Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What do you owe your audience? (05/15/14)



Featured writer: Claudia Larson



Contributors this month:
Barbara Simmons
Carole Mertz
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Gaye Buzzo Dunn
Jenean McBrearty
Marilyn Petty
Sandra Lynn Mallo Adcock
Sara Etgen-Baker
Susan Bono
Susan Winters
Theresa Sanders


It’s Not What You Think

by Claudia Larson

The best thing for an audience is to write as if there is no audience.

Narcissim leaps to mind. Self-indulgence gives a shout. Boredom takes a nap in the corner. Platitudinal plaques appear, heavy with inscriptions exhorting us to dance as if no one is watching.

It's a tricky thing, this writing-to-be-read.

Instead of being self-involved, we need to be self-connected, connected to the core of what we mean, to the wellspring of our words. Instead of droning on and on with yet more words to describe in ever widening loops of tangled rope, we need to sit and settle until the best word steps forward. Instead of listening to ourselves in rapture at the sound of our own voices, we need to soften the edges of our minds so that words sift to our hearts and spleens and toenails and freckles. Instead of gently worn inscriptions, we need to discover what is clawing its way to the surface, what is bursting the seams, what is reaching a paw under the door, what is tickling our tongues.

This, then, allows an audience to be less an audience and more a participant in the intimacy of writing and reading.




Claudia Larson grows a garden and grandchildren in Sebastopol, California.

Lending an Ear

  by Barbara Simmons

I'm in one of my "origin of words" moments, and the literal derivation of "audience" strikes me, as I read it, as a good starting point to understand what I owe my audience. Looking at the derivation strings of the word leads me from late Middle English, from Old French, and from Latin audientia, from audire (hear), and I know that I owe my audience my sound, my voice, my aaahhs, and my sighs, my whimpers and my whispers, my brusque edges and my softer nudgings, my echoes and my first trills and my tentative notes on so many subjects and moments and mysteries. I owe my audience time to listen and savor, to puzzle and to understand, to clarify and to comment—all because I am a sayer and pronouncer who hopes to, in that moment of hearing, listen at the very same moment—metaphorically—since what I have written down has been heard in the deepest parts of me—and now goes forth, almost as a lyrical chant, to my audience—wherever they may be, whenever that may be—all starting with a moment of internal sound. And, I must serve my audience as I serve myself—with the sounds of sanded words that, before any varnish appears, gleam with honest and naked beauty and truth.

Barbara Simmons is a writer who, in addition to her many years of college counseling and teaching English, is always trying to find that moments when “heard words” become “ready-to-be-written words.” She lives in San Jose, CA, and is working on lyrical essays at this moment.

Spelling it Out

  by Carole Mertz

In your writing—

S tart with curiosity, a degree of passion, and a concern for outcomes.

U pend all expectations.

S ubmit yourself to your characters.

P lot the heck out of your storyline, get it moving, and keep it moving.

E nergize your scenes and dialogue.

N ever give up; no one knows better than you how to give it your all.

S ear your readers with unexpected twists and turns.

E ase into a graceful ending.

Carole Mertz lives in Parma, Ohio. She’s in the throes and thrills of completing her first novel. Drop her a line at carolemertz@cox.net

It’s Not What You Think

  by Claudia Larson

The best thing for an audience is to write as if there is no audience.

Narcissim leaps to mind. Self-indulgence gives a shout. Boredom takes a nap in the corner. Platitudinal plaques appear, heavy with inscriptions exhorting us to dance as if no one is watching.

It's a tricky thing, this writing-to-be-read.

Instead of being self-involved, we need to be self-connected, connected to the core of what we mean, to the wellspring of our words. Instead of droning on and on with yet more words to describe in ever widening loops of tangled rope, we need to sit and settle until the best word steps forward. Instead of listening to ourselves in rapture at the sound of our own voices, we need to soften the edges of our minds so that words sift to our hearts and spleens and toenails and freckles. Instead of gently worn inscriptions, we need to discover what is clawing its way to the surface, what is bursting the seams, what is reaching a paw under the door, what is tickling our tongues.

This, then, allows an audience to be less an audience and more a participant in the intimacy of writing and reading.




Claudia Larson grows a garden and grandchildren in Sebastopol, California.

Great Expectations

  by Don Edgers

As writers, we have to consider the age, gender, mentality and genre where our reading audience congregates (book store, library, book club, reading, signing).

If authors develop a flock, gaggle, group, following, etc. - consistency of style should be important - sort of an "if it [ain't] isn't broke(n), don't fix it" mentality.

