitarian with gauze and tape, is an undercover FARC soldier. (Later in the story Jesus reveals that he was sent by his FARC commander to investigate the Peace Corps Volunteer and determine if he is an undercover C.I.A. agent, and to murder him if he decides he is.)

It turns out Jesus isn't exactly the greatest FARC soldier. (That's why they could "spare" him to intercept Jake.) Neither is Jake the greatest Peace Corps Volunteer. In fact, the novel opens with Jake's Peace Corps supervisor placing Jake on probation because he's such a screw-up.

Jake's purpose is prove he can be an effective Peace Corps Volunteer, knowing that if he's ultimately sent home before his time he'll be drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam where misanthropic-Jake is certain he'll die in combat and be sent home in a body bag.


At a deeper level, Jake's challenge throughout the novel is find a new way to live, to relate to the people around him in a new way so he can become a successful Peace Corps Volunteer, avoid Vietnam, and, ultimately, survive.

Coco intervenes and I become a happy dog.

It was a Saturday morning. The immediate issue before me that day was deciding whether Gina and I would see a movie; also deciding on the fate of my novel. My ten days were up.

I lay on my bed in a meditative state, something I do daily. Just as I awoke, Coco, our Toy Poodle, began licking me on the face—vociferously, lustily, enthusiastically. Coco knew I had been hurting. As many of you already know, dogs are extremely intuitive, healing souls. They heal by licking.

As she licked me, Coco looked into my eyes. I looked into her eyes from only inches away. And I experienced a conversion of sorts. I came to believe Coco was telling me that all I had to do to be a happy writer was to be happy. And to be happy, all I had to do was follow my story-telling instincts wherever they led and ignore the gloomy voices in my head insisting that the story made no sense and would never work out.

Coco was saying: Just follow your story. Tell your story. Your story material is rich, raw, vital, creative, entertaining and funny.  It's inspired. Coco was telling me that when I follow the story, my story will not only make sense; in the end it will make perfect sense.


(In fact, since this happened, the first and third parts of the story have begun to sound increasingly like the second third, so the entire novel is beginning to come together very nicely.)

I awoke from my meditation convinced:

I would complete my novel;

I would never again lose sight of what a lucky dog I am just to be able to write my novel;

I would never again get so torn up about writing my story that I would live my life in the throws of indecision.

I would become a happy dog, and a happily decisive dog;

And I would see that movie with Gina.

*The FARC is the same revolutionary group that the current President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, has been negotiating a peace deal with. As it goes into effect, I pray that the FARC violence Colombia has had to live with for more than sixty years will cease. Amen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Story of a Writer Gone Wrong.

I wanted to review Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works (2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in this ExcitingWriting Advisory, but when I discovered that Mr. Lehrer's work included numerous instances of plagiarism (making up Bob Dylan quotes, for example), I dropped that idea. I refer to what happened to him and his book here to point out how unremittingly destructive to a writer's reputation even one instance of this category of corruption is (and here I'm calling plagiarism for what it is, a kind of corruption).

A nonfiction writer has only the honesty of his or her writing to present to an audience. Without honesty an author has nothing. If it later comes to light a nonfiction work is not original, even if it's only partly fabricated (the case with Imagine), it can ruin a writer's reputation.

What happened to Mr. Lehrer is a shame. I found his book engrossing and well written, filled with interesting insights explaining how creative minds work and brainstorm together.

Now my essay takes a sharp left turn.

I met Mr. Lehrer at a talk he gave in Dallas in 2013. He was on a speaking tour, signing copies of his book after his talk, a traditional method of promoting sales.  He spoke about his book for about thirty minutes. He impressed me as being meticulous, hardworking, very creative, and very, very smart. The workings of the creative mind are extremely complicated. I thought he did an excellent job of explaining them to a non-technical audience.

After his talk, I waited in a long line holding a just-purchased copy of Mr. Lehrer's book in my hands. When I finally stood before the noted author I thanked him for writing about creativity, a favorite subject of mine. I told him his talk inspired me in regards to the writing of my novel, Charging the Jaguar. When he asked, I explained to him what it was about in a sentence or two. He asked me how long I had been working on it. I told him, and he straightaway inscribed my copy of his book with the words, "Best wishes! Believe in GRIT!" with his signature directly below.

As I look now at those words he wrote on the title page of his book four years ago, I think about the word GRIT that a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Duckworth, made famous a few years ago with her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Ms. Duckworth, now also famous for a TED talk she gave on the same subject last year, postulated that GRIT was "focused persistence" irrespective of native talent, ability or intelligence that drives us on, or, as Pharrell Williams so aptly phrased in his pop song "Brand New:" "A winner never quits and a quitter never wins."

Now I ask myself what kind of GRIT Mr. Lehrer might have been thinking about when he inscribed my book: What kind of grit brings one to make the mistakes the "noted author" made. He not only made up quotes from people he never interviewed; he also copied word-for-word from work he had previously published, a sin known in the publishing world as "self-plagiarism."

