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Archive for April, 2007

And when it’s easy, is it any good?

I don’t know about you guys out there, but I often find myself puzzled by my own behaviour in relation to writing. When I’m not writing I feel guilty, pressurised, missing something … So I make the time, find the space, set up the laptop, take a deep breath – and freeze.

What’s going on? I have my plan, my chapter outline, I’m near the end of the book and I know exactly what’s going to happen. But the words stubbornly refuse to flow from the end of my frozen fingers. The opposite of verbal diarrhea has set in! (Verbal constipation? Enough with the metaphors!)

But then, but then … when I finally thaw and the words trip haltingly from the fingers, I slowly get into a zone. The ideas come faster than my fingers can type them. I don’t hear what’s happening around me. I become immune to the passage of time. I go hungry as it grows dark outside. I’ve written 1000 words in 45 minutes! That’s a day’s quota in less than an hour.

So the next question is, have I written anything that’s actually any good? Have I really been creative, or have I just tapped a source of story gold, where lots happens and dialogue comes easy?

This process is fascinating to me because, when I think about it, writing fiction is what I want to do. I study for it. I read lots about it. I practice it and write down story ideas. Then as soon as I start ‘the real thing’, it gets hard. This must be why so many unfinished novels lie unread at the bottom of drawers; the author has suddenly run out of steam, lost the will to keep being creative. And maybe doesn’t like what she or he has written anyway.

Maybe this dilemma – the urge to write vs. the struggle to write – explains why so many famous writers had difficult personal lives. Of course there are many who don’t, but equally the number of great writers we know who suffered and toiled is huge. Naturally I don’t put myself in their category – even in my wildest dreams – but I do recognise that the will to be creative and the sheer effort it takes to be so are in frequent conflict with each other. Planning helps me. Having a target helps me. But more often than not I find myself putting off the writing till the afternoon, then the late afternoon, then the early evening … till at midnight I’m hammering out the last words of my 1000.

Then scrap half of them the next day.

So is there a ‘third way’? Is it possible to hit the Zone earlier, not being terrified by the blank screen and the refusal of one’s characters to play ball and say what you want them to say instead of making up their own lines? I have a friend who sits at his keyboard for an hour first thing in the morning and writes out his ‘journal’ while listening to Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece. The journal is in fact a grab-bag of ideas, thoughts, musings that have no sense or rhyme or reason – it’s just his way of limbering up the writing muscles prior to his real work. I guess these days blogs occupy that territory for some folk – an opportunity to practice writing without it being taken too seriously.

But if writers can be split into ‘squeezers’ and ‘gushers’ (those for whom each word is costly, versus those who pour it out – F.Scott Fitzgerald versus Thomas Wolfe), then I’m definitely a squeezer. So once I’ve written a blog, I often feel I’ve used up my quota of words for the day and can’t write anything else sensible. I’ve been like that since I was 18 and I guess I’m not going to change now!

So that’s me finished. I’m off to stare at a wall for a while, because obviously I can’t write anything else for a couple of days. I’m all squeezed out.

Keith Dixon
Altered Life

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Welcome to the April 28, 2007 edition of writers from across the blogosphere.

books

Jorge Goyco presents How to Befriend a Butterfly posted at Stories From Papi, saying, “A cute little story about a Butterfly who wants to get inside Hedgehog’s house.”

life

Hueina Su presents Life Balance Lessons: 7 Keys to Avoid Burnout posted at Intensive Care for the Nurturer’s Soul, saying, “Chronic stress from work could lead to burnout, which would greatly impact a person’s physical & emotional health, relationships, work, and everyone related to him/her. When you are burned out, you can’t function at your best, and everyone you care about suffer with you. It’s not difficult to see that there is much at stake. Here are some proactive steps you can take today to prevent burnout and return to balance.”

politics/current events

Cynthia McKenna, LPC, NCC presents Students and Faculty are killed at Virginia Tech – info on Post Traumatic Stress posted at CounselingBlog.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah presents Excellent Discussions posted at Koranteng’s Toli, saying, “a play featuring He of The Little Green Book. Ionesco lives!”

publishing

Elizabeth Wrobel presents Little Cottage in the Northwoods » The Secrets of Getting Published posted at Little Cottage in the Northwoods (A Writer’s Paradise).

writing

EelKat presents What Does Non-Genre Mean? posted at EK’s Star Log.

