Monday, August 18, 2014

In Memoriam


 

The funeral home’s lush brown carpet captured our six footsteps until the door creaked. Four heels clicked and two soles squeaked on the greenish-gray linoleum squares in the room protected by the windowless door. Closed to public view were gleaming silver sinks, water sprayers and metal knives and stainless steel counters, fixed and rolling. Our lips remained pressed silent.

 

“Did I make a good choice?” my brother asked, his words light enough to drop to the floor within six feet.

 

“Dad would be pleased," I whispered. There was nothing else for me to say. To fulfill my Dad’s request, the gray cardboard coffin that speckled like a Broadway Play flat arrived via special delivery. He had made us all promise that what had been ordered for Mother would be good enough for him.

 

The special cremation coffin number three on his list. He made us promise two other things: one, no embalming; two, no official service or obituary. While we unanimously didn’t agree with his reasoning, he presented a simple truth. He’d not been born in this country and it contained no record of his birth so he deemed it fitting and proper that no public record of his death need be created. Dad said that something with no beginning also lacked an end. My brain cells sprouted no effective rebuttal. My brother and sister agreed Dad lived his life in his manner. There were neither roofs nor walls on his thoughts. His body would join them on the wind.

 

My brother had argued with Dad stating that the government owed him a flag, a stars and stripes for his military service. If so, Dad replied to us all, you decide who keeps it. Better I not be planted in the ground, he said, beneath cloth, which in a season becomes tattered and torn.

 

The funeral director lowered the white sheet to my Dad’s shoulders. We all gasped. This was not our Dad. The brown wavy hair could have been his, but this hollow face of a man—never!

 

The eyes we saw were clouded as if Dad’s cataracts had regrown across his artificially implanted lenses. His cheeks were sunken, water drops collected in the crevices as if the sun had ducked behind a cloud and obscured the drying rays. The bluish hint of death knocked from afar as if the funeral director had locked it into the rear of the hearse parked outside.

 

My sister had rifled Dad’s closet for a suit and the blackness hung draped across her arm.

 

“We don’t really don’t need clothes if there’s to be no viewing,” the funeral director said. “Have you changed your mind?”

 

“No,” I whispered.

 

“Then I’ll give you all a few moments to say good-bye. The documents are all ready and the plane leaves this afternoon.”

 

His words of “I miss Mother,” swirled in my head. I did, too. Now, I’d miss them both.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Where to begin? Amaze Yourself.

Driving on a rural road this past weekend surrounded by cornfields prompted a writing thought: where does one best begin the next story. At the beginning is a vague answer that, while true, is worthless. Any word written on a blank page is a opening to a story, but is it the best?


The green corn stalks seen in August will, in the upcoming months, turn brown and be ready for machines with metallic pointed snouts that will pluck the cobs of dented yellow kernels and shoot them into trailing wagon beds. After the precision GPS-guided chopping of selected rows, the harvested stalks left standing will morph into a fanciful Halloween maze.


The created maze can metaphorically represent the task of where does one begin his or her novel? The variables are endless, often confusing, and perhaps daunting to the nth degree.


If there is an apparent opening, all may be well and good until trapped by a dead end. If there's no entrance visible, there's nothing to stop a writer from hacking through the exterior maze perimeter to find a carved out pathway. Either way for the writer is likely to result in his or her trashing written pages, perhaps a hundred or more.


If one is reminded that every novel has a logical central point or an emotional heart, why not sit (for fantasy purposes only) on the end of a catapult's arm and be flung into the maze's center? Or find the nearest mountaintop to give one a bird's eye view to create a strategic maze plan to locate the story character's pivotal decision. The problem with being dropped into the maze's center is that one loses all the prior decisions and information gained that fleshes out the character's journey.


While reader's most often dread any story's middle, to get there without experiencing what initiated the character's imbalance results in bewilderment and/or anger when not fully in the know. The reader has been deprived of the logical steps leading to the story's satisfaction.


In addition the story progression requires strong interrelated elements. Just as chopping off the necessary triggering imbalance leads to reader apathy, not proceeding along the maze paths creates a disconcerting jumble for the reader.


In the end, getting into the maze and twisting and turning, even retreating from a dead end, can be an exhilarating experience for the reader as well as the writer.


Ps, If the writer jettison's thousands of words, all is not lost. They were probably geared to the maze that exists for the next novel.






Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is It More Than Hype?

