Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is writing a book review, writing?

On my other Blogger blog I wrote a preliminary assessment of a religious history focussed on mid 19th century Newfoundland. I am engaged in writing a review of this book for a scholarly journal, as I am an historian who specialized in Anglicanism.  Here I decided to post a few thoughts about writing book reviews and especially those for scholarly journals.

I am a writer, sometimes successful in terms of money earned, more often not. I don't think of myself as an author as the term seems too pretentious for me, though not for others. If I were indeed an author I think I would have to wear a tweed jacket and smoke a pipe and have one of those professional head shots you see on the back covers of hardback novels.  I am not that. I am merely someone who cannot stop writing words. I write poetry primarily, but also history. My main work is a combination of poetry, romance, prose, photographs, drawings, fonts, etc etc.

So, is writing a book review for a scholarly journal, writing? Am I functioning here as an historian which is my day job, or am I a writer firstly?

I don't yet have the answer, BTW. I am writing this blog post to sort this out in my own mind.  I tend at this point to say that a book review is evidence of my status as 'writer' more than my status as 'academic historian'.

But, is separating one's persona into discrete categories a reflection of reality?  I teach the history of religion and emphasize that the use of categories for all things and all people and all human constructs is part of modernity. But the world only began to enter 'modernity' about 500 years ago. Five hundred years is a long time in human terms, but a blip in terms of the existence of humanity which goes back perhaps a million years.

On my writer's web page I have this:

My brain is a dusty old attic with boxes on shelves in no particular order. Sometimes a box teeters and falls and the box spills open and poems, stories, observations fall scattered about on the floor. I may pick up one that attracts my gaze and bring it out for others to see.

he danced on the dusty floor sending clouds of dust  higher and more, laughing and sneezing all at one as he was draped in a fine powder of poems and things.

This is not a description of a man who categorizes anything much. Perhaps I should leave it at that. As long as I am making words fit together, I am writing. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017


I had actually forgotten about this blog!  I am so immersed now in actually writing rather than writing about writing that ... well.... look!  I haven't posted here since June of last year.

I was thinking tonight about my first efforts at writing. I was 13 and I scribbled away at my desk at home on yellow lined paper with a pencil. I had attended church with my family and something in the sermon sparked me. So while my mother made Sunday lunch I wrote about Religion & Science - my opinion then being that as Science advanced, Religion would decline. Nothing is ever that neat and simple, or at least not in my experience. But the act of writing was an expurgation to me. This is still a central motivation for me to write: to expunge built up accretions of ideas and emotions. I learned a second motivation in that early essay:  I like to fashion words into sentences... elegant, or clumsy or neat and concise... I enjoy moving words around. Now, with computers and word processors that is relatively easy, but then it involved erasing or scribbling out and writing in above, or worse if using a typewriter it means redoing an entire page and maybe the page after. I don't recall rewriting any of this first essay.

It was followed by others as I felt such release and such satisfaction in the act of writing. Hmmmm. This sounds like sex! Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Feeling Sick and being male and writing

Men, as legend has it, are big babies when ill. I am ill, sick, under the weather, and altogether discombobulated. I am writing this to see if I can write while sick. I have a doozie of a cold - coughing, snotting, headache, achy in general but worst of all, a thick, cotton filled mind.

Part of me is different from the standard issue male. That different part has always stood aside from 'me' and observed 'me' - coolly and dispassionately inside my head watching and taking notes. Now that separate from me, me is assessing if I am indeed playing up my illness for sympathy - even self pity.

I'm not sure as I now feel the first small signs of healing, just as a few days ago I felt that first scratchiness in my throat that I ignored. I don't get much sympathy anyway and I live pretty much alone here in my head and for the past few weeks physically also.

I suppose men do like sympathy in illness, and just as the other side of the legendary coin has it, women soldier on, needing no sympathy and able to function as normal even when sick.

Mostly I am annoyed as I have so much work to do, both writing and teaching and I resent the intrusion of illness.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Erica Ehrenberg is DANGEROUS

I was given a subscription to the Paris Review this year (or maybe last - I can't recall if it was for Christmas 2015 or my birthday in January....when you get old years zip by and leave you trying hard to remember what year it is, let along the month or day of the week. Everything is rushing to an unknown conclusion).
I dip into the two issues I have now, mostly the digital versions on my iPhone as I can pick that up and put it down (virtually anyway) when ever. I just read a short bit of prose poetry by Erica Ehrenberg. Because I had no idea who she was, I read it...
I could taste and feel every word image there.
I then googled her (I misspelled her name, but Google  that ever-helpful cyber thing corrected me) - no Wikipedia article sadly, but a very short bio in the Harvard Review - then I clicked on the poem published there.
She writes as I wish I could. When I began writing poetry again about seven years ago, I knew I could not read any other poetry as I have this terrible flaw that causes me to write in the same style as the person whose words I just I wrote more and more I became more confident and allowed myself to read snippets of Cohen and of Catullus. But her work is too close to mine..... and I am addicted after only two...... they say that's all it takes with dangerous drugs! 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blogs, blogs and more blogs

I have had this blog and a sister blog on the history of religion  for some time now. Recently I began other blogs using Wordpress, which works better as a combination blog and website. I wasn't sure what I would do to sort out this mess of blogs. My mind does tend to disorder which, against all rational evidence, I maintain is a strength. Well, no matter, it is.

