Tag Archives: first novel

Writing History, Right

 

Noah

I’m a history nut. Historical non-fiction and historical fiction is what I enjoy reading most. When I read that stuff I expect the writer to know what he or she is talking about. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, is it?

I’m also an aviation enthusiast. My wife would replace the word, “enthusiast,” with the word, “fanatic.” I prefer the former. So being a fana…um, enthusiast, it’s another area where I expect an author to do their homework. Information is too easily accessible, today, to accept lazy writing. There is no excuse for having your characters going out to the airport and boarding a Boeing 707 when your story takes place in 1949. There were no 707’s in 1949. A quick Google search would have told you that.

Recently, I read a crime thriller. Something I don’t normally read. The bad guy works for the U.S. Government. The Government, as in many recent books and movies, were all bad guys. He enters the story flying an F-14 Tomcat. Now, okay, it’s a novel so I’ll forgive the fact that the Navy gave a civilian an F-14. My problem is when he lands. The writer says that he “engaged the reverse thrusters.” Reverse thrusters? On an F14? It’s a jet fighter not an airliner. Sorry, no reverse thrust on an F14. Am I being too much of a geek to expect that to be correct? I don’t think so. But he got away with it because 99.9% of the population doesn’t know an F14 from a Piper Cub. But okay, I’m just enough of a geek that it bugged me.

Now, like most writers, I tend to write what I like to read. My novel, ‘Jenny,’ is an historical piece that takes place in 1928 Texas. Obviously things were different then. It’s up to the writer to know, or at least find out, just how different. We’ve already established the fact that it’s no longer hard to do. I actually find the research enjoyable. I have a Model T Ford that plays a prominent part in the story and I did a lot of reading and Google searches on Model T’s. I like finding out things like the fact that the car’s gas tank was under the front seat. I love passing information like that on to the reader. I even watched a video by a guy who owns one. He showed how to start it. I got a kick out of that and worked it into the story.

And the history itself has to be right, too, of course. Not just the little details. If it’s 1928 you have to be careful that you don’t have your characters talking about something that happened in 1932. Make sure you don’t have them heading out to see ‘Gone With The Wind.’ That wasn’t until 1939. You have to do the research. I’m sure this scares a lot of people away from doing period pieces. It’s time consuming, that’s for sure. But, again, I like it.

But a writer can also have fun with history. Embellishment often works when doing historical novels. Putting your own slant to an historical event. In a great novel about the old west called, ‘Little Big Man,’ Thomas Berger decided to make George Armstrong Custer slightly insane. There’s no way to know if he was, or not, so he could do that sort of thing. He shoots down a bunch of other western myths, too. Terrific book. But even there, his history was on the mark. He just made use of a little artistic license, that’s all. (Which reminds me, mine is up for renewal, soon).

However, I don’t think you should mess with the facts as much as Noah’s biographer did (see cartoon). Then you’re leaving the historical fiction genre and moving into fantasy. If I pick up a book about ancient Rome and it starts with Nero pulling up in a limousine, I can be pretty sure that the writer didn’t do his research. Or that this is gonna be a really good story!

 

 

 

“Popular” Writing versus “Good” Writing

 

angry crowd

The success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ got me to thinking about popular writing versus good writing. Not that they can’t be one in the same, of course. Often they are. It’s just that, well…often they’re not.

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t give an opinion on it. A lot of people I know have, however. Read it, that is. Not one of them liked it. As a matter of fact, several couldn’t get through it. These are people who, in my humble opinion have some pretty good tastes in literature. And most professional book critics seem to have torn it apart.

And with ‘Fifty Shades,’ not only has it become a runaway best seller, they went and made it into a flick which is doing very well in the theaters. On top of that, there’s a sequel planned, I understand. The writer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is obviously very rich at the moment and probably isn’t caring very much about what the critics think. And why should she (Or is it a “he”) care, anyway. She’s giving the public what they want and they’re eating it up. And copy-cats have sprung up. One is called ‘Fifty Shades of Blue.’ The author is I.B. Naughty. Ya’ gotta love that one!

