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FOR WRITERS

On Reading Manuscripts

(In response to a new writer's inquiry)

I'm gratified that my writing has helped fill your day. About reading manuscripts, the only thing I could tell you is whether it works for me or doesn't, and stuff that doesn't work for me is published and wins awards every year.

There are plenty of teachers and authors willing to pass judgment on new writers' manuscripts, thinking themselves capable of deciding good and bad. All I do is tell new writers (1) produce art; (2) look at the art thus produced and decide if it is the art you intended. If it is, congratulations. If it isn't (3) rewrite until it becomes the art you intended or surpasses that. Whether editors or readers like it are business matters which do not concern me.

I'm the only reader I'm trying to please with my writing, which means I produce my art but renders me a terrible judge of what your art should be to you. Do you like your own stuff? When you read it are there passages that make you want to skip ahead? Do you have any doubts about it? Once you put it in such shape that you love your own stuff, then send it to someone who backs up his or her judgment with either check or rejection. If it's a rejection, all that means is that particular editor isn't into your art and go try the next editor. If no one likes it, give it a read and see if you still like it. If you still like it, welcome to the Van Gogh Be-Bop School of Art-Before-Its-Time of which I am a charter member.

But keep doing your own art no matter what, for therein lies creative fulfillment. If you want to write for money, fame, or approval see what the editor is buying, go forth and do likewise. Or you can write insurance or perhaps code. As with painters (artists), composers, and musicians, a great many writers and poets are fulfilled by making their own art. Very few make a living at it.

So, what is doing your own art? I've gone at length on this subject in The Write Stuff, but I was recently watching the Ken Burns series on the history of jazz. In that series I ran across the advice Will Marion Cook gave to the young Duke Ellington: "First, find the logical way. When you find it avoid it and let yourself break through and guide you. Don't try to be anybody but yourself."
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Finishing Up At Gettysburg

View from the Union position at Brian Farm
Back from the reunion in Staunton VA, and I completed the research at the Gettysburg Battlefield that was interrupted eight years ago by a heart problem. It wasn't book research. It had to do with a real unit in the North Carolina Infantry that my character was in, and whose individual members I had brought to life and followed through so many battles from New Bern all the way to Appomattox.

The unit was Company E of the 18th North Carolina Infantry, Lane's Brigade, Pender's Division, 3rd Corps. Its assault goal was just north of The Angle in what is popularly called "Pickett's Charge," but which in North Carolina is known as "Generals Pettigrew and Trimble's famous charge, sometimes referred to by the name of a Virginia officer."

The company's starting position, in the photograph, is just to the left of where those cars are parked in the distance. It is a little under a mile away. The view is from the Union position at Brian Farm on Cemetary Ridge. The original plan was to follow the steps of the 18th to find out if the ground had anything to say to me, and it did. I also was certain that the ghosts of that company would talk to me, at best; or give me a chill or two at least. Neither happened.

It wasn't July 3rd 1863, a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, with thousands of soldiers behind stone walls shooting down at me. I learned valuable things about the ground, however: where the men of Company E were in range, when the ground dipped and they were no longer in line-of-sight of the Union troops, when they were in open fields, when they were among trees, where the fences were, the streams and creek beds, the buildings, and so on. The novel is a work of fantasy, but the characters and background were very real. I'm grateful that I was well enough to follow those footsteps.

I managed to get my old GoPro working and made a video of my walk, and as soon as I can figure out how to piece it all together, I'll make it available. Read More 
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More Distractions and the Lure of the Other . . .

Bullock Road, Chancellorsville
So, heading down to Virginia in a few days to attend the SMA/VWIL reunion, which will give me the opportunity to do the Gettysburg Battlefield to complete a bit of research that was interrupted by a heart problem the previous time I was there eight years ago. My character, among other lives, also was a member of the 18th North Carolina Infantry in the famous assault upon Cemetary Ridge. I know from where they started and where they were supposed to end up. I had intended walking that route eight years ago, but ran out of air.

Well, in preparing for the trip, I realized I could remember almost nothing about the book I had written whose rewrite had been postponed pending another shot at Pickett's charge. So, I began reviewing the notes, the character names, the many peculiar situations my character gets in, the locations, then I turned to the manuscript. I fiddled with the title until I had a new one: Alan Trevane: Permutations. Then I almost turned to the first page----

----Jesus! This book is like quicksand, sucking me in, dragging my focus away from The War Whisperer. It's like a put-aside mistress I hadn't thought about for years beckoning from the shadows. "C'mon, Barry. You don't have to do a thing. Just look at the first page. One little peek---"

Got to concentrate on the War Whisoperer (or however the damn thing is spelled). Concen . . . funny thing about the 18th North Carolina. They were organized as the 8th NC, but in the larger organization their number didn't fit, see, so they were made the 18th, which meant new insignia, new flags . . .

. . . What? War Whisper what? I'll be there in a minute. . . .See, that picture. Well, that's where Alan Trevane stood that night at the Battle of Chancellorsville when he fired that shot that hit General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson taking him from the fray and eventually killing him. That's why the 18th North Carolina----
----Will somebody tell that other book to shut up?

