Papa Was Wrong: An Obscure Mystery Novelist Challenges Hemingway’s ‘White Bull’ Metaphor

max picOn Hemingway’s metaphor for writing: But Papa’s whole bit about the blank page being akin to a writer facing down a “white bull” is just bull—-. Worse, it’s macho bull—-.  Sure, the “white bull” is a useful metaphor, and it certainly jibes with the Tough Guy/Big Game Hunter/Hard-Drinking persona Hemingway cultivated. And yes, Hemingway did win a Nobel Prize in literature, so who am I to argue with the man?

By Max Everhart

Aside from leaving behind at least two literary masterpieces (The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea), as well as the only perfect short story in existence (“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”), Ernest Hemingway was extremely quotable, and in today’s sound bite-driven culture where attention span’s are measured in nanoseconds, and celebrities become famous for their sex tapes and being witty on twitter, and. . .

Apologies.

Forgot where I was going with that.

Right. Hemingway.  Yeah, the man made for good copy, my favorite among his quotes being this gem: “Always do drunk what you said you’d do sober.” That has heft to it. Speaks to a person’s character. I like that.

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But Papa’s whole bit about the blank page being akin to a writer facing down a “white bull” is just bull—-. Worse, it’s macho bull—-.  Sure, the “white bull” is a useful metaphor, and it certainly jibes with the Tough Guy/Big Game Hunter/Hard-Drinking persona Hemingway cultivated. And yes, Hemingway did win a Nobel Prize in literature, so who am I to argue with the man?

Well, I’ll tell you who I am: a guy who took 3rd place in the Reflections Writing Contest when he was eight; a guy whose written countless short stories, mostly for now defunct publications; a guy whose novels have sold in excess of 100 copies. That’s who I am.

So, now that we’ve established my impeccable credentials, I can explain, in eloquent, yet pity detail, exactly why Hemingway’s metaphor is bull—-.

It annoys me.

Hemingway took himself (and his work) too seriously, and we all know how that turned out. Too, and pardon me while I trample on the man’s grave, the “white bull” metaphor just adds fuel to the fire of Papa’s legend as a writer/adventurer who valued (overvalued?) “grace under pressure.” (Sidenote: the whole Camelot-JFK myth rubs me the wrong way, too, as that pretty boy was NOT a good president; he was just a guy with a silver spoon in his mouth whose father bought him a Pulitzer Prize and a presidential election).

JFK

Which leads me back to my point (if I had one to begin with): don’t over-complicate things; don’t be pretentious and insecure, man.  When it comes to writing, forget about Hemingway’s white bull nonsense.  Instead, remember Max’s Dog Rule: Sit at your computer, and stay.

Okay, maybe bang your head against the desk if things aren’t flowing the way you’d like.

 

 

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MMO Short Story Competition is now open!

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MMO Short Story Competition

We’re looking for short mystery stories! Think you can write an engaging and fully-developed mystery in 1,500 words or less? Yeah? All right then, prove it! Enter the first ever MMO Short Short Competition. The winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card, get his or her story published on our amazing website, and he or she will get to return to MMO at a later date to be interviewed by us! Pretty good deal, right? Oh, and I left out the best part: the winner will earn the undying respect of the scribes here at MMO!

Contest Rules

  • All stories must be submitted to motivemeansopportunity16@gmail.com by June 1st. Entries not meeting the guidelines below will be disqualified. Each entrant must provide a legitimate email address. There is a limit of (1) story per person. Winner will be announced by July 1st.
  • Entries must be 1,500 words or less. BE SURE OF YOUR WORD COUNT! Entries exceeding the word limits will be disqualified. Type the exact word count (counting every single word, except the title and contact information) at the top of the manuscript
  • Your entry must be original, in English, unpublished and unproduced, not accepted by any other publisher or producer at the time of submission. MotiveMeansOpportunity retains one-time nonexclusive publication rights to the winning entries to be published on MotiveMeansOpportunity. Any piece posted online is considered published.
  • All manuscripts must be double-spaced. Your name must appear in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. Save your manuscripts as Word files (.doc, .docx) or RTF (.rtf). Send your manuscripts to motivemeansopportunity16@gmail.com as email attachments.

A Word from the Judges

We’re putting on this contest for love, not money.  We love to read good work, and we want to give emerging writers out there a chance to be published. So, pretty please, don’t give us any grief if your story isn’t selected for publication. Our decisions are final, and we will not provide feedback on any stories. . .unless one of us happens to feel like doing it at the time.

