Before I get going on this week's topic, I'd like to open this page up to you, the reader. What would you like me to write about here? What questions do you have for me, about writing, or for anyone, about anything? Leave your suggestions in the comments, and I will do what I can for you!
This week, however, I will talk about senses. One of the most oft-repeated phrases a new writer hears from critics, teachers, and especially editors, is "show, don't tell". Basically, this means to tap into the reader's memories so that the reader can experience what's happening, rather than just imagining it. For example, if a story you're reading was describing a scene at a county fair, it might go something like this: The midway was crowded with people, and littered with trash. Scott couldn't take two steps without bumping into someone or wading through empty food containers and soft drink cups. Several times, Scott glimpsed a rat tail disappearing under a garlic-fry paper boat, or into a discarded ice cream cone. Fairly descriptive, if I do say so myself, but consider this version: Scott's nose wrinkled involuntarily as the mingled aromas of stale hot dogs, cold popcorn, and half-digested chili burgers invaded his nostrils and ransacked his sinus cavities. His ears rang with the raucous shouts of children and screams of mothers as the roller coaster entered its final plunge. He watched as a young man tested his strength with the hammer, sending the block soaring towards the bell, along with a fine spray of nervous perspiration; a physiological response to the fear that he might disappoint his pretty, but infamously shallow, date. Scott wiped the foreign sweat from his face, but could feel it clinging to his hair, and back of his neck.. The rustle of paper drew Scott's attention, and he watched a plump rat crawl into the open hole of a red-rimmed Icee cup.
Hopefully, you'll agree that the second example makes for better reading. If not, I should probably give up now. It's better because it involves the reader's senses, or more precisely, the reader's memories of the senses. The first passage tells the reader what is there, while the second encourages the reader to remember experiencing the smell of cold popcorn, the sound of screaming children, the feel of someone else's flying sweat. If I may toot my own horn a bit, it even suggests the feel of a plummeting roller coaster, and the taste of a cherry Icee. Not all of that may have come through for every reader - remember, I'm still new at this - but I feel confident that a lot more of it came through in the second passage than in the first.
This is what the writer that cares about his or her reader attempts to achieve. We want you to experience our stories, not just imagine them. Hopefully, you'll find that I care enough about your reading experience to not force you to rely on imagination.
Remember to leave a comment about what you'd like me to discuss on here in future weeks! And please share this if you know someone who might benefit from the content.
Here we are, my final memoir post. I'll post more entries about my writing journey, but this is my last memoir. It was the most emotional one for me, and even now, I'm hesitant to share it. Once again, it features my dad, but it's all about me, not him. Hopefully, it's almost my best memoir, since it was almost the last one I wrote. The holiday one was my last one, and in my impartial opinion, that one was my best. This one should be pretty close, though. I hope you can appreciate both the emotional effort it took, and the accumulation of skills that I theoretically acquired during my memoir-writing class. first_time_memoir.docx
Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of Black History Month. I have no stories to tell of Black history. I'm not black, and only a handful of my friends are black. However, when I think of what I know about the history of race-relations in the U.S., I am awestruck by the bravery shown by many African-Americans over the centuries. I've never had that kind of courage. I only remember once when I needed it. I give you that story now, along with a story of someone specific that I do admire for their courage... my son. courage_memoir.docx
Winter is a time when many people like to imagine warm and sunny vacation destinations. They long for warmth, relaxation, or maybe just some Vitamin D. Some folks imagine far-off, exotic locations they've never visited, while others recall places that hold great sentimental value for them. I do both. I dream of vacationing, or possibly even living in sunny Mexico, or one of the Caribbean Islands. When I feel nostalgic, though, I remember my favorite location. In this memoir, I attempt to describe it to what was my best ability. Hopefully, you will be able to picture it. I know some of the piece's flaws and shortcomings, such as leaving many of the reader's senses uninvolved. That's why I said it was to the best of my ability. Description is not easy for me, which seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it? A writer does nothing but describe, one might think. Yeah, I agree. It's a challenge I have to overcome. Let me know how well you think this story does. favorite_place_memoir.docx
I've said that I write horror, right? So where's all the blood and gore, Rich? Where are the grisly deaths? So far, all I've read about is some childhood nostalgia and some health issues. Is that all you've got?! Well, thankfully, my life has been pretty blessed. Not very many traumatic events to either recount or bury in my subconscious. And, so far, all you've read is about my life. I have, however, experienced death, recently and close to home. My dad passed away a few months ago. You've met him briefly. He was the gruff personality around whom my childhood memories of Christmas revolved. That gruffness was a facade, though. There was a lot to him, and he was a major character in my life, so you'll have many chances to know him better as this blog develops. Here, I want to share a little about how he dealt with death, but it's actually more about how he dealt with parenting. This was written before he died, so some of the details are a little outdated, but the themes are still current. death_memoir.docx
