Shepherd: Lambing, Farming, Fatherhood

Written by Brendan O’Meara (email sign up form ==========>)

Shepherd, A Memoir, by Richard Gilbert, Michigan State University Press, 318 pages, $24.95

Part of what made reading Shepherd so enjoyable was knowing some of the story behind the story. Day 1 of a book’s conception is never—repeat, never—what the book will look like when it births. At that point you cut the cord and watch the book gasp for air. Give it a whack on the bum. Continue reading “Shepherd: Lambing, Farming, Fatherhood”

Track Life: Images and Words

track-life-cover

Perhaps a more accurate naming of Juliet Harrison’s Track Life: Images and Words is Words and Images as that was the process behind this beautifully rendered book of prose and art.

Harrison approached writers and, in essence, said, write what you want. At that point she paired an image. I lifted a scene from the end of On the Backside, an unpublished book I wrote a few years ago. Here’s an excerpt from that piece titled The Athlete. It’s the opening essay in the book.

“I can’t think of a better reason to stay at Phil’s barn, so I exit and head out to my car, my boots clunking down the path, leaving a trail of waning footprints. I wave to the security guard and pull out onto Race Track Road. I put my head down and adjust my seating. I look up. To my left, on the Bowie Oval, a scene somewhat faded in the afternoon sun. And what do I see? Running off the turn is a horse in full stride, dead even with my accelerating car. He’s white with a grayish mane and the rider has him in a hold, the reins taught in his hands. The white horse isn’t gaining on  me I’m not pulling ahead of him. We’re breezing in company, matching strides, and I only notice I’m pulling away when I surpass thirty-five miles per hour. His is stride swift and elegant, clopping away at a relaxing clip. I smile. I can’t help it. What an animal. What an athlete.”

The images are beautiful and words match Harrison stride for stride. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

The book is published by Paper Trail Press, the first book by Melaina Balbo Phipps, its publisher.

Good times for readers and writers

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Put up your ducks, I mean dukes.
Put up your ducks, I mean dukes.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

I’m not prone to fun. I don’t like crowds. I have broad shoulders so I tend to bump into people. I’m not very social. I like to watch movies on my somewhat undersized TV and read books. My wife doesn’t like me^1^. If there’s wet blankets, I’m like the smallpox-infected blankets Jeffery Amherst gave to Native Americans.

But I have fun when I listen to Book Fight: Tough Love for Literature. It’s a podcast for writer’s, though serious readers would dig it too. It’s a podcast about books, but a podcast recorded as if it were cool to talk about books at your favorite bar. It’s profane^2^, curmudgeonly, and just good company.

Tom McCallister, co-host of Book Fight and author of Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly, is a friend of sorts, though we’ve never met. 51flccWHfVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_We “met” through email when I gave his memoir a 2-star review on Goodreads. He wrote to me about it and I gave him my reasons. He does a great thing in his memoir that has to be applauded: he writes an unflattering picture of himself, which is a lesson unto itself in memoir. I gave it 2 stars because I wanted more of his father in the story and I don’t like footnotes^3^. He’s a great writer, an unpretentious product of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which says something in and of itself. All in all, if you’re writing memoir, you should read his. His book has 45 ratings on Goodreads, which is a ton (I have 12) and most are 5 stars. Overall it’s a 3.84 stars out of 45 reviews. That gives you an idea that it’s a great book.

Since that first email a few years ago, we’ve kept in touch about sports and writing. Then he started the Book Fight podcast with Mike Ingram, fiction editor at Barrelhouse. It’s a fun listen. I’m listening right now.  Naturally, if you’re a geek for the mechanics of prose, subscribe to it on iTunes.

Footnotes

1. Not entirely true. She likes the occasional social interaction where I’d rather stay home and read.
2. Not overly so, tastefully profane, like talking sports at a bar. But not a Philly, New York, or Boston bar. Maybe like a Seattle bar, or an Asheville, NC bar.
3. I have since come around to footnotes. I found them so disruptive to the narrative that I usually can’t continue reading. It’s like reading with the TV on or something. They make for funny tributaries that don’t belong in the main river.

The offer still stands, for a time, that should you subscribe to this website, I’ll send you a personalized copy of Six Weeks in Saratoga. Subscribe, I’ll reach out to you. My thanks to you. If you factor in shipping, that’s a $30-value, if you’re into value plays.

