The Known Path

The more choices I make, the more I understand that the best ones cannot be made intellectually. Take the choice of what kind of story you would like to write. Let us assume your goal in making this choice is to arrive at a place where the stories you write will find the agent, editor, publisher, and readership that will allow you to flourish creatively and financially. There are many paths to this destination: literary fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers, YA paranormal, and on and on.

Perhaps you think, “I know there is a path called YA paranormal that leads to this place called a flourishing writing career. I know it because I have seen the books in the bookstores, and I have watched interviews with these authors on Author magazine.” What’s more, you have heard this path described to you in writing magazines and at writing conference. As you take notes on the sorts of protagonists and antagonists, the types of conflicts and settings and so on that work best in YA paranormal, you believe you are learning how to follow this path toward a flourishing writing career.

And yet in my own life it has never been enough to know intellectually that a path exists, nor has it been enough to have this path described to me—nor, for that matter, to have followed that path once in the past. To follow a path successfully, I must see it for myself at the moment of choice, and the only way to see it, is to feel it. The moment I feel it, the path opens before me, and it does not matter if no one has ever walked it before, or if I have only heard rumors that it exists. If I feel it, I can see it, and so it is clear, and so it exists.

What’s more, until I see a path in this way, I never understand why I am on it, nor do I truly understand why this path will take me somewhere I want to go. No matter how beautiful a destination is made to sound, I know too well that beauty must be seen to be known – and even then, in a crowd of ten thousand surrounding the same statue, there will exist ten thousand beauties. All eyes pointed in the same direction; all eyes on a different path.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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New Stories

As I read about the new Pope, I thought how genres were like religions. First, say, you have fantasy, with elves and dwarves, and good wizards and evil dragons. So it is, and so it shall ever be. And then a fantasy story is written whose hero is a beggar and a thief, and there’s a little sex, and no elves or dwarves. Heresy! Thou art not a fantasy writer.

Until people start reading it – and lo! From this schism a new genre is born. Now there is High Fantasy and Low Fantasy. And then Dark Fantasy and Light Fantasy. Also Romance and Historical Romance and Erotic Romance; Legal Suspense and Romantic Suspense.

On and on. Genres keep splitting like a river with endless forks. Indeed, imagine all genres flowing from the same great River of Story with its mighty Beginning, Middle, and End. The same waters course left into literature, right into commercial, splitting again and then again and then again as new tributaries are discovered.

If you were to fly above this scene the streams would be so many, the land so blue with water, it might be hard to tell where one genre began and another ended. Still, all those stories flowing seaward, crooked or straight, flowing toward their end where all stories are joined again in the same great pool thought.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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Rule One

I had reached the point where, as my friend at the time said, “We need to get you some publishing credits.” I had been writing for years and following the rules of Good Writing. These rules were not actually written down anywhere, but I was certain they existed, and I was going to follow them, and when I followed them strictly enough all this writing I was doing would get published.

But in the meantime, as my friend said, perhaps it would be a good idea to get any kind of publishing credit. We both needed the work, and work looked like it might be coming our way. A game company with which I was working wanted to publish novels based on their games. These would be mystery-type novels written for women. I never read mysteries, and I didn’t write for women—I just wrote (following the rules, of course), for women, men, boys, girls, cats, I didn’t care, I just wrote. The plan was that my friend and I would try to write one of these novels together.

My friend, who was more experienced than I but who had also never written mysteries or for women, suggested we start with a little research. We should read the types of books we were about to write. He gave me a list of writers I had never heard of. “These ladies are pros,” he told me. “Let’s see how they do it.”

The pro I would read first had written numerous #1 New York Times Bestsellers. She had written them under different names, and at the pace of about two books a year. This book, a romantic suspense, was different than the sorts of novels I normally read. I opened to the first page reminding myself to put aside my normal biases, to enjoy the fast-paced suspenseful romance and learn how to write these different sorts of stories.

I was surprised by what I read. This book broke all the rules I had been diligently following. It broke them page after page after page. I knew it wouldn’t be the sort of book I normally read, but I didn’t think it would be this different. How could it be? I wondered. How can you write like this and get published. Are there no standards at all?