Thanks, and we look forward to reading your work!

Sincerely,

Kait, Mike, and Max

On Writing–Some Favorite Books

 

Let’s face it—we were all complete and total amateur wannabe writers at one time. None of us were born with the innate ability to craft a good novel. Pick your favorite novelist, one who’s been around the block a few times. Pick up a novel or short story collection he/she wrote early in their career. Read carefully, take notes if you’d like. Now, take your fresh memory/notes and compare it to one or more of their later works. I’d be willing to bet you’ll agree the earlier work doesn’t quite measure up to the author you’ve grown to admire.

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I’m currently “into” the mystery genre as both reader and writer. There are many great mystery novelists out there, but Ross Macdonald is my favorite author de jour. His Lew Archer novels have made a big impression on me, not only for their intriguing, complex plots, but also the beauty of the language Macdonald weaves between the covers of his books. I decided to delve into Macdonald’s earlier works and purchased a collection of short stories he wrote and published in pulp magazines while still honing his craft. Big difference. In the story, Death by Water, the author stretches the reader’s credulity with a plot-hole big enough to swallow a 1950 Ford Custom. Suffice it to say, his brilliant later works contain no such glaring faux pas.

While I still say the best education a potential writer can get is to be an avid reader, there are many good books available today that were written to help improve the novice and even established writers. I’ve collected and read a slew of such books over the years. Here are a few I’ve found especially helpful for our chosen craft:

Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style, by Stunk and White. This classic is considered indispensable by many. Still a quick and handy reference since E.B. White revised and expanded Strunk’s original in 1959.

Stein on Writing

Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein. From Amazon.com:  “This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions—how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.”

How to Grow a Novel

How to Grow a Novel, by Sol Stein. Another masterpiece from Stein, a master editor and best-selling author. Again, from Amazon.com: “Stein takes the reader backstage in the development of memorable characters and fascinating plots. The chapter on dialogue overflows with solutions for short-story writers, novelists, screenwriters, and playwrights. Stein shows what readers are looking for—and what they avoid—in the experience of reading fiction.”

Art of Fiction

The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner. This book by the award-winning novelist, non-fiction writer, and creative writing teacher, is compiled from courses and seminars he taught over the years. It’s been hailed as “The next best thing to a graduate workshop in fiction writing.”

Writing the Novel - L. Block

Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, by Lawrence Block. Block, a multi award-winning author of over one hundred (and growing) novels lays the process out from idea to polished manuscript ready to submit. How can you argue with a guy who wrote his first novel in two weeks while still a teenager, and then sold it to a major New York publisher?

How to-Damn Good Novel

How to Write a Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey. The award-nominated mystery/thriller author offers a clear and concise crash course in the down-to-earth basics of dramatic storytelling. I hear there’s a new edition out that is even better than this 1987 gem.

Self-Editing fiction

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. Both authors are seasoned editors for long-established New York publishers. The advice you’ll find within the pages of this book is sound. It’s not “Do it this way or else!” type advice. It is practical and worthwhile advice that will spare writers a lot of headaches and rewrites. One of the handiest books in my collection.

Shut Up! He Explained

“SHUT UP!” He Explained, by William Noble. The subtitle says it all: A Writer’s Guide to the Uses and Misuses of Dialogue. This is another of my personal favorites. Noble is the author of several nonfiction titles, mostly about the craft of writing, and one mystery novel. While his fiction writing is limited, he absolutely nails the subject of writing effective dialogue. This is the clearest, most useful book I’ve ever read on the subject.

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Remember, nothing replaces careful and prolific reading, especially in the genre(s) you hope to write. But good books on the craft can be a source of continuing education for us all throughout our careers. The above are a few of my favorites—what are yours?

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From Stage to Page: How a Playwright Became a Writer by Elena Hartwell

Hartwell_Headshot I wanted to be a novelist. It wasn’t just that fiction might pay better (it does) or that playwrights aren’t “real writers” (they are), it was that fiction — especially mysteries — was still my first love.

By Elena Hartwell

I cut my teeth on murder mysteries. Starting with Nancy Drew. Then moving on to Tony Hillerman — the entire series sat on my granny’s bookshelf — then, later, falling in love with Kinsey Millhone. As a reader, I have run the mystery genre gauntlet from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Rich Zahradnik.

I was sure I’d be a writer.