*Puff, puff, puff*
. . . Now, where was I?
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"I'm so mad I can't write," and other distractions

Squirrel! . . . .
I was angry, then depressed, despairing for the sanity and freedom of my country. That kind of stuff is a loud horn next to the whisper of the story muse. It dries up the writing. What was it all about?

The neo-brownshirts managed to violently prevent another speaker from being heard at another college campus. Anyone with a love of the First Amendment, particularly writers, would look upon such occurrences with alarm, one would think—or, at least, I thought. One would think wrong, however. If the speaker getting pepper sprayed is politically to the right of Roger Moore, then there is no cause for alarm. If the students and ticket holders to the event came to hear such a speaker, then beating them, hitting them with pepper spray, denying them the words, and setting fire to the meeting place is okay to many persons in the media, commentators, the hoards on social media, and even some folks who at one time were rash enough to call me "friend."

I still have a lot of writing to do on my current project and can't afford to take time off to turn my crank and bleat my protests at the daily injustices I see before me. Words-per-day, every day, is the only way to get the book written. Still, I was hopelessly depressed and not writing anything until a tiny voice in my head said, "Don't waste it; Put it in the book."

My current project is a libertarian science-fiction epic in which, among many other things, violent forces attempt to shout down and beat down those with opposing views. It fit, what my character would do about it fit, and all of it fueled by my anger and despair? The scene began writing itself in my mind (I was on a treadmill). As soon as I'm finished with this post, I'm putting that scene into the story and tying it into the entire political matrix of the story universe. And I already know that scene will smoke.

You feel strongly against the results of the election, you feel strongly for the results of the election, don't waste it on Facebook or Twitter; Put it in the story.

Anger, fear, loss, disappointment, outrage, love, lust, obsession —it is all valuable story material, the kind that puts an electric edge on what you write. Listen to those little voices. they will inject life, meaning, and purpose into your writing. Don't tell your therapist about them, however. Word to the wise.
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SO . . . WHAT'S "A FEW NOTES ON VOTING TRUMP" HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?

It doesn't have so much to do with writing. The previous post to the Webmansion Writers Blog has to do with being a writer. It also has to do with being a performer, artist, student, teacher, lecturer, or anyone else who holds social, political, or economic views different from those in control of that person's means of advancing or making a living. During the campaigns, I caught someone on camera attempting to steal my Trump sign that I had cleverly cemented into the ground. I put the pictures up on Facebook because I thought all of my "pals" would get a kick out of it.

The reactions were predictable, although I didn't see them coming. You see, most of the writers, publishers, artists, producers, college teachers, and book publishers I know consider themselves either "liberal" or "progressive," to use the more current term. Ask them about being open and affirming, advocating diversity, and freedom of thought, speech, and press, and they are all for them. Then it became known that I had a Trump sign on my property. The issue wasn't the thief who attempted to abrogate my freedom of speech, or the more amusing likelihood he dislocated his shoulder in attempting to do so as the vehicle in which he was riding took off. The overwhelming issue was, "What was a Trump sign doing on Barry's property?" That was fine, as far as it went. As I responded, "To catch the big ones you need to use great bait."

Then began a rash of comments linking Trump to racism, misogynism (I'm making that a word), Islamophobia, the Nazi party(!), disregard and destruction of the environment, an enemy of educating America's youth, and the end to life as we know it. By association, I was linked to these things, as well. Well, exercising a flaw I share with former President Obama, I attempted to state the facts and the conclusions I had drawn from them. Obviously my mistake had been an error in messaging. I posted what I thought was a reasonable take-a-breath and calm-down message.

Suddenly men and women I have known for years, and in some cases decades, are running around in the sandbox, waving their tiny plastic shovels, and screaming with their hair on fire. The sentiments were often insulting, hurtful, usually senseless, and they keep coming. Some of those comments were coming from fans of mine as well as former writing students of mine, so I patched up my Obama flaw again and posted "A Few Notes On Voting Trump" in this blog on writing.

Okay, all of the above is free speech, and freedom to react to speech with more speech. But writers, artists, actors, news writers and deliverers, screenwriters, college instructors, students all across America who hold either conservative or libertarian views have been held back and often frozen out of their occupations by those same persons who laud attitudes of openness, diversity, and freedom of expression. I won't burden you with all the examples I know of. Just a taste: How many conservative speakers have you seen on the news who have been turned away by either college faculties or thuggish student demonstrations at publically funded institutions where freedom of expression, and protecting that right, is law? If you are an actor in Hollywood and have conservative or libertarian leanings, you keep your mouth shut or parrot the party line, or you simply don't work. Conservative college instructors who got tenure? Hello. Your meeting is in the off-campus phone booth near the meat packing plant. Conservative students who insist on being vocal about it getting scholarships or accepted at certain institutions, or maintaining their positions on student publications? Lots of luck.

