What’s in YOUR belfry?

APPROACHING HELLI’ve got a jammed-up calendar right now. I’m preparing my presentation on writing natural dialogue for Northwest Bookfest, which will be held in Kirkland Washington at Northwest University on Nov. 1 & 2, 2014. I’m really looking forward to that, but they’ve given me a slot between 10:30 a.m and 12:00  on Sunday morning-so that’s a lot of talking about talking. I can do it– heck, you know me. If I talk myself hoarse, I’ll let everyone out a few minutes early for lunch because that’s the kind of girl I am.

But in the meantime, I am still finalizing my seminar and the worksheets to go with it, and I have to also publicize it via twitter, press releases, and blogposts. After all–I really do want people to attend this sock-hop!

NaNoWriMo-General-FlyerNot only that, but I’m trying to get a book-signing/talk about the self-publishing industry for myself and Lindsay Schopfer at a local bookstore (whose website has no working contact links and who rarely answers their phone and never answers their voice-mail.) The nice-but-vague young man whom I have spoken to so far seems to have rather a low opinion of indies, but I am going to conquer that bookstore yet!

I am also building my calendar for my nano group in preparation for NaNoWriMo, which also begins on November 1st. While I do this, I have to  get the Christmas promotions finalized for my published books. I fit all of this in the copious amounts of free time I have between editing for clients, and making required revisions of my own current work, and finishing my next novel.

Being an indie author means it’s all on me. I have to generate any buzz about my books that will be generated, and I have to do it in such a way that my friends don’t all unfriend me, and my husband still looks forward to coming home. Maybe I do have bats in my belfry, but at least I’m having fun.

330px-Title_page_William_Shakespeare's_First_Folio_1623I console myself with the thought that Shakespeare had the same trouble. I do have my Twitter campaign planned–the genuine not-too-annoying-please-buy-my-books-I’ll-do-anything campaign. I have a Goodreads Ad campaign currently ongoing. I will stand naked on a street corner until I sell a book.  I will get a Google Ad campaign going.

I have several ads to put in the local paper regarding NaNoWriMo, and also I have a press release for Christmas O’Clock--Myrddin Publishing’s charity anthology. We want to push that book and hopefully double our sales this year as the royalties from all sales go to benefit Water is Life. This charity is very dear to my heart, as millions of people go without safe drinking water, and they seek to change that.

I am my own publicist, secretary, chauffeur, housekeeper, and chef–so I guess you know, nothing much is getting done around the house.

Watch out for that low flying grandma–this broom ain’t stopping anytime soon.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

nano_14_ml_badge_300pxNational Novel Writing Month begins in just 15 days. I am the Olympia Washington municipal liaison, but this year I will not be able to attend the first two days of write-ins in my region, as I will be at Northwest Bookfest, a conference at Northwest University,  both as an attendee and as a presenter. On Sunday November 2, I will be talking about writing natural dialogue. As you know, I love to talk about the craft of writing, and can talk until the cows come home, to use a tired cliché.

However, I will be working at my word count through the evening in my hotel room–and cheering my fellow WriMos on with virtual write-ins. Beginning Monday the 3rd of November, my life will revolve around writing the rough draft of my novel, helping my friends get their rough draft written, and encouraging the young (and not so young) writers of our community to explore their storytelling abilities.

Patrick Rothfuss said in his pep talk last year, “Thou shalt not just think about writing. Seriously. That is not writing. The worst unpublished novel of all-time is better than the brilliant idea you have in your head. Why? Because the worst novel ever is written down. That means it’s a book, while your idea is just an idle fancy. My dog used to dream about chasing rabbits; she didn’t write a novel about chasing rabbits. There is a difference.”

Oly Nanos icon for fb 2That completely describes what NaNoWriMo is all about–getting that novel out of your head and on to paper. If you don’t write it, you will never see what a wonderful idea it really was–and even if it doesn’t go as well as you planned, who cares? This is about the journey, more than it is about the destination.

It will be a month of dirty dishes, dirty house, piled up laundry…oh wait, that’s normal for around here. But anyway, I will do nothing but attend as many write ins here in the local area as I can and find as many ways to encourage secret authors to get that book out of their head and on to paper as is humanly possible.

I can hardly wait to get started!

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You split my what?

