Saturday, August 13, 2011

Beachcomber; One who scavenges along beaches or in wharf areas, a seaside vacationer.

I stand on the beach strewn with rocks and shells and crazy collages of human refuse; old bottles, faded shoes, sunglasses, a pair of worn Levi’s; a real sandy junk yard. Everything looks old, but it’s just the sun having beaten down on them for so long. I feel old too, but it’s just the quiet that does it to me; I am still relatively young, it’s just my mind that ages here.

Georgian Bay, on the southern shore of Lake Huron, is flat limestone plain and cedar marshes. The Anishinaabeg First Nations peoples to the North and Huron-Petun (Wyandot) to the south own this land, in spirit anyway. I feel I own it too, in some primordial way. When I walk this beach, one of the longest stretches of beach in North America by the way, 8.7 miles of it, I become lost in time. I walk with the ancients, and their ghosts. I could discover the meaning of life here, given enough time.

The meaning of life; I feel ill-equipped to tackle the often heavy subject, but the surf and sand and distant seagulls point my soul in that direction anyway. I’ve often left my friends there on the beach to wander down the road, so to speak, usually late in the day when the sun is low across the water and the skies are turning dusky blue and rusty pink. This beach has another perk; you can walk out almost a quarter mile into the water and stare north to the horizon where there is nothing but sky and water, infinity, and aloneness. It’s like staring into a beautiful abyss.

Walking; further down the beach there are crags and rocks, where most of the best stuff is found. I find beautiful pieces of ornate sea-wood, which I keep for whittling by the fire. There are stones and rocks older than Moses here, and storm glass; Mother Nature takes old broken wine and beer bottle shards and buffs and sands them for years in the tides. When they return from this process they are smooth and round and lovely; I collect them by the handful. Sometimes I find old bones, seagulls, and fish. That’s okay, this is their place, and they are entitled to die here. I can find no more peaceful memorial ground then this. But the sky is growing long, and purple clouds are sailing across the darkening blue and I don’t want to leave this. I turn to look down the beach and see that my friends are packing things up, getting ready to leave, so I guess I must go. I scan the ground for another souvenir, a stone to take with me as a memento. I see a lovely buffed pink one and I pick it up, but suddenly I feel guilty. I should leave it, because it belongs here, and I have no right to take it. I put it back, and head for the crowd. They are far off in the distance, growing misty in the dusk, so I have plenty of time for thought.

I think about Jesse.

Did I ever tell you about Jesse? He’s a Dutch dwarf bunny, 8 years old now, pretty good for a rabbit. We got him Christmas Eve at a pet store for my girlfriend Clair in 2001. She took to him immediately, whenever she stopped crying for joy of course. Jesse is a spirited little cuss, and he makes a funny honking noise when he’s riled up. I was surprised at how cat-like he was; he’d sit on your lap and let you pet him for hours, he’d use a litter-box. He’d grunt his displeasure at you too. His fur is a winter white color, and he has sparkling blue eyes; the better to stare into our souls with. He’s been a great pet and a great companion for the past eight years.

We just found out he may have cancer.

Thinking of this as I walk the beach, I wonder about the meaning of things, and why people exist, and then die. Certainly not a new question and I’m certainly not the first to wonder about it, but at times when I’m faced with unpleasant things, I begin to wonder. I wonder about all the people who have ever lived and died and who have looked upon the same sun, sky and moon, who have walked the same Earth, sand, and beach, and I wonder what it all means.

This essay will not answer these questions.

So, when we finish our trip, leave Georgian Bay and head back into reality, we have to make a decision about Jesse. It’s one I don’t wish to make.

Leave no business unfinished, leave no stone unturned, and leave no person unloved.  The meaning of life could be that simple.

I’ve reached my friends, and the closer I get, the further my existential thoughts are drifting away. They are young; I am young too, perhaps too young to be wrestling with these questions.

But it’s the beach, and the beachcomber in me. I search for answers in life as I do on the beach. It’s just my questing nature I guess.

