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Archive for the ‘American culture’ Category

Any book worth reading comes on the heels of different kinds of editorial adjustments. First by the author, then possibly a collective of writers assembled for the purpose of critique. And hopefully it arrives to the eyes of an editor for that final polish. That last step can involve anything from line editing to content editing and the latter is akin to the mastering process of a good music recording. Some musicians and audiophiles refer to this process as an occult science. In the same way, content editing can border on the realm of arcane magic. However one may wish to regard it, it is a necessary step in bringing a book to publishable form. Along the way, one must be willing to invite criticism.

All of the steps along the way to a book’s perfection point (and there is a perfection point to sculpt to) require a certain distancing from the work. Initially, the writer must separate him/herself from the first draft and put on the editor’s hat to bring the work, through many revisions, to a condition where it is presentable for the writers group. At the very least, fix the typos. More importantly, through revision, push the work to a point where you can go no further by yourself. Wherever I live I seek these critique groups with the same impertive an alcoholic seeks AA meetings. At this stage you’re still in the realm of subjectivity, still living in your own head. When you’ve created your own little world with your writing, it’s not surprising to be instinctively on the defense when someone seemingly attacks that world.

This is where the tricky part is, and some are better than others at taking constructive criticism. It gets complicated because artists/creatives can be pretty thin-skinned folks. And on top of that you need a filter for the criticism. People have their own agendas, reading backgrounds and general life orientation. I make it a habit to remind those in my critique group that I’m not there for a pat on the back– I’m there to make what I bring with me better, and hopefully be of use in lifting the work they in turn throw under my nose. Amidst all this humility, one needs confidence. In the words of ole Kinky Friedman, “You can’t write a novel if you’re riddled with self-doubt. Indeed the quality most precious to an author is the absence of self-doubt.”

In this spirit, bringing a boulder of confidence to the table along with a good chunk of humility is of the utmost importance. And a vision, a good idea of what you are shooting for. In music, the end result should bring the artist full circle to the moment of conception, what it sounds like in their head in the first place. You need this kind of compass for a work of prose. That makes it quite easy to discern which comments are in line with that vision and which are contrary or irrelevant to it. But no matter how much confidence, be prepared to have your world rocked. I don’t always heed my own words– recently I attended a group I hadn’t been to in a while but for whom I hold in high regard. I thought I’d take along an important scene from the beginning of the novel, as I’m nearing the bend toward a serious revisionary pass of the book. I was rushed, trying to get out of the house in time. I carved out and printed something that hadn’t been pushed as far as it could on my own, knowing it already had problems. The critique was a tough enough punch in the gut, all the more painful due to a lack of preparation.

I once attended a literary event that focused on a self-published novel for which the author had neither hired an editor nor sought much input from others in any forum. This fact was a particular bragging point to the author– on reading, the absence was clearly evident and just a few pages in and I quickly dropped it.

Making one’s work better requires the suspension of one’s ego. The work is separate from the self, and remarks about the work are just remarks about the work– an attack on the work is not an attack on your person. You have to be open to criticism. So whether you’re intending on taking up writing or have been writing for years, I hope you find these musings on criticism helpful. If you just enjoy a glimpse into how a book comes to fruition, I hope you find it interesting. But I won’t be offended if you don’t.

6
Jul

Silence is Golden

   Posted by: Ricko Tags: , , ,

For the most part, I write amid silence. Silence– you remember, that delightful sound of nothingness? Stories are born of silence and spoken amid silence. Silence is the blank canvas on which words take shape. The slate upon which phrases are added, cut, or moved. The staff paper upon which notes are written that just may strike a chord. Silent films are incredibly exquisite expressions of beauty, but not without music to accompany them. All beautiful things are born of silence. And it is fast disappearing in the increasingly noisy world we share.

This past 4th of July has informed this month’s blog, and it’s not about those grand displays of fireworks. I enjoyed a great pickin party followed by multiple viewing, atop the Don Cesar Hotel, of every major fireworks display in Pinellas County form downtown St. Petersburg to Gulfport to Madeira Beach and Treasure Island. What’s not to love about those sky shows put on by the public works? Unless of course you suffer from PTSD– and the idea of a celebration of our nation’s freedom deeply disturbing someone who sacrificed in war to defend it is truly one of the harshest ironies. What I did not enjoy was pretty much a full week of loud explosions in my neighborhood, sometimes until two o’clock in the morning. What I’m talking about are those private-made-public outbursts put on by public nuisances. I remember the same bullshit in Tennessee. It really puts me off the holiday. In Florida, the purchase of fireworks is illegal unless for purposes of driving animals from your property. But the police state that the laws are difficult to enforce. The real atrocity here is the lack of respect, the selfishness that allows someone to think nothing of making a loud racket in a densely-populated area deep into the night. Who are these people? This absence of other-mindedness seems to be the order of the day, and no amount of laws are going to prevent it. What we need is nothing short of a societal shakeup and a return to peace and dignity, to graciousness instead of rudeness. We need more silence.

