I have a small book entitled The Art of Worldly Wisdom: A collection of Aphorisms from the Works of Baltasar Gracian (translated by Martin Fischer, published by Barnes and Noble, 1993). Baltasar Gracian y Morales (1601-1658) was a Spanish Jesuit scholar and writer of Baroque prose. The Art of Worldly Wisdom is perhaps his most famous work. It is a collection of three hundred paragraphs from his works on how to live in what we would consider the practical world of human relations as these first lines from five randomly-chosen paragraphs show:
Because an ass once, not twice.
Watch him who works by indirection.
Know how to put fire into your subordinates.
Know how to pretend ignorance.
Discover each man’s thumbscrew.
Choose an occupation that brings distinction.
Clearly, the drift of the works is more towards the earthly than the spritual, more towards Machivelli and Marcus Aurelius than Solomon and Lao Tzu. With that in mind, I have quoted paragraph 216, the one that seems to bear the most relation to the art of writing. Please let me know your thoughts on the value of Gracian’s advice.
“Be able to express yourself, not only clearly, but with charm. Some conceive easily, but have a hard delivery; yet without pains, these children of the spirit, our thoughts and our judgments, are not rightly born; others are like those vessels that hold much but yield little; while conversely others pour forth more than was anticipated; what resolution is to the will, exposition is to the mind, and both are great attributes; clear heads are much praised, but those balmy may be venerated because not understood; wherefore at times be not too clear, in order not to seem too ordinary; yet how can a world get a concept of what it hears, if the speaker himself has no clear notion of what he is talking about?”
Here is an interesting section/stanza from the ancient Chinese work Wen Fu (The Art of Writing). It is entitled “The Terror”.
I worry that my ink well will run dry, that right words cannot be found ; I want to respond to the moment’s inspiration.
I work with what is given ; that which passes cannot be detained.
Things move into shadows & they vanish ; things return in the shape of an echo.
When Spring arrives, we understand that Nature has its own reason.
Thoughts are lifted from the heart on breezes, and language finds its speaker.
Yesterday’s buds are this morning’s blossoms which we draw with a brush on silk.
Every eye knows a pattern, every ear hears a distant music.
Wen Fu was written by Lu Chi (261 AD – 300 AD), who was a scholar, a military leader, and the the Literary Secretary in the the Emperor’s court. It is very short and may take an average reader 15-20 minutes to complete. The hardcopy translation I have was written by Sam Hamill and published by Breitenbush Books in 1987. A far more poetic version can be found at http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/LuChi.htm.
I like to peruse Wen Fu occasionally, because the language is simple yet mystical while the ideas are straightforward yet metaphorical. What fascinates me most about the work is that the principles it expresses are eternal and universal. The underlying principles that guided Lu Chi’s art are the same ones that underlie ours nearly two thousand years later and in a society (and language!) that would have been completely alien to Lu Chi. What’s more, Lu Chi describes the experience of writing from a very intimate standpoint to which any author who is passionate about his art could relate.
What are your thoughts? What principles of writing are eternal and universal? What do you see in the stanza above?
I was going through my electronic files tonight and came across a couple of alternate covers for a couple of my works. I thought I would post them up just to show them off. I don’t think I have posted them before, but I might have. Let me know what you think of them.
Of course, once they are posted here, I will post them on Pinterest, thus generating a smidgen more publicity for the works shown.
Also, I have been working steadily on Shadows and Stars over the weekend. I am making some good progress. I am editing it page by page trying to get a reasonably complete draft. I think I will make it, but I don’t know when I will have it done. Right now, I am on page 71 of about 300. I really like what I have accomplished over the last week or so. I am trying to refine it down to a gnat’s ass with supporting details, clues as to what will happen (but not foreshadowing per se). Tonight I have been working on describing an alien carnival. I have to use my imagination to show things that set the stage for future events while saying something about the nature of the alien society. It’s quite an interesting journey. I get to visit a fiesta on another world–at least in my mind.
Take care and hasta luego. Wear your mask.
Let me know what you think of the covers. I might use them some day.
First of all, these are probably the highest day-to-day ratings that Click has earned. It seems to be growing in popularity.
Second, I was surprised that it ranked out in LGBT Action and Adventure. In the story, only two minor characters are LGBT. Still, I am glad to have the rating. It’s always interesting to see what parts of a story readers will key on.
About an hour and a half ago, I got home from a trip to Midland, Texas to visit my wife for reasons I shall not disclose here. I will say that all is well in Slattery-world now.
