Oldie but a Goodie: Elmore Leonard's Mr. Paradise

Elmore Leonard wrote a lot of books. His career is worth studying because he didn't start out a great---or even a very good---writer, but he taught himself how to write the hard way, by writing. And writing.

In those days he worked with editors who really edited, and readers who wrote in response. He learned from the feedback. And by selling stories. Seeing work in print can be a clarifying experience.

He began publishing in the early 1950s.  It was a golden age of pulp fiction, so a writer could sell stories without stringent, New Yorker style quality control; a time when even a half-good writer could sell a story and make a buck, get a pub, and improve over time.

Some of Leonard's early westerns are ... pretty awful. At their worst, they're ersatz bullwhip Westerns written by a Detroit guy that are long on silly tumbleweed detail and short on complicated plots, often resolving in obvious binaries (only two possible outcomes).

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National Fountain Pen Day 2017

Friday, November 3, as part of the kick off for NANOWRIMO, we celebrate National Fountain Pen Day. Why a fountain pen? During a break in your NANOWRIMO drafting process, watch this amazing VIDEO.

You get to see what a humble genius looks like and why handwriting is a special form of communication. It’s inspirational. And in parts, amazing!

Personally, I love fountain pens. They’re simple but elegant devices. You needn’t be afraid of Old Technology, embrace it! If you want to get an excellent starter pen, go to the bottom of our homepage and click on the Pen Chalet logo, and shop for “Nemosine Singularity” pen. For about $20, you can get an excellent pen in a variety of colors and different nib sizes. You’ll get a discount, too. [I don’t get a kickback; I just really like that pen and Pen Chalet has it currently discounted and they give excellent customer service.] While you’re there, pick up a bottle of Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses or Robert Oster Bondi Blue ink. Fun-to-write-with colors.

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Gotta Brag, WYF/Cognitive Method Students are Getting Published!

Those of you who know me, know that what I teach, The Cognitive Method, encourages “embodied writing” (a term I stole it from George Lakoff who stole it from William James who stole it from Shakespeare who stole it from Seneca who stole it from Aristotle…)

But anyway: “Embodied” because when the prose is working well, it stimulates the reader to feel as if s/he were in the body of the protagonist as the protagonist is living through the events of the story.  And I’ll try to explain a little of what I mean because with the publication of two of my student’s books this fall, you will have excellent examples of how to put these ideas into your own prose narrative.

The words on the page are directions: they seem to be telling the reader what to think, but done well, the words  assist the reader to a state of bodily-sensory excitement by describing specific perceptions---not what to think, but what to feel, as if looking through the eyes, hearing through the ears, tasting with the (… well, you get the idea) of the protagonist and this connects with an intense intentionality; powerful, specific perceptions feel like powerful intentions, and intention is aroused interest: therefore, we read with gusto! Our perceptions are the way we both know what we want and feel if we’re getting it. A baseline of perception is a neurological function we’re all doing all the time; therefore, if the words excite a vivid sense of seeing, hearing, tasting, running, arguing, etc then that’s a great way of connecting the protagonist’s intention directly to the reader’s neurology.

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Get Ready to Write!

It's not too early to start thinking about Nanowrimo! (https://nanowrimo.org/

November will be here before you know it and an important aspect of preparing for flow-state writing is research. Research can be real world---by which you find places and people and plots that might connect to the story you envision, and you make lists, gather pictures, diagram, map, and just accumulate interesting images, notions, and curiosities. 

Or you can do imaginary research, which is writing (NOT just thinking) about various story aspects that are wholly imaginary. 

For your research process, you need not have any particular story or plot in mind, but merely begin to chew over some toothsome ideas. I advise that you actually resist plotting at all, and instead, just start sketching out images and ideas, and as you begin to germinate ideas, start keeping a notebook.

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Reading: If You’re Going to Write, You Must Read

There was a time in my life I was such a knucklehead, I said I didn’t want to read too much, it might pollute my originality. So I postponed Ulysses, Mrs.Dalloway, Updike’s novels, Cheever, and so on, preserving my own special genius unsullied by, ahem, real genius. And missing much amazing inspiration, insight, and just flat out reading pleasure in my foolish abstinence. Or as a wag said, my obstinate abstination. 

Worse. I wasn't alone. I've heard students, but other soi-disant “writers” who have yet to write much more than a term paper, offer this "fear of pollution" fantasy to justify not reading literary books or screenplays. [Yes, screenwriters need to read screenplays, not simply go to watch TV claiming TV is the new cinema.]  