There are several times during the year when we celebrate heroes: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, among others. This is a memoir of a time when I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes. Not a major hero, mind you. It's not Steve Largent, for goodness' sake! While this encounter fostered a certain cynicism in me, by no means do I mean to belittle the heroes I mentioned above. To the best of my knowledge, they truly deserve whatever honors they can get. I merely use this story to warn against picking heroes frivolously. It also showcases my own attempt at using time and cultural references to help create a setting. hero_memoir.docx
Honestly, I have no idea. Probably in as many ways as there are writers. I can tell you some of the things that made me, and a big one is my health. For the most part, I'm in pretty good shape. Not athletically speaking. Oh, good lord, no! A clumsy pickpocket could still easily get away from me at a brisk walk. But I look healthy, and I don't get sick with colds or the flu any more often than the next guy. Even so, there are a couple of things wrong with my mortal shell. You may have picked up on the fact that I'm legally blind. In this story, I'll talk about the other central fact of my existence. What follows is going to be a horror story for some (sorry, Mom), but I share it only to give insight into what makes me tick, and to show another example of early memoir-writing. health_memoir.docx
The more recent one... show_and_tell_memoir.docx They're slightly different themes, but they share a lot of the same information.
New Year's Resolutions. Everyone loves those. Eight days into the year, a lot of people have already decided to postpone theirs for another fifty-one weeks. I am still working on the goals I had set last year, so I don't feel that I have the luxury of being able to delay any longer. I've written two separate memoirs about my goals - one from early in my memoir classes, and the other from late in the class. I think you'll be able to see the growth that my writing skill experienced in that seven months. aspirations_memoir.docx I will share the second memoir in my next post. Make sure you stick to your resolutions until then!
In May of 2019, I took what I think was the most important trip of my life. Edison and I went to Bangor, Maine. Exciting, right? When you consider that my favorite author has his summer home there, grew up near there, and set a few of his more famous books in a fictional city based on Bangor, then, yeah, I was pretty excited about it. The last time I had traveled to anywhere outside the Pacific Northwest was nearly thirty years earlier, on a trip to Irving, Texas to visit the campus of the University of Dallas, and that trip had all been planned for me. This trip to Bangor was my baby. I booked a tour of my favorite author's Bangor settings (I urge you to check out SKTours. It's run by a very friendly couple who are very knowledgeable about all things related to Stephen King), I booked the flights, and I booked the lodging. The only thing I left to a friend that I was meeting there was the ground transportation. For our second full day there, I booked a walking ghost tour of Bangor, also. Just for something fun to do. I urge you all to contact the Bangor Historical Society to participate in that, too, if you're ever in that area.
We visited Mt. Hope Cemetery, where Pet Sematary was filmed, and where it's said that King found some inspiration for a few of his other stories. The photo at the top of this blog is of a crypt at Mt. Hope. I don't know who is entombed there, and it has no connection to King that I'm aware of, but it encapsulates and projects every dark and creepy, sinister and mysterious, and utterly gothic feeling or thought I have about cemeteries. Don't be surprised if it shows up in one of my stories someday.
We saw the standpipe from IT, and the statue of Paul Bunyan. We saw the buildings where one of the kids in the Losers Club lived. We saw the Barrens, and, of course, we visited the stormdrain where little Georgie Denbrough encounters Pennywise. I'll include a great picture of Pennywise reaching up to pet Edison. We saw Mr. King's house, and his radio stations (he owns three. WKIT plays some great classic rock!). We visited the Bangor library and the children's hospital, where the Kings have done some truly heroic charitable work. And we went to the mental institution that serves as the basis for Juniper Hill. Every one of these stops was accompanied by stories and anecdotes. It was a fan's dream come true.
The next day was when I learned something valuable about writing. On the ghost tour, we heard about the local ghost stories and legends. A famous gangster was shot to death on a downtown city street. Stephen King grew up listening to and learning these stories and legends, and they've worked their way into his writing. Ideas don't have to be totally original. In fact, since that day, I've learned that people in the know figure that there are only a handful or two of basic themes. It's the author's style and voice that make stories original and unique. And settings should be more than just geographical; they should be cultural, as well. The setting can be a character just as much as the, well, characters.
The other valuable thing I learned from that trip was that I can do it. Whatever "it" is. I planned the trip, I got my guide dog through it despite his ugly trail of nervousness (sorry, Seattle, Phoenix, and Philadelphia airports), and there were no major mishaps, except for Edison's famous Trail of Smears.