The electronic age has served to make our world louder and it’s almost eerie how we’ve come to accept it, even though it does us great harm. Televisions bear loud-mouthed talking heads into living rooms nightly, theaters blast movies at decibels far beyond what’s necessary, people shout more and more to be heard over one another. Noise seems to rule the day. The fireworks are one thing, but the one more obvious phenomenon is the car stereos, those PA system on wheels. Ever wonder why all you can hear is the boom boom boom from outside of the offending vehicle? Well, as they taught us in sound engineering school, the lower the frequency the farther sound waves travel. So the low-end, the bass, is all you hear and that godawful pounding pulse induces anxiety. Whether you realize it or not. I’ve met folks who’ll say it doesn’t bother them. Those of us sensitive to sound know damn well it makes us anxious. Those less affected by sound just don’t realize they’re being mentally manipulated. Indeed repeated low-frequency pulses have been used as instruments of torture. I’m very much a live-and-let-live guy, so why on earth would I agree with a law that would subject a second time noise offender to having their car impounded? Because silence should take precedence over noise in the public arena. Because your rights end where mine begin and vice versa. I didn’t ask for the walls of my living room to shake at midnight as a result of your shitnoise. I’m fortunate enough to have silence most days in the morning, my best time to write, and in the late evening, my favorite time to make revisions. When silence is not possible, I write to medieval Spanish music. And I play it at such a volume as not to disturb my neighbors.

Silence is golden folks, and at the rate we’re going it just may be the next commodity.

 

The oral tradition of storytelling in the English language is something very well-preserved in Ireland, Scotland and the rest of the British Isles. At least that was my experience over ten years ago. There were storytellers all over the place in Ireland who knew their stories by heart. Many nights at after-parties on the heels of playing a traditional Irish session, we would take turns improvising stories right then and there. How fun that was! It was kind of mandatory and I must say the first time that I was put on the spot, my Scottish friend Alex called me out for introducing a gun into my story. You Yanks, it’s all violence and guns! What a lazy, cheap plotting device! I stopped throwing gratuitous guns into my stories after that.

Audiobooks are in some sense a manifestation of the age-old practice of storytelling. But it’s not the same– a voice comes over the ear buds, or the car stereo speakers. Even though the narrators are usually great voice actors, the intimacy of shared space between the storyteller and their listeners is not present. There is much difference between the experience of reading a story and listening to a story.

I enjoyed so much the reading/music events on my promotional blitz for Sunnyville. There was a very special and old-fashioned kind of connection going on between myself and others. It had nothing to do with politics or opinions or anything else grounded in reality. It was pure storytelling.

Author and friend Lisa Kirchner has a great monthly series going here in St. Pete called True Stories. http://www.lisalkirchner.com/events/It’s a fun night with a pre-announced theme and people show up and there is generally a lot of laughter (Lisa’s very funny) and engagement with the storyteller. My writing critique groups are themselves storytelling experiences. We meet regularly and read from what we’ve printed out for excising, enhancement and constructive criticism. We keep up with one another’s stories meeting by meeting.

Us Americans need storytelling now more than ever between one another. Where the personal does not become the political. Our obsession with the media outlets that are largely opinion/editorial in nature has made us a little too dense with current events– it’s like suddenly we’re all professional journalists. Well, journalism is work. Stories are play. Humans need to connect verbally through play, always have. So maybe turn off the cable news, close the laptop, put down that newspaper or that bestselling book by your favorite TV talking head. Let’s make up stories. Let’s play.

It was in the spirit of pioneering that I left the big city in search of a nest in the environs of a small community, one in which I might feel less anonymous and more directly and plainly beneficial to my fellow man, where I might potter about naked without the risk of offending anyone, where I could cultivate my own food around an un-mortgaged house. The house in question was a cosy two-bedroom affair with a screened in porch out front. Plenty of yard. A home in the country.

