Thoughts on Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning

51F4L8SwzBL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_“Many of these stories end badly for at least one of the people in them. Consider yourself warned.” – Neil Gaiman, the introduction to Trigger Warning.

I recently – and finally! – read Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, a collection of short stories (most of which have been published elsewhere, in other anthologies, but never before brought together in one volume).

I’m not normally a short-story person – it tends to bring back too many memories of having “BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN??!!!” crammed down my throat – but Neil read two of the stories aloud when he was in Tulsa, and I adored them. And more to the point, I couldn’t get them out of my head. Especially one, whose title I couldn’t recall, about a genie who encounters what could be his worst nightmare – a woman who doesn’t want a darn thing more than she already has. It was funny and sweet and supernatural and I wanted more.

Like, I think, most collections of anything, there are some pieces here that are stronger than others. Of course, the stories I thought were not quite as good are probably the ones that plenty of others thought were the strongest. In particular, the rather longish “The Sleeper and the Spindle” was a bit, well, longish. You can guess from the title that it’s a reworking of Sleeping Beauty – and while it’s a clever one, it didn’t quite feel right as a short story, and I felt very removed from it.

But. There were others. Several others. Some that stayed with me, haunting my steps, for days and weeks after. Some that have come back to me slowly, as my subconscious processes them and tries to put them into a semblance of context.

But Gaiman, in his introduction, makes zero apology for this. “I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places? There are stories I read as a child I wished, once I had read them, that I had never encountered . . . but they also taught me that, if I was going to read fiction, sometimes I would only know what my comfort zone was by leaving it; and now, as an adult, I would not erase the experience of having read them if I could.”

The one truth of all writers is this:Β  if you want to write well, you need to read a lot. And writers can do far worse than to read Neil Gaiman. His sparseness with words, his ability to choose precisely the ones he wants to achieve the desired effect. The humor (in Tulsa, he read stories aloud, in that lovely British accent that says yes, I am talking about ducks playing poker and of course it is the truth because I am British and I am speaking with The Accent, and my dear, we all know The Accent cannot lie).

The way in which he lays down the bread crumbs, one at a time, so subtly and softly you don’t realize you’ve been led into a trap until it’s too late. As he did in the story “Click-Clack the Rattlebag.” Shades of Hitchcock creepy, that one.

Or the way in which he comes from so far out of left field, as in “Adventure Story.” Leaving the narrator just as befuddled and sideswiped as the reader.

Or how he makes the utterly ridiculous seem plausible (The Accent!!!) in “April Tale” –Β  “You know you’ve been pushing the ducks too hard when they stop trusting you, and my father had been taking the ducks for everything he could since the previous summer.”

But I think my two favorites were “October Tale” (the one about the genie), and “Orange.” Seriously. If you want to study how to write something different, this is the one to read. It is written as the responses to a questionnaire. I mean, seriously. Instead of having to think out a traditional narrative and plot and dialogue and action . . . it’s one person’s incomplete observations, made to what must have been a very incredulous investigator! No need to spell out everything. No filling in all of those pesky blanks – or even most of the blanks. It’s the epitome of trusting the reader. And in Gaiman’s hands, it works, brilliantly. Here’s a very short sample of what I mean:

24.) Yes, it was stupid. But it wasn’t uniquely stupid, if you see what I mean. Which is to say, it was par-for-the-course Nerys stupid.

25.) That she was glowing.

26. A sort of pulsating orange.

27.) When she started to tell us that she was going to be worshiped like a god, as she was in the dawn times.

See what I mean? It’s just absolutely brilliant. It does what it’s supposed to do:Β  it keeps the reader reading, because we keep asking ourselves what the freaking fruitbat?? We get just enough to keep us guessing, to see if we can put the dots together before the end – but of course, this is Neil Gaiman. We don’t. πŸ™‚

So if you’re looking for a good short-story collection to study, love the supernatural and creepy (there are several ghost stories here, too), and a good dash of British humor, you can’t do much better than Trigger Warning.

Just remember:Β  not everyone makes it out alive.

 

Here’s a review from NPR:

http://www.npr.org/2015/02/04/381641501/neil-gaiman-is-back-to-mess-up-your-dreams-in-trigger-warning

 

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When Less is More

It’s something we all hear from time to time – less is more.

But when it comes to writing, what does that mean, exactly?

