NaNoWriMo-a-Go-Go

November 1, 2009

Well it’s here again: NaNoWriMo – National November Writing Month – that one month perfectly positioned to interfere to the max with Christmas shopping and Thanksgiving cooking. That one month of literary madness optimally placed so those of us with seasonal-affective-disorder can capitalize on the profound lack of creativity and drive that the dark, depressing evenings of November brings… ah how I love it.

In spite of it’s cruel timing, I have to be serious and say that participation in NaNoWriMo is a must for any budding author, especially those prone to procrastination like myself. There is no better way to just force yourself to write. NaNo is about pushing ahead, regardless of quality. It’s about learning to finish the birthing process before attempting to back and clean the baby up. It’s an exercise in willpower, time management and good habits and, for those of us prone to self-editing, self-doubt, and inclined to over-research, it is absolutely invaluable.

If any of you are participating in NaNo this year, please feel free to add me to your buddy list. The more the merrier. Plus, I’m a competitive fiend and if your word count gets bigger than mine I will bust my balls to catch up with you…

Everybody wins.

Except for my poor balls.

You can find me here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/154526

Hope to see you soon!

~CGW

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Abyss and Apex magazine have just published my story “Epitaph In Oak”. You can read it online here: Epitaph In Oak.

Abyss and Apex is the biggest market to have accepted one of my stories so far and I’m pretty jazzed about the honor.

I don’t know if this is the best story I’ve written, but I can tell you it was easily the toughest. I was physically drained after imaging this scenario because I got attached to the character of Portland during the writing process. He kind of took on a life of his own. I might include him in some other stories should I ever write prequel pieces to this.

I need to give a big thanks to the members of the Milwaukee Writer’s Workshop and Boone Dryden who really helped me work the kinks out of the first draft.

I hope you enjoy it and, as always, any comments or critiques (even negative ones) are very much appreciated.

~CGW

Choose Your Monster

October 22, 2009

Monster composite

I’m not the biggest fan of “rules” when it comes to horror fiction. After all, most of the classic stories throughout horror history tended to flaunt the established “rules” of the time, pushing into new territories and evolving the genre. They dared to break the rules and that’s why they were remembered. One of the phrases that gets thrown around these days is “Resist the Usual”, and I’m all for that.

However, I am a proponent of “guidelines” and plain old good advice… and here’s some I definitely believe in…

CHOOSE ONE MONSTER AND STICK WITH IT.

I was reading a novel the other day by a well known horror author (whose name shall remain anonymous). The novel started out well, with an enthralling and creepy scenario involving re-animated zombies. I was hooked, and I settled down for a engrossing evening of reading.

Then the author introduced a witch with the power to disintegrate people with magical fire.

“Okay,” I thought, “I can live with this. Perhaps the witchcraft is the cause of the zombies, my belief elastic can stretch that far. No worries…”

Then the author introduced psychic dreams.

“Okaaay,” I thought – adding an extra couple of a’s to the ‘okay’ for emphasis – “perhaps the witchcraft that caused the zombies can also cause psychic premonitions.”

My belief elastic was starting to strain a little.

Then the author introduced ghosts…

Then strange dinosaur monsters…

And finally vampires.

My belief elastic snapped. My involvement in the story fell to zero. I speed-read the end of the novel without really giving a damn about anything else that happened… no matter how action packed or well written it was.

I once read a “how to” book on horror writing by William F. Nolan (of ‘Logan’s Run’ and ‘Burnt Offerings’ fame) and he gave the advice to limit your stories to one, or at most two, different forms of antagonist.

In other words, you might just get away with a plot about the ghosts of aliens (Stephen King’s ‘The Tommyknockers’), and you might just get away with a plot about werewolves fighting vampires (the Underworld movies), but it’s unlikely you’ll get away with a plot about the ghosts of aliens fighting werewolves, vampires and serial killers.

I have no idea why this is so, perhaps readers are only willing to suspend disbelief up to a certain point, but I do believe the best horror fiction has a tendency to stick to just one type of monster.