It was eight miles out from the town center, across a terrain speckled with water, indeed from the map it appeared the small lakes and swamps covered more ground than dry land. It would be near enough civilization, but far enough to hear nothing but the cricket choir at night. The two lane highway out had a relaxing 55-mph speed limit, and anyone familiar with my music knows how I feel about dat. Just off the main road, me and my GPS hunted for Tin Pan Alley, an address I reckoned would have a delightful and distinctive ring to it. Tin Pan Alley ran behind the main road in a loop, like a coffee cup handle. I drove right past the first intersection, easy enough to miss, unpaved and unmarked by street sign. But after driving along a tiny paved road lined with modest two-bedroom houses, some inhabited, some not, I spotted what turned out to be the second connection with a green street sign bearing the name of the dirt road that would bear my mysterious outpost, my retreat from the mass of humanity. I turned into it and the car rocked and rolled over a dirt road riddled with potholes. I trundled along it, passing one after another in a series of abandoned and derelict homesteads, trailers, trailers with makeshift additions, and a few regular free-standing houses. Structures with broken-out windows, worn-out appliances, and other rusted remnants of the past scattered about a landscape overrun by weeds. I veered off into a driveway by mistake and was greeted by two rather bulky dogs on chains who, amazingly, didn’t bark at my strange car. From the roof of this dwelling was draped, in addition to the Stars and Stripes, that relic of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars. When I got back onto the main thoroughfare I passed a few more derelict and abandoned properties overrun by bushes and after passing a two-story makeshift structure with the remnants of children’s playthings in the yard, I spotted what I knew from photos to be that which I sought after. Charlie the realtor arrived not long after I took the opportunity to perambulate the area and peek through the windows of a house very much at odds with much of the dwellings that comprised the little country road known as Tin Pan Alley— it was well-preserved and it’s vaulted ceiling and interior walls of knotty pine very much in line with what I was seeking. Later that day I realized it was more than a house I sought after— it was the country I grew up in. Now don’t misunderstand me— I’m not one of these nostalgics who waves the flag of patriotism to try and summon back an era when women and blacks knew their place, when music and other art forms were stuck within safe boundaries, when television was squeaky clean family entertainment in black and white, when everybody got in line and didn’t ask questions. I do like the idea however, of ice cream parlors, gasoline stations where they wipe the bug shit off your windshield and talk and smoke a cigarette at the same time, where little league baseball and other sports were fun and frivolous and not an expensive-as-hell obsession for parents, where people got together regularly to make some music on their porches absent any obnoxious low-frequency pounding car stereos to pollute the peace. And where we began to experiment with other lifestyles, other designs for living. Such as this now abandoned hippie ghost town I found myself patrolling while I waited for the realtor to show up. I didn’t put two-and-two together until later that afternoon— in a conversation with a long-time resident back in the quaint little downtown eight miles away. Steve informed me that the locale I scouted that morning after a long drive inland from St. Petersburg was indeed once a bastion of hippies. Which ain’t altogther a bad thing, he said and I concurred. But it left me scratching my head and writing these words.

What is happening to my country? What is dividing families and friends along thought lines? What the hell is working on mass consciousness to cause us to be so hateful, so aggravated with each other that we can’t even dialogue, everyone is surrounding themselves only with others who share their opinions, it’s like they’ve got their fingers stuck in their ears and everyone’s all don’t talk about politics or religion. Well then what the hell else is there to talk about, the weather? Why is it that other countries can talk on a deeper topical level than what’s on TV or what you should buy online? Why was it that not so long ago we could talk about such things without fistfights or broken relationships. There was a time when opinions didn’t matter so much anyway— there’s a difference between thinking and blasting opinions around. And I mean on either side of the idealogical divide. And in case you haven’t noticed, there is a huge divide. And it never existed until the rise of cable television and mass media. The brainwashing that ensued is monumental, and there’s too much material there for this post. Anyway, back to my lost America, out there in the woods, out there where the yards of hippie ghosts were littered with junk. Where peaceful potheads once dwelled, now meth and crack heads, pain pill addicts (thanks Big Pharma!) and other ne’er-do-wells cause us to rig our domains with elaborate alarm systems. What happened to small communities banding together to incorporate bartering into their income scheme? Why is health care for all not the law of the land by now, like every other country in what we refer to as the civilized western world? I know history informs us that utopian communities are bound to fail, that man is essentially fixed to self-preservation, but that being said, why is the current political machine and climate trying, and succeeding I might add, to return us to a collective paradigm as dusty and mildewy as the relic from the past I walked through with the realtor that morning in the graveyard of hippie America?

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/writersonlinenetwork/2015/07/20/the-method-the-muse-featuring-ricko-donovan

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