Yesterday, as I was working on my young adult novel, I was reminded yet again of this adage, and how it affects my writing – generally for the better.

Most writing books will have something to say on this topic. Stephen King will tell you that adverbs are the work of the devil. A lot of writers will tell you that dialogue tags are the first thing that need to go in a manuscript (which has some merit; after all, if your dialogue and action don’t tell who’s talking, then you’ve got some work to do). Description? Of course you need it, but do you need ten pages of description? Probably not. That’s why it’s so important to work details like that into the narrative.

(I read the first page of a manuscript once where it was nothing – nothing! – but a description of this spaceship. I was so bored and confused by the end of the first paragraph that I told him to start with a character and the character’s problem, and work these details in later.)

So yesterday. I was working on my manuscript and I had several places where there were ‘problem sentences’ – sentences that didn’t quite make sense in the context to the scene, that needed rewritten.

Or did they?

Take for instance this one (problem sentence is in bold):

Bart hauled me to my feet and tucked his gun away. “Scrappy little thing, aren’t you?”

“I don’t take nothing off nobody,” I said.

He laughed. “I can see that.”

“Bart.” Sally’s voice came down the hall. “Bring the kid in here.”

And then he dragged me down the hall and into that room.Β 

Next to that line, I scribbled Why? She needs to ask why Bart has Nicky in the basement. And then I realized that just down the page a bit, she does ask. And so – voila! Less is more.

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2

Cut the problem line, and it reads just fine.

I can’t tell you how many times that trick has saved a scene for me. Here’s another example:

He stared at me, and for the first time since I’d known him, I saw fear, real fear, in his eyes. “You met Collins? He was there?”

“He liked Abby real well.” I bit the inside of my cheek, trying real hard to hang on to my temper. “Told me it’s a sin to take another man’s runner.”

“He’d know.” Simon picked up another apple, but he didn’t take a bite. “He say anything else?”

This is an example of a time when I had one thing planned for this scene, but by the time the entire thing was written and done, this line didn’t make sense anymore. Through several drafts, I kept coming back to it, wondering if I should – or could – make it work, if there was a way to revise it. And then, finally, I just cut it. And guess what? It works fine.

Of course, it’s not just about a line here or there (though if you’re trying to cut your word count, that does help). It’s also about entire scenes. For example, in this novel, my MC, Nicky, is a rumrunner in 1924. I had a pivotal scene drafted in which he needs to leave at a certain time to make a delivery to a hotel, but Bart delays him – and the next day, they find out that revenuers were patrolling that road at the time Nicky would have been there. But the hotel they were delivering to didn’t exist in 1924. So that kept bothering me. I’m a stickler for historical accuracy. In fact, at one point in the manuscript I wrote The Gueda Springs Hotel is a problem for them AND me! πŸ™‚

But. I had this other thing in the back of my mind – a local Klan parade that I just hadn’t worked into the narrative yet, though I knew it was important. Finally, yesterday, the two clicked (I literally saw the light going on in my head!) and both problems got solved. Rather that mess with the hotel, I changed the scene so that Bart keeps him from getting caught up in the Klan parade (because in the 1920s, the Klan hated bootleggers more than they hated just about anyone). That made me very happy.

Sometimes, sadly, you do have to ‘murder your darlings.’ Entire scenes get cut. Characters get the axe. Ideas don’t work. But sometimes, it works out for the best. And sometimes, rather than fuss with one line that doesn’t make a lot of sense . . . you can just cut it.

Less really can be more. πŸ™‚

Photo Challenge: Weight(less)

Gravity. Weightlessness. One gives rise to the other.

Though this leaf is almost weightless, it’s clearly still at the mercy of gravity.

leaf 1

And what effect does gravity have on this dragonfly?

dragonfly 4 vg

And what of this gorgeous Rose of Sharon? In black and white, it almost feels like it’s floating in space.

rose of sharon 5

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Now fifty, now sixty, now . . . My Adventures at an Auction

Yesterday, I went to an auction.

