A Good Writer Can Do That

You hear those gunshots last night, Matt? Boom, boom, boom , one after the other. Six in a row.

Firecrackers, he chuckled. The kids down the road.

What! You killed the romance, Matt. I had a great piece of flash fiction on the go: about an active shooter on the prowl, a gang fight … it was going to be a ripper. I was up half the night writing it. I couldn’t sleep.

You can still do a great piece of flash fiction, John. Just make it comic, not horror. A good writer can do that.

When I Come Back

When I come back

I want to come back as a book.

No matter how rambunctious, vitriolic,

passionate the life within,

I can’t get over how composed

each one looks.

  • if you could come back as a book, which character would you choose to be?

Collections of Jokes Do Not Win Pulitzer Prizes

A short story though it may be funny is not a joke.

The last line of a joke is the punchline.

The last name of a story has no name.

You remember a punchline.

You do not remember the last line of a story.

You may remember the first —- I still remember the opening lines of David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities — but I do not remember the last.

No one does.

You tell people jokes.

You do not tell short stories.

Short stories have an author.

Jokes do not.

No one knows who the first person was to tell a joke that does the rounds.

Jokes are short.

Short stories, except those of Lydia Davis, are comparatively long.

Collections of jokes do not win Pulitzer prizes.

Collections of short stories do.

I like them both.

There is one way short stories and jokes are alike: the good ones you like to hear or read over and over again..

Do You Do That?

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Do you find that? That you are lying on the bed, buried in a book when suddenly you come across a passage that is so striking, so delightful you must write it down? And then you dash to your laptop and keyboard your excitement so others can read when you post it to your blog? Do you do that?

Here is the passage I found quite early into my voyage of ‘The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker’: ‘on the shelf above the clothes rail were two identical life jackets lying side by side like a canoodling couple …’ Even more apt when you learn she is waiting for her beloved husband to board.

It was an extra pleasure to be able to GO INTO the library, roam around the new book shelves, and strike up conversation with the librarians whom I had not seen for over seven weeks.

 

Do you do that? Do you copy out passages? What’s the last book you were really excited about, particularly regarding the quality of writing?

The Alchemist: for those interested in origins

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I wasn’t thinking straight.

I wanted an image.

A wonky shopping cart.

Perfect.

But the poem grew too dark, too heavy

with baggage

way too personal.

I wanted to fictionalize it,

lighten it up.

Then I thought of the pathway

through linear park

with its crazed markings,

the one I had taken a picture of

a year before

the one with the man with the trapezoid head

at its centre.

All  I needed was a poem.

He could write it.

It had to be light but still true

to the original concept

of muzzy thoughts.

It went through ten drafts over eight hours

but I got there

& I was amazed how the mind can transmute

dull matter

into material that almost leaps

off the page.

 

* picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Most Important Quality

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I like how you can plug a cell phone into a socket

and charge it up within minutes to 100%.

By gum, I wish I could do that as the punch-line

to a well-known joke goes, you know the one

about the dog licking his balls in the corner of the pub

to the amazement of an envious spectator.

 

you wouldn’t need to sleep six to eight hours to recharge;

it’d be almost instantaneous. There’d be nothing

holding you back; you’d be crackling with energy,

 

endless energy, the quality Joyce Carol Oates judged

to be the most important for a writer.

Not Persistence.

Not Research but Energy.

You’d write a book of poems in a day, a novel in a week.

You’d be prolific as Simenon.

 

Don’t show me the money. Show me the socket. The plug-in

is the money!!

 

*what do you think the most important quality of a writer is?

do you think Energy plays an important part?

Tethered

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A writer disappears into his books.

It is a familiar story.

And a familiar paradox.

If a man does not disappear into his books

They will not be written.

A judicious voice says, a balance must be struck.

But we are talking Creativity.

It is in the same category as Love and War.

If a man is to write a million words

Then he must disappear into his books.

He will not always be available.

Marriages will strain, children be neglected.

A woman can disappear into her books too

But not as readily.

Maybe she is more tethered to the world.

Maybe that’s it.

Anytime Soon

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The poems whiz past like buses ‘Not in Service’.

There is no time table.

No bus shelter.

Only a sign saying, ‘Bus Stop 29’..

Anywhere is good as anywhere else.

That’s what Raymond Carver meant when he said:

Be At Your Station.

Be alert, open.

The deus ex machina will come.

Still, I’ve been waiting here for the last twenty minutes

With the girl with incarnadine hair.

It will be good if the poem or bus pulls up anytime soon.

Why My Poems are Nothing Like Emily Dickinson’s

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Emily Dickinson composed her poems while wearing a simple white dress with pockets for pencils and scraps of paper. She wrote in a large, airy bedroom, with two big windows facing south and two facing west at a small table 18 inches square with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen. They overlooked her family’s large property containing a large Italianate mansion among tall pines.

I hover around in my hoodie and tracky dacks, biro on the go  in a cramped cell of a room at a desk sprawled with papers, magazines and bills, one narrow window overlooking a block of grimy units towered over by power lines which is why my poems are nothing like those of Emily Dickinson.

One Way

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We were seated at the feet of the Great Writer who at 37 already had three novels published, the latest of which had just won the Booker Prize as it was then known.

“I will tell you a secret,” he said. “one which is not really a secret. It has been known for millennia but it has been largely overlooked and forgotten. Aristotle first taught it in his ‘Poetics.’. It is the principle of Endings. “

We leant forward. I had my notebook ready. “The ending,” he said, “is written in the beginning. There should be only one way a story can end. The challenge for any writer is to surprise the audience with the inevitability of everything that happens. There is no such thing as alternative endings. I repeat, there is only one way a story can end.”

 

do you agree with that? Is there only one way to end a story?

can you think of a story — fairy tale, parable, short story, film — that could have ended in a way different to how it did?

have you read Salman Rushdie’s Booker prize winning novel, ‘Midnight’s Children’?