An aspiring author confronts the literary demons of the world and sets off in search of an agent.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Of Lou Gehrig, Kate DiCamillo and Yamashiro Tomoe

Argh! The Demon is greatly annoyed. Why?  He came upon a list of the Top 100 Speeches as deemed by scholarly experts. Guess what? Lou Gehrig's farewell speech was dissed! It ranked  #73 on the list. 

The Demon wishes no disrespect to the other speeches rated higher, but c'mon! With a mere 277 words, Lou Gehrig established a heartfelt connection with 61,000 fans at Yankee Stadium and with many more for generations to come. Two hundred and seventy-seven words - that's all it took.

And that recalls an earlier post on this blog about the power imbued in the economy of a few words:

I found the following observation (confession?) from Kate DiCamillo at The Pippin Insider: "Telling stories is hard work; the stories that I like, the ones that seem most powerful to me, have an ineffable quality of one word seeming to do the work of ten words."

One word for ten? Sounds daunting, eh? How about one word for a hundred? Let flash back to an earlier post of mine where I asked whether it was possible for one hundred words to the job of ten thousand. (i.e., a ratio of one word for one hundred).  Here’s what I wrote:

Is it possible for one hundred words to the job of ten thousand?

I've been contemplating this question since reading a wonderful short story, Bog Rhubard Shoots, by Yamashiro Tomoe (it's from the book, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows). It tells the tale of Mitsuko, a young Japanese woman, who, in the 1940s, was sent to prison for her involvement in the left-wing political movement (as was her husband, who was assigned to different prison).

Under the terms of her conviction, Mitsuko "could write only one letter of postcard length each month. Even though the frequency and length of the letters were limited, they still had to be checked over by four persons: the guard, the chief guard, the chaplain, and the supervisor of the guards. Under these circumstances, one hundred words had to do the job of ten thousand in the letters that Mitsuko and her husband exchanged. If a letter written under restricted conditions failed to pass the censors and was stamped 'To be handed over upon release,' the letter itself would probably shed tears."
And one last thing: " I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." That's the line everyone associates with Gehrig's speech. But there was another line: "When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know." That's the line that sends shivers up my back. It's why his speech is finest I know of.

'nuff said!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An exercise in first lines

Apparently, the first line of a book is of great importance. It must be true: I read it in a book! Here are the results of my recent efforts at crafting first lines...

I once loved a woman who loved the Muppets.

He counted the bars as they went up, each like a giant meat hook mounted upside down, and wondered how many it would it take to do the job.

This is a story of three crows gathering in the moonlight, fireflies dancing by a stream, and dust, more beautiful than stars, floating in the sunlight.

If you had to write a story to save your life, what would you write?

It is Thursday and I am blind.

Once there was a rose and a sword.

I must have been born with a broken heart; that is the only possible explanation.

Time travelers are dicks, destiny is for douchebags and eternity ain't necessarily forever.

Deep in a cavern, far beneath the Black Mountain, the demon woke from his nightmare.

Above a mountain glade a procession of Black Butterflies followed the trail of blood, dark and shiny upon the grass, towards the stricken, snow-white deer: in their wake, the Golden Dragon followed.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Anticipating Kate DiCamillo's Next Book

(DISCLAIMER: I am in a very silly mood. So silly, I cannot be held liable for any logical fallacies or literary mayhem herein.)

       tiger                            elephant
A                                                      crashing 

                                                                          WHAT NEXT?   

I just read, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. I am currently reading The Magician's Elephant, also by Ms. DiCamillo, in which an elephant comes crashing down through the roof of an opera house. Tigers rising and elephants crashing down, oh my! 

What can we expect in Kate DiCamillo's next book? Perhaps something lateral? Here are my less than lucid speculations:

Sideways Monkey:  Jack gets cold feet during his bachelor party and suffers a concussion due to an unseemly incident involving a motorcycle helmet.  When he wakes, Jack discovers he is all alone in the world except for Miles, an enigmatic, Merlot hating, pot bellied monkey. Together they learn valuable lessons in friendship and how to stage a fake automobile accident.

