Friday, April 22, 2016

The Fiction-Writing Guide Worthy of Dave Eggers and God

I am afraid to write fiction.

Two months ago I wrote a jokey blog about being in over my head in my writing program despite having authored two memoirs and an essay that got anthologized. But there is truth in comedy. Compared to the personal stories I've been publishing on this blog the last nine years, writing fiction takes me longer, leads to anxiety, and usually lags in quality.

It doesn't make sense. A story is a story, and the same elements that make a story entertaining cross all genres. But telling myself that didn't help, so I imagined myself as the protagonist, which I usually am in my blog stories. That, too, didn't eliminate my fear.

My next step was to write a guide on writing, developed using notes from the craft books I've heavily studied. For the past two weeks that is all I have done. I spent so much time writing this guide that I lost track of days and felt like a hermit. My hope was that the guide would eliminate my fear of writing fiction; lead me to write better and faster; and make writing fiction as fun as I have writing jokey blogs about myself.

the best and curated guide on writing fiction stories

I don't know if the guide will achieve those goals, but I know I completed The Fiction-Writing Guide Worthy of Dave Eggers and God (for now). It is a living document—as I study more craft books I will add to this guide. Ultimately I want a notecard-size list of rules to follow to write a great piece of fiction. Rules, because following rules did well for me against cancer, and following other rules helped me live a more complete life in my twenties.

It seems I will forever thrive on prescriptions, and if this guide achieves its goals then I'll write more guides like this: maybe one on being a more effective person, and definitely one on how to be attractive to women (hint: I think they're one and the same).

But first, I have about 40 pages of fiction to write before May 2. Guide, please guide me.

If you wish to see The Fiction-Writing Guide Worthy of Dave Eggers and God then contact me and I'll share the link to it on Google Docs.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Writing Exercise: Develop Your Craft by Alternating Perspectives

If you want to improve your writing technique then—just like building physical strength and endurance—exercise. One of the books I read for school, The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, offers many writing exercises. One is to take a simple event and describe it using the same characters and setting in five radically different ways (changes of style, tone, sentence structure, voice, psychic distance, etc.).

taking public transportation on bus

The event: A man gets off a bus, trips, looks around in embarrassment, and sees a woman smiling. Below are my five radically different attempts to describe this event. How would you write this scene? Email it to me!

The man, draped in purple velvet—who wears velvet in the summer in Los Angeles?—large enough to play offensive line for the Raiders, and maybe he does play for the Raiders, stood when the bus stopped but the bus didn’t stop completely—it inched closer to the sign in fits and starts—and now the purple man, holding a mobile in one hand and Infinite Jest in the other and no hands on a railing or seat, caught his right foot behind his left and I saw it in slow motion, the world just kind of paused, as he fell forward just tumbling down the bus aisle and I saw him choose—yes, I swear he chose—to drop the mobile and protect the book and not vice versa and he crashed—you’d think it was another earthquake—right on his right shoulder with the novel tucked in his other arm like a football and suddenly I recalled my mother, night after night, reading me fantasy stories before proclaiming the night was over and gently placing the closed book in its proper place on the shelf, never a scratch or mark or scuff. I smiled at the purple man and I believe he felt my mother, too.

In 1987, the National Football League Players Association went on strike and men across the league, like the Raiders’ Jacob Breele, understood the day would come when football would be over, not just for a season but for permanence. So men like Jacob began spending time learning new skills like public speaking and writing. Some men, like Jacob, even visited their first library, checked out their first book, and read their first complete novel. Some men, like Jacob, became so engrossed in their new skills that they forgot that Los Angeles buses were notorious for false stops and Jacob, well known for his false start penalties on the gridiron, fell flat on his face clutching the monster 1,079-page book he adored, smiling at the woman across the aisle thinking that this penalty hurt less than his previous ones.

They thought they owned it all: mansions, bank accounts, sports cars, Sundays, our children’s awe. One word came to mind amid all that greed and gluttony: karma. When the football players lost their jobs to the scrubs, it all came crumbling down on them and commoners could only smile at their supposed suffering. The day star lineman Jacob Breele fell on the city bus, toppling over his own huge body, all Maya could do when their eyes met across the aisle was smile.

Chairs made of brown, faded plastic, stiff as redwoods. Grimy windows locked shut, barred shut, or never able to open to begin with, some so graffitied they lacked all transparency. Air so thick with racism it was equally cloudy. A large, disturbed man covered head to toe in purple velvet falls attempting to exit the bus and all the woman across the aisle can do is laugh at him. Southern California Rapid Transit District, 1987.

