Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stories I Tell; Stories I Don't Tell

"And I wasn't looking for heaven or hell
Just someone to listen to stories I tell"

--Toad the Wet Sprocket "Stories I Tell"

As an author in search of a story I look for characters and a situation that grabs me.  I need  something different, something that makes me curious, makes me want to know more about them. 

In short, I want a story I'd like to read.

One of the best-known writer tropes is to Write What You Know.  My problem with that is that I don't find my own stories all that compelling.  At best, they might make for amusing anecdotes; at worst they show what an insensitive and flawed human I am.  Neither of these create that spark in me that makes me want to know more.  I already know about me.  Even if I were to attribute my actions to a fictionalized version of myself, I don't know of a resolution that wouldn't ring false with me*.

Most of us can look around us and see strangers and make up stories about them -- brief vignettes of what they're doing, who they're going to meet and why, what secrets they're keeping, what they really want in life.  These are fun distractions, but I've never had one spark into an idea for a story I wanted/needed to tell.

Then there are stories/parts of stories I know about friends, family, acquaintances.  These are often exactly the type of deeply moving stories that reflect the kind of vulnerability and a struggle for the kind of positive resolution we, as readers, want our storied friends made of typeface and our imaginations to find.  For me, even if I tried to change and disguise the people and the events, this comes away as something of a betrayal of the confidence under which I learned about the story.

Some stories are not mine to tell.

One of the best things about being a writer, from my perspective, is finding the right story, the right characters, the right setting, and having them all come together in my head.  That's often a long, frustrating process.  Like now, for instance.

Then, of course, there's finding someone to read and appreciate those stories.

(But that's another post for another day.)

"Now what is a blessing and what is a dream
Caught between portraits and none's what it seems
And why is it people expect there's a change
When I feel I'm a part of something I can't see
I feel the same"

--Toad the Wet Sprocket  "Stories I Tell"

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Hope of Someday

There is a universality to this statement by Tim Federle.  Regardless of era, age, point in the Time/Space continuum, readers have the experience to know that their story will continue and can get better.

We just have to keep working towards and believing in that Someday.

(Tip o' the Hat to Debbie Ohi for posting this on her blog today)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why I Became the Dungeon Master

The Dungeon Master's View
A month or so ago my weekly board gaming group were talking about Dungeons & Dragons.  We'd all played D&D way back when and we each had great memories of campaigns and stories to tell of seemingly impossible dice rolls and the resulting actions our characters were able to accomplish.

When I suggested that we should all play there was a combination of collective agreement and collective statements of, "but I don't want to DM."

See, the DM, or Dungeon Master, is the person who has to do all the work to create the basics for the Adventure the characters are going to be playing through.  It's a lot of background work to come up with the places, the people, the quests, the fiddly bookkeeping bits having to do with Armor Class and Weapon Damage and Hit Points and... well, even if you've never played D&D you hopefully get the idea.

And, really, that's only part of a DM's job.  The other big part is having to continually improvise to deal with a lot of unknowns.  Say you've designed this great character who can give the players all sorts of helpful information... and then they decide to attack him instead, killing off your plans.  Or you spend weeks building an entire town only to have the characters decide to go straight to the port and take over a ship and become pirates at sea. You get the idea.

A few days later I changed my mind.  What's more, I knew if we found a DM I would kick myself every time we played because I wasn't the DM. 

Why?  Because the DM is Brings the Story.  The DM is not The Storyteller, but the DM needs to describe what the players are seeing, hearing, smelling.  They need to create just enough of a story to get the other people engaged.  And that is what a good writer does to start off a story in their own minds.

In D&D the storytelling is collaborative.  As DM I set up and describe the environment and, yes, I give some strong hints as to what/where the characters should go, but I cannot predict what they will actually do.

To be honest, that's part of the biggest kick for me.  Once I realized my job was to make stuff up, it became much easier to make stuff up all the time.

If you've never played D&D, I highly recommend you give it a try.  It can be an immersive storytelling experience like no other.

-- Tom

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review: This is What a Librarian Looks Like

This is What a Librarian Looks Like
by Kyle Cassidy

Kyle Cassidy's This is What Librarians Look Like began as an article on where he featured male and female librarians of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, along with quotes from each that gave their reasons for choosing the profession and/or their views on the Library's place in world and local communities.