The Night of the Reclining Giraffe: Ten year old Izhtak Schwartz hates Passover, having nearly gagged to death on Matzoh when he was seven. Like an Easter Bunny running for his life, Izhtak flees and through pluck, along with assistance from a clever plot device, makes his way to Africa where he meets a sarcastic, pagan-worshiping giraffe. Izhtak takes a liking to the long neck's  embittered view of the world and nicknames him, Groucho. After many life-threatening, yet hilarious adventures, the boy has an epiphany about  Passover. In the story's stirring climax, he teaches Groucho the Seder and the importance of reclining while they eat. Together they recline, eat Matzoh and imbibe of Manischewitz wine as wild hyenas and meerkats  serenade with a Hip Hop version of Hava Nagila. 

The Raven's Lateral: Billy, like his older brother, Biff, wants to quarterback the Ravens football team in the Chincoteague youth football league. Alas, Coach Parker Derm, the crippled yet vibrant gridiron mastermind, has installed a new trick play requiring the deft and precise execution of the lateral pass. Alas and alack, for Billy, no matter how hard he tries, is unable to master the deceptive pass! Then, one night, a friggin' raven taps on his bedroom window and teaches the aspiring quarterback to look beyond the hash marks.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Will I Feel This Way By Spring's End?

This poem, from Yosa Buson, caught my fancy!

The end of spring--
the poet is brooding
about editors.

(Translated by Robert Haas)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Supreme Court Rules Predicates Unconsitutional

By Gram Marian, Disassociated Press – 1 hr 52 mins ago

WASHINGTON, DC - The Supreme Court has just ruled that predicates are unconstitutional. The case, Ms. Pelling v. Panda Ring, was the first grammar related case ever heard before the court. In an unanimous decision, the court stated, “We are a nation of laws, not men. Therefore, laws, not predicates should govern our behavior, despite the beliefs of certain well-meaning, but overly educated citizens. The Rules of Grammar cannot be allowed to stand above the Constitution, even within the confines of a sentence…”

In a related decision, the court voted 5-4 in favor of eliminating the use of ellipses…


Monday, March 28, 2011

The Power of Books

I found this on


Thursday, March 24, 2011

This may cause nightmares for writers and aspiring authors

Woke up at 3 A.M. with the following in mind as a prologue to my novel. (Warning: writers and aspiring authors may have nightmares as a result of reading this).


 Deep in a cavern far beneath the Black Mountain, the Demon woke from his nightmare. He rose from the jagged granite slab that was his bed, shaking his head to bring wakefulness. As he did this, droplets of dark oily glop flew from his face, raining down upon the stone floor. Fiery eyes glowed red and then pulsed as he remembered the horrid dream.

            Like all his nightmares, it had been about an author who was going to write a story.

            The Demon hated authors and the stories they wrote. Then again, he disliked most anything you and I love such as ice cream, good music, spring days with lots of sunshine and even chocolate (sad, but true!). More than anything, he hated a good story. With every fiber of his being, he despised tales filled with imagination and the joy they brought to young readers.
            His purpose in life was a cruel one: to stop authors from writing stories. To that end, he was utterly ruthless and had many tricks up his sleeve. For example, he knew all eight hundred and eleven ways to make writers doubt themselves (so they would lack the confidence to write even one sentence). He had mastered twenty-one effective techniques to fill the mind with excuses not to write. So dedicated was this crusher of creative spirits, he even knew a dark magic spell that transformed the joy of writing into a grinding agony. 
            More of the nightmare came to mind and it filled him with complete disgust.

            He had dreamt of a very special kind of author who was going to write a one-of-a-kind story!