Then I discovered theater. And fell into a dark place. Well, dark much of the time, because we’re always working with the house lights off and nothing but a glow coming from the stage. I loved working in the theater. Directing, building, lighting, propping, acting, and sometimes … writing.

But something nagged at me. I wanted to be a novelist. It wasn’t just that fiction might pay better (it does) or that playwrights aren’t “real writers” (they are), it was that fiction — especially mysteries — was still my first love. I wanted to be a part of that amazing group of writers who filled so many of my reading hours with thrills, suspense, danger, and sometimes humor.

gMLNYk3A8H2lS0M_lurcfJ2VEYFNIictLCWzzi0pJD0,zaeu-BFY1iFvhn5wTqZsj7a3xtjtxVtSy7psEFCgJNMPlaywriting taught me a lot about story structure, dramatic tension, and especially dialogue.

Playwriting taught me a lot about story structure, dramatic tension, and especially dialogue. When I started sending my fiction out to agents and publishers — even when I was told “no” — I often got personal notes about the success of my dialogue. Much of what I’d honed for years onstage, turned out to work very well on the page.

The same held true for character development. To create a blueprint for an actor to fill out as a full-blown character, a playwright has to understand backstory and psychology and intention. All of this experience went into my first book, which didn’t sell, and my second book, which didn’t sell, and my third book, which didn’t sell… and into my fourth, which did. I’d finally learned how to write like a novelist.

one_dead_300 coverStory editors are gifts from the gods. . .While those early manuscripts were extremely valuable, helping me become a successful writer, working with a talented editor was the final, missing piece in my puzzle.

Finding a home for One Dead, Two to Go taught me another valuable lesson. Story editors are gifts from the gods. I learned as much about how to shape a mystery and how to set up a series in the months I worked with my editor as I had writing my first couple of manuscripts. While those early manuscripts were extremely valuable, helping me become a successful writer, working with a talented editor was the final, missing piece in my puzzle.

I started writing for the theater twenty years ago. I’ve had productions around the US and abroad. And now, my first book launched on April 15, 2016. They are all my children: my plays, my novels, my short stories and blog posts. Every word I write matters to me. Will I continue to write plays? I think so. I hope so. I love the theater and even now feel its siren call. But writing my “first” novel was also special. It felt like coming home. I cut my teeth on murder mysteries, and now, here I am, all grown up, with one of my very own.


For more of Elena Hartwell and her writing:
https://twitter.com/Elena_Hartwell

 

 

DO RE MI FA SO LA TI DO…….Voice: Don’t Believe What you Heard

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Those of you following this blog since the beginning know that the regular posters are three writers. Three very different writers. If someone were to blindfold you and force you to listen to our blog posts read aloud—not that anyone would EVER do that—chances are, even after such a short acquaintance, you could identify the blogger. We three have completely different voices.

Mine? Easy, light and breezy, I often cut into my own thoughts and pick up the main theme later. Sort of stream of consciousness meets, oh, look, something shiny! You get it. That’s my blog voice.

The voice I write in is different and it changes among the genre I write. For my Hayden Kent traditional bordering on cozy series, the voice is still light and breezy, but there are nuances. The books are set in the Florida Keys, and the style and voice reflect the feel of the tropics. The stories deal with death, but the tone, which is a part of voice, is light.

My traditional bordering on suspense novels feature a darker voice. Catherine Swope is an ex-cop. She doesn’t have the luxury of blundering. Her lover is a serving cop. Oh look, something shiny does not enter into the equation. Nuances still figure in to define the relationships and the boundaries, but the voice and style are different. The books have a darker, more serious tone and the language usage changes to reflect that. There is an overarching sense that things may not turn out well and the voice reflects that possibility.

The lighthouseTwo series, one writer, different voices. How’s a writer supposed to build a brand. Didn’t we all learn in creative writing classes that the voice should always be consistent? Dickens (who needs no first name) is different from Sinclair Lewis (who does need a name identifier). PD James is different from Rita Mae Brown. Two paragraphs into any of these writers and the reader should be shouting, “I know who that is…I recognize the voice.” Insert loud screeching of brakes here.unsuitable

Dickens and Lewis wrote standalones. They could afford one voice. They needed the immediate recognition. That’s what sold their books. James (who I deeply miss) and Brown write series. More than one series. James’s Dalgliesh will never be mistaken for her Cordelia Grey. No one will ever confuse Brown’s Mrs. Murphy books with the Sister Jane Arnold books. Each of these series has its own voice. Separate and distinct, yet each voice is immediately identifiable to its own series.