The Elements of Style has gone out of favor with younger authors, and has been called: "The Book that Ate America's brain" or "aging zombie of a book." However, in The Elements of Style (1918), William Strunk concentrated on specific questions of usage—and the cultivation of good writing—with the recommendation, "Make every word tell;" hence, the 17th principle of composition is the simple instruction: "Omit needless words."
(Wikipedia)

Don has audiences of readers of his writings in Pacific Northwest Museums, libraries, bookstores, online websites, relatives, BFRO reports, newsletters . . . . He travels and camps from his home (where he writes) in Port Orchard, WA.
His website:
www.anislandintime.com


Bravo!

  by Gaye Buzzo Dunn

Bravo! Encore! The audience is on their feet, hands clapping, their faces wreathed in smiles; observable responses to a performance thoroughly enjoyed. The entertainer, overwhelmed by this enormous tribute, takes a second bow before leaving the stage. Attendees leave the venue happy and content, still smiling and talking to each other about the experience. What a performance!

Every writer should strive to create that same, all encompassing reaction from their readers. We owe the reading audience what we learned from those first days in grade school—to please others and ourselves by doing our very best work. The optimum reward during those early years was a report card filled with "A and B" grades and if we were lucky, an "Excellent" comment written in the margins by the teachers. Later in life, college academic performances were reflected by achieved Grade Point Average (GPA) and often rewarded with coveted employment opportunities. Again, employers' expectations were high; they expected all employees to give them their best every day.

Readers' expectations are also high; they expect great reads from every writer. A book that keeps booklovers up past midnight, is too good to put down until the very end, and causes the reader to close the book with ecstatic sighs is the equivalent of a "Bravo! Encore!" performance.
The challenge for writers is that readers are not of "the one size fits all" category. They are a diversified group with different reading tastes and expectations.

However, the one thing all readers have in common is the desire to have their expectations met. Writers who evoke emotional responses—Rage, Fear, Thrills, Chills, Controversy, Love, Conflict, Life and Death Trauma, Mystery, Pathos, Mayhem, Tears, Anger, and Sympathy—in their readers' minds and hearts most often keep them rapturously turning the pages until the story's end. Creativity, a good plot, complex (lovable-hateful) characters, well researched information communicated to the reader in excellent prose are all applause ingredients.

Writers—pick up your pens! Enthrall your readers with virtuoso performances each and every time you write. We owe it to our audiences.

Gaye Buzzo Dunn, a former HR Director, is a passionate writer, golfer, and gardener residing in upstate New York. For more information on Gaye and her previously published work, contact her at her writer blog:
www.penandpatience.wordpress.com.


Live by the Rules

  by Jenean McBrearty

What I owe my audience depends on the audience I'm writing for. That means I must have a clear concept of what audience I'm targeting. For example, opinion newspaper columns are not the appropriate venue for the "show don't tell" rule—especially if there's a 500-700 word limit. Like now. I'd never begin to answer this question with a line like: She heard the hounds baying in the distant hills on a dark, stormy night.

When it comes to writing fiction, however, there are a few rules I do self-impose because I do owe my audience something. My goal is have my readers say, "Wow! That was____(fill in the blank.) Cool. Interesting. Educational. Funny. Anything rather than stupid, crappy, or crazy. Here are my rules.

1. Don't be cute, coy, or so "creative" the rules of grammar and good sense are ignored. Cormac McCarthy's On The Road was the manuscript from hell missing on three counts: characters/places with no names, no quotation marks, and a story that could have been told in three paragraphs. The story and presentation should, at least, be easy to read in the sense of being able to follow who said what to whom. Angela Carter's Wise Children not only had an unreliable narrator, it had an insulting author who wasted my time with one long overly detailed story, and ended with the equivalent of "And then I woke up." Had these books not been required reading for a class, I wouldn't have finished either of them.

2. Have a story to tell. I'm always amazed at how many would-be writers have one story to tell, their own, and when that's over, they dead end. Every story they write is simply a variation on the theme of them. A 1950s TV show began with the words, "There are 8 million stories in the naked city..." Tell one of them, I remind myself.

3, Sometimes telling is better than showing. For example, instead of three paragraphs "showing" how the murder went down, simply say, "Harriet shot the son-of-a-bitch with the .38 caliber revolver she kept in her silk evening purse, and he fell into the bay," and move on. Leave the lofty descriptions for the literary types who want to plow through a 1000 page short story.

4.No long-winded descriptions. Blogger and author Chandrahas once said:
When a reader picks up a novel, he or she signs an implicit contract with the writer. Irrelevant detail in fiction is a breach of that contract: when description seems gratuitous or self-indulgent, we have a right to complain about why our time is being wasted.

Amen.

I believe these rules have made me an odd sort of reader. I read the first chapter (the trip begins), the last chapter (the destination), and a middle chapter (am I headed in the right direction?) before I buy a book. But, I also believe these rules have made me a better writer.

Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, a former community college instructor who taught Political Science and Sociology, and is finishing a certificate in Veteran Studies. Her fiction has been published in a slew of print and online journals including Cigale Literary Magazine, 100 Doors to Madness Anthology, Mad Swirl and The Moon; her poetry has been accepted by Van Gogh’s Ear and Page & Spine; and her photographs have appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Journal and Off the Coast Magazine among others. Her novel, The 9th Circle was published by Barbarian Books, serials Raphael Redcloak and Retrolands can be found on Jukepop.com.
Jenean-McBrearty.com.


A Big Enough Audience

  by Marilyn Petty

The classical music station I listen to tells little tidbits—stories about composers, their compositions, how their audiences reacted to a debut concert. Critics might have blasted a piece that became a classic, or the audience might have reacted with rage, rioted or fled the theater in disgust when they didn't appreciate the new and astounding opus.

Authors, too, can be rejected time and time again, not always in a kindly manner, before finding a publisher who knows a good read when he sees it. The book is published, then it gets panned by critics, professional or otherwise, only to have it become a blockbuster, selling thousands of copies, going into reprints over the years, maybe even winning the Nobel.

The point being that audiences are unpredictable and fickle. So, I have opted to be an audience of one: me. And what do I owe this sometimes unpredictable and stern, or funny and patient audience? To do the best that I can, to write and rewrite and revise, to be honest with myself, work hard and finally accept my inner critic who knows better than I do—most of the time.

Marilyn Petty and her omnipresent audience of one live together in beautiful Sonoma County, California.

Good Question

  by Sandra Lynn Mallo Adcock

?

Wisdom I can share.
Having my life that is worth fair,
Anytime giving words learned wisdom,
Time from Adam up to all my picture albums.

Doing what I can to forward causes I know about.
Oppourtunities to give what I have gleaned earning any/all of my clout.

Owning my mistakes but gaining knowledge from them.
Working, crawling through them,
Every time evolving into me.

My life has gains I feel.
You and others might find input by me telling.

Audience is owed
Unending duty from me to continue
Defining, redoing,
Intelligent works
Every time
Never ceasing to
Create interesting, deliverable,
Entertaining, worth-the-read-and-payment material.
?Which should never be questionable to the reader.

Sandra Lynn Mallo Adcock D.Ph. M.S.M. asks interesting questions here, there, and everywhere.

What is Something

  by Sara Etgen-Baker

In a city called Valinor, there once was a beautiful and gifted elfin scribe known as Linwë Anwarünya. Now it happened one day that Linwë ventured into the Scribal Hall of Gimlé where she and other future scribes often gathered to practice their writing craft and listen to advice from the elder scribes.

Linwë pushed her way through the crowd and noticed a great whispering noised filled the hall. But when Lord Felagund flung open the huge wooden doors, silence descended upon the room.
Lord Felagund stepped up to the podium and cast his eyes out upon the crowd. "You there, young scribe." He pointed his twisted, bony index finger directly at Linwë. "What's your name and what advice do you seek from me today?"

"My name's Linwë Anwarünya." She gathered her thoughts. "Lord Felagund, what does a scribe owe its audience?"

"Well, ummm," he cleared his throat. "The moment a scribe decides, ‘I want others to read this,' he owes those others something."

Linwë stared at him with a blank look. "Exactly what is something?"

"It's simple," he said. "You owe them a story with them in mind." Lord Felagund peered over his glasses. "Knowing that others will be reading your story, you owe it to them to be entertaining. You owe it to them to make sure there are no plot holes." He raised one eyebrow and gave Linwë a glassy stare. "You know what plot holes are, right?"

She nodded her head and stared back at him.

"You must care about the characters. You must care about the setting and time." He slammed his fist on the podium with authority. "You owe them an authentic story that will keep them turning the pages long after the cave crickets begin chirping at night."

"But, sir…." Linwë fought back the tears. "What if they still don't like my story?"

"Take heart, young scribe, not every reader will like every story. That's how it should be. Don't be upset about that, for it maintains balance and order in the scribal universe."

With that, Lord Felagund removed his glasses, stepped away from the podium, and said to the cheering crowd, "Now go forth and scribe."


Sara Etgen-Baker recently met Lord Felagund’s modern-day counterpart at a writer’s workshop. You may visit her at
http://saraetgenbaker.blogspot.com/


Something Less

  by Susan Bono

I'm a Virgo—the obsessive compulsive sign of the zodiac, or so I've been told. Whenever I mention my birthdate to star-savvy folks, they say things like, "I bet your drawers are super organized," or, "Are the clothes in your closet sorted by color?"

These comments have always bothered me. First off, they don't sound like compliments, and secondly, my drawers will barely open because they're crammed with too much stuff. My closets might be color-coordinated if I ever got around to hanging anything up. For the longest time I suspected I'd been crosswired at birth—that I was an "opposite" Virgo or a failed one. The idea that I could consider myself a failure at my own astrological sign got me thinking that maybe I really do belong to the sign of the Perfectionist. And then there's my writing.

