Archive for June, 2012

Rumjhum Biswasby Rumjhum Biswas

Bill West lives in Shropshire, in the historic town of Shrewsbury, a few miles down the east of Wales. Shires make one think of hobbits, and hobbits of magical times, which are what good stories and poetry ultimately provide. And, Bill West is a writer.

Bill West is a writer who has recently returned to his first love poetry. During his student days at Hull University, where Bill studied English, he was tutored by one time poet laureate Andrew Motion. Philip Larkin was librarian there at the same time. With regard to fiction he mostly writes flash, and has been widely published in print and online, including once garnering 200 publishing credits in a single year. Some of his works are archived at Bill West-Links.  He has also worked closely with many talented writers thanks to his close involvement with critique groups and publications. Currently, Bill is a senior editor at The Linnets’s Wings, a magazine he has been associated with since 2009.

The introduction in his website says that Bill began writing in a tool-shed, and was eventually let out. Hmm! I think the generally elusive Bill has some answering to do now! Read on!

Rumjhum Biswas: At what age did you start writing? Can you tell us some more about your (literary) adventures inside a tool shed?

Bill WestBill West: I think I was possibly eight or nine when I began to write for my own entertainment. Shed is an exaggeration, it was more of a store-cupboard and I spent far too much quality time there. I had a car seat to sit on and I made furniture from cardboard. When I wasn’t travelling the universe in my shed\space-ship I wrote stories that Iwould send to my uncle who worked in publishing in London. He would provide me with feedback and a little money if he particularly liked a piece. I’m not sure what he did with them but to me it felt that it was my job to keep him supplied, which I was happy to do.

RB: Who were your earliest influences and mentors? Were there any writers you read a lot, and felt inspired by?

BW: Books were and are an important part of my life. Whenever I visited my grandmother she would give me any book I expressed an interest in. Then there was the public library. I started with children’s stories, C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit, but when I was 10 years old Alan Garner published TheWeirdstone of Brisingamen  which really sparked my interest in the fictionalisation of local history and legends. I also read Algernon Blackwood and Lovecraft horror stories, and British Science Fiction like Bob Shaw.

In my early teens I read anything and everything. I read Ibsen, Aldous Huxley, Zola and many others. Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece convinced me that I should become a painter and starve in a garret, although  Germinal did not convince me I should become a miner and starve in a hovel. However, I was fascinated by the visual arts, the Impressionists and the sculpture of Epstein in particular. The visual element is still very important in my work.

One day, in school the headmaster caught me reading in the music room at break. I was reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. Soon after other teachers began lending me books; more Zola, William Blake and most importantly, Dylan Thomas. It was Thomas who inspired me to write my first poems.

Bill as a boyI was also interested in acting and performance art. I joined Greenwich Young Peoples Theatre and the organiser liked my poems and put me in touch with local poet JohnPudney. Pudney was a lovely man and very encouraging. He was the first poet I had met. I had the pleasure of sharing a stage with him at a poetry reading at Greenwich Theatre. It wasn’t until years later that I learnt that Pudney helped Dylan Thomas get his first contract with the BBC. But not me.

RB: What drew you to flash fiction? Can you tell us about your first experiences with this form?

BW: In 2004 I joined the on-line writers’ group WriteWords where I discovered and joined a new group called the Flash Fiction group. There were weekly prompts and this discipline helped me establish regular writing patterns. The random nature of the challenges forced me to experiment with a variety of genres that I would have otherwise never considered. I loved the challenges and the limitations imposed by tight word counts. It was an opportunity to “give way” to my anarchic impulses to twist and turn within those limits. Flash fiction was a joy to me, eager to break rules and subvert constraints. How should I approach a mundane prompt? With a flying leap from left-field.

I had some early publication success, but once I had discovered a publication called Quiction and made the acquaintance of Ramon Collins and a host of other flash writers I began to learn my craft in earnest.

