Monday, October 4, 2021
What’s the Rush?
September traditionally is a totally crazy month in my world, with no time to go to the bathroom. How on earth did my husband and I find time to get married in September? (Thirty-six years ago! Huzzah!) But in more recent years I’ve made an effort to reserve time for heart and soul pursuits, with a measure of success.
Two weeks ago, I spent four days with my younger brother, Dana, at our family’s summer place on an off-shore island in Maine. We did this last summer, the first time he and I had done anything together for about forty years, and it was good, so this year we did it again. Maybe we’ll make it a tradition. Here are pictures from the island – sunrise over the sea, the view from “the village,” and, along the path between the house and the shore, a glorious purple aster that was alive with monarchs and other butterflies before I came along.
Although the approach of cold weather prompts increased busy-ness around the household, sometimes those activities are a form of relaxation. The apples harvested from one of the island trees will become canned applesauce, and there are always odd jobs around the yard to button up for winter. As I pointed out in the last newsletter, tasks like these fall into my “puttering” category. They aren’t work, in the sense of drudgery.
Remind me to feed the roses this fall, so their divine smell will return. To me, a rose with no smell isn’t worth the attention – that aroma makes up far more than half its beauty. (My friend Sharon B. tells me that roses lose their scent if they aren’t fed. I’m not one to argue with her, since I know zilch about roses.)
Let’s not forget to slow down and smell the roses, whether in our gardens or in our writing.
To Tease Your Mind
but it is their whyness that makes life worth living.”
Charles William “Will” Beebe
American naturalist, ornithologist, marine biologist, entomologist,
explorer, and author of over two dozen books on topics of natural history.
He conducted numerous scientific expeditions for the New York
Zoological Society. He is famous for his deep dives in the Bathysphere,
and for his prolific scientific writing for academic and popular audiences.
Vying for the 30-Day Best-Seller List
“Finish Your Book in 10 Days – or Else!” This headline emblazons the top of the current edition of The Writer, a magazine I’ve subscribed to for nearly 50 years. It’s a grabber, no doubt, but the article isn’t really about the headline.
The author was stuck in her novel. So, she teamed up with an equally stuck fellow writer to wrangle their way out of their ruts together. The friend moved into the author’s guest room, and they stocked up on supplies so they didn’t need to go anywhere. For ten isolated days, all they did was pound away at their stories. They swapped chapters to critique and incorporated new ideas and directions.
The time they devoted to their work was invaluable and necessary, and each found a way to resume progress on her story. That was the goal: to get unstuck, not to finish the book in those ten days.
I haven’t done a study – empirical or otherwise – on the trend I see in the multitude of online newsletters and blogs I receive, so I don’t know if the articles in these other media match up to their headlines. But there’s a push on writers, regardless of their level of experience, to write and publish as fast as possible.
Here are samples from my inbox in the past week:
“Write your book in a weekend”
“Write a book faster”
“30 tips for writing a book in 30 days”
“How anyone can write a book in 30 days”
Most of it falls into the realm of “too good to be true.” Maybe it’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely, at best, that anyone will become a best-selling author in 30 days. The odds of winning the lottery are far greater.
I acknowledge that many professional writers have hard-and-fast deadlines to meet – journalists are but one example – who must produce creative, accurate copy, ready for print, within a few hours or days. To keep their jobs, they learn and apply work patterns to produce pertinent content on time and under budget.
And I acknowledge that quite a few of the books suggested above are short (15 to 30 pages), mostly e-books on non-fiction topics prepared by SMEs – Subject Matter Experts (presumably you and me) – who already have the material in hand, perhaps a series of related blog posts. So, yes, you could publish a book in 30 days.
But not if you have to start from scratch.
And of what value and quality?
A popular activity that occurs every November is NaNoWriMo, the nickname for National Novel Writing Month. Thousands of writers across the globe take part in this every year. They commit to writing a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days (1,667 words per day). Most participants develop an idea or outline in advance, then start pounding out their Minimum Daily Requirement on November 1st. By November 30, their rough draft is complete or nearly so, and is ready for the much longer task of development, revising, editing, polishing, etc.
For some, this is the kind of commitment they need to project an idea from the launching pad toward the space orbit of realization. There’s no real fear of failure, because 1) it’s no one else’s business if they reach their goal or not, and 2) if they don’t make it to 50,000 words, a mere 5,000 or 10,000 words is still a great start on a dreamed-about story. They have something to build on, for they have created something that never before existed.
How cool is that?!
Will I ever participate in NaNoWriMo? I’ll never rule it out, for it could turn out to be a great exercise to focus on “The Next Big Thing.” But I doubt it, for I’m a slow writer who loves to savor the words, roll the story around in my head, ponder the implications of the characters’ actions, and so forth.
In this vein, I offer some exceptional prose from William Beebe, an oceanographic scientist whose book, The Arcturus Adventure, published in 1926, records a scientific expedition to the South Pacific, during which the mission collected plant and animal specimens for the New York Zoological Society. What enchants me in his writing is how he captures the culture and ethnicity, in a sense, of the two bird species (in this excerpt) that he encounters on one rainy night. (I think that is the “whyness” he refers to in the quotation above.) His living descriptions transcend, airily, the mundane field-guide notes on size, color, and habitat.
Beebe drawing of captured deep-sea fish specimens
Here is part of his work that illustrates his writing style.