As a writer, I want everything I offer the world to be perfect. It's not enough to have a Worthy Idea. I'll spend hours grooming a paragraph, snipping here, smoothing there, agonizing over word and punctuation choices. When I'm in a fever of revision, I'm convinced I owe my audience this devotion to excellence. And of course, I do. But how many times has the quest for brilliance exhausted me? I run out of steam a third of the way in, or I work a piece to a gelatinous mess, trying to erase the imperfections that actually allow the writing to come alive. My Virgo programming for perfection is my worst enemy when I forget that what I owe my audience is my best effort, not a perfect product. None of my favorite authors have been declared perfect, so why impose inhuman standards on myself?


Susan Bono is giving it her best in Petaluma,CA.

Rules of the Road

  by Susan Winters

Sometimes the best route to better writing is figuring out what to avoid. Too often writers tremble in the shadows of the literary greats. I continue to be in awe of how John Steinbeck could capture a character in a single sentence. Writers study their heroes and think "How can I do that?" then realize "I could never be Hemingway or Fitzgerald" then freeze at the keyboard.

For a minute, place your heroes back on the shelf and consider the last book you hated. In the last mystery I read, the author used a few too many red herrings to cast doubt on the characters and I was suspicious of all of them. When time came for the triumphant reveal, I felt swindled instead of satisfied. An excess of plot twists can leave the reader alone outside a dilapidated gas station with no key to the restroom.

As a writer, I owe my readers a cohesive journey. If there was a turn in the story they didn't see coming, at least they can look back and realize how they arrived at their destination. Even if they paused on the road to watch a hawk soar, the signs were there.

Susan Winters works, writes and dances salsa in Reno, Nevada. Her music reviews and articles have appeared in the Reno News and Review. Her novel, Ever After is now available at Amazon. Her blog
createontheside@wordpress.com celebrates balancing creative pursuits with a full-time job.


Toasted, No Cheese

  by Theresa Sanders

It was a frigid Saturday in February when my husband and I walked into our neighborhood deli. We were running our usual weekend errands, and the little sandwich shop was one stop among many. I'd been having trouble shaking what I call my "winter funk," day upon restless day of longing for spring. Outside, sooty clouds hovered, whispering more snow, which did little to improve my mood. The remnants of past snowfalls lingered along curbs and sidewalks, exhaust-tinged and forgotten, but at least the deli was warm. Its steamy windows provided a stalwart barrier against the cold, and the smell of baking bread welcomed.

As we got in line to order, I noticed the young woman behind the counter. Her name tag said she was "Heather," and her smile seemed to radiate from somewhere deep inside. "Can I help you?" she asked, her voice as light as I'd imagined it would be.

I couldn't help returning her smile as I requested a bowl of broccoli soup. My hubby recited his sandwich order, ending with his usual, "Toasted, no cheese."

"Toasted, no cheese?" Heather repeated cheerfully. "Absolutely."

Just then, a song came on the radio that sounded like sunshine and Caribbean skies, and all at once, Heather began singing along. She danced a little jig as she added lettuce and mayo to Honey's sandwich, and her joy was so infectious that I also started to sing. Pretty soon, the whole line of people behind us had joined in too. When the song ended, everyone applauded. There were even a couple of high-fives, and Heather gave a tiny curtsey. "What can I say?" she told us. "I love my job."

We all laughed and went about the business of lunch, but by the time I left the deli, my "winter funk" had all but dissipated.

As writers, we hear so much good advice: "be professional," "find your voice," "perfect your craft," "show, don't tell," "grow into your talent" - all words of wisdom indeed. We talk about narrative and characterization and pacing and plot, but seldom do we talk about joy. Now, I'm not just referring to happy endings here; tragic endings perhaps require us to love our job more.

We writers live at the corner of wizardry and "widgetry." Words are magic, but they are also product. Despite our fear as artists of being deemed too commercial, words are our stock in trade. The fact that I owe my readers my best work, polished and error free, goes without saying. That is my professional responsibility; that is my due diligence. And whether I'm writing pathos, humor, or sentiment, fiction or non-, literary or genre, I owe it served with a smile. It's not only my job, it's my art; it's not only my work, it's my heart. It's that deep-in-the-gut passion that only comes from being fully engaged with my material. I owe my readers "toasted, no cheese."

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she looks for joy around every bend. Theresa would love to connect with you. Please drop by her Facebook page:Theresa Sanders or email her at
TheresaLSanders@charter.net. TheresaLSanders@charter.net.


Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow


Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for 52perfectdays.com, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email: greenwriter1960@gmail.com

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at Writergal53@aol.com, or visit her blog at www.beckypovich.blogspot.com.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at: TheresaLSanders@charter.net

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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