One voice per writer? Bah, humbug! That’s much too limiting to the writer. Writers are by nature shapeshifters. We create worlds, characters, and situations. Voice is craftwork, a weapon in the arsenal of writing, like setting, structure, and conflict, it exists to identify and serve the story arc. Limiting a writer to one voice is as pointless as limiting a writer to one theme. There is no need, and it’s a death knell to creativity.

Oh, look, something shiny!

Give Up to Get Ahead: An Obscure Mystery Novelist Briefly Explains How to Quit Writing a Novel in Order to Grow as a Writer

Discipline trumps talent.

That’s my motto, anyway. You want to be a mystery novelist (or any kind of writer, for that matter) you need to work on your craft. Every day. No exceptions. No excuses. You need to apply your posterior in a chair and type, and type, and type, and stare out the window, and think, and then keep typing until something good appears on that stupid little white screen.

But here’s the rub: a good bit of what you write will, I can assure you with supreme confidence, be crap. At first. Write it anyway. And then edit. And then drink–for courage to soldier on.

inspire

So today’s post is meant purely to inspire those of you struggling to write your first book (or your second, or your eighteenth). Below is the first 350 words or so if my first attempt at a mystery novel. I wrote another 30,000 after this, but what you’ll read below is the only bit worth saving. The rest was crap, but writing that crap taught me something invaluable: that I had a “voice.” I just didn’t have anything else yet. The rest of it I would have to work on, and you should, too.

So enjoy this tiny glimpse into my first big failure as a writer.

boatSay you’re fifty-six years old and you’ve got something you love that isn’t a wife or kids.  Suppose it’s a restaurant: a huge hollowed out sailboat made of eighty-year old oak that’s docked in an inlet on the North Carolina coast.  Call it SHARKEY’s.  Picture a cartoon-y-looking killer shark with white fangs painted on the hull outside.  Three massive white sails up top, flapping in the breeze.  Go inside and order a strong pomegranate margarita from Kitty, the bartender.  Check out the autographed glossies of Jack Nicholas and Catfish Hunter behind the bar.  The circular windows to starboard offer a peephole view of the water.  Creaking floorboards and the smell of saltwater make you feel like you’re walking the plank for Blackbeard.  There are tuna steak sandwiches and homemade potato chips on the menu, plenty of Handy-Wipes for the greasy fingers.  When the weather’s nice, a solid eight months out of the year, there are picnic tables on the rectangular deck facing the water, a long pier adjacent to work off those extra jumbo shrimp.

Now, picture yourself there, with your old man paunch, a full head of gray hair, and most of your own teeth.  You flash those sparklers at everyone, wear Levis and boat shoes the whole year ‘round.  Like most poor boys that figured out a way to keep your belly full, you take pride in your work.  Slapping high-fives with little sluggers in ball uniforms.  Refilling sweet ice tea for the red-faced tourists.  Lying to the Country Club Set about your single-digit handicap, all the fish you’ve caught.  You turn a healthy profit and keep a bulk of the cash in a wall-safe at your second-story condo overlooking the Atlantic.  But somehow you pick up bad habits like drinking Jim Bean before noon and blabbing to everyone about your nest egg.  It isn’t long before someone cracks your safe and now the IRS says you’re in arrears.

So, about to lose the one thing you love, what do you do?

The answer: you invite Jack Burns, local millionaire and quasi-philanthropist, and his idiot son, Greg, over to your bar to see if there is anything you can do to help get Greg elected the Mayor of Kill Devil Island next week.

E. Michael Helms: Me, Myself, and I

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Me, Myself, and I—or why I favor First Person Point of View

Why do I favor writing (and reading) in First Person POV? “I’m glad I asked that question,” I said. Okay, all kidding aside, here are a few reasons why:

Realism: We all experience life in first person. Think about it. When is the last time you heard anyone referring to him or herself as anything other than “I” “me” “mine” “my” “myself”? If your wife, husband, best friend, lover, or worst enemy dines out at a fabulous restaurant in your absence, how do you learn about their dining experience? It must be relayed to you through the spoken word from the individual’s own mouth. Think second-hand information. In real life, there is no “omniscient” being that can fill in the particulars about what your friend or cousin saw, touched, smelled, heard, or tasted during the meal.