Heather Truett presents Pretty Much Insane posted at Madame Rubies.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of
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For those who missed it, Monday was International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant day. It was an uprising, for lack of a better word, against a rant by Dr Hendrix as he left the SFWA. The gist: any professional writer who give away their work is a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant.

I am a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant.

Giving away ones work can actually benefit a writer. I have free stories posted on several sites as well as my own web site and *cough* a few fan-fiction archives. I’m a regular contributer to an on-line slash zine with a large readership. As my StatCounter shows me, people surf in from those stories. The stories on my own site are hit off of key words searches (the most interesting being “throbbing alabaster cobra.”) Do those hits translate to sales? I can’t be certain. However, I get as many hits in a month off the free material as off the ads I’ve placed on sites – and I didn’t have to pay to put them there.

Stories, ficklets, poems; just because you don’t feel it’s marketable, doesn’t mean that isn’t valuable to you. As writers, it’s one of the biggest assets we have. There’s no reason not to see it as a marketing tool as well. Why PAY for advertising, when you can write a better “ad” than a 150×150 pixel cover ad slot.

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This is an appreciation I wrote for the science fiction short story “The Tenants.” It originally appeared as a part of The ED/SF Project (The Ellen Datlow/Sci Fiction Project) here. You can read the story for yourself here.

“The Tenants” by William Tenn: An Appreciation by Nancy O. Greene

“The Tenants” by William Tenn (Philip Klass) is laced with the kind of subtle horror and mental decline that comes with obsession. It starts out with the protagonist, Sydney Blake, going about things as he normally would as an employee of a Wellington Jimm & Sons, Inc., a real estate company, but the tale quickly goes from the normal to the bizarre with the introduction of two prospective tenants for the McGowan Building, Tohu and Bohu. These unusual characters are interested in renting a level of the building—the 13th floor—which doesn’t exist; while Blake is not successful in swaying them from their “impossible” interest, his boss eventually rents the floor to the unusual pair.

The situation goes on to become more bizarre. Movers and cleaning crews and even the protagonist’s secretary, Miss Kerstenberg, see nothing at all strange about the fact that “only those that have any business on the 13th floor” are able to reach the mysterious office. Blake’s mental acuity begins to decline as he tries trick after trick to get to the 13th floor, all to no avail.

Written in 1954, it appears that this story can be related to an examination of a type of “Beaver Cleaver” mentality–everything is accepted at face value, very little is questioned. People accept what should be unacceptable and those that question are seen as, and indeed driven, insane.

On the other hand, one wonders at the end of the story, and with the fate of the character, if he should not have adhered so stringently to his world view, his standards of normalcy, and his abnormal curiosity, because this is what ultimately leads to his subsequent downfall. His lack of imagination, his inability to see beyond his own experiences trap him, literally.

As his secretary explains to him, tohuoobohu is a Hebrew word for chaos and void, and the unusual tenants themselves deal in the intangibles. What kind? “The soft kind.” And they are not interested in answering questions about what they do or how they exist, the just are. Unfortunately for Sydney Blake, he wishes to know more.

But one should be careful what they wish for, as the protagonist soon finds out. By focusing on Tohu and Bohu, he is drawn into a sort of chaos and void of his own, and there is no one that can rescue him.

The well-known author and a Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Pennsylvania State University, Philip Klass—writing under his pen name of William Tenn—is primarily known as a science fiction satirist, though he also writes other types of fiction and non-fiction. “The Tenants,” just one of his many celebrated tales, is an interesting story; less satire and more subtle horror, astonishing in its simplicity.

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The “active seasons” are coming up, and so The Writers’ Block has switched a new schedule for posting. Starting earlier this month, only two writers will be scheduled to post per week, instead of five as before. That averages out to one post per month, per writer. But don’t worry, we’ll still update the blog on a regular basis and keep up the interesting content. Also, the writers here will likely also post outside of the scheduled minimum (as you can see:) so there’s that as well.