~CGW

Rett Syndrome

October 20, 2009

Some close friends of mine recently learned that their little girl has a debilitating neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome.

I hadn’t heard of this syndrome until now… and I’m a biology major! So I thought I’d take a quick, and very worthwhile, detour from the writing related posts to bring attention to this this little-known disease.

If you have just a spare few minutes, please click on the flower icon below and take a quick look at this very worthwhile cause…

Thanks!

~CGW

girlpower2cure

Ah, sweet rejection

October 4, 2009

Sorry about the month-long hiatus folks, it’s been a particularly busy one.

I think I want to talk about rejection today. I submitted a new story to a semi-pro market a few weeks back and this morning it came back with the following neat, impersonal, fairly standard rejection letter:

Thank you for your recent submission to _________.
Sadly, we regret to inform you that we are declining acceptance at this time. Good luck in placing this submission elsewhere.
Sincerely,
The __________ Team

The creation of the story in question took approximately forty hours at the keyboard. Forty hours, that is, if I don’t include the additional ten hours of pacing around the house thinking up the details, five hours of walking down the street muttering to myself like a madman while trying to nail a line of dialogue, four hours of staring mindlessly into space piecing together a conflict resolution, and three nights of restless sleep while I dreamed about the characters doing strange things like shopping for shoes at Pick n’ Save or hiking the Swiss Alps.

After all that hard work, how dare they reject me so impersonally!

Why I oughta…

Of course, I’m kidding. Rejections don’t really affect me much. In fact, I find them kind of addictive. Submitting stories is a little bit like archery. Except that the target sometimes moves, sometimes changes size and shape, and usually demands that your arrow be of a particular style, color, and length before you fire it.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that there are already a hundred other arrows heading towards the target at the same time, all competing for the same airspace and all vying for that tiny amount of real-estate that is the bullseye.

This is sport, people. Enjoy it.

But I’ve met some authors on my travels who have a truly hard time with rejection. Some people have a tendency to take it personally when it is actually anything but. Yes, receiving a rejection could mean that the editor didn’t like your story. Hell, sometimes it may mean that the editor doesn’t like you. But that’s often not the case.

Let’s consider just a few of the possible reasons a story may get rejected even though it was a perfectly good story.

    1. The market closed temporarily just as your story arrived.
    2. The market already accepted a story that was similar in tone, theme, or plot to yours for that month and doesn’t want to double-up.
    3. The market already has more than enough accepted stories for the foreseeable future and is sending out automatic rejections.
    4. The market may have had space for one more story but needed one of a particular length to fill a spot.
    5. The market might have run out of cash for the month and is accepting no more stories.
    6. The story may be beautiful but the editors think their readership wouldn’t connect with it.

Of course, sometimes the blame may lie with the author. If your story isn’t formatted according to the market submission guidelines; if it’s rife with spelling errors; if you’ve submitted a vampire story when they clearly said no vampire stories; if you submitted a horror story to a science fiction magazine; if you sent in your manuscript on hot pink card stock thinking it would make it stand out from the crowd… you get the drift. I’m not going to harp on these things because they’re common sense and if you get rejected for them, well, that’s your fault.

(Incidentally, I’ve been rejected for some of them. Hey, we learn by our mistakes, right?)

So you’ve responsibly made sure your arrow is the required length, shape, color and style. You have the bowstring drawn taught and you’re ready to unleash, but in the distance you can see that target – indistinct, morphing, uncertain…

How can you possibly land that arrow?

Well here comes the good news: there’s no reason to get nervous, no reason to despair, because the landscape in front of you is littered with targets. There are hundreds, nay thousands of places you can aim for. So the golden rule of getting accepted is to just keep on firing those arrows; the statistics are on your side and probability alone says that sooner or later, you’re going to land a bullseye.

~CGW

I just got confirmation from Brit Marschalk, Editor of The Town Drunk that my story “I Think I Broke My Human” is now up on their site for the world to see.

This was a quirky flash fiction piece inspired by the customer service transcripts you see doing the rounds in humorous emails sometimes. I found myself wondering what a customer service transcript might look like in a world where human beings were no longer the ruling species.

