Why going to the OWFI Conference is important

I have basically been on a hiatus from all things writing for nearly six months. Dealing with the legalities of handling my mother’s estate long-distance then segued into the excitement/stress of the holiday season. I’ve done a little editing on one work-in-progress but nothing as intensive as the several years prior. However, as I stated in an earlier post, I’m dusting off the old writer and bringing him back up to speed.

The one thing that will get the batteries recharged will be going to the OWFI Conference. This will be my fourth straight year, which pales in comparison to many who were involved for a far longer time. However, this will be important to me more than anything else except for writing itself. Let me tell you why.

I was involved in two critique groups. They were significant and helpful. The participants all respected each other and were prepared on the days we met. The sharing was equal. Despite convincing myself that I could be involved with writers outside my own genre, I felt on many occasions that my approach was not being understood. One argument is that a critique group focuses on craft regardless of genre. While this may be true to some extent, I didn’t feel like I was getting the boost that I needed. Also, critique groups are limited in their scope.

There was a writer’s support group that I started based on discussions with some friends at last year’s OWFI. It sounded like a good idea. Not a critique group where we shared actual work but a sounding board for ideas of both a craft and marketing nature. Unfortunately, it fell upon me to organize meetings with people of differing lifestyles and timetables. Whereas I insisted that there was no true leader, no one else stepped up. The notion of “support” fell apart.

I was associated with a writer’s group for a period of time. Too much politics, back-stabbing, attention to publishing over craft, and often times wound up steering into pure social hour. Plus, if you are on the board of such groups, it is necessary to play diplomat and assuage everyone’s concerns, especially if they are paying members.

Which brings us to OWFI. It is a conglomeration of both writer’s groups from Oklahoma and surrounding states but also allows for members-at-large who are not affiliated with any designated group. Therefore, the conference brings together a wide array of genres and publishing levels. They do not have ‘speakers’ but rather ‘faculty’ making this conference educational in nature. With the exception of niche genres and fringe writing styles, they have offerings for writers of all styles. It is held in an Embassy Suites hotel making it entirely convenient.

I am not seeking a narrow and limited assessment of my work. I do not need the politics of a regional organization. I prefer the camaraderie, information, and morale-boosting of the OWFI conference. If you are in the area, you should attend. If not, find something like it in your own area. Three days will fellow writers who are serious about their work lasts me the entire year.

The9mmSolution-ebook

When Metafiction crosses over into the “real world”

One of my current works-in-progress is a Metafiction. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is a literary device that draws attention to a work of fiction as an artifact, causing the relationship between reality and fiction. Two of the most well-known examples are The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne and The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth.

My work is called The Novel Titled ‘This is Not a Novel’,and it purports to be the fictional biography of a writer named H.B. Berlow by, strangely enough, a writer named H.B. Berlow. It then segues and criss-crosses with two other fictional biographies which may or may not be fictional. The whole purpose is to ask the question of how important it is to know of the history of a writer in order to appreciate his work. The mysterious life of writer B. Traven. who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, is a testament to this theme. He once said “The creative person should have no other biography than his works.”

Yet, even the notion of biography, autobiography, or memoir questions whether the information presented is factual and if it can be accurate. The nature of memory is always called into question. Police indicate that eyewitness testimony is less reliable than concrete facts. How can we possibly know the truth of anything if memory is not reliable enough?

The recent case of Brian Williams, a respected journalist and a man of integrity, causes us to reevaluate how events are created in the mind and then passed forward. Either Mr. Williams is a low-down and nefarious individual who, like most people on television, has an absolute need to be front and center in the spotlight…or, his memory is as suspect as anyone else on the planet.

I feel validated by the unfortunate series of events, knowing that my work-in-progress has a measure of basis in the real world. The irony is that my work of fiction that clouds the nature of reality should not so closely mirror that reality. Or should it?

The minefield of Historical Crime Fiction

About a year ago, I started work on a historical crime fiction set in Arkansas City, KS in 1934. It is far different in tone and setting than my previous works. Swan Song is a neo-noir hardboiled tale while The 9 mm Solution is more of a procedural. Not all crime fiction is alike.

However, I am already discovering the challenges of working in a time period dramatically outside my own. Here are a couple of examples:

The bad guy is making every effort to escape when suddenly his car breaks down. He pulls out his cell phone…no, wait. He doesn’t.