            He had encountered these kinds of authors before. More often than not, he had been able to stop them from writing; their stories never saw the light of day. But every once in a while, an author succeeded despite the Demon’s best efforts. Of these, there were three authors the Demon despised more than anyone.
            One was a jovial man, with a handlebar mustache, who wrote of a girl named Dorothy and her adventures in a place called Oz. “Only a fool would be amused by a stupid Scarecrow, a rattling Tin Man and a Lion scared of his own shadow!” said the Demon with a mouth perfectly suited for snarling.
            Then there was that fellow, a professor at some fancy British college, who wrote of little people with hairy feet whose homes were holes in the ground. “What were those little critters called?”  The Demon struggled to recall. “Hobbits. Ugh! Pure rubbish!”
            Most recently, a woman had written a book – no, she had written seven books – about a young wizard at a school of magic. The books had been widely popular, a situation the Demon found deeply, deeply offensive; it even hurt his feelings.  “How could I have allowed her to do that?” he moaned in a very un-Demon like way.
            He squeezed his oily palms against his goo-covered forehead and thought about what he had done wrong. "I made the same mistake with all three authors: I failed to take the ultimate step of kidnapping their characters."
            Kidnap them before the story was written! Yes, that was the only foolproof way to sabotage an author. Imprisoned in the deepest cavern on earth, far below the Black Mountain, the characters would be doomed. Over time, they would become pale, embittered ghosts, their stories forever untold. 
            Yes, this time he would be sure to kidnap the characters! No author had ever been successful in the attempt to rescue their characters. The Demon allowed himself to enjoy a small smile. It was an odd sight to see on his monstrous, goo-covered face.
            “Author, I will find your characters!” The Demon issued his warning through grinding teeth.  He stomped his foot into the floor of the cavern and shards of granite flew everywhere. “I will find them and steal them from you.”
            The Demon howled with glee.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jane Ire

A new movie version of Jane Eyre is due to be released any day now. That got the Demon to imagining a hybrid (a.k.a. mutant) version of the novel combing the classic sensibilities of Charlotte Bronte with the modern, sick-puppy sensibilities of Quentin Tarantino.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"The richness and depth of the book is universally respected yet often undiscovered..."

That quote comes from the website of artist, Brian Dettmer who creates beautiful pieces from altered books. Try doing this with a kindle!

For more, be sure to visit his website at:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Flash Fiction Badge

Kudos to the Merit Badger for providing truly useful merit badges for our websites.It is especially notable, even noble, is that she has provided a slew of badges for reading and writing! In fact, here's a Merit Badge she created for Flash Fiction:

Well, the Demon is known for his, well, perverse sense of humor. This is his version of the Flash Fiction badge!


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Which way is the bus traveling?

A fun exercise!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Make Sure Your Characters Have the Right Problems to Solve

Tension and resolution: they are mission critical to a great story. Thus, it is important that our characters have truly worthwhile challenges or problems to resolve. The choice of the "right problem" can be tricky for a writer, devilishly so.

As a bit of a reminder, as well as a fun exercise in problem solving, I humbly offer the following:


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hold that query letter, save the universe!

I was reminiscing about a favorite short story of mine, The Nine Billion Names of God, by Arthur C. Clarke. For those of you not familiar with it, here is a synopsis(Source: Wikipedia):
This short story tells of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the names of God, since they believe the Universe was created in order to note all the names of God and once this naming is completed, God will bring the Universe to an end. Three centuries ago, the monks created an alphabet in which, they calculated, they could encode all the possible names of God, numbering about nine billion and each having no more than nine characters, in their alphabet. Writing the names out by hand, as they had been doing, even after eliminating various nonsense combinations, would take another fifteen thousand years; the monks wish to use modern technology in order to finish this task more quickly.
They rent a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and they hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are skeptical but play along with the monks.
The operators engage the computer. After three months, as the job nears completion, they fear that the monks will blame the computer, and by extension its operators, when nothing happens. The Westerners delay the operation of the computer so that it will complete its final print run just after their scheduled departure. After their successful departure on ponies, they pause on the mountain path on their way back to the airfield, where a plane is waiting to take them back to civilization. Under a clear starlit night sky they estimate that it must be just about the time that the monks are pasting the final printed names into their holy books. They notice that "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."
That got me to wondering/fantasizing: what if the purpose of our existence was simply to produce nine billion query letters? And once the nine billionth query letter is written, will the stars will go out with nary a fuss?

So maybe the next query letter, the one you happen to be writing, will be the nine billionth query letter. Feeling lucky, punk?


