Archived Writer's Notebook Messages

January 18, 1998 to February 2, 1998

Michele Mon Feb 2 02:06:49 PST 1998

I've been most amused by all your discussions of Gary's new word. Funnily enough I looked up "exsidious" because it sounded right to my (reasonably well-educated) ear but sure enough it wasn't in my dictionary (not a Mom and Pop dictionary but no the OED either). I tried at 6.30 this morning to discover the opposite of "insidious" aided by a dictionary and thesaurus but was thwarted by lack of time - I'll look again tonight (unless someone gets there first !) and see if we can actually have the word that Gary really wanted. I personally (although a reader of Classics and a lover of the English language) find nothing wrong with creating new words provided it's justified - and by that I mean that a word to do that job doesn't already exist. So I don't think Gary needs to invent a word meaning the opposite of "insidious" because there already is a word (even if at present I can't remember what that word is) BUT where there isn't already a word for something then I think it's justifiable invention. For instance does anyone have a word to describe the action of a cupboard door opening on the closing of another cupboard door ? (I'm talking here of 2 cupboards with separate doors but that are linked - eg. corner cupboards - just in case it wasn't clear what I meant !) I know of no word in the dictionary that adequately describes this action but if someone can invent a good word (with proper roots !) to describe this action I would consider it justified !

Anyway those are my thoughts - for what they're worth !

See you later guys and girls :-)


Rhoda Fort Sun Feb 1 21:52:01 PST 1998

Joan Rhodda,

Thank you for your e-mail. It was great hearing from you. It is nice to have you back on the notebook.

As I was reading the previous posts, this little song kept going through my head:

Supercalifragelisticexpealadocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it long enough, you'll always sound precocious. Supercalifragelisticexpealadocious.
(From Mary Poppins)


It is good to see you posting on the notebook. As always, you add a lot of good sense to the conversation.

Must run. Kind regards to you, Hayden where you are on top of the world, looking down on creation and the only explanation I can find... Oh dear, here comes another song. I'd better put on my new Celine Dion CD and sign off.

Good night, all

Rhoda Fort

Hayden Grayell Sun Feb 1 16:30:45 PST 1998

Wow! Look at what you have created Gary S! A dirve of spedifidous responses. The warm beer (which will never pass these lips) must have done wonders to your mind (as opposed to 'For your mind'). To stress the greeting yet again "What a beauty, MATE!"

IMHO, words that trip you when you are reading are like landmines. You find you are blown off your feet, and you have to lean on a dictionary for support. Limp, limp.

Colleen: Why, Thank you, ma'am. Being raised right has nothing to do with being "down under", because we are on top. :-) It is just concensus of opinion that places us in the shadowy world of the underside. Truth is, I was born even further away than Australia. New Zealand has my past wrapped up in a tight little swaddle. made my head spin with that mutants that rumbled off your keyboard. And I wasn't wearing a seat belt. If those are the first shot in the guerilla warfare, you're sure to win. Think of me as an allied spirit, of sorts. My bad spelling and poor grasp of grammar is gonna help the cause. And :-)

Goodweed. I hope the email I sent was helpful.

Philip Sun Feb 1 16:09:54 PST 1998

Okay Alison, you're right, some things are not indeformable, including some readers, editors, publishers and writers minds. Should we be more exdeformable or postsupposed to such indefinitudes, exdeficient in make up and only indeterminate when it comes to indexing or exdexing the vexed variance of language?

It would take more than a good sell from a luminary literary agent to get this type of indulgent envelope shoving into print - although the plot, subtext and character development might just save the completed work.

Joyce is not my favourite; Clockwork Orange.... a great Kubrick movie.


Alison C Sun Feb 1 15:17:37 PST 1998

I have to take issue, even if this discussion has been going on for a while! It's hard to scoff at Finnegan's Wake, which has more than one word not in the OED. And what about Clockwork Orange? English might not be like German, in which it's quite normal to make omnibus words, and permits such an interesting (and untranslatable) poet as Paul Celan to fracture the language as a response to almost unbearable intellectual and emotional pressure. But I'm always wondering how it's possible to break the language up, to stretch the envelope a bit. OK, you can't do it until you know the rules, but once you know them it's surely permissible to break them. To summon the dictionary as the absolute perameter of language is to support the idea of English as fixed and unchanging, to be a fusty beauracrat rather than a maker. Play and inventiveness are at the centre of writing, or what are we doing?

Philip Sun Feb 1 14:31:46 PST 1998

Okay, I was driven to my trustworthy Oxford Dictionary in two volumes amounting to 3801 pages and wasn't able to find a listing for 'exsidious' in it. This publication being the combined works of the most fastidious of intellectuals (word perverts), I can now safely assume there is no such word in English and not rely on my own limited vocabulary.

To simply stick and 'ex' in front of a word that has an 'in' doesn't make it a word, except perhaps in a light, fanciful work of science fiction - then it might be regarded as playful. In serious literature it would draw more than a few scoffs.

My Oxfords have 82 pages of 'in' words that I could place 'ex' in front of and claim a new word from each. This publication has approximately 30 words on each page - I could claim 2,460 new words. This is heady stuff! Then I could move on to every other prefix and when I'd run out of those to suffixes and then see how many nouns I could transpose into verbs (eg: podiumed) and really screw this language over thoroughly. I could engage in guerilla warfare on my own language, see how much damage I could commit in a year and try to quantify how many people I could alienate and confuse and not communicate with while I did so. Yeah!


Colleen Sun Feb 1 14:09:01 PST 1998

Hayden-Your entries are a delight to read. Keep posting, I look forward to reading your vivid prose. They raise them right down under.

Trudy-Are you still there? I haven't heard anything since the first post when you e-mailed me. Hope all is well.

Another good read for anyone interested in mythological archetypes is "Women Who Run With The Wolves" by C. Pinkola Estes, or just about anything by Joseph Campbell. His website is For some reason his work has made sense of my own writing and love of literature and it also raises some interesting points regarding universal plots. Sometimes I think my writing is like a person swimming in a deep pool, wanting to know all the time where the light comes from....

Joan Sun Feb 1 12:55:53 PST 1998


ERRRK--I have returned from almost two and a half weeks of sitting on creaking HARD wooden courtroom benches 150 miles away from home to find that I'm being maligned on the notebook (oh--well, maybe it's not all that bad). How insidious! (Or is it EXsidious?)

Gary---As you've hopefully by now discovered (thanks, Rhoda, for the clarification in your post---I've gotten quite a few E-mails intended for you and have tried to straighten people out) I'm not Rhoda Fort, but Joan Rhodda. The paragraph above is meant entirely in fun---I wasn't maligned and it's not insidious. I've meant to look up "exsidious" ever since I saw you post the word, but just hadn't gotten there.

Meanwhile, someone posted it well before (I think it was Goodweed) saying something to the effect that everyone will use the means that fits them best to get their meaning across to people---whether that's using words not often seen or coining their own. Either way works---as long as it DOES work. Just my humble opinion.

Rosemary---thanks for the warning!

Joan (not Rhoda)

Sun Feb 1 12:26:33 PST 1998

Robin et al,

I promise this is my final post on the now tiresome matter of the psuedo-word, exsidious. I have become convinced that
my 'coining' of it is at most, debatable, and at least, arrogant. I admit to having by-passed the procedure of confirming that 'sidious' is a root word and that 'in' is a prefix. Insidiuos is from the french word, insidere, which looks to be a verb. That is the extent of my lexicographic examination of it.

Perhaps it falls into the realm of validation by reputation. Maybe William F. Buckley can do this and I can't. It is only coincidence that we both did the same thing.

rushing off, now.

Gary S.

Rhoda Fort Sun Feb 1 11:53:11 PST 1998


I believe you have me mixed up with Joan Rhoadda who also posts here on occassion. I am not Joan. My first name is Rhoda, and I believe Joan's last name is Rhoadda. I have put my full name in this post to clear up the matter.

I think I have been to too many writer's conferences. They always stress that when you write genre fiction to watch your vocabulary. I do agree with you, Gary. Good writing should edify and teach. Readers should be encouraged to stretch their vocabularies and to learn from what they read. The writers that I enjoy do not write with a six grade vocabulary, elsewise I wouldn't like them, but these individuals have been able to convince their editors that they do write books on a sixth grade reading level.

I believe published writers that haven't reached Dean Koontz or Stephen King's level of success walk a very tight line. They have to write what they feel comfortable writing while at the same time having a mind for what their readers and more importantly what their editors expect.


I agree that English should never be stuck in a rut, but due to the fact that I so love classic literature and was raised by my English teacher mom, I struggle with the idea of people making up words. The newsmedia gives me fits over it, for they do it more than anyone. But I do realize that the beauty of English is its flexability. Perhaps English is a big enough language to except such additions as "exsideous." If I were younger and less busy I would no doubt be taking classes in Welsh, Breton and Gailic. I studied three years of Latin in high school and always took exception when people told me I was wasting my time with a "dead" language. As I have sympathy with underdog people, I also have sympathy with the struggling underdog languages of the world on the brink of extinction because fewer and fewer people speak them. Perhaps the reason for their treatened demise is that they were not flexable enough to change with the times.

In regards to this week's topic, I have often been told that there are only a handfull of master plots. I believe that there is truth in that, but what boggles the mind is the vast amount of literature devired from those eight to sixteen master plots. Plot is the backbone or skeleton of any good story, and as no good story can get along without a good plot, no story stands on plot alone. For me plot has been the easiest aspect of writing. Anyone of us could spend an afternoon and come up with a good plot.

We flesh out these good plots with characterzation, structure, pacing, and setting. It is the operation of fitting all these aspects together that create the challenge in writing good fiction. Perhaps the hardest thing, and it has been mentioned in earlier posts, is correctly fixing the scope of the plot to fit in one book. When I first began writing, I had a bad tendency to overcomplicate my plots and give my stories too much scope than was desirable for a 400-500 page novel.

What makes good novels special is that in some way the author has been able to draw out the reader's emotion for the characters. The author does this by drawing on experience, imagination and empathy. I really believe that here lies the most challanging aspect of writing. How do you give to your novel the heart to make it believable? How do you wring that emotion out of your characters and then on to the reader? I struggle with this in every scene I write.

Well there are my thoughts on this week's topic. I had a hard time responding to it because there have been so many good responses in the notebook already and I felt that I could add very little that already hasn't been said.

