Category Archives: Writing

“Political” Writing

I write because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.  But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience–George Orwell

I recently re-read Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write, and it reminded me again why write.  Orwell posits “four great motives for writing.”  The first three are “sheer egoism,” “aesthetic enthusiasm” and ” historical impulse.”  The fourth, and the true reason for great novels like Animal Farm and 1984, is “Political purpose–using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense.” Continue reading

More Tools of the Trade

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been slow when it comes to adapting my writing to the available technology.  I was into my third novel before I could write and edit solely on the computer.  It was years before I realized I could send ms drafts to my Kindle where they would be formatted like an ebook, making it possible for me to see how the finished product would look, and easier to actually correct the text. Continue reading

The Onyx Unicorn (II)

I’ve said many times that ideas are as important to a novel as setting, characters and plot.  The Unicorn coverbooks I’ve written so far, except for one, take on large ideas–elitism, racism, sexuality.  The exception is The Black Owls, a thriller that has several little ideas, but was written mainly to entertain.  The “detective” novel I’m writing now, The Onyx Unicorn, is along the same lines.  In fact, the hero of The Black Owls makes an important cameo in the new book. Continue reading

The Onyx Unicorn (I)

“The phantasy, then, which the detective story addict indulges in is the phantasy of being restored to the Garden of Eden, to a state of innocence, where he may know love as love and not as the law.  The driving force behind this daydream is the feeling of guilt, the cause of which is unknown to the dreamer.”– W. H. Auden

Or, as P. D. James put it, the detective story is not about murder, “but the restoration of order.”  As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I love the Sherlock Holmes stories and the Lord Peter Wimsey novels–I’ve read them all many times.  Likewise, the novels of Agatha Christie and Rex Stout.  They are all what is often called “classical” detective fiction, that is, they depict the crime, the clues, the resolution and the denouement, where the hero explains what happened.  They differ in what I call “the scenery”: the surroundings in which they take place, and the flourishes attributed to the characters.  Christie’s work, for instance, might be called “provincial” because her stories usually take place in small, self-contained communities (including trains and ships) and the characters are limited to suspects and those who represent the norms of her “village.”  Stout’s Nero Wolfe also operates in a small space, despite the fact that most of his tales take place in New York City. Continue reading

Dead Words

“‘We call them dead words,’ said a middle school teacher in Costa Mesa, California.  She and many others strive to purge pupils’ compositions of words deemed vague or dull.  ‘There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,’ she added.”  According to The Wall Street Journal, the elimination of words like “good,” “bad” and “said” is the latest fad among those charged with instructing our young. Continue reading

Writing Well: Why Bother?

My sister recently sent me a link to a piece in The Daily Beast called “Why Kim Kardashian Can’t Write Good.”  It was written by a fellow named John McWhorter who appears to be a professor of some sort (music?)  His analysis of Ms. Kardashian’s lack of writing skills is brief–she had only a high school education that “unsurprisingly did not teach her the finer points of how to write a sentence.”  Then he moves on to the real reasons for his essay:  Defending Cornel West’s lack of written scholarship and, more crucially, the idea that good writing doesn’t matter anyway. Continue reading

Humpty Dumpty Words

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–nothing more or less.”–Lewis Carroll

Words matter.  Near the end of the last century, certain affairs of state turned on the meaning of the word “is.”  More recently, Presidential press conferences, congressional hearings and countless newspaper editorials have debated a plethora of words, and each speaker argues vigorously for the meaning he chooses to give them.  Why?  Because the words are aimed at ever-smaller slices of the electoral pie, and those who hear them parse diligently to either confirm the speaker in their particular orthodoxy, or mark him an apostate.  Humpty Dumpty words may be correct, but they aren’t true.  Continue reading

Typos, And All That

I’ve recently been engaged in a many-partied conversation regarding “unclean” manuscripts that nevertheless become books.  By unclean, I mean the ugly little errors–misspellings, omitted words, spacing, paragraphing, missing/wrong punctuation and on and on–that go under the collective epithet “typos.”  It’s easy to publish a book these days.  All it takes is money, and often not much of that.  So what duty does the author, editor, publisher–whoever is involved in making it available to the public (usually in exchange for a few dollars)–owe the reader when it comes to typos? Continue reading

A New(?) Tool

Back in July, I wrote a post lamenting the fact that I couldn’t carry my work with me when I traveled.  I was even thinking about buying a laptop.  I’m glad I didn’t pull that trigger.

A couple of months ago, I did purchase a Kindle Paperwhite.  I already owned an original Kindle (for which I paid either $300 or $400).  It was a little beat up (the corner where the battery charge showed disappeared when I dropped it, despite the expensive leather cover), but still serviceable.  However, after I’d studied the Paperwhite online, Amazon’s relentless campaign to sell me one (and an expensive new cover) finally succeeded.  It cost about 1/3 as much as the original and it’s a better product. Continue reading