Raymond chandler quote split infinitivesRecently I was asked “What is an infinitive, and what’s so bad about splitting it?” My answer was “It’s a way of modifying a verb and it’s not like we’re splitting atoms here–the world will not explode.”

The words TO GO make an infinitive. When you put the word ‘to’ before any verb, you have an infinitive.

SO if I want to boldly go where no man has gone before, I’m going to have to sunder (or split off) the bare verb ( the basic dictionary form of the verb) GO from its infinitive marker (which happens to be a preposition) TO by inserting an adverb: BOLDLY. (It’s was edited to read its-thank you Irene Roth Luvaul♥)

So what’s the big deal? Why all the hullabaloo over such a simple, innocuous thing as separating the the infinitive TO GO with an adverb, BOLDLY?

Grammarians will fight to the death over the most picayune little points of contention. The split infinitive is one of those grammatical rules that wars have been fought over in the in the hallowed pages of usage guides for two-hundred years at least. Beer has been spilled over this particular grammatical construction.

_72982736_vikings courtesy of BBCThe battle really heated up in 1864 when Henry Alford wailed about it in his classic usage guide, Plea for the Queen’s English: 

A correspondent states as his own usage, and defends, the insertion of an adverb between the sign of the infinitive mood and the verb. He gives as an instance, “to scientifically illustrate“. But surely this is a practice entirely unknown to English speakers and writers. It seems to me, that we ever regard the to of the infinitive as inseparable from its verb. And, when we have already a choice between two forms of expression, “scientifically to illustrate” and “to illustrate scientifically,” there seems no good reason for flying in the face of common usage.

Meh. What, are we speaking Latin here? The rule forbidding a split infinitive comes from the time when Latin was the universal language of the world, and the English language was in a terrible state of flux. All scholarly, respectable writing used to be done in Latin and, in Latin, splitting infinitives is a no-no.

Henry Watson Fowler took a dim view of Henry Alford’s pickiness. “The ‘split’ infinitive has taken such hold upon the consciences of journalists that, instead of warning the novice against splitting his infinitives, we must warn him against the curious superstition that the splitting or not splitting makes the difference between a good and a bad writer.”

Douglas Adams quote, split infinitivesMerriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage says, “the objection to the split infinitive has never had a rational basis.”

Indeed, according to Grammar Girl  Mignon Fogarty, “Today almost everyone agrees that it is OK to split infinitives.”

 

375px-RaymondChandlerPromoPhotoRaymond Chandler complained to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly about a proofreader who changed Chandler’s split infinitives:

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss-waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”

 I agree. I shall forever attempt to boldly split infinitives as needed, when and where I feel so inclined.

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Stephen Swartz, A Dry Patch of Skin

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzToday, my dear friend, Stephen Swartz, author of the new book,  A Dry Patch of Skin has consented to answer a few questions for us. Stephen is a true renaissance man–an accomplished musician, and the author of seven published novels, he is also a professor of English at a well-known university in Oklahoma.

I became friends with Stephen in 2011 through ABNA, and we have remained good friends since. I find him hilarious, and I really enjoy his work. He has kindly consented to sit down and allow me to “virtually interview ” him. I am especially curious about his wonderful new book, which is a vampire tale. It’s most certainly not your mama’s sparkly vampires! If you are curious, here is my review: Best in Fantasy: A Dry Patch of Skin

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

Stephen Swartz 2007SS: It seems like I’ve always been making up stories, much to my parents’ chagrin. I began by drawing panel comics, then added dialog, then began writing paragraphs. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my youth, plus the classics of literature. They influenced my writing mostly by pushing me to try to “out-do” those authors with my own stories. My early writing was limited by the limitations of typewriters and correction fluid. When I got my first computer in 1986, all of my vast library of stories finally could be written. And the world shuddered….

 

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN is a contemporary vampire story, but not at all modeled after any of the current vampire TV shows, films, or the books they are based on. I deliberately tried to keep it real. Thus, I researched diseases which cause symptoms approximating the vampire’s condition. In that way, I wanted the reader to experience what it would be like to become a vampire. I decided to tell the story through the POV of a man who is transforming against his will into something he does not want to become. All the tropes and memes of vampire stories are there, but they are realized in a medically accurate fashion—as much as possible. It gets a bit religious at the end, so…call it magical realism.