I welcome all the newcomers. The more points of view to these discussions, the more interesting they are. I wish everyone a great and productive week writing.

Rhoda Fort

Sun Feb 1 08:06:31 PST 1998

Robin Sun Feb 1 07:19:17 PST 1998


I do give a lot of thought to the personality of the character ahead of time, but most of the time when I sit and write, I just try to keep my fingers going as fast as my dialogue is flowing. MY sense of words and grammar are the main result. The creeps in my novel are educated so I don't think I would have to rewrite slang or dialect. But I don't want to fall into the trap of some writers (a t.v. show that I noticed as a good example of this: NYPD Blue. Everyone uses certain words or phrases, or has a certain rythym to their sentences that seem alike and centrally originated.) I am about 2/3 done with my first draft and I started wondering if I was making something harder for myself by only thinking about plot lines and red herrings and conflict. Thanks for your response.

Regarding the morphing of words: (I hope I'm not beating a dead topic here,) It is what the Americanized English language is all about.(I'd like to also add the practice of adoption. My dictionary states that the English language has had all the delicate sensitivity of a powerful vaccum cleaner.) What about other English languages? In my dictionary the writers and editors went to great length in the prologue to explain that lexicographers pick words for their list and then worry that they didn't include enough. Times change and so do words. I have little stars as a prefix to words that have either originated in this America, or have been adopted and Americanized. Do you all have this feature? Slang can be found, according to this practice.

The only thing to consider about the word "exsidious" is this: You are telling us that you view "in" from insidious to be a prefix. Therefore, you can exchange "ex" for "in". To be true, sidious should be a root word with its own meaning. Gary, you have your work cut out for you. You not only have the fun of defining new words, but now also their roots, their abilities to perform different parts of speech and also what forms these parts may take. You will be in good company. My dictionary lists Jefferson as the coiner of "belittle", immediately attacked by critics in England. There are many others that we now take for granted to be justifiable but at one time made their debuts. Someone earlier warned to be sure your meaning isn't lost. You can do that by your context if you're careful, and then sit back and see who picks your word up, uses it, and makes it their own.

Sherry Sun Feb 1 03:22:45 PST 1998

Robin: Since no one has responded to your request yet, I will give it a shot. First of all, by "voice" you seem to mean personality rather than speech patterns for your characters. I should think that either way it would be easier to write a first draft as you wish the character to be by drawing at least a rough picture of him. If the character is a lot like yourself then you don't have to worry too much. When you are ready to get out of yourself it's better to do it right away., I think. The rough draft is the most important. It's very hard to rewrite a long story or novel if the nice guy you've created is supposed to be a creep. You have to change too many things in order to make it all hang together and be believable.
Spending some time before you ever sit in front of your keyboard just thinking would probably help a lot. Imagine that you are the character. Pretend that you are an altogether different person and then decide how that new person would react not only to the day-to-day challenges of life, but also to the bizarre situations you may have planned for him in your story. And be sure to study people who are like your character to see if you've got it right. I think you have to live inside the character's skin for a while, for a very long while if you're writing a novel.

Wow! The logomythic controversy goes on! (Look that up in your Funk and Wagnell's) The interesting things about Gary's "exsidious" were that it wasn't in the dictionary (and I mean the O.E.D.) , it was obviously not a typo or a case of ww, and that it did contribute to understanding the piece. And I still like the sound of it. Lewis Carrol made up lots of words for us, and gave us the erudite Humpty Dumpty to explain them. Why not? I don't think we want to limit ourselves to middle English, which is what we would be doing if no one had ever made up words since Chaucer's time.
Yes, "puissance" is French for power.

Sat Jan 31 23:37:07 PST 1998


The definition of exsidious is in the first paragraph of my posting on friday.

My dear, I urge you to reconsider the confinement of your working vocabulary to mom and pop dictionaries. There is something to be said for balancing the need to communicate with an eye toward edification. If I had never read a piece of writing that didn't contain words I didn't know or couldn't figure out by means of their usage, I would still have a sixth grade vocabulary myself, and would be writing nothing more eloquent than a time slip in a factory. I believe I owe a lot to the writers that wrote a little beyond my reach. I still like a writer who sends me to the dictionary. I will write to entertain a reader but I will not condescend or dumb down to him/her.

Hayden, I am honored to have you call me mate, mate. I shall toast you with the next warm beer I enjoy.

Warmest regards to all,

GAry S.

Goodweed of the North Sat Jan 31 20:00:37 PST 1998

AS a fantasy writer, I have to make up words, at least nouns, to name and describe imaginary, yet familiar creatures. The poin we must remember is in my opinion, to make the story believable and entertaining to the reader. I also am a student of that thought whcih says one sentence should draw the reader to the next. I don't try to do that in any way except by writing quality sentences with easy, yet proper grammer and structure. This makes it easy for the reader to understand the point I'm trying to convey. I write for the reader. If that means bending the rules just a bit, then I bend them. I don't condone wholesale slaughter of the language though.

I am but one voice among the many here. I am not yet published and have nothing but the sense I was born with to guide me. That sense tells me that we are all individuals and will utilize whatever means to accomplish our goals.

I love to write poetry as well as fiction. I calls for powerful words, which extract powerful emotions, and draw powerful pictures. Any and every writer should be familiar with poetic licence. I only suggest that we use sound judgement when we create new words. Moderation in all things rings true here.

Use those words, but sparingly and not gratuitously. As for using unfamiliar words, Steven R. Donaldson used the word puiscance in "Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever. I believe it is a French word. It means aura of power. It worked in his book, but would sound out of place in mine. See what I mean? Words are tools for writers. Using the write tool for the job makes things so much easier. Sometimes we must create our own tools, but only when there are no good tools presently available.

And that is my humble opinon.

Keep writing.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Hayden Grayell Sat Jan 31 16:05:19 PST 1998

Toby, Victoria, TM: My great respect for you may not come over in my comments. It is one of the difficulties with non-emotives, though we now have the emotives of :-) and :-( etc to help out with. But how do you emote respect and admiration? *shrugs*.

Gary S: In Australia we have a greeting which uses the word "mate" to acknowledge a friend. Allow me to call you mate.

Let me first of all acknowledge all of the postings on plotlines, and thank you all (truthfully) for what you have to say on the subject. Without the comments I might have excused myself and bowed out of the page while my tail was on fire. Someone, whoever you were, said plot was a seed to grow a novel on. Bravo! I'm out planting the garden.

Word creation. I think it comes down to a little bit of bravery, and the sense of the English language being a wonderful flexible tool to create nuances of meaning. Dare I suggest that words you create must have some link in its (here's that word again) *structure* to chain it to a meaning. We know the meaning of insidious, so when someone writes exsidious we have a "feeling" of what the word is, even if it isn't in the dicitionary.

Two traps though: One, it can't look like a mistake in the writing thereof. One slip, and they look at you as if you can't spell for Hist.

Second trap: It must be acceptably "fluent" off the tongue. I'm not too sure how to describe what I mean here (having some dislexiconitis) thought it is somewhere in the realm of unquelchablitiy. Words that tangle seldom tango for long on the dancefloor of our tongues, or our books.

Gotta roll. Regards to all of you.

Oh, let me suggest that Kim Wilkin's "Infernal" as a enjoyable read.

Rhoda Sat Jan 31 15:06:31 PST 1998

Gary and T.M.,

I believe that an Internet conspiracy is afoot here. I looked in my thick American Heritage Dictionary and I cannot find the word "exsidious." Either I have an inadequate dictionary, or I must assign "exsidious" to the legions of other internet rumors such as the British secret service causing Princess Diana's accident or alien space crafts trailed behind the Hale Bop comet.

If a word is not present in the Mom and Pop dictionaries you buy at Waldon's or Sam's Club, I would definately avoid it. Remember most books are written to accommodate a sixth grade reading level. If "exsidious" is indeed a word, you would be advised to forget it as soon as you could and stick it in a mental vault along with such other words as "juxtaposition" and "dissemble."

If anyone can manage to find the word, please take pity on my lack of a proper East Coast Ivy League education and tell me what it means. I hope to never use it in my novels, but that is one word I'd like to add to my collection of puzzling and superfluous words I can throw around to impress my friends with at parties.

Pat Christensen Sat Jan 31 14:03:40 PST 1998

I don't know if it was Mark Twain or Lewis Carrol, but the quote goes something like: "It's a question of who's to be master - me or the word. I say it's me."

Robin Sat Jan 31 13:31:31 PST 1998

I know this is changing the subject, and I hate to do so when it has been so entertaining, but I would like some help with something. When do you show the voice of characters, do you usually make sure it is in your first draft or do you use your own and then let individuals "speak" in the rewrite? I have been using my own voice so far. It is easier. I'd be interested in how others handle it. Thanks.

Sat Jan 31 09:52:31 PST 1998

To be vindicated is human. To be vindicated by W. F. Buckley is divine. I am so elated that I will rush out now and celebrate with a Big Mac and a large fries.

My faith in my peers has been, once again, requited.

Gary S.

T. M. Spell Sat Jan 31 05:30:38 PST 1998

Sorry, Gary, but I think William F. Buckley beat you to "exsidious" in an article in his collection, "Happy Days Were Here Again." I remember it because I had to go look "exsidious" up in this big, big dictionary (which I can not now locate, drat it) and I think I still had to work backwards from "insidious," just like everyone else here. You and that Buckley guy. Really....

Sherry Sat Jan 31 05:10:43 PST 1998

Gary S.

Of course you are allowed to make up words! It's one of the ways writers achieve immortality. Exsidious is a fine word. It expresses in one word a concept which in its absence would have required more; it suits the context. Also, it has a very nice sound. And hey, maybe in 20 or 50 years your grandchildren will win big points with it!

Plot: I't s one of those things without which fiction writers cannot be effective. Without plot you might have a fine essay, an interesting narrative, or a lush poetic setting, but story-telling is plotting. Other elements must be present, but if the plot is not intriging the reader (and one hopes there will be more than one) is hard put to slog through hundreds of pages. And if that plot doesn't contribute to a unified, satisfying whole by the time the weary reader turns that last page (if it leaves him puzzled, or asking himself "so what") the writer has failed. He has failed to do his job, failed to communicate his thoughts and emotions. Everything else in fiction hangs on the skeleton of plot.

Jack Beslanwitch Sat Jan 31 03:19:26 PST 1998

All I have to say is that I am impresed with the discussion that has so far developed. The one thing I would like to bring to the discussion is the quote that is the heart and soul of For Writers Only from its very beginning:

There are nine and sixty ways

to construct tribal lays

and every single one of them is right

If you have not read the entire Kipling Poem I strongly recommend it.

   Also, I would request a bit of helping hand that you might want to take off line and just email me directly. I am planning on taking the Writer Resource Sites and References Sites on For Writers Only and do some serious surgery on both to make the categorization of both more rational. Does anyone have any thoughts on the categories that would make more objective sense. At this point I plan to do something with Dictionaries, Libraries and Word Resources - Special Topic Search Sites - If anyone has better ways to decribe them or split the links up I would appreciate the help. My initial stabs at doing something have gotten me more mired in perplexity than clarity. Again, take it off line and just send your thoughts to me separately and let this wonderful sharing of thoughts continue.

gary Souza Fri Jan 30 22:41:07 PST 1998

Hi Folks,

Sherry has raised a very good question. Am I permitted to make up my own word by changing the prefix 'in' from insidious, a 5 cent definition of which is 'sneaking in,' to 'ex' in order to change the usage of the word to 'sneaking out?' I have been brought up on charges of violating Srabble rules, though I had no idea that's what I was playing.

If you act as my court and find me guilty of dictionary usurping, I enter my plea on the basis that worse has been committed in the name of literary liscence. I also have a wife and cat to support.

Mind you, if am acquitted, who knows what liberties I may take once having gotten off. I might make references to 'inferiornumeraries' or 'gruntled' employees. I could run amuck. (God, that's bad)

I implore you to be fair and at the same time, have mercy in your hearts.

Trusting in my peers,

Gary S.

Toby B Fri Jan 30 22:13:17 PST 1998

Wow, look at all these posts since Thursday. Cool.

I took my stance, and stand by it, still. But I have nothing against other writers choosing their own paths. I am a firm believer of to each his/her own. Yet, for the past five years I've attended writers groups, and writers groups, and listened to advice, all while constantly writing. And I've found that in this day and age, and in the 'learned' circles, everyone has to write with structure, and intent, with meta-subconscious- meanings. It is a peer pressure type thing. I don't care if a person uses it, or believes in it, but I absolutely resist the constant implications I have fielded for the past five years that I'm some sub-level or non-informed writer because I refuse to accept this. Therefore, I'm not cool. I've seen the same pressures around me to conform and pretend to be an 'artiste de elite’ (the same type of peer pressure that is around me to dress and act like my age group, listen to the same music, people tell you all that changes when you grow up, but that’s BS, life out there is the same), but writing is work like anything else is, just a little lonelier, and weirder. Yes I use outlines, to keep track of my ideas, but ultimately you can outline and plan all you want, until there are words actually set down it is all for naught. In my idea file, I have literally hundreds of story seeds waiting to be written, and until I do, they are nothing.

Yeah I am bitter about things like this, but I am very non-conformist, I never have, nor will, ‘jump off the cliff because everyone else is doing it’, but anyone else is welcome to do it if they so choose.

I’m not implying that the different writing style is ‘jumping off the cliff’, but I’m making a statement about why I hate popularism.

Sorry if I step on toes, but hey, there I am. I wouldn’t be trying to be a writer if I weren’t a little belligerent in my beliefs and hard headed, and stubborn.

Ian Saunders Fri Jan 30 20:07:38 PST 1998

It would be hard for me to enter a point relevant to the discussion as even though i write, it is not me i am sure, who is doing it. Fair enough, it is me sitting down and my hands are the ones tapping madly at the keys, but some other .......THING....... is doing the word magic. The story as it comes out does always bare some resemblance to me and my own, but i have never been able to track where it starts and i finish, and i think maybe that is a good thing.
Writing should come from within, not be done by you.
And of course, the main thing people is have fun, if it aint fun go find something else that is.

Hayden Grayell Fri Jan 30 18:35:28 PST 1998

Gary S: This is part of the fun of it, stirring up the die-hards and getting my knickers in a twist while I'm at it. It is also playing the devil's advocate, which is needed to drag us out of our complacency, though the rope gets awfully tight around your neck, let me tell you.

And when it comes down to it, they are all correct. They see the trees and the forest, whereas I see the woodsmen and the wolf hiding amongst the trees. Oh what a big mouth you have, sweet Gandma!

And having the heart of a poet is not enough. I want all of him/her so they can do my writing for me.

Now, I bet that doesn't make any sense at all!!!!!

So do I get a medal for my twisted little tales? Well, at least I get them published.

Sherry Fri Jan 30 16:02:37 PST 1998

Gary: What does "exsidious" mean? You must have made it up; you would lose your turn at Scrabble with it!

Hayden: I really enjoyed your immortal's monologue. Do you have a plot to go with it?

Fri Jan 30 12:35:57 PST 1998

Hayden, good fellow, you do go on.

I love reading your postings and trying to figure out just what in hell you are saying. It's better noodling than the Times crossword puzzle. I love the flow of it and song it makes. I even think I get some of the symbolism, although I wouldn't want to be graded on my analysis. You have the great heart of the poet, my man. You must never stop.

with great respect,

Gary S.

Eugene Fri Jan 30 08:29:53 PST 1998

I'm stuck!

One, I have a downer ending. It's not just that but one that rests leaden upon the mind. Not that all endings must be fluffy light and pollyanna but I've written myself into a niche of "nothingness." If I continue, I'm opening up what could amount to another story. If I regress, there's no logical stopping point and I leave the reader hanging. Perhaps my problem is as simple as that I don't like "ride off into the sunset" endings feeling they are too "deux et machina" and essentially a cop out.

I'd appreciate comments either here or private as to how others have handled similar situations.

Apologies, if needed, for posting this in the wrong slot. Will accept direction graciously.

Victoria Fri Jan 30 06:42:02 PST 1998

I'm going to take a deep breath and jump back into the fray...I do believe there must be structure in writing, and that an author must think deeply and seriously about structure--the plot, the themes, the characters, and how these things are put together--otherwise a piece of fiction is just a mess. But I think there's a big difference between this kind of structural thinking--which relates entirely to the internal architecture of a story, and is unique to that story and to the author who writes it--and the kind of external structural analysis that classifies a story according to a set of principles abstracted from literature as a whole. When I write I think constantly about the former, but I can honestly say I never consider the latter at all--not even after the book is done and other people begin thinking about it that way.

Definitely, this is a personal choice. Everyone works differently, and I don't in any way mean to say that one type of thinking is more or less valid than another.


Hayden Grayell Thu Jan 29 22:08:16 PST 1998

Pat - apology accepted.

Pat Christensen Thu Jan 29 21:10:47 PST 1998

Hayden -

O.k., maybe I was a bit too obtuse. Let's boil it down to its unlovely bare bones.

It's fine to want structure. It's fine to feel comfortable finding the structure as, or before you write. If this makes you a better writer, by all means, find and follow your structure. I'm sure you'll be just fine.

But that's not how everyone works, and it's not only unfair, but a tad egocentric to insist that they must.

Or am I mistaken as to the point of your first post? If so, I do apologize.

Hayden Grayell Thu Jan 29 19:46:43 PST 1998

I'm swinging my arms, seeing the steps and not the road, breathing deeply and enjoying the journey.

Yet, in spite of all the spirituality of the moment, and dispite the constant "Just do it" mentality suggested by those who see the conflict and not the cause, there is more than Zen on the road to enlightenment. Remember those wonderful words written in the haiku about the loss of her child that the poet finished with:
"when all is Zen
and yet, and yet..."

And still the elephant's tail feels like a rope. No eyes to use, no mouth to speak, no keen heart pounding out each blow by blow of life.

Does looking at the structure mean that we are any less equipped as writers? I don't think so.

Does psycho-babble-analysing mean that we are refused the use of structure as a vehicle for lifting ourselves out of troubled waters? I would hate to feel that we are being isolated by the masses because we need assistance.

Does the response "I never think about it" mean no-one ever thinks about it?

Dare I hang myself further on the rope/tail by suggesting that responses of that kind are not really giving thought to the matter? Some of us have the luxury of writing without considering the structure, and some of us like to look at the structure and lash a story onto it. (Gee wizz, sounds like working to a formula, doesn't it?) Then again, we chop literature up into genres, don't we? We are very good at slicing the pie, so why not help find the pieces?

BUT... well, there are no real buts. A few maybes and just as many what ifs, and the occasional tigerfly sitting in the bushes waiting to bounce out and say "Where do you travel, fair wanderer?"

Toby B Thu Jan 29 18:37:27 PST 1998

Truth tell I have never even thought about. First for me comes the question what if? Then maybe another it would be cool if, and this person who be neat if, then little scenes pop into my head, then I write. I have never thought about the story I was about to write, I just write it. Afterwards I can have the luxury of pscho-babble-analysing it. I prefer writing, just writing, and I find that the less I anaylise, the more I 'Just Do It', the better it is.
My two cents.

Pat Christensen Thu Jan 29 18:20:07 PST 1998

Hayden, deep breath, my friend. Keep breathing. Swing your arms a few times, get the circulation flowing past those tensed up muscle bunches. In short, relax yourself.

There are many routes to Mecca, Valhalla, Heaven, Hell and the local 7-11. Take one. Take two. Take them all. Enjoy the differing vistas. There is no one right way. Avoid all roads marked "one way only," unless you plan to travel against the grain for the sheer experience of it. Wander far afield of your preconceptions and you might find a new idea or thought to comfort you in the depths of your ire at your fellow man.

A friend was having a rough marital patch and was worried that her love for her husband was dying. I don't know where the words came from, the same place as the stories I write I suppose, but they surprised me as much as they did her:

"Love is a response, not an emotion. You can hate someone and still love them. Even if all your emotions are negative, you are still quite capable of having a genuine 'yes' deep inside you for that person. Don't ever confuse the two. Love is your response to a person or thing. Fear, anger, hate, joy, mirth, calm and numb are all feelings. They are entirely transitory and subject to varying outside influences. Responses go deeper, are more visceral, more lasting. Don't be afraid of losing love. Just keep listening to your responses and remember that your emotions are fleeting things and not worth anchoring yourself to."

To which I might add that writing is like love, a response that we can't always control, or even recognize properly at times until it is complete and detached from ourselves, out where we can see it's finished form.

