Writing Advice–Ignore it

I’ve been doing some editing of my book of short stories and saw a website of do’s and don’t’s of fiction writing. Here’s a don’t–don’t pay any attention to their advice. What a bunch of academic, standardized tripe! And all advising the same things to avoid. Clearly, these people have been indoctrinated in creative writing workshops or classes. Oops! One demerit. I used the word, clearly. They advise against it. Also, don’t use frequently, often, really, very, half the prepositions in the English language, too many verbs to list here and oh, I also shouldn’t have used the word also at the beginning of this sentence. Two more demerits, or is it three? I will admit that using the word really to modify adjectives is kind of lame (by the way, don’t use kind of either). She had really pretty hair, or, the sky was really blue–yeah, that’s lame. But occasionally, it’s use for modifying a verb is effective, as is its use in dialogue. An example from my book: When she left, we boys asked if he really wouldn’t hit Frank if he started something. Pete said, “If he comes back, I’ll beat the shit out of him.” That made us all feel a lot better.

You’re not supposed to use a lot a lot either; so keep that in mind. And feel is one of the verbs you shouldn’t use. Christ, I can’t even write a blog. And don’t write: began to something something or started to something something. Just say, he somethinged. Oh shit! You’re not supposed to use the word just either. One more demerit.

A few lines from the same page of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust (though not in order): …she began to tell what had happened. Instead, she turned her back on him to examine herself in the wall mirror. She realized that he must be pretty sick. She didn’t turn around… The fun they used to have…. She used to ride piggy-back…

The words in bold are words or terms that these idiots say you should avoid using. Yes, that includes turn or turned. Before you ask, NO! in his sentence: …she began to tell what had happened, the action is not interrupted. On the same page, she began to sing and began to sob–again actions uninterrupted. West also (oops! another demerit) uses almost and always a few times on that same page–two more no-no’s. By the way, The Day of the Locust was ranked #73 on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English language novels of the twentieth century, but what do they know.

A few more examples: Don’t use then, don’t start a sentence with there was or there is. Somebody needs to let Charles Bukowski and Hemingway know about those writing no-no’s. Oops! not suppose to use need either. I’m not making this shit up. Oh, and don’t use not either. I’m serious, these are all words you need (damn it) to avoid.

Is it any wonder that the work coming from the creative writing crowd all sounds the  same: pretentious, contrived and affected. So let me give you a little advice. Stop spending tens of thousands of dollars to sit around and listen to pedagogues for four years. Instead, go to a library and read the good stuff. And use those thousands to travel or live la vida loca. Then maybe you’ll have something to write about other than college life or your failed relationship. Oops! I used then. Are you allowed to use maybe? Maybe I’ll look it up.

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To the Breech once more

Who should I go after today? I re-read some of my posts and I seem to gripe a lot about what’s wrong with our culture. But Christ, somebody’s got to do it. Everyone’s so afraid of being politically incorrect these days that they’re afraid to state the obvious. Isn’t it possible to see the wrongs in our culture and comment on them without being cruel (unless they really have it coming). Which brings me to the subject of today’s post: retirees and middle-aged ladies getting in touch with their artistic side. Do us all a favor and don’t!

Where were all these people and their artistic urges back when they were in their twenties? Oh, right, back then, they were too busy getting in touch with their nice houses, the nice cars, the expensive clothes and vacations and living a nice comfortable life. They only decide to become artistic when they retire or get laid off or become empty nesters. Now they need a hobby and one that might provide them with a few extra bucks. So they paint schlocky paintings for the country club ladies or the interior designer set, and come and go speaking of Michelangelo. Here’s a common theme among them: After twenty-five years in the insurance industry (insert any occupation) I decided to return to my first love-painting. I took an art course as a freshman in college and loved it, but—and this is where the bull-shit starts. Look, I got no problem with these schmucks taking up a hobby, but keep it at that. You’re not an artist because you took a few painting workshops; you’re not even a good painter. Honestly, the hubris of the baby boomer generation never ceases to amaze me.

But you have to lay some of the blame at the society that not only allows but encourages this sort of thing. And let’s not forget the art galleries that exhibit this junk hoping to pick up a few dollars from the interior designers who in many areas of the country are the arbiters of taste and buy more than individual collectors.

