A “Novel” Approach to This Post

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Poetry. Drama. Short stories. Non-fiction works.

As I humbly learned, writing a novel can prove fleeting at times. Image courtesy of Academic Help.

All these forms of the written word challenge the writer of literature, commentary and criticism. But it’s the novel — that extended extended genre of fiction — that truly provides the examination and demonstration of the writer’s skill, dedication, drive and passion.

It’s with first-hand experience that I make this assertion.

Last week, I completed the “Novel Writing Workshop” course, another educational step toward earning a master’s degree in English.  Completing the course, however, did not equate to completing my novel.

Ah, the sound and connotation of those words, “my novel.” Yes, I am underway with an extended work of fiction, and I plan to complete a draft by August.

Hold me to that.

In my class, I was one of six fledgling novelists. Some already had works published, others were well into stories that spanned genres (a young woman growing up in a foreign brothel, a surreal account of spirits interacting with people), topics (detective tales, a search for a missing child) and continents (from North America to Asia.)  Me, I created a protagonist who to my knowledge has not been used before: A building engineer. From Chicago, as you’d expect.

More on my story soon.

Every class I’ve taken these past six semesters has culminated in gaining knowledge and understanding of the written word. And, all have improved my cognitive skills.

To summarize, here’s what I learned over the past 14 weeks:

  • First Person.  Writing in first person is harder than anticipated. I launched my work taking the narrator’s point of view, but the instructor and classmates wholeheartedly suggested I move to the third person omniscient. I did, and it really made a difference in the narrative.
  • Accepting Criticism.  At first I was somewhat stunned by critical comments, leading to defensive replies: “What do you mean there’s not enough conflict? Why do you find the dialogue too dense at times? So, what the heck does understanding temporal distance and free-indirect discourse have to do with writing a novel?” Every writer receives criticism; I learned to accept feedback and move on.
  • Map Out the Complete Storyline.  Before class started in early September, I drafted a two-page synopsis of sorts, but I really didn’t craft a solid plot or a conclusion. That led to a roadblock, one I’ve since overcome.
  • Point of View Characters. There can only be so many “POV” characters in a work for it to be intriguing and make sense. I learned to restrict this perspective to my protagonist and the guy who’s the villain.
  • Trust Your Instincts.  In light of the aforementioned, it will be my name below the title of the work. When the manuscript is completed, the results will be based on what I think is right.

And now, a sample. Here’s the first paragraph of the work:

“For Myron Jezmanski, here’s how it goes when everything is right, when nothing unexpected gets in the way, when he can count on the day being like the day before, and the day before that, and there’s no crap or nonsense that he has to deal with and he can close his eyes and just be thankful for what he’s built, what he has, and what he’s earned. First, the dog is still asleep when he awakes at 5:30 a.m., which means Myron doesn’t have to let him in the yard until he’s had a shower, coffee – one-half teaspoon of sugar only — and a bowl of Cheerios with fruit – dried fruit in the wintertime, fresh fruit when it’s in season. Hell, if he’s going to pay $4.99 for a pint of strawberries in January. If they’re out of Cheerios, he will eat his wife’s granola, even though he really doesn’t see the big deal in granola.”

What do you gain from these 157 words about my protagonist? Stay tuned for more.

By the way, the title of my novel is “The Way It’s Supposed to Be.”

 

 

Advertisements

What’s On My Calendar in 2019

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This handy calendar offers motivation, prompts, wisdom and more. Who knows: Maybe one of my quotes will be on the 2020 edition.

Looking back at the holiday season passed, I was fortunate to receive some outstanding gifts, from the intangible (moments shared with family and friends) to the tangible (a couple of six packs of some really good beer).

But assuredly, the most poignant — and hopefully most useful — gift found under the proverbial tree was a desk calendar.

As noted in the accompanying image, my calendar will offer “Inspiration, writing prompts & advice for every day of the year.”

By reading this post, it’s readily apparent that I write stuff, from commentary on public relations, politics and popular culture to travelogues and people profiles. With a career in public relations, marketing and journalism spanning (yes, hard to believe) four decades, there are a lot of other genres I could include within print digital and broadcast.

Back to the present, the most challenging writing projects completed recently were required assignments in my pursuit of a master’s degree in English. For the Theory, Rhetoric and Aesthetics course completed in December, I submitted a paper, “The Growth of a Post-Truth World in Modern Society.

To summarize the essay: Exceptionally challenging and equally rewarding, as I had to analyze early twenty first century perceptions of truth and falsehood while balancing beliefs presented by Plato and a twentieth century thinker. Heady stuff, indeed.

For the spring 2019 semester, I pivot resoundingly in another direction: Novel workshop.

