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That gives me hope, when you consider the unpublished short stories I have that I hope someday will see the light of day: Why Are You Here So Soon?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.


Waiting on one potential client, passed on two others

The one pays modestly, and that’s being polite. If the articles can indeed be written in 15 minutes and if enough are given on a regular basis, it could work.

I passed on the two others for different reasons: one pays glorified slave wages (such as about 50 cents for a 500-word article, which would only ). The other turned out to be for an adult site.

My Writer’s Digest subscription has been renewed!

Jane Friedman

A very special, grateful, humble “Thank you” goes to Jane Friedman, the publisher of Writer’s Digest. After reading my earlier blog post about how I wasn’t able at this time to renew my subscription to her magazine, she then e-mailed me and offered me a complimentary, one-year subscription renewal!

This generosity was very unexpected (I’d actually made my posting more to chronicle what’s going on in my writing life) but is very appreciated.

Again, thank you for your nice gift, Ms. Friedman! I think of it as a birthday present (I’ll turn 37 in February). What I will probably do is take the tax return money I’d planned to use to renew my subscription to instead upgrade to the VIP program.

Richard Zowie has been a professional writer since 2000. He’s been a journalist, columnist, blogger, copy writer and even fiction writer. Post comments below or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Why writers like me require ‘day jobs’

Currently, I have two part-time jobs (totaling about 54 hours a week) and I do freelance on the side. With one PT job I work at a newspaper run by some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Professional, classy are great words to describe them. The other job is at a gasoline station. You learn to further develop your sense of humor and acquire a thick skin. With the freelance, I currently am waiting for some new assignments from a recreation magazine. This client’s been very good to me. Satisfying work and I get paid very well for it. On more than one occasion those assignments have helped to pay past-due bills or buy my wife, kids or myself much-needed items.

I tell my wife that I could ever get two or three more regular clients like the rec magazine, things would look up for us financially. Yes, I’d be very busy and would probably have to take naps more often (something I rarely do), but we could get done a lot of things that we need.

With that, I visit freelance websites frequently in hopes of picking up a few more clients. Out of every 25 or so lines I toss out, I catch a fish. Most of the time, the fish turns out to be far too small and must be cast back into the water.

And then there’s this one I received.

The company requires well-researched, well-written articles without any filler words. Rates are:

Tier 1 Flat Rates: 200 words for $1.40, going up to $5.60 for 800 words.

Tier 2 Flat Rates: 200 words for $2.00, going up to 900 words at $9.00.

Tier 3 Flat Rates: 200 words for $ 3.00, going up to 1,000 words for $15.00.

It’s something I may try out: the e-mail says these are the types of articles that can be written in 20 minutes. If indeed they can, then these pay rates could work. But if it actually takes about three hours to write a Tier 3 article at 1,000 words, then you’re looking at $5 per hour, which is even less than minimum wage.

We’ll see how it goes…

Richard Zowie runs several blogs. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Is a story really ever finished?

One famous musician said they could work on an album forever but that at some point you have to let it go to live its own life.

The same, no doubt, rings true for writing.

I have many short stories I’m working on, both in the rough draft and final draft phases, along with a novel I’m trying to finish the rough draft on. It’s amazing how you can look at a piece of fiction work, think you have something brilliant and return to it a year later and think of all the edits that still need to be done on it. Maybe this comma needs to be deleted, this dialogue needs to be modified or this scene needs to be cut completely.

If George Orwell were alive today, I wonder if he’d look at his books Animal Farm, 1984 and A Clergyman’s Daughter and be tempted to make any changes to them.

Richard Zowie’s been writing professionally since 2000. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.