Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Last Post

All good things come to an end.

In the eight months and 48 posts since I started this blog, we’ve had some fun together, and hopefully I made a few people think and sparked some good discussion. But as I prepare to publish my novel, Sutherland’s Rules, begin work on the next, take Panverse Publishing to the next level starting with six new titles in 2013, all while still having a life… well, something has to go. (This blog won’t be deleted, though, so archived posts will remain available).

It’s also becoming very clear to me that the world simply doesn’t need another writing blog. That said, for those of us who are writers, there are a very few writing blogs that I consider absolutely indispensable, and which explore the craft at a level far beyond the mundane. These are:

My most heartfelt thanks to all of you who’ve visited, read my posts, humoured me, commented, joined in my contests, etc. I’d love to stay in touch with you all and know what you’re up to, so please join me on Twitter (@Dario_Ciriello) and/or friend me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/dario.ciriello).

Finally, I’d like to tell you a little about Panverse Publishing and my plans for it. Please bear with me a few moments, since, writer or reader, you may hear something to your advantage…

PANVERSE PUBLISHING is a critically-acclaimed small press dedicated to publishing story-rich work by new writers and established professionals. Stories from our anthologies have received several award nominations, including a Hugo and Nebula, and won the 2011 Sidewise Award; my own nonfiction title, ‘Aegean Dream,’ was the #1 nonfiction book on Greece on Amazon UK for 14 weeks this summer.

Starting now, Panverse will not be limiting itself solely to short fiction or Science Fiction and Fantasy titles, but will instead be publishing long form fiction (novels) for a broader audience, as well as some nonfiction.

Panverse will be publishing, both print and digitally, new voices telling unusual stories. Agents and publishers are taking no chances today, with the result that some extremely gifted new writers, and many established writers whose stories don’t fit the formula- and category-obsessed market, are unable to get published. At Panverse it’s story first and foremost. We believe readers are smarter than the publishing world generally gives them credit for, and that they read across categories and enjoy work that doesn’t conform.

Our books are beautiful. One of my core values is that a book–whether print or electronic–should not only contain good writing but also be a thing of beauty, meticulously crafted and attractively packaged. Panverse goes out of its way to find the best artists and the most striking cover art.

As of now, Panverse Publishing has four titles scheduled for 2013, and we will be announcing plans to open to novel submissions in the near future.

I’m in the process of entirely rebuilding the Panverse website. Once the new website is up, I’ll be posting details and teaser excerpts of upcoming titles, as well as author guidelines for submissions, along with royalty and contract terms and all the other good stuff. There will also be a Panverse Reader Club for those among our readers aspiring to become repeat offenders (think: discounts, prize draws, and much more).

Most of all, I intend to continue with Panverse’s original promise and mandate to put STORY front and center. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a boring book, and we have no intention of inflicting them on our readers! Panverse’s motto is, and always will be,

STORY. WONDER. THEY’RE BACK.

‘Like’ us on Facebook

Visit Panverse on the web

Want to be on the Panverse mailing list? No spam, ever, and absolute privacy: all you will receive are emails when new titles are released and notification of our (quarterly or so) contests and prize draws. Just drop me an email at office dot panpubs at gmail dot com, and you’ll be kept in the loop. You can of course opt out at any time.


That’s all, folks! Thank you and Happy Holidays, and I wish you every success and happiness for 2013 and beyond.

Dario

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Material World, Writing

The Taliban Guide to Better Prose

I know a lot of writers.

Now, most of these writers blog. And, worse, most of them also Tweet and link to other writers’ blog posts with some frequency.

As a result, I see an interminable stream of post titles like, “Zap Adverbs for Kick-Ass Prose!”, “Thirteen More Ways to Kill Exposition,” “Plot like a Hollywood Screenwriter,” “Write for the Market,” “The Seven Types of Subplot,” and so on, a nightmare cornucopia of deranged dogma and rabid rules almost guaranteed to paralyze any new and impressionable writer.

Oh, please. What about, “The Seven Types of Idiot Advice,” “The Wisdom of the Cookie-Cutter,” and “How Dare You Think for Yourself?!” Now those are posts I’d like to see.

So let’s talk babies and bathwater.

Writing, like any other craft, has some rules. And as we know, it’s wise to learn and internalize these before breaking them. But it’s also critical to know the limitations of rules and when to break them. In the same way that a good doctor who sees someone having a heart attack in the street will help them without worrying that they might be sued if the person dies, so a good writer will always interpret most rules as guidelines rather than holy writ. The problem for most beginning and intermediate writers is knowing where the lines are, where exceptions may be made, and—hardest of all—attaining the correct distance to be able to look at their own work with some degree of objectivity.

Let’s address the last first. As well as having a good group of beta readers, I strongly recommend letting a draft cool for at least a month between revision passes—and by cool, I mean don’t look at it, and try not to even think about it. In the meantime, work on a short story, outline your next novel, do research, whatever. This is the single best way to get some distance from your work.