The meaning of life will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

1. A beginning ends what an end begins.

2. The despair of the blank page: it is so full.

3. In the head Art’s not democratic. I wait a long time to be a writer good enough even for myself.

4. The best time is stolen time.

5. All work is the avoidance of harder work.

6. When I am trying to write I turn on music so I can hear what is keeping me from hearing.

7. I envy music for being beyond words. But then, every word is beyond music.

8. Why would we write if we’d already heard what we wanted to hear?

9. The poem in the quarterly is sure to fail within two lines: flaccid, rhythmless, hopelessly dutiful. But I read poets from strange languages with freedom and pleasure because I can believe in all that has been lost in translation. Though all works, all acts, all languages are already translation.

10. Writer: how books read each other.

11. Idolaters of the great need to believe that what they love cannot fail them, adorers of camp, kitsch, trash that they cannot fail what they love.

12. If I didn’t spend so much time writing, I’d know a lot more. But I wouldn’t know anything.

13. If you’re Larkin or Bishop, one book a decade is enough. If you’re not? More than enough.

14. Writing is like washing windows in the sun. With every attempt to perfect clarity you make a new smear.

15. There are silences harder to take back than words.

16. Opacity gives way. Transparency is the mystery.

17. I need a much greater vocabulary to talk to you than to talk to myself.

18. Only half of writing is saying what you mean. The other half is preventing people from reading what they expected you to mean.

19. Believe stupid praise, deserve stupid criticism.

20. Writing a book is like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle, unendurably slow at first, almost self-propelled at the end. Actually, it’s more like doing a puzzle from a box in which several puzzles have been mixed. Starting out, you can’t tell whether a piece belongs to the puzzle at hand, or one you’ve already done, or will do in ten years, or will never do.

21. Minds go from intuition to articulation to self-defense, which is what they die of.

22. The dead are still writing. Every morning, somewhere, is a line, a passage, a whole book you are sure wasn’t there yesterday.

23. To feel an end is to discover that there had been a beginning. A parenthesis closes that we hadn’t realized was open).

24. There, all along, was what you wanted to say. But this is not what you wanted, is it, to have said it?"
— James Richardson

"The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite. I had too much to write:

too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming,

too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within,

too many terrible genetic and fiduciary secrets to dig up and bury and dig up again,

too many divorces to grant,

heirs to disinherit,

trysts to arrange,

letters to misdirect into evil hands,

innocent children to slay with rheumatic fever,

women to leave unfulfilled and hopeless,

men to drive to adultery and theft,

fires to ignite at the hearts of ancient houses. "

— Michael Chabon (Wonder Boys)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Grammar – A Printable Version

"The English language is your most versatile scientific instrument. Learn to use it with precision."

1. Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
2. Just between you and I, the case of pronoun is important.
3. Watch out for irregular verbs which have crope into English.
4. Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.
5. Don't use no double negatives.
6. Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.
7. Join clauses good like a conjunction should.
8. A writer must be not shift your point of view.
9. About sentence fragments.
10. Don't use run-on sentences you got to punctuate them.
11. In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in series.
12. Don't use commas, which are not necessary.
13. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
14. Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.
15. Don't abbrev.
16. Check to see if you any words out.
17. In the case of a report, check to see that jargonwise, it's A-OK.
18. As far as incomplete constructions, they are wrong.
19. About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition - take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.
20. In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.
21. Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.
22. It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.
23. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out.
24. Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.
25. To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously avoid.
26. Last but not least, lay off cliches.
by George L. Trigg, Physics Review Letters, (Volume 42, Issue 12, pp. 747-748, 19 March 1979).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing a Novel is Easy? Since When?

Conversations with my Muse

I recently got into it with my muse, A shadowy figure not unlike Lady Godiva, who started asking me why my book wasn’t written yet. I had no haughty replies, I just stated the obvious; these things take time.

She scrunched up her brow like I had said something offensive.

“Writing is easy,” She said. “I could write a book in a month, tops.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Not interested.”

“Why do you think it’s easy?

She leaned forward, “C’mon. Twilight? I could write that in my sleep.”

“There are a lot of things to consider,” I say.

“Like what?”

“Story. You need a good story.”

“Okay. Easy enough.”

“Ah, but then you need an interesting protagonist.”

“Okay, I guess you mean the main character.”

“Yeah. Also, the protagonist, the main character, has to be interesting enough to carry the story.”


“He also has to have an arc.”

“An arc? Like Noah’s Arc?” She says, laughing.

