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Friday, June 29, 2012

First Person Alternating with Third Person POV

Then and Now: The Harmony of the Instantaneous All uses first person POV in, what shall I say, an interesting way. I can't say unique because I'm sure it's been done before. I just haven't encountered it.

Story line: Stan Nelson, in his forties, is mired in nostalgia for the 1960s and the woman he lost then. He figures his only cure is to write about why he is so frozen. This isn't a hippie frozen in time. This isn't a stereotype. This is a character for whom events in the spring of 1970 in Lawrence, KS so affected him that he stays sort of locked in that timeframe.

The set up is from the first person POV: He talks directly to the reader about what he is trying to do:

I think back to the 1960s too much now. Not sane. A fixation on then is no way to deal with now. My fascination with those times is not the kind of healthy diversion with the past the way an interest in history can become a worthwhile hobby. Maybe it's worse than a fascination or a fixation; maybe it's an obsession. Can obsessions ever be worthwhile? Probably not. I know I long too much for the psychology of those times, the psychology of others then, of the me then that is so different from the selfish, cynical, jaded, boring psychology of the times, other people and, I fear, the me now..

What Stan goes on to do is to create the spring of 1970 in Lawrence, KS as he experienced it using scenes written from the third person. Like this:

Peter Thomas looked down again into his coffee cup at the small jagged pieces of broken glass. They were dispersing a film of oil as they floated on the brown surface of the coffee he had brewed for himself just a hour ago. He wondered if what Jenny, his assistant director, had told him were true: a poisonous substance coated the surface between the outer glass liner and the thermos body.

Then he tries to contact the people he has written about to get their opinion if what he has created in words is close to reality:

I tried to reach Peter later. I learned he was directing community theater on the East Coast and sent him a letter. He never replied and I never bugged him with a phone call. I was reluctant to write from anybody's point of view unless I could talk to him or her about that point of view. That was kind of a standard I set for this effort, a standard that quickly went out the window. But I got to know Jenny later on. She helped me really quite a lot. Told me about Peter, remembered things. We talked about Peter and those times over a lot of dinners, through a lot of drinks late into a lot of evenings. Those talks helped. And my own memory. Then the diaries of Melvin Washington were a real victory. Those really helped. Reality checks. All I had to do was go looking for them.
Check this entry out:

The diary from Melvin also provides another kind of first person point of view andnd the story continues. The writer talks to the reader in the first person and then creates segments for various characters in the third person and reports back to the reader how true they are. I found this approach very powerful for this novel. Especially when the end came. And the story has a love element I should only describe by repeating this first person section:

I won't do that again, enter Yen Li's mind and present the narrative from her point of view. It's improper. Indecent, in a way. And yet I enter her mind with love and tenderness to show the love and tenderness that I believed was there. To try to get closer to her understanding of the Tao, that I believe was there, too.

I have to admit. Whenever I reread this book I cry at the end. How's that for first person point of view? Worked for the writer. Important question is: does it work for the reader?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Person Point of View in Crazy About You

Crazy About You is my novel that has received the most reviews (I could still use more, hint, hint because to be considered for some Kindle promotions you need at least 25 reviews 4 stars or better).

The novel is told from the point of view of Brad Adams, a high school junior who has grown up on the grounds of an insane asylum because his father is the hospital's dentist and the state has provided housing, thus he calls himself an asylum brat, not a military brat.

As with most of my novels, Crazy took me a long time to write. I don't even remember how long. I try to force things forward and they just sound false, so I learned to step away for a while.

But I knew first person was the way to go. And what that means is that the reader can only know what Brad knows and encounters and experiences. But what I realized while writing Crazy and what my subconscious learned in those periods when I was away from it was this: Brad doesn't just exist during the period of the story; he exists after the period of the story. He can step forward into his future life and reflect back on himself and events.

The time of the story is 1964. A teenage girl patient at the hospital, Suzanne, reveals her father had sexually abused her. In 1964 sexual abuse by fathers of daughters was still a very cloudy issue. It was often thought any girl who reported such a thing must be crazy. This going forward and then looking back technique allows for this sort of episode.

In this scene, Brad is telling a former fellow patient of Suzanne's about her situation:

“You know why she picks her palms?”
I explained.
“No shit. That’s another reason I want to get away from home. I’ve never told Mom. She wouldn’t believe me. It would destroy her. And he leaves me alone now. But I can’t stand to look at him.” And then she told me her story.
One historian of psychiatry would later propose that it was so many neurotic women telling Freud that their fathers or uncles had sexually abused them that led Freud to conceive the subconscious. He couldn’t believe that so much abuse actually had happened. Instead, some other common factor must be at work, something that affected something he called the subconscious. There may or may not be a subconscious, but it became painfully obvious–after women like Suzanne and Kelly later confronted the issue in the 1970s and 1980s–that too many men let their Very Important Things turn into Alex Krouts.
“I’ve never told anyone that before. You’re easy to talk to. I know why Suzanne likes you. You care about people, don’t you?”

By stepping forward past the story and looking back at it, Brad is able to impart knowledge learned in the future and inform the reader about what is happening in the past, at the time of the story.

Crazy I think works in first person, too, because it has an abbreviated time frame: one week and the book is divided into the days of the week until we hit the final chapter set several years past 1964 and something happens that brings everything together for Brad in an emotional finale that I won't spoil because when I hit that ending, it blew me across the room and made telling the story in first person absolutely perfect.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Straight-forward First Person Point of View: Blue Kansas Sky

Blue Kansas Sky is a short story set in my high school town of Larned, KS. It's autobiographical in the sense that I did go play snooker, a lot, at Duke's Snooker Hall. Always curious to me is why snooker was the pool game in Kansas. I didn't play eight-ball until I went to college. All we had in that small town were snooker tables. I never rode the bus with the insane to town, but I remember there was one. So here is the opening:

There really is a Kansas sky, wide as the land is flat. On fall mornings it seems as if the stratosphere drops down just before dawn to touch the trees, make crisp the leaves of brown and red and yellow, rise again to paint the sky a deep blue, and leave the air as clean and as fresh as a newly-cut lemon.
This Saturday the crystals of the first light frost melt on the buffalo grass and wet my shoes as I go to catch a ride to town on the bus for the insane.

This is what I call straight-forward first person. The opening paragraph is the character making a kind of proclamation. The second paragraph sets the scene. Not a bad scene when you are riding on a bus with insane people to town. Hope that provides the hook.

First person allows for the narrator to do summary descriptions from his point of view. Such as this one

Later in the morning the old men will enter: ancient men who have become a part of the soil and are only waiting to reenter it. They sit in chairs against the wall as if they are still waiting for the Great Depression to end. Their faces have been furrowed by watching mud balls form in the air as rain fell through the dust storms of the 1930s; faces creased by seeing wheat burn in the sun, eaten by disease, consumed by floods. They have smelled their neighbors lucky oil wells, have plowed and plowed the soil like a sailor the sea, always searching, hoping, and finally despairing of making a living on their land. Yet somehow, like a stubborn leaf, late in fall, still on the tree, not knowing summer is over, they persist. Finally, near 70, perhaps the wife dead, the children who want nothing of farming gone into the city, they sell their land. Then, their soul torn from their body, they fill the poolroom with their lost stares. They come in hopes of finding a brief friendship and a bit of humanity over a game of dominoes.

It allows, too, for action:

I bend down to shoot at the pink six, but stop when I see the huge insane man is watching me and drooling on his folded hands. His hands are in direct line from the six and the pocket. I can see the pool of saliva run off the back of his hand onto his pants and another glob drop down as I shoot. The pink ball, as if repelled by the hands, catches the corner of the pocket, bouncing away.
As the ball comes to rest, two of Larned's best snooker players, Jackson Jones and Melvin Washington, walk through the front door. They are black, they are feared and Duke's is one of the rare places, other than school, where we have any kind of social contact with them.

This was a good story for first person, too, because of the time frame. Everything happens in a few hours. I think not a bad rule of thumb is that for first person the shorter the time frame the better.