Cassidy's photo essay showed that there is no 'stereotypical' librarian. Librarians, like libraries themselves, are as diverse as the people they work with on a daily basis. That's part of what makes libraries so useful, so essential to the communities they serve.

The book This is What Librarians Look Like expands on that theme. Over 200 librarians are featured, both through photographs and accompanying quotes. As well, Cassidy has collected short essays, written for this book, from writers and entertainers on the importance of libraries in their lives. He has also written short chapters highlighting the history of libraries in America and some of the more unique libraries and the people who run them. Cassidy, a photographer and photojournalist, wisely does what he does best in allowing his essays and photographs set the background while leaving the majority of the 'story' of this book to the librarians who live the job each day.

One of the greatest gifts This is What Librarians Look Like does is to remind us all how vital libraries are to ourselves, our neighbors, and the most vulnerable in our community. It does so through the stories and the smiling, thoughtful expressions of the people who run libraries. Their stories encourage, and inspire through the simple honesty of their words. Librarians do not take on their jobs for the money, the do so because they believe in the importance of the work and for the difference it makes to the people whose lives they touch.

Libraries are more than just books in dust jackets sitting on shelves. They are the living, evolving heartbeat of our community, giving and responding to our needs asking only that their doors be kept open so we can make use of them. Open the covers of Cassidy's book and remind yourself what libraries have been, learn what they can be, and why you should be a part of that future.

Full Disclosure: I have followed Cassidy online, first through LiveJournal and then via Facebook, for over 10 years, although we have never met in person. I am also a former Elementary School Librarian with an MLS from NC Central University.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"We're all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?"

Your Doctor Who Quote of the Day

Author Maggie Stiefvater is not only a great person but she's also an amazing speaker.

Today she posted a rough transcript of the talk she gave to the National Council of Teachers of English earlier this year.  It's about writing, perspective, and creating heroes -- especially creating yourself as the hero of your own life.

Reading it made my day.  I hope it makes your day, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Brickifying Book Covers

Lego Brickify'ed Book Cover from Travis Jonker's Blog
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Today, over at his great Children's Book Blog 100ScopeNotes, writer and children's librarian Travis Jonker posted seven children's book covers that had been run through Brickify, a convert-to-Lego® online app. 

It was such a brilliant idea that I am totally stealing borrowing it and doing the same here.

Guess the Covers!

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Two for Friend of the Blog Josh Funk!

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 And One for Friend of the Blog Anna Staniszweski!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Friend Zoned

Pteranodon ©2016 Adam Koford

The term Friend Zone refers to a situation where one person feels more strongly about another person than the other person feels about him/her.  Typically (according The Wikipedia) it's a guy who feels more strongly about a girl, while the girl sees the guy as "just a friend."

Sad to say, but The Book has been Friend Zoned. 

My agent sent The Book out to three rounds of publishing house editors.  I love The Book and would love to work with one of them to get it published.  The editors, however, all said pretty much the same thing: they liked it, but they didn't love it. 

And without loving a manuscript they're not going to fight to get the project added to an upcoming season's catalog and work to get it published. 

I'd like to say that I'm okay with this.  I'd like to say that in the five or six months since it became apparent The Book wasn't likely to go anywhere that I've come to terms with it and have moved on.  I'd like to say that I'm well into revising the completed manuscript of another MG novel, full of optimism and enthusiasm.

I'd also like to say I won a bazillion dollars, quit my day job, and we're moving us over to the UK, but that ain't happening either.

It's clear to me that I'm not going to be shrugging off the disappointment of 5+ years worth of work going nowhere.  I am, however, slowly dusting myself off and getting back to writing again.  I sent my agent the text of a Picture Book the other week that she liked (more on that later) and I'm working out points in a few different MG book ideas.

Still, being Novel Friend Zoned sux.

-- Tom

Friday, July 8, 2016

Kurt Vonnegut on The Shapes of Stories

A brilliant, albeit short, lecture on The Shapes of Stories by the incomparable Kurt Vonnegut.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016