Friday, September 10, 2010

A Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I gave this book five stars out of five on

I am a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana series. I don't think I've ever been disappointed in anything I've read of his. Precious Ramotswe, the owner of this agency, the first in Botswana, is a beautiful soul. There is simply no other way to describe her. She is believable, she has suffered, she understands suffering, but most important, her heart is big enough to contain a vast forgiveness, though she will not let true wickedness go unpunished. I review Precious because without her the books would be impossible. She is the heart of the books and to me the books seem like the heart of Botswana, a country I have never visited, but now want to. I am a big lover of tea: black tea, some green tea, Earl Grey tea, the hit-me caffeinated kinds of tea, but I have become a non-caffeine rooibos tea drinker because that is what Precious drinks, only she calls it bush tea. All my reviews of every book I have read in this series would be identical. I never imagined that a man, one who isn't even from Africa originally, could present a "traditionally built" African woman with the kind of gentle, loving honesty that is shown in these books. Read them. They are wonderful.

Review: The Mahabharata by William Buck

This is an easy to read translation (if any are truly easy) of the great epic tale from India about the terrible feud and resulting battle between the Pandavas and Kurus (really two branches of one family). In some ways it is not always absorbing because there are so many details a modern author might skip without realizing their future importance in another book such as the Ramayana, which Buck also translated and which I own, though I have not read it yet. However, in sum, Buck has made of the Mahabharata one massive, continuous tale, exciting(in a boo-hiss-yay! kind of way) to those who love complex tales of deceit and treachery, of battle and bloodshed, of lovely women tossed on the gambling table to the same of the one Pandava who should have known better. Buck's rendition moves events around and drops unnecessary texts, and even dares to remove the most sacred text of ancient India, the Bhagavad Gita from where it usually occurs in the Mahabharata, just at the beginning of the epic battle. If he were alive today he would argue rightly that someone probably just dropped it into the Mahabharata in the first place to make sure it would never get lost; that really it existed perfectly on its own once and now again. Buck simply sums up the 18 chapters in one sentence, and I do miss the Gita’s summary of Yogic monistic belief that only God exists and all Gods are one God, and all that seems alive are just shadows of God on the stage that God is creating for a play that his shadows to act or “play in” at every moment. However, leaving it out allows the story to carry the reader beautifully to the lovely ending on Mount Kailas, "By Narayana's widespreading tree whose leaves are songs, on the grass plateau high on the sacred and eternal breast of Kailasa, the Players met under the coloured shadows and asked, "What shall we play next?” 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Problem with Comments Solved, I think: Comments answered

I'm really sorry that you have had so many problems with comments.  I hate it myself when I write a long post or comment and then it disappears.  The situation is apparently due to Blogger's overactive spam detector.  I have gone through the Spam now and marked your comments as "not Spam", and I hope they will publish now. 

I was interested in all your comments.  I have learned more about the virtual world and I will investigate it further, because it is awful to run a business and have someone badmouth it if it's not true.  So, thank you for your posts.

Thank you all for all your posts.  I didn't know why I wasn't getting any (grin) but now I will try to keep the Spam Filter under control.

Best wishes to all,


The Devil Came Down To Georgia like a Bird on a Wire

If I were to give any advice of any use to you in writing it would be to try, every couple of short stories, every third or fourth poem, to deliberately choose, as a writing exercise, to rewrite what you have done in a different style.  It will open you up, maybe change the way you look at your writing. 

Art is art, and sometimes thinking about one form feeds another. When the great Nashville Icon, Charlie Daniels, composer of The Devil Came Down To Georgia sang that song, the words were one thing, but when he played the fiddle, without words, in the middle of a Nashville Music Hall,  it would be so loud and wild and crazy and strong  that the strings on his fiddle would begin to smoke.   Listen through the song for the wordless places, and feel the energy and power.