To assist in the project of writers reading, our classes for the next 8 weeks (starting the third week of March), will be reading a short, wonderful book: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (who has recently published another book: Exit West, now in hardcover). It will surprise some of you that HTGFRIRA is a self-help book that has some detailed advice about, um, making money. It will surprise none of you that the self-help is a flimsy excuse to tell a story with grit and wit. 

I got the book in hardcover mostly because I thought the title was such a gas, and I liked it. But now, I want to re-read it because, while Hamid writes quite well in the McCord Method of Embodied POV, I recall he gets away with stuff I might steer other writers away from (like second person address to the reader), so I want to see how he did it. He’s also a writer who understands how to inject Complication—with a capital C and that stands for Cooked up Cock up Cwazyass—into a story.

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Pens n Stuff

There was a time in my life I was such a knucklehead, I said I didn’t want to read too much, it might pollute my originality. So I postponed Ulysses, Mrs.Dalloway, Updike’s novels, Cheever, and so on, preserving my own special genius unsullied by, ahem, real genius. And missing much amazing inspiration, insight, and just flat out reading pleasure in my foolish abstinence. Or as a wag said, my obstinate abstination. 

Worse. I wasn't alone. I've heard students, but other soi-disant “writers” who have yet to write much more than a term paper, offer this "fear of pollution" fantasy to justify not reading literary books or screenplays. [Yes, screenwriters need to read screenplays, not simply go to watch TV claiming TV is the new cinema.]  

To assist in the project of writers reading, our classes for the next 8 weeks (starting the third week of March), will be reading a short, wonderful book: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (who has recently published another book: Exit West, now in hardcover). It will surprise some of you that HTGFRIRA is a self-help book that has some detailed advice about, um, making money. It will surprise none of you that the self-help is a flimsy excuse to tell a story with grit and wit. 

I got the book in hardcover mostly because I thought the title was such a gas, and I liked it. But now, I want to re-read it because, while Hamid writes quite well in the McCord Method of Embodied POV, I recall he gets away with stuff I might steer other writers away from (like second person address to the reader), so I want to see how he did it. He’s also a writer who understands how to inject Complication—with a capital C and that stands for Cooked up Cock up Cwazyass—into a story.

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Being a Writer, Part Three: Autumn, The Best Time for Resolutions

Autumn, not New Years, is the best time for resolutions. 
If If you---the Writer Protagonist---are intending  on improving your writing, here's the thought experiment for you: What is the next smallest writing-step that you can (and will) take? 

For some of us, that could be starting on the novel, or for others, it could be that you need to take a class, to write very brief scenes, some dialog, get your character protagonist shouting... A small, doable, step you can complete. 

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Being A Writer, Part Two: The Notebook

Ok, we have to have this sidebar... you have to have a notebook with you all the time. And something to write with. Take notes. Doodle. Keep it near.
    And here you say: "A notebook, gorblimey, but I’ve got my phone/pad/computer. You mean paper? Lined paper? Cardboard cover? Bound-pages hard-copy notebook notebook? The kind of notebook will take up room in my bag or get lost or that someone else might read?”
    And this from the distaff side: “A lump of pages that will ruin the perfect curve of my jeans if I put it in a pocket? You can't possibly mean that kind of notebook!?"

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Story Basics

There are five necessary categories that organize every story. The writing of excellent stories
conveys a rich and specific sense of all five.


Storyworld ; Person ; Action ; Storyteller ; Design


These categories are programmed in our DNA: they organize human perception and even have appeals to specific brain areas. Moreover, they represent stages in our experiences as we develop from an in utero being, to being capable of complex associate thought.

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The Closure Cliché Question

We're perceptually predisposed to see or infer closure; it's just in our neurology. You see in reading; half the fun is anticipating the ending: anticipating closure. We like to recognize patterns--- patterns of behavior, patterns of motifs, patterns of goal- seeking---and then to imagine how they continue and complete; that's why we will find the path through the maze, see the image in the stars, or even discover a logical conclusion as we're writing the end of a story. We actually get a pleasurable jet of neurotransmitters bathing our brains when we experience
closure. It could be in a crossword puzzle, in stories, movies, symphonies, after a meal, even after a productive day at work. On a larger scale, recognizing closure helps us assess our lives at year's end, with birthdays, or with memorial ceremonies.

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