Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Audience for the Solitary Writer

            A theater director coached actors to imagine telling their story to their audience, not speaking directly to the audience, but telling the story in a way that involves the audience emotionally, that makes the audience a part of the story by having them become invested. We see this happen when audience members sit up in their seat, lean forward, wishing they could get up there to help.
            I was thinking of how this would apply to writing, a process that has no initial audience, since most of us write alone. We’re often told to write for ourselves, as if no one is watching. This is good advice for those who have strict censors over their shoulder or for those who sacrifice their truth to market appeal. But I’m wondering about the value of imagining an audience in the first stages of writing, not a critical audience but a generous and sympathetic audience, an audience who is invested and wants to help. Or an audience you feel needs to know the story, desperately needs to hear it.
Would a new energy come out in the prose?
I’m going to experiment here.
In the corner chair, a man reads his newspaper. I don’t know him. He rubs his eyes. He has a pencil in hand, perhaps filling in a crossword puzzle. We will never meet, and when I walk out the door, our lives will proceed in separate directions, though we don’t know that really. We don’t know the parallels, that maybe being in this square of the grid right now means passing the same intersections on leaving, running in our paths only a sliver apart in the great expanse of space.
Let me try again, trying to invest you, my audience, in this moment too.
He crosses silver-haired legs, a newspaper resting on his knee. His pencil teeter-totters between his fingers, waiting for his brain to snare the word, command the letters to fill the boxes. Sunday morning crossword at the local coffee shop. What he does when he leaves, I don’t know. Does he pull up a curved driveway into a white garage? Does a schnauzer or greyhound bark behind a red closed door? At home, his wife tosses yesterday’s newspaper, softened under his scribbling, into the recycling. She’s yawning; he’s now rubbing his eyes, the teetering pencil paused. I sip my coffee, knowing that though the grid we’re in, intersecting at this coffee shop, is wide enough to hold separate lives, that given the expanse and chance of space and time, we won’t intersect here ever again. His brow narrows now on the word at hand. Mine narrows too at this deciphering, wondering when I walk out of this sliver of the grid we share, what I leave behind, what he does, and what is tossed like the softened newspaper that once held the energy of his moving hand. How I’d like to hold it all, keep him valuably alive however faraway his sliver of the universe moves from ours.
Not quite there. The idea of a grid and our place is large, philosophical, maybe straying too far from telling the immediate story. I haven’t convinced you yet, I think. Because maybe I don’t need him, don’t need you to know him. I’m not fully invested yet myself.
            If an actor isn’t invested, the theater director offered another piece of advice: imagine the person or action to be something you’re familiar with, someone you care deeply about or a situation that is particularly important to you. Replace the scene you’re in with this familiar one so your true emotions come to the surface. Another attempt:
My name is Melanie and I was once in love. I’m not a beautiful woman, a sharp jawline, nose too large, but he was a beautiful boy. Oh, his tiger eyes, lashed and arched in black, the sweep of dusk on those bedroom lips, that hair so black the glittering universe swooned for it. This could be him forty years into our futures, one slim leg crossed over another, silver-haired now over the dimming shine of his brown skin. A morning crossword puzzle at the local coffee shop, sipping oversweet coffee, a pencil teeter-tottering between pianist fingers as his mind waits to snare the right word. On this grand grid of space and time, we have not intersected since that young and lustful falling. I don’t know who waits behind his door at home, as he skips the porch steps to the landing, still agile though he rubs his back’s new ache. What car in the parking lot will take him to that home. His brow narrows on the word at hand, and I imagine a wife at home, tossing the softened newspaper from yesterday, his scribbles rubbed from the careful boxes already. This could be him, the boy removed from my life but never erased. Somewhere on a perpendicular or a parallel track, or oh, knowing him, on an angle all his own, twisting the ninety into a backward angling thirty-five, rounding like the twine he used to wear around the sculpted tendons of his sun-browned neck, the dangle down his plated chest…the dream of unwinding all he was to find his center, like pinning the possibility of his life on this stranger sitting in the coffee shop, tapping the unfinished crossword on his knee. Me, hoping he doesn’t toss it in the trash when he leaves, that he holds onto what’s unfinished. The way I’m held, with unfinished longing, trying to circle in on this infinitely receding grid.
And in the director’s advice, the next thing is to put that emotion for the true thing in your life into the play at hand, the imaginary character and scene. To imbue this stranger with the love for the boy.
Odd now…I’m finding I don’t want to make the transference. The boy is the story. Is every story. Distance and connection; hope and love.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Show Don't Tell: Another Look

Good writing isn't as easy as following a list of ten rules. All writers have heard the importance of learning the technique "show, don't tell." But in too many blog tips and how-to lists, I think the concept has become oversimplified to a quick-and-easy fix, as if changing an adverb to an action fulfills the quest for reader involvement.