More to the point, if we write to teach ourselves what we most need to know, which is often the case, we will not know, until we are finished, what our great Theme is. The simplist of stories will, ultimately, have a theme of whatever depth and breadth. Theme will come, occassionally arriving long before you do. It's sometimes the butterfly that sits on your shoulder if you ignore it long enough, and sometimes the tiger hidden in the brush that you must seek out and make your own before you can continue your journey.

By the way, one of my favorite authors, Madelein L'Engle reminds writers that it's best to get yourself out of the way before you sit down to write. Too much self-absorbtion in the process can suffocate true creativity. Let the analysis come after the creation, when we are perfecting the form we have given birth to. But, at the actual moment of creation, we must live in the moment and get our "selves" out of the way of what will come.

I personally don't write with my mind. I write with my hands. My mind engages itself in the editing process, much later, and I am often amazed, and sometimes delighted, by what I have wrought. I impose some of myself on it at that point, but for the most part, it's best if I simply tighten, sharpen and then step back and let the thing take whatever course it will.

But that's just me. There is no one right way that it must be done that works for every writer.

Relax. Enjoy the diversity. Enjoy the journey.

You'll live longer.

Hayden Grayell Thu Jan 29 15:47:33 PST 1998

Well, I feel like someone just peed all over my party hat! And I am containing my frustration as best as I can. Gritted teeth, hair standing up on the arms, a slight flush to the cheeks. The usually hot burn of clenched muscles across the shoulders.

Let me explain my frustration as carefully as I can.

We are writers. Writers think. Writers look at what happens around them, and in some glorious way--be it the capturing of muse or the sheer luck of a chance word at the right moment or whatever--they create an experience which they pass onto others through whatever media they choose. But most of all writers THINK. They consider what is happening--maybe not consciously all the time; they have opinions and they transpose those opinions into words which they put down on paper.

And to assist them to do this wonderful thing they have structures that can be manipulated as the writer sees fit. Grammar, voice, plot. These are some of the structures that assist them.

But most of all writers THINK !

When I ask what archetypical plot lines there are, I ask for the structures which exist so that I can modify them as best I see fit. I very carefully expressed the opinion that simplistic archetypes are not useful, and I sought a little input into other slices of the great pie.

Responses in the order of "there are none", or that writers shouldn't concern themselves with these sorts of things and that they should just write, are as frustrating as being blind and only being able to grab the elephant's tail.

So, sharing in a lively debate on plotlines, rather than a lively discussion on preferences, is my cup of tea. I like to think "Is this character in conflict with the ocean, or is she in conflict with her lover, and this is parallelled in her conflict with the sea? Or is it really a story about boy meets girl, with their trouble mirrored in the battle against the basic elements of their own passions and in the fight against the iceberg banging against their ship."

If you leave one of these thinking processes out, you have stopped short of seeing the whole work as a tumultuous revelry of ideas.

Which means you have stopped thinking and are just emoting.

Robin Thu Jan 29 07:51:52 PST 1998

I am not new to reading your comments, (trying like crazy to put a dent in the archives), but I haven't commented yet except submitting a short poem in the workbook.

The choices of opposing forces may be few on the surface. But how and where you "slice" it makes it interesting. In the book I'm trying to tackle(write), the challenge of man vs. man meets with man vs. nature in some ways, because setting enters in.

The thing that can make the variations interesting is the way your protagonist faces each opposition. Whether he/she fails or succeeds, and if there are underlying themes or lessons to be drawn out will make each of the basic three seem unique enough not to be formulated. In plotting these opposing forces, a writer should be able to give the reader something to walk away with. Some books are forceful in that sense. ("A Time to Kill") Some are subtle. ("The Longest Cave" I think is the name.)

A short paragraph about myself:
I am a mother of three, homeschooling them for 6 years. I also help run a family business. On top of that, I'm trying to find the writing voice I once had. I had a few health reviews published years ago in an underground journal.

Victoria Thu Jan 29 07:30:48 PST 1998

Re: this week's topic: I think that, given the sheer volume of literature in the world, and how long people have been producing it, there isn't a single element of any plot that can't be identified as archtypal. I think it's a synergistic process--it's the desire to explore what's universal in human experience that inspires people to write, and through that exploration those elements become ever-more formalized and recognizable.

As a writer, the theme that interests me most is that of personal transformation through experience. I'm not talking about growth, necessarily, only change. My characters tend to begin at a certain point of belief or expectation, and, through a series of challenges or reversals over the course of the book, wind up someplace very different.

I think, however, that it's not very useful to try to organize or categorize these kinds of universal themes by asking questions like, What are the seven (or ten, or fifty) basic plot forms? You can try for big categories (Mankind vs. Nature, etc.) or break it up into smaller ones (Mankind vs. the Ocean, Mankind vs. the Land, Mankind vs. the Wilderness), but this is an almost infinite progression, because every aspect or variation of these themes has probably been explored in one form or another, and not only every aspect, but every form of conceptualizing it, can with some justification be seen as an archetype in its own right. How useful are these questions to writers anyway? Do you really care if your story of a space exploration party stranded on an unfriendly planet can be categorized as Mankind vs. Whatever, and is the same theme that guides a mainstream novel about the exploration of Australia? These things make for interesting discussions, but I think their benefit is primarily to critics.


T. M. Spell Wed Jan 28 17:06:07 PST 1998

One of my favorite plots is the Frankensteinian one or a variation thereon. What happens when man/woman plays God with the forces of nature and then refuses to take the responsibility? Better yet, what happens when she accepts the responsibility?

Frankenstein's creature was the equivalent of the first thalidomide baby, where scientists and doctors and hapless others found themselves standing around saying things like, "oops," "oh my God," and "ewww, get it away from me." And no, I'm not being facetious or having a flippant joke at the expense of thalidomide-handicapped individuals here. I'm saying that this is *exactly* the same sort of thing, only out of the realm of horror fiction transplanted into real life (where it becomes tragedy). Happily, real human beings tend to respond a bit more compassionately to the human victims of their scientific blunders (or should I use the phrase "crimes against humanity," here?) than Victor Frankenstein responded to his cobbled-together creation.

Still, a very powerful theme, though I see it handled with a great deal less skill and compassion than Shelley used at the tender age of nineteen. Koontz gets awfully close to a similar masterpiece with his novel Watchers, but still misses the brass ring, somehow. Flatliners is probably one of the best variations on this theme that I've seen on film.

I imagine there's a great deal of life yet to be found in a plot built around a Frankensteinian theme. Anyone got some defibrillating paddles?

Hayden Grayell Wed Jan 28 14:44:51 PST 1998

All the world is a plotline...all my life is a book...

Yeah, Okay, I'll stop that now and respond to the theme of the discussion as proposed by the Good Jack.

First of all, not too long ago, I asked what were the archetypical plotlines and I was quite disappointed to recieve a response of "Man versus nature, Man versus Man, and good versus evil". Even though this was meant well, it was too simplistic, and I wanted the pie sliced a little thinner.

For instance a slice from Man versus nature might be "Man conquers his instincts", which is different from "Man survives a raging bush fire (by eating marshmellows, maybe)".

Simplistic plotlines tend to make things too bland, and don't help at all in planning out a novel or whatever, therefore we are barking up the wrong tree of wisdom by using them.

However, I don't want to have such a thin slice that I am looking to see the differences between "Man versus Nature" and "Man versus Mother Nature" which are different when you get down to the anthropomorphic level... though, come to think of it is really the plot line of "Man versus God", which is an archetypical plotline.

Gosh, I'm confusing myself.

So, can we come up with 10 slices of the pie, or do we go for more, say 20?

Wed Jan 28 11:30:12 PST 1998


I feel for your dental pain; nothing worse. I hope its over by now.
I agree that a discussion on the elements of writing would be a good thing.

I find I am attracted to man vs man and man vs nature themes
in my reading and writing. I think these are the most widely used themes and they offer largest realms in which the writer may roam.

Just a quickie today. I'll be looking forward to what others have to say on this topic.

Keep on truckin' y'all,

Gary S

Jack Beslanwitch Wed Jan 28 02:01:01 PST 1998

    Everyone will have to forgive me if this does not get articulated as best I can. I spent the better part of two and a half hours in a dentist chair today and am on pain medications a bit stronger than over the counter. Prep work on a new crown as it happens.

Anyway, I have been trying to figure out how I wanted to propose a new topic, so here it is.

    For our discussion this week, let us move back to the actual art of writing and plotting rather than considerations of the publishing industry whether in print or electronic form. It is my suggestion that we look at the universal plots that spring up to populate our story. Boy meets girl. Man against nature. The number are finite or unlimited depending on who you talk to or what writing tome you select to look at. What are the plot threads that most interest us writers and more importantly, why do they interest us. Go beyond the simple fact that boy meets girl or man is battling against nature and touch on what elements in real life lend themselves to writing stories in that universal theme. This is a topic that has been dealt with in different guises in the past, but I propose that we touch on it again and see what we come up with. Perhaps it might even lend itself to group or individual projects that might find their way to the Workbook.

I definitely have the feeling that I will revisit this tomorrow and try to phrase what I am trying to say a little more legibly. However, if people would like to pick up my thread and roll with it. Cool. Otherwise, come up with something on your own. However, I am hoping that we can move into a bit of a discussion of the mechanics of writing for a little while along with our ongoing and always interesting discussion of the writing life and the philosophy thereof. Take care everyone and please know that I am ever amazed at the collection of truly interesting and wonderful human being that congregate here.

Goodweed of the North Tue Jan 27 19:03:15 PST 1998

Hi everyone; We are getting a bit off topic here. It doesn't matter why we write as long as we give it our best. If one person wants to write for the sheer enjoyment of writing, great. If another wants to get rich, great. If both due it to the best of their abilities, they both have succeeded.

It doesn't much matter anyway. The sun will still rise in the morning and the boss will wonder why you're late (writing late into the night again?).

Something to contemplate. Life is backwards. We were actually concieved as very old people. We see the future and imediately forget the past. growing old is merely a perception. Of course the imediate future is more clear than the distant. This creates the illusion of growing old.

Read that theme in a short story somewhere at sometime to far back to remember. Anybody want to build a speculative fiction story out of it? Any Harlan Ellison types around (no disrespect intended toward the master of speculative fiction)?