Enjoy the spring and summer seasons! These are some of the best times to look for inspiration and get started on, or finish, writing projects. Until next time.

The Writers’ Block

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The Guardian

The last six weeks have been a journey, one I’m not sure where it will end and that fills me with uncertainty. I’m trying to be open to whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life with God’s help. It’s not easy.

One day I went to the beach right in front my parent’s home in Puerto Rico and a few minutes later a few people get out of their vehichles and headed to shore. There was a young man holding his surfboard, two little girls and an older man. The girls giggled as they started playing in the sand and the wind played with their hair. The older man took out his cell phone and as his son started to walk towards the water he asked him to stop for a minute. The young man smiled as his dad took a picture of him holding the surfboard with the water right behind him, he then started to walk to shore. He stood there a few minutes looking at the waves, timing them I’m sure. I couldn’t get my camera ready before he decided to jump in on the board and off he went. His dad was closer to shore now and the girls continued playing. I snapped the picture as the dad watched his son get into the deep waters. I don’t think his eyes left him more than a few seconds at a time as he would look at the girls right under his feet, he was the guardian.

All of this made me think about whose job is it to care for our family. In life matters we all have a job to do. We sometimes want to do it all even though we are not prepared to do so, but we have developed ways to have others care for us if we need to. That’s the reason why people study different fields according to their God given talents in order to serve humanity. But now my questions is, should be rely solely on those individuals and forget about the responsability we have to be informed of our own being in order to then look for the proper assistance with others? I believe it is very important we know about ourselves; physically and spiritually. We can’t let others decide our fate and go blindly into the unknown. We can’t know it all but we can know ourselves and be able to tell when something is really wrong or out of balance.

I like to be at the gate of my affairs and those of my family, vigilant for any kind of attack that might come our way. I also like to offer guidance and support when needed even though sometimes it can be challenging. Right now I’m not sure if I have all the necessary tools to do a good job, so I’m informing myself the best way I can and feeding my soul at the same time with prayer. I’m far from perfect and I realize my nothingness before God but not as you might think. I know he created me and to him I’m very special and important, but I must realize my place before him and not become so proud that I completely forget about who created me out of love. When I acknowledge my nothingness it’s when he raises me up and begins to mold me to better accomplish that which he had designated for me.

A lot has come my way in the last six months and at times it seems overwhelming. That’s the time I need to learn to let go and blindly trust again. It’s not easy for me; the one who traces goals and projects along with deadlines to be met in order to see something done. The one who tries to be strong and resolve any kind of problem that comes my way in order to make my family happy. I like to have systems implemented in order to have everything run smoothly but my systems need to be revised again. Whenever I need to make changes it’s very hard, because I’ve been used to work in a certain manner. I try desperately different things and get frustated when nothing works. Finding the balance between love and discipline is not easy. Now I know what Oprah says that being a mom is the hardest job on earth, it is, but on the same token is the most rewarded.

So I will continue to be the guardian of those I love and do my job which entails whatever concerns them including their health and overall well being.

Do you consider yourself a guardian? In which ways?

Clary Lopez, Inspirational Author
http://clarylopez.com
http://clary.wordpress.com
The Book’s Den

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For those of you that missed the two-part inteview with Lauren Baratz-Logsted, here it is in its entirety! Lauren has some wonderful insights on writing and navigating the waters of the publishing industry.

You can visit her website at http://www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com, as well as her myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/laurenbaratzlogsted.

*****

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of several novels including How Nancy Drew Saved My Life. She is also the editor of the critically acclaimed This is Chick-Lit, a response to the collection This is NOT Chick-Lit.

Other critically acclaimed books include Vertigo (Bantam), which has been called an “erotic literary thriller” and Angel’s Choice (Simon and Schuster), her first YA novel.