Contemplation on First Person Point of View

An Amazon writer/reader forum was a question about first person point of view and seeking comment on the beginning of the poster's story. It prompted me to look at my own works in which I've used first person, but in different ways. I'll list them here and if you want to find them on Amazon and do a look inside you'll see what I mean. I took a class once at KU from James Gunn, the classic sci-fi writer who said that first person POV was the most difficult to do, but when done well, the most powerful.

3 Very Quirky Tales: 2nd story called It Was Me (I) is normal first person

Blue Kansas Sky, snooker short story: normal first person

Crazy About You, novel: first person but with a twist. At times the narrator takes a step forward in time and looks back and able to use his gained wisdom to contemplate the story.

Downswing, golf short story: first person (is this and the snooker short story the narrowest of fiction genres?)

One More Victim, novella: first person from three different years. This is my most downloaded work. Has Holocaust element.

The Saltness of Time, novella: This is an interesting one, rather a steal from Joseph Conrad. The real first person point of view is a listener, but of course the narrator is also in first person as he tells his story to the listener.

Then and Now, novel: First person but with a twist. The writer addresses the reader and then writes a different character's section in third person and then again addresses the reader in the first person as the author commenting on what he has written. I always thought it set up an interesting tension with a hell of a payoff at the end. I cry every time I reread that damn book.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My five-foot shelf of Philip K. Dick

I didn't think I'd start out doing a series of blog posts about writers I admired and influenced me, but the one on John D. MacDonald was popular, so I thought I'd do one about Philip K. Dick.

To be honest, I was looking for ways to promote 3 Very Quirky Tales and I always search for Philip K. Dick (PKD) sites because the first tale in my trilogy, Tell Us Everything is a sci-fi work in which I really tried to channel PKD.

One of the many things I admired about his writing is how quickly he could set a scene and grab the reader and not let go. I hope all three stories in Quirky (also on Smashwords) might grab you.

I encountered PKD in high school. That was in Larned, KS. Our access to books was the small library and then Knupp's Drug Store (yep, with a counter, cherry cokes and all that) that had a magazine sales rack and above the magazines a shelf for paperback books. I knew the day the salesman stopped by to bring in new books, so Wednesdays after school it was stop at Knupp's, get that cherry coke, and look at the new titles.

I was drawn to science fiction. I think the first PKD I read was Solar Lottery. It amazes me that I still have the first edition ace paperback, which cost 50c. We're talking a lot of moving around here and storing books while I was in Italy and Japan. We're talking about 50 years here.

PKD showed me that a writer could completely immerse a reader in word-created reality. And what a reality he created. It was a reality that made you question reality. I didn't read his books. I absorbed them.

There are many works out there discussing his books and his craft and his tortured brain. I could add nothing except this acknowledgement:

I have a bookcase of six shelves I built in my small den. Not enough room for all my books. Which ones to put there? I was reminded of Harold Bloom's, The Western Canon. This book has been viewed by some as a sort of list for literary elite snobs or his view of the most influential books. What I understood Bloom to be saying is because of the books he lists, we are the way we are today.

So that's how I looked at the books in my library. Which ones made me the way I am today? So on those shelves is the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald and one five-foot shelf is all PKD. And I turned on my son and so we both still collect, although rarely will you find the old paperbacks in any used bookstore. He's caught on. Also on those shelves is the Fu Manchu series by Sax Rohmer, the works of John Le Carre, Eric Remarque, and more (am I committing to a blog post about each? We'll see).

A Philip K. Dick festival is planned for this fall in San Francisco. Details here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Huge Boost for "Crazy About You"

Author Nick Russell is one of the mega-success stories in epublishing. His "Big Lake" series continues in the top 100 rankings of Kindle sold books in police procedurals. We're talking +100,000 sales here.

So when he gives an excellent review to a book, you pay attention. I paid attention when he gave five stars to Crazy About You.

Nick is also a RVer and blogs about his travels and serendipity struck when he stopped in Larned, KS the site of Crazy About You. We had met online before that, but now he was really interested in Crazy.

Not only did he buy the book, he read it, and liked, and reviewed it, and will mention it on his blog as well.

And here are a couple of other excerpts from recent reviews.