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The Best Book on Writing You’ve Never Read

images-1Written by Brendan O’Meara
Word Count: 518

I’ve tried to build a following by writing infrequently, say once a week. Hasn’t worked too well. Now, I’m going to try and write several times a week and see if the spaghetti sticks. Maybe a little bit of blogging will help warm me up before hit the “real” writing. Who knows? I stress about platform building way too much. Or do I ???

What is this book I’m referring to, the best book on writing you’ve never read? It’s The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. Yep, a book on how to write comic books. It’s 122 pages of wonderful tips. My great mentor Thomas French, author of Zoo Story among others, assigned this to us and it was one of those against-the-grain teaching tools that makes him so brilliant.

Part one of the book is the most valuable as it pertains to the basic fundamentals.

Story Structure
Creating Drama
Subplots
Characterization

One pointer author Dennis O’Neil touches upon early is this

Telling you story as clearly as possible

How easy and how difficult is that? You have all these flourishes of language, maybe even a couple of wonderful sentences, but are they driving the story forward? Respect the reader’s time might be another way of saying what O’Neil said.

Here are some other things I highlighted:

Know the end of the story before you write the beginning (I call this the Lighthouse Effect. You’re stranded out at sea. You don’t know where to go. But what’s that? A light! You start swimming toward it. This way you know that all your words are in service of that ending. You can’t do this all the time, but I feel you should be thinking of an ending before you reach the end. It might come to you 500 words into your story or 5,000 or 50,000. But once you figure it out you’re writing downhill, baby.)

People are interested in people, not things (the exception is the Ring of Power and maybe the Elder Wand. This is especially important if you’re dealing in story where not a whole lot happens, those narratives of revelation. If readers love the characters enough, they’ll go along for about any ride.)

Put your hero out on the end of a limb and start sawing.

Show only what’s important. So start the scene as late as possible and once the dramatic point is made, end it.

Heroic failure is the stuff of great drama.

Never write a scene, or a single panel, that does not contribute directly to your plot. … that every word should contribute to the emotion you’re trying to engender in the reader.

Tell you what. I’m going to stop there. I think there’s enough nuggets there to either talk about or think about. If nothing else, writers across all genres need to find inspiration and tips from other creative media. That’s why DVD commentary is so valuable, especially, when available, DVD commentary on deleted scenes (If you own Ratatouille, listen to director Brad Bird talk about why he deleted scenes).

Bonus question: Who’s the best orphan? Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, or Harry Potter?

I’m still doing this pretty slick giveaway. If you subscribe to my website, I’ll send you a personalized copy of Six Weeks in Saratoga.

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Self-publishing vs. Traditional: A 90-minute Crash Course for Your Book

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

385 Words, Read time: 90 seconds

Only one will live?
Only one will live? $3.99 on Amazon

If an agent immediately recognizes the value and salabiility of your book, you might hand representation quickly. On the other hand, the process can also go on for months or even years without results, which can be excruciatingly frustrating and discouraging.

—Agent and Author Rachelle Gardner

Any writer who takes themselves seriously recognizes the above statement from How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing not for having read it anywhere, but because they have felt it.

Perhaps part of that deals with a misunderstanding of publishing. You wouldn’t teach if you didn’t know how to develop a lesson plan. You wouldn’t open a restaurant without knowing that it’s about more than food. So why would you attempt to write a book without knowing the fundamentals of publishing? Yet thousands and thousands of writers and would-be writers approach the craft whimsically.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s e-book—a book that takes no more than 90 minutes to read (I’m a slow reader, you may read it faster)—irons out the nuts and bolts of publishing and lays out itemized lists to guide you down the path to either traditional or self-publishing.

Self-pubbing may be worth it if, “The frustration of agent querying and rejection is probably the number-one reason many authors choose to self-publish,” Ms. Gardner writes.

“A defining factor of self-publishing,” Ms. Gardner writers, “is freedom: there is no external barrier. Essentially it’s all up to you.”

As an agent with a large catalog of authors and a social network extending into the 40,000s, Ms. Gardner is just the type of writer who can benefit from self-publishing. She has a ready-made audience. That very same ready-made audience is what would make her attractive to traditional publishers as well.

You might also think as a gatekeeper, Ms. Gardner would staunchly advocate for traditional publication (and one Amazon reviewer picked her language apart for this very reason), but she plays both sides.

I, too, like to pick through language, and I was ready to read a book with a slant toward the traditional, but having been a long-time follower of Ms. Gardner’s blog, I know she’s more in favor—and a fan of—great writing and story telling, no matter the form.

What thought have you given toward self vs. traditional publishing?

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