(with thanks to Charlie Daniels, his band, and

Could you use words in a style like that?   Could you write a poem that smokes?  Could you carry that kind of energy through a short story?  What would it do to you?  To a reader?  Is there anywhere in your current writing where that kind of power would be right?

Back in the day, Charlie Daniels worked with a young kid called Leonard Cohen.  How they came to know each other is really not important here.  But Daniels played bass in two of Leonard Cohen's albums, the 1969 Songs from a Room and Songs of Love and Hate in 1971. Here is what Daniels had to say of these sessions in Nashville
                "He spoke in poetic ways and was able to communicate with people who had never lived in that world, like myself, and had never been exposed to that side of things.  I'd never been around playing concerts for crowds that were that quiet.  You could  hear, maybe not a pin, but a 10-penny nail roll across the balcony."

                                                    Bird on the Wire  

(with thanks to Leonard Cohen and beemp3)

Daniels adds dreamily, thinking of those days,

                      "I saw another side of music that I had never seen. When I think of Leonard's music, I think of it as very, very fragile.  I'd never been around that kind of music before, that everything that you did had to be something that was unique and that it complemented this very unique, fragile music that Leonard was doing.  You know, what we do is the sum total of what we've done, actually. I was glad to be exposed to that feel, to that thing."

Give it a try.  Write fragile, write power, write quiet and thoughtful, write fire.  See what it does to the way you look at yourself as a writer.  Who you are, sometimes, is as important as what you have to say.

See you soon,


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

CONTEST!! The Annual Autumnal Precis (pronounced PRAYSEE) Contest

HERE  it is, friends and followers, the time has come at last, to dazzle the world with your wit, wisdom, and elegance of prose.

The contest: 
1.Read the poem below by Robert Grave: The Devil's Advice to Story-Tellers. 
2. In a single grammatically correct sentence of no more than 140 characters (exactly like a normal post on Twitter, and your identity doesn't count towards the 140 characters) summarize the advice you believe Graves is giving story-tellers in this poem.  (No links, no abbreviations except those in common use in normal writing; in other words, no squinching.). Write your sentence precis as a post to this blog.
3. Any individual friend or follower of Welwyn Wilton Katz who is a member of or or or more than one of them may enter. You may enter more than once, if you like.  A whole group following Welwyn cannot enter as a group, however.  

Entries:  must be posted to this blog by Wednesday September 15, 6 pm EST.
Short List of Winners: Chosen by Welwyn and announced on a post to this blog, Sunday Sept. 19 at 6 pm EST
Voting (for the clearest, most sensible and most elegantly written precis on the Short List) will be done by the followers and friends of Welwyn.  Only one vote per person is allowed.  Voting commences immediately after the short list is announced. 
Last vote: must be received before 6 pm, on the Autumnal Equinox, Thursday September 23, 6 pm EST. In the case of a tie Welwyn reserves the right to choose between the finalists. 
Announcement of the Winner will be made on Welwyn's Goodreads blog and shared through Twitter with Facebook, shortly after the voters decide.
The Prize: satisfaction in a difficult job well done, the honours of the millions of writers and readers on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads, a-a-a-n-d-d... a new book of your choice written by Welwyn Wilton Katz, autographed as you request.

The Devil's Advice to Story-Tellers
Lest men suspect your tale to be untrue,
Keep probability - some say - in view.
But my advice to story-tellers is:
Weigh out no gross of probabilities,
Nor yet make diligent transcriptions of
Known instances of virtue, crime or love.
To forge a picture that will pass for true,
Do conscientiously what liars do -
Born liars, not the lesser sort that raid
The mouths of others for their stock-in-trade:
Assemble, first, all casual bits and scraps
That may shake down into a world perhaps;
People this world, by chance created so,
With random persons whom you do not know-
The teashop sort, or travellers in a train
Seen once, guessed idly at, not seen again;
Let the erratic course they steer surprise
Their own and your own and your readers' eyes;
Sigh then, or frown, but leave (as in despair)
Motive and end and moral in the air;
Nice contradiction between fact and fact
Will make the whole read human and exact.
               - Robert Graves

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Technical Problems With "Comments"

I'm helping Welwyn with this blog. We understand that some longer "comments" are getting truncated. We are looking into this issue. What we have found so far is that comments that include long URLs will disable the word wrap function and end the comments at that point.  Until we find a fix for this problem, please avoid inserting long URLS. Thank you.

