Sunday, October 31, 2010

Per Diem

I need to write like other professionally published writers do: every day, for X number of hours every day, and/or for X number of words every day.  I can't just write when I'm passionately driven, or when I'm feelin' it, or in the mood, and not like clockwork every day.  I wonder if it's true, if it matters.  I've heard that established painters haven't painted every day; I read somewhere that da Vinci didn't.  I doubt if sculptors sculpt every day; rumor has it that Michelangelo didn't.  Of course, I'm not for writers as these two were for painters and sculptors, so, yeah, I need to write every day, like I do, and not just when I have the time, or when I'm in the mood.  It isn't all greatness when I write every day, but usually there's something good in it; sometimes there's nothing good in it, but something good springs from it.  And I have too much to do not to write every day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Goodreads and Bird by Bird

You have to read a lot to write a lot.  All the agents say it; all the writers say it; all the writing teachers say it.  Stephen King says it in his On Writing.  English teachers say it--or should say it.  Reading a lot shows you what you do--and don't--want to write like.  It gives you ideas.  It starts the creative motor.  It gets you and keeps you in the mood.  It's all part of the creative flow.

With that in mind, I thought I would write an occasional post about what specific books have meant to me.  Click on the link coming soon to go to my Goodreads page.  You'll see my entire "shelf" of books that I've put on the site so far.  The real number of read books is easily 10 times what I've had time to put on the shelf so far, so don't think I've read just 100 or so books.  Ain't the case.  It's a cool site because it actually helps you organize the books you do have--especially if you're like me, with such a large library that you sometimes buy a book you already have because you 'd forgotten you already had it--and because it helps you realize how many books you have that you still haven't read--so you don't waste money or space buying even more books.  I'm guilty of all of these things.

For now, here's what I wrote about Annie Lamott's Bird by Bird: "Brilliant writer. Can't get enough of her, from her days at to anything recent. A must for anyone who even thinks about becoming a writer. I re-read it every now and then if I am stuck, or just for a kick in the butt."  That little blurb doesn't do the book, or her writing, justice.  If you want to spend some length of time reading beautiful writing on relationships, raising children, religion or politics, go to and read her stuff.  And if you're a writer, you absolutely must get a copy of Bird by Bird.  (SPOILER!  SPOILER!)  The title comes from a segment where the author, as a child, has to do a report on maybe 50 birds for a class, and there's only a day or two left before it's due.  She asks her father how she could possibly write the report about that many birds in such a short amount of time.  Where do you start?  How do you do it?  "Bird by bird," he tells her.  And he's right.  That's how novels and short stories are made, too.  One word at a time, baby.  Bird by bird. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Epigrams: From Comic Strips to Montaigne

I love epigrams, those often small obtuse statements of forced weight and thematic issues that authors use to introduce their own works.  They are the author's way of hitting their readers over their heads with the literary two by four as they scream: Do ya get it?!?  As an example, for his novel Firestarter, Stephen King uses the first line of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: "It was a pleasure to burn."  One of the best opening lines for a novel, I think.  You just know Bradbury used that during his pitch session.  As another example, I shamelessly offer my use of comic strips to introduce my novel, Cursing the Darkness, the epigrams, prologue and first chapter of which you can find here.  Here, if you get what the monk is saying to Hagar the Horrible, you get the essence of Foster's psyche, not too far from Ahab's, in its own way, a fist clenched in hateful rebellion against the skies.

So, in that vein, today's entry starts what I hope will be a continuing series of the occasional epigram, introduced and quickly pondered.  These may or may not be famous snippets of genius; though many are very well-known, others are just favorites of mine, for reasons not always literary, but hopefully always interesting.  For every last stanza of a famous Frost poem, for example, there may be a line from Lorrie Moore, or a quote from Charles Manson.  Whatever floats my boat at the time, don't you know.  What tickles my fancy from my collection of epigrams right now is:

Writing does not cause misery, it is born of misery.--Montaigne

Rather apt for this discussion, wouldn't you say?  Stephen King also grabbed this one for his novel, Misery.  Very fitting for his own work.  A true statement, from what I've seen and studied.  In my masters class right now, it has been often remarked by the professor that 20th Century literature--specifically for this class, the short story--is borne of the writer's innate misery, whether it be loneliness, isolation, parental issues, alcoholism (another form of self-expressed misery), lousy relationships (yet another), or any thousands of other expressions of self-torment.  