The odd thing about this piece is the variety of reactions it elicits. I personally thought it was funny and I wrote it as flat-out comedy, but my wife and sister-in-law both read it and found it deeply disturbing.

I suppose that says something about my sense of humor.

To be honest, I thought this one was going to end up as one of my trunk stories. I was afraid the unusual layout and grammar might make it unpublishable. So I’d like to thank The Town Drunk profusely for taking a chance on it.

You can read the story here. Please let me know what you think.

~CGW

A sense of ease

September 1, 2009

When I was in my early twenties I had a brief love affair with golf. I would spend hours at the driving range, hitting my basket of Titleist feverishly towards the furthest flags (and sometimes at the ball retrieval vehicle).

I even took a few lessons with the local pro, and it was during those lessons I learned something amazing: the furthest, most accurate hits are the ones that feel the easiest.

Golfers talk of a “sweet spot” and boy do you know when you’ve hit it. You feel nothing at all – no impact vibration in the club, barely any sound even – it’s like you just swung through thin air, and yet there goes that ball, into the distance, in a beautiful, arrow-straight arc.

By comparison, there are those shots where you think too hard, spend long minutes lining yourself up, adjusting your grip, angling the club head, thinking about your posture, and the end result is a horrific clang that leaves your wrists feeling like you just hit an Abrams tank with a baseball bat.

I never could master that sweet spot, so I gave up golf.

As I read and study the works of professional authors I admire, I get the same feeling that I did when I used to watch the pro swing effortlessly through the ball. There’s the same strange sense of ease in their work. It doesn’t matter if the style is chatty and loose or crisp and polished, the ease is still present.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples, the first from Stephen King’s epic tale of the apocalypse, The Stand:

She walked very slowly, even more slowly than she felt she had to, because even at eight-thirty the sun was fat and powerful. She didn’t sweat much — there wasn’t enough excess flesh on her bones to wring the sweat out of — but by the time she’d reached the Goodella’s mailbox, she had to rest a bit. She sat in the shade of their pepper tree and ate a few fig bars. Not an eagle or taxicab in sight, either. She cackled a little at that, got up, brushed the crumbs off her dress, and went on. Nope, no taxicabs. The Lord helped those that helped themselves. All the same, she could feel her joints tuning up; tonight there would be a concert.

And here’s another from The Screaming Woman by the inimitable Ray Bradbury:

My name is Margaret Leary and I’m ten years old and in the fifth grade at Central School. I haven’t any brothers or sisters, but I’ve got a nice father and mother except they don’t pay much attention to me. And anyway, we never thought we’d have anything to do with a murdered woman.
When you’re just living on a street like we live on, you don’t think awful things are going to happen, like shooting or stabbing or burying people under the ground, practically in your back yard. And when it does happen, you don’t believe it. You just go on buttering your toast or baking a cake.

Regardless of content, did you feel how easy that was? I don’t know about you, but personally I didn’t stop reading once to consider the mechanics of the writing. There were no clever turns of phrase that yanked me out of the flow, no uncommon words that had me reaching for the dictionary, no places where an awkward sentence forced me go back to reread. But style issues aside, there’s something else there too – a feeling that the authors didn’t have to work too hard to achieve the words. Almost a feeling that they relaxed, took faith in innate storytelling skill, and let the pen do the rest of the work.

I constantly find myself amazed by this almost indefinable sense of ease I see in the work of the best authors. I wonder what us amateurs can do to to foster it in our own work?

Perhaps it’s just a case of writing so much, for so many years, that it becomes possible to tell a story without having to go back for too many re-writes. I’ve found that I can definitely re-work a story to death if I go at it for too long. As terrible as first drafts usually are – they are also often the most fluid, natural and honest version of the story you’re trying to tell. Maybe the sense of ease that the pros display is nothing more than the ability to almost nail it first time round – so they get to keep most of that magic. Maybe it’s being so familiar with the tools of the trade that they really don’t have to work too hard. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Please comment and let me know your thoughts…

~CGW

“Said bookisms”

August 20, 2009

Here’s an instant tip for improving every story you ever write.

