All posts by Gwen Jones

OKAY, CONVINCE ME NOT TO GET VACCINATED. GO!

vacc-menu-fully-vaccinated

Got my second Pfizer shot last week and I’m really glad it’s over with. I feel good about getting it, and while I had some trepidation, it was never enough to cause me second thoughts. Now that I’ve had them, it made me think of the medical professional I had a chat with a couple of weeks ago. When I asked them if they had gotten vaccinated — because they were about to get intimately acquainted with a vulnerable part of my body — they were vague about it because they said it was “a personal decision.” I beg to differ. Unlike cancer or heart disease, which a body develops on its own, viruses are contagious. They seek out new hosts. My body can only get it from another body. So your “personal decision” ends when it comes in contact with me. Your body may also come in contact with someone who has yet to be vaccinated or someone who can’t. And a big population of “can’ts” are young children who are ending up sicker and with more long-lasting consequences than older people. So to those who won’t get vaccinated, to those who may carry the virus but never get symptoms, ask yourself if you’ll be able to live with your “personal decision” if it causes illness or death to someone you love. Aren’t you willing to do anything you can for them?

TIPS FROM THE MFA PIT – PART 12

Looks like it’s the end of the semester, though I have just enough time to include one more tip from the MFA pit. I know I haven’t been very timely about passing them on earlier, then two weeks apart you get two, but it’s been a very busy semester, and all of a sudden you look up and BOOM – it’s almost summer. Well, not quite, but close enough in college time. Anyway, this week’s tip look at two topics, the question of character growth over the course of a narrative, and how much info to disclose along the way. Get my side of the argument, then you decide…

Most writing instructors will tell you that a protagonist – or an antagonist – need to show growth over the course of a book. You’ve discovered a read can still be enjoyable and engaging without it. But even if there is no growth, there should be change, in the sense that we get to know their motivation, or perhaps they do, over time. They may not change or alter their behavior, but perhaps they alter someone else’s. Hannibal Lecter certainly wasn’t going to change in The Silence of the Lambs, but he sure as hell changed Clarice. And there’s no doubt that a good villain is just as enjoyable – sometimes more – than a hero. I suppose more than anything, there has to be movement, in one way or another, not only with the story unfolding, but also in the way the story evolves. And in how much is disclosed to the reader.

I’m a firm believe in only disclosing information on a need-to-know basis. Let on what is essential in telling your story while still keeping the reader guessing. Unless we’re writing in omniscient narration, we’ll shouldn’t ever see “Little did Alex know, but he was about to…” This is not Stranger Than Fiction (one of my all-time favorite movies). Drop those breadcrumbs, let the reader feel like they’re part of the process. One of the best books I ever read that did this was Burden of Proof by Scott Turow. When the murderer was finally revealed I literally gasped. I was surprised, but all those breadcrumbs tumbled into place. Each step toward the eventual conclusion, or the solving of the crime, has to also fall in line with the logic of the person acting it out. No “deus ex machina” or Dickensian surprises. The actions taken by the protagonists and antagonists have to make sense both to the characters’ personalities as well as make sense to the story. It’s okay to surprise your readers, but make sure their gasp is one of delight, not disbelief.

Until next semester — happy writing!

TIPS FROM THE MFA PIT – PART 11

Once again another edition of real-life writing in a real-life MFA program. As we’re approaching the end of the semester, I’m giving some advice to a mentee in genre writing, who’s address the topic of writing humor, among other things, like reentering the world after lockdown…

I think we’re all suffering from Spring Fever in all in variant forms. Down here in Jersey, every branch and stem burst out in buds this week, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching my husband drool and drip from every exposed orifice. Plus Monday, I had my first COVID-19 shot. I must admit, I was a little nervous (never enough not to get it), but I’ve had very little side effects beyond some arm soreness from the injection site, and feeling a bit draggy the next day. I go back in three weeks for my second and hopefully, will be equally lucky  that time. It’s going to be weird to not have to be on-guard constantly, and the world seems to be growing a bit wider every day. Makes one wonder how we’ll be reflecting on – as well as writing about –  this past year in the years to come.

