Writer’s circle

A few weeks ago, I met with fellow writers from Fredericksburg Writer’s Conference. We read from our works. Some read poetry, others novel excerpts and others short stories.

I read from an unpublished short story, titled, “What Nearly Was.” The group liked it overall, although a few tweaks may still be needed. I’d rather not yet say what exactly it is about, but I will say this: if there’s a home for it, it’s in Christian fiction. The controversial nature it focuses on probably makes it untouchable in the secular fiction market.

 

Worked on novel, short story last night

Novel is titled Randy and Rhonda. I like that title, so for now I doubt I’ll refer to it as a “working title”. It’s a romance story with some strong Christian overtones. If I can write consistently, then I know that in the fall I can have a rough draft completed. Will tell you more about it as time goes by.

The short story’s working title is Garth, Texas. It is one of about 10 proposed titles I have. Wrote a creepy segment last night. It’s set out in West Texas and deals with unsual forms of criminal justice. I’ll leave it at that.

Wrote in my journal and wrote an essay. Overall, not a bad night of writing considering my layoff.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Breaking through writer’s block as I work on my novel, ‘Randy and Rhonda’

For me as a writer, it is very frustrating to have writer’s block. You have a great idea, write scores of pages and then hit a slump where you don’t know what happens next.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft, tells of having to take a hiatus from his epic novel The Stand because he had accidentally twisted together several plot lines and didn’t know what happened next.

I am working on several fictional works, and last night I wrote about 1,000 words on my novel Randy and Rhonda. Here is what I can say: it is a Christian love story that has some frank discussions about sex and how many Christians do not know what “True Christianity” is. As I have written about 30 pages, I hit a snag.

And as I thought, I realized I could write this novel the way so many movies are made: out of sequence.

James Cameron said in an interview that the opening scene in The Terminator was actually one of the last scenes he filmed. It’s been said that John Dugan, who played Grandpa in the 1974 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, disliked so much the process of wearing make-up to look like an old man that he requested both of his scenes be filmed back-to-back, even though they don’t take place until about halfway in the film and then towards the end. Though it reportedly took about 36 straight hours, his request was granted.

As I thought about this, I wondered, why not do the same thing in novel writing? 

So, last night I wrote several chapters ahead. I may also continue doing this as I try to work out my current snag. My plan is that as I piece later parts of the puzzle together, I will have a better idea how to write the current part where I am struggling.

We’ll see what happens.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Working on a novel, ‘Randy and Rhonda’

At least, that’s the working title.

At this stage, since I’ve only written about 10,000 words, all I’d like to say at this point is that Randy and Rhonda has strong Christian overtones. Some of the subject matter, though, will probably mean Christian publishers will reject it.

It’s a tale about forgiveness, healing and an exploration into what I like to call “True Christianity”.

At this point, that is all I will publicly say about it except to give updates on how things are going.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.
 

 

Giving out writing advice

A fellow Christian recently asked me about what it would take to get a writing career started. Nolan, who graduated from Pensacola Christian College a few years before I did, has been in the ministry. A look at his essays and his blog show he is a very gifted writer. The ability to write will most certainly not be a problem for him.

I advised him to regularly peruse through both Writer’s Digest and The Writer magazines along with check out the markets listed in The Writer’s Market.

Many ministers adore alliteration, so here are six P’s for those ministers looking to expand their careers into the writing realm:

Be Professional. You are there to do a job. Treat the subject with respect–especially when they have opinions that strongly differ from yours. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to represent them fairly. When I think back to H.L. Mencken and his very slanted reporting on the 1925 Scopes Trial, I not only cringe at him, but cringe to think there are writers today who idolize his reporting style.

Be Polite. Being friendly can go a very long way, especially if you deal with one source regularly. By being polite, chances are better they’ll start opening up and may even give you an exclusive or point you towards the direction of others who will. Nobody likes to be treated condescendingly.

Be to the Point. Assume the person you’re dealing with has a very busy schedule. After initial pleasantries, get directly down to business. Avoid rabbit trails, something I’ve had to learn the hard way in the past.

Be Persistent and Proactive. I like to joke that procrastination (another P) is the eighth deadly sin, and in my life I’ve found this to be true. Lately I have learned that creating a list and telling yourself no internet surfing until those activities are done will do wonders. Each day go over ideas, look up markets for them and query the editors. Note which prefer phone calls and which prefer e-mails and what kinds of e-mail responses. You have to want an assignment more than any other writer and you have to believe–no ego intended–that you are the best writer out there.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Zen in the Art of Writing: ‘Just this Side of Byzantium: Dandelion Wine’

I’m not an expert in Byzantine-style of writing, but from what little I gather, it’s a very ornate style of writing. It sounds like a style very different from Ray Bradbury’s. Some have asked me how I’d describe Mr. Bradbury’s style, and, again, I think Stephen King said it best in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: Everything’s green and wondrous and seen through a lens of nostalgia.