I hope one day to write something positive about our culture. Maybe next time, if there is a next time. This blogging thing seems a bit self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing; don’t you think? Till next time-maybe.

On Writing

Here’s something I’ve learned: the best writers, the great writers don’t pepper their work with a lot of obscure or six syllable words. Instead, they employ a plain, simple language but in an unexpected and creative manner. The constant sprinkling of big or arcane words only gums up the works, gets in the way of what you’re trying to express.

Having written a novel and book of short stories has deepened my appreciation for the great wordsmiths. I get a kick out of the way Joyce or Fitzgerald or Wolfe (to name a few) can turn simple language into the beautiful expression of a thought or emotion without sentimentality.

And here’s something else for all you fledgling writers out there: quit trying to be so damn clever. In any art form, clever is never good and, like the use of obscure language, just mucks thing up. I sometimes look at these on-line literary journals and let’s be honest here; many are just glorified blogs run by recent grads with an English or creative writing degree who now work at Starbucks and need to justify spending thousands of their parents dollars on a worthless degree. “But Mom and Dad, I am using my degree; I’m editing my own on-line literary journal! Now, would you like extra sugar in that coffee?” Anyway, with most of the short stories I read on these sites, I can’t get beyond the first few lines.They’re trying so hard to be clever that they lose me before I can get started. A quote by T. Wolfe: “And it all boiled down to this: honesty, sincerity, no compromise with the truth–those were the essentials of any art–and a writer, no matter what else he had, was just a hack without them.” You tell ’em, Tom. It’s true in art because it’s true in life.

So to all you English and creative writing majors working behind the counter at Starbucks–quit trying so hard to be clever and start being honest and sincere. And quit trying to impress everyone with style or your vocabulary. Anyone can buy a dictionary. And style needs to evolve naturally, otherwise it becomes contrived and mannered. Try forgetting most of what you were taught in those classes. Then the next time some soccer mom orders that cafe grande latte mocha with extra mocha, it’ll be someone else serving it up. And if not, at least you’ll know you’re fighting the good fight. Till next time, muchachos y muchachas.

A Lament on Tattoos

Hey, when did people who ink tattoos become artists? I say, let’s go back to the days when bikers and sailors got drunk and then got inked by guys almost as drunk as they were. I doubt those guys were sitting in a bar and turned to their drinking buddy and said, “You know what’s missing in our lives, Bob? Art! We need to get some art into our lives. We’ve been living like animals. Whatcha say we get some tattoos?”

The only tattoos I’ve ever seen that weren’t kitschy abominations were those worn by tribal warriors of the Polynesian islands. Simple geometric patterns inked in a plain, blue black. They decorated their bodies as a ritual for war. I don’t think they were trying to express their inner artist or get in touch with their feelings. You’re not expressing any great truth or emotion with a tattoo. As a matter of fact, you’re not expressing anything, other than bad taste.

Of course, nowadays everybody is an artist; so why not? But isn’t tattooing a skill, not an art? (a highly marketable skill these days). But even if you believe it an art, the person receiving the tattoo is not expressing anything. The person doing the inking is creating, not you; you’re just the canvas. Might as well say Rembrandt’s canvas was as creative as the artist. And having your girlfriend’s name inked on your arm doesn’t mean you love her anymore than I love my wife. If I had my wife’s name tattooed on my arm, she’d probably think it stupid, and the first thing she’d say, “How much did you pay for that?” Just another reason to love her. Someone once asked the actor, Tony Danza, if he regretted getting his tattoo. His answer, “Sure, it’s like wearing a sweater you can never change.

I grant that some tattoo “artists” are better than others, but so are some plumbers or electricians. It doesn’t make them artists. So again, let’s all quit kidding ourselves. Getting a tattoo isn’t the culmination of some great creative impulse. It’s just a bad decision, best made when drunk. I guess it makes sense from the tattoo parlor’s perspective. After all an artist can charge more. Just face it, the people doing the inking are selling you a bill of goods and laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe they are artists–con artists.

Note from a New Blogger

I’m new to this blogging thing and, truth be told, got into it reluctantly. I was told it was something one has to do if you write a book and want people to know about it. How true that is, I don’t know. I believe the book has merit and would like people to read it; but I am an artist (painter) so I’m not looking for a career as a writer. Maybe that’s a plus these days if you want to write. People have said I need to be on Facebook too, but I’d rather shoot myself.