The burning question I'd love to ask Mr. Lehrer (if I could get a truthful answer): Why would anyone, no less such a "noted author," put in so much honest effort and write a brilliant book but then ruin it by throwing in a handful (or more) of inaccuracies and commit publishing sins?

I can only dream that he might say something along the lines of "because the truth wasn't good enough. I wanted to make it better." But I would never pretend to put words in his mouth. That would be wrong.

(By the way, today Jonah Lehrer is still a noted author; only now he's noted for something different.)

And now, a sharp right turn.

The ever popular "CBS Sunday Morning" show ran a segment last Sunday entitled "Gay Telese and the New Journalism," wherein they showed the meticulous care with which Mr. Telese has conducted every one of his journalistic projects since he began publishing his work. Gay Telese has kept transcripts of every interview he has used in writing every book and article throughout his career, going back to the 1960s. Why? So no one can say he never interviewed the people he in fact did interview, or argue that they never said what he reported them to say.

Keeping every interview on file going back a half-century: That is what I call GRIT. It's too bad Lehrer didn't have what that takes.

And now, breaking toward a fast finish.

I used to believe fiction writers have it easier than nonfiction writers. After all, we fiction writers make no pretense: The work we are about to loose upon the world is lies, lies, lies. Lies that get at the truth, of course. Although bringing out a novel that is artistic, original, and inventive requires a uniquely special brand of lying, no one said it was easy.

"Artistic" means a novel that artfully gives the impression of being authentically true even though it's fiction; also that the stories told and sometimes the characters who populate them are attractive, maybe even likeable. At least, they are interesting to meet and get to know, although, at the same time it's important to note that stories with characters that are dark, evil, and menacing, or mysterious and enigmatic can still come off as artistic.

"Original" means the work gives the impression that nothing else like it has ever been written before. But we all know writers who borrow characters, subjects, plots and writing styles from other writers. Borrowing can damage "originality." If a writer does too much of that, his or her work can be branded "derivative," which is not good. It's the fiction version of the publishing sins Jonah Lehrer committed.

"Inventive" means the work goes where no other writer's works have gone before, or gives that impression. But writers are always letting their inventiveness be influenced by following the trends of successful authors. How else can one explain the publishing trends one routinely sees, for example, when a raft of vampire novels and movies all came out at the same time? Exactly how inventive is that?

No, I no longer believe that we fiction writers have it any easier than nonfiction writers. Only the temptations have been changed to mostly protect the innocent.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How Ulysses Came to be Regarded as the Greatest Novel ever Written.

When I first visited Paris as a young man I was overtaken by a raw instinct that compelled me to make my way to the Left Bank, and find, approximately one block from the Seine River, a quaint, hidden-away bookstore with a storied past called Shakespeare and Company. There I purchased a hardcover copy of a novel called Ulysses first published in 1922 by the very publishing company that was part of the bookstore.

What I did in purchasing that book on that day was about as informed and as thinking an act as a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. I hardly entered the store and once there hardly looked around when I told a clerk what I was looking for. He went to the back of the bookstore and handed me a hardcover edition. I immediately left Shakespeare & Company with the book in my greedy hands. Sweaty hands, too, for I knew I was holding an illicit work rumored to capture the longings and passions of human sexuality.

"Unexpurgated" was such a sexy word in those days.

I must have been dreaming. I was dreaming. In my dream purchasing that book at that bookstore was partaking in a forbidden, sinful ritual that I found both tremendously liberating and exhilarating. I was committing a revolutionary act that I strongly identified with in ways I could not begin to explain had anyone asked me. No one did.

Dear reader, those among you who believe that current events portends an all-out cultural Armageddon between the forces of good and evil, right and left, listen up! This is not the first time such a catfight loomed on the horizon or been engaged with such furiously fierce determination and a sense of crusading righteousness on both sides.

About one hundred years before Trump threw his hat in the ring, an at-the-time rather obscure Irish writer by the name of James Joyce penned a tome called Ulysses. When he completed the writing of it soon after the end of World War One (1919), he found that his novel had been born into a world that could not have been more divided over its literary value.

Joyce's Ulysses was viewed at the time and is still thought of today as the very essence of modernism itself. As author Kevin Birmingham writes. "The book that many regard as the greatest novel in the English language and possibly any language was banned as obscene, officially and unofficially, throughout most of the English-speaking world for over a decade. Being forbidden is part of what made Joyce's novel so transformative. Ulysses changed not only the course of literature in the century that followed but the very definition of literature in the eyes of the law."

The Most Dangerous Brook tells the story of Ulysses as it immerged from Joyce's imagination, and how "its 732 pages took shape in notebooks, on loose-leaf sheets and on scraps of paper in more than a dozen apartments in Trieste, Zurich and Paris." It then goes on to describe how the advocates of Ulysses fought with every resource they had against the establishment forces bent on censoring and banning the work out of existence.

