Not fun. Wish I could say that I’ve been away on vacation or off on a trip to some place I’ve not yet been but that’s not what happened. The truth is that I’m going through a bit of a rough spot; the economy has soured and my income is seriously diminished. I’ve had to turn my attention to solving that problem and the hiatus from this blog was the unfortunate consequence.
Not all bad. For one thing, though we’re not out of the financial woods yet, my partner and I have developed some options and are working on those. Things are looking brighter and I’m hopeful. For another, I took the time away from writing to develop my craft. My first book had the benefit of two professional reviews and both reviewers agreed that my writing was good but that it lacked a degree of professionalism. (I’m referring here to my first book, The Obeahman’s Dagger.) I realized that while I did know how to write, I had no knowledge of the craft of fiction writing. I read and wrote mostly non-fiction, expository prose. It was time to make a change. That meant finding a way to take those courses in Creative Writing that I somehow never took while I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College.
Not bad at all. For the past two years, I’ve been casually exploring Coursera. For those who don’t recognize the name, it’s a web-based agglomeration of American Universities and Colleges that offers courses in a variety of subjects, from Aardvarks to Zylophones. Looking more closely, and seriously, at the available courses, I found a group of modules that together make up a Specialization in Creative Writing. These on-line modules deal with singular aspects of the craft: Character, Setting, Plot, and Style, and included a final module in which students would put it all together and write a complete short story. There were some teasers that the final module, the Capstone, would also cover tips on getting published.
Not a small thing, no sir. Making the switch from thinking in expository prose to the plebeian language of the Everyday, I mean, going from writing like a stiff, stuck-up bureaucrat to the living words of ordinary men and women, now that’s not easy but it’s necessary. The part of me that was made in the classist society in which I grew up still clung to old uncertainties about Literature and Art and the exclusion of merely popular stuff from the Art Valhalla. I can’t tell you what I was thinking but I can say that I’ve been writing privately for a number of years now, writing without attempting to publish anything or to undertake a major piece. Writing like a determined amateur.
Now, a game changer. So, these last weeks that I’ve spent away from my public desk have not been idle. I haven’t completed the Coursera thing on Creative Writing yet, but I’ve learned a lot. Time to put things into practice and carry my new Professionalism to the story I’m presently writing – The Body In the Sauna which I intend to be the first book in a series of stories about Mabel Reed, The Unlikely Detective.
Finally, an observation. I have to say that I’m unsettled by what’s going on in the country. I’m a naturalized citizen who did my obligatory service in the US Army – Vietnam era veteran with an honorable discharge (that means that I didn’t actually go to Nam, but served Stateside during the war). The observation is that I’m meeting a lot of non-native English speakers in my course, which comes out of Wesleyan University. I don’t know what this means; aren’t these people put off by the US President’s anti-immigrant hysteria? Don’t they hate America? What do they hope to gain by doing this course? For myself, I’m amazed by their intelligence; I used to think that I was a pretty smart guy. Probably MENSA material, at least. Now I see that there are a lot of young men and women far smarter than I. Brilliant people who think, speak and write at least two languages. I’m blown away by them and motivated to try harder. I’m working to deserve my gift.