The policeman thinks he has seen the bad guy before but he can’t place him. Using the police department’s facial recognition software on the computers…ah, no. That’s not quite right either.

What we currently take for granted in our daily lives must be erased, in essence, in order to consider exactly what would have been done over 80 years ago. It’s not just the technology, or lack thereof. The minutiae that make up our days has to be re-examined. There is no Walmart, perhaps not even a grocery store per se. Telephone service is limited; long-distance calling requires a different kind of connection. Communication is not as pervasive. There is no television and radio is the most “real-time” information system available. Perhaps there is the picture show or people getting together to play bridge or canasta. Going to the bathroom, taking a shower, doing the dishes — they are all different from what we are used to.

Naturally, in this piece, I don’t need to show my protagonist brushing his teeth or doing laundry. However, it is necessary to know how these things were done. It may be discussed in dialogue or referenced. I know there are readers who do nothing but pick apart every detail and nuance looking for an error, and I am certain I will make some. So, the task in working my way through this minefield is to show just detail to provide the feeling of the period without going overboard so that it detracts and allows the picky individuals to declaim the work.

Wish me luck.

Gloria Berlow (1924-2014), an overdue tribute

She was born Charlotte Gloria Entin on April 29, 1924, the youngest child of Joseph and Elizabeth Entin. She did not like the name Charlotte. But, let’s hold off on that until later. She had an older brother, Moe, and an older sister, Pearl.
Baby

Moe would become a respected doctor and Pearl would marry a pharmacist. If you measure success in Life by those standards, I can tell you right now, she was not a successful lady. However, she had other values of a higher nature.

She survived scarlet fever as an infant. This was supposed to cause her heart to be weaker. I never saw any evidence of that. In fact, she had a big heart.

When World War II broke out, she enlisted into the Navy and was stationed in San Francisco.

Navy

It was well known that Bostonians were famous the world over for jaywalking. The story goes that, one evening when out with some friends, she was, well, acting like a Bostonian. An MP’s whistle blew and he called out “Hey, Boston. Get back on the sidewalk.” She was thoroughly embarrassed.

After the war, her friend Shirley Bailey fixed her up on a blind date with a friend of her husband Benny. George Berlow never let the effects of childhood polio get in the way of being charming, adventurous, and loving. They eloped in September of 1947, taking the train from Boston to New York City, stopping in Hartford to get married by a Justice of the Peace. Cute, huh? The real fascinating part of this was that they continued to live in their respective homes until they could break the news to her mother, a woman engrained in the Old Country.

On December 31, 1947, they were married in a religious ceremony.

Wedding

Life was not always easy. George was not a doctor or pharmacist but he did do everything to provide for his growing family. Three sisters preceded me. Even at the age of 38, Gloria was a loving and doting mother, from the cute new baby boy…

With Baby

to the high school graduate.

Graduation

All the while, George and Gloria enjoyed their lives together, going on vacations with their children, supplementing their income selling antiques, and creating an environment of art and culture and love. And books in every room of the house. (Perhaps I was destined to be a writer.)

70's

Okay, the styles weren’t always ideal but they made the most of them.

They moved to Florida in 1986, away from the bitter cold of New England winters. They were able to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary before George passed away in October of 2012.

Ma and Dad

She didn’t cry. She said he had been suffering for years and he was now at peace. She amazed us all with a strength that, honestly, we never knew she had. It was at this time that she requested to be called Charlotte. She was coming into her own.

She died one day after her 90th birthday. She had a stubbornness about her that was actually endearing. I am quite certain it was a trait I inherited. My greatest joy was being able to make her laugh until she was in tears. Laughter was another trait I inherited from her. It does the soul good.

I miss her greatly. But knowing my parents are together, free from pain, holding hands, and kissing like silly teenagers, is a warm and comforting thought.

I’m back! (Kinda. Sorta. Almost.)

When my mother passed away last year, it was one day before the OWFI Conference. Certainly, it was difficult, but there was no other option but to go and it is what my mother would have wanted. She and my late father always supported and promoted my writing. Creativity has long been a part of my family.

