Tagged: Craft

Mindy Newell: To Tell The Truth


Is it a dirty word, especially when it comes to writing? Well, it depends. Simply put, there must be no embellishment when writing for a professional journal. The truth must be told.

There is a big difference between writing for a professional journal and writing fiction, or even this column. Writing for a professional journal must follow a proscribed style set by peer-reviewed organizations whose rules on grammatical usage, word choice, elimination of bias in language, the proper citation of quotes and references and the inclusion of charts and tables have become the authoritative source for all intellectual writing. This means that for me, as an RN, BSN, CNOR, I must adhere to the styles and standards set by the Publication Manual Of The American Psychologoical Assocociation (APA), which is “consulted not only by psychologists but also by students and researchers in education, social work, nursing, business, and many other behavioral and social sciences” (VanderBros, 2010) if I submit a paper or article to the Journal of the Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN) for publication.

Does this mean that when I write fiction, or this column, I am allowed to freely embellish my stories? Does it mean that I am allowed to not to tell the truth?

Fiction writers do not really have one easily referenced professional publication in which the governance of grammar and punctuation are laid out in indisputable terms, in which the standards of style are set – though this does not mean I can sit down in front of my computer screen and write just one continuous sentence that goes on and on for pages and pages – well, perhaps I could if I was James Joyce. But all writers do need to start somewhere, and for anyone who has ever taken a creative writing course, or even tried to stay awake in their English high school class, the classic Elements Of Style, first written in 1918 by Professor William Strunk, Jr., is a good place to start. Strunk said something in that first edition that, 95 years later, has withstood the test of time and which, I believe, every writer, aspiring or published must integrate into his or her understanding of the art of writing:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Elements was first revised in 1957 by New Yorker writer E. B. White (the author of the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web), and by 1979s third edition, listed 11 rules for grammar, 11 principles of writing, 11 standards for form, and 21 recommendations for style. (A search on Amazon revealed that Chris Hong updated The Elements Of Style for Kindle readers in 2011.) But there’s a lot more advice out there. A little while ago I entered “standards for fiction writing” on Google, and got 15,400,000 hits in 0.23 seconds.

On my bookshelf I have not only Elements of Style, but also Zen in the Art of Writing – Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury, Write for Yourself – The Book About The Seminar and Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, both by Lawrence Block, Write in Style – Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing by Bobbie Christmas, How I Write – Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich with Ina Yalof, Inventing the Truth – the Art and Craft of Memoir edited by William Zinsser and which includes essays by such notables as Russell Baker, Annie Dillard, Toni Morrison, and Frank McCourt, Is Life Like This? – A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months by John Dufresne, The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray, Writing Fiction from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and Writers on Comics Scriptwriting which includes interviews with such illustrious authors as Peter David, Kurt Busiek, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb and Grant Morrison.

I also have Eisner/Miller – Interview Conducted by Charles Brownstein, which is wonderful not only for its historical perspective, but for a peep into two great creative minds, and “Casablanca – Script and Legend” by Howard Koch,” which is incredibly instructive in detailing how magic sometimes happens despite ornery studio heads, battling co-writers, and an inability to decide how the story ends. I also have Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” on my to-buy list.

And to tell the truth, I sometimes think that all this advice is still not enough.

Reference: Vandehaus, Gary R. (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. (6th ed., pp. xiii – xiv). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

To Be Continued…




2011 World Fantasy Award Winners

They were announced this past weekend at the World Fantasy Convention (where else?), held this year in beautiful, sunny San Diego.

Since I’ve been a judge for this award (a few years back now; the scars have completely healed), I’ve got a higher regard for the winners, and now I really need to track down a copy of Who Fears Death.

Congratulations to all of the winners. And, to the judges: you can relax now, and read something you want to, for a change.

Novel: Who Fears Death? by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
Novella: “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand (Stories: All-New Tales)
Short Story: “Fossil-Figures” by Joyce Carol Oates (Stories: All-New Tales)
Anthology: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer & Carmen Gimenez Smith (Penguin)
Collection: What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler (Small Beer Press)
Artist: Kinuko Y. Craft
Special Award, Professional: Marc Gascoigne for Angry Robot
Special Award, Non-Professional: Alisa Krasnostein for Twelfth Planet Press
Life Achievement:Peter S. Beagle and Angélica Gorodischer

The Barn Comes to Newspapers

The Barn Comes to Newspapers

Canadian cartoonist Ralph Hagen will craft a new comic strip, The Barn, debuting from Creators Syndicate on October 27. The strip will concentrate on the interaction between farm animals and local humans.