 

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

SS: I had the idea in rough form ever since Twilight came out and I tried to explain to my daughter, who was hooked on the Bella/Edward story, what “real” vampirism was. For that explanation, I recalled a report years ago on one of those news magazine shows about a man suffering from porphyria, sometimes called the “vampire disease”; the medical explanations for his affliction made perfect sense in terms of why he might be called a vampire if he happened to live in a certain time and place rather than modern America. Watching that interview (he wore a hood to cover his face), I could truly feel the anguish of being in that situation, and given that my art is answering What-if questions, I sought a vehicle for illustrating that awful situation.

 

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SS: For A DRY PATCH of SKIN, I worked a bit differently than usual. I began with snatches of my real life, anecdotes that were humorous or telling in some way, then fictionalized them. My initial goal was to explore the character I was inventing, to get down his personality, way of expressing himself, his identity, and so on. As a story set in 2014 in the same city where I live, it was quite schizophrenic to write fiction about the places I regularly visit.

Unlike some authors, I generally do not make lists of traits or compose background profiles of my characters; sometimes I do not know all about them when they come on stage and I get to know them as readers do. (Of course, I go back in revision and make it all fit together.) I do collect information as I create them but it stays in my head. Sometimes browsing the internet will bring me an image that fits what I see in my head.

I knew from the start the direction A DRY PATCH of SKIN would go but I did not have the exact action of the climactic scene until I was mid-way into the writing. Once I “knew” how it would end, the direction of the plot shifted a bit to head toward that conclusion. I found by the end, fortunately, that I happened to have dropped some good seeds along the way which conveniently blossomed in the final chapters—much as Chekhov’s musket in Act 1 must be fired by Act 3. I suppose it’s a matter of how my twisted mind works; I’m not always conscious of the big picture under the cacophony of surface features, but my deeper self knows…because he sleeps with my muses.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a personal challenge, something in a genre I have not written previously. The saving aspect for me, however, was that it is, at the core, a tragic love story. (Is that a spoiler?) The trappings of vampire transformation become the vehicle for pulling off that tragedy. Or is it that the transformation, the struggle to avoid it or prevent it, is made more tragic with the love interest? At any rate, I’ve consciously tried to go counter to all the usual tropes of the vampire genre. In fact, the characters often mention, critique, and spoof some of the popular works of the genre during their conversations. I hope this novel will be both a fun “review” of the vampire literature as well as a realistic portrayal of a biological problem; in that sense, it’s a medical thriller.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a departure from my usual kind of novel (contemporary anti-romance or sci-fi on a grand scale). I was intrigued by the question and wanted to see if I could write it if only to see how such a situation might play out. I seldom write as a challenge or game, but this time I did. For writing in general, I simply want to follow my desire to see what happens next for the people I create and the situations I put them in. I know that sounds cruel, but that’s how I roll. It probably keeps me out of jail or the mental hospital.

Next, I’ve been challenged to write an epic fantasy with dragons. Epic fantasy is no problem; dragons are—because it’s in my nature to try to explain them in an authentic zoological way.

CJJ: I certainly can’t wait to see what sort of spin you give dragons! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SS: Strange you should ask because while I have always done things my way (Thanks, Frank!), the results have not always been glorious. After a health scare a few years back, I realized what I wanted most in whatever time I thought I had left was to publish one of the books I’d already written. Years before that, I had gone through the lengthy process of soliciting with actual reams of paper in mailing boxes and the 6-12 month wait for a response by paper form letter. But just a few years ago, the world apparently  changed and querying and soliciting were being done electronically, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was impatient, for health reasons, so I caught the attention of a small publisher with a book I entered into a contest. That did not go so well but I did get a taste of the brave new world of publishing. The rest is what some call history—and others call serendipity.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SS: I suppose there are all kinds of reasons and they tend to be settled on an individual basis. I described my situation, but even without that push from Father Time I’d probably still discover the small and indie publishers and hook up with one of them eventually. If I were young and had a market-ready book with a ready-made audience, I’d query that thing to the farthest star. If you are short on time or believe your work is specialized and thus out of the mainstream, you probably have to go indie.

My goal the past four years has been to make the books I’ve previously written available, at least that, not so much for my ego as for being able to check them off my so-called bucket list. Then I wrote something new! And made it available, too. And I wrote something new again! I have to give credit to the publishing of my early books for the spark of creativity that caused me to write my new books.

