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How to Classify a Work?

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:10:12 GMT

Wahjanto Author Hello people, I’m new on the forum and desperate for some advice: Just a few decades ago, in the early eighties, I started writing my autobiography, which I’ve been working on ever since – about 748,988 words, including the title. Until this morning. My mom rang me. Out of the blue or wherever she was at that moment. It appeared she had “some news”. ‘Son,’ she said, ‘I’ve got some news.’ ‘Some news, mom?’ ‘Yes, son.’ ‘Good news or bad news?’ She still didn’t know I was writing my autobiography. I never told her. That’s possibly the reason why she answered, erroneously: ‘Good news. It’s about you.’ ‘Ah,’ I said, and thought: great, some additional stuff to add to my autobiography. ‘Well, I figured I’d better tell you now than never: you’re not really my son.’ I didn’t immediately reply. My tongue was tied, my heart broken and my mind blown. Imagine: I had amassed 748,988 words (including the title) of my autobiography, or about ninety percent of what was going to be “Part I – My Family”, when you then learn that your mom is not your mom (which I i nferred from the information that I was not her son). It’s not funny. ‘It’s not funny,’ I said. ‘I never claimed it was funny. It’s just fact.’ ‘Why have you never told me before?’ ‘I was busy.’ She was busy. That’s all she could come up with. As if I hadn’t been busy, writing 748,988 words (including the title). What am I going to do now? I can’t call it an autobiography any longer, can I? Not with all those references to “my mom” not being my mom. I could simply cut her out, I suppose, which would leave me with about 328,869 words (including the title), mostly about my dad. ‘Does dad know?’ I asked. The phone connection was still on, apparently, because I heard my mom replying. ‘There’s something else,’ she said. ‘Some more news?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Good news or bad news?’ This time she hesitated. I felt suspicious. ‘It’s about dad,’ she said. ‘Dad?’ ‘Yes,’ she confirmed, ‘about dad. He’s not really your dad - actually.’ My heart skipped a beat. If I had to cut out dad too, I’d be left with only – what? – about 63,112 words (including the title), mostly about Billy, my older brother, and a page or two on Jeanine, our German shepherd. ‘Ah…,’ I said. ‘Yes.’ ‘So, that means that, in effect, Billy and I are – what? – orphans or something?’ ‘Something like that, yes,’ mom confirmed. Then she added, ‘Well, that’s to say – at least in your case, yes.’ ‘In my case? And not Billy’s? So, Billy is your son but I’m not? Is that what you're saying?’ I didn’t wait for a reply. Another terrible deduction took place in my mind. ‘So, Billy’s not really my brother, then, is he?’ ‘Don’t worry though,’ mom tried to soothe me, in vain, ‘he and dad are very happy together.’ ‘He, who’s not my brother, and dad who’s not dad? Together?’ ‘Yes. They’ve been in a long-term relationship and next month they’ll be getting married – that is, after Billy’s divorce has come through.’ ‘Ah.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I didn’t know Billy was married.’ ‘Yes, but it didn’t work out, we decided it’d be best for us to split.’ ‘You and Billy?’ ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Ah,’ I replied. That effectively leaves me with – what? – a very short short story about Jeanine. But as soon as Jeanine crossed my mind, a dark thought appeared. ‘Don’t tell me that Jeanine is not German.’ ‘Jeanine? Of course she isn’t! She’s a Chow Chow from China. What made you think she’s German?’ I was devastated. Even Jeanine. That left me with – what? – a title. ‘But, she’s got a certificate and everything – it says she’s a German Shepherd, ja?” ‘No, no, no, no. We bought her in China. They sort of fiddled with her certificate for import tax reasons.’ ‘Ah.’ ‘Yes.’ My fake mom and I then exchanged our farewells and wished each other the best for the future and so on. No hard feelings, but still, I’m left in a real quandary. What should I call my autobiography-in-progress, which I thought was in progress but which I will now have to wrap up soon, before more revelations come to light? My story is all true, except that it’s all false. If I publish it as an autobiography, the truth is bound to be found out sooner or later and my publisher might claim back my advance, fees for publishing rights, and other financial benefits. And I can’t call it fiction either, can I? I certainly wouldn’t be able to include, you know, the small print on the copyright page, about any resemblance with existing persons being purely coincidental and all that, because I can guarantee you, it’s not a coincidence. On the contrary. And I can’t simply change all the words “dad”, “mom”, “brother” and “German” to respectively “a man”, “a woman”, “another man” and “Chinese”. I’ve started writing this thing in the eighties – no computer, you know, all pen and paper, and I’ve never bothered to migrate to a computer – call me lazy if you want. Fact is, it’s going to take me years to have to go through all 748,988 words (including the title) manually, find every “dad”, “mom”, “brother” and “German” and change them – I’m already exhausted now by simply writing “dad”, “mom”, “brother” and “German” three times. So, that leaves me with – what? – a fictional autobiography? Or an autobiographically inspired work of fiction? Or should I present it to my publisher as just “a book”? Thing is, my life story is really good and apt to winning some literary prizes – the Nobel comes to mind, to mention one randomly – and I’ve already transferred a down payment to a Thai company to produce an authentic copy of Sean Connery’s Aston Martin – the one in which he was James Bond – and two “Sunflowers” by Van Gogh – to sell to Sotheby’s or, if that fails, to cheer up the house – so, I really must submit my – what? book? – so it can be published, sold, and earn money. Only, I don’t know how to classify it truthfully without getting myself into trouble afterwards. In other words, has anybody here on the forum gone through something similar, and if yes, could you kindly give me some advice? Thanks. My publisher is waiting. W.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:13:46 GMT