Hagen, a self-taught artist, has been professionally illustrating for 31 years and has been published in a variety of outlets from The Saturday Evening Post to Reader’s Digest. He’s also done commercial illustration for numerous clients including Kraft Foods.

Mark Verheiden Becomes a Hero

Mark Verheiden Becomes a Hero

Last Friday, Mark Verheiden posted on his blog that he has moved from Battlestar Galactica, now completed, to Universal’s other big hit, Heroes.

“I have made a lateral shift in the NBC/Universal universe and joined the show Heroes as a consulting writer/producer,” he revealed. “So far I’ve been catching up with the show’s wonderful mythology (boy, I thought Battlestar was twisted!) while watching an amazing staff craft incredible stories. Emotional, suspenseful, and jam-packed with action. And after watching some of the upcoming episodes, I’m in awe at how much they manage to accomplish each day. Lots of people, from the fantastic cast and directors to the hard-working and super-talented crew, are working really hard to make this all happen.”

His work will be seen in the second story arc for season three due in the spring.  Heroes returns to NBC Monday nights beginning September 22.

Obama, McCain or Snoopy?

Obama, McCain or Snoopy?

For those turned off by both Obama and McCain and won’t even consider Nader, then you might want to consider exercising your right by voting for Charlie Brown. To keep people engaged in the electoral process Rock the Vote has worked with United Media to craft a Peanuts-centric website where people can legitimately register for the general election while also casting a vote for Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy or Sally.

No surprise that as of this morning, Snoopy has a strong lead across the land. Additionally, Warner Home Video has planned a rerelease of You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown for October 7.  The DVD has been remastered in a new deluxe edition.

Review: ‘The Education of Hopey Glass’

There’s something effortless about the comics of Jaime Hernandez. Both in storytelling and art, his Love and Rockets books glide smoothly, seamlessly along – perfect little vignettes into imagined lives.

This isn’t to say Hernandez doesn’t work hard at his craft. Take a deeper look at efforts like his latest collection, The Education of Hopey Glass (Fantagraphics, $19.99) and the attention to detail becomes eminently clear. But unless you will yourself toward that cause, it’s only too easy to slide right into the story and only come up for a breath when the last page has been flipped.

The first half of Hopey Glass is a particularly good example. More than just a glimpse into an unsettled life, Hernandez casts Hopey as a deeply shallow young woman suffering in the transition into adulthood, maturity and responsibility.

When her hedonistic impulses butt up against her new job as a teacher’s assistant, Hopey faces the pull of each world, and her anguish is palpable.

The book falters, though, when it suddenly drops that story and picks up the journey of Ray in his quest for women and success. While still a quality piece of comics, it’s much less compelling than Hopey’s story. And so the book as a whole becomes an incomplete puzzle, a collection of great but unfinished pieces.

Review: ‘Life Sucks’ by Abel, Soria and Pleece

It doesn’t seem a stretch to assume every possible vampire story has been done, from the classics to Anne Rice’s romanticizations to the modern Blade to the self-obsessed Shadow of the Vampire to the Dracula: Dead and Loving It spoof.

I won’t claim that Life Sucks (First Second, $19.95) is jaw-droppingly revolutionary, no. But it does deliver a riff on vampires that hasn’t been seen before.

To put it bluntly, Dave is a loser. He’s a wimpy young guy stuck working a dead-end job at an LA convenience store, and he’s in love with a goth girl who doesn’t know he exists. On top of all that, he’s a vampire, which just makes the life of the former-vegetarian all the more miserable.

The story of Life Sucks began several years ago when co-writers Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria were talking about vampires and wondered what it would be like for a young vampire stuck in the real world. After all, vampires don’t just start out with a big castle and tons of wealth, Soria told me.

Like a typical young adult, Dave is just starting out and trying to establish a life for himself. The vampire angle adds to his difficulties (despite a few cool powers), with the need to hide from sunlight, forage for blood and obey his master, Count Radu, the old vampire who infected him and owns the convenience store where Dave works.

Instead of obsessing with drudgery, the authors craft a simple but effective story of Dave’s pursuit of love, one that becomes expectedly complicated given the indie comics background of Abel. Life Sucks works because it’s a good little yarn about young adulthood, with the vampire angle serving more than anything as extra flavoring.