At the end of your first draft, run a search on quotation marks (“). Somewhere near each quotation mark in your story, you’ll likely have placed a dialogue tag, like this:

“I’m almost out of ideas,” said John.

Here’s the tip. Every time that dialogue tag is something other than the word ‘said’, replace it with ‘said’ instead.

‘Said’ is a beautiful word. It’s like a good makeup – you can’t see it but it smooths away all the wrinkles anyway. Your reader now knows who is saying what, except they don’t really know that they know. This is because ‘said’ is an invisible word. Psychological studies show that when we read a story we gloss over ‘said’ without even realizing it. It’s a quiet, discreet word that doesn’t yank the reader violently out of the story.

A couple of others that are passable are ‘asked‘ and, very rarely, ‘shouted‘ or ‘whispered‘.

On the other hand, try these on for size:

“I’m almost out of ideas,” hollered John.

“I’m almost out of ideas,” shrieked John.

“I’m almost out of ideas,” commented John.

“I’m almost out of ideas,” hissed John.

“I’m almost out of ideas,” exclaimed John.

Without being too blunt, they’re all crap. Big, horrible, smelly horsecrap. Horsecrap with fat blue flies buzzing around it. The same goes for shouted, demanded, declared, murmured, inquired, queried, replied, implied, barked, laughed, and sneered and all such similar words. They reek of amateur writing and I think I’m speaking the truth when I say most editors, if bombarded with enough of them, will throw your story straight onto the rejection pile.

The actual term for such words is “said bookisms“, and we’re all guilty of them to some degree. Sometimes they slip out without us realizing it in the fervor of typing; sometimes we put them in intentionally because we feel like we’re using the word ‘said’ too much and we’ve forgotten that it’s actually invisible. Whatever the reason, don’t. Just… don’t.

~CGW

To spin a poor simile, writing fiction is a little bit like cooking. You take your ingredients – usually a variety of characters – you marinade them overnight in something juicy to give them flavor, then you toss them into a pot (or plot, as the case may be) with a number of literary devices sprinkled in for good measure. You stir like crazy, hoping you’ve achieved the right temperature and cooking time, then you give it to someone else to taste and hope they don’t spit it back in your face.

But what of those ingredients? What if you’ve used an ingredient that your diners have eaten so much of in the past that they don’t care for it anymore? Or what if you missed an ingredient that they were expecting so they send the dish back with a complaint?

I’m speaking of course of tropes and clichés.

I think before we go much further we should define the terms. We could argue semantics all day but here’s my take:

Trope: A commonly used theme, motif, or convention of a given genre that is still considered effective or useful as a plot device (e.g. a spacecraft crash-lands on an alien planet and…)

Cliché: A theme, motif, or convention of a given genre that has been overused so much it makes readers want to tear their own eyes out (e.g. buff guy and hot girl defeat the menace and then kiss. Sun sets, roll credits…)

(note to linguistics nerds: I’m fully aware I’m not using the term trope correctly here, and that the word is generally misused. A trope is in fact a rhetorical figure of speech, and what I really mean here by “trope” is “topos” (plural: “topoi”) – a commonplace convention in literature. I choose to use the word trope instead because, well, everyone else is doing it. And also because no one I’ve ever met has heard of Topos before and they usually think it means something tasty you spread on a pita bread…)

I think the key to successful genre fiction (and by successful I mean stories that your target readers will willingly pay for) is to get your tropes in place – hopefully in a fresh and rewarding way – without tipping the balance over into cliché. In other words, use the ingredients they want and expect, but throw out the ones they’ve become tired of.

But how do we tell if we’re writing a trope or a cliché?

We might start by thinking about how a trope becomes a cliché. They are, after all, the same animal in different stages of cultural development. Here’s what I think…

A cliche is a trope that got famous.