If I had been much younger I might have chalked the answer up to the stupidity of the reading public, or the death of literature or whatever – but I didn’t. What I did was close the book and turn it over. On the back I found the full cover photo of the author, dressed in her power blouse, standing powerfully before her library, staring back into the camera with a look that said, “I make the rules in this house!”

I looked at the picture, turned the book over and looked at the cover, read the first page again, looked at her picture again, and thought, “Oh, I get it. This book sounds like her.”

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Following Love

Gay marriage has been much in the news lately, what with my own Washington State getting ready, it would appear, to legalize same sex marriage, and a California court ruling Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional. I suspect gay marriage will continue to be in the news for the next decade or so, at which point, I would be willing to bet, it will be legal in all fifty states, give or take. I say this not as a legal authority but as an optimist who believes that in matters of love, despite all circumstantial evidence to the contrary, humanity ultimately travels in only one direction.

But I can understand some people’s opposition to these unions. After all, it is largely impossible to know why one person loves another. It is perhaps easier for me, married now for almost twenty years, to understand what my brother means when he says he loves his girlfriend – but this knowing is only a matter of degrees. In this way, when one person says to another person, “I love her,” or, “I love him,” no matter the her or him in question, that declaration’s truthfulness can be known only through trust, never facts.

Though it sounds odd, whenever I read about this debate I am reminded of writers. Sometimes within the writing community I hear a kind of bias for or against one type of story, as if a writer were choosing to write literary fiction only to satisfy his ego’s need for praise, or another writer were choosing to write thrillers to assure her place atop the bestseller list. No such writer is experiencing any success. These marriages of writers to genres stand the same chance of success as would Ellen Degeneres’ marriage to me.

This is because although we can choose to write anything we want, the same as we can choose to sleep with anyone who’ll have us, what we love and whom we love chooses us, not the other way around. There are plenty of days, I’m sure, when we wish this weren’t so. There are plenty of days we might wish that We, the We that chooses whether to follow or not to follow where Love points us, could steer not just the ship but the river. But it is not to be. Every captain is a passenger as well, born by the current he chose to follow behind his wheel.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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The Known Path

The more choices I make, the more I understand that the best ones cannot be made intellectually. Take the choice of what kind of story you would like to write. Let us assume your goal in making this choice is to arrive at a place where the stories you write will find the agent, editor, publisher, and readership that will allow you flourish creatively and financially. There are many paths to this destination: literary fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers, YA paranormal, and on and on.

Perhaps you think, “I know there is a path called YA paranormal that leads to this place called a flourishing writing career. I know it because I have seen the books in the bookstores, and I have watched interviews with these authors on Author magazine.” What’s more, you have heard this path described to you in writing magazines and at writing conference. As you take notes on the sorts of protagonists and antagonists, the types of conflicts and settings and so on that work best in YA paranormal, you believe you are learning how to follow this path toward a flourishing writing career.

And yet in my own life it has never been enough to know intellectually that a path exists, nor has it been enough to have this path described to me—nor, for that matter, to have followed that path once in the past. To follow a path successfully, I must see it for myself at the moment of choice, and the only way to see it, is to feel it. The moment I feel it, the path opens before me, and it does not matter if no one has ever walked it before, or if I have only heard rumors that it exists. If I feel it, I can see it, and so it is clear, and so it exists.

What’s more, until I see a path in this way, I never understand why I am on it, nor do I truly understand why this path will take me somewhere I want to go. No matter how beautiful a destination is made to sound, I know too well that beauty must be seen to be known – and even then, in a crowd of ten thousand surrounding the same statue, there will exist ten thousand beauties. All eyes pointed in the same direction; all eyes on a different path.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Advantages

In preparation for our upcoming interview, I am reading The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock and Fernette Eide. The Eides point out that while boys and girls described as Dyslexic experience the well documented challenges with spelling, reading, and rote math, these same boys and girls often go on to show fantastic strengths in other areas, particularly art, engineering, and design. Their point is that Dyslexia is not something you merely suffer with, but an orientation that, like most orientations, has certain strengths and weaknesses and that we should be focusing on the strengths, not the weaknesses.