(Click the books to purchase)
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In this two-part interview Lauren discusses her recent work as well as her journey to becoming a published author. She offers insight into navigating the sometimes choppy waters of the publishing industry and gives authors tips on how to build a successful career.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy:

Interview with Lauren Baratz-Logsted

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NG: You started writing when you were twelve. Can you tell us a little about how you started and why you continued to write?

Lauren: My English teacher gave us an assignment to write a story using three seemingly unconnected characters: a priest, a nurse, and a camel. I wrote a torrid Thorn Birds type of story where they were stuck on a desert isle, the camel was injured, and the priest fell in love with the nurse, renouncing his vows and grabbing her in a clinch as the camel was airlifted to safety in a helicopter. I guess my teacher liked it because he made the class listen to it three days running. This probably made the other students hate me a bit by that third day, but it was the first glimmering I had that maybe I could tell stories people wanted to hear. I guess that’s why I still write: I have stories to tell and, at least so far, people want to hear them.

NG: What is one thing people should know about your work?

Lauren: That each book is different, whether in voice or theme. The Thin Pink Line (contemporary comedy about a whacky woman faking a pregnancy); Vertigo (Victorian erotic suspense about the negative effects of a claustrophobic society); Angel’s Choice (contemporary serious Young Adult novel about teen pregnancy) – just to name three. The only thing they have in common is they have the same author’s name on each spine.

NG: Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?

Lauren: As far as I know I have two books coming out in 2007: my next comedy for adults, Baby Needs a New Pair of Jimmy Choos, about a window washer who suffers from having an addictive personality; and my second YA, currently called Hailing My Life, about a girl whose novelist mother is crushed to death by a stack of Harry Potter books, so her father moves them to CT where she becomes embroiled in a mystery involving on an online sex predator. In 2008 I’ll have my first tween book out about a 12-year-old who is conflicted about her gorgeous breasts.

NG: Both you and your spouse are writers. Has being in the same profession added to the quality of your relationship?

Lauren: Absolutely. For years we’ve had a six-member group of writers that meets around our table one night a week to share our work and drink wine. He’s been very supportive of my career and, I swear, I’m more excited about his first published book coming out in 2008 than I have been for any of mine. It’s called Sock Puppets in Love. It’s about a thirteen-year-old boy whose father died the previous semester and whose gorgeous new English teacher has now set her eye on him. Greg and I also used to wash windows together in his window-washing business, so there’s that too.

NG: Your novel, Vertigo, is set at the turn of the 20th century. Being that it’s a period piece, how have readers so far related to the story and characters presented in the book?

Lauren: The response has been extremely positive. The Boston Globe compared it favorably to the work of British best-selling suspense writer Ruth Rendell – be still, my heart! – and readers keep writing to ask for a sequel. What writer can ask for more?

NG: You edited and contributed to an anthology called This is Chick-Lit. How has the backlash against the chick-lit label influenced your writing and marketing efforts?

Lauren: It’s made me feel almost militantly protective of Chick-Lit; that’s said with a smile, by the way. Having been in this business for nearly 24 years – first as a bookseller, then as a reviewer and editor, now as a published author – I’ve never seen any other genre consistently swiped at the way Chick-Lit is. Like any genre, or literary fiction, Chick-Lit has its great books, its so-so books and its lousy books. I don’t know that it’s affected my marketing generally, though. My two most recent books, Vertigo (the Victorian literary suspense novel), and Angel’s Choice (the serious YA) aren’t Chick-Lit at all. And it’s never influenced my writing. I write the stories I want to write, with all my many voices, and leave it to publishers to decide how to position the individual books.

NG: How difficult was it for you to publish your first book?

Lauren: Very! I left my day job as an independent bookseller in 1994. It took me nearly eight years to sell a book and the first book I sold was actually the sixth I’d written. But when I hit, it was sweet. The Thin Pink Line was sold as part of a two-book deal, was published in 10 countries, and I’ve had six more books published since with more to come.

NG: What pitfalls have you managed to overcome and how would you advise other authors to steer clear of the same?

