Trigger warnings on textbooks, novels border on ridiculous

by G. Robert Frazier

I don’t mean to sound insensitive or cold, but this whole push for trigger warnings on virtually everything is ridiculous.

According to the Washington Post article, four students, who are members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, say trigger warnings are needed on certain texts dealing with Greek mythology, of all things. “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background,” the students write.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, we would often include a note to readers — a trigger warning, if you will — at the beginning of stories about sexual violence. It was just good public policy to let parents know the article’s content might not be suitable for children to read. It was the same idea as ratings for motion pictures and comic books.

Trigger warnings take the idea a step further, by seeking such warnings on topics ranging from racism to classism to sexism and every -ism in between. And not just for the benefit of parents trying to monitor their childrens’ reading, but for the reader who may take personal offense to any of the issues or content within said article.

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Writers: Roll the dice to see where your writing life takes you

The Los Angeles Times recently surveyed writers participating in the L.A. Times Festival of Books about their path to literary success. The result can be seen the creation of a unique board game that lets you play along.

The board game cites interesting results along the way, including:

  • the age respondents decided to be a writer
  • 51 percent kept a diary
  • 25 percent who got an MFA in creative writing
  • most influential books in youth (Grapes of Wrath and Portrait of a Lady)
  • 58 percent of writers make a living from writing
  • how respondents published, whether with a major, traditional publisher; independent publisher; or self-publisher
  • 64 percent had books rejected
  • age in percent that they had their first best-seller
  • percent who teach creative writing

The game itself awards points for writing or winning a contract or agent, but deducts points for falling into a social media hole that keeps you from writing to losing points in a computer crash. I played the game and scored 33 points, which translated equates to: “You’re Ernest Hemingway. You’re celebrated, but not by everyone.”

Hmm, I’ll take it.

Give the game a try. (But subtract 10 points for allowing it to keep you from writing.)

 

Review: Gray Lady a unique, warm story of family, friends, life

Home is where stories happen. Where lives, young and old, come together. Where lives are celebrated, changed forever, mourned, and remembered. Where birthdays are observed, Christmas presents opened, children conceived, marriages endured or shattered. Where the events of the day are witnessed, recapped, debated, and put in perspective. Where laughs and cries are shared.

If walls could talk, oh, the stories they could tell.

That’s the premise behind author Maura Satchell’s new novel, The Gray Lady of Long Branch, (coming Aug. 25 from Four Pillars Media, $14).

IMG_20150730_151821939 (625x1024)In this case, Satchell’s novel focuses on the lives of those coming and going at a grand Victorian beach house in New Jersey. Built in the 1910s, the house serves as the unique setting and narrator (yes, narrator!) of more than a dozen vignettes within its walls, taking readers on an emotional journey through time. The stories relive milestones in the lives of the DiStefano family who owns the house, friends, and visitors who rent the house for weekend getaways or vacations.

The stories are often warm and uplifting, and sometimes sad. Satchell excels at drawing readers into the lives of her characters and making you care about them. The characters, and their experiences, are all easily relatable to our own stories, our own personal triumphs, challenges, and tragedies.

“I was staying at the beach home of a prestigious songwriter, a little jewel of a place on the Florida Panhandle, she’d escape to and compose music and lyrics. I was there, along with my husband, my laptop and some serious rain and red tide that kept us more housebound than we’d planned,” Satchell says. “It hit me that that wonderful little place must have some stories, and maybe a soul.”

Even after a hard drive crash in which she lost everything she’d written, the beach house and its stories called to Satchell.

“I thought that was the end of it, but after five years, the characters kept beckoning and reminding me of their existence,” she says, and thus her newest novel was written again.

Satchell goes on to note that “a message emerged organically from this and I only discovered it near the very end of the writing, and that is the empowerment of women in the past several decades. It came out unbidden, but I’m very pleased how it’s revealed.”

And in case you can’t suspend your disbelief that a house can act as a narrator, stick with it. All will be made clear in the end.

