Friday, October 19, 2012

Bones, Bones, Lovely Bones

I'm not a celebrator of Halloween, but have been known to read the odd dark fantasy, watch the occasional horror flick, and write a weird tale or two.

This being October, I thought I'd root around in the dank cellars of past writing and short pieces for the reading pleasure of those for whom All Hallow's Eve is a source of creativity.

my attempt at drawing bones
First is this quirky little poem composed on the fly in 2009 as the response to an editor's new system for judging stories in our slush pile: award them bones.
Bones, bones, tasty bones
Fresh bones, blood-sticky, flesh-spongy bones
Arm bones and thigh bones and tiny, skinny finger bones
Puzzle-cut spine bones and knobby-ended wrist bones
Not-so-round skull bones
Shovel-scooped collar bones, wing-like shoulder bones
Bones, bones, lovely bones
White-boiled angels floating in my stew
In keeping with the previous image, here's another sideways bit, this time a piece of flash fiction I composed for a contest Adam Callaway hosted over on his blog, also in 2009:
Dinner drips from my fingers, grease mingling with the blood on my boots, and I am weary from the hunt, but the cook has ruined his last meal; despite his weeping protestations, despite my wife's admonition not to bite the hands that feed us, I will have new meat for roasting.

Resigned, she sends one of the servants with a cauldron to capture the fat for rendering, and wonders aloud if the skewer will bend to breaking with such a load as it now bears.

"It's his own fault"—I kick aside his apron and bloody clothes—"for letting that annoying miniature Englishman up the beanstalk."
Y'know, I've always wondered about Jack. He invades someone's home, steals his stuff, and chops down the beanstalk, committing murder. Makes me think the giant was justified: "Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread."


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Excellence v. Mediocrity

Novelist Athol Dickson has posted an article on his site, discussing excellence v. mediocrity in writing.

It’s true many novels by Christians are poorly written. That’s also true of many other kinds of novels. In fact it’s true of most novels of every kind, but it’s not a particular indictment of mediocre writers or the readers who enable them. Most people don’t really care about excellence in architecture, sculpture, painting, or dance . . . or government, commerce, marriage, or anything else in life that ought to matter.
What interests me, is why. In our discussion about the “Worst Books” list, some of my author friends speculated that so many people dislike those novels because they were forced to read them in school and disliked them then. But these books truly are works of genius—most of them are, anyway—so why didn’t we love them in the first place?
It's a thought-provoking read, not only for writers who happen to be Christians, but for any writer who strives for excellence.

As an editor, I am constantly confronted by the "good enough" work of fellow writers who just want me to sign off on their manuscripts rather than helping them shape those manuscripts into polished books. The constant fight to challenge other writers toward excellence can be wearisome, but it's not a fight I can ignore.

Just this past week, I had an e-mail  conversation with a rookie novelist whose work is being published soon. He acknowledges that it needs more crafting, but it's been praised so highly by so many peopleI was his only negative reviewerthat he's going ahead with publication, because (as he put it himself) it's good enough. 

Not to sound overly pessimistic, but I've been feeling like the "lone voice crying in the wilderness"and then I read Mr. Dickson's eloquent, thought-provoking post. I'm dropping a copy into my archives so I can pull it out whenever I need encouragement. Or a kick in the pants.