Over the course of the next several months, there were the legalities to go through involving the sale of her house. This was to be a long distance venture: the house was in Florida and I’m in Kansas. I chose who I thought was a reputable title company and went through an excruciating process based on my inability to make calls from work and time zone differences. There is far more to this part of the story but the details are not the issue. The bottom line is an unnecessary amount of stress was placed upon me by people who were far less than professional.

Then came the holidays.

In the meantime, I had to take a hiatus from my critique group. What started as temporary seems permanent. I had to recuse myself from attending meetings of the writer’s support group which I started. I pulled back and into a shell. The last quarter of the year I didn’t do a single bit of writing. I did some editing on a work in progress once or twice. In essence, I disappeared as a writer and, in so doing, lost my identity.

Well, the holidays have passed, my New England Patriots have won the Super Bowl, and I’m ready to start up again. I have to; there is no other choice. The alternative is to wind up like Amos Hart from “Chicago” (i.e. Mr. Cellophane). Life is too short to be occupied solely with the mundane and trivial. As writers, we create and bring to life the widest possibilities that exist around us. It is a feeling which I need to have again.

I will be doing a final draft on my Transgressive fiction piece, expanding it and making it even wilder than it is. I will be working on a second draft of the Meta-fiction, trying to expound on the notion of the Writer vs. the Writing. I will be picking up where I left off on my historical crime fiction.

Now, notice how I said “will be.” There are still a few plates that need to be cleared from the table, a better organization of my time, and a renewed dedication. So, I’m back, just not all the way yet.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Genre Discussion

This could wind up upsetting a few people.

I don’t like Fantasy. Never been a Tolkein fan. Don’t like world-building, dragons, elves, or other imaginary creatures. Something about it that I can’t relate to, not because I don’t have an imagination, but more like no sense of grounding in reality to me.

But…I do appreciate the moral codes, the notions of Good vs. Evil, Chaos vs. Order, and the fight to achieve a goal. These archetypes intrigue me far greater than a battle of huntsman.

I don’t like Romance. NEVER read a Harlequin book. Don’t like Fabio or the images drawn from his physique. Wild emotions, contrived plots, cavalier attitudes, they all seem unreal to me.

But…melodrama is a reality and the notion of romantic attitudes is necessary. They are Human emotions and if you have your heart set on writing about real types of people, emotion is a vital component.

I don’t like Sci-Fi. I grew up with a black rotary phone; now I have a Smartphone. Okay, so I’ve adapted to the techie world, but I don’t want to read about it. Most of it is like Fantasy with technology.

But…since I don’t write Historical Fiction where all technology is eliminated, I have to recognize the progress of the Modern World and use it sparingly within the context of my own writing.

Detractors will ask how many Fantasy or Romance or Sci-Fi books I have read, tell me I’m a fool because I haven’t read this classic or that one, advise me that my premise is unstable because of my lack of extensive reading. That argument holds no weight. Whether you are an avid reader or a writer, choices have to be made. There is only so much time for all the artistic components when you consider the rest of your daily obligations.

I have chosen to read certain genres or the specific books that I like that suit my needs as well as my pleasures. It is disingenuous to attempt to satisfy someone by implying that I will read a recommendation on their part if the genre doesn’t suit me. I would prefer suggestions to be based on their knowledge and understanding of my interests, not theirs. If I have read about a classic piece of Fantasy or Romance or Sci-Fi, I might suggest it to you. But I won’t turn around and suggest you read a good Chandler or Ellroy, knowing full well that your interests lay elsewhere.

Point me in the right direction and I promise not to lead you astray. We may be able to find common ground as writers or readers of different genres. If we do, all the better. If not, I’ve already got an extensive book list, so thank you just the same.

The Writer or the Writing

Okay, try this out. You read a new novel or a short story or a collection of poetry. You are highly impressed. What’s the first thing you do?

Do you look up the author on Google or Wikipedia? I do. I can’t help myself. I like the work but I’m more interested in the author. This isn’t usually the case with looking up the director of a movie or the painter of a work of art. But with fiction, something within us wants to know about the person who created the work.

We SHOULD be going on to Amazon to find other works so we can read more by this person who has intrigued us with their abilities. But instead we focus on the person.