I was heartened to read this. When my youngest son, who was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum, first began receiving professional attention, I noticed that all discussions of him centered on what he could not do. I understood this inclination. The professionals were trying to help him, and if you want to help someone the temptation is to find what they can’t do and help them do it.

But when he was quite young he showed an almost savant like ability to play the drums. When you have a child on the spectrum, you will spend a lot of time in meetings with specialists where these specialists will show you test results and tell you how your child is not normal. These specialists are well intentioned. They want you to understand how much work is to be done. But it’s depressing. Who would want their life laid out in test results?

At one such meeting I brought up the drumming. He’s a fantastic drummer, I said. He drums better than a boy twice his age—three times his age. What about that? The specialists looked at me with strained patience. Drumming had nothing to do with his language delay, with his outbursts, with his social skills. The drumming sounded nice, but it was not relevant.

It reminds me a bit of stories certain commercial writers have told me about their experiences in MFA programs. The MFA programs tend to be literature-centric, and these poor future romance, suspense, or science fiction writers struggle to fit their peg into the hole of literature.

It’s pointless.  It’s pointless for us to strengthen ourselves by wringing our hands over what we call our weaknesses.  Our strengths, which is another word for our interests, our love, our reason that we’re on this planet, are there to guide us toward some fully expanded version of ourselves, and what we call our weaknesses are no different than the millions of roads we cannot follow as we chase that path we love.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Cast Your Net

I fully understand the necessity of genres in publishing. If nothing else, publishers and booksellers must have some way to let perspective readers know as quickly as possible what they are more or less in for when they pick up a book. Thus, over in the science fiction/fantasy section you will find lasers and dragons, and in the suspense you will be able to read about someone being killed and someone else will learning who that killer is and bringing them to justice.

In the last twenty years there has been a proliferation of media, from a slush pile of cable channels, to the internet, to satellite radio. One result of this has been a genrefication of everything from news to music. If you’re liberal you know where to get your version of the news, if you’re conservative you have your outlets; likewise, there are radio stations for those who prefer Hip Hop and those who prefer Country.

This is when pundits will typically talk about the fracturing of America and how there are no communities anymore and we’re all cowering in our political/aesthetic corners—to which I say, bunk. This flowering of options is merely a result of that most basic of human impulses—preference. That we have gone from seeing most of humanity as the gray peon of the industrial revolution to something so diverse that women who love African America Christian Romance deserve their own sub-genre is all to the good.

And besides, too often I have learned that a man I was certain swam in only literary waters has read every Clive Cussler novel, or a woman I thought thoroughly devoted to vampires was a enthusiastic Amy Tan reader. We are forever seeking what we love most. That is all. Only we sometimes mistakenly believe we have found all there is to love, and we cross our arms and declare, “I know what I like.”

Of course we do.  Except what we love isn’t a thing or a person or a genre, it is a feeling only, a vibration of thought capable of many forms. Indeed, it requires many forms to complete itself. And so we cast our nets every day for all the music and books and leaders and friends and lovers and ideas that we assemble into what we call pleasure, and in the end the lines between genres and political parties are no more real than borders we have drawn between nations.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Know It

We are all familiar, I’m sure, with old adage, “Write what you know.” This concept is loosely attributed to Hemingway, and for two reasons. One he had a habit of writing about things he did. Watch bull fighting, writing a couple of books about bull fighting. Go to war and like fishing, write stories about war and fishing.

The other reason, however, is that in A Moveable Feast he discusses making a decision to write a story about one thing he knows for sure. It is easy to think that he meant something he had experienced personally, but I believe in this instance he was referring to what he knew to be true.

And this is all any writer could and should do. After all, many writers will be called to write about things they have never done. There are entire genres—science fiction, fantasy, perhaps romance—where this is the case. But the doing isn’t the point.  What matters is what you know.

