News of the Day

For about ten years starting in my late twenties I became a news devotee. On Sundays I would sit with the New York Times and scour the Book Review, and the magazine, and the Week in Review, and Op Ed, and the front page. If you had asked me, I would have told you I wanted to know “what happened.”

Of course “what happened” had never happened to me directly; in all my years of New York Times reading never once did I read about the comings and goings of Bill Kenower, which seems like a missed opportunity on their part. In any case, I’m sure I would have been disappointed if my life ever had been reported on. I’m sure I would have read it and thought, “But that’s not what really happened.” As every writer eventually learns, what really happened, happened inside of me. What I – or our characters – think and feel about an event is the event. That is all that matters.

Which brings me back to why I was actually reading the New York Times. I wasn’t trying to find out what happened; I was trying to find out who agreed with me and who disagreed with me. When I found a writer or the subject of a story who agreed with me, I felt as though I could rest, for the world needed no correction. When I found someone who disagreed with me, I felt uncomfortable, for now the world needed correction.

On and on it went. The world, I observed, was in constant disagreement, and no sooner did we grow tired of disagreeing about one thing than we began disagreeing about another. The child in me was waiting for all the grownups to come to a firm decision. By and by I had to put the paper down and accept that I was one of those adults and see if I could come to an agreement with myself.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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News of the Day

For about ten years starting in my late twenties I became a news devotee. On Sundays I would sit with the New York Times and scour the Book Review, and the magazine, and the Week in Review, and Op Ed, and the front page. If you had asked me, I would have told you I wanted to know “what happened.”

Of course “what happened” had never happened to me directly; in all my years of New York Times reading never once did I read about the comings and goings of Bill Kenower, which seems like a missed opportunity on their part. In any case, I’m sure I would have been disappointed if my life ever had been reported on. I’m sure I would have read it and thought, “But that’s not what really happened.” As every writer eventually learns, what really happened, happened inside of me. What I – or our characters – think and feel about an event is the event. That is all that matters.

Which brings me back to why I was actually reading the New York Times. I wasn’t trying to find out what happened; I was trying to find out who agreed with me and who disagreed with me. When I found a writer or the subject of a story who agreed with me, I felt as though I could rest, for the world needed no correction. When I found someone who disagreed with me, I felt uncomfortable, for now the world needed correction.

On and on it went. The world, I observed, was in constant disagreement, and no sooner did we grow tired of disagreeing about one thing than we began disagreeing about another. The child in me was waiting for all the grownups to come to a firm decision. By and by I had to put the paper down and accept that I was one of those adults and see if I could come to an agreement with myself.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write 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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Cruel Truth

If you’ve been following the news at all, you have probably heard that the site WikiLeaks recently revealed a trove of confidential diplomatic documents. I confess that I have not followed this story very closely, nor do I plan to. Hopefully no one will be physically hurt by it, though it certainly appears there is a lot of blushing going on in U.S. embassies around the world. From what I gathered, it is as if America’s diplomatic diary has been passed around the class, and the gossip wasn’t always nice. I believe Kim Jong-il was described as flabby, for instance.

All of this will pass. When I was in my early twenties my girlfriend at the time came to me clearly upset. Sarah, my girlfriend, would not tell me why, but I pressed her and pressed her until she spilled it. Apparently a mutual friend did not know we were dating. When she found out, this woman said, “Oh. I had so much respect for Sarah.”

That’s probably the meanest thing I’ve ever heard said about me. I survived. Why? Because it wasn’t the truth. Cruelty is never the truth, and precisely why we are more likely to share it in closed circles and diplomatic emails than to the person’s face. Everyone spends a certain amount of time masked in their ego’s perception of themselves—that person we think we need to be in order to be loved and accepted. This is what we mock. When the person isn’t present, we can remember them as a cartoon, a comic book villain all vanity and self-absorption.

But when the person themselves is present, no matter how thick a personality they’ve built to get about in the world, there still stands before us a soul recognizable as ourselves. Yes, the personality is annoying; yes, it would always be easier if everyone else spoke straight from their heart; but when we attack that personality in the presence of the sprit, we must first blind ourselves to the very thing we are always seeking.

Thus that aphorism about if you have nothing nice to say. I admit I spend a certain amount of time saying nothing, which is often the best thing anyway. Perhaps in our silence, the one doing the talking will hear himself clearly and think, “That doesn’t really sound like me.” Which it never is. No one can be crueler to us than we ourselves, for only we have the power to decide we must somehow be someone other than who we already are.

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

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No Surprises

Once a month I perform an interesting task: I must select a single frame from a 20-minute interview to serve as that author’s image on the Interviews Page. To do this, I scroll through a portion of the interview frame-by-frame looking for a shot that is both flattering to the author and compelling visually. In so doing, I have made this discovery: people look funny when they talk.

You must trust me on this. You would not want to watch yourself talking in slow motion, especially if you are being interviewed and are trying to be expressive and interesting. The face contorts, compresses, and elongates as our lips shape words and our eyes and eyebrows drive the point home. We look cartoonish and strangely uncomfortable.

Yet it is an illusion, isn’t it? Played at normal speed, there is nothing quite so appealing as watching a face animated in conversation. Even the most self-conscious among us cannot keep the mask intact at all times, as the truth of what we feel from moment to moment blooms and submerges, blooms and submerges.

The lie of the camera is the captured moment. It doesn’t actually exist. We are incapable of stasis, and so what is funny in isolation becomes beautiful in context. It is why I tend to avoid the news. Life out of context means nothing—it is shocking and absurd. In the news, things seem to just happen. But nothing ever just happens; everything evolves from something else, and even lightening requires an accumulation of energy to be released.

So much of storytelling is about context. Though for marketing purposes a story might be billed as shocking or bizarre, the writer’s true job is to remove the shock, to show the connection. It doesn’t matter what kind of story you tell, one thing must flow naturally into another, and what is called shocking is merely a result of the author withholding details for dramatic purposes. True beauty is in connection, not isolation, and we weep or cheer at the end of a story, from understanding, not surprise.

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

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The Times

Because most of my money is not coursing through the stock market, I can watch the undulations there from a safe and curious distance. Late last week, as you may have heard, the market went through some particularly spectacular convulsions, which prompted an email from the broker over-seeing my children’s college fund assuring that all is well-ish.

I’m sure it is-ish. As always. I sometimes imagine myself as a nation of one, with an economy, a consumer confidence index, even a defense department, lax as it often is. As Lifetime President Elect, it is my duty to calm the citizenry, as well as negotiate with other foreign nations, who are rarely hostile but periodically irritating. The citizens of this proud nation are always most productive when calm. To this end, I advise them to keep their eyes on their own paper.

Or I should say, we keep our eyes off most papers. Yes, I read them, in a cursory way, and mostly so I know what my friends are chattering about on various email threads, but if I tie even one ounce of my well being to a story on the front page of the New York Times my heart palpations would look like the jagged storyline of the stock market.

Imagine if someone were to allow their peace of mind to rise and fall with the struggles of our characters? It would be silly, and not just because the stories are fiction. The stories are intended to be tumultuous, are in fact written specifically because of the conflict and discord they describe. What makes us think life should be any different?

The headlines in newspapers are to me like the chapter headings in a very, very long story. One of the gifts of writing stories is finding ways to see the fire and rattle of events through to their necessary end. If you must read the papers, I advise you do so with your fiction writer’s eye. The vast arc of history is no different than our own small stories. As I am nation of one, the world and all its population is like a single body, talking constantly to itself about how it can live happily, and no matter how startling the headlines, nothing can ever be truly wrong with that.

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