That’s right. I believe that an innocent and once interesting convention, when bathed in enough limelight and adored by enough eyes, becomes culturally jaded. This can happen in two ways:

1) A trope finds itself in single work of exceptional magnitude – one that changes the face of a culture and becomes hailed as a “timeless classic”. This is how, for example, Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings took a simple premise – the ragtag band of underdogs on a quest across a dangerous landscape – and turned it into possibly the most overused plot device in modern fantasy fiction.

2) A trope, while not brought to stardom by a single seminal work, may instead find itself used in a multitude of smaller works to the same effect – reaching such a large audience through so many mediums that it becomes jaded. This is perhaps why we are constantly subjected to the alcoholic suicidal private detective, the cop who refuses to draw his gun, or the hooker who’s just in it to make money for college dammit!

So what to do, what to do?

I’ll go with the power of three here…

1) Don’t worry too much. Certainly too many clichés can destroy a good story, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever achieve a completely cliché-free work, no matter how hard we try.

2 ) Get your initial drafts read by as many people as possible, especially editors of small press magazines and ezines. These folks have seen every cliché in the book a hundred times over and they won’t hesitate to tell you if you inadvertently included a whopping big one in your piece. More importantly listen to them when they tell you so.

3) Know your genre and your culture. Keep an eye on what’s currently selling through publications such as Writer’s Digest. Find your genre’s top pro-zines through websites like Duotrope or Ralan and read them voraciously. Watch TV, watch movies, and of course read, read, read. The best defense against the accidental cliché is a good offense.

With all this said, there are some writers for whom cliché is a strength rather than a weakness. A writer who knows his or her genre well enough to poke innocent fun at such conventions can become very commercially successful. A writer aware and talented enough to turn a cliché on it’s head at the last moment can surprise and delight a reader. I’d cite screenwriter Joss Whedon as a good example of this talent. In an episode of Whedon’s Firefly, protagonist Malcolm Reynolds says to his crew “If I’m not back in one hour… you come down there and you get me!” (the quote is from memory so if there are any hardcore Browncoats out there, I apologize if it’s slightly off.) It’s a wonderful, humorous moment that defines the character perfectly and re-engages the viewer through the unexpected twist of a common phrase. Clichés usually aren’t our best friends, but they aren’t always the enemy either…

~CGW

Wearing masks

August 15, 2009

Question for you…

When you write. Should you write as yourself?

Before you read further into this post I’ll warn you that I’m not the one with the answer.

The question came to my mind yesterday as I was writing a scene in a new short story. The story involves the abduction of a woman by a sexually deviant sociopath and by its very nature it requires some disturbing narrative. You may find this amusing, but as a budding horror writer, I’m often a little ashamed to put down on paper some of the heinous imaginings that go through my head. That’s normally why I deal in supernatural events – because I don’t usually find realistic human-on-human violence entertaining and I’m a little concerned about attaching my name to a bloody knife blade.

But now and then, as I think most horror writers would testify, a story requires – or even demands – human violence and you can do nothing about it but meekly write it down, a humble and obedient servant of the living word.

I was talking briefly to comedian a couple of weeks ago and he mentioned that he’s never afraid onstage because he’s playing a character – wearing a mask – and if the audience doesn’t approve then it’s not him they don’t approve of, but his character instead. This explained to me how many of the comedians I know can appear bold and brash on stage yet introverted and even sometimes insecure offstage.

Stage magicians too, I think, often display their art from behind masks… some of them literally of course, but even someone who appears to be just a Regular Joe may put on a subtle veneer of charm and extroversion so their patter and distraction can function as well as it needs to.

And of course we see it in politicians all the time. I might go as far as to say politics is the professional practice of donning the right mask at the right time.

So my thought for the day is this: can we writers afford the same dissociation from our own personalities in order to write things we normally wouldn’t be comfortable with? Or does our art require a level of honesty that prevents such psychological trickery?

Can we wear masks, and indeed, should we?