So, as a new writer, I can’t help but wonder how much I really need to work to try and turn out a successful book. I can’t help wondering if I’m trying too hard. Maybe I didn’t need to take three years to write ‘Jenny.’ Maybe I could have slapped a few hard core sex scenes in there and not worried so much about the story. If that’s what the public wants, why not give it to them? After all, there’s nothing wrong with sex. Right? It’s good. I’m not a Puritan, I’m all for it

But how would I feel about it, even if the book sold well? Roll around in my money and not care whether or not I’m considered a “serious” author? Or guilty that I had sold out? Hmmm…money would buy a lot of pretty things. And my wife really wants a house on the beach… (Sigh!).

There’s always a pen name, of course. Yeah…that would work. I.B. Naughty seems to have been taken. But I’m sure I can come up with something. How about Hugh R. Hornee? That’s not bad. I could write as Hugh and watch the money pour in while I satisfy the literary part of me by writing my “serious” book. I’m weak, though. I’m afraid that if I did that and started to see thousands of dollars rolling in from Hornee’s work I’d kick the “serious” work to the curb. Hell, if Hugh R. Hornee’s novels just bought me a yacht, screw Joe Bucemi and his high-falootin ways!

But, what if you can’t have it both ways? What if it was time to make a deal with the Devil? He gives you two options. You can write a trashy book that critics are practically laughing over, but sells a million copies and gets you a multi-million dollar movie deal. Or you can write one that is generally regarded as one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature ever seen by human eyes. The trouble is, hardly anyone will read it and you will barely make enough money on it to pay your electric bill. Ironically, it will become popular ten years after you’re dead.

Hmmm…again. Would I start to think of all those pretty words, or all those pretty things and that house on the beach? I would have to make sure my wife wasn’t in the room while I was making my decision. I know which one she would pick.

 

 

FREE AT LAST!!!! WELL….MAYBE NOT

im free!!!!!!!

I can understand that girl in the picture. Not just because I’m the one who drew her, but because I just finished my first novel.

It took a ridiculously long time. Three years. Now, someone told me that isn’t so bad. He says it took him ten years to finish his. Now that’s commitment! I would have managed to misplace it long before that. “Oops, I accidently hit the delete button. Oh, that’s too bad.” But another author I know seems to complete three books a month. All right, that’s a slight exaggeration. But she’s prolific.

How does she do it? Does she eat? Sleep? Use the bathroom? She seems healthy so I’m assuming that she does all those things and yet she still manages to put down plenty of words. And somehow they’re good, too. And she not only has all of those books, but several blogs.

It’s downright embarrassing. But, hey! I finished! That’s all that matters. Right? Right…? (Crickets can be heard rubbing their legs together in the distance).

In all fairness, it wasn’t really three years of writing. I stopped. A lot. I would get distracted by something shiny in the corner of the room and go over there. I’d get short story ideas that I just had to do. But always the novel would sidle up to me and whisper, “You haven’t forgotten me…have you?” No, I hadn’t. How could I?

“So, how’s that novel coming along,” someone would ask.

“Um…yeah…fine, fine,” I’d answer as a bead of sweat worked its way down my forehead.

“What chapter are you on?”

“Nine.” I’d be scanning the area around me, like a nervous cat, seeking a way out.

“Weren’t you on chapter nine three months ago?”

“Yeah…listen, I have to go and write. See ya!” I would slink off, cursing myself for having told someone that I was writing a book. Yes, I could feel their eyes drilling into my back as I slithered off into the shadows. They knew my terrible secret. I was writing a novel that would never get done.

And yet, there were the days of joyous inspiration when I’d bang away at the keyboard and loved every word I was seeing. Yes! I’m doing it! Look at me, I’m finishing the book! And just as suddenly the writer’s block would come back like a recurring bout with Malaria. My family had to go through this roller coaster ride with me. The days when I’d have a big dumb smile on my face because I had just finished another chapter, and the days when no one better talk to me because I had just spent the whole day staring at a blank computer screen. Luckily, my wife is very understanding. Well…except for those times when she’s not.

But I actually finished it. And I think it’s good. And I did love writing it although, like the lady in the cartoon, there certainly is that feeling of finally being free of it. I’m no longer finding it hard to sleep because I can’t get that scene just the way I want it. Or quickly getting up from the dinner table because I just figured out how I want to begin the next chapter and I have to do it right now before I forget.

You’d have to be crazy to want to put yourself through all of that. I guess that explains why I’m working on my second novel.