I recently came across a writing handbook that suggested showing rather than telling a story and gave a short example:

Telling: "No, I won't go," Ron said angrily
Showing: "No, I won't go." Ron slammed down the phone.

Within the context of a story, this might work. As readers, we might have been feeling Ron's anger building for three paragraphs and the phone slamming is exactly what we would do too. But as an example of learning to show and not tell, I think it fails. And I see lessons like this too often. If the reader isn't feeling the same anger, the action of slamming the phone will be as ineffective as "Ron said, angrily." So what?

"Show, don't tell" isn't simply replacing a stated emotion with a physical action (Jillian felt sad/Jillian wiped a tear). It's the writer becoming so involved in the story that he or she stops telling it. The story begins happening around the writer; the story's world reflects the feelings and governs the actions. The reader is then involved in that world because the writer is involved.

I came across a passage from Elizabeth Chadwick's novel The Summer Queen. I would present this as a superb example of an author showing us the story as the character lives it rather than telling us what the author thinks the character feels about the story. By its close, I feel my breath tight, suffocating on the news.

      William broke the seal, read what was written, and turned to Alienor. “Madam, perhaps you should sit down,” he said, gesturing to a carved bench near the wall.
      She stared at him. Dear God, Louis was dead, she thought. She did as he suggested. Roses overhung the seat, heavy and red, their perfume filling each breath she took.
      A frown clouded William’s smooth brow. “Madam,” he said gently, “I grieve to tell you that Raymond, Prince of Antioch, has been killed in battle against the Saracens.”
      Alienor continued to stare at him. The smell of the roses intensified and the air grew so thick that she could barely breathe, and what air she did inhale was drenched with the syrupy sweet scent of flowers on the edge of corruption.
       She felt his hand on her shoulder, but it was a flimsy anchor.

I would suggest delving deeper into "show, don't tell" by reading good, respected writers who have proven their skills over time. I would look at passages in which you, as a reader, have felt the emotions deeply, have experienced a setting and become lost in it.

To show and not tell isn't as simple as phrase replacement. When I'm editing my work, I sometimes come across pages in which the story feels distant to me. I'm not involved. Nowhere in them do I necessarily find a pointless dialogue tag or have a narrator say, "Samuel felt confused." Yet, something is missing. Despite steering clear of what appears to be "telling," the story isn't immediate; it's not "showing" the world in an authentic, immediate way that makes me feel without thinking and know without being told.

Think back to when you were a kid playing pretend. Your parents call you for dinner and you suddenly realize that you have been gone from this world, lost in something else as true. Think of those day or night fantasies, those moments when we imagine a scenario and forget we're driving or become startled as someone speaks. I think writing requires that same state of being lost to one world and alive in another. When we pretend, we don't tell. We are doing. And in a good story, that doing is shown to a reader.

So, to those quick-and-easy writing tips, I would add just a little more: Don't simply slam down the phone. Be there to know the phone and the table it's on, to know the clipped, tense language that surrounds you, to know if the air is thin or heavy, to know the history of the relationship happening over the phone. Be in that place and time with that character so that what happens is inevitable.

Show the reader what you saw when you were there, so that they can be there too, without instruction, without clear guidance, but inevitably as they follow your character, as they read the next words.


Patricia J. Esposito is author of the novel Beside the Darker Shore

Reviews of Beside the Darker Shore:  
GLBT Bookshelf
Two Lips Review
Goodreads/Thomas Olbert

Friday, January 22, 2016

"Patricia Esposito’s haunting and thoroughly cutting edge vampire novel Beside the Darker Shore effectively combines gay romance, political intrigue and paranormal horror in ways few writers would dare attempt.... The story asks the age-old question of whether Man’s highest ideals are shining beacons leading us into the future, or just fragile dreams that crumble before the hot blooded drives of nature. At times a drunken dance of shadows and a rapid descent into madness, the story spares us nothing, not that first taste of innocent blood, nor the burning rays of the sun, nor a fledgling vampire clawing his way out of his own grave."

