Ursula K Le Guin’s Stunning Speech

RIP you beautiful soul!  Reposting because we STILL need to see this.

If reading books, writing books or publishing books means anything to you, please set aside the next six minutes.  You really need to see this.

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Q & A: What is your idea about the most remarkable soldier – real or fictitious – in history?

There are many incredible stories of heroism in real-life, some in my own family. However, since you included the realm of fiction in your question my choice is Paul Bäumer, the main character of “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

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Sharing Paul’s story as a German soldier during World War I enables civilians to understand, at least somewhat, not only how combat veterans think, but why. When the reader finally understands the meaning of the book’s title it should haunt them.

I firmly believe that if those in power actually read this book there’d be fewer wars.

Q & A: What is your favorite novel?

My favorite book of all time is Jane Eyre.

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I enjoy the story – a fine gothic-style romance with the arguably first feminist heroine. But the real treat is the language. There’s something musical in Charlotte Bronte’s writing style.  Consider her first paragraph:

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.”

At the moment I’m going through a Dystopian phase. My top four recommendations in that genre would be:

1984.

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Orwell’s classic should be required reading. I think the book he wrote as a terrible warning was taken as a “how to” guide by some… and here we are.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”

Brave New World,

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Aldous Huxley. See above re: “how to guide”.

“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.

The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.

“And this,” said the Director opening the door, “is the Fertilizing Room.”

The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece. It’s listed as dystopian science fiction, but I actually think it should be found in the “horror” section. Especially if you’re female.

“There is more than one kind of freedom…Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

And finally,

The Long Walk,

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Stephen King’s first novel, an underrated tale written under the name Richard Bachman in 1966.  But wait!  Wasn’t “Carrie” his first?  Well yes.  It was the first book he published in 1974.  The Long Walk is the first novel he wrote.  I love the language!

“An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run.”

Honorable Mention…

The Unit,

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Ninni Holmqvist’s debut novel. I must confess, I didn’t enjoy reading this book. The main character annoyed me to death. I found myself wanting to shout at her. But that is why I recommend the book. I read it over a year ago, and I can already feel my anxiety rising and the walls close in as I’m writing this. The premise seems quite direct, but the effect is surprisingly subtle and long-lasting. You need to be a little bit fearless to read this book.

“It was more comfortable than I could have imagined. A room of my own with a bathroom, or rather a suite of my own, because there were two rooms: a bedroom and a living room with a kitchenette. It was light and spacious, furnished in a modern style and tastefully decorated in muted colors. True, the tiniest nook or cranny was monitored by cameras, and I would soon realize there were hidden microphones there too. But the cameras weren’t hidden. There was one in each corner of the ceiling – small but perfectly visible – and in every corner and every passageway that wasn’t visible from the ceiling; inside the wardrobes, for example, and behind doors and protruding cupboards. Even under the bed and in the cupboard under the sink in the kitchenette. Anywhere a person might crawl in or curl up, there was a camera. Sometimes as you moved through a room they followed you with their one-eyed stare.”

Q & A: What method do you use to write a novel? Please include some things you like and dislike about your method.

The only “correct” way to write is the way that works best for you. Some write longhand on a tablet. Some outline, draft, outline again, then fill in the blanks. Some write the ending first then work their way toward it. Some write sequentially though I swear I don’t know how they do it! Stephen King begins all his stories with a single thought. “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” For example, for his novella “The Mist” he thought “Wouldn’t it be funny if huge bugs attacked a supermarket?” (yeah, the guy has a warped sense of humor!)

My personal style is to listen. For example, I was walking downtown recently when I saw a street sign at an intersection. I was on 17th street, but the only marker for the cross street was a “one way” sign. And I suddenly heard a voice say “I live at the corner of 17th and One Way.” The voice was middle-aged, female, and quite British. I tried to figure out who said it, why it was important, and what the townsfolk thought about the lady who lived there. It’s one of my best stories!

Oh, also, I don’t really write. Even this answer to you – my fingers write. If I couldn’t type I’m not sure I’d be much of a writer, because most of the time they tell the tales. I sometimes feel as though I’m just along for the ride!