What has now become my custom is to spend a night en route either at my stepdaughter’s apartment in Fort Worth or at a La Quinta in Garland (for more on Garland see the opening scene in Zombieland). Last night I chose the former. I drove on to Gillett today taking about eight hours including two side-stops at two Half-Price Books, one in Ft. Worth and the other in Garland) plus lunch at Torchy’s Tacos in Fort Worth. Terrific tacos by the way.
I will make this short, because I need to go to bed soon. I had almost no sleep last night. That is a common, long standing issue with me and has nothing to do with my stepdaughter’s apartment. I also stayed at her place en route Midland, but slept well that night.
For a good part of the journeys to Midland and back, I listened to an audiobook of Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Though of course it is beautifully and masterfully written, this is one of the most boring books I have read in a long time. I chose it because the spaceship in “Alien” is the Nostromo and I thought I might find a clue as to why that name was chosen. I also wanted to read something of Conrad’s besides Heart of Darkness.
The first seven chapters are Conred describing the geography, people, and upper class of Costaguana. I am up to chapter three of the Second Part and the character Nostromo is mentioned only a few times, but each time with increasing detail. Sometimes Conrad gets into somewhat exciting passages when describing revolutions or other conflict, but mostly, to this point, the book is more like a travelogue. Conrad really doesn’t get too much in depth about the characters except for Mr. and Mrs. Charles Gould, the owner of the San Tome silver mine and some of the figures of the Costaguana government. It seem that Conrad is going into great detail about the country to set up something to come later. I suspect this might be an affair between Mrs. Gould and Nostromo. I have not read the Wikipedia summary so that I can avoid any spoilers it may have.
This audiobook is about 19 hours long, and I am about a quarter of the way through. I will hang in there to study Conrad’s descriptions of the land and people, if for no other reason. They are very well done, and there is a lot I can learn from them.
Today, at the Half-Price Books on Hulen in Fort Worth, I picked up a radio dramatization of “Death of a Salesman” (abridged) by Arthur Miller. It’s only about 1.5 hours in length, so I listened to it between Garland and Texarkana.
Damn, this is a powerful work. I really loved it
I have never seen a performance of this on stage or on TV, but I will have to search one out now. I would love to find a video of one of the original productions, so that I can study the staging, etc. This probably hit me hard, because in it Willy Loman is 63 and I’m 62.
For such a short work, there is a hell of a lot going on it in terms of character development, revelation, interaction, disillusionment, the American dream and on and on and on.
I will try to write more about this later, but for now, I must go to bed.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars Genre: Fantasy Series: Book 1 of Scholomance Publisher: Del Rey (September 29, 2020) Length: 336 pages Author Information: Website | Twitter Truly, A Deadly […]
I finished reading Nikolai Gogol‘s Dead Souls today. This is actually the second time. I first read it for a Russian literature class circa 1979. I always remembered the ending of the first book as the protagonist Chichikov rides across the majestic, endless Russian landscape in his carriage off to who know what future for its beauty, drama, and keeping the reader on the edge of his/her seat as to what lay ahead.
I remember that my Russian professor (who was actually Ukrainian), Dr. Wowk (pronounced as “woke”) had us read only the first book. Dead Souls was originally intended to be what we now call a trilogy, but Gogol never wrote the third book, because he became a religious fanatic, as Dr. Wowk said (and as I recall), and fasted himself to death. Compared to the Wikipedia article, this is at the least oversimplified. My memory, though, is not what it used to be.
If you read my previous update on Dead Souls, you recall that I consider the first book a masterpiece of Russian literature. I can see now why he did not have us read the second book. It is not nearly as entertaining as the first and is rather boring. It doesn’t have the action or dramatic satire of the first book and the characters are not nearly as interesting. Gogol also grows increasingly pedantic, in a somewhat less that subtle way. His characters sometimes drone on about the nature of the Russian character or how one should go about becoming wealthy or any number of other things. In one instance, Gogol goes into great detail about how and why Chichikov chose a particular fabric to buy so that he could have a suit made from it later. This struck me as odd, because in the first book, he shunned unnecessary details and gave an example of how some writers write giving ridiculously unnecessary details rather than writing in “broad strokes” as he phrased it, which he tended to do. This change in writing style with its focus more on how to live a better life and how to make a decent living while being of benefit to one’s nation and to others made me realize that the value in reading the second part is not for the story per se, but in watching how Gogo’s attitude toward life and his mind changes as he becomes more religious/spiritual as he falls under the spell of Matvey Konstatinovsky. It is tragic, but also fascinating, to see this brilliant mind morph as it subtly devolves.
Would I recommend Dead Souls? Absolutely! I recommend the first book to everyone. It is a hugely entertaining satire that reaches across the centuries and across peoples. You see elements of human nature that are common to all people. You will probably even recognize some of the types Gogol exhibits here in people you know.