Lauren: Every path is different. I guess the thing that’s hindered me the most have been the times I’ve signed with agents who failed to further my career. But how can you advise others against that? They were all reputable agents with many successes to their names; they just weren’t the right agents for me. I would also tell authors to stop and think before posting things on the Internet. I’m 44 and am fully aware of the potential negative consequences of speaking my mind in public. And I do speak my mind. But every now and then I’ll stumble across some writer mouthing off in cyberspace and for whatever reason my radar goes up and I realize this person has no idea what kind of negatives they’re racking up.

NG: What would you tell writers that are just starting out and don’t know much about getting a book published?

Lauren: That knowledge is power, every step of the way. And the best place I know on the Web to gain knowledge and network is Backspace. It’s a community of 400+ writers and publishing professionals. I wish there had been such a thing when I was first starting out. There is a small yearly subscription fee but it’s well worth it for anyone serious about a career in writing. Oh, and my other big advice? Read, read, read. You have no idea how many people I meet who want to be writers and then tell me they don’t have time to read. To me, that’s like wanting to be a surgeon and refusing to take science.

NG: As a writer, what have been some of your most memorable experiences in the industry, good and bad?

Lauren: Bad first: When Princess Diana died just after I’d started submitting an alternate-universe romantic comedy I’d written called Falling for Prince Charles. A month after her death, a VP at one of the biggest publishing houses in the country called to tell me she loved my book and that she couldn’t buy it, that nobody could. A year’s worth of my life and my work, and it was unpublishable. Best? I guess I’ll stick with the royalty theme. The editor who worked on The Thin Pink Line heard Fergie, the Princess of York, was coming to NY to pitch a possible book project and that they’d be having lunch, so she brought my book along as a present figuring Fergie would like it. I have no idea if she ever read it – it probably wound up in the trash – but it’s fun to think someone famous might actually read one of my humble efforts.

NG: Any thing else you would like to add for would-be authors?

Lauren: It’s always the same from me. Stay alive, keep putting one writing foot in front of the other, and always remember: the only person who can ever really take you out of the game is you.

*****
I hope you found some useful insights for your writing and publishing endeavors!

Lauren Baratz-Logsted: http://www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com
Nancy O. Greene: http://www.portraits.bravehost.com

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Daniel Jolley, an Amazon.com Top 50 Reviewer, calls The Thief Maker, “An ambitious, intricately structured novel that resonates with emotion and suspense.”

An ambitious, intricately structured novel that resonates with emotion and suspense, April 18, 2007

Reviewer: Daniel Jolley “darkgenius” (Shelby, North Carolina USA) –

See all my reviews

D.H. Schleicher has given us quite an intricate story of mystery and intrigue with The Thief Maker. This is not a whodunit, and it does not follow the kind of straightforward narration of your typical mystery. Actions and events are not the true focus of this novel; they merely reflect and determine the natures of the personal relationships established among all of the important characters. The author has really taken a psychological approach to telling this story, showing us different pieces of the puzzle from many different angles. Adopting a multiple viewpoints approach, Schleicher provides the reader with glimpses of the world through various eyes caught up in a series of events that seem fated to end badly.

The novel is ostensibly about William Donovan, a con man stooping so low as to rob Alzheimer’s patients inside a nursing home. With the help of his girlfriend Alice, who works at the nursing home, and the purchased silence of security guard Lucas Tolliver, it is almost as easy as stealing candy from a baby. That story is only a small part of the novel, however, and I wouldn’t even call William the main character, although the demons he has fought ever since the utter breakup of his family when he was a child prove a driving force in everything that transpires. For me, though, the heart and soul of The Thief Maker is a child named Rex Gail. In one sense, Rex represents all of the main characters, individuals trying to make sense of lives that have become far too complicated and have included more than their share of trauma. Rex was born with AIDS to a mother who gave him up after birth. He spent his earliest years with psychologist foster parents communicating through sign language instead of his own voice. Then his mother Marie cleans up her act, gets custody of Rex, and takes him to live with Felice, her new lesbian partner. When Marie dies of AIDS, she leaves Rex with Felice for all the wrong reasons. William eventually enters the boy’s life and becomes something of a foster father to him (albeit a pretty unreliable one), ultimately introducing even more chaos in to the young lad’s unfortunate life.