We write to connect, I believe, and often that connection is a tenuous arm outstretched to an uncaring (or so it seems) society, parent, or universe.  Maybe that's the most obvious difference between writing and what some, with a bit of elitism, call literature.  Literature is an open hand that says Pull me up, but be careful that I don't instead just grab onto you and pull you down with me.  Writing, like The Da Vinci Code, let's say, is still a connection, but it's an open hand that says I hope you find this as interesting as I do, so we can connect, share a passion, and so you can make me a millionaire.  Both equally worthy, I should say, and point out that I have read the latter and find it maybe the exemplar of its type, the escapist brain candy.  And Montaigne's quote still holds: Dan Brown, one could say, reaches out to connect to his readers, the misery possibly caused by the fact that he couldn't connect his passion for (extreme revisionist) history with his family or loved ones, so he had to write them down into opaque cliffhangers and share them with us.

It's the weight of the shared or implied misery that separates writing from literature.  The ponderous, perhaps profound misery of the writer is the bridge that makes some writing literary.  There's a solid whiff of pretentiousness in that.  But that doesn't make it not so.

Besides: Of all the writers who you know, are any one of them truly happy? 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Wonderful Wallpaper of Words

Go to I' and to read very, very interesting posts from smart people and good writers.  I won't ruin them for you by summarizing or even explaining them.  Just go.  Fascinating stuff.

And two cheers for the web.  Often I rail against technology and how it's made many of us Stepford Thinkers, but, in all fairness, I have to admit that it is a wonderful wallpaper of words for those who either truly have something to say, or for those who cannot reach out to the world in any other way, for whatever physical, psychological or emotional reasons they have.  And it is a treasure trove for the curious.  I now want to spend an entire day blog-reading.  Just today I read about living in a small, old city on the Aegean, sitting on beautifully grassy fields and mountains with a good dog, building a library in an ancient abode amidst a civilization that dates back thousands of years.  (Spoiler!  Spoiler!  That's camelbarnlibrary.)

This in turn has made me a little more productive at work: I'm more proactive with my time there so I can write and read a lot more here.  Truth be told.  It is a minor revolution for those who like to read and think.

So kudos to the Internet, and to the two bloggers I mentioned, and to the thousands of other high-quality ones.  I hope to read them all.  (And I hope for all of them to read mine!)  You can find me and other blogs on

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Disconnect from Society

Interesting discussion today about writers: Does a disconnect from society create the writer, or does being a writer create a disconnect from society?  Many of the short stories by Lorrie Moore, Updike, Carver and Alice Munro speak of this isolation, loneliness, and disconnect--from each other, in terms of personal relationships, and from our society as a whole.  There are many reasons for this, including the artistic distance, the parental issues, the negative world-view, and not a small dose of arrogance, obnoxiousness and narcissism, but the theme of disconnect is consistent in all of them.

And so it is in my work.  Foster (from my novel Cursing the Darkness--see an excerpt on my website if you're interested) is as disconnected as one can be and still be a somewhat sane and functioning member of society.  Ray Schalk, from my short story "Hide the Weird" (soon to be published in an issue of Space and Time) has an ability--or a disability, depending on your point of view--that he believes sets him apart from his society.  And Raymond Goodfellow (from "Shadows," hopefully to be published soon) feels very separated from the society within which he is forced to associate.  Does this mean that I do?  Judging from my shameless self-promotion in this paragraph (connect to me connect to me connect to me), and knowing myself as I do--and one of my novels-in-progress is called The Observer for a reason--I'd have to say yes.  Though I think that feeling of isolation and loneliness caused the writer, being a writer certainly perpetuates the isolation and loneliness.  But the feeling came first.