The second book though, I would recommend to scholars of Russian literature, primarily, but I would also recommend it to people who have an interest in psychology and how one’s mind can slowly deteriorate with the introduction of questionable ideas and philosophies.
I have a long trip to make tomorrow. I will probably start listening to Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo.
It is 2084. Climate change has made life on the Caribbean island of Bajacu a gruelling ordeal. The sun is so hot that people must sleep in the day and live and work at night, all the time under brutal Domin rule. Food is scarce, and people over forty are expendable. Sorrel can take no […]
Contrary to what are probably well established principles of writing, I will start this article off with a side note, which I foresee as setting the tone for this morning. It’s 11:46 and while I wait for the oven to heat up so that I can bake my croissants (small ones from Pillsbury with black tea–my favorite breakfast of late), I am watching Better Than Food.
If you are not familiar with it, Better Than Food is a book review channel on YouTube that is hosted by Clifford Lee Sergeant. He reviews books from all periods of history. I enjoy his reviews a lot because he is passionate about them and can discuss the book’s structure, plot, characters, everything a writer would need to know to select the best books to read. Today, Clifford is reviewing The Sound and the Fury, which he says is one of his favorite books.
I started reading The Sound and the Fury a few years back, but, even though I was enjoying it, became distracted and wandered off onto others. Based on the little I read, which was probably ten pages at most, it is beautifully written. I have wanted to go back to it since, but haven’t sat down long enough to focus on it as it deserves. I have a print copy and have been into audiobooks for some time, which I can listen to in my car. Right now, I have Gogol’s Dead Souls, in my car, which I am not far from finishing, but the second book is not as entertaining as the first, so it is difficult to focus on it.
So much for the side note/tangent.
Back to the tangent. I took a break from writing this to have breakfast.
The last time I made croissants, I added about half a teaspoon of ricotta cheese to a couple of them before I rolled them up. I did it today with most of the croissants. The cheese becomes hot but does not melt (350 degrees at nine minutes). I eat the croissants with butter and just a little grape jelly. Combined with black tea this is a nice way to start a Sunday morning.
Why am I mentioning all this? Answer: marketing.
I am finally coming to realize that the Internet is a vast library where one searches not for books but for words. If I write a book that is stocked by a library, people come in and search for a topic the book covers. But with the Internet, they may search for a word (or phrase) and be led to a lot of books, which may not be what they were looking for, but which they might find interesting anyway.
Ergo, an avid reader of science fiction, let’s say, may be searching for a new filling for her croissants. Then she comes across this page and finds out about an upcoming sci-fi novel called Shadows and Stars. She decides to follow me and keep up with the updates on Shadows and Stars. She also finds out that I have written other stories, including sci-fi ones, and buys one or two to check out my writing style. If all goes well, I have a new fan that will pre-order Shadows and Stars when it comes out.
What are your thoughts on this strategy?
But, finally, on to the brief note about Shadows and Stars that I originally set out to write.
By the way, this is how I get onto tangents and why I haven’t finished reading The Sound and the Fury yet.
I am at 148,517 words for Shadows and Stars at this moment. I finished filling out a chapter yesterday that has been bugging me for a while. There are some other plot holes I hope to fill in today.
I want to finish this up asap without making it read as if I finished this up asap. So, from here on, I am going to focus on removing as much as I can to bring the final draft down to about 100,000-125,000 words if possible. If I can’t bring it down that far, Shadows and Stars will be concise and tightly written with an intricate plot and good character development if nothing else. Filling out the plot holes will probably add at least 1,000-2,000 words, so I will have a lot of cutting to do. Let’s see if I can pull this off.
Catherine Adel West was born and raised in Chicago, IL where she currently resides. She graduated with both her Bachelors and Masters of Science in Journalism from the University of Illinois – Urbana. Her work is published in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Five2One, Better than Starbucks, Doors Ajar, 805 Lit + Art, The Helix Magazine, […]
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Chapter 13 of the Unbound Realm, my work-in-process YA fantasy series, is UP! Jon learns about the Wayfarer Advance, a network of wandering adventurers that served as warrior-scouts in the Crimson Wars. Then he meets Princess Eralindiany of the Delaeni Fair Folk, a buttkicking half-elf who looks suspiciously similar to Taylor Swift! Here’s the link: […]
on Jane Friedman site: An admission: As I read my way through the submission queue for our literary journal, I often decide to decline a story well before its end. It’s not that the stories are always bad. Many times the premise is interesting, and the characters as well. It may exhibit the opening tension […]
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