RB: Which flash fiction writers do you admire/enjoy reading?

BW: I find that question almost impossible to answer. Who to name and who to leave out, the list is too long. The safe answer would be to say Bruce Holland Rogers. That said, I have been group host for the Flash Fiction group on Writewords for many years and there have been so many talented writers who have passed through who belong on my list of writers I admire that I wouldn’t want to start a list for fear of omitting someone. They know who they are, but to mention just two, I love the deadpan extraordinariness of Frances Gapper and the surrealism of  Tania Hershman.

The short-short that had an early and perhaps the biggest effect on me was “The Blue Jar” by Isak Dinesen.

RB: In your involvement with intense critique groups, what did you feel writers gained most from? Were there any negative fall-outs as well?

BW: Writing is a solitary occupation so critique groups of any flavour provide a touchstone of shared experience. Reader feedback received is as good, if not better than putting your writing in a draw for 6 weeks to enable you to reread with fresh eyes. And what could be better than to have the discerning eyes of other experienced writers reflecting back to you what works and what doesn’t, pointing out any changes of tense or slips in pov? You can quickly find out your own weaknesses such as a weak grasp of punctuation or incorrect syntax.

The danger lies in the frailty of the tacit contract that exists between the writer and the reader. I have always believed that the first task of a reader in such a group is to attempt to understand what this writer working in this genre is attempting to do. I know that I constantly have to guard against the temptation to suggest detailed rewrites in “my” style rather than assist the writer develop their own style.

In cases where this tacit contract is ill-defined, nothing is worse than receiving bored platitudes from a reader who would rather be reading something else. Thankfully, a rare outcome in my experience, but not unheard of. We writers sometimes need thick skins.

RB: Please tell us about The Linnet’s Wings and also a bit about your early involvement with the magazine.

BW: The Linnet’s Wings magazine was founded in Edgeworthstown, in Co. Longford, Ireland in 2007. Although hosted in Ireland the magazine is international with editors in the US, UK, Canada, Spain and Ireland. TLW is published four times per year, on-line and in print.   In addition to flash, we publish short stories, poetry, and creative non-fiction and we have recently started accepting audio and video submissions. We work collaboratively from an office hosted by Zoetrope.

I knew most of the editors through Zoetrope before I received an invitation to become a contributing editor at TLW in 2009. I was fortunate to have had work published by them in the past and when invited to join them, I had no hesitation in making a time commitment to them. Whilst I had resisted the temptation to get on-board with other publications who would have me, with TLW I didn’t hesitate.

RB: What are the common mistakes writers make when they submit work to The Linnets Wings? What’s your advice for potential submitters?

BW: There are the easy things such as spellcheck your work before sending it. Be consistent with your tense and pov. Workshop your work if you can and don’t send it in too soon and certainly not before you have slept on that new story you just completed. Check your dialogue by reading it out loud and be careful with your punctuation and if  in doubt, keep it simple.

Check us out on Duotrope and read some back copies to ensure we are an appropriate vehicle for your work. We publish work that we think our readership will like. Send us your tightest writing, your best work with effective titles, strong hooks in the opener and strong endings. We like well-crafted fiction that employs rich vocabulary that fits the context, with strong characters and  a strong and consistent, authorial voice.

RB: Specific to flash fiction what do you look for? Any favourite genre? Any preferred length?

BW: We accept micro fiction up to 500 words, flash fiction up to 1000 words and we favour literary genre and are open to most subjects. We want to showcase writers whose work stimulates and challenges the sensibility and imagination of our readers, and to provide inspiration for other writers. We want stories in which the characters stay with us and who we can visualise in settings that complete the circle of the story.

You might be surprised to see we now include work in translation published in TLW, in Spanish and Russian in the last edition and we are interested in receiving submissions from Spanish flash fiction writers as well as writers whose first language is English.

Surprise us, in a good way.

RB: What are you working on now?