“No, a personal, emotional and cathartic story arc. He can’t be the same at the end of the book as he is at the beginning.”

“Why not?”

“Cause what’s the point of following this guy through 300 pages if he just ends up the same?”

“Oh. Never thought of that. Well, that doesn’t sound so hard.”

“What about conflict? Drama? We need an antagonist in this story …”

“An antagonist? Like a shit disturber?”

“Right, someone who causes our hero distress.”

“I still don’t see …”

“Also, there’s thematic issues to deal with …”


“Yeah, the novel should have a theme, a motif, it’s gotta be about something other than the story …”

“I don’t understand ….”

“Then there’s Tone, Pace, Style …”

“You’re losing me.”

“Then of course, you have to curb character drift.”

“Character drift?”

“You gotta keep your characters from acting OUT of character …If the characters are not acting like themselves you’ll lose the reader.

“This is getting complicated …”

“What POV should you write your novel in?”


“Point of View. First person, third person …”

“Aren’t you making this more complicated than it should be?”

“No. Like I said, there’s things to consider. Language, for instance.”

“Language? What about English?” She says, laughing.

“There’s different types of English. Colloquial, and literary, regional dialects …”

“Colloquial? You mean slang.”

“I mean, how do people talk? Which brings us to dialogue.”

“Oh, dialogue. Well, I talk enough (laughs) so I should be able to write dialogue easily.”

“Not so easy. You can’t write book dialogue the way people actually talk, you couldn’t get a decent sentence down that way … human speech is fraught with broken sentences, half-thoughts, uh’s and um’s … and you need dialogue attribution or people won't know who's saying what ...”

“Yeah but …”

“And, do all the characters talk the same way? You need dialogue quirks, inflections unique to each character, so they don’t all sound like each other. Where are the characters from? Does that influence their speech patterns? Will one character from Place B curse a lot whereas character from place A will not? Or vice Versa? How about back story? These people need a history of some sort, or they won’t seem real.

“Slow down, Hemingway …”

“You also need to think about foreshadowing, onomatopoeia, incremental repetition, conflict heightening, resolution …”

“You’re losing me again.”

“And research. You can’t forget research.”

“What’s there to research? I have Google for that.” (Laughs again, but this time nervously)

“Setting, you have to set the story someplace. Some research is in order there. Also, if you’re writing a police story or a story involving high finance, say, you need to do your homework or you’ll look rather silly.”

“I never thought of that.”

“And your characters can’t be vague, or clichéd, and your prose can’t be dull. Same goes for your actual story; you can’t trot out a tired old plot and expect people not to fall asleep reading it. It’s a fine line to walk.”

“I never knew so much was involved.”

“Then there’s the second draft, maybe a third draft (which would be a polish …) editing, copy-editing, re-writes …”

“Whoa! You have to write the book again?”

“Sometimes three times.”

“That sucks.”

“Yup. But it’s necessary. Still think writing a book is easy?”

“I’m beginning to think not.”

“You also can’t be Polemic.”

“Polemic?” (rolls eyes)

“Yeah. You can’t beat people over the head with a message, or a theme, you can’t have an axe to grind.”

“You mean you can’t lecture your reader?”

“Right. They’ll throw your book off a cliff and tell you to go chase it.”

“I thought writing was supposed to be fun and easy. What’s with all the strict guidelines?”

“No guidelines, but you need to know your stuff. For instance, you need to outline a novel before you start to write it. A novel needs prep work, or you could be writing in circles.”

“Ugh. Hate outlines. My English teacher used to make me do those for my essays.”

“Right, and you also need chapter outlines. You need to know where your story is going. And here’s a spoiler, you have to know the end of your book before you know the beginning.”

“Kind of like Pulp Fiction?”

“Sorta, but in a not so Twisted way.”

(Shakes head) “Why would you want to be a writer? Sounds like a lot of work.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you!”

“You must be crazy.”

“And, once the book is written, the real work begins. Agents, query letters, book titles, cover art, copyrights …”

(She sighs, takes a sip of her drink) Forget I mentioned it!