Yes, I will begin — and hopefully finish — a novel by May. What’s the plot? Who are the characters? What do I hope to accomplish?  We’ll find out in a few months.

Should I need inspiration, I will read, savor and gain from the messages displayed on the little calendar on my desk. Then, I’ll get back to work.

 

Halfway to My MA: Reflecting on Post Modern Literature Studies

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Comments made by an Illinois State University creative writing professor more than four decades ago truly resonated recently.

Darn if I can remember the lady’s name, but she noted something to the effect that completing a truly challenging writing task — one filled with doubt, driven by despair and desperation, fraught with indecision and frustration — can be among the most magical and rewarding accomplishments in life.

That’s how I felt after wrapping up the final paper for my most recent English course, another step toward earning my Master’s degree. I’ve reached a milestone of sorts: The credits earned from this fourth course means I’m statistically halfway to the 32 credits required.

Wonder what Walt Whitman, considered a pioneer of modern poetry, would think about some of the works I had to read this semester.

The course focused on modern, post modern and contemporary poetry and prose, but rest assured: The assigned writing last semester did not include works by Stephen King, James Patterson or any of the popular juggernaut novelists who produce fantasy and action-prone works that get made into movies and TV series. The subject of works analyzed were void of supernatural spirits and superheroes.

We studied writers of “Language poetry,” an avant garde movement that arose in the hippie era as a backlash against more traditional forms of poetry. We debated topics like alienation, the fragmentation of modern life and poetry’s place in society today. And, we learned that some modern writers employ results from Google searches to create “poems.”

Required readings from mid and late-20th century and 21st century writers were balanced by essays from Gertrude Stein and Berthold Brecht, along with an excellent modern novel highly influenced by seminal works of Walt Whitman, considered a pioneer of the modern poetry movement. For a perspective, we even were assigned essays from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century philosopher and essayist, and John Stuart Mill, the British liberal thinker.

Full disclosure: I’ve not kept up with modern poetry and fiction; none of the works by contemporary authors we read were familiar to me. That’s why I was intrigued and looked forward to each week’s reading any the challenging writing assignments.

But frankly, I was taken aback by much of the poetry and literary criticism produced today. I found some works on our syllabus bizarre and incomprehensible, unfulfilling and trite, pretentious and directionless.

A quatrain of examples:

  1. One poem has same line repeated 49 times. (I won’t post the line because it contains a swear word; plus, the line is non-nonsensical to me.)
  2. One extended poetic work has one word — “red” — on a single page. (For the record, “red” was used on previous pages, too.)
  3. One essay focused retyping every word of an issue of the New York Times as a transcendental exercise. (The author also gave this retyping exercise as a class assignment.)
  4. A series of poems included one titled, “A Poem I Didn’t Write,” containing the contents of “The Tyger,” one of the most storied poems in the English language. (No doubt, true scholars of William Blake are not happy.)

Yet, to incorporate a cliche, there were literary diamonds among the rough stuff; and I gained a much, much better appreciation of and understanding for poetry.

One conclusion: Modern language, like all creative endeavors, needs to change and evolve; new men and women of letters (to borrow a well-used moniker) should have their turn, their time. For instance, a black poet transcended convention to make thoughts known with graphic-centered poems created using In Design software. (And, said poet’s work served as the basis for my final paper.)

So, if you’re interested the next step in my Master’s challenge, for fall 2018, I’m enrolled in Theory, Rhetoric and Aesthetics — Melville’s Modernity. (I trust we’ll be assigned to read a novel featuring a really big white fish.)

And, if you’re keeping track, I received an A in the course just completed. Read by final paper by visiting my “other” website.

Building on My Foundation in Non-Fiction Writing: Fall Master’s Class Remembered

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Another semester. Another class. Another step closer to achieving a milestone in life.

Our little piece of mortgaged America located in Avondale, the focus of my essay.

That summarizes an important part of what took place this fall of 2017. Specifically, I completed another graduate-level class, one more academic chess piece so to say toward earning my Master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This fall, I joined 11 other student scholars in the “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop,” a course that allowed participants to submit essays, memoirs, journal contributions and other written works as part of the required assignments.  Each class, two works were presented, analyzed and read aloud in segments or entirely.

The professor, himself a very successful author of non-fiction, novels and short stories, encouraged discussion and criticism — but primarily the constructive kind.

My classmates presented poignant, compelling stories of growing up in parts of the nation and under familial dynamics much, much different than mine. Some revealed much more about themselves, their lives and personal relationships than I ever would, except perhaps in fiction.

I respected everyone and their abilities, and I believe I grew as a writer after absorbing the works presented each Monday night.  A community of sorts evolved: Writers charged with keeping the craft and art of the written word advancing through compositions centered on our own experiences and abilities, beliefs and perspectives.