You're a writer.  Which came first for you?  Or do you not feel disconnected in any way?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some Day

I feel badly when life gets in the way and I have to spend so much time on my job, and on being a real person in the world, a dasein, that I can't get any writing done, not even anything on the business side, like submissions.  Someday, I'd like to say to someone that a few hours of writing, every day, is what I mean when I say that "life got in the way."

You know you're a writer when you've had a great day--a satisfying, if not hectic, 10 hours at your real job; socializing with your better half and a friend for three hours; and, hey!, got the laundry done!--and still feel lousy about not sending out your latest short stories, or working on your novel fragments, or...

And mean it.

Some day.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hang In There

Fourteen straight hours on the computer yesterday, setting up a blog on a different server and severely messing it up; taking hours finding out how to delete it; setting up this blog and connecting it to my site; sending a couple of packages out; working on a short story; ready to send that, and another one, out; working on a couple of novels but not enough on any specific the end of the night I wanted to throw my computer out the window.

Balancing the business end with the actual writing is crazy; doing all that, and my labor-intensive day job--almost impossible.  Why do I say all this to you?  Because I know you're probably going through the same thing.  And you might have kids at home, too.  (I couldn't even imagine.)

So we hang in there.  We persevere.

Plug away.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Agent Submissions

So here's what happens when you research agents.  You already have a listing generated by whatever, however.  I prefer finding novels close to the genre of mine and finding out who represented it.  But whatever works for you.  You probably know that you should never just take the info. generated by your list, that you should go to the agent/agency's website first.  So I did that, for an agency that has represented some of the biggest names in American and British literature.  I found a general address to send a package to, and I was okay with that, because I believe that my writing can sell my writing better than a query can, so I'm happy when I find a snail mail address and a guideline that says to send X number of pages with the query.  Then I decided to research specific agents so that I could send the package to one who handles mystery.  Get the Dear ---- salutation right.  Turns out, 15 agents work there.  Foul and fair, because I have more research to do, but there's bound to be one who likes mystery, maybe mystery/detective.  So...okay, turns out 3 of them do, but only one of them says to send just a query, no pages, and has an email address at the ready.  But wait, there's more.  He also has a blog.  And, turns out, a very useful and extensive one, with hundreds of settings and entries, and literally thousands of followers and friends, and he has links to other writers and agents I'm familiar with.  And...on his About Me tab, on his blog, he says to send him a query and the first five pages.  Which I prefer, and which is different than just emailing a query as the site at his company says.  Now, a few hours later, with much clenching of jaw (I have to stop doing that when I'm on the computer for many hours), and much eye-strain and headache, I composed a letter that incorporated some of the truly awesome things on his blog (no fake flattery in queries), a novel he represented that I liked, and I found a super-useful tool and I got to send some pages.  And I didn't have to snail mail them.

Many hours.  One email package for one agent at one agency.

But it's worth it.


Welcome to my blog.   My name is Steven E. Belanger, and I'm starting this blog for other writers, agents, magazine editors and readers, and really anyone interested in reading and/or the writing business.  I hope all of you get something out of it.  For now, I'll leave you with my website.  Take a look at the novel excerpt there--prologue and chapter one of Cursing the Darkness.  (I am currently seeking representation for that novel.)  You will also find a link re: my short story, "Hide the Weird," soon to be published in an issue of Space and Time: The Magazine of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction .  Check out that fine magazine and read a few good stories while you wait for them to publish mine!

I will try to remain positive and hopeful.  If you're looking for complaints about specific people and/or specific agencies, you've come to the wrong place.  While I'm not exactly Mr. Upbeat and Cheerful all the time, I will make this blog productive and insightful.  I have enough negativity as it is in my life, please and thank you.

I will try not to succumb to shameless self-promotion.  I guess that means that I will shamelessly promote others I believe worthwhile, as well.

In your comments, please be nice and/or professional.  I will always attempt to do the same.

If you like what you see, please spread the word.