“The other thing I hope readers take away from this is the possibility there is more to life and to this world than what can be seen by the naked eye,” Satchell says.

Satchell has always had a knack for telling stories in a compassionate way and for letting the passions of her characters define them, and that skill is evident here. Prior to crafting fictional stories as a novelist, she chronicled real-life stories as a reporter for The Tennessean in Nashville and other area newspapers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

The author is also a talented artist; one of her paintings graces the cover of the book.

The Gray Lady of Long Branch is due to be released Aug. 25 and will be available at the publisher’s website – www.fourpillarsmediagroup.com – in both paperback and digital formats. It will also be available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and other online retailers, and by request at bookstores and libraries everywhere.  Four Pillars is offering a 30 percent advance discount for books purchased before the release date at their website using the code GL30Advance. Pre-purchased books will ship before Aug. 25.

Note to readers: Maura and I were co-workers in our other lives as newspaper journalists for several years. I’ve tried to be objective in my review of her book. It’s not my usual genre, but stories well-told transcend artificial boundaries. This is one of those.

Get to know author Maura Satchell: 

Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines are a steal

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I only occasionally purchase Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. Not because I don’t want to, mind you, but because I’ve got so much other material to read already (including back issues I still haven’t finished yet.) But, obsessed with reading as I am, when I saw a recent online offer for a dozen double-sized magazines for a measly $16, I couldn’t resist. If you’ve never tried either magazine, and you love a good mystery story, you can’t go wrong with either publication. Some of today’s top authors are featured routinely in the pages of either magazine, and I’ve set my sites  on both magazines for my own short stories to appear one day. (Hey, to be among the best, you have to read the best!).

Do you read short stories? What are your favorite sources for new short stories? Share in the comments section below…

Reading and Writing for the Web 7/22

Every day I scour the web for articles on reading and writing to further my education about my craft and try to share the best of those articles with you here. Today, I thought I’d focus on reading.

One of the most common, reiterated pieces of advice for writers of any sort — be it novelists, memoirists, poets, or screenwriters — is to read. But don’t just read for entertainment — although that works too – you need to read with a critical eye toward learning. Reading is one of the best, if not the best, ways to study your craft in action, to see what works on the page, how it moves you, and how emulating another author’s style of writing can elevate your own writing. Read widely, read voraciously, read with a critical eye.

One way to do just that is to write book reviews. I came across Blogging for Books some time last year and have been reading and reviewing books for their website and this blog ever since. I’m averaging about one book per month. I also started reading books this month for Killer Nashville, an organization dedicated to the mystery/thriller genre. My first review (of Chris Knopf’s Cop Job) is slated to appear on their website on Sept. 1. One of the neat things about both sites: free books! And, as an added bonus, exposure to new authors whom I otherwise would not have picked up. Both sites are looking for additional readers, so check them out.

I’m also a first-round reader for entries in this year’s Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. The gig came about thanks to a referral from the fine folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I’ve read scripts for the past two years. If you are interested in screenwriting, reading screenplays is one of the best ways to learn the ins and outs of the craft.

Speaking of reading, I came across a cool online sweepstakes where you can enter and possibly win a collection of 80 Penguin and Penguin Classic titles. I’ve already got or have read a few of them, but there are a lot more on the list of books you could win that I don’t have. (Not that I will ever have time to read them all, but, hey, if it’s free…).

Finally for today, let’s all bid a fond farewell to an influential author, E.L. Doctorow, who passed away Tuesday. Doctorow was the man who brought us the critically acclaimed, award-winning novels Ragtime (which inspired the hit Broadway musical), Billy Bathgate (which became a hit movie starring Dustin Hoffman), and The March, to name just a few.

Remember, if you come across any interesting articles on reading or writing, you can post them in the comments section.