Wahjanto Author Dear MacMaddy, Many thanks for your suggestion, only if it were that simple... You see, as I said, I started writing all this in the eighties, all by hand, and have never bothered to switch to a computer. It's going to take me decades! But I do like your suggestion for a proper classification. Indeed, to classify it as "tricky" might just be vague enough to get away with it. Thank you so much. W.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:14:04 GMT

MacMaddy Author Well, without wishing to be cheeky [rude] you have a computer now :woohoo: and these days you can use speech to text software - so how about reading your whole manuscript to the computer and having it transform into text . Admittedly, the speech to text software has a few glitches, but it could be help in the editing process to - edit while you speak the text. Best of luck

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:14:20 GMT

texasgrampy Author Wow! handwritten... :ohmy: I just came upon the same dilemma. I found a story that I had started in the mid-nineties and suddenly found a revived passion to get back into it and finish it. It was started before I had a computer or word processor, in fact, I actually had an old typewriter in those days. So it was all handwritten. I thought no problem; I'll just put all those words on a Word document. Then, after perusing the multiple sheets of stained blue-lined papers, I discovered that I had left a good bit of the information in my head. And I have now forgotten where I was going with it. No problem, I thought. I'll just take up where I left off and go at it with a new eyeball. Then I discovered that I had started writing in the body of the work, not the beginning. That means I now have to re-work the entire story. But I'm not discouraged. I can now think of a much better storyline and am even more impassioned to continue...except that I have this stupid thing I need to do every day which takes a lot of my time away from writing - WORK! I hate waiting until evening to get back to what I love most--my writing.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:14:34 GMT

MacMaddy Author Yes...working at the day job :unsure: a necessary evil.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:14:54 GMT

Wahjanto Author MacMaddy, Thank you again for the great advice - I've never thought of using speech technology and, it seems, now's the time to have a go at it. Since I've spent most of my youth with Jeanine, our German Shepherd who's a Chinese Chow Chow, my spoken accent is heavily influenced by a mixture of German, Mandarin and barking which, I fear, the software might find challenging. I have therefore placed an advert pleading with aristocrats - preferably Royalty who possess a Chinese Chow Chow posing as a German Shepherd and hence master the necessary communication skills - to come forward and offer themselves as an intermediary so I can bark my manuscript to him/her who, in turn, can dictate it in his/her finest and most distinguished accent to the software program who can then kindly commit those words to its hard drive. I do glimpse a solution appearing on the horizon, finally, which calls for a certain measure of excitement. W.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:15:18 GMT

MacMaddy Author They're pretty nifty those software packages--I've tried a couple myself--but none, as yet, can decipher a British accent, so they'll cope with your combo, who knows. Best of luck