Q & A: How Do I Become a Writer?

Excellent question!  I think many people who aren’t actively involved in the arts are a bit intimidated when they start.  Really, the best way to be a good writer is to be a good reader. And by “good” I mean voracious. Consume books. Devour books. And when you’re not doing that, write.

Second – don’t worry. People will say you can’t do it. You’ll receive that judgey little smirk when you announce you’re writing a novel, followed by the withering down-their-nose stare when they ask how often you’ve been published. Screw ‘em. You aren’t writing for them. I worried myself straight out of a career that way. Don’t be me.

Third – listen to those who have gone before you, but don’t dwell on them. Neil Gaiman offers some nifty advice here (check out the very first thing he says and take it to heart):

FAQs | Advice to Authors

FWIW, my favorite “how to” book is written by Stephen King.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Wikipedia

Reading that made me feel like I was sitting down with my favorite Uncle. You know, the one who tells all the really cool stories your parents don’t want you to hear. At the same time his advice is clear, direct, and entirely useful.

Along with ditching the worry, don’t stress about getting it right. When I write I turn off both my spell check and my grammar program. If I edit as I write I’ll never finish a page. Don’t worry about “voice”. Don’t worry about “tense”. Don’t worry about format. All that comes later. Until you have something down on paper all you have is an idea.

Come on! The world needs your novel, or whatever the heck it is you’re writing. Speaking of which, one of my favorite motivations is National Novel Writing Month (aka Nanowrimo).

National Novel Writing Month

It happens every November but don’t fret. Even if you’re past the date (or too early, it really depends on your point-of-view) you’ll still find an active community of writers there. It’s great for encouragement.

One last thing. Writer’s block. It hits us all. Perhaps that’s why you were asking in the first place. If you’re still wondering how to write, what to write, when to write… do this. Snag your favorite pen, tablet, journal or word processor. Write this sentence:

“I can’t write.”

Write it out again.

“I can’t write. I can’t write.”

Try a few more. Seriously.

“I can’t write. I can’t write. I can’t write! And there’s this crazy American chick who just told me to write this stupid phrase when I really wanted to flirt with this amazing British actor. But here I am writing this stupid phrase anyway. So there, are you HAPPY NOW? Crazy American chick? I can’t write I can’t write I can’t write! I. Can’t WRITE!!!”

Congratulations. You just wrote. Not only that, you have the basis of a character! He’s talking to you. Listen to him. Write him down. In the end that’s really who you’re writing for. Your characters need a voice. Now, this one has one. Go get ‘em!

What to NEVER say to a writer. EVER.

tumblr_inline_n9g140tV701s1ll4kOr… how to earn a first class “E Ticket” into one of my stories.

I’ve seen lots of articles like this.  “10 Things To Never Say to a Writer“.  “Eight Things You Should Never Say to a Writer”  “19 Things You Should Never Say to a Budding Writer” (I like how that one tossed in “budding”).  People love lists.  And most of these cover the generic situations writers of all genres find mildly annoying.

Included in nearly every list are questions like “Will you write my paper for me?”  and “Can I be in your story?”  Personally, I’ve never met anyone bold enough to ask me to write something for them, but I’m often asked (sometimes joking, sometimes serious) if whoever I’ve just met can be a character in my book.  My friends know better.  If you end up in one of my stories, typically it’s not because I like you.  My stories are angst-fests so ending up in one generally means you’re either in for a lot of suffering (if I like you) or you’re a red shirt.

The last person I specifically wrote in was a stick-up-his-ass hotel manager in New Orleans.  I had asked if I could look around for a bit, because I’d love to use the place as a setting.  He – swear to God – had me escorted out of the building by security.  That earned him multiple appearances in several of my stories.  Usually  he ends up something like this:

Some days, it’s good to be a writer.

I found this note waiting for me on my NaNoWriMo account, from an admirer who will remain anonymous.