It's been awhile since I created a post. There have been a myriad of reasons. Not the least of which was a trip to Italy. I'm really blessed to have been able to afford such a trip, even if the Pope was too busy to grant me an audience. I guess I didn't have enough royal blood.


While I was gone, the academic fund-raisers were hard at work filling my inbox. The not-so-subtle message was that I should feel privileged to have attended the colleges that I did. Let's be clear, I didn't transfer around. My two degrees are from two colleges that are housed and exist within one land-grant university. And, my time was interrupted by a tour of duty for Uncle Sam. In fact, it was the GI bill, since modified, that allowed my return to school.


If my uneducated brain and psyche were elevated, isn't that what I paid for? Didn't the education process teach me to understand the world, especially salesmanship? No salesperson touts the negative or the obvious, just the benefits to achieve a sale.


I earned (a key point) a degree in journalism. So, if I now write novels, (It's a rhetorical question as all blog readers know.) that's within the realm of my education that I paid hard-earned dollars for. Should I be required to pay again? Those terms aren't used by the college solicitors. They use terms like donations or "giving back." If I bought a car two years ago and paid a fair price, should I now this year be required to pay more? Is education any different?


Now, if the educational institution had since my graduation given me additional enhancements, I would indeed be a slacker if I ignored the fair value of what I'd received. But that's not the case. The college hasn't shelved my novels in their library. They haven't invited me to speak to demonstrate that they've given me a special skill above and beyond tuition paid. They have neither purchased nor promoted the fruits of my paid-for skills. All correspondence has not been "how are you doing, we worry about you," but here's an envelope for your check, payable to us.


This year represents the 40th year since my graduation. What did the school do? They said, send us money and you can attend a reunion in your honor. Well, if I'm a guest to be feted, do I need to buy an admission ticket? If I was allowed to attend without paying, wouldn't the college be compensated by my spreading of good will? I guess they didn't wish to take the chance. It may say something about how revered they held my school attendance.


Reality is not sour grapes. Reality is what it is.  



Friday, April 4, 2014

No Rhyme or Reason

Writers, and I include myself, fumble and perspire to create the best prose possible. We judge ourselves, unmercifully so. And, what is the commercial outcome? We don't know. It's impossible for us to project. And, that's the truth.


This simple truth was no more apparent to me then this week. Attending a book club of which I've been a member for years where the books are member-chosen it's always interesting to see what selections are agreed upon. This month's book, the core of which I had no quarrel, did cause me pause in that the writing switched numerous times from past to present tense. I have no quarrel with either tense (in fact I've written novels utilizing both) but it drove me to distraction when reading to have to switch from one to the other, back again, and then to switch again.


Yet, while fellow book clubbers had no difficulty appreciating my concern, they were willing to overlook it. As one member said, this was a first time author. What a break. I stayed silent, but thought where was the book editor.


This past week I found a copy of a book on editing by Sol Stein. Admittedly it was an old book. However, editing principles don't change that quickly, if ever. He took to task The Firm, an early novel by John Grisham that achieved remarkable sales. And, one of many movies made from Mr. Grisham's writing endeavors. The point by Editor Stein was that commercial fiction could be successful even if it didn't meet what could be considered "literary" standards of writing quality. One can not begrudge the success of Mr. Grisham, in fact, it should be idolized for, notwithstanding critical judgments, he's made the book buyers of the world ring his cash register. We should all be so fortunate.


Nevertheless, we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that editors, even hardnosed ones, are unnecessary and that any writer will be successful no matter what they write. Do I hear an "alleluia?"


There are many factors to successful writing. Clear prose should be one of them. It's like a well-built automobile: if nothing goes wrong and gets us economically to the intended destination, we don't give it much thought. If the onboard computer malfunctions and leaves us at the side of the road the screams of "why me" can be heard across numerous counties. In writing, concrete prose correctly presented doesn't receive encores. It's taken for granted. Or, is it?


Let's say it ups a writer's chance to obtain reader approval. Reader approval will make for greater sales of the current book and, hopefully, others that follow.


As a native of Ireland, I'm mindful of the Irish author who came to New York, wrote four novels, and achieved no commercial success. After his death, his novels were "discovered" and made his heirs or the publisher a pretty penny. Was he a failure as he thought? Apparently not depending on when the judgment is made. So, does this true to life story inspire? We can hope so, not that I wish any writer to die.


