Saturday, May 28, 2016

Eucharistic 'Fun Facts'? Well, Kind Of

On the eve of Corpus Christi . . . my latest in Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, including the 13th-century nun who got the ball rolling for this feast.

"10 things you don't know about the Eucharist"

Just keep writing.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Write What You Know; I Know I'm Old . . . -ish

Here's the opening from a piece I did for Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, titled "Faith and fulfillment during 'Act III'":

The numbers don’t lie, but they can offer a false sense of security.
If I’m “only” 50, then I’m middle-aged, right? Yes and, probably, no.
Yes, that’s the common term for anyone that age; but no, it’s not likely you’re at the halfway point in your life. That’s in your rearview mirror.
These days, “young” can slide all the way up to 40, and it’s commonly accepted that “middle-aged” is 40 to 60. But 60-plus is ...
Uh oh.
Some say 60 to 80 is “young old.” And 80 and up is “old old.” That makes sense, and not just because those in their 80s consider those in their 60s “pups.”
But the truth is, those of us who don’t die young or middle-aged will, at some point, begin to realize — and grudgingly accept — that the curtain has opened on our personal Act III.
And there we are: center stage.
 You can find the rest here. (And speaking of rest, I believe I'll go take a little nap.)

Just keep writing.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dining with the Little Ones

This is from an article I wrote for FathersForGood:

But when I think back to Sunday dinner with Grandma . . . When my children speak of Sunday dinner with Mom and Dad . . . There’s a feeling, a tenderness that colors everything. A love was shared between the youngest and oldest generations. The food and drink satisfied the body, but it was that loving relationship that filled the heart and soul. We all need that love at every stage of our lives.
Simply put, the first and second corporal works of mercy can be a lot more than corporal.
More here.

Just keep writing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Outlining vs. Winging It

After 40-plus years of writing books I realize I make an outline for non-fiction and pretty much wing it for fiction.

That’s because there’s little or no room for surprises in non-fiction so the research and outline matter. A lot.

But with fiction . . . For me, there’s far less chance of an entertaining story if I’m locked into a “Section I, Subsection 1, Sub-subsection A” approach. One of the great joys of novel writing is having a character suddenly say or do something you had no idea he or she was going to say or do.

(Yes, that sounds crazy. And, yes, a lot of novelists report it happening. And really liking it.)

I suppose for non-fiction it’s rely on a GPS or use a map or ask someone for specific directions.

For fiction, it’s . . . road trip!

When a Character Refuses to Obey You
This may not have happened to you yet but I wanted to put it near the beginning of this book so that you’ll recognize it when it does happen. If it happens. Don’t be frightened but there may come a time when one of your characters—even a reliable one, one you really like—will say or do something on his or her own. 
It’s . . . aliiiiiiive!
I’ll give an example. In my novel Pope Bob, two recovering alcoholic priests are talking about how their drinking influenced their lives and their ministry. The older of the two, the one who’s helping the younger, says: 
“During that particular blackout, I missed my mother’s rosary on Tuesday night and funeral on Wednesday morning. I was to be the celebrant. I was going to say the Mass. One of my sisters never forgave me and I never held that against her. She was right. Three years later she was killed in an automobile accident and hadn’t set foot in a church since Mom’s funeral. Wanted nothing to do with a religion that had a priest like me. And still I drank.” 
I, the author and creator of that character, was astounded! I had, and have, no idea where that came from. Yes, it came from me but . . . . What he shared was so sad! There’s been nothing in my life like that. Nothing I recall reading about that’s similar to it.
But there it was. 
In some ways, writing a novel is nothing more, and nothing less, than putting some people into a situation and watching them try to get out of it. And eavesdropping on them as they do it.

More on “outline or not?” at NY Book Editors here.

(Did Charles Dickens really say “stinking outline”? Well, no. The quote, about a play, is: “I am quite satisfied that nobody can have heard what I mean to do with the different characters in the end, inasmuch as at present I don’t quite know, myself.”)

Just keep writing.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

BIG can be a BIG mistake

Some advice from Little Willie Sockspeare:

Writing a piece to demonstrate your knowledge of a huge and impressive vocabulary is easy. You simply pen: “These are big words that I know: . . .” And then go on to list them.
If, however, your goal is to tell a story well, then you would be smart to avoid letting that huge and impressive vocabulary get in the way of telling the story in a way that your readers can understand it. So that they can even enjoy it without tripping over those impressive words.
I’m not saying to dumb down your work.
I am saying don’t choose a word in some sad attempt to prove how bright you are.
And, naturally, keep your reader in mind. If your piece is for children in middle school don’t use all the more advanced vocabulary words that you might use for a novel directed at adults. This seems obvious, doesn’t it?
So then . . .
Eschew obfuscatory verbiage!

Little Willie is right.

Just keep writing!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

RIP: Two Good Writers, Two Very Different Styles

I think the last time I had felt a personal twinge at the passing of a writer was Robert B. Parker’s death. He had a Ph.D. but didn’t let it get in the way of his writing dozens of fast-paced, entertaining detective novels

I truly liked his writing style. And, I suspect, stole some of it as best I could.

Then, earlier this month, another twinge with the news that Pat Conroy had died. I suppose I felt a kinship with him because of The Lords of Discipline. I’m a sucker for a story about a boarding school, having lived in one from age fourteen through nineteen.

(Or as some classmates now point out, survived one. Truth is it was a good choice for me. One I’m very glad I made.)

Conroy’s style was far different from what I usually enjoy reading and it’s one I never tried to follow. I use a pretty sparse style when it comes to description. I think I’d do a whole book in dialogue if I could get away with it.

(Uh, isn’t that called a “play”?)

Both writers had really well-developed characters and memorable scenes. And those characters and scenes always moved the story on its way (forwarded the plot). They weren’t there just to be there or to show the readers “ooh, look what I can do with words!”

That can be a temptation and it can easily get in the way of telling a good story.

Of you telling your good story.

Just keep writing.