Some rules—a very few—should probably should be treated as inviolable. These include:

  • Don’t switch viewpoints in mid-scene (unless you’re in omniscient)
  • Don’t resort to a deus ex machina at the climax to save your protagonist
  • Don’t bore the reader with lectures, trivial dialogue, or lengthy, excessive description
  • Always deal fairly with the reader and deliver on your promise to them

Pretty much everything else is negotiable.

Take adverbs, for instance. Although it’s true that adverbs can flag vagueness and weaken prose, they exist for a reason. Consider the phrase, “She mostly agreed with him;” this might appear as internal dialogue in a character’s head, and what it means is very clear—that she was in general but not complete agreement. The adverb here (mostly) conveys the meaning with economy and minimum fuss, and any attempt to eliminate it will likely involve a good deal more wordage and burden our prose. Should we eradicate it because some prose Mufti has issued a fatwa? Of course not. This whole foofarraw about adverbs began as good, rule-of-thumb advice and, after endless parroting, has become a mindless mantra (let’s blame Hemingway, as we can for so much else).

Likewise with exposition, the cure is often worse than the disease. The key with exposition is to make sure it’s both interesting and well-timed. Nobody wants a lecture; on the other hand, if the author’s concern over infodumping borders—as many do—on the obsessive, readers will find themselves dissatisfied, even disoriented. I’ve closed and never reopened many a story, including some by well-known authors, because of this. When a reader needs to know something, let them know it. Often the information can be slipped in deftly, but sometimes it’s just more expeditious to tell—yes, tell—the reader what they need to know rather than stand on our heads trying to slip it in under the radar. If the desire for the information is there, the reader will welcome it. Voice can do miracles here, turning an indigestible lump of exposition into a delightful side-trip the reader will be happy to go along with.

Now, I’m a genre writer. And although I make every reasonable effort to write well and polish both story and prose over several revisions, my primary goal is to entertain the reader. I don’t give a damn what the Literary establishment thinks, or, for that matter, what my more rule-obsessed peers think: my goal is to deliver a story that hooks the reader and keeps them turning pages, leaving them with a feeling of having taken a great ride when they finish the book. That’s all that counts. And anyone who believes that exposition and adverbs are going to kill a book needs a reality check.

The truth is that most readers are not writers, agents or editors. They’re not prose wonks. They aren’t swayed by technical mastery or compliance with the latest fashion taught in the prose madrassas. Nor do they care whether a book neatly fits into a genre, category, or reader demographic. Readers want a story, pure and simple. If you don’t believe that, then I guess J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, Dan Simmons, Robert James Waller, Dean Koontz, Dan Brown, and Isaac Asimov were all just flashes in the pan. Because although some of these are terrific writers and others arguably mediocre, all of them have and do flout one or more of the ‘rules,’ flagrantly and often.

In conclusion, I think part of being a professional in any field is to always question received wisdom. Yes, you certainly should learn the protocols and conventions; but slavish adherence to other people’s dogma and assumptions not only limits your range, it also buys into what I believe is an unhealthy mindset. What’s important is to tell your story in the way that best serves the reader.

In the end, the way you choose to interpret the barrage of writerly imperatives coming at you from every corner of the blogosphere is your own business. For myself, I’ve taken to laughing at most of it.

13 Comments

Filed under Writing

In Praise of the Slow: A Meditation on (Free) Time

The first in a series of essays in which I air aspects of my own strongly-held, evolving, and sometimes contrarian worldview. Indulge me–this is about so much more than TV.

 

Fit the First

I hate television. Fortunately, my wife isn’t too fond of it, either. My dislike of the medium is so strong that I find it difficult to be in someone’s house with the damned thing on. It’s a social catastrophe, at once degrading conversation, distracting people, and filling everyone’s head with a stream of endless chatter, as if the chatter of our own minds weren’t already enough to contend with. The invasion of every public space—gyms, waiting areas, bars—by the plasma screen upsets and offends me.  Are we insane, that we allowed this to happen?

Why do I dislike the medium so much?  Let me count the ways.

First is the near-catatonic passivity of both body and mind that television induces in the viewer. Whereas reading or listening to radio or audiobook engages the imagination in active creation, TV puts those faculties to sleep and, I believe, dulls them by negative reinforcement. Worse still, since we humans are primarily wired for visual input, so that around 70% or more* of our sensory information comes through that channel, the images we see on television, especially those of high emotional content, such as soap operas, angry mobs, murder, mayhem, and political rhetoric, tend to slip past our conscious filters and embed themselves deep in our psyche. It promotes fear and perpetuates stereotypes.  Television is the perfect mind-control tool.

Other gripes, such as the low quality of most offerings and my monumental disdain for advertising, pale by comparison. Nor do I for a moment buy the defense that educational content such as the History Channel’s offerings or Sesame Street in any way redeem the medium: the former is padded and extended with useless filler and silly, unnecessary dramatization (read a book instead, dammit!), and the latter simply teaches innocent young minds that the idiot box is their friend and surrogate mummy.

So the fact that we’ve allowed the internet to be turned into something largely indistinguishable from television is—to my mind—a profound tragedy and an affirmation of our collective disinterest in any kind of societal growth. We are clearly not serious about building a better world or improving our minds and knowledge. We’d rather just watch YouTube.

Fit the Second

Although we have neither a cable nor a satellite connection in the home and we don’t stream, we do we have a TV, which we use to watch movies on DVD and VHS media. In recent weeks, we’ve been enjoying a run of classic and cult movies from the 1960s and early 1970s (many of these are part of the excellent Criterion Collection). I want to talk about three of these: Blow Up, Solaris (the Tarkovsky original) and If.

Apart from the power and heft of the films themselves, one thing that struck me in each of these was the pace at which people’s lives (I’ll come back to this shortly) flowed just two generations ago, and, not coincidentally, the depth in which our inner lives are examined in these three films.

Even though the lead character (played by David Hemmings) in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up lives life in what then would have passed for the fast lane, he doesn’t lack for down time. In the film, set in the swinging London of the mid-60s, Hemmings plays a young photographer who realizes that a series of pictures he took on a whim in a London park document a mysterious murder. When he tries to cut through the distractions and banality of the everyday and arrive at the truth, he finds himself thwarted at every turn until, in the end, the antics of the traveling mime troupe with which the film opens becomes a metaphor for our lives.

The 1971 film Solaris (at the time dubbed ‘the Russian 2001’) will, to some modern viewers, appear glacially slow. It’s not: although the action appears to unfold slowly, the film is so rich in psychological content and imagery as to almost overload the psyche and push it into overdrive. With its meditation on human relationships (do we love the person or our concept of that person?), our aggressive instincts, the relationship between reality and consciousness, and the vast barriers to communication with alien species, this film made me feel I’d come home, rediscovered what it is to look inside and dwell there, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the endless bombardment of external trivia.

The last of this trio, Lindsay Anderson’s If, stars Malcolm McDowell as an anarchic adolescent antihero who takes on the British establishment. Although the film mostly concerns itself with the regimented brutality of the 1960s British social order and its suppression of and reaction to non-conformity, the strong surrealist currents in this movie (as in the former), the transitions between colour and black and white, and the power of the film’s apocalyptic final scene (unthinkable in today’s fear-saturated sociopolitical climate), and above all, the absence of high-speed action and external momentum culminate in a psychic impact that—like the previous two films—makes modern attempts to do the same laughable.

Fit the Third

We live in a world and at a pace where the inner life and dialogue, as well as the flexing of the creative imagination at a level beyond the superficial, is both difficult and discouraged. Television—along with the internet, the smartphone, and all the rest—has replaced religion as the opium of the masses. As long as we have these things we trundle along, perhaps not happily but at least tolerant of all social and economic ills. It’s not inconceivable that we’re rewiring our neurons and building new cortical pathways in our brains to such an extent that we’ve begun to evolve into a new species of human.

I can envision a near future in which millions would accept, and even welcome, indentured servitude as a means of keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads; but if all TV broadcasts, networked media, and game systems were to break down tomorrow, I think our social fabric would disintegrate. I don’t believe that a generation of adults raised in daycare and suckled at the terrible altar of the glass teat could cope with being suddenly thrust into a situation where they have time and are forced to explore their inner space, to reflect and think, and to communicate with others on a level beyond the banal.

An elitist view? Judgmental? Perhaps. But don’t get me wrong: I’m no luddite. My argument is not with technology but with the way we choose to use it. Hardwired as most of us are for short-term benefit (the technical term is ‘hyperbolic discounting’), we seem to have a tremendous gift for turning powerful technologies into either weapons, tools of mass control, or time-wasting frivolities.

If you find it difficult or are too young to remember a time before modern communications technology had become a central part of our lives; a world of just a handful of TV channels with limited broadcasting hours; without email, smartphones, or even answering machines; a world with half the population of today, and in which a person with even a half-decent job could enjoy a good middle-class life; a world in which ADD referred to an arithmetical operation; a world in which we actually spent time with ourselves and our thoughts; try the following.

Take a weekend alone somewhere without your phone or laptop or any device, and where there is no television—don’t cheat. Try to go into nature instead of a B&B, or at least spend as much time as you can out of doors and away from people; if you can go somewhere remote, all the better. Don’t even wear a watch. I’m talking about being somewhere you can watch the clouds go by, or a stream flow, or ants go about their business, for an hour or more without interruption or the ability to measure time.

At first, you’ll probably be bored, maybe restless. You may experience anxieties. The time will stretch weirdly: an hour will feel like four or five. Note these impressions without feeding or buying into them.

Before long you’ll find yourself easing into an internal state, reconnecting with your inner life in a way that you haven’t in a long time. For those of us who are writers or artists, that’s the wellspring, the place it all comes from; it’s hard to create without having at least some contact, however imperfect, with that place. For those of us who don’t regularly go there, perhaps haven’t since childhood, this reconnecting can—and will—be an amazing, maybe transformative experience.

So humour me, will you? Try it out, then come back and let me know what it was like. It’s eminently possible, whatever your current lifestyle, to claw back your time and reconnect with your inner life. It might take determination and will, but it can be done.

And the first step is to ditch your TV.

* Some researchers suggest the number may be as high as 80%

5 Comments

Filed under Material World