Five-star review of Beside the Darker Shore by Thomas Olbert

Available for purchase

Five-Star Vampire Novel

Five-star review of vampire novel Beside the Darker Shore from GLBT Bookshelf

By Aricia Gavriel GLBT Bookshelf

Review excerpts:

"Here is the most unusual and original vampire novel I’ve ever read – I know of nothing else like it, and I’ve read numerous novels in this genre...The story is so complex, you’ll have to roll with it and take up the details by osmosis. I can image the author trying to fathom how to set up this scenario via a conventional backstory. It would have been virtually impossible, and the alternative would have been to dramatize the whole shebang, ending up with a novel bigger than The Lord of the Rings. So roll with it, let osmosis happen…"

"The writing style is also unorthodox, with a narrative so rich in detail, words often seem to dance off the page. When it works, it’s deeply evocative – I’m reminded of Poppy Z. Brite on steroids! Occasionally, the unorthodox nature of this 'freeform' narrative can be a mite hard to follow – sometimes it’s not clear who’s doing and saying what – but overall, the novel’s voice is so fresh, I was beguiled to the end...It’s complex, as I said … you’ll need to concentrate, because you won’t be spoon-fed. You know how there are books that lull you to sleep? This one flips your brain’s 'on' switch!"

Five stars out of five, highly recommended.

Another five-star review
Available as ebook or paperback

Saturday, January 9, 2016

If you don't want to be called greedy, don't be greedy

Investors Business Doesn't Like the Term Greedy

So people just redefine terms when they don't want to be called by them? The article linked above does.

Words have real definitions. Merriam Webster's says greed is "a selfish desire to have more of something (especially money)" and often power as well. So regardless of whether or not the writer agrees with Sanders's policies, the hook for this article doesn't work. "Selfish" is an important part of the definition and "more." It has nothing to do with how hard people work to get what they are greedy for. Many people work very hard for power over others.

So when the author says, "That's not Webster's," instead of trying to change the definition of "greed," why doesn't he address the real reason he objects to the use of the unflattering term "greed"?

Because it's an unflattering term? Because it's not a Christian (or any religion's) value? Because he believes that anything he has worked for is his to the degree he wants, regardless of whether others are working toward his profit, regardless of whether he's harming others in the process? Because he places the individual over society and greed enables the individual to no longer need society? Because if a person amasses enough, he is above the needs of the majority and so is not dependent on others for help or labor or kindness, virtuous traits that he would have to ignore at the risk of being called proud, callous, greedy?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Blurring the Line: Interviews with Horror Writers

Horror can range from stories that elicit heart palpitations to cringing and nausea to an unease that won’t let go. Horror that makes me jump and then laugh at the adrenaline rush can be fun, and I can appreciate the imagery of a well-done slasher scene—both designed to shake us, give us a quick thrill?—but I generally seek out horror that evokes that unnamable unease, that makes me think and wonder and try to establish how the horror might fit in myself or the world I’m part of. 

I think the unknown plays into most horror; however, I’m drawn to horror that remains a bit of a mystery, that entails the ambiguous, something that might lie within us if not without, or that we finally perceive with a sense of near awe because it is beyond our control and yet part of this world, not to go away. 

In the new anthology Blurring the Line, editor Marty Young, founding president of the Australian Horror Writers Association and an Australian Shadows Award winner,  has pulled together stories that blur the line between reality and fiction, reflecting the strange, often surreal, mystery of our world. Each day, upon the book's release, authors in the collection will answer some questions about horror, from what horror is to them to what writers have influenced them most. 

I will add links to each interview below as they appear each day. Blurring the Line is now available, in time for holiday gifts or for a taste of the more sinister during the winter season bustle! 