Speaking of reporting, Carl Hiaasen recently retired from his long-time position as columnist and report at the Miami Herald. His final column bemoaned the sorry state of journalism, and as much as I love his writing, I couldn’t bring myself to read it, so depressed as I am at the decline of local news. My first two years as an undergrad were spent as a journalism major, and although I’ve always saw reporters as something mythic, I could force myself, at that tender age, to be pushy enough to actually become one (I don’t think I’d have a problem with it now). In any event, Carl Hiaasen is equally adept at writing pathos as he is comedy, but what I really admire about him is the wonderful way he writes dialogue. The man’s a master at it, and if you take away anything from his writing, it’s how he can push the plot along with it. And yes, he’s funny, laugh out loud sometimes, and as preposterous as his plots can be, he somehow makes them believable with the seamless way he weaves reality into it. Florida, it seems, is his first love, and he never strays far from it.

Funny you should mention funny! Humor is DEFINITELY harder to write than serious. We can always summon up feelings of sympathy or danger or even love, but making something laugh is probably the hardest thing out there. So take it as a great compliment if someone says you’re funny. If you weren’t, they most likely wouldn’t mention it at all. Actually making someone laugh is like inducing an involuntary reaction. It’s a talent and if you have it, by all means, indulge it!

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Who’s funny? Am I? Sometimes I am when I try to , and other times I am when I’m not. It’s all subjective, but one thing it can’t be is forced. If it is it just comes out pathetic, and there’s nothing funny about that!

yeah, it’s hemingway, but it’s also ken burns

I was always charmed by the legendary story Papa Hemingway created on a bet, the most succinct yet heartbreaking flash fiction of all time, told in just six simple words:

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

What tragedy! What pathos! But then I found out it was complete bullshit, as the story behind the story couldn’t be substantiated. Still, it was a good tale on both sides, and a good choice of carefully chosen words, and if he didn’t create it then someone else surely did. Moreover, it’s an excellent example of Getting Right to the Point. In a literary sense, that was definitely something Ernest Hemingway was an ace at

There’s certain labels you hang on Hemingway when you think of the man or the myth: adventurer, serious drinker, womanizer, the ultimate in toxic masculinity. I’ve had a hard time thinking about the way he dealt with women, Martha Gelhorn, especially, and the way he portrayed some of his female characters. Still, I’ve always respected the parsimonious way he writes, no flowery Faulkner, he. Just straight-to-the-heart or jackhammer prose. I’ve tried to emulate it it though fail often. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.

Or miss the new miniseries by Ken Burns on PBS starting next week: Hemingway: The Man. The Myth. The Writer Revealed. I‘m always interested in a writer’s process, as it helps me understand my own. Also because I can use all the help I can get.

I AM OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER

I am old enough to remember when you could pick up the newspaper want ads and see jobs listed as HELP WANTED – WOMEN and HELP WANTED – MEN. I am old enough to have been fired from a job because the owner wanted a “fresher, more-attractive face” up at the front counter, while the backroom boys made twice what that woman did. I am old enough to remember being passed over for promotion, even though the man who got the job had less experience and education than I did. And even today, with the profession I’m in, we’re paid half as what we should be paid, and is it any accident that we’re mostly women.

Today is Equal Pay Day 2021, and according to the National Committee on Pay Equity, “This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.” Why is it, that over a hundred years after women attained the right to vote, that we’re still struggling over basic issues of fairness, when we make up 50.8 percent of the population?

SPRING PEEPERS

As I sit here, just coming off of another synchronous online class, my husband walks in with a handful of these lovely blue flowers that just busted through the yard outside. Crocuses — or is it croci? — is what they are, one of the first harbingers of spring, and that perhaps things won’t always stay as shitty as they are now. It’s March 10, and last week we were still shoving aside the snow that collected near our walks and driveways, and now it’s 62 degrees outside. Today, between classes, I ate my lunch out on the deck (standing up, my picnic table still encased in plastic). The sun’s out, daylight savings time comes back this weekend, I have a vaccine appointment scheduled (for May, but at least it’s a date), and a new book to finish. Are things looking up? Those flowers seem to think so. Maybe they’re onto something.

Housatonic Book Awards ARE NOW OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS

The 2021 Housatonic Book Awards are now open for Submissions!

The submission deadline is Sunday, June 13, 2021.

We accept submissions in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young adult/middle grade. All books must have been published in 2020.

Please Note: We are only accepting electronic payments. No checks will be accepted. To submit, click here.

After paying the submission, please email an electronic copy (.pdf) of the book to lawlor033@wcsu.edu. If you wish to submit a hardcopy of your book, you may send it to:

Western Connecticut State University

MFA in Creative and Professional Writing

ATTN: Housatonic Book Award

Department of Writing, Linguistics, and Creative Process

Higgins Hall #219

181 White Street

Danbury, CT 06810