Beginning in the womb, our lips stretch, curl upwards at the ends, and we smile. After bruising and tumbling as toddlers, we cry, and then we smile. After heartache in adolescence, we curse the world and the boy or girl who ripped out our insides, and then we smile at the next one we see at lunch. After graduating college, we think, where did those 22 years go?, and then we smile and rejoice with our friends over our accomplishment. After losing our job because our employer thought it could skate by with replacement staff, we wonder where our place is in the world, and we fall over and over, we fall over our savings and our possessions and even the very bus we ride for transportation, and then we smile because we can still pick ourselves back up.

* * *

I'll be signing books at the Spring Jewish Food and Heritage Festival on April 17 at Congregation Sons of Israel, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, from 12:30 - 3 p.m. See the festival's flyer for information on purchasing tickets. Synagogue address: 209 E. King St., Chambersburg, PA.

Leia Mais…

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Our Safari in Tanzania

For me, few things are more fun—and time-consuming—than creating videos.

In February I went on an incredible group safari in Tanzania, in eastern Africa, through the nonprofit First Descents which sends young cancer survivors on free adventure trips. I made a video of our adventure which you can watch on YouTube or directly below if your Web browser allows. You can also read about my trip on First Descents' blog: FDX Africa: This is Way Better Than ‘Planet Earth’.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Batman-Loving Colleague's Opportunity of a Lifetime

I write a lot: for work and school, as a hobby, in my sleep. It is usually not appropriate for me to publish what I write for work, but I can in this case. Yesterday this story I wrote about my colleague published in my organization's newsletter. Enjoy.

* * *

James Olsen, an ace interviewer at Manhattan's immigration office, arrived at work March 28 with a case already resting on his desk. His supervisor left a sticky note on the file: “For James only.”

Olsen spent his entire lunch break studying the file and preparing for his 1 p.m. interview. After the interview, he would have to recommend that the immigrant either get approved or denied for citizenship.

Olsen, the only employee at his office to wear a bow tie—or for that matter, the only person at the supermarket, swimming pool and Sahara desert to wear one—waited his entire life for this opportunity. Olsen grew up as the “smart kid” in Yonkers, New York. Other students teased him for his quick brain and too-polite manner. Olsen didn’t care because his mind was always elsewhere, on his next project or big idea.

He never imagined his next project would be conducting this naturalization interview.

With his typical afternoon glass of cucumber juice in front of him, Olsen called in the applicant. He introduced himself and offered his coat rack for the applicant’s cape, though the applicant respectfully declined. Olsen began. “Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that the statements you are about to make will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“Yes,” the applicant said, and sat.

“Thank you,” Olsen said. “I hope traffic wasn’t too bad. I know how it gets around lunchtime.

“Please state your name.”

“My name is Kal-El,” the applicant said.

“Have you gone by any other names?”

“Yes. Many people call me Superman,” said the applicant.

“Great. And Kal-El, what is your date of birth?”

“February 29, 1938.”

“Wow, you are 78 years old. Bravo! Thank you for giving me that information. And what is your country of origin.”

Kal-El looked down and fidgeted with his cape. Now suspicious, Olsen sat upright and motionless in his chair, waiting for Kal-El to respond, and when he did, Olsen could hardly hear it. Olsen asked Kal-El to repeat himself. Kal-El raised his eyes and voice, yet spoke with a softness that would calm a Black Mamba on a 115-degree afternoon. “I hail from Krypton, a planet in the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way called Andromeda Galaxy. Krypton once boasted a great civilization but exploded as a result of unstable geological conditions. My loving parents rocketed me away to survive and I landed in Kansas, USA, where I grew up.”

Kal-El went on to explain how his adopted parents, the Kents, raised him to love his adopted country—America!

Olsen glanced at his Batman action figure sitting on his desk, a remnant of Take Your Action Figure to Work Day on March 4. Batman rescued a woman in his apartment building when he was a boy and Olsen loved the Caped Crusader ever since. He knew Batman had said unkind things about Superman in the past, but he could not let that cloud his judgement. The integrity of the U.S. immigration system was extremely important.
Batman action figure
James Olsen's Batman figurine, still on his desk weeks after Take Your Action Figure to Work Day
Olsen concluded the interview and thanked Kal-El for his time. Kal-El extended his hand which Olsen returned with a firm shake and a smile. "Take care, sir," Kal-El said, and left.

Olsen finished adjudicating the case and closed the file. Someday his children, and his children's children, will read about this in their history books. Olsen felt joyous knowing that he played a role in making America better.

Superman would soon be a citizen of the United States of America.

And Superman's first words as an American would be: Happy April Fool's Day.

Leia Mais…