Patricia J. Esposito is author of Beside the Darker Shore and has published numerous works in anthologies, such as Main Street Rag’s Crossing Lines, Cohesion Press’s Blurring the Line, AnnaPurna’s Clarify, Timbre’s Stories of Music, and Undertow’s Apparitions,and in magazines, including Not One of Us, Scarlet Literary Magazine, Rose and Thorn, Wicked Hollow, and Midnight Street. She has received honorable mentions in Ellen Datlow's Year's Best Fantasy and Horror collections and is a Pushcart Prize nominee.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Apolonio's Light -- vampire novel start

Arturo -1-
I have had moments of pride. Ah, fine, if you listen to your century’s wide, wireless infidelity, you’ll say I’ve had many moments of criminal pride. Arturo de Rosa—I use a brief name now for all I’ve been.
I brush a fly from my face and it returns to crawl up the black silk strands that drape my shoulder. I wonder if my long hair will be bug infested. I am eternal but I am not a god. At night mosquitoes nip and spiders bite and in the day the damn flies crawl over a body that doesn’t sweat. Yet I have scent. And like you, I’ve had moments of pride.
Fear them—those prideful moments.
Wait! Do not sweep me away, nor turn the next page. I imagine you reading this tale on loose leaf, crumbling it now and high-fiving it to the tall chrome pail.
Because loss and fatigue have made me humble, do you look to your surroundings for reassurance? Yes, let’s look at what you’ve accumulated, how grand the house stands in exclamation of how well you’ve done. The family talks around the table of Cornish hen and apple stuffing and organic greens from the fresh-mart. “Toss it in the recycling, Maddy.” Yes, you are successful.
What blood will be drawn, what spirit diminished in self-reflection? I stood in the Mosque at Cordoba, having led good hearts to this place of transformations. I could not kill my conscience on my own. I needed the help of the righteous.
Let me walk with you in your true-green grass. Ice clinks with the soothing sound that only crystal can sing as we sip. Sip? I’m generous—I believe that was a full-mouthed gulp. But we deserve it after such a day. Such a day. Into your phone, you say, “They don’t matter. It’s the edge we need.” There is much configuring in the world of the mighty. Our polished shoes crush the grass. Good-soled, we don’t feel the worms beneath.
But I was talking about fear before these distractions. Though pearly with lack of direct sunlight, my skin has a glossy health. I take my fill of nourishing blood, only the best, as you feed your progeny at the table their gluten-free, pesticide-free, soy-free, freeing wholesomeness. It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? Providing security and health? It defines us. It names us good. We look in the mirror and see success. And all that configuring and all that power points toward us, center of the universe.
As dawn rose from the dead in its humbling ritual, the mosque began to drown me. I needed him, my nemesis, my conscience. To survive, I needed him slain. I needed his blood. How else is one to survive but on the blood of others? The naïve willingness of the masses to … ah, am I naming my conscience “the masses”? I admit I did not mean to. Another humbling experience, when our words speak truths we didn’t know.
In the mosque, the man was Alexandros de Mersecal, a vampire, and it is his ash that itches under my healthy glossed skin. His ash that the flies smell. Inside, I am deteriorating. Conscience. It does us all in. With time. Do you have time?
From the verandah of empty wealth, I watch you cross the grass, phone to your ear, drink in hand. I pretend we are one because I am going to kill you. Through treated floorboards, insects find me. The Mosque is an open, pillared structure, an ordered labyrinth with the illusion of chaos if you believe everything is yours—if you demand the sight be mastered. How we fight the world we are part of.
The cellular voice picks at you, picking, tick, tick, pick, like the borers infesting the maple. “Damn, that’s why I’m at the top,” you say. “Edge.” It’s all about the edge, how we make our space, control the pillar in the labyrinth, while the lost wander hollow in a hollow place. Poor souls. I’ve found it’s easier to kill those we pity. I am trying to pity you, but the day has worn me.
You fall into the padded lounge chair and I close my eyes. My own phone buzzes like the mosquitos. I don’t need to open my eyes to know its message. “Arturo, where are you?” they keep demanding, and I don’t answer. I prefer talking to you. You swat bugs and settle back, your drink at rest on your thigh. Your pestilence encourages my hunger. Hunger to dash your greedy desires, your disdain at my dream: the moon and the sun, a boy, the magnetic nucleus.
Mon Dios, that buzzing! I throw the phone at the verandah screen and it bounces back. It buzzes. You slap a mosquito on your arm and stare at your bloodied hand. Desire stirs, but I don’t move yet. The dream is coming again: a young man mirrored, unsure what’s real and what’s beyond. The phone buzzes as annoying as the insects.
I fly over green-grass ocean. “Success is inconsequential,” I say to you and fling your phone to the grass. You don’t know how to scream without preparing its presentation. The silence amuses me, just legs kicking for life against polyvinyl-coated fluff and foam. I will give you to the river. Your blood will take me to this family’s son. My dream follows the moon.