Another topic for a good yarn; What happens when the last star gives its last gasp? This is based on the premise that humanity lasts that long.

And for you Snoopy lovers out there; Life from the viewpoint of a beagle.

Anyone with writers block should be able to get something from one of those topics.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Tue Jan 27 19:03:07 PST 1998

cstapley Tue Jan 27 16:37:51 PST 1998

Writing for writing's sake is a good goal, but I once heard that Charle's Dicken's wrote Christmas Carol because he needed money....eloquence and economic necessity can combine. In fact that can be a very good motivator for some people.

Clyde Dixon Tue Jan 27 15:38:36 PST 1998

I must agree with Victoria, we write to be read -- therefore, we write to be published. For me, at least, the point of writing is to create and share visions and ideas that will spark interest, enjoyment, and perhaps insight, as the writing of others has done for me.

To succeed at this, we need not try to be the next Mr. King; there are many sizes and styles of markets for our works, success lies with the market closest to our style and subject. Sell-out? No. Use some common sense? Most definitely. Whether you are posting your novel page by page on telephone poles or submitting to Ballantine, you must consider the nature of the intended market -- or perhaps try a different market that is closer in fit.

So yes, I want to be published (so I can share my ideas with more people) but no, I will not drastically change what or how I write to do so -- but I will take reasonable steps to ensure that my work has a chance of being published in the market of best fit.

Think I’ll use yellow paper and 76 point Times Roman for my next work, hard to read smaller print when you are whizzing by at 35mph.


Victoria Tue Jan 27 11:59:23 PST 1998

I would have to say that yes, the ultimate aim of a writer is to get published. Anyone who won't admit that is not, I think, being entirely honest. After all, what good is an art that no one sees? A tree falling in the forest may make a sound, but if no one's there to hear it, who cares but the tree?

It's true that the need or desire to write exists independent of publication or appreciation, and can survive rejection after rejection--artists may give a lifetime to their art even if they never get recognized, driven by some deep inner impulse that has nothing at all to do with public acknolwedgement. Van Gogh is the obvious example of this. But you'll never convince me Van Gogh wouldn't have been happier if his work had been recognized and praised by viewers (and reviewers).

I think that writers have to learn to live with the reality of compromise. If you want to be read and published (and please don't pretend you don't) you have to deal with the realities of the reading and publishing world, however greatly they piss you off. This might mean deciding not to write that experimental novel based on the circular form of the Mayan calendar system--or at least setting it aside until you've built up enough of a reputation so that publishers will agree to look at it. It might mean making a decision to enter a genre field because publication there seems more possible; it might mean choosing to deal with a trendy subject because you feel it would be more marketable. By the same token, however, compromise has to end somewhere, and your own voice has to take over. Otherwise you turn into Sidney Sheldon--an awful fate, even if he is incredibly rich. It's a tough balance to maintain. I don't think there are many writers who don't struggle with it.

- Victoria

TB Tue Jan 27 07:39:12 PST 1998

That link below doesn't work, if you still want to read the Dicken's bio, paste it up to your location window, add .html at the very end, then go for it. It's worth the read.

Toby B Tue Jan 27 07:33:41 PST 1998

The measure of any work for me is this yardstick: did I enjoy it. This is a very selfish way of measuring it, but there it is. It could be two thousand years old, ten weeks old, if I enjoy it, it is good, if I don't enjoy, it isn't. Sometimes I find people, or reviewers, who have something of the same opinions as I do, and if this is so, I might consider reading a book that they have recommended, but if I don't like it, I sure as hell say so, despite their stature. If an author wants to pull me in, and then bash me over the head with his idealogy, that's okay, as long as the book is a good one. If an author wants to publish solely for the sake of publishing, he gets a fair read, if I find the book good, he'll get read again. But I find that books written like this often lack appeal, they're cool aid, there's nothing but sugar, no substance, no calories. So I usually don't read, as they often aren't good, or well written.

Stephen King is a good example of someone who mixes both. He is extremely publish savvy, and there is heart put into what he does. He isn't my favorite author, but I have a lot of respect for him as an author, despite all the complaining I hear other writers making about him.

Actually, like mentioned below, writers have mixed writing for the public and writing message and content throughout history. Homer, Greek and Roman playwrights, Shakespeare the obvious classic example. The rich gentlemen of the pre-Victorian-Victorian era started the publishing for self edification thing, and could get away with that which the modern critic and lit-professor love so much. However, they had something most of us don't, they started out filthy rich and could afford to ignore the public. If anything, the average writer follows in the tradition of Charles Dickens, roughly middle class, uncertain in finances, who struggles out with the pen. As a result, the writing is a fine balance between pleasing the public and getting a message across. (Above I have a quick link to a short but cool Dickens bio, read it! He's such a typical writer, despite the superhuman feat of writing 'A Christmas Carol' in one freakin' weekend).

To wrap up, what this means to me as a writer: I will not be writing stories about the existensial metaphsical role of the orange in my fridge, because honestly, who gives a crap? I will write fun, entertaining stuff, that reflects (insidously) what I see in the world. But above all, I have to remember that the reader wishes to be entertained, it is why the reader is picking up the story in the first place. If the reader wanted to be bludgeoned by fact they would be reading an essay, or non-fictional book! Ultimatly, despite the meaning of my writing to me, what I do is finish a story, writing in such a fashion that when I am done, I look at it, and say, yeah, I would pick this up and read it if I were looking for a story to read this evening. I try to please the reader in my soul, not the writer.

Maybe that's why we're always under so much internal stress?

Write lots.

Goodweed of the North Tue Jan 27 04:22:52 PST 1998

The artistry of a work is not only in the mind of the creator of said work, but also by its appeal. Many are they who thought themselves artists but took no real time or effort to hone their skills. I have read many a written word, both technical and creative which were put onto paper that were seriously lacking. Even such things as product descriptions need to be properly written. I have read operation manuals which were concise, factual, and truly helpful. On the other hand, I have opted to forgoe the purchase of a product because of the extremely poor writing skills presented in the owners manual.

It is true that many critics are too full of themselves and can fail to see the forest for the trees, so to speak, and I do not consider professional critics to be the measure of a work. Rather, the measure of a work is by the yardstick of humanity. We are all human after all. We must be measured by our peers.

If I write a good or bad story and present it to the public, their reaction to that story will tell me How I need to improve my work. First I write until I see something I like before me. Then I look to others to help me improve it further. It is surely true that no man or woman is an island.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Tue Jan 27 04:22:48 PST 1998

Alison C Tue Jan 27 02:48:30 PST 1998

OK, OK, so I'm being a little polemic ... I can't but agree that nothing is more distasteful than the dismissal of the popular simply because it is popular. And yes, not only Aristophanes but Aeschylus were popular writers in their day. But I don't understand where the art of writing exists in the assumption that getting published and reviewed is the ultimate justification. Is it? (I'm a published writer, so this isn't sour grapes). Isn't there something else that is more imperative and derives from inner impulses? What about the famed idiocy of reviewers? (Ibsen, for instance). Not the mention the history of the form in which you are working? Borges said every writer creates his own genealogy, and I think he's right, but a genealogy of fashion/agent's addresses/creative writing courses seems bound to produce some fairly inbred progeny.

Mon Jan 26 23:25:33 PST 1998

I see no evidence, anywhere, that genius and marketability are mutually exclusive. Some brilliant writers have a narrow avenue of appeal which could simply be a result of what they say or how they say it.

It is possible to write for a wide audience and remain true to one's principals as long as those principals don't patently exclude entertaining or otherwise edifying the general public. Twain is an excellent example of a writer who both entertained people and said what was on his mind.

Perhaps it is a matter of the order of procedure. Do you whack them to get their attention or do you get their attention and then whack them? Twain seems to have used the former approach. He began as story teller and then became a satirist. He ended his life as an activist campaigning against American adventurism in other countries. I see this process more as "buying in" than "selling out."

Bye, All

Gary S.

Goodweed of the North Mon Jan 26 20:03:08 PST 1998

T.M. Spell, well said!
I don't think writng to the public is selling out. I write so I can entertain. I'm not worried about writing to get rich (though I wouldn't turn it down), rather, I write because I love spinning a good yarn for others to enjoy. What good is a great story if I'm the only one to get enjoyment from it. That seem selfish indeed. I have told stories both true and made up to every person I know. I have encouraged people to laugh, think, reflect, take part in life. Some of my stories teach lessons both moral and religeous, some teach others by examples, some show my own rather rediculous mistakes throughout life. My writing is an extension of my need to communicate. If anyone says I'm selling out because my primary goal is to get published, so be it. I have a story to tell. It is an entertaining story which happens to touch on some of my pet issues. The most effective way I know to reach great numbers of people with a good yarn is to GET PUBLISHED.

If I were as eloquent in speach as with pen, I'd try to be a part of a great radio show. I'm not as good with the oral language as I am with the written one. My answer is to write.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the north

T. M. Spell Mon Jan 26 15:12:48 PST 1998

On the subject of marketability and writing for an audience...being cautious here, and with no intention of wounding anyone, I'm curious...if a work is marketable, is it then to be dismissed as lacking genius? I'm thinking of the critical acclaim heaped on Clan of the Cave Bear...until the work gained in popularity with the "average" reader and the author came out with a sequel. What disappeared, here -- the genius or the recognition of it among one very narrow circle of critics?

Aristophanes was very marketable in his day (some 2,300 years ago). Likewise, William Shakespeare, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Their work exhibited a genius that made them accessible on many different levels: for example, on the surface, their work possessed simple "entertainment value," that drew in just about everyone who could read (or attend a play); yet it also plumbed the depths of basic human questions that sent educated minds reeling away, filled with questions and doubts and insights requiring the formulation of social theories and philosophies either affirming, denying, or expanding upon, those questions and doubts and insights. They touched not only upon the "popular," but upon the universal as well, and so effectively that they are revered in literary circles to this day.

And all of this they did (except, perhaps, for Shelley) while relying upon the written word for their daily bread.

Admittedly, some geniuses appeal only to a few, yet are nonetheless geniuses for all of that. But simply because a few like-minded literary aficionados dismiss an author who becomes popular is not conclusive proof that the author lacks genius or is a panderer.