Where do my ideas come from?

I have lots of ideas that seem to come from nowhere, beginning mostly as a kind of uncomfortable nibbling feeling in my mind.  That feeling isn't really an idea: it's a germ of an idea, and it doesn't go anywhere until I've let it simmer for a while.  Characters have to arise from the germ, there must be problems the characters have a lot vested in solving, and there must certainly be a setting.  When I have these three plus the germ, I have what I call "an idea for a book".

When I say I find some germs "nowhere", I mean "nowhere special".  Shop windows, people saying something to me in the line at the supermarket, a view in nature (usually a view made ugly my humans), human interest stories in the newspaper, some argument I witness, things I overhear on the subway or in doctors' offices (people who talk on cell phones in public places shouldn't be surprised to recognize something they were upset about in a book one day.)  But in many cases, I'm reading something and it catches my interest.  I thought I would do some book reviews here and in the next little while, so that you can get an idea of the kind of book I use to help generate my own ideas.  Here is one that is exactly the kind of book (from its title) that I would have thought would be guaranteed to have given me a "germ", if I'd read it looking for one (i.e. keeping my creative brain ready)I'm putting all my creative juices right now into a different novel, but even so, I might have found something and scribbled it into what I call my "Idea Book" if the book had appealed to the period of history I'm interested in.  It didn't, and so, I didn't get an idea from it.  But you might not be like me, however, interested mostly in the years up to and including medieval times.  There is absolutely no reason, however, why the book might not do it for you.  It's the personal aspect of events that appeals to writers.  The events can be real or imagined.  The ones that are real have a lot of power, and so I approached this book with hope.  me when writing a book in a certain time period.  That's what this book specializes in.  Unfortunately, as you'll read, I think it doesn't do it adequately. 

I published it first on
I'll be giving you more reviews in the next few blog posts.

The Mammoth Book of How It Happened  (Eyewitness Accounts of History in the Making from 2000 BC to the present)  Ed by Jon E. Lewis, Carroll & Graf 2006
I read the first several hundred pages of this book in detail, but I have to admit boredom as the author reached eras where history has been vastly written about. I admit to preferring history on or before the medieval period. This book is not an ordinary history book, but more an "I was there and this is how it happened" collection of anecdotes. As such, if you didn't know something and are deeply interested in the subject and you wanted to know what it was like to be there - and then, if there was nothing in the book on it at all, or much too little - you would be disappointed.  Also, if you already knew all you wanted to know about it because you were there, that part of the book might be wasted on you. A book like this is a very good idea, however. Perhaps it would have been better in several volumes, with a lot more anecdotes from each period. Only two pages are devoted to the Black Death, for example, as opposed to 14 to Hurricane Katrina. There were plenty of diarists and letters to choose from during the Black Death and earlier. The Greeks and Romans were highly literate societies, as were many of their foes; and before that there were other literate societies, as my favourite anecdote in the whole book shows: "A Schoolboy's Day" from Sumer in around 2000 BC, the first anecdote in the whole book.  It simply cannot be claimed that there were no "Great Historical Moments" from 2000 BC to the rebuilding of the Palace of Babylon in c. 600 BC. For this reason I cannot give more than two stars to the book. It's a great idea poorly constructed for me as a researching writer.  If you're using this book to get a real person's thoughts or anecdotes of an event in a later period, or if you simply don't yet know what eras you are most interested in writing about, the book might suit you quite well.

So here's one book that failed for me, but it is the type of book that might give another writer the germ of an idea.