~CGW

A matter of control

August 3, 2009

Because my wife is a stand-up comedian, I spend a great deal of time sitting in shows watching comics do their thing. Sometimes, though, I watch the audience instead of the comics. While doing just this a few days ago I came to a realization. Here I was, sitting in a room full of people who had willingly paid to sit in the dark, to sink into anonymity, and to listen to the opinions of a spotlit individual standing on a raised pedestal, holding an electronic tube designed to make their voice heard above all others.

This struck me as a little strange. Most of the time our basic human nature is to try to stand out from the crowd, to be noticed and remembered. Why then this willingness to pay for a night of obscurity and anonymity beneath the shadow of a stage entertainer?

After mulling this around in the old noggin’ for a while, I came to a possible conclusion:

I think we all like to be controlled once in a while.

I’m no psychologist, and Freud would probably play twister in his grave if he heard me say this, but it seems to make sense. Most of us are raised under a mantle of parental control; we have fond (or sometimes not so fond) memories of our parent’s authority. From an evolutionary standpoint, the offspring of our ancestors that were hardwired to at least pay a little heed to parental control were probably the most likely to survive, right? Maybe not, but it sounds rational to me.

It’s easy to think those people sitting wreathed in smoke and darkness in the comedy bar had paid to be entertained. But did they really? If we dig on a deeper – perhaps subconscious – level, is it possible they were really there to be manipulated?

As with most of the cultural arts, the theory can easily be extended and transferred to the world of writing too. If I’m perfectly honest with myself, when I sit down with a new novel, yes certainly I’m looking for entertainment, and yes, I’m probably hoping to learn a thing or two; but most of all – I’m prostrating myself, opening and offering myself up for manipulation. The authors I come back to again and again are those who have successfully controlled my thoughts and engaged my emotions in the past. They are the master puppeteers, architects of false affecting circumstances. The longer and more effectively they control me, the quicker I will pick up their next work and willingly pay for the contrivance.

In our society today, manipulative and controlling are largely negative terms. People to whom those words are applied are typically avoided; works of art to which they are applied are viewed as base, unsophisticated, and worthless.

But I would argue otherwise. I would argue that the very best literature is that which has the means to control us in the most subtle and powerful ways possible.

~CGW

For the love of fantasy

July 27, 2009

More than a little miffed that I couldn’t get to COMIC-CON this year, I consoled myself instead with a visit to the Bristol Renaissance Faire down on the Illinois border. The Bristol Renfaire is one of the more highly regarded Renfaires in the country (or so I’m told). It truly is a fun day out, and particularly amusing one to me because it’s really a warped version of what America thinks historical Europe was like.

But I’m not going to be a history snob about that and here’s why…

…because fantasy is where it’s really at.

And to see this many people gathered in the name of fantasy truly does the ailing heart of a speculative fiction writer some good!

Costume Contest at the Bristol Renfaire 2009

I got around to seeing Watchmen last night.

I’m not a big comic book reader and although I read the novel back in my teens, it didn’t make much of an impact on me back then and I’d basically forgotten the story by the time I saw the movie. I gave the cinema release a miss too, citing too many negative IMDB reviews and the unfavorable expense-ratio of cinema tickets to my measly paycheck.

So let me get this off my chest for a moment. Ahem…

Curse you IMDB haters! And curse me for listening to you and hence missing this excellent tale on the big screen!

That’s better. Thanks.

I suppose I should mention that I don’t intend to talk about movies a whole lot in this journal, but I’m going to make an exception for Watchmen, not because I enjoyed it so much but because it taught me a valuable lesson about storytelling.

I’m currently working on a novel called Wick that has been growing and reforming in my mind for the past four or five years. Wick is both my baby and my curse. It’s had so many false starts that my wife even remarked a few weeks ago that I seem somehow scared of it.

She’s not far wrong.

The reason I haven’t finished Wick, and indeed the reason I’m a little scared of it, is because I’ve always wanted it to have two faces: first and foremost I wanted it to be fun and entertaining – a memorable ride through an unusual land; but I also saw in it the capacity for dense social commentary and the examination of some heady philosophical constructs. My problem was that for the longest time I wondered if the two elements were mutually exclusive.