 

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/21

Has this ever happened to you? Today I had as many as 16 tabs open on my computer at the same time in my web browser, and, naturally, the browser crashed. Fortunately, when you reopen the browser there’s a neat little tool called Recent Tabs that, once you click on it, will go back and fetch the tabs that were last opened. Of course, I foolishly brought this crash on myself by having too many tabs open in the first place. Hey, I’m doing it all for you, the faithful reader. So, herewith are some cool sites and articles about reading and writing I explored today:

Author Sarah Waters offers up Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, courtesy of the Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

According to Dave King, who is co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and a former contributing editor at Writer’s Digest, “the most effective stories are completely transparent, with readers blithely unaware of the author’s behind-the-scenes manipulations.” Learn more about the art of transparency in your writing here.

Whenever I bring pages to my Nashville Writers Meetup groups, one thing that everyone agrees stands out is my dialogue. That’s enough to encourage me to think about entering this year’s dialogue-only writing contest  by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine. Entrants are asked to create an original story of up to 2000 words composed entirely of dialogue. The magazine’s editors are also good enough to include some helpful tips on writing dialogue. There are even links to past winners in the contest, all of which I intend to read and digest fully. You should too.

Since we’re talking about dialogue, here are a couple more articles from Bang to Write answering the question, “Is good screenwriting about great dialogue?” Join the debate: Click here for Yes or here for No.

Nashville Writers Meetup member Sherry Wilds interviews guest author Ricko Donovan on the art of dialogue on this week’s edition of The Method and the Muse, a weekly online radio show all about the craft of writing.

Now that I’ve got you hooked on this new blog feature, take a moment to read up on why the hook is so important to writing a successful screenplay in this article from scriptmag.com.

Have you come across any great articles on writing or reading? Please share them in the comments section below and I may include them in the next edition of this blog, along with a link to your site!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/19

Welcome to another edition of Reading and Writing Around the Web.

Every day I scour my Facebook feed for interesting articles and tips related to reading and writing. Some of these articles are too good to keep to myself, so I’m sharing my finds here. Bookmark the ones you like, read and discard the rest. And if you see something you’d like to share on the craft, by all means add it to the comments section below.

For those of you contemplating self-publishing your work, here’s some interesting things to consider before you do. Both come from author Derek Haines:

The rush to publish (or better yet, why not to rush!)

An essential list every author should read

Jane Friedman’s website included a couple of posts about SELF-e, a business that helps self-published authors distribute their electronic books to libraries. Unfortunately, authors can’t yet reap any monetary rewards from the program.

Another way to help promote buzz around your book is jump on the Pinterest bandwagon. Here’s how.

And now, for something completely different (to coin a phrase), here are a couple of humorous bedtime stories to enjoy (one for you and one for your little ones):

B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures (all-ages)

Gwar’s Oderus Urungus reads Goodnight Moon (WARNING: adults only!)

If you adult readers still can’t sleep after viewing that last one, this one probably won’t help either (sorry):

The true story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street

You may be thinking about screaming right now. Before you do, here’s what scientists now know about screams.

Good night, all!

 

 

Book Review: The Accident makes mistake of being too wordy

I like short, snappy sentences and paragraphs.

And lots of white space.

Stories read faster.

Your eye swiftly races through the action, reading from left to right, from top to bottom, the pages turning.

James Patterson novels are a perfect example. Most of his books feature paragraphs of two or three sentences, and short, tight chapters. You can’t help but keep flipping through the pages to see what happens next.

The downside is the prose is very simple, minimalistic. The details are more sparse, the settings more arbitrary. The dialogue and action take center stage. It’s usually a compromise I’m willing to live with as I prefer the action and quick pacing to the slow, methodical buildup.

So, at first glance, I didn’t think I would like The Accident by Chris Pavone.

The Accident - coverIn The Accident, an author thought to be dead has scribed an unauthorized, anonymous biography about media mogul Charlie Wolfe. The novel recounts a deadly deed from Wolfe’s past that, if published, would threaten to topple Wolfe and his media empire and his connections with the CIA, which in turn could have worldwide implications. Both Wolfe and the CIA are intent on keeping the manuscript from ever seeing the light of day, to the point that they are willing to kill anyone who comes in contact with the manuscript.