Thank you Stephen, for answering my questions! For those readers who are interested in reading more of Stephen’s writing journey, you can find him blogging at:

Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

 You can purchase all the books written by Stephen Swartz from this page at Amazon.com

stephen swartz's books

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What I’ve learned from Agatha Chistie

The_Body_in_the_Library_US_First_Edition_Cover_1942I don’t know about you, but I loved Agatha Christie’s novels as much for the great characters as for the mysteries. She had a way of putting the reader right into the society of the time. Take, for instance, Miss Marple.

She’s elderly and has no visible means of support, yet she is not poor. We think she must be living on inherited wealth, but while she is not poor, she also is not conspicuously rich. She is an elderly spinster who was once engaged, is obviously from a good family, and is godmother to a number of young men and women who sometimes get into trouble and need her sharp eyes to sort out mysteries.

She has a nephew, Raymond West, who must be a sister’s child as the name is different, yet no mention is ever made of Jane’s family beyond him. Did she raise him? She is quite close to him.

The_Moving_Finger_First_Edition_Cover_1942She is well-traveled, and can afford to go to Egypt, and to the Caribbean. Miss Marple has close friends in high society. She knows people with hyphenated names and large estates. She doesn’t let wealth or social standing blind her to the true frailties of human nature–she knows that greed and sex are the root cause of nearly every crime.

She owns her own cottage in St. Mary Mead, and it’s not small or mean in any way–she has the ability to hire a young lady to come in and help with the heavy cleaning, although it is difficult to find one who respects the china.

A_Caribbean_Mystery_First_Edition_Cover_1964Miss Marple takes great interest in the life of her village, and it is through her knowledge of that life that she is able to solve complicated, well planned murders. Her ability to work out the motives for each suspect is directly related to how their actions remind her of certain people she has known over the years in her village. Be careful what you say around her, because she will know what you did by connecting the dots between what you said and what happened.

All this information about Miss Jane Marple comes out in her conversations with other characters, delivered over the course of an entire book, and yet one feels as if one knows her right away.

The_Murder_at_the_Vicarage_First_Edition_Cover_1930In the first full book in which she appears, The Murder at the Vicarage, she isn’t really as likable as she is in later books–she seems a bit of a gossip, and rather mean-spirited at that, always expecting the worst of people.

But over the course of 12 books she evolves, and so does our knowledge of her–or does it?

She is genteel, slightly nosy, very comforting and she is on to you–so don’t even think about doing it.

What I have learned from Agatha Christie is that memorable characters grow on you over the course of the book–they are not delivered fully formed on the first page. They are intriguing and we don’t always know what they will do next. There is a hint of mystery about them, and at the end of the book we want to know more.

A_Murder_is_Announced_First_Edition_Cover_1950This sense of intrigue is what we want to instill in all our characters, whether we write sci-fi, romance, fantasy, pot-boilers, or cozy mysteries. If you think about your own experience in life, once it is apparent that you know everything there is to know about a person, they cease to intrigue you. It is the complexities of your friends that keep them interesting, the little things you never knew that amaze you when they are revealed.

Developing a character, deploying just enough information at the right moments to pique the reader’s curiosity is a balancing act, and I’ve come to believe that not everyone can do it with finesse.

Revealing the character over the course of time, and allowing them grow is crucial to keeping the reader’s interest. I think this can only happen if the author has a true understanding of who their character is. This person must be fully formed in the author’s mind so that when they emerge on to the paper they have a sense of realism, as if they are someone the reader would want to know.

nemesis agatha christieMiss Jane Marple was modeled on Agatha Christie’s step grandmother, and on her Aunt (Margaret West), and her friends. Observing these sharp old ladies taught Agatha how a little life-experience can cut through the smoke and mirrors to the truth of people’s’ motivations rather quickly, and that they were often correct in their sometimes mean-spirited assumptions.

I find that doing a small biography of my characters for my own records helps me to understand my people, and while I generally write in the genre of fantasy, people are who they are regardless of the setting you place them in. Characters will react and behave a certain way depending on their history and values. Some are brave, some are lucky, some are stupid beyond belief, but the ones who keep you reading are the ones who still have more to reveal about themselves when the last page has been turned.

