Saturday, May 26, 2007

Learning From a Dog

By Keith Fisher

It’s the old story of a boy and his dog. As in all stories of this type, the boy died . . .uh . . . I mean the dog died. These stories are usually sad, but there’s always a final scene when your breaking heart is mended, there is solace.

Although in the perennial story, when the loyal majestic dog is killed defending its master, there are puppies, and the protagonists can find consolation in knowing that there will be another dog.

When I was a boy I was lucky to have such a dog. Her name was Peggy and she was a good companion. When I slept outside, she kept my feet warm inside my sleeping bag. She didn’t die heroically saving me; she just died. I’ve had many dogs since, but none were quite the same as Peggy.

I was about nine when she died, and I was heartbroken. I made a headstone; I made a coffin. We had a family funeral and we prayed we could see Peggy again in heaven. Because of my loss, my parents purchased a used book titled: All Dogs Go to Heaven by Beth Brown. Published in 1944 by F. Fell—New York. It’s an interesting novel told from the dog’s point of view, but it’s not cheesy like the Don Bluth animated film.

Even though I intended to read it, I discovered it was fiction and therefore it couldn’t provide real answers to my questions. Whatever the reason, I never discarded the book.

While moving books from shelf to shelf the other day, I came across it. My curiosity was piqued so I set down to read. I was delighted to find a human protagonist who was a struggling writer. In the back of the book, on two pages in my nine-year-old handwriting, was a note explaining my feelings about my dog and a desire to see her again.

My discovery was made more poignant because I had written so many large words. I remembered my mother’s story about my first or second grade teacher telling her that I could carry on adult conversations. It wasn’t an epiphany, but I realized (as others before me), I must have been a writer before I was born. It seems I’ve spent my life unlearning what I already knew.

So, here I am, some forty-or-so years later, learning about life from a dog who died years ago, gleaning encouragement and still hoping of seeing her again. Who knows, maybe she might teach me how to punctuate sentences and stop using adverbs, or she can teach me about em-dashes VS semi-colons. It wouldn’t be teaching an old dog new tricks. It would be helping me remember what I once knew.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Please Sir . . . May I Have Some More?

By Keith Fisher

In Oliver, written by Charles Dickens, there is a classic line, delivered by the title character as he offers his empty bowl to the man in charge and asks, “Please, sir, I want some more.” In one of the movie versions, the man shows his rage when he answers, “More? You want more?”

In my struggle to acquire time for the important things in life and fulfill obligations, I’ve been feeling like Oliver lately. Perhaps I can take my clock to the man in charge, get on my knees, and beg, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

I read the blogs, and talk with people; it seems we all share this dilemma. Hopefully our blog has been helpful in your struggle to become a published author, but let me take a personal moment here.

Do parts of this sound familiar?

I wrote a few months ago about my job change. Although the graveyard shift can be hard on everyone, my schedule was totally interrupted. After about six-hours of sleep, I wake at the crack of 2 or 3 PM, and sit down to write, and usually get one sentence into the computer before my daughter comes home from school.

After shuttling the car, cooking dinner, and every little minor emergency, I finally get back to my writing and discover it’s time to get ready for work.

Back in the days before being relegated to the hours of darkness, I usually wrote late into the night, getting the same six hours of sleep, and finding time at work to help proofread the writing of my friends. Life was bliss.

Now there is no time at work for proofreading, and the two hours after ten PM have vanished. I once was a morning person, Now I’m forced into the afternoon, (and somewhat grumpy at that).

In an effort to help you become a better writer, and to avoid self-aggrandizing, I usually offer a solution at this point in a blog, but I’m too tired.

Well . . . perhaps if I write in the morning, before going to sleep . . . it would give me a whole day to reflect on my story . . . but I have to be awake when my daughter comes home . . . that would result in less sleep . . .

Whatever the solution, I’ll keep you in the loop. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get ready for work. As for my commitments to help proofread, let me just say, I’m not really flaky just confused. Will it help to receive suggestions after it’s published?

Please Sir . . . May I have some more?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pulling Words from Thin Air

By Keith Fisher

At work the other day, I was paying close attention to the images floating past on my computer screen, and listening to old music through my headphones.

Because of the music, my mind began to wander to my teenage years with a mixture of happy and sad emotions. Suddenly, out of nowhere (I still can’t remember what led up to it), A phrase came to me for my work in progress. I stopped the scanner, turned off the music, and wrote it down. It surprised me for two reasons: One, because I haven’t worked on the scene where the phrase will appear since the draft, and two, because in the draft, I worked hard on the phrase, but couldn’t quite get it right.

Since most of the writing I’m doing these days is editing, I thought I would borrow a page from my friend Tristi Pinkston and show you how I used the words that came to me.

This is the way I wrote it in the first draft:
Jesse started to pick himself up, but Joseph gripped Jesse’s shirt collar and pulled him up to face Joseph. He gripped the collar with his left hand, and doubled his right fist. He pulled the fist parallel to his ear. He intended to break his brother’s jaw.

Then after a little exposition, I wrote:
Joseph was struck by the look on Jesse’s face. He looked calm, not at all scared, but Joseph could feel the quickened pulse in Jesse’s neck as Joseph held him by the throat.

This is what I wrote down at work:
With his fist drawn back to the side of his ear, he looked into Jesse’s eyes.

So after a little reworking, I changed it to:
Jesse struggled to lift himself from the floor, but Joseph pulled him up by the shirt collar and held him close. With his fist drawn back to the side of his ear, he looked into Jesse’s eyes.
Joseph was struck by the look on Jesse’s face. He looked calm, not at all scared, but through the shirt collar, Joseph could feel a quickened heartbeat in Jesse’s neck.

It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there.

Many writers talk about getting ideas at odd times. Like others, I get some of my best ideas in the shower or in the middle of the night while stumbling toward the bathroom. Most of us hurry to write down the fleeting thought and never wonder about the source of it.

Perhaps we should take a moment and thank the source of the muse, whoever he may be.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

An Element of Sadness

By Keith Fisher

I was in our local everything for a dollar store the other day. I was looking at frames for my writing award, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I perused the do-dads and do-hickeys, when I stumbled upon a sight that saddened me. In the school supplies section, I found several shelves devoted to books, not just pocket size paperbacks, but hard cover 80,000 word novels.

Normally this wouldn’t be anything new for me but I had to remember I was in the dollar store. These weren’t just discounted books—they were one step away from give-away, (or throwaway).

I studied the unfamiliar titles, and checked out the unknown authors’ names. I imagined the hopes and dreams, the late into the night, all consuming urge those authors must’ve felt to write their books.

I imagined their elation when their publisher delivered the good news, the hard work of going through the process to see their book in print. Perhaps it didn’t sell well, and the publisher printed too many copies. Whatever the reason, the book had been relegated to the discount store.

As writers, we’re familiar with this story, but I was left with a feeling of sadness for the books that never really saw the light of glory. I was sad for the unknown authors who would’ve been the next Mary Higgins Clark or Ray Bradbury, if only their books had seen more shelf life, or inspired controversy like Dan Brown’s.

But I have to remember, at least the book was published, the author still has a chance.

I agree with Jeffrey Savage’s desire to have many people read his books even if they borrow the first one, or check it out from a library somewhere. If a book is good enough, people will remember and purchase their own copy of the author’s next book.

If the unknown authors I spoke of continue to write, then having their book in the extreme discount section could be a good thing. At least it will get their book into the hands of many. So the sadness I felt may be premature. It may be harder to get a publisher, but those forlorn copies of unexplored prose might be the great-grandfathers of a bestseller someday.