I thought that I signed up for the nano trial version of Scrivener and that it would last until december, however I went to use it today and was informed that the trial version was finished and would have to pay the full amount to continue.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov

I’m often asked “how do you become a writer?”.  Sure, they teach creative writing classes, but they’re nothing more than elaborate practice sessions.  Writing is an organic thing – it’s a feeling.  That being said, I just ran across this quote.  No one can teach you how to write, but if you understand what he’s saying on an instinctive level then you may have what it takes!

Air Force Jargon for Civilians

USAFI grew up in the twilight world of the Military Brat.  I wasn’t in the military myself, but because I was raised in that culture I have far more in common with them than I do with civilians.  40 years later I frequently pepper my speech with things I heard my father say when I was a kid.

When you’re writing about the military don’t forget that it casts a very long shadow.  There’s two sets of acronyms.  The first is the most common,  used by active duty personnel while at work.  It includes very specific terms to describe a weapon, a base, a plane etc. – you can find a ton of lists like this for all branches.

I’ve tried to focus on the second set, which is either used by active duty personnel when they’re off duty / off base, or by people who associate with active duty personnel (parent, spouse, child etc.).  Rather than describing a specific weapon or machine, the majority of phrases in the second set are situational (“SNAFU” is a great personal favorite).

warning_MCGPlease keep in mind a few truths about military speech – strong language is a given, and the phrases are often extremely misogynisticI’ve done my best to avoid the latter, but if you’re writing in a military environment be aware it’s just par for the course. Even females will use anti-female terms if applied to someone who is thought to be weaker than themselves. For example “BIB” would be the “Bitch in Back”. It can refer to a female copilot or to a whiny / weak male copilot while on base.  Off base “BIB” might describe a nagging wife, girlfriend, mother or daughter.

Edit:  My darlin’ Father added clarification to a few of these – thanks Dad!

ACC – for example, this is one that Dad clarified.  I grew up in the era of TAC/SAC (see below).  The last base Dad was stationed at was Langley Field in Virginia.  As of 1992 TAC/SAC merged to become Air Combat Command, which is one of the 10 major commands in the USAF.  Wow.  No more TAC/SAC?  The horror!!  Anyway, if your story is set before 1992 use TAC/SAC.  After – use ACC and carry on.

AFU – All fucked up – pronounced “Alpha Foxtrot Uniform”

AWOL – Absent Without Leave.  Civilian application = someone who isn’t home / where they ought to be when they said they’d be.

penguinBag of Balls / Penguin – a plane that’s always broken. Civilian application – a lemon.  When calling about a car in the shop, it might be: “How’s the Penguin?” “Tango Uniform”.

Barn – hangar. Hangars can be used for many things, so for example a “barn dance” is any recreational gathering held for a lot of people in an unused hangar

BFE – ‘Bum Fuck Egypt.’ Refers to a remote base. In civilian speak, it means “middle of nowhere”

BLQ / BOQ – Bachelor Living Quarters / Bachelor Officer Quarters – this one’s important! This is where most of the cute and available guys are concentrated, also where the majority of trouble starts (either there or the O Club)

Bingo – very low / close to zero, usually applied to fuel level. Bingo Fuel = just enough fuel to get home.  Though when used by civilians in casual conversation it could be “out of gas” as well.

BX – Base Exchange – it’s sort of like the base Walmart. The entire family would use this one easily.  This is “PX” in the Army.

Clusterfuck – this one is commonly used by civilians, but in the military it usually refers to one of two specific events – either the superior officer really screwed up, resulting in mission failure / punishment for all, or a woman is involved. (sorry, sad but true usage)

Commissary – that’s the base grocery store. Here’s some info on the BX / Commisary places a military spouse / family would know about.

Snoopy flying on his dog houseDipsy Doodle – this is when a pilot climbs to altitude, then suddenly dives for quick acceleration – usually to go supersonic. I include this one because any kid who hears it adores the term, and they’ll use it for all sorts of things. My brother and I called pill bugs “Dipsy Doodles” later shortened to “Doodle Bugs” just for the hell of it.  The last time I heard it, a guy with a motorcycle was describing riding on a very hilly road so fast that his butt left the seat a few times.

DOE – Date of Enlistment – this is important for any number of reasons – most have to do with pay or when you get out. This is one of the terms a spouse would be very aware of.