BW: I run my local writers’ group, Shrewsbury Scribblers, and  we are working on an anthology called In the Loop. Shrewsbury is a medieval, walled town looped by the River Severn with Shrewsbury Castle plugging the neck of the loop. Our anthology will contain poetry and prose linked to Shrewsbury and the river. I am working on my own flash and poetry for the anthology.

You mentioned Shires and Hobbits in your opening remarks. Well we have a wealth of local legends and our own Camelot, the ancient Roman city of Uriconium. A rich source of material to fuel my writing and in the future I would like to produce work that explores local cultural heritage.

RB: What are the things that inspire your writing? What is your favourite time of the day and place to write?

BW: When my sons were younger, they often provided me with ideas for what turned out to be some of my best work. They would tell me about some incident, chance meeting, or concern, and my engagement with them and the event would prompt a story. Sometimes we would bounce ideas off each other to develop a story.

I also like to carry a notebook, a memory device to write down ideas and happenings. I use it to capture the tail-end of overheard conversations, an image or feeling, reflections on moments of significance or some unexpected happening. Sometimes I write down the briefest sketch of a story idea. My best work comes from images, but these are the most difficult source to work. With images I have to dig deep, like an archaeologist excavating a fragment, scraping away thelayers to discover the significance of what is being uncovered.

Where I live has also inspired both flash fiction and poetry. My next door neighbour who is 86 has told me some wonderful stories which will be lost unless I do something with them.

I have always needed to be physically tired before I can write. That has meant that late night or even early morning sessions are the best times for me. When the world sleeps, my mind can focus.

AlthoughI have a laptop which enables me write anywhere, I’m finding that I work best on an old PC I’ve recently rebuilt. I’ve dumped Microsoft in favour of Linux. My clean pc has no past associations with my time-wasting ways. I only sit at it when I’m ready to work and I’ll work in a pool of lamplight when the bats have gone to bed and the moths bat my windows.

 RB: How does your family cope with a writer in their midst?   Are they really nice to you and bring you coffee when you write?

BW: My wife, who studied English at the university where we met, is also a writer and journalist, so we share the writing bug. We are always nice to each other when writing, bringing tea and biscuits and so on. But sometimes we disagree about the relative priorities of , say, writing and DIY. As she says, nasty and nice, DIY and then you can reward yourself with some writing. But mostly we agree to differ.

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Rumjhum Biswas is a writer based out of Chennai. Her fiction and poetry have been published all over the world. She has won prizes and accolades in India and abroad. She recently won first prize in the Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat Competition.

Michelle Reale: Do you think of yourself primarily as a poet or fiction writer?

Elizabeth J. Colen: I came to writing first with short stories, am most closely bound to the (so far unpublished) novel I’ve written, but seem to fare better publishing-wise with poetry. I like to think of myself as a paratactic writer before anything else, and parataxis usually seems more welcome in poetry. Genre distinctions have never been particularly important to me though.

MR: Which do you feel more comfortable with?

EJC: I’ve never really been comfortable with either, never at a place where I feel I can say ‘yes, this is how it’s done.’ Though I do usually know when something is done, I’m often not at all sure how it got there.

For the past four or five years, I feel I can say I speak pretty comfortably about what’s going on in contemporary poetry, who’s doing what, the presses and their various aesthetics, the journals and theirs. I like poetry maybe because I am more willing to say, “What just happened?” after reading something that really strikes me, guts me, gets me on a visceral level (the best place for art), and admitting to myself that: “I really don’t know what just happened.” And then being okay with that. Which is not to say I like nonsense.

The better question for me is whether I am more comfortable with narrative or the sonic qualities of a piece of writing. And there I will go with sound every time.

MR: How do you feel about flash fiction’s current popularity? I ask because some people hate the term—flash–as though it were a lesser form of other kinds of fiction writing.

