Monday, December 7, 2009

Writers Lurking in The Bilge

When I stumbled down into The Bilge, to ask my Question for a Work of Fiction, I had only meager hopes of acknowledgement. After my eyes quit burning and adjusted to the dark, and my olfactory senses deadened, I found that not only had my boat question been answered, but I came across something I had not anticipated.


They don’t advertise themselves as such, but under the premise of ‘takes one to know one’, they’re not hard to detect. I quoted TerryLL aka Terry Lavallee a few posts back, and you tell me if this doesn’t sound like what you’ve read on writers’ forums and blogs:

“The danger in spending so much time burnishing one paragraph is that it shines like a jewel against the less-polished background of the rest of the narrative. It's often the case that the first two or three chapters of a novel radiate brilliance, thence to trail off like a dying comet, finally flickering out in some contrived ending.

The key to a page-turner is consistency, a plausible story, compelling characters, and a driving narrative. As for structure, let terseness be your mantra; pray for brevity. Words are a precious commodity; hoard them.”

Although his profile reveals only that he is in Textile Equipment Manufacture, I had a strong hunch he might be holding back. When I posted a quick excerpt from my novel (a sailing race), he responded this way:

“Authenticity is important in a work of fiction, as I've mentioned before, so you should strive to be factually accurate. But there comes a point, when one small detail is heaped upon a vast pile of other small details, that a narrative begins to sound somewhat like a documentary.

One of the most important vehicles to carry your narrative along, and to make your tale tangible and personal, is the imagination of the reader. If you leave no room for imagination, by supplying every last minute detail, the reader is often left on the sidelines, an observer rather than a participant.

Where is the sound of the sails flapping, the whistle of the wind through the stays, the cold spray on the face, the smell of the sea, the thump of the waves against the hull? You need only hint at the visceral, and then let the readers conjure up for themselves those sounds and aromas. When the reader can imagine that cold spray on the face, and hear the whine of the wind, then you have succeeded in drawing the reader into your tale.
BTW, lovely blog.” (oh, I meant to edit-out that last bit)

Now, you tell me—does that sound writerly to you? Inquiring aspiring novelist that I am, I had to ask. You guess right! He has a WIP, a who-done-it set in Seattle, and he’s 80K words into it.

Here’s another:

In my Moaning Chair post, I provided a link to Norm Bernstein’s eloquent description (one I found by Googling “moaning chair”). Come to find out, he is a prolific poster down in The Bilge. In fact, back in early 2001, he came up with a plot for a novel about a terrorist cell in the US, and wrote the novel, his first. He was in the process of shopping it to literary agents, when 9/11 happened… and the similarities of his plot line, and actual events, rendered his novel probably un-sellable.

A good time for the Moaning Chair.

These are just two of the aspiring novelists I came across in my short time down in The Bilge. Many more writers co-exist down there—both published and unpublished. Even those without aspirations of becoming novelists often produce posts that are a delight to read (yes Mr. Left, I'm including you in the mix).

In your travels, have you come across writers in unsuspected places?


  1. You're right - there *are* a bunch of writers among us Bilge Rats, whether or not we try our chops at manuscripts.

    Working in miniatures, if you're serious about communication, is a helluva discipline. True whether the form is poetry, short story ... or forum posts.


  2. Tom,
    Hey, thanks for stopping by. In many ways, the 'shorts' present a whole different challenge--even more so, in many ways.
    I've enjoyed your posts at The Bilge--I bet that's the least of what you write!

  3. That's really cool. I may have come across other writers and not known it. I'll be paying more attention now.

  4. Yeah, it's a dark, dirty secret we share ;)

  5. It's my wife who's the poet and aspiring novelist, but there are many ways of writing for a living.

    I spend every day at a keyboard, mostly writing policy analyses and recommendations. Or cudgeling other peoples' proposals into formats that will get a fair hearing from decision makers.

    It's no small thing, holding the pen. It can help a brilliant idea get a hearing, frame a discussion to show the compelling implications of various approaches. Or not. Many is the great proposal, killed by an execrable briefing note. Somewhat fewer, thankfully, are the execrable proposals adopted on the recommendation of persuasive briefings...

    Writing matters. Whether in my world, or in literature. In both cases it's a mirror - showing who we are/may become, by revealing just what draws us.


  6. Re: Anon--See everyone--he's exactly what I'm talking about!

  7. I guess he's not too anonymous--he did sign his name, Tom...

    Susan, beware--there're all over the place. Remember how it was for us before we came out of the 'dark dirty closet,' of which Bane speaks.

  8. It's funny that Bane commented on this post because he's who first came to mind. After all, he's an engineer who wants to write novels. Reminds me of a friend of mine who became a doctor so that he can afford to make films. LOL!

    Writers - and creative types - are everywhere, so beware indeed. ;-)

    P.S. And Terry's advice is excellent - thanks for sharing it. As you well know, B, I could learn a thing or two about paring down.

  9. Laura,
    The best part of it, for me, is their hospitality--you can imagine what an odd-ball I am over there. They tolerate my doofiness rather well.

  10. Uh, I meant that sarcastically, of course.

  11. Laura, I'm good with my doofiness. I figure the sooner people realize I’m a doofus, the sooner we can get the inevitable disillusionment out of the way. It’s win/win.

  12. A song about a farmer who dreams of sailing, and being free to wander across the oceans and a sailor who is dreaming of staying home on land to find the grass that hides his grave.


  13. Very cool quotes. I think there are hidden writers everywhere. I've had the pleasure of reading some good stuff written by people that I didn't know even wrote. Thanks for reminding of this!

  14. The song Ripley tried to share just won't work with that link. It's called Change Player Size The Dreamer, by Tom Rush and it's very pretty, and sad. Go do a little search over at YouTube, and enjoy!
    Thanks Ripley. Nice of you to stop by.

  15. Paul, if you look at Terry Lavallee's Website, he lived in Alaska for years. I know it's a big state, but I don't know too many guys from up there. I think you're probably a special breed!

  16. It's not called "Change Player Size The Dreamer, by Tom Rush "
    it's just "The Dreamer, by Tom Rush"...stupid copy and paste...

    Look there, proof that I am a doofus!

  17. Hmm, lurking writers, it does make one wonder. When I lived back east I discovered that our Chinese food delivery guy was a doctor and the pizza dude was a metallurgist. Never judge a book..

    Although, I must say that your book jacket is every bit as fabulous as the story it will contain!

  18. Thanks so much for liking Story for a Shipwright; I really need that right now. I'm about to send it off to a guy at The Bilge for technical support. I think you know how unnerving something like feels. Your compliment is salve.

  19. Great post...and I have clicked all over the place as a result. Loved the Moaning Chair...and The Bilge. So much info. Thank you!

  20. Liza, from reading your blog, I know you have some experience with sailing—the entire WoodenBoat Forum has a lot of interesting stuff, but the Bilge—well, it’s quite a place. The whole lot of them are pretty interesting and I dare say any one of the Bilge Rats would make a fine character study!