What I have decided to do is maintain my two 'blogger' blogs as places where I can and will ruminate on general aspects and thoughts about religion and writing.

My WordPress blogs will be places where I present actual works that will be published, usually as eBooks. I came to this idea after attending two online Indie Fringe festivals - one congruent with the London Book Fair and the second at Book Expo America in Chicago, with a third this year to come at the same time as the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In the first fringe festival, Nina Amir presented a session on turning a blog into a book. My daily life is such that I rarely have good blocks of time free to write. Rather I usually have 10-15 minutes here and there throughout a day. Nina Amir's session noted that if you wrote three or four blog posts a week, each running around 3-400 words, by the end of a year you would have at least a 50,000 word first draft of a book. This I can do, no matter how constrained my writing time.

This is the genesis of my idea to separate the essential functions of each blogging platform. Blogger, or blogspot, is well designed for a straight blog, but less so for functioning also as a website. WordPress works well as a website, with a blog function attached.

So..... I have several books planned for WordPress:  The Man who fell from the Sky (in the editing stage now); World Religions, Religion and Society, a book about the experience of teaching online courses, and a few poetry books.  I am also working on a novel which is nearly in its editing stage so won't appear as a blog.

Thus, this blog about writing and the writer's life, will continue but better focussed now. My History of Religion blog will also continue with ideas, thoughts and observations as they occur to me about religion and how it functions in the world.

I may cheat a little from time to time by mentioning the books I am blogging as they take shape.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Public Speaking & Marketing

The other night I gave a half hour talk to a small group. Some nine years ago I wrote a book that serves as a guide and introduction to an historic site where I live in Hamilton, Ontario. This is Dundurn Castle, an 1830s mansion built by a colourful character, Sir Allan MacNab. A small group called the MacNab Circle meet once a year to hear a speaker and to talk about this man and his life. I must add I was their second choice. Their preferred speaker could not do this, so I was asked on her recommendation. This recommendation highlights one aspect of marketing - word of mouth - schmoozing - getting to know as many people as possible. You never know what that will lead to. Secondly, and more importantly, I learned a hard lesson. They were all very kind that evening, but I know my talk did not go well. There are good personal reasons for this, which I won't go into, but I was not, shall we say, a shining star in their 48 years of listening to talks once a year.
I decided to make this a 'learning experience'. I think it is absolutely vital for writers to become known  not just through your work, or through a 'dust jacket' photo (whether on an eBook or a printed book), but as a living, breathing human being. Small talks to small groups do this as do large talks to large groups. I did quite a few of these several years ago when I had a number of books coming out and became proficient at this particular skill. But several years had passed before this talk and I had lost the expertise.
It is a skill I need to relearn and more importantly to hone. I didn't allow myself enough time to prepare properly. I had to spend a great deal of time re-acquainting myself with the subject matter, which is vital. But this meant I had virtually no time to prepare a talk that grabbed and held the attention of the audience. I have to retrain myself so I appear open, friendly, knowledgable and someone worth the attention of an audience.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 to do file

Today I listened to one of Joanna Penn's podcasts. This was a chat with Jane Friedman. Both these experts offer sensible and pragmatic advice for indie authors. Jane Friedman recently posted this:

5 Industry Issues for Authors to watch in 2016

This post contained eminently practical advice for writers.  This was also the genesis for the podcast chat with Joanna Penn.

Three points stood out for me.

1. a new self publishing advice destination:  Hotsheet

This handy item provides indie authors with quick summaries of things to watch for in the digital publishing world - so you do not have to google around the net looking. It is produced by Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson.

2. Audio books. Apparently audio books are booming (no pun intended).  This idea has been stewing in my brain for a while. As it is, I have included audio in my multimedia experimental book, The Man who fell from the Sky

3. Most importantly, mobile devices:  More and more readers of eBooks are doing so on their so-called smartphones. Rather than reading on a Kindle, or a Nook, for example, people are reading books on their phones. Myself I have these apps on my iPhone: Kobo, iBooks, Kindle, Wattpad, Indigo, Gutenberg Pro, Goodreads, Bluefire and the Internet Archive. The advice at the very end of the podcast was to revamp your web page to be sure it is easily readable on a mobile device. Already I test my experimental ebook on my iPhone rather than an iPad or laptop.

PostScript:  I say 'so-called smartphones' because in reality  a 'smartphone' is a pocket computer that has the capability of making telephone calls - but fewer and fewer people are using these devices as phones.  Most often they are used as computers.