EJC: Again, I don’t really find genre tags useful, except for marketing or filing purposes. (About this I am in an ongoing argument with about a half-dozen writer friends.) So I suppose “flash!” is as good as any term. (I also like it because I think of the flash bang grenade, which is a great way to think of effective short forms.) I think flash, when it is good, is about as good as it gets: you get a story, complete, something you feel or something that changes you, even for a minute, in such a small space. Perhaps it is idealistic to say “changes you,” but all good art to me is transformative—whether I’m stopped in my tracks and for a few seconds can do nothing but stare out at the world, or whether I see language used in an exciting way I’ve not seen before, or whether there’s a particular image I’m left with that absolutely cracks open the world for me. When a “flash” piece is just a bit of something, that can be interesting too, but it’s not what moves me. I like whole moments where, while I might be able to imagine the greater world outside the story, I can’t imagine another sentence or image taking up space on that particular page.

I guess what I’m saying is that there is a difference between our cultural tendency to concision, by image on tumblr or 140 characters at a time, and what’s vital about flash fiction. This past winter in a hybrid lit/creative writing class I taught, we got into many discussions about ‘why flash,’ ‘why now’ and a lot of students were convinced it had to do with Twitter and Facebook and our shrinking attention spans. I think if everyone started crafting their tweets and status updates as carefully as Lydia Davis or Michael Martone, for example write anything, then I would spend a lot more time reading them.

MR: Take us through the process of writing a piece.

EJC: Well, for me the process of reading and the process of writing feel almost identical. When I’m writing and it’s going well, I’m really just pulling the next ‘right’ sound out of my ear. I don’t know anything about meter really, I learned recently that I have some trouble picking out the stress in a word, which is why scanning a poem is hard for me, but I know when something sounds right or sounds wrong, and that has everything to do with meter. I think. I’m speaking about poetry and prose. Because to me the process of writing them is no different.

So the process… I read whatever book of poetry (or really sound-dense prose) I have on hand out loud until my own words start piling up inside my ears and start wanting to come out. Sometimes this can happen in a few lines, and I put the book down and pick up the pen (or computer). Other times I can read a whole book and nothing really gets going for me. And that is a day that nothing gets done. Except reading, which is also good. Sometimes that says something about the book, that it’s sonic qualities don’t speak to me, but usually it just says something about me, that that’s not where I am in that moment. And I go with that. I am not a writer who forges on, or sits at her desk every day plodding.

But if it does work, I will work each sentence or line out to the best of my ability to some end point (the end of the poem, for example). And then I read what I’ve written out loud, adjusting, reading out loud, adjusting, reading out loud, until it sounds right. Often what this means is some substantial part of the narrative has dropped away, or become coded (or coated) in other words.

Then later I will go back and read over it and adjust (by adjust I mean “revise,” but really I’m just making it into what it was supposed to be in the first place and I just mis-stepped), over and over until it feels right.

With prose, sometimes in order to get the story out faster I leave whole areas undone that I have to go back to, summarizing in that space in capital letters what I want to talk about but don’t yet have the sounds for. Then when I have time I will rework the material for sound. Always for sound.

MR: How many revisions will one of your pieces go through?

EJC: Probably 20-40 revisions. Sometimes more. That said, the first 20 revisions take place during or shortly after the initial generation stage. Revision isn’t revision; it’s writing.

MR: Who is writing some of the best flash fiction you’ve read so far?

EJC: I really like Lydia Davis, but I feel like that’s the obvious answer. The other obvious answer is my fellow Rose Metal Press authors. But I really, really value Rose Metal Press’s aesthetic; I think they’re really publishing solid, innovative work. Especially Mary Miller, I love her work so much. Tim Jones-Yelvington and Sean Lovelace are both doing really exciting things with storytelling. And John Jodzio has one of my favorite stories ever of any length with “Inventory.” I also really like Kim Chinquee, Amelia Gray, and Matt Bell… I know I’m forgetting some of my favorites, but I’m writing this on the fly without access to either Internet or my bookshelves.

EJC: Name some of your other favorite authors.

