Abolish weekends

My friend and fine writer Tim Mahoney, who has slung needed mud at my last two novels (always gracefully), has a deep idea:


by Tim Mahoney

I hereby propose to abolish weekends.

Nope, this is not a call to drag workers back to 19th Century standards, when they were lucky to get a Sunday off.

This is simply the recognition that the weekend has kept us in bondage long enough.


Every Friday, American workers start sneaking out at the morning coffee break. More follow at lunch, more still at the afternoon coffee break. By quitting time, only the temps and new hires remain, surfing the shopping, gambling and porn sites, as their betters drive for the beaches and lakes.

Every Saturday the amusement parks, beaches, camping sites, etc are crowded with desperados trying to cram a week’s worth of pleasure into a few frantic hours.

On Sunday afternoon, the highways are jammed with broken heroes debating whether to call in sick tomorrow. At sundown begins an unholy ritual, the Sunday Blues.

View original post 771 more words

What does it mean to teach?

A story from a fellow writer. Couldn’t pass up its artistry, its sadness, and its truth.

Resistance is Always On My Mind

In my third year of teaching one of my students, Jorge Cruz, drew something amazing for me (while serving a detention I assigned him). With just a pencil, on an oddly shaped piece of poster paper, he detailed a brilliant close up of the face of an Aztec Warrior. There are so many amazing things in this piece. The face is at once uncomfortably close, like a camera just off the tip of someone’s nose, and still distant with dark, pupil-less eyes, that stare past you no matter where you stand. It is a face both incredibly bold and proud, but deeply sad, that seems to peer into the certain tragedy of his people’s past, and their uncertain future. I felt instantly overwhelmed by the power of his art, art he created quietly as he waited out the clock in penitence for an offence I can’t even remember.

Perhaps it’s…

View original post 618 more words

I’m Moving

I am ‘migrating’ my site from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

I am being warned that e-mail followers of the blog may be lost in the process.  I will try very hard, loyal followers, to prevent this from happening.  But we are, after all, living in cyberspace, where “no problem”,”easy conversion”, and “effortless” usually mean just the opposite.

I will publish a post on the new site as soon as possible.  If you don’t see a post by September 14th, please go looking for http://www.johnbairdrogers.com.

And thank you all, e-mail subscribers or not, for following and commenting!

The Writing Paradigm

Ponderous title, no?

The paradigm of writing has been one of my discoveries, the kind that slaps you upside the head and then laughs at you when you look back over your benighted stumble toward understanding and realize that it was always there, obvious. You were just too dense to see it.

ParadigmWebster’s defines paradigm as “a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a scientific community.” The OED weighs in less ponderously than one might have expected, “A worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject.”

I should have reflected on the definition. Strike the ‘scientific’ and you realize that paradigms are ubiquitous: everything from religion to sandwich-making at Subway has its paradigm. And, as I realized over time, I was light on the ‘methodology’ part of the writing paradigm.

When I began, I thought writing was made up of story-telling and mechanics. I quickly learned (i.e., was corrected) that what I called story-telling is Voice, a somewhat mystical characteristic. Part in-born talent, part life experience, the experts intoned. Not something one can learn by rote. Asked for more specifics, the experts universally mumble something about it having to do with the wealth on one’s life experience and … read a lot. I kind of get it.

I had a rock-solid control of grammar and vocabulary (or so I thought). English major, you know. I had read a lot. Couldn’t do much to influence that ineffable quality called Voice. So what more did I need?

Well, a lot. I’ll call it Technique, the methodology of writing. It is the part I’m learning from other writers. It’s the not-so-obvious superstructure of the story that allows the reader to follow comfortably, the choice of point of view and tense, the way characters and time sequences are introduced. Thankfully, this is stuff one can learn.

It does make it hard, though, to do a rewrite on one’s magnum opus and realize just how much one has to learn. Always the optimist, I look forward to the next epiphany.

Genre, quantification and precision

I was just trying to remember how to forward my land line. I went to the Xfinity website. Before I found the answer, though, I was presented with a survey about how my experience was. Which got me to thinking …

It seems more and more of our experience is being quantified, presumably to make various commercial activities easier for merchants and service providers. The power of virtually infinite computer power and the Internet have helped us make a giant leap in the way we slice, dice and parse our lives.

There is some evidence that this preference for classification is hard-wired … a survival skill. And that Babylonian who marked out the first pictographic writing probably worked for the then-equivalent of Amazon. Certainly Aristotle carried the notion of divisions and subdivisions of practically everything forward.

Which brings me back to genre. It’s a conundrum for a beginning writer: to get through the genresvery narrow eye of the needle that leads to a published work, you need to know your genre and state it in the first line or two of a query to an agent or a publisher. Trouble is, “genre” is a pretty vague notion, the more so because published authors routinely ignore it.

Not too long ago, as my weekly writers’ group worked through my first novel, Fatal Score, one of the members said, “This novel is a bit literary for a thriller.”

“A bit literary” made me think of Amazon’s review questions. Amazon is now asking a series of classifying questions that would warm the cockles of Aristotle’s heart when one reviews a book. (Example: How would you describe the plot of this book? Predictable/Some Twists/Full of Surprises). Maybe we should go to a more precise, numerical score for genres. Perhaps a ‘literary-ness’ dimension. (This would of course be a vertical scale with Literary on top and Commercial on the bottom.) Then a complexity dimension (much like the fog index) with board books at one end and a modern philosophy text at the other. There could be many others.

I can just see the first line of the query:

Fatal Score (88,900 words; 8.4 action/6.7 character/5.1 tension/6.4 litfic/7.4 complexity) is a thriller about big data, the brutal reality of future medical care, and an ordinary guy who makes an extraordinary discovery.






Stop Saying “I Feel Like”

One of the many challenges I face as a beginning writer (I can still claim novice status, particularly when making novice mistakes) is the issue of how temporal to be. “Temporal” often means “temporary.” Who knows how long LOL or awesome will last? And, do you really want to date your writing? Then there’s the more complex issue … vocabulary and usage reflect a character’s expressed personality, which is a function of the time and place. “Cool, daddy-o” doesn’t work in a piece set in the 1890’s. Certainly, leave out y’know, like and other limping conjunctions and fillers that are common in conversation … except maybe occasionally, as linguistic spice.  That part I got.

Less obvious is the subtle change discussed in a New York Times opinion piece,“Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’ ” by Molly Worthen. She notes, “imperfect data that linguists have collected indicates (sic) that ‘I feel like’ became more common toward the end of the last century. In North American English, it seems to have become a synonym for ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve … But make no mistake: ‘I feel like’ is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: ‘If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.’ The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument.”

So, possibly irritating phrases (such as) “I feel like” don’t get expunged because the help define the characters inner self?  The next big question:  “I feel like” is like fingernails on a blackboard to me, but does it describe a character’s state of mind to my reader?  Am I justifying not including it because I am, after all, an English major living on a higher plane of language?  Is that higher plane really an affectation?

No more questions.  Start, like, writing!