“See? Always know the end before you know the beginning.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts Too Long for This World: Quotes on Writing and Other Things …

I love posting quotes on Twitter and Facebook, but often they’re chopped up and edited to fit stringent character limits or are just too long to post because friends and followers alike prefer short sound bites, and if a phrase is longer than Gone with the Wind usually they’ll tune out after the first few sentences. It’s a shame because a lot of the longer quotes on writing are very interesting, and I feel a twinge of horror when I have to edit one of them down into small edible bits. Here are a few that you might enjoy. So, uh … enjoy!

❝...After all, all he did was string together a lot of old well-known quotations.❞ ༺༻ H.L. Mencken on Shakespeare

❝You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair; the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.❞ ༺༻ Stephen King ~ On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

❝Do not be grand. Try to get the ordinary into your writing — breakfast tables rather than the solar system; Middletown today, not Mankind through the ages.❞ ༺༻ Darcy O’Brien

❝A writer who does not speak out of a full experience uses torpid words, wooden or lifeless words, such words as "humanitary," which have a paralysis in their tails.❞ ༺༻ Henry David Thoreau

❝The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.❞ ༺༻ Lewis Thomas

❝All the fantasy writers I know have a way of dwelling on their own fears and phobias. A writer spends his life being his own psychiatrist.❞ ༺༻Charles Beaumont

Semicolons . . . signal, rather than shout, a relationship. . . . A semicolon is a compliment from the writer to the reader. It says: "I don’t have to draw you a picture; a hint will do.❞ ༺༻ George Will

❝Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven't been told a million times already – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching. ༺༻ Harlan Ellison

❝In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.❞ ༺༻ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

❝The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.❞ ༺༻ William Styron

❝The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules.❞ ༺༻ John Steinbeck

❝We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—”Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.❞ ༺༻ John Steinbeck

❝When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.❞ ༺༻ Michel de Montaigne

❝Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.❞ ༺༻ Sir Francis Bacon

❝When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me.❞ ༺༻ W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965), 'Of Human Bondage', 1915

❝One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it. I recommend this feeling.❞ ༺༻ Steven Brust

❝The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim isn't to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain.❞ ༺༻ George Buchanan

❝Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.❞ ༺༻ Monica Dickens

❝Writing wasn’t easy to start. After I finally did it, I realized it was the most direct contact possible with the part of myself I thought I had lost, and which I constantly find new things from. Writing also includes the possibility of living many lives as well as living in any time or world possible. I can satisfy my enthusiasm for research, but jump like a calf outside the strict boundaries of science. I can speak about things that are important to me and somebody listens. It’s wonderful!❞ ༺༻ Virpi Hämeen-Anttila

❝Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.❞ ༺༻ Barbara Kingsolver

❝Are we, who want to create, in some way specially talented people? Or has everybody else simply given up, either by preassures of modesty or laziness, and closed their ears from their inner need to create, until that need has died, forgotten and abandoned? When you look at children, you start to think the latter. I still haven't met a child who doesn't love - or who at least hasn't loved - drawing, writing or some other creative activity.❞ ༺༻ Natalia Laurila

❝Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.❞ ༺༻ Susan Sontag

❝Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words – the words live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.❞ ༺༻ J. Michael Straczynski

❝All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.❞ ༺༻ George Orwell

❝I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.❞ ༺༻ Brenda Ueland

I can’t help but to write, I have an inner need for it. If I’m not in the middle of some literary project, I’m utterly lost, unhappy and distressed. As soon as I get started, I calm down.❞ ༺༻ Kaari Utrio

❝Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer - and if so, why?❞ ༺༻ Bennett Cerf

❝The quality which makes man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and masochism. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street.❞ ༺༻ James Jones

❝It's tougher than Himalayan yak jerky on January. But, as any creative person will tell you, there are days when there's absolutely nothing sweeter than creating something from nothing.❞ ༺༻ Richard Krzemien

Got a long quote that won’t fit Twitter? Send it along and I’ll post it in future additions of “Thoughts Too Long …”

Thanks for stopping by the Den. Take care now, and keep scribbling …

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

JUST A COMMON SOLDIER (A Soldier Died Today)

by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

© 1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mark Twain Will Finally Reveal All!

The great American writer left instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death, which is now.

By Guy Adams in Los Angeles

Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain's dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language
left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Read more here: The Independent

Related Article: The wait is almost over for Twain's autobiography.