If I can talk about poets also: Richard Siken, Shane McCrae, Rachel Loden, Liz Waldner. I also love Kenzaburo Oe, Haruki Murakami, Nicholas Mosley, Sven Age Madsen, Gertrude Stein, of course, and I just read Ron Silliman’s Tjanting. That book just about blew my mind, though I don’t know if I can call that a favorite. I don’t know what to call it really.

MR: Your flash collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (DMMDDM) has an interesting theme. Tell us about the process of writing those pieces and how they came to be published with other flash collections.

Those stories are actually bits I culled from the novel I finished about seven years ago. The novel ended up being about 700 pages (kind of an epic affair!) and even at that length got a few near misses at some really great presses before I decided it needed more detailed attention. I’ve been paring it down since then, making use of the pieces cut, and revising revising revising. When I finally finish playing with it it will probably be like one big poem. I’m getting so obsessive about each line. Right now it’s about 400 pages—a much more manageable ms. Most of it is told in short vignettes. So I took some pieces and made them into tiny stories that would stand on their own, but also point subtly to the larger themes of matrilineage and all its (at least in my experience) difficulties. Parts of that novel are in Money for Sunsets and also in Waiting Up for the End of the World: Conspiracies, which comes out this fall.

I basically built DMMDDM out of these bits specifically to send to Rose Metal Press because I like so much what they do. I only sent it to two or three other places. So I feel pretty lucky and honored to be there.

MR: In your opinion, what makes a great flash piece?

EJC: Interesting, yet subtle language use. Good turns of phrase are important. But what is most important to me is that it is actually a whole and complete piece on its own. Otherwise I feel like I’m missing something no matter how good it is. Other than that I’m pretty open to being surprised.

MR: Would you say that flash fiction and prose poems are closely related? Say, like, oh I don’t know, first cousins if not brother and sister?

EJC: Probably more like two sides of one coin. Or two personalities coexisting in the same body. One leans more towards story though, and one toward sound. Both should of course be well-managed to both those ends, but to me that’s the dividing line—whether the focus is on sound or narrative.

MR: What are you working on now?

EJC:I recently completed a third poetry manuscript, What Weaponry, that I’ve just started sending around. It’s one complete story written in 66 prose poems. Something I’ve never done, so at the moment I’m a little bit in love with it. I really have to stop tinkering with it at this point and move on. I’ve started a new book of lineated poems also. I just started it and, of course, it has a very specific focus. I can’t seem to write a poem or a story or anything unless I know what “book” it’s going to go in. This one is very research-based. But I haven’t gotten far enough along with it to want to talk about the specifics.

Mostly though I’m focusing on my studies. I did things a little backwards and recently went back to school. I’m halfway through the MFA program at the University of Washington and am learning so much and getting excited about all kinds of things. I have a good handle on what’s going on in the world now, so I’m focusing on filling in the background, and finding out where all the now crawled out of.

MR: Elizabeth, take my flash challenge! In no less than 25 and now more than 150 create a flash piece using the following words:

yarn, zaftig, sweepstakes, blood, orchard, hell-bound, fornicate , morphine , beautiful people, and plumage.

EJC: There in the orchard, you, of the beautiful people, your sweepstakes of DNA, hell-bound to fornicate. Red of sunk sun morphine to the dying leaves’ muddy color, four shoes in shade, grass bent back, bare root muscled, the blood on plumage, animal sounds. Spent tree squat and zaftig, bark newly flayed, and you, like a calligram opening on the page, or yarn seeking its hook ride to the next loop.

MR: Thanks Elizabeth. You did my flash challenge justice—and you are really one of my favorite writers.  Does that sound sappy?  Well it’s true.  So be it!