My essay contributions were driven by what I know best: Chicago.

The second and more substantial of the two essays is titled The “Greening” of Avondale, a perspective on the Chicago neighborhood we’ve lived in for 17 years.

Your thoughts on this work are welcomed. And, if you want to read more of my “scholarly” works, please visit my website.

By the way, I earned an A this semester!

 

 

See You in September: Spring English Master’s Class Remembered

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Earlier this month, I completed another step toward my quest to add some other letters after my name, specifically “MA” for Master’s in English.

The next leg of the journey will be in the fall. So, yes, to quote the ‘70s Alice Cooper song, “school’s out for summer!”

Or more precisely, the Spring 2017 semester is over, and I can enjoy 90-plus days without having to read a book just about every 10 days.

Image of Nabokov courtesy of gunsmithcat.deviantart.com. So what does this image signify? The author liked butterflies and wrote a book about a girl he named Lolita.

The 16-week course I completed focused on the writings of Russian/American author Vladimir Nabokov and other writers influenced by this legend of modern prose. Must say the class was very challenging, as I grappled at times with comprehending Nabokov’s themes and motifs. (Although I failed to fully comprehend why Nabokov would pursue the story line in Lolita and how he got away with changing narrators in some works.)

I learned a lot from our cool, engaging youngish professor, but also by observing some of my fellow classmates. Four are profiled here, identified by names I conjured up in a state of creativity.

The Jolly Scholar: A young fellow fellow clearly enraptured by literature, this colleague regularly shared keen knowledge of the assigned reading, espousing thoughts with a wit and wisdom beyond is years. An example of his commitment: He re-read Madame Bovery — a work not assigned — to be better prepared for the discussion on Flaubert’s Parrot.  Now, that’s dedication!

Slouching Girl: Clearly an intelligent person, this young woman demonstrated by her body language that she probably would have preferred to be elsewhere than in class. Consistent hair twirling gestures added to her mystique. Yet, when she did contribute, the thought added greatly to the class discussion; however, I had challenges comprehending comments due to her subdued, dulcet voice.

Goth Dude: Goth Dude looked like he just returned from a Cure concert, always sporting black attire and combat boots, always brooding. (I trust if there was a darker color of clothing available, he would have worn it.) But in all fairness, this guy shared very provocative insight and was the second smartest person in the room after the professor. Cool and staid, he consistently added thoughts to a notebook using precise penmanship.

The Marxist: Perhaps an uncalled for and unfair moniker, because I have no idea of this guy’s political ideologies. He was Russian, I believe, and he frequently defended his positions on Nabokovian (yes, this is a real school of thought among literary scholars) theory with a controlled fervor. For some reason, he favored t-shirts adorned with images of fictitious U.S. presidents and dead rock stars.

If you need more insight into why I’m pursuing an advanced degree, please read this post from July of 2016. By the way, I earned a B for the spring 2017 class — the grade I felt I deserved. My final paper can be found here.

So, what’s on the agenda for the fall 2017? Something a little less Nabokovian and more straightforward: Non-fiction writing workshop.

Thoughts Just Before a Summer Storm

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Here, during the minutes before a summer storm strikes, one can still hear, see and learn.

Looking north from our back porch, shortly before a summer storm.

Looking north from our back porch, shortly before a summer storm.

I can still hear the cicadas, their symphonic chorus almost deafening at times. The thunder sounds lumber in my direction, announcing the rain to come.  Although the evening chirps from the cardinals and robins, a pleasure on a summer evening, are not to be heard.

As darkness comes earlier than it should around the 7 p.m. hour, I still see life on our humble street in the Avondale section of Chicago. My neighbor walks her dog, hurriedly I gather, as she’s aware of the threatening weather.  A young woman with a backpack makes her way home, handheld in hand, while a cyclist — his helmet and headlight flashing — pedals hurriedly south on Whipple Street.

And, as for the lesson: Embrace the moments before a challenge and revel in watching nature unfold around you, even here in the heart of a big city.

Okay.

Have you had enough of this “creative” stuff?

What I’m doing is practicing creative writing, well sort of. And why? Because I’m proud to announce that starting this August, I will start graduate studies in English at the university where I work.

Yes, English, with a concentration in creative studies.  Hey, I was an English major at Illinois State University, you know.

And, why not public relations?  Well two very good reasons:

  1. The university does not have a public relations program.
  2. I’m confident that my Accredited in Public Relations credential — and a few decades of practical experience — has prepared me for the profession.

So stay tuned to read updates as I begin another personal journey to learning and growing.

Now, it’s back to engaging with the approaching storm, its presence awe inspiring, humbling and …

I’ll stop for now.