Stu Mon Jan 26 11:23:24 PST 1998

I've been looking round these writing sites for ages, and I still haven't found what I'm looking for. What I'd like is to get into a regular contact with about 3, 4, 5 maybe 6, other writers, via e-mail, so that we can send short stories, and exerpts of novels and rundowns of novels to eachother, and recieve free, informed and constructive critique from each other.
Everywhere else I've looked has either included gross charges on subscription, or charges for 'professional' critique.
Obviously we'd have to send a few introductory e-mails around to check that we've got meshing personalities (I love that phrase). And if I get flooded with calls (you never know,) then it shouldn't be that hard to split into smaller groups or something.
I'm an SF person myself, although that needn't be a requirement. And because all the correspondance would be going into e-mail boxes then I don't think it would be possible to send huge novels much, (Unless you chopped them up into pieces to e-mail them, but we'd sort stuff like that out.)
This is just a casual, friendly call out to any like-minded individuals. If you feel that you could help from free and freindly critique from fellow writers, contact me:

Rhoda Mon Jan 26 11:09:00 PST 1998


Congratulations on a job well done. Gary was right. Your biography of Sassoon was much more interesting than the other one I had seen on the Siegfried Sassoon web site. Sassoon's war experiences as well as his stint with passivism presented quite an adventure. You have definitely caught the essence of this talented and remarkable man in your biography.

I hope you will do more such things. Both the Internet and the print media are well in need of someone who can present facts in such a complete and interesting way.


Amanda Dickerson DICKERSON.AMANDA_M@DAYTON.VA.GOV Mon Jan 26 04:41:30 PST 1998

I know exactly how you feel. I just completed revisions on a sword and sorcery type novel myself. Everytime I think of moving on to the next novel I get a throat clenching nervousness. I think we just don't want to put what can be years of effort in to something then stand back and say, "Boy, that is the worst load of crap I've ever read!"
I also do my first draft long hand, then type it up later. When you sit down to type don't think "Here goes my novel, I hope it is worthwhile." Think, "I am just typing up my stuff so I can get a clear look at what I have so far."
Don't be afraid of marking up your print out either. If you do read your stuff and think, "This is crap." Go back and fix it. And fix it. And fix it. Until you forget your revising you work and you find yourself caught up in the story.

Gary Souza Mon Jan 26 02:36:37 PST 1998


Great work. You must be the leading authority on Sassoon at this point. The references I checked were very uncertain on
events leading to his convalescance. You rock, girl. You can be very proud of that piece. They Should have put your full name on it, though. The initials are very stylish but you deserve more.

Very happy for you.

Gary S.

Gary Souza Mon Jan 26 02:14:12 PST 1998


I am so pleased for you. I read the biography and it is brilliant. I believe you must be the leading historian on Sassoon at the present. The references I checked were much more vague and indecisive about his posting to the hospital
where he met the poet(I can't recall. You can see what a steel trap mind I have for history). I can see that you are proud and quite right too. You have done a brilliant piece. You command the facts so well. You should have been granted your full name on the piece. The little initials are very stylish but I wanted to see a great "Michele Fry" at the top. This is my only complaint. I know your work on Sassoon is much larger in scope and I look forward to seeing much more.

Live Well,

Gary S.

Michele Mon Jan 26 00:30:26 PST 1998

Guys and Girls !!

I've been posted !! The above web site has a link to a biographical dictionary containing a brief (!) biography on Siegfried Sassoon written by me ! Please take a look some of you and tell me what you think - it's the first ever time my writing has been accessible by the general public. I'm soooo excited (what a child !) :-)


Alison C Sun Jan 25 23:04:44 PST 1998

I am often mystified by the assumptions that marketing and pleasing an audience are the primary aims of any writing. While we all want to be read, it's pretty dull to have an audience in mind all the time (who knows who they are anyway? and do they really fit the marketing analyst's reductions? is consumer led psychology all there is to consciousness?) And on the whole it makes for pretty dull writing. Surely the best never want to please anyone? Was Joyce pleasing anybody? Wasn't he inventing his own language? And "forging in the smithy of my soul the conscience of a race"? Is genius ever marketable?

Gary Souza Sun Jan 25 22:40:55 PST 1998

To Joan and to T.M.

I appreciate greatly the trouble you took to reply to my question. I want to recheck the Curtis book to be sure I didn't misrepresent his instruction on this point of multiple submissions but I can't find where I put it. Reading your replies made me wonder if there was a condition he made that I somehow overlooked. Your remarks about having spoken to an agent, or having contacted one in particular, made me question my account of the chapter because his book was very candid and I do respect a lot of the material. At any rate, Mr. Curtis is beyond the reach of my feeble power to offend him, I'm sure.

Joan, That is a very interesting anecdote about Nancy Taylor Rosenberg. I don't know what she wrote but the thought of those agents rejecting an already published million dollar book is very funny.

Michael Parish,

Your complaint about celebrity books is some thing I am sure is felt universally among those of lesser luminence. (My luminence at this stage is scarcely enough to light the way to the end of my nose)

Some, here, might be aware of the radio celebrity, Don Imus. Imus published a book of photographs that was a very big seller. And Imus, with his ego already approaching critical mass, made much hay while the sun shone on his photo book. Super big signing sessions in big cities, much hype on his own show.

The work in Imus's book is good respectable photography but no more so than hundreds of photographers who have fine portfolios but who can't put out a book to save their souls. It's irksome but it's just one of those inequities we endure. Iv'e always been told that life isn't fair. So I can't be surprised by these things. The next thing will probably be a book by Shannon Doherty or McCauley Culkin; the entire cast of FREINDS or Jerry Springer. (Please don't tell me these books already exist)

Joan, it's good to see you in the notebook again.

Hey, I'm gonna go now, You are all awesome. I love you all.

Gary S.

Rhoda Sun Jan 25 21:03:37 PST 1998


The more involved I get in the writing business the more I am convinced that there are not any hard and fast rules. If you only submitted to one agent at a time, it might take you four or five years to find an agent for your work. Nancy Taylor Rosenburg once said that she had submitted to over three hundred agents. If she were submitting one at a time, she would still be doing it. Interestingly enough, all but two of these agents rejected the book that eventually won her a multi-million dollar contract. After she published the book, she was still receiving rejection letters from some of these agents.

Agents as a whole are not worth so much consideration. There are good agents worthy of respect and there are others who are real jerks. When you are looking for representation, you must weed out the goats from the sheep. Send out as many packages as you wish and try to determine by the reponses you get who is worth your time and who isn't.

On the other hand, there are occasions where you must tread carefully. If you meet an agent at a conference and ask them if you might send part or all of your manuscript, then you might ask if they would be offended if you submit to other agents. Most agents really don't care as long as you are up front with them and let them know in your cover letter that you are submitting to other agents. Usually I send multiple submissions unless I have had personal contact with an agent and I feel that he or she is really interested in what I might have to send them. Another thing that some people I know do is state in their cover letter that the agent has some set amount of time to view the work exclusively (two weeks to a month). Most good agents won't have a problem with this.

Gary, there are so many duds out there. It just doesn't make sense to treat all these "agents" alike. I would be really concerned about any agent that insisted that an author not send multiple submissions.

Speaking of the week's topic, I don't have much to say. I like writing articles because you have a finished work without taking all the time needed for a novel. I have never tried to sell an article to a paying market. I really should. If you are good at free-lance, you can make good money (so I have heard).


I visited your page again and took the link over to the Siegfried Sassoon site. What an interesting person. I printed some of the poetry, for I have never read him. It seems very intense. You will have quite a good time doing his biography I believe.

Well, it is time to run. Have a good week everyone.

P.S. I don't really care for football, but I had a wonderful laugh about the Broncos winning the Super Bowl. There is an appliance store here in Farmington who yesterday had a big Superbowl promotion at their store. Any item purchased on Saturday would be free if the Broncos won the Superbowl. Well, they did (He,he). We didn't know about the promotion until we read about it in Sunday morning's paper. I wish I had been there, but I probably wouldn't have had the nerve to take the gamble. I hope the store won't go out of business.

Jack Beslanwitch Sun Jan 25 19:13:15 PST 1998

For those probably very few that are fans of football American style. The Broncos Won!!! Always like to see the underdogs get the win. Take care all and normally I am not that much of a fan of sports, but had to watch and enjoy this one.

Michael Parish Sun Jan 25 16:21:07 PST 1998

Just a thought. Considering all the years and effort we go through to convince an editor (or agent) to give us more than five minutes of his (or her) time, doesn't it just make you sick that Jewel just up and decided to submit a book of poems and memoirs, and was offered $2,000,000 for it before the manuscript even hit an editor's desk? No worrying about rejection slips here. Of course not, because she's a celebrity. And there's not a publishing CEO in the world that's going to care if every poem has the lasting value of a three-dollar bill.
Sorry, people. I just had to get that tidbit of frustration out. It's just that I've seen the same thing countless times before, committed by everyone from Barry Manilow to Ethan Hawke. These people aren't novelists, but you'd never know it from their six-figure advances.
I'll have something more note-worthy next time. Promise.

T. M. Spell Sun Jan 25 11:00:41 PST 1998

On the topic of sending multiple queries to agents, Oscar Collier, a top-flight agent for sixteen years, and senior editor of the trade book division of Prentice-Hall for five, had this to say on the subject in his book, *How to Write & Sell Your First Novel*: "Multiple submissions of unsolicited queries are perfectly okay when they are introduced by individually typed letters. If an agent becomes interested, he/she may ask you to withdraw other submissions. One way to do this is to call all the others, and ask them to reply within two or three days, as someone is very interested.

"If a publisher asks you to withdraw other copies of a multiple submission, just laugh unless he makes a firm offer.

"But if you actually sign up with an agent or publisher, it would be courteous to write immediately to the others to whom you have submitted and request return of your materials -- no reason is necessary."

While I'm sure that Richard Curtis would prefer authors to sit on their hands and wait on his convenience (or that of his literary firm's other agents) to decide whether or not to offer representation, his expectations are, insofar as I'm concerned, unreasonable and inconsiderate. My time may not be *worth* as much, in dollars, as Curtis's time, but it is just as *valuable* to me as his (or Bill Gates's, or the Pope's). And just as limited as the next mortal's.

I'd make multiple submissions to all those who accept such (or who don't specify otherwise), and save the twits for last if none of the first lot express an interest.


Gary Souza Sun Jan 25 01:49:06 PST 1998


You are fortunate, indeed, to have the benefit of TM's and Toby's advice. It's good for me as well. I do too much flying by the seat of my pants and lose track of the basics too easily. Remember, with a name like "Strunk", it's got to be good.