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Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010), Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011), and Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012), also does visual work in collage and photography, collects stray bits of conversation, makes lists. She blogs here.

by Jim Harrington 

I opened Erin Entrada Kelly’s June post (How Do You Know if You’re a Good Writer), looking forward to reading what she had to say. I was doing fine until I read, “I’d say that Good Writers are those who write because they have to.” At that point I thought, “Uh oh.” Why? I’d stumbled off my writer’s path into a ravine and hadn’t written anything for two months. I hadn’t felt the need to.

The catalyst for this was my struggle with the “publishing game.” You know what I mean. You slave over a story, send it out, and wait, and wait, only to hear it’s been rejected. Then you send it out again, and wait, and wait, and . . .

I’d worked on a particular short story for over two years and felt it was my best writing to date. I sent it to two top-tier publications with fingers crossed. Honestly, my expectations of receiving an acceptance weren’t high but, hey, I can dream can’t I? One editor sent a rejection within six months. I’m still waiting to hear from the second one. It’s been over a year. I could contact the second editor via snail mail, but I figure it would be a waste of time and money. If the editor wasn’t polite enough to send a rejection letter by now, why should I think she’d respond to a request for an update?

Undaunted, I submitted the story elsewhere and waited another six months before emailing the publisher with an inquiry. He responded to let me know he was interested in the story but didn’t know if it would be published this year or next. Couldn’t he have replied earlier to let me know this, instead of waiting to be prompted by me?

I realized my tale of woe wasn’t specific to me, and I had an epiphany. I didn’t need to be published to feel good about myself as a writer. I know I’m good (and that I still have lots to learn). Once I came to this conclusion, I was able to climb out of my writer’s abyss and get back to work.

I mentioned at the beginning that I hadn’t written anything for a while, but I had done other “writerly” things. I studied markets by reading the editor interviews at Six Questions For. . .. I learned more about writing by continuing to read articles like Erin’s. I gave myself a goal to read 2-3 stories a day. (Okay, I skipped a few Saturdays and most Sundays.) I analyzed a few stories in an attempt to figure out why they did or didn’t work (for me). And I read submissions to Apollo’s Lyre, which always provides a learning experience. (I also learn something about myself and my writing every time I pen one of these posts.)

Am I a Good Writer? Damn right I am! Am I a Great Writer? Hell, no. Do I write because I must. My reply is “Yes!”, especially given the fact I wrote the first draft of this article on my iPhone while walking on a treadmill at a fitness center. :)

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Jim Harrington discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His Six Questions For. . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” He’s also the Markets Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles’ Flash Markets Page. You can read his stories on his blog. He can be contacted at jpharrin [at] gmail [dot] com.

by Erin Entrada Kelly

I’m an idiot with directions. I once got lost going from Lake Charles, La., to Baton Rouge, and all I had to do was go to the interstate and take a right.

Since I’m moronic when it comes to getting from A to B, I’m quite skilled at getting lost. Sometimes it’s no big deal; it can even be a benefit. You might stumble upon the ice cream shop you never knew existed or find a used bookstore. Other times, however, you make a wrong turn and get the feeling that something just isn’t right. When this happens, you have two choices: You can backtrack and start over or plow through the unfamiliar streets until you see the light again.

The same thing happens when I’m writing. Sometimes I make a good turn and find ice cream. Other times I get the feeling that something just isn’t right. I poise my finger over the backspace button and make a choice: Go back or plow through? In the back of my mind I know that the better choice is to go back and start over, but I don’t always do that. Why? Could be laziness. Could be I can’t put my finger on what’s bothering me. Could be that I’ve convinced myself that all that wrongness is in my imagination and my manuscript is just fine.

Here’s the problem: Most of the time, when you feel that something just isn’t right with your manuscript, you’re probably right.

There have been many times that I’ve workshopped pieces of fiction that I’d convinced myself were complete, only to discover that readers had questions about the same wrong turn I’d plowed through in the first place. The dialogue seems off, they say, or I don’t really understand why your character did this.

There’s nothing more frustrating for me than to get lost when I’m driving. Frankly, it pisses me off. I don’t want to backtrack and figure out where I went wrong. I just want to get where I’m going.