[The vessel Arcturus has anchored for the night in a tropical storm, about sixty
miles out from Cocos Island, a single, small island about 600 miles northwest of the
coast of Ecuador. The tropical air is too muggy to close the cabin doors.]
“At midnight the unending warp of rain still threaded the invisible sky and sea. … I lay in my bunk, writing on my drawn-up knees … when I heard a gentle whipping of wings – the sharper tone which is given out when wings are very wet. In mid-air in my cabin, beating a little cross current to my electric fan, was one of the fairy terns of Cocos. As I looked, the immaculate little beauty fluttered upward and poised close to the wall light, then sank slowly and came to rest on my knee. I finished my sentence and began to write a description of the dainty bird, while it ruffled and shook and settled its plumage into place, showering me with drops. … for the space of several minutes we looked at each other, the tern much the more composed and less breathless of the two. Then, lightly as thistle-down, it rose, fluttered over to my desk and alighted in the middle of a large map of Cocos Island which happened to be lying there. …
Read on, at this link, to see how this tiny bird compares with its clumsier cousins who arrive a few hours later. It’s hysterical, it’s marvelous, it’s writing that should be the envy of any author. (To my postal-service readers: I’m including the whole excerpt in your printed copy.)
This kind of writing takes my breath away. It’s the kind of writing I aspire – maybe even ache – to produce.
Updates on My Writing
Beyond End of Watch:
Police Families Surviving Line-of-Duty Deaths
In 2018, after The Sturgeon’s Dance came out, I began my next project, a non-fiction book about the struggles of families when their police-officer members are killed in the line of duty. (There’s a peculiar story behind my calling to this work, which I may relate here later. Ask me if you want to know more.)
Two years ago, I wrote an introductory booklet with details of the founding incident that launched me on this journey. This took place in July of 1964 in my home town of South Berwick, Maine, when a Maine State Police officer, Trooper Charles C. Black from the neighboring town of York, was killed when he responded to a bank robbery. My plan is to compare the support services, associations, and agencies that were available then for the widow and her family (in those days: none!) with those that are available today, and to identify gaps that still exist.
Then the infernal virus shut everything down. Interviews and research ground to a halt. Things are opening up again, so I’m planning to resume visits to involved agencies and interviews with a number of contemporaries – family members, attending police officers, investigators, witnesses, etc. – who are still living. (There ain’t none of ‘em gettin’ any younger.)
Two weeks ago, the first two of several commemorative signs were unveiled along Maine’s highways, to honor LODD (line-of-duty death) Maine State Police officers. To support the Black family, Phillip and I attended the one for Trooper Black, dedicating a one-mile section of US Route One in York. Here are two photos from the event, one with Mary Black Andrews and her two sons, Clint and Charles II, and the second of police and other representatives of several agencies and organizations who are putting forth this great effort to bring these unsung heroes to light.
We all know what capital letters are – the big letters (like THIS) that distinguish the names of people, places, and specific things, like brands and companies, and identify the beginning of a sentence. But why are the big letters called “uppercase” and the little letters called “lowercase” in the writing and printing worlds?
Arthur Plotnik, in his book The Elements of Editing, explains this in a footnote. “Capital (majuscule) letters are called uppercase letters,” he says, “and the smaller (minuscule) letters are called lowercase letters, because in the era of movable type (manual typesetting, that is), the capital letters, less frequently used, lived in the case set above the case that held the rest of the letters.”
Yes, I get it: the use of the word “uncollected” in “uncollected stories” here is rhetorical, but the term always makes me laugh. These “Uncollected Stories” have indeed been collected in this book.
Aside from that, the stories within are extremely imaginative, quirky, and fun.
Calendar & Announcements
Oct. 9, 2021 – Saturday – Wakefield Farmers Market
Hall Park, 468 North Avenue, Wakefield, MA
9am – 1 pm
I’ll be there with my books and those of several fellow authors. Come on by!
Curious Creatures will be there this Saturday, to entertain children of all ages with unusual live animals that we might otherwise never meet in our everyday lives.
Oct. 15 (Friday) – 23 (Saturday), 2021 – Boston Book Festival
The annual Boston Book Festival, usually held in Copley Square (with seminars, workshops, and lectures in the surrounding buildings) will be held (mostly) online once again this year. Usually this is a one-day affair, but with the use of virtual attendance, the event organizers have expanded the programs over the course of nine days!
All the events listed in the schedule in the link here are free, and it’s easy to register for them through their scheduling platform, Crowdcast. This year’s schedule features a multitude of speakers and authors on topics about the black experience, currently and in history. If you were planning to attend, check out this schedule and sign up!
Dec. 11, 2021 – Saturday – ARIA Book Expo
Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, 60 Rhodes Place, Cranston RI
10 am – 4:30 pm
Over 100 authors exhibiting their books, including me.
Panels and seminars on writing and publishing; raffles; free admission.
Another chance to fill those holiday gift needs.
Do you have comments or questions about this post?
I’d love to hear them. Let’s talk!
Happy reading! Happy writing!
A footnote: Charles William Beebe (1877-1962) was a kinsman of Lucius M. Beebe (1902-1966), the man after whom the library in my town of Wakefield, Massachusetts, is named. Although I read about it once, long ago, I cannot now find exactly how they were related.
Beebe’s The Arcturus Adventure excerpt and fish illustration from
Image: Charles William Beebe
Image: how to write faster
Image: uppercase/lowercase Aa