There is no rule that says violation of what is considered to be preferred writing style will condemn that writer to failure or poverty. However, there are many other writers who gain both monetary and public acclaim by being exceptional writers, not by talent alone, but by hard word in learning the craft of writing, nurturing their own instincts, and abiding by the skills gleamed from others. There is no official survey, but I would speculate that those writers who have acquired and polished the skills espoused by well-known and esteemed editors have prospered by all yardsticks of success.


Yes, there will always be exceptions. Isn't it better to shoot for the majority road to success?


If you answer, the truth will be known to you and you need not share, but keep on writing.


Author Donan Berg has published five novels, the latest is Adolph's Gold. It's available at major online book retailers in e-book format and in paperback (374 pages) at www.createspace.com/4713705 . He also is available for flat-fee manuscript critiques and line editing through www.authorsden.com/donanberg . Click on the marketplace link for more information. He offers a no obligation consultation. What have you to lose?


Also, he's scheduled to be on blogradio April 14, 2014, at http:www.blogtalkradio.com/vanneylive from New York City. Listen in or join the conversation with a call in.











Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Characterization Should Surpass History

Characterization in fiction commands top attention. That's a given. Considering history in the mix is often overlooked. It should be more than avoiding the faux pas of placing a cellphone in the hands of a Roman soldier. Yes, my example is ludicrous, but it should make the point.


If your character is an every day worker in the contemporary United States, have you considered the work environment? There are cultural influences at work. In recent history, from the 1950s onward, there's been a dramatic shift with the emphasis originally on mechanization and automation that has brought us into a larger digital world. Management has been concerned with better methods, lower costs, higher output; but the workers may be concerned with the loss of individuality in that their contributions have been downgraded, i.e., the worker is more of a cog in a machine than an thinking, problem-solving member of a team.


In fiction there is a striving for conflict. Manager versus worker is a no-brainer. But for the fiction to be credible, there must be a recognition that the concepts of leadership have changed greatly since the 1950s. In the United States, from the beginning of the century to 1950, the leadership philosophy was that "leaders were born, not made." The leaders were charismatic. And fiction writers using this time period, then or now, must reflect that.


In portraying characters, the boss as a character was "king of the mountain" and his word trickled down to the workers in the valley. The boss set the goals and did so unilaterally. The whole scheme to be set out in fiction had to recognize this hierarchical model.


The system, whether ideal or not, seemed to work. The United States with six percent of the world's population, seven percent of the world's land mass, had almost fifty percent of the world's wealth.


Now, since 1950, the workplace has changed dramatically. The complexity of the task, at least in the worker's eye, is such that no one manager can either absorb or innately have enough knowledge to know everything. The worker may be told what to do, but he or she does have the necessary acceptance to believe in the unerring wisdom of the manager.


Fiction has to acknowledge, if not accept, that the whole concept of leadership in the United States has changed. Modern-day managers must act on the basis of getting the sanction and support of subordinates.


If your fiction presents a workplace with a very structure-centered, rule-centered manager, and the time is present day, that may stress the seams of reader credibility. Sure, such workplaces may exist, but if fiction is to present the extreme as the mainstream the necessary suspension of disbelief will be harder to obtain.


What is the fiction writer to do? If he or she portrays an outdated workplace, it's an uphill battle to win the reader. If he or she portrays the workplace as a modern day cooperative venture, the goal to increase tension and conflict is tamped down and bores the reader.


That there has been and will forever be conflict in the workplace between manager and worker can almost be taken as a given. If so, what to do?


If you want to have conflict and a problem arise, envision its ancestry. Look at the relationship between manager and worker. What would be their goals? The manager may be looking a more money. The worker might like more money, but maybe he desires respect for individual contribution. What started the conflict? Was it family? Hatfields and McCoys? Was the self-made manager envious of the college-educated upstart? Perhaps there was discrimination. Any kind will do.


Maybe there is a simple miscommunication or that the manager sees the situation one way and the worker, legitimately, sees it different. Comedy writing is full of these situations.


Fiction must delve deeper. The conflict is not that one person is the boss and the other person is the worker. Be more creative and create multi-dimensional characters. The dynamics of conflict in the workplace invade from all corners of human relationships. Strive to get past the historical framework to hook your reader and then keep your reader engaged with conflict between characters that transcends the original cardboard vision of the workplace.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Adolph's Gold and an Editing Testimonial

Adolph's Gold, a 374-page trade paperback novel by Author Donan Berg, has been released. It has been available since March 25, 2014, at http://www.createspace.com/4713705 . Priced at $14.95, it is slated for extended market distribution in the days ahead. Latest information is that it's already displayed on Author Berg's pages at www.amazon.com .