PatchAAF.0000.AAF.ArmyAirForceCadetSchoolDoolie – A freshman attending the USAFA.

Doolie Lookout – usually a balcony or other place where a parent can spy on a couple out on a date

Double Aught Dark – midnight (fwiw, “aught” sounds like “ought” with a sort of flat “ah” sound at the beginning)

FRED – Fucking Ridiculous Economic Disaster – It has a specific usage for military personnel, but for a military family / spouse this term can have some very creative usage.

FUBAR – Fucked Up Beyond All Reason

GMT – Greenwich Mean Time (see “Zulu”)

Grub Steak – this isn’t always present, but on several of the bases I was at, it’s sort of a military 7-11. Without Slurpies.

HUAW – Hurry Up and Wait

keep-it-simple-stupid-3KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid – never said aloud, but written in notes

NCO – Non-commissioned Officer – this is often a source of confusion outside military families.

O Club – Officer’s club – imagine a strange hybrid of a really run down country club and a bank.

OIC – Officer in Command – often a nickname applied to a military spouse

OTS – Officer Training School – this is different from Basic, just for officers.

PICNIC – Problem In Chair, Not In Computer; Used by help desk personnel to indicate user ignorance. This is the military version of PIBKAC (problem is between keyboard and chair – in other words, the user)

RTB – Return To Base – civilian application, “Go home”

SAC – Strategic Air Command – big rivalry with TAC.  Use this term if your story is set before 1992.

SNAFU – Situation Normal All Fucked Up

TAC – Tactical Air Command – big rivalry with SAC.  Use this term if your story is set before 1992.

TDY – Temporary Duty. This is when someone is assigned to another base short-term – say a couple of weeks, maybe for specialized training. One of the most common phrases I heard growing up.

Tango Uniform = “Tits Up” = “it’s broken” civilian application “How’s the car?” “Tango Uniform” (you’d say “tits up” if not in mixed company, in other words if your superior or children aren’t present – used by mixed genders around mixed genders)

USAFA – this wouldn’t actually be used or spoken by anyone normally, but it’s the official abbreviation of the United States Air Force Academy. If you have a character referring to it, they’d say “the Academy”, “The Zoo” (most common) or maybe even “C Springs”, but this is how they’d write it, and know what they’re talking about.

Zoo – Nickname for the Air Force Academy, home of the Doolie

Zulu – Standardized clock setting where all military clocks are set to the same time – usually corresponds with GMT

Also, if you’re writing military, be sure to know your phonetic alphabet! You wouldn’t say something like ATB – you’d say Alpha Tango Bravo.

The Publishing Dilemma

darkI’ve been writing for years.  I’m confident in my abilities.  I have a very strong story.  So why the heck am I still an “unpublished writer” rather than “… author of 75 Miles to Montauk”?

It’s simple, really.  From my perspective, I seem to be caught between two no-win scenarios.  Tell me if this sounds familiar.  Traditional route:

1. write a fantastic story

2. learn all you can about the publishing industry

3. submit standard materials to everyone you can think of

4. paper the walls with rejection letters

New fangled self publishing route:

1. write a fantastic story

2. sign up with a service like Create Space and hit “publish”

3. watch exactly nothing happen

4. endure withering/pitying looks as you explain you’re “self published”, which seems to equate a grade-school child bringing home construction paper artwork for mom and dad to pin to the fridge door.  It’s something a naive kid would be proud of, but no “grown up” would ever take it seriously.

(Incidentally – if you have trouble remembering how to spell “naive” like I do, remember this fun fact: “Evian” is “Naive” spelled backwards.  But I digress.)

agilityI recently met an author I already have enormous respect for.  Chris Pitchford is a delight to talk to.  His writing is crisp and witty.  He has a real knack for telling a tale, as you can discover in his new novel The Agility of Clouds.

When he isn’t writing fantastic stories, Chris  puts a great deal of thought into the business end of books, as explained in his recent article “Dream jobs.  Sometimes it’s not enough to have just one“.  Published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Chris lays out the pros and cons, and explains why he made the decision to self publish.  A recommended read!