Tag Archives: news

A smattering of writing news

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  • I’m slowly working on a new novel called Lena as a sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. For reasons that might become apparent once it’s published, you’ll see why I’m moving so slowly on it. It begins like this: “So, Eulalie sang ‘Lady Luck Blues’ as she drove the 1949 clover green Studebaker pickup truck down that southbound road while creeks, wiregrass, longleaf pines, and sunny autumn afternoon savannahs slow-drag danced past the open windows and South Wind’s children teased her hair into sweet disorder. She was happy and heading for Willie Tate down in Carrabelle.” Unfortunately for Eulalie, the happiness isn’t going to last.
  • I rely on a lot of books and websites for source material about conjure. Unfortunately, Spiritual Information–featuring Voodoo Queen–will no longer have new posts. The author, who is older than I am, has become too ill  to continue, and wants to retire after she finishes healing. The good news is that her blog will remain online as a reference. There’s a handy index of topics on the left side of the screen. A quick glance at this list will show you how wonderful this blog has been for those who want to learn more about the oldest hoodoo traditions from days gone by.
  • My publisher Thomas-Jacob will be featuring Eulalie and Washerwoman, Redeeming Grace (Smoky Zeidel), A Shallow River of Mercy (Robert Hays) and The History of my Body (Sharon Heath) in Amazon promotions during December. Keep an eye on Amazon for some wonderful books and opportunities.  While Robert Hays’new book will be released on December first, it’s already available for pre-order.
  • I appreciate the support of those of you who also followed my other blog “The Sun Singer’s Travels.” In trying to simplify (whatever that means), I’ve closed that blog. It was my oldest, having started on Blogger many years ago, subsequently moving here to WordPress. I’ll try to keep you up to date on this blog as well as my website.
  • This has nothing to do with writing, but my friend and Thomas-Jacob colleague Smoky Zeidel, who lives in a southern California desert community, has been posting glorious pictures of her vegetable garden on Facebook. I’m jealous. My tomatoes, banana peppers and jalapenos finally bit the dust with our cooler temperatures. I still have some hardy oregano and parsley. If you’re taking notes, the oregano and parsley won’t be on the test.

–Malcolm

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Pondering things that don’t make sense

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When we see stories on the news, most recently including the disappearance of the Malaysian passenger plane, the Fort Hood Shooting, the landslide in Washington State, and the stabbings at the Murrysville, Pennsylvania school, our first reactions most likely include horror, shock and compassion.

370Then we start asking “why?” Fixing blame on somebody or something is probably a natural human reaction; it’s certainly a part of criminal and civil law.

But the “why” goes further than that. Whether we’re logical in our thinking or inclined, as writers are, to ask “what if?” the “why” behind major news stories creates order out of chaos while solving the puzzles events present to us.

When I worked at a police training institute some years ago, a typical test question for those in accident investigation courses showed the placement of vehicles on a highway after an accident. We often included details about weather, time of day, damage to the vehicles, and the length of the skid marks (if any) and asked students what kind of accident would lead to the vehicles ending up where they are. Eye witness testimony being unreliable and drivers having reasons to skew their own comments, the police often have to use turn their skills into a time machine to figure out what really happened.

The Nature of News

FortHoodTraditionally, reporters try to answer the standard who, what, when, why, where and how. While 24-hour news channels love gathering panels of experts together to speculate on what might have happened before we know what actually did happen,  many of us–in our own ways–ponder events that (apparently) don’t make sense.

We ask why would anyone for any reason go into a school or a military base and start killing people? Or, why were people living in an area where there was a risk of a landslide? And how could a plane seemingly vanish without a trace?

Of course, conspiracy theories seem to excite people, so–as one might expect–those reporting on the search for the Boeing 777 that apparently crashed into the Indian Ocean without a trace have heard quite a list of theories. Maybe it’s part of our nature to say that when things aren’t what they seem, something really strange happened.

I must admit that, after hearing how only a skilled pilot could fly an aircraft the way Flight 370 appears to have been flown, I wondered what sense it makes to go to all that trouble to avoid detection only to ditch the plane in the ocean. What kind of mindset would cause somebody to do that. Initially, it made more sense ot me that the plane had been skillfully flown and had landed in a hostile country that would cover up the whole thing. Maybe the CIA did it or a disgruntled pilot. But carefully crashing into the ocean in a way that creates a mystery makes no sense to me.

Others focus on the Fort Hood shooting and ask what kind of person, whether unstable, discounted by others, or angry would see a “solution” to their problems in the killing of a large number of people?

Fiction

Even if you love the movie and the book, you don't want to live it.

Even if you love the movie and the book, you don’t want to live it.

As writers, we ask “what if?” questions like this all the time because we’re looking for plots that keep people turning pages until the final scene. It’s our nature to provide multiple probable solutions and then work the story down to the only one that makes sense (and is possible) once everything becomes known.

In novels and short stories, we don’t want the reader to know “why” early on in the story because then s/he will stop reading. In “real life,” we want answers ASAP if not sooner. That which makes for good fiction often creates chaos, anguish and lack of closure when we’re living through it.

Ultimately, we want stuff to make sense. Until it does, we feel rather unsettled about it. What we crave in our reading, we deplore in our lives. Most of us don’t want to feel like we’re in our favorite novels when we’re watching the news or coping with accidents and other tragedies in our own neighborhoods.

As a journalist, I ask “why?” As a novelist, I ask “what if?” There are days when I feel like I’m wearing two hats.

Malcolm

End of an Era – The last ‘Newsweek’ Print Issue

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newsweekThe final cover of the print edition of “Newsweek” was revealed in an article in “The Huffington Post.”