From Vered Ehsani

`Brilliant' and `original' are about how I would sum this sweet tale up. And I don't use those words (or 5 star ratings) without meaning it. Seventeen year old Brad lives on the grounds of an insane asylum with his sister and Dad. When Dad goes on a work trip, Brad has no idea that he will spend the week grappling with questions about sexuality, sanity and death. And some of the answers aren't pretty.

While the main character is a young adult, this is no kid's story! The tightly woven script is replete with humour, thrills, tension, mystery and the occasional flashes of inspired insights into the true definition of insanity that left me wondering if `normal' is really as normal as we like to think.

From Katy Sozaeva

One of the many things that I found fascinating about this story was how the early 1960s are portrayed – and how very much like the mid 1980s it was; I think being a teenager, exploring life and learning these things, tends to make every generation think they are unique – but what they don’t realize is, that they’re really very much the same.

A coming-of-age novel in the hands of a master storyteller, 
Crazy About You is a book in which anyone should be able to find something to enjoy.

I've had the manuscript professionally edited and proofread (I'm awful at that) and that new version is now uploaded to both Amazon.

I always like to remind readers, too, that I donate $1 of every sale to Headquarters Counseling Center, Lawrence, KS for its work operating the Suicide Prevention Hotline for the Kansas City Area.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Big Nod to John D. MacDonald and his Travis McGee Series

From time to time I get on a re-read kick and the last week it took me back to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series. Reread five in about that many days. I don't know why I do this. We had a wonderful spell of weather here in KC and I could sit outside and read and sip, along with Travis, Boodles gin on the ice.

That series was good. I had enough distance (and poor memory) to forget the details of many of the plots, but what I enjoy every time is re-encountering Travis and his milieu.

He creates a reality for the reader so easy to enter and be enraptured with. Creating reality with words is what this fiction thing is all about.

If you haven't read him, do try to go through the McGee series in order. The last five that I re-read were: The Empty Copper Sea, The Green Ripper, Free Fall in Crimson, Cinnamon Skin, The Lonely Silver Rain. All titles, obviously, have a color in them.

During my ventures into fiction, I wanted to create my own Travis type of character. His name is Philip McGuire. Instead of a beach bum who lives on a houseboat in Florida and makes money doing various kinds of salvage work (and most of that salvage for Travis was healing people), my guy is a burnt-out foreign correspondent who gives up journalism to return to his college town to buy and run a bar.

The thing about MacDonald's McGee series for me is that I read another book not  to get into another plot, I wanted more time with Travis. And that's what I tried to accomplish with my Philip McGuire.

I have two books about ole McGuire: "Heal My Heart So I May Cry" and "A Heart to Understand." I think I will issue them simultaneously. In this day of epublishing, if someone likes one novel, they then may want immediately to be able to get another one.

True story here: I was driving in the car and listening to the radio news when an AP report told me that:  "Travis McGee, the creator of the John D. MacDonald series, died today." I kid you not. My God, how both the creator and the created would have loved that.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"A Match Made in Heaven" Included in June Issue of eFiction

A Match Made in Heaven was accepted for the June issue of eFiction Magazine, produced by Doug Vance and his volunteer editors and illustrators at the eFiction website.

That issue is now live here:

Past magazines can be found here:

At this stage of things, writers, editors and illustrators are not paid for their work and there is a tendency to look down one's nose at such productions.

I recently finished a biography of HP Lovecraft (1890-1937), that great horror writer, who considered himself an amateur writer. Not that he wrote amateurishly, but that to get paid for writing seemed ungentlemanly. Not that he wasn't happy to receive payment later in his life when he fell upon hard times, but somehow money cheapened things. He and like-minded writers and editors produced small magazines for no pay, such as Weird Tales, which later became quite famous.

Because of the epublishing phenomenon, the amount of available fiction material has grown immensely. I'm certainly grateful because it has allowed me to reach a small but I hope growing audience of readers and fellow authors.

Efforts such as eFiction Magazine should be supported as the modern day pulp magazine. So I'm delighted A Match Made in Heaven (a work I describe as: Mormonism explored, in a sci-fi sorta way) has found a home with other stories in its pages.