May 2005 Archives

Free Writing

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I’ve got to do some warming up this morning. I must warn anyone stopping by here, that posts may be short and disjointed. They may appear to stop in mid-stream, or jump from one point to another, or simply be nonsense. The reason for this is that I am following the advice of the authors of several writing books that when one feels “blocked” or unable to even begin to put words on paper, it can be helpful to just sit down and start typing. They call it free-writing; it seems to be helpful.

My problem is that when I sit down to continue work on my breakout, Edgar winning mystery novel, my orderly accountant’s mind won’t get into writing gear, it just makes me want to sit and look at the screen, hoping to find some spreadsheet to work on. I don’t have quite as great a problem if I am trying to write something long hand, like a quick note on a plot idea, but to sit in front of a computer screen is daunting.

Having said that, I come to a point Steven made in his comment here the other day, or it may have been in a post at his site about modern poetry, or both. He was writing on the rather sad state of modern poetry, a point I heartily agree with him about. The fact is that most of it is just meaningless words, or lack thereof, strung out page after page, making no sense and contributing in no way to the goal any artist should have, that of achieving the true and beautiful. There is no discipline of form or structure, just the typing of someone little more advanced than any ape. He made the corollary point, that good writing has a value all its own, regarless of genre.

So my free writing brings on a pang of guilt. I firmly agree with Steven, that a writer, any writer, owes it to his audience to do the very best he can. He should follow the basic rules of grammar and spelling, while, at the same time, he’s trying to achieve something higher with his work, trying to point the reader to a greater truth. I think this rule holds true whether is be for the writer with a blog, or a writer trying to write the Great American Novel, whatever his project is. Clearly, posting my free writing here may often violate that rule. But, it does help me get into gear for some more serious writing.

A Sense of Place

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Steven did another comment to my post on writing a mystery and he brings up a number of points that I just have to comment on. One thing I most enjoy about his writing is that he is one thought provoking guy. These comments may not be in this post but in one or two to follow, with first priority being on modern poetry.

First, though, some warm up work for my writing session tonight.

One thing that I like in a novel, and especially in a mystery, is to have the author deliver a convincing sense of place. For some reason, unknown to me, I am strongly drawn to writing that makes location or setting almost another character in the story. This prejudice is a strong one; I love Steinbeck and don’t care for Hemingway. Not that Hemingway doesn’t set his stories is distinct locales, but, to me, at least, the location is mere ornament in his stories, a backdrop to make the story seem exotic or different. As Gertude Stein once said, “there’s no there there.” As you might expect, in mysteries, I enjoy Robert Parker and his Spenser series and Steve Hamilton with his Alex McNight books. Now, talk about a location, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one I would never have dreamed of to put a detective into, but there it is. Hamilton really captures what it is like to live in so remote a location and, even though the plots are a bit weak, I still enjoy his books.

This is one problem I’m having; I set my detective story in Colorado, but I do not have a strong sense of this place yet. As I may have written here before, I spent most of my life in El Paso, Texas and have only lived here about six years. El Paso is a place that oozes history, beginning with the Conquistadors who went through there in the 16th century; to the Franciscan friars who braved the Chihuahuan desert a hundred years later. The spirit of those friars, who founded missions named Ysleta sur del Pueblo and San Elizaro, mission churches that are still there, is alive everywhere you turn.

Then there were the mountain men, who came through a hundred and fifty years later, men who fought Apaches and discovered silver near Silver City, NM, their spirit, and heritage, is everywhere. Today the descendants of the Scots mountain man, James Kirker, all now Spanish speaking Mexican Americans, still live near and work the copper mines there at Silver City. And then there are the Mescalero Apaches, who under the inspiration of a chief named Wendell Chino, now running a ski resort and gambling casino in the New Mexico mountains near Ruidoso. The common thread for all of these men is, of course, the Rio Grande, the “Great River” that has its own biography written by Paul Horgan. This is an area that leaves anyone who cares with a sense of the place.

But Colorado has no such history. Colorado Springs was founded only a hundred and twenty years ago. It was a resort, a summer retreat for a retired Civil War general. The mountains here were too formidable an obstacle for the early explorers and pioneers, they either stayed east or went south to get around them. In a sense, the mountains are going to have to be my character.

I’m running on, and perhaps for now, this is enough of a warm up. I’ll keep you posted.

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