If you were to draw a diagram of the links between all of the major characters in this book, you might end up with something looking like modern art. These are sets of seeming strangers who have profound links to one another that gradually surface – sometimes in rather shocking fashion – as events unfold. You have, for example, a young lady who discovers, as a young adult, that her sister and mother are not what they have always claimed to be. Then there’s a family that falls apart, against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks no less, when a deadly emotional bombshell is dropped at the feet of the mother. The husband and daughter, as it turns out, are intimately connected with William’s past, playing a crucial part in his childhood separation from the rest of his family. Mucking up the waters even more is a detective who sort of plays two sets of characters against one another and becomes a major part of one of the novel’s most shocking surprises (and this is a book full of shocking surprises). With so many links emerging among so many characters, and with the author telling the story in a nonsequential manner, you really have to pay attention to what you’re reading. I sometimes had to pause and go over the cast of characters in my head in order to truly understand the consequences of certain revelations. This may sound like a wild daytime soap opera, but rest assured that Schleicher keeps everything real and gritty, leaving you awestruck by the depth of the misfortune that these people have had to endure.

Needless to say, you won’t find the words “and they lived happily ever after” on the last page of The Thief Maker, although a measure of peace does finally prevail in the end. The conclusion is a tight and fitting one, and I think Schleicher deserves some real literary kudos for pulling that off. With most mysteries, you get the big “reveal” scene at the end, and you basically forget about what you just read as soon as you put the book down. The Thief Maker, though, hangs around in your mind, percolating with its pathos and all of its insights into human relationships.

________________________________________________________________

Ready to meet your Maker?  Steal a copy of The Thief Maker…

Purchase Now from Barnes and Noble

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Thanks to all those that entered! We will be reviewing the entries shortly and will also post the contest carnival here before announcing the winner on May 1, 2007 (date may be extended).

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How important is the first line of a novel, especially an unsold novel that’s going out to agents in a few weeks?

Here are the first lines of some of the books I’ve read this year:

Esther Crummey foresaw the accident as it unfolded.” The Fugitive Wife by Peter C. Brown

“FOR more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town.” Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman

“Be careful what you wish for. I know that for a fact. Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things,” The Ice Queen, Alice Hoffman.

“THE WEEK BEFORE I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.” Looking for Alaska, John Greene

“I write this sitting in the sink.” I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

“Mom, you’ve been fighting again.” Blood and Chocolate, Annette Curtis Klause

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Gee, wonder who?

When I started revising my WIP this past weekend, I was shocked by how bad my first paragraph sucked. My limping first line is, “Robert Reilly tried to empty his mind.” I say this with my face literally burning with embarrassment. Pu-leeze. It’s in the same dank category as, “Susie swam up out of a deep sleep.” Talk about wanting to make your reader put the book down to catch some zzzs.

And I’ve got so much to work with. Robert’s a Nashville session player, and is doing a sound check on his dobro. A dobro is a variety of resonating, “steel” or “slide” guitar used by bluegrass and blues guitarists. A quick morning of research and I found the following cool facts. Slides made of wine bottles make the sound “weepier” and richer. Metal slides give a “sharper” tone. “Bent” or “blue” notes are made by pulling the slide up 1/4 or 1/2 above or below the fret and then you “bend and vibrate” the string with the slide to get the vibrato “that makes slide guitar so haunting.” The old black blues men used knives for slides and Blind Willie Johnson is said to have used a straight razor. And there’s debate about whether you can play steel guitar with “naked fingers.” Traditional bluegrass uses a squareneck steel guitar played with three picks on the right hand (thumb, index, middle) and the slide in the right, on the pinkie, ring or middle finger.  Blues musicians more often use a bottleneck version, which can be played in a traditional position. Squareneck dobros are played either in the lap or hanging horizontally from the neck. Steel resonating guitars, like dobros, were invented for volume—to be “the loudest, shiniest, funkiest.” There’s a lot there to work with. All the way through the novel as Robert moves from being controlled, cautious and wary to being more courageous, exuberant and risk tolerant.

So, first lines suggestions anyone? Tales of your own first line horrors?

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