 

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The Great Dialogue Debate

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013We meet our friends on the street, or in a bar or a coffee shop and we talk talk talk.  And so do our characters.  Sometimes those wild and wacky imaginary friends of ours just won’t be quiet, and it drives us nuts. Other times they behave like a thirteen-year-old forced to go on the old family vacation,  sitting in stony silence staring at her signal-less phone, refusing to participate with those people who claim to be her parents and who dragged her off to the wilderness for something called ‘family time.’

Eww.

But when they DO choose to participate in the conversation, how do we make them sound natural? There is a lot of argument in writers forums on this subject, but I go from the point of view of the reader. What is easiest for the reader to follow?

Take a good long look at the works of established writers whose dialogue is crafted in such a way that you, as the the reader, didn’t feel like you were reading it: you felt like you were living it. Did they get too fancy, and uber creative?

No, they kept it simple, and showed you the conversation.

First off–my pet peeve: people do not smile, snort, chuckle, or smirk dialogue. They don’t giggle it either, but they DO say it, they reply it, and many times they ask it. As long as you mainly stick to said, replied, answered, and asked, your reader won’t even notice the attributions are there. If you are writing genre-fiction, there is no need to get creative with your attributions, or ‘dialogue tags’ as we call them: stick to ‘John said’ (not said John, which sounds too old-fashioned these days.) Unless you absolutely need a John screamed or a Sarah uttered or a Paula retorted (which you pretty much never do) just say it and let the reader do the rest. Fancy synonyms for ‘said’ are usually unnecessary and distracting.

You can skip using dialog tags altogether for a back-and-forth or two, but not if there are more than two speakers in the scene, and not for more than a few exchanges. Readers want to be able to track who is saying what.

Sometimes it’s okay to miss a few beats. Beats are what screen-writers call the little bits of physical action that is inserted into dialogue:

People do not snort dialogueBack in the office with the door shut tight, Junior and Pap plotted the special hunting trip for the nice tabloid man. Junior unbraided his hair and pulled it back into his customary long ponytail. Off came the blanket, which he told Pap smelled musty, and the headband. “Tell Johnny thanks for the loan of his buckskins,” he said as he stripped them off, stuffed them into a gym bag, and then pulled on a pair of slacks. “I’ll need them tomorrow for this picnic. That idiot wanted to leave at dawn! I told him after breakfast, so what do you think—about ten o’clock? I usually don’t go to bed until dawn.”

Beats or actions serve to punctuate the dialogue, to give the scene movement, and to maintain a strong mental picture in the absence of description.

Small actions showing the mood of a character are often best placed where there is a natural break in the dialogue, as they allow the reader to experience the same pause as the characters. They’re an effective tool and are essential to good dialogue, but don’t overdo it. If your characters are fluttering their eyelashes, gazing into the distance or opening their laptops between every second line of conversation, the scene becomes about the action and not the dialogue, and the impact is diluted or lost entirely.

This means that when we add gestures and actions to the conversation we want it to be meaningful,.  Otherwise, just use a simple dialogue tag, like said, or replied. This is why we don’t want to make the mistake of getting rid of attributions entirely—because the verbal exchanges become confusing and the action takes over, making the dialogue fade into the background noise of foot shuffling and paper rattling.

verbal tic memeBut what about exclamations and verbal tics?

We frequently speak this way  in real life, but we don’t want it in our work so I recommend you avoid using them. When a character overuses exclamations, it is exhausting for the reader to wade through paragraphs peppered with instance after instance of “Ahhhh…” “Ugh!” “Yuck!”  “Blech!”

For example, have you ever met a person who drones on with a long “A-a-and a-a-ahhhhhhhhh….” holding conversations hostage with meaningless syllables? These are ‘thinking syllables.’ This is what is known as a ‘verbal tic’ and can be such an ingrained habit the guilty party is unaware they are doing it. They’re often quite hurt if you try to hurry them along.

It’s a habit that we don’t enjoy in a conversation, and don’t want to read in novel, so I recommend you don’t begin more than a few sentences with thinking syllables like  “Ahh…” or “Hmmm….”

These are difficult speech behaviors to convey, because they are supremely annoying in real life and are excruciating to read in a book. As a reader, I’ve come to feel your best bet when dealing with verbal tics is to give a brief instance of their speech pattern and after that, if it is important, mention occasionally the way their habits annoy other characters.