I think it was Carl Jung who said, and I paraphrase, “I don’t believe anything.  I either know it or I don’t.” I like this, and it’s a good motto for a writer. Believing is hedging your bets.  Know what you know.  Claim it.  And then write about it. It doesn’t matter whether that story is set in 21st century Seattle or on Gallagon Nine, your story will always be better if it is built on the bones of what you know in your heart to be true.

And if some day you decide something different is true, so be it.  You can only know what you know at the moment.  If you wait until you know absolutely everything before you write a book, you will be one very old writer indeed.  So stake your flag.  Choose one thing that you know for sure and write about it.  And people will either agree with you or not—that’s none of your concern. Your only concern is finding the next thing you know for sure.

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This History Of You

Mary Daheim has written a whopping 50 plus books in her thirty-year career. The majority of these were mysteries, but she broke into publishing writing what she describes as “bodice rippers.” She hadn’t intended to write bodice rippers (luscious historical romances) but her agent explained that her books would have a much better chance of selling if there was more sex and less history and Mary said, “Okey-dokey,” and so it began.

Here is the point where the screenplay of Mary’s life might portray her as a writer selling out. She abandons her love of the true historical novel for the crass profit of sex and fantasy. But her story is hardly so pat. Mary is a practical woman, but more importantly she is a woman who knows herself. She knew, for instance, that she was no fan of romances, and after four novels she also knew that it was time to write something else.

When Mary’s patience with romances had run out she could have tried to write straight historicals again. After all, someone was selling them, and she was now a published author. But she decided to try her hand at mysteries instead, and the rest—no pun intended—is history.

If Mary Daheim had absolutely been meant to write historical novels I don’t think she would have spent the last three decades happily writing mysteries. Is it not possible that the best thing that could have happened to Mary was to have her agent convince her to write a romance, not just to get her published, but to move her attention off of what in the end it turned out was only the first idea of the kind of book she would like to write was?

It is so easy to judge someone’s choices, even when that someone is ourselves. Intuition seems to have a prescience all its own, as if sensing where the thread of a single choice stretches far into the darkness of the future. The more taught that thread, the more drawn we are to follow it, and yet from our myopic vantage in the present some threads can seem headed in entirely the wrong direction. Here is the moment we must judge not. There is the idea of who we are, and there is truth of who we are, and our job has never been to prove an idea but only to follow the truth.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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True Allegiance

In yesterday’s blog I eluded to my “switch” from writing literary fiction to writing within a certain genre. This was not a switch I made with much grace. That is, I knew I wanted to write the story that would place me in this genre, but I had a long history with literary fiction, and the idea of writing outside of it, at least within the mind of the publishing world, left me in the impossible position of having to justify (in this case to myself) my desire to write what I most wanted to write.

When I discovered what we call literature it was like a life preserver. Here were men and women writing about what I was thinking about; here were men and women saying what seemed to me to be the truth that everyone thought but no one spoke. I was not alone after all.

But even literature, the great democracy of publishing, has it’s entry rules, and one of those rules—at the moment at least—is that you cannot write about kings and queens and trolls. I have always loved kings and queens and trolls, and because I am currently telling stories about them, I am out. So be it.

Of course, I have not switched anything. That the publishing world believes differently is irrelevant. My only allegiance is to the source of the stories I wish to tell. Woe betide the writer who reaches as deeply as he can into this well and rejects what he finds because of what it looks like. This is rejecting life itself.

True literature, by which I mean any story or poem that invites you more deeply into the best part of yourself, is not a country club. There is no guardian at the gate of love. All are welcome. Here we see the absurdity of all prejudice. Prejudice is the belief that love has a prescribed shape or color, that somehow we will be relieved from the burden of merely feeling it, that we must only recognize it by its form.

Love is forever known and forever surprising, dwelling as it does equally within the soprano and the slug. What each of us loves most is limited, a limitation that allows us to function within a world of infinite variety, but love – like life – defies this containment. The genres and the categories and the bookshelves are for our convenience alone. Love, meanwhile, resides above these borders, like the earth upon which we draw our nations’ boundaries, and will be there still to guide us when we are alone, a country of one in search of like souls.

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