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:15:37 GMT

Wahjanto Author Hello texasgrampy, I'm very sorry to hear about your predicament but I must admit I'm glad to hear I'm not totally alone with my problem. However, there's a good side to it as well, I'm happy to announce. At least, if what was written in the article that I recently read is correct. It was, I think, in an issue of the American Scientific Mind that findings of recent research suggested that handwriting your prose stimulates your creativity and improves your thinking process more so than when typing the words. It has something to do, apparently, with how the brain processes signals from your hands and fingers. I'm sure I'm not doing justice to the article but that's more or less the gist of what I remember. In other words, your past efforts of having written your story by hand might pay off in the sense that it might not have turned out as as good if you had it written on a computer. In fact, perhaps it may be worthwhile to pick up your story again in handwriting and only transcribe everything onto a computer once it's truly finished. More work, yes, but more satisfaction too, maybe? Whatever your decision, I wish you best of luck with finishing your story! W.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:15:51 GMT

texasgrampy Author :) I totally agree! I actually enjoy the handwriting more than typing (especially since I'm old enough that typing wasn't mandatory when I was in school so I am very poor at it). And I agree that it stimulates mt juices more and better whenever I put it on paper. Plus I can make a lot of corrections, as long as I double-space and leave room for it, and I can get it pretty close to finalized before I start hunting and pecking at the keyboard. I think I read that same article. Anyway, it's sort of a done deal...almost all of my stories are in old, coffee stained manila folders dating back to around 1995, so I have to retype them anyway. I really enjoy pulling them out and going back in time though. I had such a zeal back then! :blink:

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:16:06 GMT

MikeJesus Author It could be a auto-biography with a twist! Since everything you wrote up to this point was written under the assumption that your parents are your parents and that the dog is a German Shepherd everything happened was true from your point of view at the time. If the autobiography is written from the first person perspective then that could actually make for quite an interesting passage. If not then... eh, you'll figure something out. The book is definitely not fiction though.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:16:19 GMT

Wahjanto Author Hi MikeJesus, Very valuable advice - thank you! To tell you the truth, it's true that was is truth to me isn't necessarily the truth to others, and what others believe to be true might not be true to me. True or not true? W.

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:16:33 GMT

MikeJesus Author That's a lot of 'truth's in one question :P Since its your autobiography I think it's your story to tell. What's true to you is the most important thing since you're taking the reader on a journey through your story. I think the book would cease to be non-fiction if you didn't mention the phone call but other than that I think you're all good (unless your publisher has a problem with it that is)

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:17:03 GMT

Essie Author I feel the need to interject and give a shout-out to MikeJesus. Welcome to TBL! :) You've made it through one of the zaniest threads I have yet to encounter on our Forum (and trust me, there's a lot of crazy on here! lol), and still chose to brave the waters and add your two cents; for that, I salute you and do believe you're well on your way to becoming a TBLer! It's great to meet new facees. :) Holler if you need anything or have any questions!

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:17:15 GMT

Robin Author Greetings Mike Jesus...Nice to have you join us. I'll give you fair warning, some of us are very playful and throw out stuff just to see what can happen. I don't want to mention any names, but that Mr. Wahjanto is a hoot!

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:17:28 GMT

MikeJesus Author D'awwwww! Thanks for the warm welcome all!

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:33:34 GMT

Essie Author Dear Mr. Cheng, Thank you so much for being with us in the forum this past week and for sharing your experiences and insights with all of us! I've greatly enjoyed reading the questions and your responses this week. I have three questions that I'm honored to get to ask you! Many of the reviews of SCTD discuss the trepidation of reading a novel about "the South" by an author who had never been to the south. All of these reviews touch on the authenticity of your voice and descriptions, many with a certain degree of marvel at this apparent feat. A review in the New York Times said, "he is still bracing himself for criticism that he has somehow gotten the South wrong." 1) I'm curious if at the start of your journey into writing this novel, if this was a subject that loomed over your writing and in your consciousness OR if it didn't affect your thinking until someone pointed this fact out to you? AKA did you expect people to make such a big deal of this fact or was it a surprise to you? I'm curious because as a reader I don't think to research an author and doubt their storytelling capabilities when I pick up a book to read. It rather shocked me that this seemed to be the focus of so many reviews and questions. Then again, I feel peoples' shock at you accomplishment of authenticity is a testament to your writing! 2) On the subject of criticism, what is your best advice for handling criticism as a writer? How do you handle criticism from the public versus criticism from your peers and mentors? 3) This might be a weird question, but I'm curious to know! Now that you've been on tour in the South, is there anything you would change (whether voice, description, etc.) or wish you had done differently in SCTD? Thank you for taking time out of your week to chat with us TBLers! And congratulations on your success as a debut novelist. It truly is inspiring. :) - Jess