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Becoming the Child

Today, I find myself in a foul, bitter and pessimistic mood. Seeking words of encouragement, I turned to Awakening Osiris. This is an excerpt from the chapter, Becoming the Child:
What I hate is ignorance, smallness of imagination, the eye that sees no farther than its lashes. All things are possible...When we speak in anger, anger will be our truth. When we speak in love and live by love, truth in love will be our comfort. Who you are is limited only by who you think you are....
'nuff said!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Robotic Edition of Huckleberry Finn

With tongues planted firmly in cheek, comedians Gabriel and Etta have set out to replace every use of the "N-word" in Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with the word "Robot." A satire of the American educational system, the finished book will explore the problematic nature of simplifying complex historical truths. It will also serve as a nice preview to the eventual robot takeover.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Deadening Sensation

A friend of mine is taking a course at Georgetown University that takes an analytical, structural look at literature. She was explaining how the professor analyzed and broke down the sentence structure used by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. As I listened, I had curiously conflicting reactions: at the intellectual level it was interesting...but at the gut level, the place from which my writing and imagination pours forth, it felt deadening.

Why this reaction?

The answer lies in an observation by Robert Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:  “When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain's experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed.”

Something is always killed...that explains the deadening sensation.

'nuff said!

Friday, January 28, 2011

What the iPad taught me about dealing with criticism

Writers, aspiring and successful, have to deal with criticism...often lots of it. I've considered shopping for an electric cattle prod, or even a quality used flame thrower, to ward off such unwarranted (in my mind, at least) aspersions and fault-finding. Well, I read the following piece about the nitpicking, know-it-all, nay saying nimrods who knocked the iPad when it was first launched. 

  • "Maybe underwhelming isn't the right word," wrote Engadget editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky. "Unimaginative might be more accurate..."
  • Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik called the iPad "less than revolutionary" and "underwhelming."
  • Adam Frucci at Gizmodo wrote a scathing early review, titled "8 Things That Suck About the iPad."
  • Monica Guzman, with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, took issue with the device's name... "the 'iPad' name seems at worst odd, and at best -- just a little bit funny."
(The above is from the Huffington Post.)

For the record, Apple has sold nearly 15 million iPads. So much for the critics! Still, I wonder if I can get a Cattle Prod app for my iPad...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Censoring Mark Twain

Regarding the censoring of Huckleberry Finn, Bill Maher has the final word!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Haiku as Query Letter

On two previous occasions, I imagined various authors using Haiku by Basho for their query letters (first post, second post). This time we'll try the Haiku of Chiyo-ni.

to tangle or untangle
the willow---
it's up to the wind
     The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

morning glory -
the truth is
the flower hates people
     The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

green leaves or fallen leaves
become one---
in the flowering snow
     Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

purple cloud
isn't it the same color
as the iris?
     The Color Purple by Alice Walker

 From the mind
of a single, long vine
one hundred opening lives
     Sideways by Rex Pickett

Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 Rereading Challenge

 Curiously enough, one cannot read a book:
one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader,
an active and creative reader is a rereader...
                                                Vladimir Nabokov

Reading challenges seem to be popular: bloggers post a list of the new books they wish to read during the coming year. In the spirit of Nabokov, I've set a different challenge: a list of books I wish to reread in 2011. 

In no particular order, they are:

- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
- Blindness by Jose Saramago
- Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clark
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry
- Night by Elie Wisel
- The Essential Fantastic Four, vol. 2 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
- An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
- Something, anything by Ray Bradbury!

'nuff said!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Can a Book Save Your Life?

From the folks at Electric Literature!


If you had to choose one song (continued)...

In an earlier post, I asked: if you had to choose one song upon which to base a novel, which song would you choose? My choice at that time was Black Horse and a Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall.

Call me fickle, but I've been watching the Wallander TV series which is introduced with a haunting song featuring a beautiful Aussie voice. The song is Nostalgia by Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo.

Here are the lyrics:

Tram wires cross Melbourne skies
Cut my red heart in two
My knuckles bleed down Johnston street
On a door that shouldn’t be in front of me

Twelve thousand miles away from your smile

I’m twelve thousand miles away from me
Standing on the corner of Brunswick
Got the rain coming down and mascara on my cheek

Oh whisper me words in the shape of a bay

Shelter my love from the wind and the rain

Crow fly be my alibi

And return this fable on your wing
Take it far away to where gypsies play
Beneath metal stars by the bridge

Oh write me a beacon so I know the way

Guide my love through night and through day

Only the sunset knows my blind desire for the fleeting

Only the moon understands the beauty of love
When held by a hand like the aura of nostalgia