Category Archives: humor fiction

A Writing Retreat with Donald Maass

Literary agent and novel guru Donald Maas spent time with writers in San Antonio last week (May 2015) counseling, critiquing and instructing for the Writers’ Retreat Workshop. It’s a fun, but intense week, for Fictionistas. Since video is what I do when I’m not involved in literary malfeasance, I decided to put together this clip about the retreat with the one, overriding take-away from Donald’s workshop.

Write&Wine

 

It’s all about making your readers feel.

Click Here.

The thought about how the art of fiction is all about what you make your readers feel struck a chord with me. And Donald wrote about it as the key to creating The Great American Novel that truly is great, in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction.

 

As for writing Bad Fiction, at least that one bad opening sentence for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest:
darkandstormy

With her interest in dime-store novels finally fading and Christmas just days away, little LIzzy Borden sat quietly in the corner and crossed “tomahawk” off her Christmas list, writing instead the word AXE, carefully in her best penmanship, which made her mother and father so proud.

Sneakers, Panhandlers & Why I Play the Lottery

People who are not afflicted with the DNA of serial dreamers are smart enough to avoid playing the lottery. The odds are astronomical. Not quite as bad as the odds of getting an agent and certainly better than getting a New York publisher to bite on your novel these days. But I play the lottery and I can blame Freddy.

More than fifteen years ago my wife and I took a trip to New Orleans. Somewhere near Cafe Du Monde we were approached by a skinny little panhandler in a dirty and torn t-shirt who said, “Five bucks sez I can tell ya where ya got your shoes.” I looked down at my generic Converse sneakers and wondered what was the catch. So I negotiated with the guy, who said his name was Freddy, and told him that I wouldn’t commit to the bet, but I’d grease his palm if I liked the answer.
sneakers2
He said, “Ya got them on your feet.”
Lame as that was, I gave him the three singles in my pocket. (It wasn’t worth the $20 bill I had left.)

Five or six years later I was visiting the folks in California. My buddy Dave and I went up to The City for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf. We strolled along the Embarcadero and stopped at a plaza on the edge of the San Francisco Bay to gawk along with all the other tourists at the jugglers, the mimes, the human statues and musicians. We were standing there, trying to get a smile or even a blink out of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Ten bucks sez I can tell ya where ya got your shoes.” Apparently inflation had hit Freddy the panhandler too. It was the same skinny little dude in the same t-shirt.

I cut a deal. Ten bucks, but he’d have to give five to the Tin Man if I could tell him where he got his shoes, and I would get to go first. I studied his battered Nikes and said, “Ya got them on your feet, dude.” I won’t repeat what Freddy said but hey, I got a smile out of the Tin Man at last.

I am not making that up. So what are the odds of getting hit up by the same panhandler with the same schtick more than five years and 2,275.8 miles apart? What are the odds of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment in time to have that experience just once, let alone twice in a lifetime? Imagine the thousands of possible deviations, delays and decisions that could have come between me and Freddy 2.0. Really, now?

I don’t have a clue what the odds might be, but Freddy made a believer out of me. And so I buy lottery tickets and hope that one day, as I am handing my dollar to the convenience store clerk, little Freddy the panhandler will be sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear. Let’s get lucky; baby needs a new pair of shoes.
darkandstormy

As the foeman’s axe descended, Ragnar Thyorvaldsson thought — quickly, but with uncannily prescient anachronism — that his paltry contribution to this raid would not be recorded in the great sagas, or even a minor tale, but at best he might be remembered centuries hence only as “third oarsman” in the Boys’ Own Book of Viking Adventure Stories.

Paul Dawson, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Putrid Prose @ 20

Twenty years ago this month I penned the following sentence for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The goal is to intentionally write the worst opening sentence to imaginary novel. And, twenty years ago, I won the contest with this:

As the fading light of a dying day filtered through the window blinds, Roger stood over his victim with a smoking .45, surprised at the serenity that filled him after pumping six slugs into that bloodless tyrant that had mocked him day after day, and then he shuffled from the office with one last look back at that shattered computer terminal lying there like a silicon armadillo left to rot on the information highway.

D&Stormy3The contest was inspired by the work of Victorian author Sir George Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the line that Snoopy made famous: “It was a dark and stormy night….”

Along with winning the contest in 1994, my sentence was published in one of the anthologies covering the contest’s thirty-something years. So if you don’t count the thousands of TV news reports I did over the years, that was my only publishing credit until my novel Live At Five made it to the bookstore shelves last year.

And now, on the anniversary of that infamous assault on literature, the local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, did a very funny column on it by humor writer John Kelso. And the paper sent a video producer/cameraman out to create a video news story about my quest to reach the bestseller list and be the first writer to officially go from worst to first. It’s only been a handful of times, but it’s always a weird feeling to be the interviewee rather than the interviewer. And I can’t help thinking “I would have phrased that question like….” or some other such distraction to staying focused on the answer I’m giving. Now I’m waiting to see what the producer does with the twenty minute interview to cut it down to two minutes or less.

Been there. Done that.

As for the 2014 Bulwer-Lytton contest, we’re waiting to hear about this year’s winners. As we used to say in the TV business, “Stay Tuned”.

Lar

Words for Baby Boomers

Dateline: August 10, 2013

Warning: A really bad but funny sentence sits at the bottom of this post. The winner of the Adventure Category from the 2013 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Skip ahead or stay with us to the bottom. It will make you laugh.

So here we are in San Jose this weekend, awash in a wave of nostalgia after attending my high school reunion. Yes, it was the class of 1973. No, you are not reading that wrong, I really am that, uhm, mature. I’m part of that aging, (though young at heart) financially powerful and influential baby boomer generation. And we have arrived. Here