Ever been to an auction? Most people in my neck of the woods have – heck, most people make a hobby of it – but I know there’s a lot of people out there who haven’t. So here’s what happens:Β  auctioneers, who spend a long time in school learning this craft, sell items to the highest bidder. It goes fast, you may get lost, you may think you’ve won something that you didn’t, and you may end up spending WAY more than you thought on something you only kind of wanted. Or they may sell items “times the money,” which means they’ve got 2 or more of an item, and you’re bidding on the price of JUST ONE . If you want more than one, you pay double the price. They may also do “choice,” which means they’ll line up several sort-of-similar items and you bid on first choice.

In truth, I hadn’t intended to go – but then I looked at the auction site on Friday night, and realized that I had no choice. Because some very rare newspapers – several months’ worth of the WinfieldΒ Free Press – were being sold, and I needed them for my research into my YA novel, and they’re not available anywhere else. It felt sort of – ordained. I’d been looking for these papers for a long time, and suddenly, here they were, at this random auction!

I HAD to go. And those papers HAD to come home with me.

Some people go to auctions like that – there’s one or two items they want, and they’re bound and determined to leave with them. Others go because it’s a social activity. Meet old friends, meet new friends. See what’s there. It’s like going to the park, or the coffee shop. They may buy a few things; they may buy a ton of things. My dad went to an auction once where he was practically the only person bidding on anything. He came home with an entire stock trailer full of boxes. I still don’t know what was in all of them.

Some tips for attending an auction:

  • Be prepared to freeze to death. Dress appropriately.
  • Bring cash for the lunch counter.
  • Bring a book or something. I arrived at 9:30am. Know what time the newspapers sold? 5pm. In between there was furniture, pottery (SO . . . MUCH . . . POTTERY . . .), and tons of STUFF.
  • Look through the boxes. You never know what you’re going to find. For example, I brought home a box of World War II letters. But in that box, I found some really great things, including a ration book from WW II and passes to the White House from the Nixon administration! πŸ™‚
  • Set a max price in advance – and don’t go over it. That’s the biggest thing. What are you willing to pay for something? Will you die if you don’t take it home?
  • Prepare to fight to the death! In some cases, you’ll have to fight to be seen and heard, fight to have your bid taken, fight for a spot at the front of the crowd, and fight for what you want. One lady stood on a chair in the back while she was bidding. Like me, she’d come for one thing and one thing only. She bought it. She went home at 10:30am. Lucky.
  • YES, auctioneers really do talk that fast. It’s a learned skill. Pay attention. Sometimes, if they realize you didn’t mean to bid on that particular item, they’ll start over, but you won’t make any friends doing that. And sometimes, they’ll make you buy it anyway.
  • And never, ever bid against someone who just holds their number up in the air and doesn’t ever take it down. They came for that item. Get out of their way. πŸ™‚

So. Yes. I came home with my newspapers. Seven books in total, each spanning two months in the early 1920s. The Winfield Free Press was the KKK-friendly newspaper in my area in the 1920s, and if you want to know what they were up to, you have to have that paper. And since my YA protagonist, Nicky, is up against them, I need to know what they were doing!

The thing was, a lot of other people wanted those papers, too.

They tried to start the bidding at $100 – and then they dropped it to $50 and I started. For a while there were about five of us bidding; then, when we got to about $150, we lost a couple, and when the bidding hit $200, it was just me and another guy. He ran me up to $270, and stopped (after I gave him The Glare – you know, ladies, the one that says yeah, why don’t you just keep on with what you’re doing and see what happens, buddy!) and then . . .

They kept asking for bids!

It was five minutes – FIVE FREAKING MINUTES – before they finally let me have them. Five looooong minutes of them asking the crowd, going back to each of the original bidders – and me giving them all The Glare – before they finally dropped the gavel.

Sheesh!

All I can say is, they’d better be worth it.

As for what I’m going to do with them – well, once I finish with my research, I’m donating them to the local historical society, where they can be digitized and accessed by other historians. I think it’s important that all of these primary sources be available, in some way, to everyone. And because these are so rare, and so fragile, it’s important that they be conserved and stored properly, too.

And now – I’m off to start reading. πŸ™‚

Photo Challenge: Circle

No fancy words, no poems, no quotes. Just a few circles from this past year.

thistle and spider 1 bw

One of my favorites – a lovely thistle with a tiny spider.

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Another favorite – up close and personal with one of the sexiest cars I’ve ever seen. πŸ™‚

moon 2

The first time I ever photographed the moon and had it turn out halfway decent – my new camera might do a better job. πŸ™‚

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/circle/