It certainly seemed that way… Every time I sat down to write Wick, the more action I worked in, the more faded the thematic elements seemed to become. The story always ended up slipping off the fence one way or another, either into garden variety fantasy adventure or into self-important social commentary instead. I almost lost faith that the two could be merged successfully.

But in Watchmen, we have exactly such a successful convergence. It’s a wonderful marriage of style and substance: on the one hand it’s a densely-layered, intellectual deconstruction of the superhero mythos; on the other – a violent, sexy, action ride. Its characters are complex and fascinating, each living by their own twisted moral code. It’s full of enough allegory and symbolism to spur conversation for days afterward. Best of all, it’s all, it’s fun and pretty to look at too.

Of course this is my own subjective opinion. One only has to browse through the IMDB reviews to see the massive polarization of opinions on this movie: “Narrative bankruptcy” one review writes… “Rich, perverse, and resonant” says another. That reality echoes the post I made a couple of days back about the function of a story being essentially out of the hands of the author – especially when it reaches a wide audience. In this case, though, I have to profusely thank original writer Alan Moore and director Zack Snyder for proving (to me at least) that style and substance can peacefully co-exist after all.

~CGW

A friend and I had an interesting discussion last night about what sort of story is easier to sell – those written to enlighten, or those written to entertain. By ‘enlighten’ I mean those stories that intend to bear witness to some fundamental truth of the human condition; by ‘entertain’ I mean those that were written to captivate or titillate without real consideration given to what commentary they might provide.

Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ might be considered enlightening – inspiring meditation on a fundamental truth of human behavior, while Stephen King’s ‘A Very Tight Place’ – about a man trapped in an overturned portable toilet – might be considered merely entertaining. (Note that we weren’t discussing if one type of story was somehow superior to the other, only which was an easier sale).

I thought about this all night.

I reached an odd conclusion… our initial premise was flawed. The question of which story is easier to sell is moot.

The more I think about it, the less I believe you can separate entertainment and enlightenment. Both the writing and the reading experience are incredibly subjective. Enlightenment is in where and how you look for it, and what one man finds mindless and entertaining, another might see as a profound revelation. To some folks, King’s ‘A Very Tight Place’ may be the deepest exploration of mankind’s will to survive ever written.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the function of story is somewhat beyond the author, whether we like it or not. All we can do is send our creations out into the countryside and hope they don’t hurt too many of the peasants.

So, to enlighten or to entertain? You can set out with the intention of doing one or the other, but if your story reaches a large enough audience, I think it will inevitably achieve both, or neither as the case may be…

~CGW

Welcome, Dear Readers!

July 20, 2009

Dear Readers, that’s what I’m going to call you, because anyone willing to fork over a little time – that most precious of currencies – in exchange for the oddities and illusions that live between my ears, is dear to me indeed. I sincerely hope you find the transaction worthwhile.

Being a bit of a Luddite, I’ll admit I’m new to the online journaling scene, but with the upcoming release of one of my stories (Epitaph in Oak) into a publication of higher esteem than I was expecting at this stage in my writing career, I figured it was time to suck it up and get an online presence at last.

Please let me know gently if I’m doing something wrong.

I’ll endeavor to keep all the pages on this site current. On the Published Works page you’ll find a list of my stories that have grown up and ventured out into the world on their own. The What’s Next? page lists the buns I have baking in my oven. The About Craig page is where I allowed my ego to take over for a moment (the Buddha would be most disappointed). The Links page is a list of that which I deem worthy, and last but not least, there’s a Contact section from whence you can bug me royally if you want to.

In this journal section (You kids can call it a ‘blog’ if you like, I don’t mind) I intend to keep you up to date on news such as what I’m working on; in what awesome publication my next story will be available; and when, if ever, I earn enough from the sale of a piece of work to actually buy something.

Truly, thanks for stopping by. I hope you find it in your heart to bookmark the site and check back often. Above all, dear readers, I hope my stories carry you away – at least for a little while – from the trials and tribulations of this big scary world we live in and into a smaller, more manageable, scary world instead…

~CGW