Can anyone tell me if there is some ethic in submitting to agents that I don't know about. I submitted about 35 query packages to agents in one month for the same novel.

I then read in a book by Richard Curtis, a top literary agent, that one should submit to one agent at a time. He doesn't mention the implications of complying or not complying. He simply states it as though they were self evident. One implication of compliance would seem to be that the way things are today, one could grow very old waiting for replies from one agent before sending to another.

Who can tell me anything about this?

See you all later,

Gary S.

Goodweed of the North Sat Jan 24 15:41:39 PST 1998

I have placed my query once more into the workbook for your pleasure. Please take it apart, examine it, tell me what's right and wrong with it. I borrowed "Writer's Market from the Library. I think it will help.

For your reading pleasure, I included two of my best poems. I hope you like them.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

MizMo Sat Jan 24 14:15:12 PST 1998

Our lives are touched by many others as we travel that road from birth to infinity. The longer we live, the more encounters we have, and many of them are so brief that we barely remember them. But, they're there--and sometimes they will pop into the mind at the strangest of times.

I'm writing about a journey into the spirit of a woman who's life was so touched, as she traveled through the latter half of the 20th century; a century who's history made a great impact on millions of very human, feeling, loving women and gave them the strength to face the next millennium.

I write in all types of genre, but favor inspriational. I am, however, having difficulties finding a market for my work. Any suggestions?

Kirstin Ramey Sat Jan 24 10:50:50 PST 1998

I posted one of my poems in the workbook. I need to edit the first chapter of my novel and then I'll post it. Sorry I haven't posted for a while but I have been preparing for midterm finals. Yipes, there only two days away. As for the topic before this one on electronic publishing, speaking as a teenager and for many of my friends, we still love paper books. The thing that might be nice is if they would turn our text books into disks that we put in a small computer that we can carry around. That would be a lot easier than carrying 40 pounds of books around. It would also be nice if those computers could be specialized to read the text for the students who are visually impaired or are extremely slow readers. It would be nice to be able to click on a word to find out how to pronounce it, its definition, or some back ground if its a name.

By the way, Toby - I loved the end to Six Fingers. It's an great story.


Toby B Sat Jan 24 09:53:33 PST 1998

By the way, I am an English major, but I really don't see what the big deal is that everyone makes about us. See, I learned grammar from Strunk's little book, then Orson Scott Card, and thousands of books that I've devoured since the age of five. English as a major was an afterthought when I got into college, because I'd found that I'd done all the work necesary to be an English major, if not more, through my earlier actions. So far, my observation of being of that department is that I spend a lot of time reading books that are not Hugo nominees or on the best seller list, and that we have to write really complex essays about stuff the author probably couldn't have cared less about us knowing about his past and motivation on writing that particular story. I think history might have been a cooler major in retrospect, but everything is what you make of it, so I still have fun and drive Lit professors up the wall by choosing to write Deconstructionist essays on Frank Herbert, or Feminist influence through

I guess it's all what you make of it.

Toby B Sat Jan 24 09:43:46 PST 1998

While I agree that an English Major is not necesary to become a writer (evidence does prove otherwise), it is necesary that you have a strong sense of grammar. The final product should be roughly (with small stylistic exceptions) in the manner of the rules of the language we speak in. But a good understanding of grammar doesn't come from an English Major, it is something that comes from years and years of constant reading. Also, the practice of knowing how to use that powerful tool is something that usually has to come with lots and lots and lots of writing. Practice makes perfect. The examples that Spell gave are excellent, from SFWA you can find lots and lots about writing, but my single piece of advice would be to write first, then read the 'How to', then revise. But feel free to ignore me. Good luck, and just write!

T. M. Spell Sat Jan 24 04:20:48 PST 1998

Oops, I typed in the SFWA address wrong (*see* what a degree in English is good for?). Try the corrected link above.


T. M. Spell http://www.sfwa/org/writing/writing.htm Sat Jan 24 04:16:12 PST 1998

Kevin, if you are interested in writing fantasy, I strongly recommend that you go to the web site hot linked above ( This is the site for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the page I've linked to is the writer's page, and features many fine articles for beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers. There is an especially enlightening article on writing fantasy by Poul Anderson at this site entitled, "On Thud and Blunder" -- although this has more to do with writing sword and sorcery fiction than the sort of high fantasy you mentioned. Still, you may find the SFWA site a helpful resource.

For more in-depth advice on writing, read Orson Scott Card's excellent how-to book, "How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy," and Nancy Kress's "Beginnings, Middles & Ends."

Meanwhile, don't worry too much about the English grades. You already write in clear, easy-to-understand sentences. If you've got interesting stories to tell and can tell them, clearly, in language that the reader can understand, you may even be ahead of us English majors (who are always trying to decide what "tone" or "level of diction" is appropriate for which story...and all-too-often losing the story in the shuffle for style). If best-selling authors had to be English lit wizards, there would probably be about two best-selling authors on the NY Times Bestseller List at any given time. Hey, man, it's the *story* that counts, never forget.


Kevin Shelton Fri Jan 23 01:08:55 PST 1998

Anyone who cares or is interested in helping out an ameteur,
Hello folks,
My name is Kevin Shelton and I am interested in writing a medieval fantasy story, with magic, dragons and many mythical creatures.
Here's my problem. In high school I received low C's andd D's in english so I will have a difficult time trying to write it. Also, I am having difficulty beginning the story. I know what I want my characters to accomplish. I have already created the main characters for the story. However, every time I sit at the compputer to write I never seem to get past putting Chapter One on the top of the page. I have handwritten notes galore every time I look at them a story seems to be screaming to get written but then I staart my computer and the interlock goes into effect. You know the one that prevents the ideas in your head from going into black and white copy.
If anyone could help me out I would greatly appreciate it.
V/r Kevin M. Shelton

Hayden Grayell Thu Jan 22 21:57:10 PST 1998


Man, you have such a way with words that I tremble before you. :-) You don't need Latin to fill in for the true grit of your words, and the methane detector was just the best piece of naRitive that I's ever did hear.

Tell them where to get off for me too. I'm too much of a gennelman, and the gin makes me slur m' words.

Gary Souza Thu Jan 22 20:12:42 PST 1998


I'm so glad you served as a point scout for us on the submission of your short story. I, for one, am going to look over my work very carefully for 'lumps of exposition' that may slow the story and tax the readers interest. I will also check for nodes of introspection and zits of clarification; perhaps even those nasty goose pimples of clarification and unseemly microbes of illustrative explication.

Then I'm going to stir them into a giant pot of really slobby, yucky swill and dump it on the head of the next editor I come across who dreams up another d...headed way to say "It's four o'clock and I'll try to squeeze in one or two more rejections before I rush off to the gin mill for a bracer."

I guess Im lucky that I really don't know enough Latin to tell an editor where he can put his eloquent criticisms if were able to find the specified anatomical location with both hands and a methane detector.

I thought I hated form letter rejections until I heard from the agent who hand wrote in the margin of my query that he didn't " narative style in novels." (The single r in narrative is not a typo.) He didn't say that he would crawl through an acre of fresh hippo dung to kiss the narrative ass of Tom Clancy and offer him his first born son as well, but he didn't have to.

Sorry to have rankled so, boys and girls, but it does get a bit much at times.

Oh, by the way, if you 'got' anything you want published on the web just send it to that E-mail adress somebody dropped off here. Today, anybody with a free Geocities home page--there are only a few million--can be a publisher. Ooh, I felt that one myself.

God bless all your pens, guys

Gary S.

P.S. Hayden, I salute you, dude. Just remember while you're stirring your coffee counterclockwise, that you have to look at the doughnut at times and forget about the hole.

T. M. Spell Thu Jan 22 17:03:23 PST 1998

Does anyone here "tailor" their work to a specific market? Wish I could. My usual method is to write something and then try to find a market that it will fit into.

I received a rejection from Worlds of Fantasy & Horror (formerly Weird Tales) today for a short story of mine entitled, "My Undying." Managing Editor Carol Adams was kind enough to inform me that the story contained "lumps of exposition" that slowed the story and caused the reader to lose interest. Also, I used Latin words to describe some of the more exotic items of clothing or food, and was told that the frequent use of these words detracted from, rather than enhanced, the setting. Apparently, what works for Colleen McCullough doesn't work for me.

So, after I run "My Undying" through the splicer (gotta expurgate those "lumps of exposition," I suppose), it's back to market.



Erin Cmuso Thu Jan 22 06:29:01 PST 1998

If you got anything you want published online send it to
my email and I'll publish it.

Erin Camuso Thu Jan 22 06:25:01 PST 1998

Keep writing!

Michele Thu Jan 22 01:15:57 PST 1998

Toby :- that was a brilliant post. I really liked the "Six fingers" story - you done good man !!

Toby B Wed Jan 21 19:22:42 PST 1998

Hi everyone. Just finished Six Fingers which has been one of my (favorite) backburner stories. It's nice to have completion. I don't know how if I'll ever post a story as I'm writing it like I did this, but I really enjoyed writing Six Fingers on the web, and even more, I thouroughly relished the feedback that I got and have been getting from various people. Thank you.

Babylon Five season premier is on as I speak. Oh yeah!

Have fun writing everyone. See ya' round.

Colleen Wed Jan 21 16:36:57 PST 1998

Just checking to see if Trudy is still out there? If so I'd like to exchange some writing for children info. and websites.

Hope all is well with you.

Rosemary Wed Jan 21 16:24:15 PST 1998

Hi everyone, especially Joan who checked on me at Christmas to see if I was still around (I was and am.) and Toby who makes us all look like slackers for not posting more of our work.(not saying no one is working, just not posting enough fiction.)
His story is filled with suspense and action and is a fun read.
Hope everyone had a good holiday season and is enjoying their writing.

Michele Wed Jan 21 06:20:57 PST 1998

Toooooobbbbbyy !!

How could you end it there ?? Honestly talk about keeping people in suspense !! Please, please, please post some more of "Six fingers" !! I want to know what happens !!


TMSpell Wed Jan 21 03:48:02 PST 1998

Hayden, I've tried a few things but had no luck changing the link colors so far. If the problem continues, I may change the backgrounds (that, at least, I know how to do).