The art, by Warren Pleece, is appropriately grounded and manages to stay lively even during lulls in action. I interviewed him about his work on the book a little back, which you can read right here.

Inkwell Awards Celebrate Underappreciated Art of Inking

Inkwell Awards Celebrate Underappreciated Art of Inking

Of all the artificial divisions of labor that modern assembly-line comics have spawned, inking is probably the least understood and most maligned, containing elements of both specialized artistic crafting and production talent. Most laypeople and casual comics readers still regard inking as merely the latter, a form of "tracing" requiring little more than a steady hand and an eye towards deadlines. 

Long considered one of the "top three" storytelling skills, inking has been rendered (pun intended) such a relative afterthought that one major company no longer includes inkers in their Previews solicitations.

Long-time inking advocate Bob Almond is out to change all that.  Bob writes the regular "Inkblots" column for SKETCH Magazine, where the idea germinated, and he’s now set up a website with categories, voting instructions and other information about the awards.  It even has a pretty good definition of what inking is, for those who haven’t been exposed to the craft in all its complexity.

Voting is open to all, begins April 1 and runs through the end of May.  Bob suggests that interested participants check the credit boxes of their favorite comics, as well as the somewhat cumbersome Comic Book DB, for eligible names, and "Maybe one year we will be able to put a complete inker database together." I can certainly suggest a few nominees for anyone coming up short!


‘Heroes’, ‘Chuck’ and ‘Life’ Get the Green Light for Fall

‘Heroes’, ‘Chuck’ and ‘Life’ Get the Green Light for Fall

Even though the strike is over and many writers, actors, grips and craft service people are now getting back to work, the fate of some TV shows was still a bit uncertain.

Fortunately, according to NBC (via ComingSoon.net) three of my favorite shows, Heroes, Chuck and the underrated Life, don’t have to wait any longer to find out their fates because they have definitely been renewed for next Fall.

According to NBC Co-Chairman Ben Silverman:

"We are thrilled to be bringing back the high-energy dramas’ Chuck’ and ‘Life’ for next season. Additionally, we will be saving and re-launching our #1 drama and most successful franchise, ‘Heroes,’ so that it will run in all original episodes in the fourth quarter."

So, good news for fans of these shows. Although, it would have been great to see some new episodes earlier than next Fall but I guess you can’t have everything. At least they’re coming back, and for now, that’s enough.


Mickey Mouse Welcomed Back to School

Mickey Mouse Welcomed Back to School

Comic books have had a love/hate relationship with teachers ever since the first titles were published 70 years ago.  These days, with graphic novels and manga filling school and public libraries, they have become a staple in children’s reading.

As a result, Maryland is now formally bringing them back into the classroom.  Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick entered into a relationship with Disney Publishing Worldwide publishing’s education division to craft teaching aids using Mickey Mouse and friends.  Activities include creating their own comic books, something that has captured the kids’ imaginations.

According to reports from Associated Press, the pilot program was begun last year and is being used in eight third grade classes in the state.  Disney was presented Maryland’s reading standards for the grade and then tailored comic book material to meet the guidelines. The program includes lesson plans for the teachers and comic book activities for the students.  Mickey’s adventures will now help children learn how to craft a plot and understand characterization.

"Reading is such an important activity for all children, and using comic book-related lessons offers teachers an important new tool to draw students into the world of words," Grasmick said in a statement. "This project enhances other work that goes on in the reading class. Comic books and graphic novels cannot replace other forms of literature, but they can be an entry point for some reluctant readers."

Teachers interviewed have been supportive and with the program now underway, Disney and Maryland are looking at more modern characters and materials to supplement the curriculum.

"I don’t think that is where I want my 9- or 10-year-old child spending their time in school," Timothy Shanahan, president of the International Reading Association told Maryland’s The Daily Times. "It might be a choice of reading 1,000 words versus 300 words. You don’t want it to replace more substantial reading."

With Disney now owning the CrossGen properties, including Abadazad and Meridian, there are plenty of age-appropriate characters beyond the legendary Mouseketeers to pick from.  It’s also interesting to note that the program is being launched in Maryland, home to Diamond Comics and owner Steve Geppi, who holds the domestic license for the classic Disney comic books.

(Artwork copyright Disney Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)