This is the premise behind my current work-in-progress (currently on hold per my last blog post). It is a metafiction titled The Novel Titled “This is Not a Novel.” The title itself is an enigma. The work purports to be the fictional biography of a writer named H.B. Berlow….written by myself, a writer whose name is H.B. Berlow. Then it deviates into various biographies or other works of fiction by various writers from past times whose initials were the same. A literary joke, a pretentious conceit, or food for thought? It is intended to be the latter.

While it is true that some authors’ personal histories are intriguing to the point where they would “make a good story”, I truly believe that, marketing aside, the focus should be squarely on the work itself. Literary critics use all aspects of a work to provide erudite analysis. What they do not do is talk about the author’s life.

Take the example of B. Traven, the author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre which was made into the Academy Award winning film starring Humphrey Bogart. This individual did everything possible to cloud the history, circumstances, and details of his life. To this day, there is no concrete answer. By doing this, he has unintentionally diverted interest in his work to the mystery of his life.

All of which makes me ask the question: Why is the author’s life more significant than his work? For right now, I am going to keep living and keep writing. I hope you will still be interested.

This kinda sucks

I realized it has been a long time since I’ve added anything to this tale of my journey as a writer. This is, I realize, largely due to the fact that the train has slowed somewhat dramatically. An extended and long distance effort to finalize my late mother’s estate has drained me to the point of mental and emotional exhaustion. A labor-intensive home renovation project has made me feel trapped in my own home. And, of course, the “joy” of the holidays is upon us.

I just wish this year would end.

To free myself of burdens, I’ve departed from a writer’s support group that I started and effectively ended my critique group. I’ve been able to sneak in two or three editing sessions on one of the four projects I was actively working on at the time that everything came to a head.

But, it occurred to me that I have other responsibilities as a married man, a homeowner, a full-time employee. I have accepted these responsibilities unlike the carefree days of a Bohemian poet in Boston twenty years ago. I can’t write every day as some mantras declare. As it turns out, sometimes you can’t write at all.

I have stated in the past that the most invigorating times are when I am writing or with other writers. This has not dissipated. However, I have not stopped BEING a writer merely because I am not actively writing. I read, every day at work. (Currently on Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman as a way to inform my own work of metafiction.) I peruse my non-fiction books at home. I play around on the internet seeking general information or go off on a research tangent simply as a way to jump-start my brain.

In essence, I realize that I am not fading away (although from a social networking sense, I HAVE been rather quiet). From a literary standpoint, I would call it more like hibernation. Yes, there is still the issue of my mother’s estate and finishing the remodel and getting through the holidays. But The Writer is still alive.

Nevertheless, this still kinda sucks.

A Conflict of Interest: Real Life vs. Writing

I’m actually two people. First, there’s the married homeowner with a full-time job who has not won the lottery nor is independently wealthy and needs to pay the bills. Then, there’s the Writer. You see my dilemma?

Twenty-five years ago, living in a rooming-house in Boston, with a job at a music store, and only my friends and integrity to concern myself with, Real Life was something other people had. There were jobs with shirts and ties, mortgages,cars with insurance and gas tanks, and social obligations that had nothing to do with Artistic Development. Those people must have been boring, I reasoned. The only thing I needed to do was to get to work on time, pay my landlady on time, and get to a myriad of poetry readings at a respectable time.

Time is now a dictator, setting the parameters and authorizing the schedule. No, I don’t wear a shirt and tie, but I do have a mortgage and a car with insurance and a gas tank to fill, and household obligations that far exceed my social desires. Writing is just another chore that gets fit in like mowing the lawn or taking out the garbage. It’s not anywhere as droll as those tasks but its place in my life is about as mundane.

Now, I could tell you that I am most fulfilled when I’m writing and I enjoy most the company of other writers and be passionate when I say these things. However, the words are not going to alter the undeniable facts of personal responsibility. Those “youngsters” I watch in the coffeehouses, genuflecting and bemoaning their McJobs and lack of financial resources and their emotional angst amuse me when I think that the last time they mowed a lawn was as a teenager to earn a few extra dollars. Eating out is far simpler than going grocery shopping and less time-consuming. Fewer possessions mean less maintenance. Their lives should be far simpler than mine. So, why are they complaining so much.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. I recognize that there are Priorities and Responsibilities that supersede Desires. I might not always have enough time to write and to discuss writing. That’s okay. As long as I never lose the DESIRE to write, as long as I never allow Real Life to drown the Writer, I should be just fine.

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