An Ode to Eloquence

We in our modern culture have many theories of words. It almost seems like we are better at theorizing about them than forming them and using them. I mentioned in a previous post about a theory of language that supposes the evolution of communication is indicated by the ability to convey the most information in fewest characters. Modern technology allows us to convey a statement or opinion with mere taps of the thumbs. But at what desperate cost? Will linguists and historians examine remnants of today’s communication and find only “lol”s and“omg”s? What pathetic epithets for our times.

How about we think about language and speech as a craft, rather than language as a mere tool. I can’t speak for all, but I would much prefer “great exaltation” to “lol.”

This little poem of mine is just my little apologetic for something that I think has been lost.   Read more

Why I Don’t Write Historical Fiction

The hero barely has time to catch his breath. His ears are filled with the loud pop and whiz of musket balls, mingled with shouts of his comrades and the enemy alike. White smoke from gun powder fills his nostrils and fogs his vision. [You turn the page and the battle continues]. A tall and imposing figure on a white horse emerges through the fog of war. The hero feels his resolve rising in his chest at the mere sight of the noble and dignified General Washington. The resolve that the young hero feels welling inside him rises up through his gut, into his chest and throat, before bursting out his mouth in the form of a mighty shout. “Forth for Liberty!” Read more

Write What’s Uncomfortable

It’s off to the presses! Our class’s collection of short stories was released on Amazon and Create Space last week. This week has been a source of reflection and pride as we peruse the finished product and reflect on the process that has brought us to this point. If anyone had told me four months ago that I would have a published piece of fiction, I would have seen it as an insult to my academic prosaic sensibilities and laughed outrightly!

A couple of weeks ago our class had a special guest: Pittsburgh based author Howard Shapiro. He made some very relevant comments. He said that to improve as a writer, one has to write what is uncomfortable for them. Since his forte is children’s books, he said that if he wanted an educational exercise he would write a full length novel for an adult audience.

Writing a fictional short story has certainly been way out of my comfort zone. I would even go far as to say that it was downright dreadful at first! But you eventually warm up to it once you learn to stretch and it eventually becomes more comfortable. It is like introducing yourself to a stranger. At first it is awkward and uncertain. Will I make fool of myself? It is worth all of this? But, once the introduction is made and conversation is initiated, things flow more naturally. Maybe you hit it off and become friends for life?

I can not honestly say that fiction and I have become fast friends for life. At best I will go back to my dry academic research papers after this and fiction writing will remain a cordial acquaintance. But, this exercise in writing what is uncomfortable for me has been a great learning experience. I will read fiction happily on occasion, but i will not be writing the next great American novel or topping the New York Times bestseller list. And that is perfectly fine with me. I will leave that to my illustrious and talented classmates who have continued to surprise and impress me throughout this process. They have every right to be extremely proud to finally have this book in print.

Word Vomit: Still a Mess

There are many writers out there with many solutions to the bane of their existence: writer’s block. Among the many remedies (go for a long walk, think deeply in the shower, binge watch “The Office,” etc…) the most common one has to be free write. The idea is, just take a blank page and jot down whatever comes to mind. Then decipher what you have and watch a literary gold nugget just emerge from the she heap! Or at least that is the working theory.

My own experience with this kind of “word vomit” cure-all is less idyllic. I have found that this classic solution to an age-old problem is full of pitfalls. Read more

Going to the Stacks

A professor I have recently made an analogy in class. She compared the rush that athletes must get when they compete to “going to the stacks.” To what was she referring? In our college library, “the stacks” are the four floors of books and periodicals that make up the viscera of the building. For one of my professors, “going to the stacks” is simultaneously calming and invigorating; both zen-like and a rush of creative energy. It is a source of literary inspiration.

It truly saddens me when my fellow college students don’t know where the stack in their own library are. Just come up to the front desk. I just might be at work behind it and I would be more than happy to introduce them to you. The stacks are not easy to find for a first-time visitor to the library because it means going past the open, neo-Gothic vestibule, and walking down a narrow pathway between the reference desk and a wall. Once you reach the stacks, you will know it. Rows upon rows of countless volumes span the basement and three floors. In the stacks you can travel thousands of miles, through thousands of years in just a few steps.

When I am weary from the cares of a student’s life or I am bored with my classes, or if I just need a study break, I too go to the stacks. I don’t need a particular reason or item that I’m looking for (although, experience has taught me that it helps to carry around a slip of paper while perusing, just so it looks like you have a purpose). A trip to the stacks is a paradox because it is simultaneously an escape and a reality check.  If I am too self-contained in my own finite world, an eye-opening book from the stacks (a memoir on the Holocaust for instance) instantly puts my petty problems into perspective.

Pressed for ideas? Have writer’s block? Want a new hobby? Bored with your limited interests? Need to broaden your literary horizons? Find yourself some stacks and get lost in them.

The Power of the Blurb

Conciseness is the bane of my existence. When a professor explains an assignment, wrapping up with “seven page limit,” my hand is the first to shoot up in the air and ask just how elastic that limit is. Surpassing the maximum is my maxim. My sentences are seldom short. Instead, they run and unfold, a multiplicity of clauses, phrases and commas; striving almost to rival Dickens in their length and splendor.  Read more

How to be Great: Become and Adjective

What is the true measure of greatness? What is the threshold of renown and immortality?

For most authors, this is not the question at the forefront of their minds. For them, their valuable brain space is occupied by the nagging questions of a different nature. Sure, there are the questions of plot and character development, but there are also swirling uncertainties and doubts. Will people even like my story? Will I ever get discovered? How will I find a publisher? How will I even eat until this all falls into place? These are questions of real life, not of the world of fantasy. But when people aspire to greatness, they rarely consider how they would define it. What level of fame would they have to attain for their work to be considered a “classic?”

It is at this point that I would like to make a proposition. I would postulate that the true measure of greatness – to the extent that people remember your name and  learn about your impact on humanity in history classes – is this: Becoming an adjective.  Read more