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:34:10 GMT

billcheng Author Hi Joe and Alex, Since I think you both are touching on sort of the same issues I figured I'd answer both your questions together. I think ideally, I'd be writing every day. Certainly when I'm deep into a big project like a novel, I'm writing at least five days a week. But it's not a matter of waiting for inspiration to strike. The inspiration comes from the act of writing, of discovering something in what you're writing or what you've been reading. It's rare for me to have a moment in my day than I can dedicate to waiting for some idea to dislodge itself from the heavens. Usually, I'm busy thinking about day-to-day stuff, work, my home, finding time to write, etc. I do edit as I go. It's not best practice, but I'm far too finicky to let what I see as a bad sentence stand before I move onto the next sentence. It's a horrible practice and I think I'd get more done more efficiently if I could just get my thoughts down on the page and then edit later. As far as overall process, it changes depending on whatever the problem I'm confronting is. My ro utine changes a lot, depending on where I am in my writing process. If I ever get stuck, I try to change something. I'll switch to a notebook from a computer. Or I'll start writing in the mornings instead of at night. Or out at the coffee shop instead of at home. Hope that's of some use! Best, Bill

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:34:26 GMT

Shining Author Dear Mr. Cheng, I'm so sad the week is up! But thank you so so very much for answering our questions. Please keep us informed about your work and any forthcoming publications! I can't wait to read more of your work. Thanks again! You're amazing! Maggie

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:34:55 GMT

billcheng Author Hi Jess, 1. When I was starting, it didn't affect me very much. But keep in mind, I was a "debut" writer-- in the sense that I wasn't in a place where it was necessary to think about critics or reputation or anything like that. In some ways, I felt more free to write about what I want because it wasn't guaranteed anyone else was ever going to see it. I'm sure it occurred to me that the region/race stuff was going to be an issue, but it wasn't an immediate enough of a presence to affect me. Now that the book is in the world, I've had to reckon with that more... but it hasn't been too bad at all. Authenticity is such a strange concept to apply to a piece of fiction, when really, what I think we're talking about is authority. The whole reading experience is a joint-process, and in order for the story to feel authoritative (that is to say, that it suspends disbelief in the reader), the reader has to contribute a part of him or herself into what I've written. 2) You need to be selective to who you listen to and why. For me, all criticism on some leve l stings. Even the completely batshit ones. But that's OK because I asked for this life. I wrote a book. I published it. That's fair. I think the only way to get better as a writer is to be open and honest and generous with the criticism you receive. Especially from writers you trust. If you're in grad school or in a writing group, your best readers will be those who can point out the weaknesses in your writing that you know are there but could never accurately describe. But you also need to be able to recognize criticism that comes from a place of ignorance, or malice, or maybe just something as benign as a lack of understanding. And to not let that mess with you too much and just try to steer clear of it. By the way, I think this also applies to praise. In some ways praise can be more damaging than criticism. Criticism asks you to move forward. Praise tells you to stand still. It's nice to know that you're on the right track, but it's important to understand that it is a track and you must ever be moving forward on it. 3. Ehh. My visit down to Mississippi didn't allow me to spend as much time in the delta as I would've liked-- which is different from areas like Jackson or Oxford. At a reading, I had one person tell me that mud down here was red instead of yellow. I think that's fair and a nice detail. I do wonder, though, whether if I wrote this book now if I'd locate it specifically in Mississippi as opposed to leaving it unnamed. Some of my friends think that's probably a cowardly move, but just practically speaking, I wonder if that sort of change would change how the book is read any. Thanks for your question! Bill

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:35:13 GMT

Hughes Author Thank you, Mr. Cheng! This last week was amazing. I'm with Maggie: Please keep us updated. I'd love to read more of your work!

Tethered by Letters
Wed, 04 Feb 2015 07:35:27 GMT

billcheng Author My total and absolute pleasure! Thanks all!

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