Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Munk Rules! -An Off Cycle Blog Post-

Cheryl Klein of the Brooklyn Arden inspired me this morning. She, being quite principled herself, began a new section on her blog called "Other People's Principles." Her goal is to compile a list of lists. Apologies for the redundancies, but a principle list of listed principles is inherently redundant, unless of course you are Dr. Suess, at which point it becomes a Star Infested Pundonkey. Anyway, Ms. Klein has requested that any of her readers who feel up to it, write a list of principles on writing. So did I and so should you. Perhaps all of you "A to Z" bloggers can adopt a German accent and create "Zee" list for your Saturday post. Warning, seeing as I am unpublished, and have no real prospects, be wary of putting any of my principles into practice.  

Munk’s List on Writing
Regarding expectations: Write to reach someone, but not everyone.
Regarding conventions: Avoid the entrapments of genre, write a story.
Regarding details: Sweat the little stuff and the big stuff: words, sentences, punctuation, characters, plot, theme… all of it.
Regarding craft: Face your weaknesses. Never stop growing, but pace yourself. Opt for daily reflections over weeklong immersions, growth is time consuming and effortful.
Regarding reviews: Listen hardest to those whom you respect the most, but ignore the others at your peril (I wish I had an editor to instruct me on the proper use of ‘whom’).
Regarding age appropriateness: Write to your audience in theme only, avoid restricted vocabulary (except in character voice).
Regarding absolutism: Never follow a tip beginning with the word ‘never’ (yes, this means you Elmore). Break rules.
Regarding inspiration: Write with purpose or with joy, or both.
Regarding editors: Secure council that possesses passion and energy—and nothing to lose.                                         
Regarding lists: Make your own.

I am a big fan of Ms. Klein, aside from being a Potterologist (I’ll let you scour her website to understand that reference) and an editor for Arthur A. Levine, a Scholastic imprint, she spends much of her time helping people understand the craft of writing. I find her writing on writing pragmatic, value rich, and entertaining. She connects many of my free radical Zots.

Check her website, if you like what you see, I recommend you buy her book, Second Sight. I carry two books in my backpack when I write: hers and “Strunk and White”. 

Do you have a list?

Munk’s opening line,
I can’t be redundant; I’m the only one who knows how to fly the plane. 
Munk's "Opening Line" is yours to keep, use it. Munk

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Road Tripper, Radio On!

I recently realized that many of my favorite reads are “road” books. My love for road books probably stems from my love for travel. I enjoy motion.

Some of my favorites:
Travels with Charlie—John Steinbeck
On the Road—Jack Kerouac
The Hobbit—J. R. R. Tolkien
Lonesome Dove—Larry McMurtry
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—Robert Pirsig (I can’t tell you how many years it has been since I read this book and yet I still debate with Phaedrus on road trips).

Books for experiential enhancement:
I often choose books to read on vacation based on where I am travelling. For example while trekking in Nepal I read Annapurna by Maurice Herzog… in a word: harrowing. While in the Cook Islands I read the Nordhoff and Hall trilogy: Mutiny on the Bounty, Men at Sea, and Pitcairn’s Island… in three words, egomania, ick, and megalomania. After being shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the arteries of a really important smart guy and submarining toward a deadly blood clot in his carotid artery, I read Fantastic Voyage… Okay, you caught me, I never read Fantastic Voyage. I would have, had I not been so busy fighting off white blood cells and helping Raquel Welch apply her mascara.

What are your favorite road books?  

Munk's opening line (the kids helped me write this one)...
Technology stole my grandmother’s underpants. 
Munk's "Opening Line" is yours to keep, use it. Munk
This week’s music:
Jonathon Richman and The Modern Lovers: Roadrunner 

Happy Birthday Audrey.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Connecting the Zots

Was sent an e-mail this week by a friend with whom I share the love of creation. She is also one of my few blogging friends that I actually know exists. I can testify that she has an analog version of herself to compliment her digital form. That is to say, we’ve met. We work together. Kat, the photographer (her digital self), can be found here:  www.kateyeview.com. The analog version of Kat resides, for the moment, in Italy… gridare evviva! She’s finishing a two-year TDY with her family in Milan and finds time to share her passion for photography on the web. Love that.

In addition to being an inspired photo jockey, and cracker-jack engineer, Kat is a voracious reader (I was thrilled that she enjoyed an early version of Syntropy). As it happens, her current read is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet.

Kat graciously sent me an e-mail as a follow up to my blog post of last week and I was floored, purely and magnificently—floored. Have you ever read something that so clearly speaks to your opinion it’s as if someone has climbed inside your head, extracted the appropriate bits, and arranged them better than you could ever hope to? Jon Krakauer and John Irving have connected the dots in my mind on occasion… and Vonnegut has as well (which, to be honest, scares me a little).

In regards to choosing the right word, the dear departed Ms. L’Engle says thus…

“I have a profound conviction that it is most dangerous to tamper with the word. I've been asked why it's wrong to provide the author of a pleasure book, a non-textbook, with a controlled-vocabulary list. First of all, to give an author a list of words and tell him to write a book for children using no word that is not on the list strikes me as blasphemy. What would have happened to Beatrix Potter if she had written in the time of controlled vocabulary? Lettuce has a soporific effect on Peter Rabbit. "Come come, Beatrix, that word is beyond a child's vocabulary." "But it's the right word, it's the only possible word." "Nonsense. You can't use soporific because it's outside the child's reading capacity. You can say that lettuce made Peter feel sleepy."

I shudder.

To give a writer a controlled-vocabulary list is manipulating both writer and reader. It keeps the child within his present capacity, on the bland assumption that growth is even and orderly and rational, instead of something that happens in great unexpected leaps and bounds. It ties the author down and takes away his creative freedom, and completely ignores the fact that the good writer will always limit himself. The simplest word is almost always the right word. I am convinced that Beatrix Potter used "soporific" because it was, it really and truly was, the only right word for lettuce at that moment.”

I swooned as she shredded the notion of “even and orderly” growth. I now have the book at my bedside. Ms. L’Engle surrounds the passage with further eloquence, but I believe the words above, the words Kat chose to share with me, provide a good summary.
Two questions:
1) Do you have writers that connect dots in your head?
2) Any comments regarding Ms. L’Engle’s philosophy on word choice?

Munk’s Opening line…
Never underestimate the reasoning ability of a three-year-old human.
Munk's "Opening Line" is yours to keep, use it. Munk

Music this week... probably not for everyone... but definitely for me. The Pixies, Subbacultcha (you know, when you grope for Luna)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When Good Words Go Bad: A Case Study

Imagine you have just finished a comedy set at the Stork Club in 1946 and Sherman Billingsley greets you as you leave the stage. He’s really excited. He loved your set, and he says one of the following…

1) “You look smashing and your gags are to die for.”
2) “You killed out there tonight, you really slayed me.”
3) “You are so bad… you are the bomb.”
4) “You are so phat and dope and sick, you make me sick.”

In which scenarios do you smile and shake his hand?
In which scenarios do you slap him?
In which scenarios do you give him a great big wet kiss and yell, “Thanks dawg! Your club is the shit. I mean this joint is so totally ass, I want to burn it down!"?

This week's opening line... I'm thinking of it as a middle-grade novel, first-person narration...
Being invisible would be great, imagine all of the trouble you could stay out of.
Munk's "Opening Line" is yours to keep, use it. Munk

And now to music... from the movie "The Stork Club", I bring you, Betty Hutton, (I have to admit, I find this hilarious).