Jack Beslanwitch Tue Jan 20 19:07:55 PST 1998

    Quick closing thoughts on Electronic Publishing before moving on to the topic I put in. I harvested a number of interesting ezine sites that pay rather well from Writer's Digest. They are on For Writers Only in What's New and in Electronic Publications. At least one of the markets is quoted in the Writers Digest article to pay a $1 per word. Enough said.

    Another for the current level of electronic publishing on desktops. Microsoft, Intel and Compaq are throwing in with at least three other baby bells (yes, this is US based information) on nailing down a standard for DSL modems and having them in our hands by, hopefully, Christmas next. What this means, if true, is bandwidth speeds of a meg a second and is set up to be on the net continually and allow pass through of voice lines while still on the net. Initially, this most likely will be prohibitively expensive for the average user, but the pressure is most likely on to make this pervasive. With 60 megs download in a minute, the nature of the web, web pages and electronic books will take on a whole new look. Certainly, expect to have multimedia components in online books, say a talking head, like your own, ready to explain in any point in the text what you really had in mind when writing this. Probably a truly bad idea, but I expect someone to be ego damaged enough to litter a manuscript with those kind of potential hot spots. That's just one. Consider what a page that expects 60 megs in a minute to be downloaded from your site can afford to do. I throw this out as a parting thought as we move on to a discussion of magazines, newspapers and small press.

p.s., sorry for all these frequent posts. I'll drop off and let others chime in. Take care and good story telling all.

Hayden Grayell Tue Jan 20 17:43:43 PST 1998

TM: the links do not seemed to have changed. Have you published them up to your server yet?

I was the Director of Raft Press (a 'private' press here in Australia) for four years. We published for artists and local writers/poets, as well as coordinating two large projects between Australia and New Zealand. We produced about 95 publications over that time, each with small print runs of 100-150 copies. Of those copies we would have sold only about 15 percent, even with government funding for marketing etc. Only serious collectors were interested in purchasing the works, or friends/relatives of the artists/writers/poets involved, or a few libraries who collect Australian works. In the end Raft Press was not financially viable. (Maybe it was the lousy Director we had!) and it was quite a sobering experience. (I tend to think I became bitter and twisted at about this time in my life, which is why I sit in cafes stirring my coffee counter-clockwise and staring at my donuts and grumbling about the holes in the middle.)

I can imagine the same experience happening if Raft Press was an electronic book producer. Though the overheads might be a little lower, the stinger in the tail is getting out into the face of the market...there is just not an 'in your face' approach that works on the internet that doesn't cause some nasty reaction. In the real world you are drawn by the covers to the books (or am I being too simplistic) but we don't have that option on the net. A list is not attractive enough. And graphics load too slowly at the present time. Mind you, I'd put a lot more "bells and whistles" into the marketing on the net than on a book on the shelf.

I don't know what I'm trying to say here, though I really appreciated the comments by Gary S, when he talked about "this has not replaced this" etc. because it was the bayonet point which was cutting to the heart of the matter. The cadaver doesn't mind the steel, but the ghost sits there thinking "that hurt!"

In the end, electronic books will be another part of life because it all comes down to compromise. In the search for "a living" we will negotiate with our dreams on what we write and when we write and which media we publish and who we write for.

Enough said. Except to say that Supplejack is finished and on its way, so back to the coffee and the donuts.


T. M. Spell Tue Jan 20 16:18:33 PST 1998

I was heavily involved in the small press during the late 80's and early 90s. I edited several small press magazines, including something called The Couch Potato Journal (my favorite). I published five issues of about 100 copies each of TCPJ. I lost money on every issue, which probably had more to do with my poor marketing skills than any other factor. This foray into citizen publishing gave me an opportunity to correspond with some talented people. The final issue of TCPJ sported cover art by Kevin D. Duncan (front cover), an award-winning comic artist, and Ruth Thompson (back cover), who soon after became an L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future winner; fiction by Will Prout and Kevin J. Lindenmuth; and poetry by John Grey, among others. Most of these names are probably only familiar in small press circles, but it was a privilege to publish these independent-minded young artists and get their work out to an audience, however small.

I also submitted poetry to several of the small press publications that I became familiar with while I was dabbling in citizen publishing. I sold practically every poem I ever submitted to markets that paid either cash or copies. I have never, EVER paid to have my poetry published. My reasoning is that if I can't give it away, if I have to pay someone to take it, there's probably a good reason why -- it's no bloody good. But publication in the small magazines, even if payment is just in copies, can help you build a solid (and credible) list of publication credits for use in cover letters to editors of larger publications; and I was just as happy to appear in, say, EOTU, as in The Panhandler, a magazine of poetry and fiction published by the English Department of the University of West Florida.

The same principle holds true for me where nonfiction is concerned. I have been published in newspapers with circulations in the hundreds of thousands, and in the hundreds, and been equally pleased to see my work in print. The only real difference to me was that the more well-known the publication, the better its name would look on a resume or in a cover letter.

On the other hand, I am very particular about where I send my short stories. For this market, I will *settle* for small press publication, but what I really *want*, what I really *value*, is publication in the professional fiction markets. I suppose the difference here is that getting published in the professional sf field is part of a life-long dream, whereas publication in the aforementioned fields of poetry and nonfiction/journalism have never been a part of that dream.

This attitude has nothing to do with commercialism. Getting paid to write is nice -- it keeps food on the table and gas in the car, and makes it possible to write more and work for corporate America less -- but it's not what's really exciting about professional publication. What really blows my mind is that (1) tens of thousands of people are going to read a story that I've written *and* (2) I'm taking a place alongside the people, the writers, who brought me here. I don't know why affirmation is such a crucial part of what makes professional publication feel like a triumph, or why most of the writers I know -- myself included -- prefer recognition in one specific field more than any other. Perhaps it's one of those psychological oddities peculiar to artists.

Take care.

Mon Jan 19 23:36:11 PST 1998

Small press, or at least magazines are suffering from some of the same problems that the big press is. Literary magazines are barely keeping their ships above water today and chew their nails over every story they print. They dread the thought that they might ruffle their profile reader and do everything possible to print nothing but work that would interest this hypothetical maggie buyer.

As for article writing, I personally would as soon write labels for canned goods. Magazines pander, and articles have to be tailored, again to suit the percieved taste of the buyer, and the rags do know their buyers well, and what buttons to push to keep them coming back. It's their key to survival. Many agents tell their submitters not to include magazine articles in their credentials.

Please don't take this to mean that I don't respect article writers. They have special skills for what they do and it isn't any writer who can do the work. For instance, if I am ordered to do a publicity article on Shannon Doherty and make her sound like the greatest thing since colored play dough, I am dead. My job is gone, but for the guy in the business it's just a day's work; maybe less. Definitely less.

Enough said, may you all be inspired to greatness.

Gary S

Jack Beslanwitch Mon Jan 19 16:08:05 PST 1998

It is perhaps time to opt for a new topic, so I have added one. As always, feel free to come up with an alternate one of your own. As I defined it in the popup window:

          Now that we have plumbed the length and breadth of electronic publishing and its strengths and weaknesses, why don't we return to the realm of paper and ink and bound covers. Only, what are peoples experiences with the whole area of small press, newspaper and larger more professional magazine publications. This could be an article, an essay, a short story or what have you. However, what are the ins and outs and considerations when gearing your writing efforts for a magazine market, be it small press or wide distribution. What are the logistical considerations of querying for guidelines and learning if they have topic oriented issues and where to find the best information on this.

  The broader topic that might be touched on is if the range of magazine, newspaper and other small piece markets constitute an interesting and particularly financially lucrative market for our writings. This stretches the envelope as far as what most of us are dealing with and writing about to areas of non fiction and essays as well, but it is perhaps worth a sharing of thoughts and ideas about it.

Mon Jan 19 10:46:43 PST 1998

Since Jack doesn't think we've fairly exhausted the topic of e-pubs, I scratched a bit deeper into my brain to try to verbalize what I believe, which is that books in the form we have always known have a much greater survivability quotient than our first fears about e-pubs would let us think.
Books, if not an art form within themselves are at least an institution within an art that has as much durability as the
art itself. History tends to support the idea.

Acrylics didn't replace pastels which didn't replace water-colors, which didn't replace oils,etc. Television didn't replace radio; the camera didn't replace the paint brush. The most that seems likely is that one thing changes the role of an existing medium, such as television changed the role of radio. The roles of art forms in our lives change even with out new media that seem to offer to replace them. The role of books has changed over the years before the arrival of the web.

If you look at how some of our correspondents have expressed their feelings about books as a part of their lives then you must see that there is something universal in that context and that books are going to stay around to fill that need.

Even though I write, I'm far from the biggest reader that I know; still every so often, I just have to buy a book.

Keep on punchin' you guys.

Gary S

Colleen Mon Jan 19 06:56:47 PST 1998

Hi again. In the workbook there are poets thriving. I'm begining to feel at home. As for electronic publishing, I haven't
responded because I am not fluent in electronic media. I do feel that a book, held in your hands has a sensory component to it
that a computer doesn't. When I am done e-mailing, web surfing and goofing around here, I still return to the comfort of a
book to end my day. I can't resist spending hours in libraries or at a large, maze like bookstore. Books have a soothing quality,
like chocolate or hot tea. Maybe it's just me, but I believe in them, especially the elegant, beautifully illustrated children's books
that exist. They are their own form of art. Because we can print artwork on a screen, does that mean we will no longer need
the canvas? I hope not. Books in themselves have value. Electronic media has a special place of it's own.

T. M. Spell Mon Jan 19 05:10:49 PST 1998

Hayden, thanks for visiting my webpage. I went into Explorer and lightened the hyperlinks. Hope they're easier to see, now.

Joan, glad you're still around. Hope things calm down at work so you can sit and chat awhile one weekend soon. :-)

Happy writing, all.

Jack Beslanwitch Sun Jan 18 22:45:25 PST 1998

OK, I have archived and you will now find a tabula rasa open to a much quicker load and lots of room for your thoughts and reflections. I am going to take another day before posting a new topic. I have several possibilities in mind, but think that there is still some room for our perusal of electronic publishing. If others have topics that might find of interest, please feel welcome to add those here. I may even reconsider and post that as our 'official' (as if there is anything official here, folks) topic for the week or so following. Take care and good story telling all.

p.s., Rustycon was fun and, by all reports, had a very successful writers workshop there.

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