Pavone’s book – a New York Times bestseller – includes lots of chunky paragraphs throughout. Or, should I say, lots of chunky sentences? Pavone details everything. And not just with a word or two, but with several words. Dozens of words, sometimes. I counted in excess of two hundred words alone in one sentence. To put that in perspective, from the viewpoint of a former newspaper journalist, if a reporter wrote a sentence with more than thirty words in it, we editors would usually cry foul. And here’s an author writing two hundred-plus word sentences!

Certainly, with all those words to work with Pavone can and does paint a vivid picture of his settings, characters, and situations. There is no need for the reader to fill in the blanks. It’s all laid out right before us. There’s little left to the imagination.

An example: There’s one sentence where a character goes to hang up the telephone and we get a detailed description of the “accordion-like” phone cord and the big push buttons on the phone cradle.

All the articles I’ve read on writing stress less is more. I’m pretty sure that Patterson would have simply written: She hung up the phone. And I’m sure if I brought a story to my writing group to read in which I described the phone cord and push buttons on the phone, I’d be told to cut it.

Pavone was probably trying to make a point about the phone call, the shock that followed for the caller. But still, that much detail seems excessive. There were many more instances while reading The Accident in which I was of the mindset: Okay, I get it. Move on.

Still, Pavone compensates by putting his prose in the present tense rather than past tense, like most novels. By doing so, the story of The Accident churns swiftly for the reader and the pages do keep turning. I read the 381-page book in six days. (Not bad, since I generally only have time to read fifty pages a day).

I read somewhere that Millennials actually prefer to read stories in the present tense. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m used reading stories in the past tense, and writing in the past tense, that’s all. But I’m always open to new experiences, especially if they work.

The Accident works, but it would work better if Pavone tightened his prose and quit trying so hard.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Everyone’s an expert on writing, or so they think

How-to articles on the writing craft are a dime a dozen. They’re all over the internet, in my email’s inbox daily, on my Facebook feed, and in the dozens of Writer’s Digest magazines and writing books in my personal library.

And everyone is an expert, or so they claim.

Today, I read an article sent to me by Writer’s Digest about finding time to write. I’ve been struggling with getting to the computer to actually write. This past summer was traumatic on a personal level for me with the loss of my mother, and the past month has been stressful as we try to put her affairs in order. So, writing has sort of taken a back seat to everything else.

When I saw the link to the article from Writer’s Digest, I clicked on it hoping to find some new spark of advice or inspiration to help me get writing again.

Instead, the article was more of a rehash of the same old advice: Take a notebook with you everywhere, because you never know where the urge to write will hit you; take time to day dream ideas during lulls in whatever else you do; plan beforehand/manage your time wisely.

Sound advice, yes, but nothing really new in it.

What was surprising when I reached the end of said article was the about the author blurb. The article was written by a 13-year-old. Out of curiosity, I followed a link to her book page. The blurb for her book was sloppy. It was comprised of typos and sentences that didn’t make a lick of sense.

The book, naturally, was self-published.

I typically respect and appreciate Writer’s Digest for its wealth of articles on the craft. The magazine often cites professionally published, best-selling authors and includes invaluable tips and information to reference time and time again. I also admire the magazine for promoting the works of young authors and encouraging a range of voices, from novice to expert.

I wish nothing but success for the writer of today’s article, but I was disappointed in her article overall. When I learned the age of the writer and then learned the writer was clearly an amateur, I felt I had been duped by Writer’s Digest.

Lesson learned: From now on, I will read the about the author blurb on any article first. That way I will have some idea of whether the source of the article is someone I can trust and put my faith in. Because apparently I can no longer trust Writer’s Digest to do that for me.

About me: I’m a former journalist who has written about local government, business, schools, crime and edited thousands of stories for print and the web. I’ve had two short stories published in local anthologies and I have dozens of unfinished stories waiting for me. I am working on a novel and screenplay.  I don’t profess to be an expert on anything.