It takes a lot of hard work to figure out where you went wrong when you get lost. But if you don’t do the hard work, you never find the right directions.

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Erin Entrada Kelly is staff editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Her fiction has been published widely in places like Keyhole Magazine, Monkeybicycle and the Kyoto Journal. She was short-listed for the Eric Hoffer National Fiction Prize and the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel is forthcoming from HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Books. Read more at www.erinentradakelly.com. If you’re on Facebook, find her here

 

Gay Deganiby Gay Degani

Well, dang.  It’s Wednesday and something needed to show up in this spot and I forgot to double-check last night.  Blame it on the Heat and the Thunder!

What a terrific game.  I just hope the Thunder can come back so the series goes to seven.  Nothing like great basketball to get me thinking about teamwork and how it applies to writing. The writer is the coach.  The team: each member is a story element and they must work together to WIN.   (Indulge me here.  Everything seems like a metaphor for writing to me!)

Think about it.  The coach is the one who teaches, guides, plans, shapes, and has a heart attack when all the teaching, guiding, planning, shaping doesn’t work.  The team has potential, it may even have talent, but if left to their own devices, the members might play well, might even be brilliant, but going all the way, reaching for that trophy?

The big man might not let the others play because he never gives up the ball.  The point guard might try to get everyone to pay attention, to work the ball around to the player with the best “look,” but maybe there’s a bumping battle for position in the key and the player misses the pass.   You’ve heard it before from the master himself, Michael Jordan,  ”Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”  And whose job is it to bring teamwork and intelligence to the court?  The coach.

So how does that apply to writing?  You guessed it, the author is the coach.  He or she is the person in charge, the one who makes the tough decisions, who inspires, motivates, and keeps everything on track.  The starting team includes structure, language, content, theme, and characters with dialogue, setting, clarity, metaphor, and imagery coming off the bench.

The coach puts his first team on the court.  The best players, but he has to switch them out when something isn’t working and he has a strong bench to do so.  Maybe for one story, language is the focus–the element that never lets the author down,  for another, structure, but no matter what strategy the coach decides will work, he has to count on all the elements to do their part.

I love Blake Griffin.  Watched him in the NCAA championships and there was something about him that stood out (damn good basketball) and I remembered him, so when he ended up on the Clippers, I was excited.  We went to a couple games and the Clippers suddenly had enough  talent that we dared to hope they would be contenders, but they didn’t always play as a team.  Whoever had the ball tended to shoot.  There was little working around the floor and while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin might be two of the most talented players in basketball, they could not bring it in the end without the rest of the team.

The same is true in putting together a story.  An author might be brilliant with words, stringing them together like easy lay-ups, but a story needs more than pretty words.  It has to have meaning.  It has to stir something in the reader.  Occasionally, of course, an imagery-rich story might be enough, something there beneath the lines that works for many readers, but we’re talking about the long haul here, making it to the finals, to the championship. Sharp original language is like having a superb big man.  You might win over fans for a few stories, but at some point, the  author needs to send in the rest of the team.

Language, structure, and content need to work together and still have room for the other elements to play their part in order for a writer to produce championship work.  Writing is like coaching.  You can’t just put your best two players in the game and hope they can bring home the  NBA Trophy while you cheer them on.   You need to coach everyone on the team.  You need to get each one to contribute the best version of their skills to the play.

If you saw the game last night, important plays were made by bench-warmers Nick C0llison for the Thunder and Norris Cole for the Heat.  And what about Mario Chalmers?  We expect to be cheering Dwyane Wade and LeBron, but Bosh?  And while Russell Westbrook scored a valiant 32 points, the Thunder lost because yes, late in the game, his team ran out of gas.

So enough of this.  You get the point. We writers need to consider how all the elements of a story can contribute to the overall story and while one or the other may dominate, it is the contributions from the bench that will often carry the day.