Even though I haven’t read “Newsweek” in over ten years, I’m sad to see it go, just as I was also sad to see many of the other weekly and monthly print magazines I grew up with go out of business over the years. With the loss of these magazines, the public (and writers) lost a lot of outlets for short stories, features, commentary, viewpoint and the longer-form journalism that wouldn’t fit in the daily newspaper.

Founded in 1933, “Newsweek” seemed destined to trail behind “Time Magazine” in circulation. However, I found it more accessible than “Time” during the days before it began going down hill. As a subscriber, the first indication of coming hard times was the size of the magazine. It began getting thinner and thinner as pages were cut even though the subscription price increased.

I mourn the death of magazines because they presented in-depth stories most newspapers didn’t have the time or space to cover. Our Internet world is too full of hype, instant-experts, short-attention-span articles, articles filled with opinions and commentary, and all the other rush-to-judgement “facts” and “notions” the social media are famous for. Online “news,” to the extent that it can be called news, has lost most of the traditions of solid, professional reporting.

Blurring Facts and Opinions

Another reason I stopped reading “Newsweek” was due to its blurring of the lines between good journalism and bad journalism. Good reporters never tell you what they feel about a story, much less include ideas/views that aren’t attributed to a reputable source. True, news magazines did present analysis, but “Newsweek” often took that as license to write “news stories” in which the facts and opinions were mixed up into the kind of story I didn’t even expect my college journalism students to be writing once we got a ways into the semester.

newsweekfirstI got so ticked off at “Newsweek” on one occasion, I tore out several of the major news stories and went through them with a red pen marking every opinion and every unattributed fact. I sent it to them with an “F” on top and asked which journalism schools the reporters flunked out of before they were hired by the magazine. I never heard back, of course. Now, what “Newsweek” did has become so prevalent that many news consumers don’t even realized they’re often reading the reporter’s notion about the news rather than the news. When I mentioned the lack of straight news in a Facebook status update recently, one friend said “I know what you mean. That’s why I always rely on XYZ,” whereupon she mentioned one of the most biased news personalities in the business.

So, I lament the loss of “Newsweek’s” print edition along with everything else that used to be considered standard, solid journalism before the “happy news” and it’s foul cousin, “My uninformed view is just as valid as the expert’s informed view” kind of reporting took over.

Now, if you want facts, you’ve got to look farther and farther to find them. Rest in peace, “Newsweek.”

Malcolm

“Book Bits” provides daily information for writers and readers

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Writers like keeping up with contests, tips and techniques, publishers and magazines where they can submit their stories and articles, and advice on how to market their work once it’s published.

Readers like keeping up with their favorite writers, upcoming books in the genres they read the most, and information about authors’ future book signings and other appearances.

Book Bits brings you the links to this kind of information six days a week.  Quite simply, Book Bits is a blog in which every post is a list of links covering the latest reviews, books and author features, contests,  marketing and social networking advice, “writer’s how to” posts, and essays and features about authors, books and publishing.

Book Bits Titles

Book Bits is numbered from the first issue onward toward infinity. The higher the number, the more recent the post.  The titles are designed to attract attention, so they include the names of authors/events most likely to lure people into the post. For example, the title for this morning’s post looked like this:

Book Bits #117 – Hedy Lamarr, Roberto Bolaño, Elmore Leonard and more writing news

So now you know I’ve made 117 posts. This one included a review of Roberto Bolaño’s latest novel, a biography about Hedy Lamarr, and an article about author Elmore Leonard who, says “why not,” when asked why (at age 86) he’s still writing.

This morning’s Book Bits had 24 links.  In addition to those attention-getting names in the title, the other offerings featured a link to a blog hop where you might win a Kindle, a story about the return of the Lit Fest to Haiti, and the names and novels of the ten finalists in Georgia’s Townsend Prize for Fiction.

Naturally, some posts will bore you. My top picks on those days will be authors you’ve never heard of or genres you never read. I try to include a variety, though, in hopes that every time you stop by, you’ll find at least one link you want to click on.

Some posts will take over you’re entire day because, heck, you’ll want to click on every feature, news story and review. The reviews will tempt you to read books. The contest announcements will tempt you to write books, or maybe short stories or poems.

This morning, you might have followed the link to this review:

  • Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – “With characters that will inspire the imagination, a plot that nods to history while defying accuracy, and a love story that promises more in the second book, this is sure to attract feminist readers and romantics alike.” – Booklist

Or the link to this advice:

  • Lists: 10 Ways to Get Paid for Online Writing, with Lior Levin – “Selling words for dollars is easy, if you are aware of two things: -How to put down the words together. -How to sell your piece in the right market.”

I invite you to surf over to Book Bits, read a few posts and see what you think. That’s sort of like kicking the tires on the car you just might want to buy. Unlike the car, Book Bits is free.

Sure, you’ll see some banners at the ends of the post with links to my author’s site and my novels. Maybe those banners will tempt you. If not, have fun. Goodness knows, I have a lot of fun every day finding the news and rev iews for each post. I tell me wife I’m working, but I think she suspects I’m just surfing the net for the heck of it.

Coming in tomorrow’s Book Bits, a link for a wonderful piece of satire that pokes good-natured fun at the Antiques Road Show (imagine people bringing in crime evidence rather than antiques) and some pithy advice for authors planning to self publish their books. Oh, and reviews, too. There are always reviews.

Malcolm

P.S. When the “Book Bits” title is short enough for me to squeeze in an extra word, I add the #bookbits hashtag to help people find the posts on Twitter. Now, here’s an example of a book banner:

contemporary fantasy for your Kindle