Imagine you’re at a crowded stadium for your team’s most important game of the season. If they win, they play for the national championship. Lose—they go home—game over, season over. You are there, experiencing first hand (first person) the scent of hot dogs, popcorn, roasted peanuts, and draft beer wafting on the breeze. Not to mention the lovely young college lass wearing the low-cut blouse sitting in front of you. The air is electric. The crowd roars as you watch the quarterback scramble and hurl a sixty-yard TD strike to the open wide receiver. The roar is deafening, the stadium literally shakes, and you are there!

But what if you’re stuck at home with no ticket? Worse yet, your new sixty-six inch, flat-screen TV is on the blink. The game is about to begin as you frantically dial your radio to the station broadcasting the game, hoping to catch the opening kickoff. Ah, there it is, and the reception is decent—not great—but you can pick out what’s going on from the announcer’s running commentary. “Shotgun formation, empty backfield. Bronson studies the defense. He takes the snap, avoids a tackle and rolls out of the pocket to the right. Deshaun Carter has a step on the cornerback down the right sideline! Bronson sidesteps another rusher. He’s got Carter wide open . . . there’s the throw . . . it’s . . . Carter juggles the ball . . . he’s got it! Touchdown, Tigers!”

Which scenario do you prefer? (Assuming you are a rabid football fan; if not, insert your own favorite pastime.) For me, experiencing the game first hand wins, hands-down.

Walk a mile in my shoes: Another strong point for First Person POV is the intimate connection between the reader and protagonist. From the beginning the reader is “inside the hero’s head” and immediately privy to his thoughts and emotions. Nothing is “watered down” by the distance of a third person narrator. Reader and protagonist are bonded “in the moment.”

Strong characterization: Because the reader is inside the hero’s head, he/she quickly learns what makes the protagonist “tick.” The reader becomes a mind reader, knowing minute details about the protag that might not be revealed to anyone in the story, even our hero’s closest friend or love interest. Nothing is hidden from the reader. He/she sees all, knows all, even the protagonist’s deepest, darkest secrets. Quite an advantage, is it not?

Did someone say “pitfalls?”: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit there are—or can be—obstacles to First Person POV. If handled correctly, I believe first person is an effective and highly entertaining way to construct a story or novel. There are, however, a few things to be aware of:

Scenes where our narrator is absent. If our hero is missing from the scene, he can’t know firsthand what happened. This is where strong secondary characters can shine. The protag’s good friend was a witness, and through snappy and informative dialogue events are transferred to our hero. Or, our hero reads about it in the newspaper, or hears it as breaking news on the radio or TV. The point is, important information can be passed to the protagonist effectively in a variety of ways. Skillfully done, it works fine. Poorly done, it can kill your story and cause readers to abandon ship.

Sentence structure. I did this, I did that, I said, ad nauseam. Too many “I”s can quickly become irritating, especially used at the beginning of sentences. I crept to the window. I listened for any sign that he was inside. I pulled the revolver from my back pocket just in case he showed. You get the picture, and it’s not a pretty one. If you plan to use First Person POV be prepared to find innovative ways to break up the nasty habit of beginning too many sentences in the same paragraph (or page) with “I.”

The sounds of silence. There is always the danger of too much inner monologue, or thought, or reflection. If you find your protagonist slogging through a page or two filled with the above, hit the brakes. Break up those lengthy, silent soliloquies or risk losing the reader. Too much “silence” amounts to telling the reader, not showing. So, when your hero begins to wax eloquently to himself, have him receive a phone call with pertinent information that propels the plot forward, or a knock on the door from the cops warning him against crossing the line, or have him unexpectedly spot a suspect and decide to tail him. Remember, B-R-E-A-K it up!

Scarecrows won’t cut it. To pull off First Person POV for the long haul of a novel-length work, your protagonist must be stuffed with more than straw. He or she must be well-rounded, with a strong voice and a vibrant personality. A healthy dose of attitude always helps. Our hero can bend, but not break. Our hero has morals, lives by a code of honor that can’t be broken, but always has a flaw or three to balance things out. No Superman or Superwoman allowed here, unless you’re writing a superhero book. Above all, the reader must be drawn to the protagonist by that certain “something” all heroes possess to one degree or another.

Okay, there you have my perspective on First Person POV. I take full responsibility for my humble offering. I would love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts, agree or disagree. Or, the author of this brief article would enjoy hearing reader’s opinions, whether they agree, disagree, or wish to remain neutral in this matter.

“Oh, good grief!” –Charlie Brown