In my own little case, I have had manuscripts turned down for libertarian political content. I have had editors post with me or with my agent "Don't bother sending Longyear's shit here" notices, due to political differences with some of my tales. I haven't sold a novel manuscript to a recognized major publisher since 1998. If my agent didn't have other clients he'd be on food stamps.

Fortunately, we live in technologically enlightened times. Just as social media and cable news outlets have made it possible for modern celebrities and politicians to get around the censorship, slant, and choke points of traditional news venues, modern book publishing technology has made it possible for the individual writer to get around traditional publishing prejudices and reach the reading marketplace. The many dozens of my readers in my tasteful and highly select audience can get my more current works through Enchanteds, our own publishing imprint made possible by Amazon's Kindle and CreateSpace publishing platforms, and the Authors Guild Backinprint program. I do not reach the millions of readers available though big publishing marketing, but the economics of small publishing these days is such that my brilliant, discriminating platoon of readers are sufficient to keep coffee in my pot, pork chops on the table, and me writing and publishing more stories.

My current work, The War Whisperer, is something I have been working on, in fits and starts, since 1963. Through the eyes of an abandoned boy who was literally born into government service, we see through his trials and adventures what the world is, what's wrong, and the implementation of a way to harness human dreams and potential toward achieving those things that today have almost become meaningless as words: freedom, achievement, prosperity, fulfillment. It is a blatantly libertarian science-fiction epic. This work is currently under construction as seven books. The way I write, I need to have the last one written and all of the others subsequently rewritten before I can allow any of them out of the shop. It is a great story, an important story, and it is being written by me. Those who like my stuff will like how this is written. Those who don't like my stuff, put in an Amazon search for someone whose writing you do like. The point is, unless there are some major shifts in attitudes, personnel, or ownership of major publishing houses in the next few months, you are never going to see The War Whisperer coming from any of the big traditional publishers.

I am not the only author the publishing establishment chose to repress. I'd love to list a few names of conservatives writing with words dressed in progressive verbiage, but the guys currently doing it need to make a living. Today it is much like during the days of the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the Nineteen Fifties when actors and writers who were Communist Party members, or who just attended a meeting or lecture, were frozen out of Hollywood, publishing, and performing. You don't have to be very old to remember history and the Nazis firing university professors who were Jewish or otherwise did not follow the party line. The same thing in Soviet Russia after the revolution. If you weren't Red, you were economically dead.

And just as sure as eggs is eggs, those same anti-Trump, anti-conservative, anti-libertarian folks condemning me and the American electorate will see no parallels between the "spontaneous" demonstrations against Trump, and most recently against his pick for the Supreme Court, and the "spontaneous" Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment, aka "brown shirt") demonstrations in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties designed to disrupt Adolph Hitler's opponents and repress intellectuals, Jews, Gypsies, unionists, etc., etc. Well, yeah, many of the current crop of protestors are paid to burn buildings, attack people, riot to cut off free expression, slander, vandalize, and inconvenience everyone, but they don't march in step and don't wear brown shirts—most of them. And when you think about it, Trump voters deserve it, don't they? Just like back in Berlin with those dirty commies and Jews . . . Uh, who were supposed to be the Nazis again?

So, it all has to do with being writers and that pesky old First Amendment. If you write, and if what is important to you is what you write about, then the First Amendment is your protection against the brown shirts, the paisley shirts, and the paid agitators, but only if it is enforced. Whoever gets shouted down or frozen out is important, no matter who is choking off the words nor who is getting choked. It was the anti-communists choking off the lefties back in the 'Fifties, and the lefties choking off the conservatives and libertarians up until recently. Doesn't matter whether you think someone deserves to be unheard, confined, punished, and unpaid, the loss of that person's freedom to use words is everyone's loss.

Interesting dilemma coming up in New England, 6:30 PM, February 5th, on Fox, however. Except for a stretch in Northern Maine (where I live), New England is Hillary country. Boo, Trump! It is also the Red Sox nation, and you can be denied medical help if you are rooting for any team other than the Patriots in this year's Super Bowl. However, Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady voted for Donald Trump and has yet to repent. This means that Brady supports Nazi, misogynist, racist, Islamophobic, baby-seal beating, puppy-shooting Donald Trump, which makes, by association, Tom Brady a Nazi, misogynist, etc., etc., etc. What will the Pat's fans do? I'm not sure, but if you hear Patriots fans singing the "Horst Wessel" song instead of the National Anthem, don't be entirely surprised.
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White Space: Ski Slopes & Story Beginnings

Writers: Ever freeze up trying to get an important new story started? Your mind is going a thousand miles an hour, searching for the perfect beginning, but your fingers are caught in quick-set concrete. You are jammed. The upshot is that nothing gets on the paper.

Skiers: Ever freeze up at the top of a steep new double black-diamond trail? Your heart's in your throat beating a good 500/min, your mouth's suddenly dry as dust, you're seeing yourself flying a thousand miles per hour into a solid wall of ice, but your skis are bolted solid to the snow. Not going anywhere; You are jammed. The upshot is that your tracks don't make it down the trail at all.

It was easy for me to recognize the similarity between the two situations because I both ski and write. Read More 
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