The Adolph's Gold e-book version, released March 13, 2014, is available at www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/398225 and other online book retailers worldwide.


Praise is always welcome and appreciated.



Feedback on what a person does is extremely important. Within one day of my completing a scientific manuscript editing Saturday, the following e-mail arrived in my inbox:


"Thank you very much for your excellent manuscript editing. The manuscript has been substantially improved with your help and looks very nice." Signed Y. Y.


This was the first scientific manuscript edit I agreed to attempt. While not a work of fiction or a non-scientific manuscript, my research into what scientific papers require showed that, outside of format, which is easily learned, there is a common thread to good writing.


As an aside, I must say, any repulsion I had against animal research was mitigated when the procedures explained were done with compassion and had a direct correlation to improving human health and survival.


Good writing transcends the subject matter is a truism all writers should all remember.


For all who chose to read this blog post, until March 25, 2014, go to www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/405595 and enter the coupon code HN522 at checkout and receive the short story "Amanda" for free as a thank you for visiting this blog.






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Path to Create


 

A reader doesn’t willy-nilly wander just any path in your writing. He or she sprints, trudges, or aimlessly wanders in step with the journey you, as a crafty writer, have created to prod or enthrall the reader into. If you’ve plotted adeptly or strung your ideas on an unbroken string, the reader doesn’t get lost or shunted to the path of disbelief. This includes fiction where a major purpose of the writer’s task is to build suspense, throw in a red herring, or tilt the reader’s sense of balance.

Prose that is loose and unstructured loses the reader along with the writer.

Two writing concepts: “unity” and “flow” are often dressed or considered to be identical twins but really aren’t. “Unity” is a coherent journey that, more likely than not, takes the reader back to a character’s beginning in either time, space, thought, or location. “Flow” is pacing and markers along the reader’s journey that keeps he or she moving forward to the next page, the newest thought built on or created out of a previous thought, or the revelation of an underlying theme.

While Tarzan swung from vine to vine, he had to keep looking forward to determine if the next jungle tree was strong enough to hold his weight and offered a new vine able to swing in the direction he wished to travel. Each tree or vine could be a different native species. It didn’t matter. Writing instructors often use the analogy of a flagstone path. Each stone is of a different dimension and/or shape, yet together they “flow” in a direction that can be discerned and followed.

“Unity” is to make each tree or stone suggestive of the journey and provide for its accomplishment. Linkage is how you, as the writer, arrange and order the individual pieces. You as writer keep adding new things: Tarzan meets Jane. Tarzan reaches for a coconut. Tarzan avoids the swipe of a lion’s paw. You’re building Tarzan’s life. Giving the reader perspective and insight into Tarzan’s existence.

While Tarzan grows wiser, he ages. The sun dips below the horizon and dawn breaks to provide transition between days. A scrape on Tarzan’s leg first bleeds, the escaping blood coagulates into a clot, a protective scab forms, and then the healing process culminates when the scab dries up and disappears to leave new skin. Similarly, Tarzan’s life events are expounded upon and blended together like the transition of a healing wound.

But be on guard for tried-and-true words and phrases that may be convenient, but should be avoided. Example: “After having …” Having means the action has already taken place. The writer has indicated he or she is writing about the past. You would not say” “After having looked around the forest, Tarzan eyed a cypress.” Redundancy abounds. Use either “after” or “having.” “After looking around the forest, Tarzan eyed a cypress.” Or, “Having gazed about the forest, Tarzan eyed a cypress.”

Tarzan swung from a cypress to an oak and then to a palm tree. The coconuts were ripe, unlike two months previous. A single action ties together Tarzan’s journey and experience. There is both flow and unity. The logic is implicit and, while the writer keeps the reader on a unified journey, the flow is a separate entity for it may be fast, slow or impeded.

While the flow may vary, unity should be one coherent and constant path.

Author Donan Berg's latest novel, Adolph's Gold, will be available March 13, 2014 at major e-book retailers, and www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/398225 . Not willing to wait until March 13 to read a sample, go to www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/398225 for a free sample read. Pre-orders are $2.99, the lowest available price. Expect price to increase after release.

Also now out, Author Donan Berg's latest short story, Amanda, $0.99 cents, at www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/405595 . If you e-mail a copy of a pre-order receipt for Adolph's Gold don@dotdonbooks.com from Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Kobo, you'll be given
a coupon for a free download of Donan Berg's short story Amanda.

If you enjoy either Adolph's Gold or Amanda, please write a review.