That being said…

When I was younger and an even worse writer than I am now, I often would try to write fiction using strict outlines. I think it came from the times I’d occasionally get 15 minutes at church to preach miniature sermons. I’d take a story idea, outline it and then write according to the outline. Whenever possible, I’d employ alliteration.

Don’t misunderstand–there’s nothing wrong with writing by outlines. If you’re a very organized person, perhaps it’s the best way to go. In many ways (especially in my journalism and freelance writing careers) I still like to do that as a way to have a starting point that points towards a faint, distant, illuminated end of the tunnel. But there are many times when writing fiction where it’s sometimes best to go with the flow and write as the spirit moves you. Let your imagination guide you.

Mr. Bradbury notes that even at an early age his preferred style of writing was word asociation. Take a story, write down as many words that come to mind and then write the story based on the word list. Before this, he used to “beat, pummel and thrash” an idea into existence. He believes that word association allows you to write faster as the ideas flow much better.

To illustrate this, he explains the term “Dandelion Wine”, which he would use in a collection of his published short stories. Dandelions sprout in the spring (as they will very soon do here in Michigan), and each dandelion represents a fascinating story idea. As for the wine, oenophiles tell us that the best wine is properly aged. Take a story idea and allow it to age, breathe and build up color, aroma and flavor in a cask and then in a bottle and soon you have a story that people will pay good money to read.

That gives me hope, when you consider the unpublished short stories I have that I hope someday will see the light of day: Why Are You Here So Soon? (a young man commits suicide out of despair, gets to heaven and sees how God could’ve richly used him had he not ended his life on a lark); God’s Final Call (a young man raised in a Baptist church knows he’s not really saved and has a decision to make: become a Christian or ignore God one last time); Dear Billy, Sincerely, Billy (a time travel story involving bullies, new opportunities and receiving a letter from yourself in the not-so-near past). Perhaps these dandelions will someday soon turn into very fine wines.

Mr. Bradbury notes how some critics who, aware of his humble childhood and some of the perceived ugliness of that area of Illinois (such as the trains, boxcars and smell of coal) wonder how he could convey excitement about these. It’s all about perception, he reasons. A carnival or railyard deemed ugly by a dignified, stuffy Byzantine person is, to a Midwest boy who grew up in the 1930s a paradise.

To Bradbury, his humble surroundings were Byzantium: a wonderous, exotic, beautiful place very ornate and rich to him.

Finally, Mr. Bradbury talks about the pear-shaped, red, white and blue-striped paper balloons filled with hot air during 1925 Fourth of July. They floated and seemed to have a wonderful, mysterious life of their own. I wonder if these balloons were the inspiration for his short story The Fire Balloons (which can be found in his book The Illustrated Man).

Richard Zowie is a Michigan-based writer who blogs, works in journalism, writes fiction and essays. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Richard Zowie’s Writer’s Digest Your Story #19 submission: From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

The prompt was to write 750 words about a woman who’s allowed to travel through time to correct a mistake. This is what I came up with.

While the story focuses on my alma mater, Pensacola Christian College, it is safe to say PCC is not the only Christian college where young women and men go to find future spouses. Perhaps this even goes on at state colleges to an extent. An associate pastor who attended another Christian college told me once of a roommate of his who flat-out told him: “I’m here to find a wife.”

I will say, though, this story is very loosely based on a couple I knew of at PCC. They shall remain unidentified.

And, of course, Los Patos, Texas is as fictional as the story itself. In Spanish, it means “The Ducks”.

From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

By Richard Zowie

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

Elizabeth McCandless, 29, moaned as she slowly woke from a foggy dream. 3:30 a.m., according to her digital clock’s bright red numbers. She yawned, threw on a bathrobe, slid her feet into slippers and trudged toward the front door. It was probably Jake, her husband and pastor of Los Patos Baptist Church. He was returning from a San Antonio hospital where one of his parishioners was hospitalized.

But instead of seeing Jake’s gangly, six-foot, three-inch frame through the peephole, she saw Steven Martinez (her husband’s associate pastor and best friend) along with two police officers.

She stared for a moment, now wide awake, her heart galloping as she opened the door.