Those crusaders found the book so filthy that in some cases they dared not read it themselves for fear that they might catch some decadent, degenerate germ that might corrupt their artistic sensibilities. The book's supporters saw Ulysses as the supreme artistic triumph. And they saw Joyce as an artist describing his world in innovative ways, what finally became accepted as the ultimate modernist statement.

Modernism is all about liberty of form, content and style. It's not surprising that a liberated mind might wonder into areas many establishment figures might consider sinful, evil or corrupting. "Dangerous" was the word they liked to use at the time.

Birmingham again: "The transgressions of Ulysses were the first thing most people knew about it. A portion was burned in Paris while it was still only a manuscript draft, and it was convicted of obscenity in New York before it was even a book. Joyce's woes inspired Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate running a small bookstore in Paris [called Shakespeare & Co., by the way], to publish Ulysses when everyone else (including Virginia Woolf) refused. When it appeared in 1922, dozens of critics praised and vilified Joyce's long-anticipated novel in unambiguous terms. Government authorities on both sides of the Atlantic confiscated and burned more than a thousand copies of Ulysses … because Joyce's big blue book was banned on British and American shores almost immediately… Over the course of a decade, Ulysses became an underground sensation. It was literary contraband, a novel you could read only if you found a copy counterfeited by literary pirates or if you smuggled it past customs agents. Most copies came from Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Beach's Paris bookstore where, as one writer remembered, 'Ulysses lay stacked like dynamite in a revolutionary cellar.' It was the archetype of a modernist revolution. It is, in fact, the primary reason why we think of modernism as revolutionary at all."

This is the story that Birmingham's book tells that all the hundreds of academic, critical works written about Ulysses never tell. For me The Most Dangerous Book contains a treasure trove of stories about Joyce, about the writing of his book and the way the world received it. These stories helped me re-approach the work itself with fresh eyes, and with new information and understandings, which was exactly what I needed.

Why did I need that?

When I returned to my Paris hotel after purchasing the most dangerous book, I found the actual reading of the book to be a slog, difficult to get into, difficult to read. It's the book I'm not afraid to say I've put down as often as I've given up eating chocolate. And, by the way, that's how many times I've gone back to it, as well.

While I still haven't gotten all the way through Ulysses, I still have that hardcover copy I purchased at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, and I still remember my moment of rather easy revolutionary triumph when I, as a young wannabe writer, swam upstream to spawn. (Only artistically speaking, of course.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Take a Forgiveness Journey Today.

All of us are on a life journey.

We get to choose the kind of journey we are on.

Today is the perfect time to embark on a forgiveness journey.

What is your life like when you are on a forgiveness journey? And what is your life like when you are on an "unforgiveness" journey. ["Unforgiveness" isn't a word, but it should be, and I use it here and Christina Baldwin uses it because it communicates so well.]

[This month's entry is adapted from "Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest" by Christina Baldwin)

As Christina Baldwin wrote, "Forgiveness is the act of admitting we are like other people.

"We are prone to make mistakes that cause confusion, inflict pain, and miscommunicate our intentions.

[I would add, "One of those mistakes we make is becoming angry."]

"We are the recipients of these human errors and [we are] the perpetrators [of them.]

"There is no way we can avoid hurting others or being hurt by others.


"This is the nature of imperfection.

So, today I ask you, my EWA reader: Are you or have you been on an unforgiving journey?

"When you will not forgive someone, you fill your life with resentment, paranoia, isolation, righteous indignation, vindictiveness. You take assurance that your perceptions and actions are justified because of the wrong that has been done you. You withhold yourself from the human community.

"When you are unforgiven [by someone else], your life is filled with recrimination, self-abuse, isolation, fear of further accusation, shame that you have done something considered unforgivable. You withhold yourself from the human community.

"What results from either of these tracks are two crippled human beings, two crippling experiences, and two states of isolation from the spiritual journey. Both parties are in hell, and the only way out is for reconciliation to occur.

"You must decide: Are you going on a journey to see what love can accomplish, or are you going on a journey to see what revenge, blame, and hostility can accomplish? When looked at in this way, the choice seems obvious.

"But really now... [Think about it carefully.]

"A tiny bit of blame seems so innocuous and justified.

"A smidgen of hostility appears easily justified.

"It's so tempting to conjure up revenge as a sweet reward, isn't it?

"When you are on that journey WITH THOSE FEELINGS those things seem minor.

"You may not consider the consequences.

[So decide: What journey are you on? And this is so very important:] "Forgiveness is a skill that can be learned."

[Please remember:] "The journey is fragile. [I would add, "It is most important."]



--Christina Baldwin

I wish Happy Holidays to all my subscribers. And may God bless each and every one of you.