Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another Good Review

A writer can't afford to ignore reviews. True, they are merely one person's opinion. But that solitary person might be the very one whose opinion drastically impacts on the future of the writer's career.

Naturally we all crave good reviews. Who doesn't prefer a pat on the shoulder to a kick in the butt? Still even a bad review (occasionally) can be helpful--pointing out to us the fallacy of a viewpoint, an error in judgment, a mistake in grammar. It might also inspire a fan to leap to our defense and tell the reviewer his/her opinion is hogwash.

When the good reviews come we are arrogant enough to leap up and shout, "Hey, look at this. This is why you should be buying my books." Nothing wrong with that either. There are a lot of books being published today. How else are we to get the reader's attention lest we brag a bit?

So, I'm going to do that now and encourage you all to see what Chris Speakman had to say about 'Corruption's Child,' third in my Sticks Hetrick mystery series. You can read her review at http://www.freewebs.com/chrischatreviews/2009corruptionchild.htm

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Harmful Philosophy

B. F. Skinner, the apostle of Behaviorism, spent much of his life preaching a doctrine proven false by his own achievements.

A failed novelist whose philosophy is best known through a novel which is not a novel, his career was in opposition to the forces he contended shaped individual existence.

A native of Susquehanna, Pa., a small community with socio-economic similarities to my own area, Skinner rose from a background of limited opportunity to achieve prominence as an educator, psychologist, writer and inventor.

Yet his theories negate free will, viewing man as a mere robot reacting mechanically to the influence of environment. His views influenced generations of students and have engendered much harm to a world sorely in need of hope and reason.

Despite his own achievements, Skinner was blind to the human capacity for change and adaptability exemplified by those who continue to overcome bleak existence and monumental obstacles through imagination and perseverance. He denied the wonders of faith, optimism and creativity which are responsible for all that is marvelous about the creature called man.

He abandoned hope of achieving success as a writer of fiction when he decided he had nothing to say. Turning to the study of psychology, he forged a radical philosophy which was as much rooted in the Calvinistic religion he abandoned as a youth as it was in the discoveries of Pavlov he championed.

Skinner’s experimentation with rats and pigeons convinced him man could be similarly be influenced for behavioral modification. He failed to grasp that man’s superior brainpower makes him less susceptible to generic gratification and more capable of eccentric resistance to control devices.

He taught that man could be reshaped for a happier and more productive life only through a tightly controlled system of rewards and punishment. Apparently he was unable to achieve the proper balance of these influences in his own life for he is remembered by colleagues as an unhappy person.

His 1948 utopian novel “Walden Two,” which quickly became a textbook in colleges across the nation, is little more than a polemic for his theories.

The thesis he expressed later in life already had been formed when he abandoned literature at age 24. This is confirmed by a quote from his journal of the period: “I feel that greatness is merely the result of a happy combination of trivial influences, that the great man cannot help being great, the poor man cannot help being poor.”

A critique of the playwright Ibsen in Skinner’s readable autobiography “Particulars of My Life” might as easily be applied to him: “Philosophy deals with or rather plays with objects of its own creation. Ibsen was essentially a philosopher in his habits of thinking. The desire for order led him, as it leads all of his ilk, to defining, to delimiting, an aspect of life into a word and hence to deal with the word rather than the aspect.”

Had Skinner contemplated Carantouan, the magic hill of the Susquehannock Indians which can be seen from his hometown, he might have been led to speculate on a people who defied the limitations of a harsh environment and the encroachment of stronger enemies to create a rich and complex society uniquely their own.

Each person chooses whether to float passively with the stream or swim boldly against the current.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Encouraging Signs

I had a signing for Watch The Hour yesterday at my hometown library. While sales were less than I might have hoped, I've had worse and consider any such opportunity worthwhile.

Though I'm a frequent visitors, I'm not usually in the library on a weekday morning. It was encouraging to see so many patrons utilizing the facility for a variety of purposes. I was especially happy to note the number of mothers (and some fathers) present and introducing their children to books and reading. How could a writer not rejoice in that?

I also spoke to several people engaged in genealogy, another major pursuit of mine. One of these was a young lady who came over to introduce herself, explaining she had previously contacted me by email on a genealogy issue. She has been working for some time on an expansive genealogy project dealing with some early prominent residents of our town and is a budding writer. She gave me her card and asked that I have a look at her on line project. I may have more to say on this later. For now, just say I found much to applaud in her enthusiasm and dedication to preserving history.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Busy, Busy

I've neglected writing here the past few days in favor of--what else? Writing.

I've off to a good start on a yet unnamed mystery featuring Sylvester Tilghman, the country sheriff I mentioned here previously. He is demanding my attention, and that's not a bad thing. Where exactly he'll take me over the coming weeks is a matter of conjecture. But, at least for now, I'm enjoying the journey.

On another front, I've completed arrangements for a booksigning next Tuesday at the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library--my hometown library.

I also had a call yesterday confirming a speaking engagement in October for the Susquehanna Valley Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. They've asked that I talk to them on the Mollie Maguires, a subject past study and research for the writing of Watch The Hour has amply prepared me to address.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Worthy Endeavor

Despite their less than affluent status, many writers devote energy and financial support to charitable projects.

An example of this is my friend Bob Bomboy who, since 2005, has been operating a free model railroading program called Saturday Trains in Bloomsburg PA. He is now expanding the program with the first ever hands-on railroad layout for wheelchair-bound children and adults. The program was recognized in the May issue of Classic Toy Trains magazine.

Simply creating the program for the benefit of handicapped children and adults is worthy of praise. But Bob is also using proceeds from his writing to support the project.

He's holding a book signing this Saturday from 1-3 p.m. at Waldenbooks in the Susquehanna Valley Mall, Selinsgrove PA. Proceeds from sales of his novel, Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx, will benefit the project.

The novel, available on Amazon and from other major booksellers, centers around the Korean War and the tragic wreck of a troop train. The wreck is based on an actual event, one of the worst in American railroad history, which Bob remembers from his childhood.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood Saturday, stop by and support the project.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Character Asserting Himself

I recently wrote two short stories featuring a country sheriff named Tilghman. The first, “Dangerous to Mess With,” is in the current issue of Mysterical-E (he’s not identified by name in this story, but it’s him). The second has been submitted to another venue and the result awaits to be seen.

Tilghman is now demanding a book and the process has got under way.

Characters can be like that. They pop up, sometimes seemingly out of no where, in a writer’s imagination, develop personalities and go on to lead us into stories.

Tilghman’s grandfather was in my first novel, Schlussel’s Woman, and his father has a bit role in Watch The Hour. Maybe he thinks it’s a family prerogative to be one of my characters.

Some people believe plot to be the essence of story. I beg to differ. Every story begins and ends with character. Plot develops from character. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (a wonderful book, by the way) defines character as “An oddity. One who has a distinctive peculiarity of manner.”

We remember Sherlock Holmes, not the plot of individual stories in the series. Long John Silver. The Count of Monte Cristo. The Three Musketeers. Ripley. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Need I go on?

Plot is nothing more than the path a character takes and which entails us to follow. Philip Roth said he begins a novel with a character in his predicament. Or as Lester Dent says in his famous formula, “Introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble.”

Seems like a sound plan to me.

Lead on Tilghman.