What about accents? Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, says “When writing for a character with an accent, it is tempting to render the character’s speech phonetically using nonstandard spellings. However, this practice is risky and should be avoided, unless you specifically want to emphasize how a character speaks. First, there’s the question of how accurate to be. The more accurate the phonetic spelling, the more frustrating it will be to read.”  

Don’t overdo spelling them out.  You have no idea how hard it is to wade through that:

490px-Henry_Singleton_The_Ale-House_Door_c._1790“Me lempsor’ ‘urt an’ oi’m feelin’ dead knackered. Oi nade ter kip for a while.”

Translation: “My feet hurt and I’m feeling dead tired. I need to sit and rest a while.”  I think you could get away with just using knackered and kip to convey the general idea, and not lose the reader’s interest. If you choose to replace ‘to’ with ‘ter’ for a specific character, be sure to do it consistently and consider leaving it at that.

I have walk-on characters who are minotaurs, and the physical transformation from man to minotaur affects their ability to speak, some more than others. They also come from a different world. This posed a dilemma for me. Because the lower ranked minotaur soldiers make only brief appearances, I can get away with a bit more of a dialect or a speech impediment. The higher ranking ones made it through the remaking with more of their wit and abilities intact, and therefore speak more clearly. I mention they have an accent and leave it at that.

More and more, I am leaning away from writing heavy accents into my dialogue. I recommend going light and limiting the use of misspellings, bad grammar, and vulgar accents especially if you are trying to point out that the character is uneducated or from a rural background.  Use only a few well-chosen words to convey the idea of the accent and use them in a consistent manner for that character in such a way that it isn’t incomprehensible. It’s very easy to go over the top with it, and then the character becomes a parody, a cartoon of a person, instead of someone who feels real.

This winds up my rant on annoying habits we don’t want to inject into our dialogue. Accents, dialects, verbal tics–these are things we need to convey, but we must be mindful of our readers’ supply of patience. Show a little, and let the reader’s imagination do the rest.

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Words

Ulysses cover 3I’ve been having a kind of rolling conversation with Professor Stephen Swartz regarding James Joyce’s Ulysses. It reminded me of what I realized when I was reading it in college–that it is a series of great one-liners strung together. It is nearly incomprehensible to folks like me when taken in a large chunk, but like all of Joyce’s work,  cut down to small bits, it’s got some hilarious, witty moments. So what is this fascination that I feel for James Joyce and his work? I’m a moderately uneducated hack-writer of genre fiction, but there is something about his way with words, a kind of addiction that keeps pulling me back.

Ulysses was never originally published as a single volume, instead it was first published as a serial in the American journal, The Little Review over the span of two years from March 1918 to December 1920, in 18 episodes, and was first published as a single volume in 1922. It’s an incredibly long book for the era, 265,000 words. Books of that length are much more common nowadays, but usually only in genre-fantasy. (Robert Jordan, Tad Williams.)

Ulysses 4Ulysses details the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Roman name of Odysseus, the hero of a classic Greek heroic tale that was Joyce’s favorite as a boy,  Homer’s epic poem Odyssey. The novel establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those of the poem.  Leopold Bloom corresponds to Odysseus the Wanderer, Molly Bloom to Penelope (Ulysses’s long-abandoned, ever-faithful wife), and Stephen Dedalus, Telemachus (Ulysses’s and Penelope’s son who seeks endlessly for knowledge of his father.)

265,000 words to describe one day in the life an extraordinary Irishman.

But they are great words, a series of deliciously twisted, carefully structured phrases strung together in a delirious, stream-of-consciousness that hovers on the edge of making sense while entertaining you–if you can face the wall of words that is each episode.

“History,” Stephen said, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. 

“Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand.”

“Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.”

“We were always loyal to lost causes…Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination.” 

 

UlyssesJames Joyce’s prose is deliberate, shocking and full of puns, parodies, and allusions. He shows us his characters clearly, and depicts them with broad humor.

All of what James Joyce put into his work is what we, as modern writers, want to inject into our own work; only perhaps in a more accessible form that a broader audience of readers will enjoy.

It takes a special kind of obsession to wade through a doorstop like Ulysses for pleasure, as most people are forced  into it (as I was originally) by the requirements of a college class in literature. It’s the sort of thing no one does without a good reason.

For me, that reason is the fabulous one-liners that pepper the nearly hallucinogenic narrative. I simply open it to any page and start reading, letting what happens on that page sink into my consciousness, cringing or laughing as may be.

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