Sunday, July 29, 2012

Writing lessons from the Worlds Worst Novelist

I would like to start with a brain teaser.  See if you can read the following sentence:
"Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?"
If the following statement made any sense, you may be insane.  Either that or you recently smoked something illegal.  For most of us, it’s run-on sentence that lost any meaning long before the first comma saved us from passing out on the floor.  It is a masterwork of the English language by sheer virtue of the fact that so many meaningless words were put together.   It is the first sentence to the long-forgotten novel Delina Delaney by Amanda McKittrick Ros, widely regarded as the worst novelist in English literature.

I won’t go into too much into her life or writing due to space and the fact that I would be more or less ripping off writers who actually had to wade through her work, a  Herculean task because they just don’t make shit-wading boots tall enough and it’s bound to soak through your socks.    Instead, I will offer the following link:

And, as always, there is wikipedia.

But, to give you an idea of exactly who we are dealing with,  imagine if you were to lock an infant in a room with nothing but the worst romance novels you could dig up.  The child grows up with her only knowledge of the world based on pages and pages of heaving shoulders, torn bodices and men with tortured souls who are also pirate captains.  Wait until that girl grows up and ask her to write a novel.  That was McKittrick Ros, and yes, it really is that bad. 

She embellishes strange details, for example.  Characters don’t clear their throat they clear it, “of any little mucus that perchance would serve to obstruct the tone of her resolute explanation.”

She alliterates like it’s a competitive sport:
“...frivolous, frittery fraternity of fragiles flitting round and about.”

And sometimes... well... its’ just bizarre.
"Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!"

By the way, if you feel the need to laugh, don’t fight it.  That’s your brain trying to save itself from leaking out of your ears.

So what can we learn from McKitrick except to, as the Great Lady herself put it, “disturb the bowels of millions?”  I’ve come up with three points. 

1: Be your own biggest fan: There is obviously a line between self assurance and outright delusion and McKittrick Ros cleared that line in street shoes.  Still, it takes a level of self-esteem bordering on sociopathy to pen words like she did, receive that kind of criticism and keep writing.  (Although it is not impossible that she kept going *because* of  the criticism.  She was Irish after all and stubbornness to the point of insanity is well-documented within the Irish tradition.)  It was frankly charming how she honestly believed in her heart that she was a great writer destined to “be talked about at the end of 1,000 years.” 

2: There’s no ‘right way’:  What makes a writer successful?  In my own humble opinion, it’s being able to write something that people enjoy and want to read.  Perhaps a bit simplistic, but there you go.  By that measure, she was successful. Among her fans were names like J.R Tolken, C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain.  They mostly read her novels to see how far they could get before falling off the bar stool in laughter, but still...  As we learn and grow as writers we are bombarded by people telling us how good writing should look, and sometimes they are even correct.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other paths. 

3.  Finally, it can always be worse:  I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to know that if I became completely insane and started writing short stories in a corn field with a bottle of whiskey and a riding lawnmower, they would still be infinitely more readable.  And yet, as I said before, she was still a success.... in her own way. That one simple fact gives me a bit of hope.  She was published and became a famous author writing in a style that’s so incredibly bad I couldn’t replicate it if I tried.

Although, it is perversely fun to try:

If mayhap you find the muscle filled with liquid fire screaming out like a woman deep in saddness’ cold embrace for want of the literary doppleganger of foul smelling disks laid out on a field populated by mankind’s dairy domestications.  You may find the foul, fetid, formations of fictional frivolity floundering forthwith:  (Translation: If you want more, you can find it here:)
Go to and search for McKittrick Ros.  Her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh is available for free and thank the gods because who would ever pay for this nonsense?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Meditations of a Drunken Writer.

 (Note: Written as part of a monthly column for my writing group's newsletter.  Recorded here for posterity and on the off chance anyone ever gives a shit about what I think writing is like.)

“I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work.  I suspect it’s a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs.  Old whores don’t do much giggling.”
    Hunter S. Thompson
    I wanted to start with this quote from a well-known nutcase and personal hero of mine.  This is my first of a (hopefully) monthly column in the newsletter.  It’s strange because I have almost no experience that would help with a writing column.  I took a creative writing class once in college and I passed by sheer virtue of the fact that the teacher was too busy with his Herbal Pursuits MBA  to notice my utter lack of participation.  I can, however, meander on thoughts, ideas and ask foolish questions with the best of them.   So that’s what I’ll do.   I decided to start off with the big question:
    Why do we do this?  Writing I mean.  It’s maddening work that never really seems to get any easier.  I’ve noticed that I grow as a person and as a writer the only thing it allows me to do is see more problems.  Don’t believe me?  Try this game:  Find something you wrote in high-school, college or some other previous time in your life.  Try and reading it all the way through without beating your head against the surface of your desk.  Winner gets cookie.
    It should be so easy.  I’ve been rereading ‘1984’ a lot for a short that I’m working on.  At some point, in time I realized how well  everything just works. The words flow almost effortlessly through the story and the message is so simple, concise and elegant.  I often wonder why I cannot do that.    It’s easy to forget the amount of times that Orwell had to write and re-write, yell, swear and drink until the words finally behaved themselves and started sounding right. 
    I go and look at what I have written.  Hell, I can yell, swear and drink with the best of them, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect.  That’s not to say their aren’t good moments.  Sometimes  I’ve got the right music in the background, I’m talking out loud in the voice of my characters, jumping up and enacting fight scenes and just getting down and jiggy with my muse.
    It never lasts.  In the morning we wake up feeling dirty and slightly ashamed.  I’ll go to the computer, wonder what the hell I was thinking the night before and start deleting. 
    Keep in mind that those are the nights when I don’t spend hours staring at a piece of work.  I don’t know what to do with it and it refuses to improve on it’s own.  It’s what we call an impasse.
    So why do we do it? 
    Myself, it’s kind of a natural thing for me.  I don’t think there was a time in my life where I wasn’t making up stories of one type or another.  Sometimes it was about imaginary creatures in my backyard.  Other times it was how those imaginary creatures broke Mom’s decorative plate hanging on the wall.  I’d usually get my ass beaten for the latter, but still.  I would hesitate to call it an addiction; junkies don’t get distracted from their fix by something good on TV.  There is a feeling that comes from composing something that people enjoy, something that inspires conversation and/or debate.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for a little bit of approval, but it’s a nice feeling either way.
    Let’s not forget this feeling: That moment that you type in the last word, throw your hands in the air and proclaim to the world “I’m done!  Now get me the hell out of this chair.”  Sometimes that’s the best part of writing.... the part where it’s over.
    Anyway, that’s my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.  I’ll have a discussion group in the Writers Block on the DII forum if you care to post your thoughts.  Until then,
“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
    Neil Gaiman.