I tell you this because I got a few likes from a woman in Germany, a lawyer I believe, who also does photography. Her photoshoped images struck me as kitschy and I said so as politely as I could. I checked to see her response a little later and saw that my comment had been deleted. What the fuck! If you’re just interested in adding another follower, a sycophant who constantly strokes you, or wanting to engage in a mutual admiration society, please look elsewhere. I prefer an honest engagement of ideas and would rather have a half a dozen intelligent followers than a million that spout vacuous, meaningless comments. So if you’re just fishing for followers, fish another body of water. But if you have something meaningfull and insightful to say, I’d love to hear it—good or bad. Just be able to back it up!

On Popular Culture

Here’s a thought! Let’s quit kidding ourselves and put the bar back where it belongs. Not everyone is a genius or brilliant. The words are bandied about way too much. Pop musicians, popular writers and actors are designated geniuses with alarming frequency in our culture. I grew up listening to the rock “legends” and still listen to a lot of the music from that era, but as I matured in age and wisdom, I recognized its true value. It is an art form produced to be popular for a mass audience in and of its time, and I am in and of that time. So yeah, I like a lot of that music; but my grandchildren or great grandchildren? There was a time when Bing Crosby was a sensation and widely listened to, but aside from White Christmas, who listens to him now? The same is true of so many from his era. Even Frank Sinatra, the bobby socks heart throb, has seen his listeners dwindle. And in fifty years?? These entertainers (one could include the Beatles, the Stones etc.) and their music will eventually fade into obscurity when tastes change and generations pass. That’s the nature of popular culture. The electronic age has propped it up beyond its natural shelf life. The Beatles broke up in 1970. If not for radio, cd’s, albums and such, the last time anyone would have heard the Beatles as a band would have been 1970. I don’t know about you, but if I hear another singer covering a Beatles song, I change the station rather than hear them butcher the song. It just ain’t the same! Now compare it to the music of Beethoven, Mozart et.al. We don’t need the composer actually playing the piano or conducting to enjoy the music; we just need a good symphony orchestra. It’s about the music, not the personality.

The same is true of writing. The publishing industry has always had a hard-on for detective stories, cheap romances and adventures. And if you enjoy reading it—fine! Just don’t tell me that John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks and company are great writers. To quote Don Corleone, “It insults my intelligence.” There work is uneven and formulaic, written for the mass market and movie rights. The same is true of so many artists. Thomas Kincaid, Leroy Neiman, Pino and many others are hacks not even making an honest effort to do something serious.

Our culture is still capable of producing real artists, usually unexpectedly and from unexpected sources. Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, Lucien Freud and Houellebecq come to mind.

So go into a bookstore or a record store or an art gallery and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to buy this anymore.” Not a big fan of Hollywood movies, but that one was pretty good. Till next time.

Basquiat Painting

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This just sold for 110 million and change, the change being half a million. It proves the old adage of P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I’m not going to argue the merits or lack thereof of Basquiat’s work; make up your own mind. But I do think the price tag is indicative of the sickness permeating our culture–the obsession with celebrity. The pr machine was up and running before this artist’s death but really got cranked up after his early demise. The son of immigrant parents (hardly poor though), a drug addict who hung out with Warhol et.al. and he died young–perfect! Let’s make some real money off this guy. Not that he’s benefiting. I have no problem with artists getting as much as they can for their work, but let’s start judging on the merit of the work, not celebrity status; and that goes for everyone. Kim Kardashian has a big ass and made a sex tape and converts those two accomplishments into a multi-million dollar empire.

I know I said I wouldn’t comment on the merit of the work, but I admit there is a certain visceral quality to this guy’s painting that appeals to me. But then I always thought there should be a certain savagery in an artist’s work, but I prefer a controlled savagery. Otherwise you get a muddle. There’s a kind of savagery in late Rembrandt, Hals, Velasquez, Goya, Delacroix and on and on, all the way through to the abstract expressionists. It’s up to future generations to decide the real merit of Basquait’s work after the fashionable dust settles. But that’s true for anyone. Till next time.