The officers were grim. Steven’s eyes were red and his face tearstained.

“Ma’am, I’m Officer Applegate and this is Officer Garcia of the Los Patos Police Department,” the older one said in a slow Texas drawl. “This, of course, is Pastor Martinez of Los Patos Baptist Church. Are you Elizabeth McCandless?”

“Yes,” she said. “Is everything ok?”

“You are the wife of Jacob McCandless, correct?”

She nodded and swallowed a big lump in her throat.

“Ma’am, there’s been a terrible auto accident on Highway 181 near Karnes City involving your husband and another driver,” Applegate said, his quiet voice calm and emotionless. “Your husband was killed instantly. We’re terribly sorry.”

Dead?…an, uh… accident?” she sputtered.

Applegate nodded. “The other driver, who had veered into your husband’s lane, is hospitalized in stable condition. He probably will be charged with DWI and vehicular homicide.”

Her mind raced, trying desperately to process this. Dear God, this can’t be happening!

“Beth,” Steven said gently, his voice soft and hoarse. “We’re here for you if you need anything.”

Tears flooded down Beth’s face as the future, a frightening black abyss, glared mercilessly at her. She hadn’t worked since college, where she’d majored in home economics (or, as many jokingly called it, an “M.R.S.” degree), a formality since she’d attended college to find a husband. How would she get a job with that background? How would she take care of their two daughters? And there was no life insurance, since Jake didn’t believe in it and insisted it showed a lack of faith in God.

She sobbed, the tears soaking her bathrobe sleeves.

Dear God, how I wish I could go back and—

Immediately, as fast as an eye blink, she was again a freshman at Pensacola Christian College. Beth found herself in a room, the night before registration, where counselors helped students make sure they were taking the right classes. Startled, she looked around and recognized a few students who were English and commercial writing majors: Jane, Sammy, Andrea and Neal.

Maybe she’d passed out and the police would soon wake her. Her dreams always were foggy with muffled, distant sounds and without smell. But now, everything was bright and clear. She could hear the students’ chat about what Freshman English teachers to avoid; Sammy’s brash laugh echoed in the room. She could smell Chaps, worn by another male student who, still developing social skills, failed to grasp that overusing cologne didn’t equal a shower.

A few moments ago, she’d sobbed inconsolably. Now, she was calm, confused.

Maybe God’s allowing me to right a wrong so my girls and I will be prepared for the future, she thought, looking at her class schedule. From here she’d get a bachelor’s in English, a master’s in English from the University of West Florida and then pick up a teaching certificate. It would take about six years, unless she took 18-hour semesters and post-term classes. Teaching wasn’t necessarily a high-paying job, but it was in demand and would provide some sort of financial security. Maybe she could even run a tutorial business out of her home.

She remembered she’d meet Jake in a few weeks, and he would simply have to understand her need for her education. She’d tell him the tragedies she’d heard in Christianity over the years, such as the woman who became a widow with four children when her evangelist husband died unexpectedly in a plane crash. Or the respected church deacon who left his wife for his secretary; college-aged girl was younger than his own daughter.

Jake, though, was the abrupt, assertive type who never understood life’s what happens when you’re making plans.

She wondered, What if Jake tells me he won’t wait for me to finish my education?

But the answer came back quickly: Then he isn’t Mr. Right.

© Copyright 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.*

Richard works on fiction

I’ve gone through about 10 drafts so far of my Writer’s Digest 750-word short story about the woman who travels through time. As I write, I wonder what’s the best way to approach the assignment: write, edit to 750 words and then work with what you have to create a great story or write a nice story, polish it and then edit down to 750 words.

These assignments are indeed challenging. James Cameron, who directed sci-fi classic The Terminator, once said he was forced to cut scenes he was “in love with” in order to get the movie down to a desired length. I see the same rings true in short fiction.

But of course, short fiction can be a great exercise in whittling away needless words and creating a nice, tight story. I’ve read books before and have thought afterward that they were 50 pages too long. I remember a sci-fi novel, where the author goes on for about 20 pages about creatures flying through the Saturnian atmosphere when five would’ve been sufficient. And then there’s the whole space opera where one astronaut’s wife divorces him and shacks up with her divorce attorney while one female astronaut tries to bed just about every man on the ship.

You get the point.

So, as I work on this story, I remember the stern but helpful advice Stephen King gives in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: to write well, you must read a lot. I find myself reading Harry Turtledove and Ray Bradbury-style fantasy along with suspense, sci-fi and Christian-themed books since these are the types of fiction I would someday like to write.