Reality vs. Fiction, According to Tom Clancy

tom Clancy Fiction Reality Quote

Today, April 12th, is the birth anniversary of Tom Clancy.

Tom Clancy was once a Maryland insurance broker with a passion for naval history.

Then he wrote The Hunt for Red October, which catapulted onto the New York Times bestseller list after President Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn”. Clancy was known for  weaving realism and intricate plotting into can’t-put-it-down suspense novels.

I can readily recall more than a few real-life situations that I’ve transferred to the page, only to find that they were unbelievable.  How can that be? It makes no sense that actual events or conversations don’t translate to fiction. Sense or not, the reality is that reality sometimes bends or tests or even shatters the suspended disbelief of our readers.  Why is that?

Have you ever written real life situations that were just too unbelievable to be included in your work?

Perhaps the entertaining conversation you overheard on the train doesn’t fit into your story. Or maybe your character wouldn’t be caught dead doing that crazy thing you saw the tourist do at the national park. It could be that what you observed was so jarring that it yanks your readers right out of the story.  Speaking of story, did that real-life tidbit actually further your plot or develop a character?  Did it serve a purpose?

The possibility exists that, sometimes, truth actually is stranger than fiction, and should be left alone. 

For now.

Keep it in your idea arsenal for another time.  You never know when your fiction could use that dose of actual real-life.

Photo taken by Gary Wayne Gilbert, 20 Nov 1989 at Burns Library, Boston College and is used under Creative Commons License.

How We Create Magic with Paper – Does It Matter?

How We Create Magic with Paper – Does It Matter?

Robert Sabuda illustrator and author, turns 54 today. He bucked convention and experimented with a variety of artistic approaches to book illustration, including batik, stained glass, and papyrus textures.  

Three time recipient of the Meggendorfer Prize (in honor of German illustrator Lothar Meggendorfer), Robert is a multiple No. 1 New York Times best-selling children’s book creator and has over five million books in print published in over 25 languages.

Robert focused on 3-D paper engineering during his studies at Pratt Institute in New York, and his enormously successful pop-up books, both for children and adults, showcase his mad skills.

 

Most Important Tool of All

Robert reminds us that the most important tool in our craft can’t be bought. Like Robert, we create magic with paper (okay, words, not necessarily on actual paper). He uses folds and engineering, we use language. We all use imagination – the magic emerges from inside our heads. The apps, the type of keyboard, the kind of pen or brand of paper, they don’t matter so much, do they?

Or perhaps they do.

How You Get the Words Down – Does it Matter?

Some of my most intriguing ideas seem to bloom with the flow of actual ink. I organize and plot primarily on a keyboard, making full use of assistive tech for word-processing, outlining, time-lining, world-building, formatting and whatever else I’m forgetting at this moment. If I didn’t have the convenience of online resources and cut-and-paste for my research, I’d probably never get past information gathering. I use all kinds of resources. But the bottom line is, I can use whatever medium is available to get that story out of my head and into the real world.  The magic comes from within.

How Does Your Magic Flow?

How about you?

  • Do you find that the mechanics of how you write has in impact on your creative process? 
  • Does the speed with which you get the words down impact your creative flow?
  • Does the ability to forego spelling worries in the latest app keep your mind focused on story? 
  • Does slowing down to write words out longhand help you think through the story?

I’ve spent a few paragraphs exploring how the mechanics of writing impacts the process of making a story. I have no doubt it varies from person to person. And now, having reflected, let’s get to writing. In any way you like.

 

Go Slow and Don’t Stop

Go Slow and Don’t Stop

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”   ~ Confucius

Confucius Statue

Today is the birth anniversary of Confucius, who would be 2,568 years old if he’d managed to stay alive for twenty or so extra centuries. 

Confucius was born on or about the equivalent of September 28, 551 B.C.E. He was a political figure, philosopher, educator, and founder of the Ru Chinese School of Thought. He was also an author and has been credited with writing or editing the Five Classics and other Chinese texts.*

We hear some version of his advice often these days, don’t we?

 

Just Keep Swimmin’

Persevere

One Step at at Time

Never Give Up!

Just Do It

 

The truth is, a hundred thousand words is daunting. I suspect it would be all the more so without my keyboard. Or a pen. Or paper. I’m pretty sure my chiseling skills are woefully inadequate.

Yes we’re pulled in umpteen directions and the clock never stops ticking. But we can carve out a few minutes most days, if we’re intentional about it.  And when I say we, I mean I. 

Because I’m great about talking about planning my writing. I acknowledge that a plan, a schedule, a timeline would be helpful.  And then I get distracted.

Sound familiar?

So, enough talk about writing. Time for me to write. How about you?

*Cunfucius peppered his writing quite generously with adverbs!

I am a Perfectionist Scaredy-Cat Writer

I am a Perfectionist Scaredy-Cat Writer

 

“I am a perfectionist and a scaredy-cat.”

~Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop

 

 

 

Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote

 

Today Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop celebrates her 70th birthday. Elizabeth has published children’s, young adult, picture books and historical fiction as well as memoir – more than sixty books since her first, Bunk Beds, in 1972. Elizabeth is best known for her middle grade fantasy classic, Castle in the Attic, and has received numerous awards. She’s recently done a Ted Talk about creativity and risking exposure as a writer. It can be viewed here.

 

In her Ted Talk, Elizabeth advises writers to follow where their creative urges take them. Wise words. Sometimes my characters seem to have a mind of their own. They insist on acting in ways I hadn’t planned. My stories have been known to fight me in an attempt to veer in unanticipated directions. 

I should loosen the reins.

Which is not always easy for me.

I have a plan, often an outline. I am detail oriented, definitely more plotter than pantser. And I may just lean a bit towards having control issues. But then my story twists in a burst of spontaneity I’d repressed with the weight of my detailed notes. Or a character decides to do or say something that I didn’t authorize.  

So I pause. And after a while, I can remind myself that my character is making their own decisions because they’re just that real. And that the unplanned variation may improve the story.

But only if it give it a chance.

So I try to turn off the orderly part of my brain and just get the words down.

And the result may be better than I’d anticipated. I like to think I’d planned the perfect novel, but I suppose the creative recesses of my mind have a better idea. If only I can fight off the resistance and follow those creative urges.

Elizabeth reminds us that as writers, we are perfectionists because we get to have our failures privately. I take this to heart when I find myself comparing the ugliness of my first draft with that finished novel on my bedside table. That little activity is one of my own personal private opportunities to see my work as a failure. All alone in the comfort of my own home. Then I shake it off and move forward. And not a soul knows. [Well, I suppose the cat is now out of the bag]. I love the idea of keeping my failures under cover and letting the world see that final polished bit of work.

I’m a scaredy-cat myself.  Elizabeth shares that hiding behind our characters allows us to avoid real-life confrontation. So maybe I’ll create a character that bears resemblance to some real-life people who’ve been on my mind. And then I’ll have them slip in a puddle and drop their coffee. Or have the perfect wedding. Or wreck their car. Or contract food poisoning. Or get upgraded to first class. So many possibilities, and limited only by my imagination and the depth of my emotion. How is that not fun?

Go and take 15 minutes and hear what Elizabeth has to say.


My late sister and grandmother shared a September 14th birthday. I’m pleased that I was able to learn a bit about an author who was born on that day as well. I hear each of their voices in parts of Elizabeth’s Ted Talk, and an involuntary little smile tugs. Ms. Alsop, I think you’d have liked the both of them. Thank you, Elizabeth.

What Does “Being Published” Mean, Anyway?

What Does “Being Published” Mean, Anyway?

What does “being published” mean, anyway?

If a work is published, supposedly somewhere someone is reading, has read, or will read it. Well, maybe they’ll skim it.  Or scare up the Cliff Notes (do they still exist?). Anyhow…

Back in the day, we read newspapers and hardcovers, romance or western or science fiction paperbacks, textbooks and glossy magazines. The heft of a physics book, the slippery magazine pages, the barely held together pages of a script, the carbon ink transferred from cheap newsprint to your fingers or elbows or favorite shirt – reading was tactile. You’d pick up whatever you needed to get through, set it in front of you or maybe curl up in a

desk laptop and books by markus spiske

chair, focus your eyes on the paper, and there you were.

Now, we read novels on tablets, our phones, in our ears. Newspapers and textbooks are online, and they’re interactive. We take in memes and social media posts and blogs and all form of online media. We get much of our news in 40-character blasts.

So what does it mean to be published?

We still have anthologies and journals, magazines, news outlets, chapbooks and novels and poetry and all manner of nonfiction. Textbooks, pulp fiction, mysteries and romance haven’t disappeared. People still read.

Just not necessarily on paper.

Successful blogs become bestselling books. We “read” audio books while vacuuming or mowing the lawn.  Guest contributors have  bylines on blogs. Each day, scads of new e-books in every imaginable genre are published and available to download. Writers can enter competitions, the prize may be a magazine subscription or an online posting of their work. Some writers make a living creating nothing but web content or (gasp, yes, its true) clickbait.

So, if you write a blog post, are you published? Does web content count?  What about ebooks, or your own little small press?  Audio books?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines publication as the act of making information or stories available to people in a printed or electronic form. Seems simple, and it looks like those audio books, blog posts, and e-books qualify. Maybe not your tweets or that sunset you shared on Instagram.

So, good for you! Did you feel your credibility swell?  Or at least your confidence? Then my work is finished here.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and these are merely my musings.  Please do not consider this to contain any more substance than my meandering thoughts. And actual intellectual property attorney likely would have far more to say on this subject, and I welcome any who require a definitive answer to consider more in-depth research.

photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash