Killing Your Darlings

Have you been exposed to the famous quote of William Faulkner?

Well, if you haven’t, you have been now. But before we discuss this, there is some necessary housekeeping in order.

The Punch-able Faulkner

First, Faulkner may have said it at one point or another, but the quote does not originate with him. In an excellent article called Murder Your Darlings, published in Tin House magazine in 2013, Seth Fried tells us both that properly-placed credit must go to British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and that actual murder has nothing to do with what he was talking about. That’s probably true of when Faulkner said it as well, but screw Faulkner, frankly. I mean LOOK AT THE GUY!!! Don’t you just want to belt him in the face? Can’t you just hear the words, “Your mother and I have decided to send you to a boarding school so that we can give all your cool toys to your little sister. Oh, and we’re getting her a puppy.”

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, taken the year prior to his death.
Still looks better than Faulkner or at least less punch-able.

Now with Quiller-Couch you get more last names, but perhaps less in the way of notable work, although I hear On the Art of Writing Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge 1913-1914 is a real edge-of-your-seat page turner. So good that Amazon is giving the Kindle version away for free. As a rule, I will jump on free books for my Kindle, but in this case I decided, “Nah, I’m a’ight.”

If by “Darlings” they mean the writer, director, producer, and actors, then I’m in.

And as far as the meaning of the quote, all serious writers realize the topic here is what happens, or should happen in Sir Arty’s opinion, during the revision of your first draft. The darlings are your words, author and he’s calling for a bloodbath among them during revision, cutting anything that does not make the work better. And, as an aside, I am quite sure he never was talking about a film starring Harry Potter, although it was probably one of the best films to come out of Croatia that year. (Not kiddin’. Follow the link.) But let’s be honest. That’s not what we want it to mean. Who wants to talk about rewrites? (Well, Craig and I do, and will on a future episode, but that truth really softens the punch of the joke, so pretend you didn’t read it).

No, what we want it to be about is the characters themselves. In keeping with this month’s theme of the central importance of the character, in Episode Seven of Good Sentences, we discuss that moment when it becomes time to kill a character.

The death of a character can be one of the most dramatic, important moments in a book. Remember this?

When I read Gandalf’s death scene for the first time I was probably sixteen or so, and to this day I can still recall the feeling of physical discomfort in my gut when I did. Don’t recall if it was after lunch period, which certainly could have added to the the discomfort. But it was the “death” of my favorite character from the book that was the main source.

For Craig, it was the book Martin Eden, by Jack London that he remembers as delivering that same character death clout. I was thrilled, after hearing this news, to find out that my volume of the Best of Jack London contains the work, but if anyone would like to purchase this 100th Anniversary edition for my birthday, (which is creeping relentlessly toward my 100th Anniversary edition), hell yeah. I’d let ya. (The picture is a link, hint-hint.)

As traumatic as this can be for a reader, I would ask you now to shift your thinking slightly and imagine it from an author’s perspective.

A literary character, especially one that is well-crafted, deeply layered, and as complex as any real human you’ll meet, is to the author who breathed life into its nostrils a precious thing. I love my characters. In the show I describe my relationship with the characters I write as similar to an online-only Facebook friend. Depending on where you fall on the whole social media spectrum this might sound to you like I’m saying “Oh, a literary character? So what? It’s not like you’ve ever actually seen him/her.” But in my case, at the very least, I have some people who mean a great deal to me who are social-media-only (SMO) friends. Hell, until 2018 Craig and I had been SMO friends for seven years. We’d written books together, cheered for the other’s success, bought goats and named them after each other… wait, you guys don’t do that? That’s not a thing? He told me it was a thing! But in short, I’m talking about all the things you would do with an IRL friend.

Literary characters do not possess physical bodies. But if the author is doing his/her job, that should be the only difference. The reader should be able to feel like they know the person they’re reading about.

One of the series’ key characters in lost in
A Single Candle

As a writer I can speak from experience about how attached the author can become to his/her characters. I was upset with myself for quite some time after finishing A Single Candle, as you’ll hear me explain in the podcast. Sometimes I still call myself bad names when I think about it, names like doody-head, spaz, and, worst of all, gunkie. Clearly I take the issue very seriously to be talking to myself like that!

Thrillers are great for characters dropping like flies.

And then there’s the “other kind of character.” You know. The one created for the sole purpose of dying eventually. Yeah, that guy/gal. Craig cops to creating bullet fodder in his mind blowing Shelby Alexander Series, (prompting me to admit the same about the Cleanup Crew books.)

By now, if you haven’t abandoned reading this post to go listen to the episode, you should. Among other things you’ll hear more about authors’ attachment to their darlings, and about the one author both Craig and I believe probably got into writing because it was as close as he was likely to get to killing anyone, but apparently he really likes it. Not naming any names, but he has the same middle initials as Tolkien, the TV show based on his books rhymes with Fame of Bones, and he looks like this:

This author’s blood-lust knows no bounds

So click the “Listen” link in our topside menu, or if scrolling that far back makes you feel icky, then just click here. I won’t judge you. Craig will, but not me. [Ed. Note: Craig Hart is a very nice, non-judgmental fellow.] [Scott’s Rebuttal Note: He is a fine fellow, but he’s totally judging us all, and, sadly, finding us lacking.]

Sensitivity

She knows the pain of “booger-face.”

When you were a kid, did you get your feelings hurt a lot, like when the other kids called you “booger-face,” or “toofus?” And when it happened did you run to your mom and tell her about it, hoping she’d draw you to her and hug away the pain, all the while bathing you in her distinctive scent which, although she never baked anything in her life, always smelled like blueberry muffins? And did you find yourself shocked, when instead she turned to you and said, “Oh my God, Scott. Grow a pair!”… ?

Wow, that got oddly specific. And silly obviously, but I opened with that flourish of Fragonard for a reason. [Ed. Note: Dammit, Craig! He’s tossing in art history references again. I thought you talked to him about this!]

The purpose of the silliness was to illustrate that I was a sensitive kid. Perhaps, at least in my mom’s opinion, overly so. Which was easy for her to say, not having be branded “booger-face.” But as I got a little older I realized that she was probably right.

Here’s the deal though: everybody probably has something they don’t really like to talk about. They have an issue from their past, perhaps significant only to them, perhaps horribly universal, which when discussed within their sphere of perception, triggers an emotion. Again, perhaps it’s nothing more than a feeling of annoyance. On the other hand it could be a crippling memory of a time in their life when they were powerless and badly hurt.

And sometimes writers write about that shit.

Only but a fraction of the gazillion…

With the proliferation of independently published works, there are, last time I counted, about twenty gazillion books floating around the known universe, (which in literary terms is only a little bigger than your local Barnes & Nobel as far as we can say with evidence to back us up. I am waiting for an inter-library loan from the CNPL (Crab Nebula Public Library) to see if there are any good books out there we should be reading). Okay, probably less than twenty gazillion. But there are a lot. And, for the most part, they are being written by fine people who have a story to tell. They are motivated by a desire to share the magic that happens in their head when they sit down to write. Some, I suppose, are written by horrible people with much darker motivations. I once read this book called Mein Kampf, written by an unknown veteran of the Great War who was in a German jail when he wrote it. It gave me the heebie-jeebies. I wonder whatever happened to that guy.

But to get to my real point, some of those books written in good faith by good people contain something – maybe a character, maybe a story line, maybe the pivotal, mindset forming moment from a character’s backstory… that some reader, who bought the book in good faith, hoping to be entertained, finds… I shudder to type the word… offensive.

In my mind, all sensitivity readers are diligent cartoons

A while back, during the glory days of the Games and Writers Show, Craig and I dug deeply into the topic of a new trend in writing and publishing – the genesis of the “sensitivity reader.” This is a person who reads an advance copy of a book to determine if it contains anything that a reader might find offensive.

First, let me just say this is not a job I would want, because you’re never going to get a day off. Here is the dirty secret, which is really no secret at all since I’ve been saying it from the beginning of this post: Every book has the potential to mess with somebody. And I’m probably not woke enough anyway. (Don’t get me started… don’t even get me started).

I guarantee you someone, somewhere, is offended by Pooh Bear

We live in a world where things happen as a matter of course that most people would probably never be able to imagine in the deepest pit of their most horrific nightmares. And because there is no limit, it would seem, to the depravity of which mankind is capable, it is almost impossible not to offend someone, especially if what you are writing deals frankly with a topic that may come from that dark nether place where demons prey upon angels.

As an overly sensitive kid who grew up (hopefully) to be one of those writers who is working to tell the best story he can as well as he can, I get all of the feelings and I see valid points on both of the sides.

In the sixth episode of Good Sentences, Craig and I give you our take on the issue, which as you’ll learn when you listen, ends up being a rather personal one.

Craig, once again, did a great job in editing the episode together the the old GAWS acetate discs, thought to be lost these many years, and I think you will perhaps gain some new perspective on this far-reaching topic. This one should appeal to readers every bit as much as to writers, though not so much, I think to people who do neither of these things. Just a theory.

And after you listen, why not tell us what you think? You can leave a comment here on the blog, or on our Facebook Page (both of which you’re encourage to follow!)

What Do These Pictures Have In Common?

Look closely before you answer:

Have you figured it out yet?

Okay. I’ll spill. The second is Maslow’s hierarchy of character motivation, and is discussed in the new episode of Good Sentences. We’ll get to the first picture in a minute.

Full disclosure: I am totally tooting our own horns.

Season One, Episode Five is now available from all your favorite podcast schlepping platforms, (that’s a show biz term, baby!), and in it Craig and I dig deep into character development and specifically what motivates a character. Not to toot our own horns, but I think there’s a lot of stuff in the episode that aspiring writers might be able to benefit from.

As for the first picture, both Craig and I and, I assume, many of you have seen a slew of Privacy Practices updates filling our inboxes. And it occurred to me that we’ve never disclosed ours. That’s where Puzo’s book comes in. We at Good Sentences treat your privacy as though we were all in the mob together. No one says nothing. Shortest privacy practice statement ever.

ALL THIS AND MORE…

…in Episode Five!!!!

2020 (Starting With a Bang)

The time has come at last! The 2020 Season of Good Sentences is underway! Okay, okay. Technically we started our season on back in November, with the newest episode posting on December 28. Also, technically, I should probably call it the 2019/2020 season, I suppose. Look. It is what it is, okay? I would toss out a “so sue me,” but even though no one ever listens to me, this time someone probably would.

But listen, it’s good news. Our first full new show has been recorded, edited, (more on that in a minute), and posted on, as I may have alluded, December 28.

Our guest is once again Angelique L’Amour, who was kind enough to return to talk with us again. Now there’s two things you need to know about Angelique L’Amour.

  • At some point during the interview, you’re going to hear the three of us laughing. That’s because for whatever reason, our craziness seems to sync up nicely.
  • She knows her stuff when it comes to character creation and development.

As I’ve mentioned previously, a couple of times, (probably more than anyone other than Craig and I care to hear), Good Sentences is a podcast about writing. And let me tell ya, this episode should make writers drool.

It’s okay. Dip your toes.

Character development, as we stress during the show, is one of the most crucial skills to master. And while some authors seem to want to avoid it at all costs, (much like this person with the oddly large head to the left), Angelique has a very interesting take on it, and you’re going to want to hear what she has to say.

Craig at the mixing board. That’s bourbon in the test tube.

Now! I mentioned editing before. (Go look if you think I’m lying. Sheesh. Whatever happened to trust?) I just want to give a nod to my partner for his skills in this department. There’s far more magic going on than the ear can pick up, but I will tell you that Craig overcame some nasty electronic gremlins, managed to edit out almost every stupid thing I said, (this alone took him days), and put together a tight little package for your edification.

So, click here, head over to the episode, and enjoy!

Did you get any writing done?

It’s a pretty commonly heard question among the fraternity of ink-slingers. “Did you get any writing done today?” So, if you’re reading this, I suppose I’m asking you that right now. Good Sentences is a podcast about writing. Have we mentioned that? And while not everyone on the planet considers themselves to be a writer, a lot of people do. Probably over nine. Less than a trillion. Somewhere in between, no doubt, but still a lot. Take it from a couple of guys who are currently navigating those very busy waters.

My Theory: This is what my journalism prof’s trash looked like all the time.

But this isn’t a cautionary tale. We have no use for caution. If you feel you have a story in you that needs to be told, tell it. And what’s more, we’d like to help you do that. We don’t want to be like my first college journalism professor who before, reading a single word written by anyone in the class, told us all we were going to starve to death if we wanted to make a living as journalists, and that if we considered ourselves to be “authors” (a term that clearly hurt him when he spoke it), our deaths would come sooner and be far more grizzly. I’m pretty sure the guy was teaching journalism because he’d failed at doing journalism, but I’ve definitely gotten off track here.

The point is, we don’t want to discourage anyone from trying their hand at the craft. And while there plenty of places you can go to listen about how to market your finished product, we are more interested in helping your finished product be the best you can make it.

We also think that Good Sentences is going to be a resource for folks at all stages of their writing journey. Not that Craig and I have all the answers, (or most, even… okay we have less than six answers), but we also are going to bring you the wisdom of some pretty heavyweight writers, and we’re going to take what they have to offer and dig deep into topics that will infuse your work with new life.

What sort of topics? The building blocks of every story are similar, and everyone one of them is worthy of discussion. In upcoming shows you’re going to hear us talking about character quite a bit. Let’s face it, it’s tough to write a story with no characters. They don’t necessarily have to be human characters, but a story with no characters isn’t going to keep the attention of the majority of people who read. I don’t think. Maybe there’s a way to do it. [Note to self: figure out if there’s a way to do it.]

Two of these guys are me and Craig, probably.

I’ve probably drifted off course again. And like I said at the outset, these are crowded waters, and drifting off line is a hazardous choice to make. Listen, make sure to follow Good Sentences on the podcast platform of your choice (we’re on all the sexy ones) and who knows maybe your boat will be tooling around in the busy waterway, and from the next boat over you’ll hear someone yell to you, “Did you get any writing done today?”

Say hello! Email us at goodsentencespodcast@gmail.com

Craig Johnson

Walt Longmire is not your average hero, and Craig Johnson is not your average author.

Craig Johnson speaks with Craig Hart about “Longmire” and the craft of writing.

In this interview two Craigs, (the author and our very own Craig Hart) discuss how Johnson originally planned for Longmire to be a one and done, and how it developed into a series. He also discusses the experience of having his book developed by Netflix as a series.

Johnson speaks about his writing method, and discusses the importance of character development, and of writing with a sense of humor.

The interview, (originally released on the Games and Writers Show), is now presented on Good Sentences, (your new favorite podcast), and can be heard on all the best outlets NOW!

You can also listen here, because I’m such a swell guy.

Dying for the Cause

My podcast partner, Scott (or as those of us closest to him say, “Scott”), sent me a message this morning inquiring as to the state of my health. To which query I replied, “Dying. Otherwise, all good.”

There was a moment of texting silence, after which he said, “We’ve spoken about this hobby of yours before. I don’t think it’s healthy.”

I was, naturally, quite taken aback by this assertion, as I’ve always considered dying to be the healthiest thing one could do, based on the unassailable logic that if one is dying, then one cannot yet be dead. And being “not dead” is, quite possibly, the exact opposite of unhealthy. Note, of course, that being “not dead” is not the same as being “un-dead,” a designation that carries with it all the foul suggestions of a zombie apocalypse. (Which, despite all the completely realistic TV shows showing the contrary, may not be as fun as one might assume.)

The point I am trying to make here is that, while I am not dead, there are those, my doctors among them, who might be tempted to confuse death with my current state.

That’s right; I’ve had some manner of seasonal malady that I can only guess is a product of some unholy mating ritual between smallpox and the bubonic plague. As such, I’ve been dragging my rotting corpse around for weeks now, comforted only by the fact that I’ve succeeded in making my family’s lives miserable in direct correlation to my own suffering.

Yesterday, I had had enough and went on yet another visit to my doctor’s office. My family was saddened to see me depart, or so I supposed from the way they began popping the tops off champagne bottles and donning small, pointy hats.

Upon arrival at my doctor’s office, they all but rolled out the red carpet for me, beginning with the entire staff joining in a collective groan, an exercise I can only assume was designed to amuse and lift my spirits. It was a failure, and I condemned them all to Hades, although I appreciated their efforts and will likely pray to shorten their time in purgatory. (I realize that my theology is likely completely off-base here, but you won’t be able to prove I’m wrong until it’s too late.)

I was examined by a doctor with very cold hands who then prescribed a chest x-ray.

“You sure that’s a wheeze good idea, doc?” I asked. “I’m a married man and if the x-ray technician gets a look at this chest, I might not be able to restrain him or her from having a go at me.”

The doctor pretended not to hear and tried to distract me by grinding his teeth together so hard that I had to duck to avoid a spray of enamel shrapnel.

The x-ray was taken, amorous techs were restrained, and I went home to await the results. In less time than it took the glaciers to grind down the Great Plains of North America, the nurse called to inform me that my x-ray had come back negative. I hung up the phone.

“What did they say?” my wife asked.

“It was negative,” I said. “Apparently, I have no chest.”

She nodded sagely. “Confirmed,” she said.

So, what does this completely true and not at all embellished story have to do with the Good Sentences podcast, you ask? Simply that, come hell or high water, good health or ancient illnesses, Scott and I are dedicated to bringing you at least one more episode by the time we both die.

Unless that is today, which, in my condition, it may very well be.

Check out the recent episodes here.

Building Steam

Ever notice what an odd phrase that is? “Building Steam.” How does one actually build a gas? Are there tools involved? Glue? Where does one learn the trade? “I’m an apprentice steam builder, but in another thirty years I’m hoping to make journeyman.”

Oh, wait. I think it actually refers to building up steam pressure. Yeah. Never mind all that.

The message I was hoping to share with you is that good things are starting to happen at Good Sentences. Craig and I have been scurrying around, semi-metaphorically, to bring something you can sink your literary incisors into, likewise not speaking literally.

A primary focus of the podcast, aside from entertaining you with Craig’s dulcet tones, is to share our own insights into the craft of writing, as well as discuss specific topics with our guest that can enrich the work of writers at virtually any stage of their development.

More to come on that.

Use iTunes? Use Alexa? We got you covered!

Now that the Good Sentences podcast is available on some rinky-dink service called iTunes (or something like that), a bunch of options open up for listening!

Play Apple Podcasts with Alexa

Apple Podcasts is now available on Alexa-enabled Amazon devices in the United States. As a creator, you’ll find this presents an even greater opportunity for listeners to hear your show.

Spread the word on your show or episode promotion channels, and wherever else you communicate with your audience. For example, encourage them to say things like:

  • “Alexa, play Good Sentences on Apple Podcasts”
  • “Alexa, play Good Sentences from yesterday on Apple Podcasts”
  • “Alexa, skip ahead 30 seconds”
  • “Alexa, play the previous episode”

Here’s what you need

An Amazon Fire TV or Amazon Echo speaker and the iOS or Android device you used for setup with the Amazon Alexa app installed. Make sure that you update to the latest iOS and check the App Store to see if there are updates for the Amazon Alexa app. If you use an Android device, check the Google Play Store for any updates to the Apple Podcasts app or Amazon Alexa app.

Set up Apple Podcasts with Alexa

  1. Open the Amazon Alexa app, then tap the menu button in the upper-left corner.
  2. Tap Skills & Games and search for the Apple Podcasts skill.
  3. Tap Enable to Use. You can also enable the Apple Podcast skill in the Alexa skill store on the web.

Set up Apple Podcasts as your default podcast service

  1. Open the Amazon Alexa app, then tap the menu button in the upper-left corner.
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Tap Music & Podcasts.
  4. Under Services, tap Link New Service.
  5. Sign in with your Apple ID to link your Apple Podcasts account.
  6. Once you’ve successfully signed in, tap the X icon in the upper right corner.
  7. Tap Select Default Service.
  8. Select Apple Podcasts as the default podcast service.

 

(Information above provided by Apple Inc.)

Good Sentences? So what?

So here we sit at the starting line of a new venture. A podcast. About writing. Featuring writers. How original, right? Just like the dozens of others that litter the literary discussion minefield. Why should we care about this one?

Jeez. Take it easy, will ya? We’re just getting started and already you’re like the crazy mob of Tommy’s former followers, come to put a beat down on the pinball wizard. Let’s all just take a deep breath and talk about it.

Did you see what I did there? I pretended to diffuse a non-existent situation! And I did it with written words. Truly the pen is more powerful than the sword. [Pro tip: Always check to make sure you hit the space bar both times when typing the words “the pen is.”]

But this is just one marvelous example of why it’s such a gas to be a writer. And it would seem that more and more people are finding this truth out for themselves. Thanks to the advent of on-demand independent publishing, there are literally millions … okay, hundreds of thousands… alright, there’s this one guy… No, seriously there are a lot of people publishing books now.

Can I be honest? A lot of them aren’t that good. But our marketing research [Ed. note: not a lick of marketing research has been done] indicates that if you’re taking the time to listen to this podcast and read this companion blog, you might possibly be a writer who wants their books to fall in the other category: those that aren’t not that good.

Or that are good, if you insist upon me speaking English.

I’m Scott, by the way, the S.J. Varengo character you may have heard mentioned in connection with the Good Sentences podcast, (and also, possibly, with a string of bank robberies in Montana. Ignore those mentionings.) Craig and I are very excited to be back on the interweb, with another fun show for you to listen to while driving to work and wondering how the non-writers are doing.

Leo Tolstoy: he’s great, he’s Russian, but he’s dead. – meaning he is NOT ELIGIBLE FOR AN INTERVIEW

Now, I don’t mean to imply that if you’re not a writer this podcast will hold nothing of interest for you. Avid readers may enjoy us as well, as we strive to bring you interviews with a diverse range of authors. The only restriction we place upon our interview subjects is that they be alive at the time of recording, so anyone who meets that criteria and agrees to come on and talk with us is fair game. So I’m guessing listeners who are also alive may be able to relate. Just a guess though. I never truly mastered that whole relational syllogism thang.

Angelique L’Amour, author, writing coach, mom, wife and daughter of famed novelist Louis L’Amour is very much alive, so obviously is eligible to be interviewed.

The blog itself will also (assuming I can pull it off), be a useful tool for writers, both seasoned and unseasoned, (or under-seasoned – certainly a pinch of thyme couldn’t hurt). Pages dedicated to the craft itself will be included as well as a gallery of our guests, containing photos (and much more) such as the one of Angelique L’Amour, (whose interview from the Games and Writer’s Show can be heard as S1 E2 of Good Sentences), which is gracing the right margin of this paragraph.

So, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to downplay the legitimacy of your original question, which of course I asked for you, (but don’t try to use that to weasel your way out of trouble!), but I think that from where I’m standing, [Ed. Note: He is sitting!], this little podcast might just be worth your time after all.

Let me end my portion of this dialog (feel free to continue arguing on your end, just don’t look for me), by saying that if you choose to listen, and if you have even a fraction of the fun Craig and I have putting the episodes together, then maybe your commute will be a little less stressful. Maybe your four and a half hour wait at the doctors office will not drive your blood pressure through the roof…

Maybe you’ll like it.