Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Return of the Reluctant Blogger

My new book, Return of the Reluctant Blogger, has just been published (look for it on Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/Return-Reluctant-Blogger-Keith-Darrell/dp/1935971387). It's the third book in my "Reluctant Blogger" series, a collection of social commentary and humor drawn from my blog essays. This volume focuses on the problems with modern American business, the first year of the Trump administration, and assorted humorous anecdotes.

About the cover:

He showed up at my door one day along with his sister. Both Muscovy ducks, the hen with a pretty, smooth red face looked as though she were wearing a colorful mask, while the drake’s red caruncles looked more like scarlet carbuncles. Frankly, he was ugly. So every day when they appeared at my doorstep I would feed the beautiful hen, who I named Red, and try to discourage her brother. But the drake was not to be dissuaded. He coaxed me into giving him food as well, and unlike his sister, even ate straight from my hand. He would stay with me on the porch to keep me company long after his sister had departed. His bumpy red face reminded me of a cobblestone road and I named him Cobblestone. He had a warm and friendly personality, and as time passed he didn’t seem quite so ugly. They both became daily visitors for the next three years. I’ve come to see Cobblestone is as beautiful on the outside as he is on the inside. And that’s as good a reason as any for him to grace the cover of this book.

Cobblestone has nothing to do with any of the essays within these pages. The Reluctant Blogger series, of which this is the third volume, aggregates disparate posts from my blog on a variety of topics ranging from social commentary to humorous anecdotes. Each essay has been deliberately penned to be read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette so that non-smokers will finally have something to do during their cigarette breaks.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May is National Short Story Month

Did you know that May is National Short Story Month? Amber Book Company plans to celebrate by releasing a new volume of my short stories entitled Shards: The Omnibus Edition. Many of you know me from my social commentary posts appearing on my blog, while others are familiar with my young adult science fiction series The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer. Still others think of me as a novelist or epic storyteller, pointing to my four-book fantasy series Halos & Horns and my current ongoing fantasy series, Fangs & Fur. There are even some readers who think of me primarily as a nonfiction author because of my internationally top-selling book Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law, my two Web design books, and my Collected Essays of a Reluctant Blogger and More Essays of a Reluctant Blogger books. But the truth is, above all else, I’m a short story writer.

Shards may sound familiar to you. My first short story collection was entitled Randoms. It was lovingly crafted, published in a hardcover edition with a dust jacket. Unfortunately, the printer had tremendous difficulty printing the dust jacket. Every copy rolled off the printing press with a slightly different hue, making each book and instant collectible and the source of much aggravation and vexation. Ultimately, and with great reluctance, we replaced the hardcover edition with a paperback. My second short story collection, Careywood, was a charitable effort published in a limited print run to raise money to restore a historic mansion. Then, in 2011, almost all of my short stories were collected in a giant 450-page paperback entitled Shards. This mammoth collection included the best of Randoms, the stories from the limited edition Careywood, and a host of new short stories, many of which had been shared in public readings but never collected in print. Shards was to stand as my oeuvre: the complete collection of my short story output.

At the time, it was the largest book I had ever written… Ironically composed of the shortest of stories. But with each new edition over the course of 10 years, Issues in Internet Law: Society, Technology, and the Law grew to 680 pages. After I completed the four-book Halos & Horns series, the saga was collected in a single omnibus edition, The Halos & Horns Omnibuswhich clocked in at a whopping 904 pages. Suddenly, the 450-page Shards didn’t seem so big any more. And in the five years since its publication, I had written a few more short stories. I wanted to gather these new short stories into a brand-new collection but the Halos & Horns Omnibus had gone over so well that it was decided to create a short story omnibus.

We began with the original 450-page Shards and reorganized the stories by theme. Then we added 300 pages of new material. That’s right, 750 pages of short stories between two covers. Or 191,523 words if you’re counting. We kept the original front and back cover to Shards and christened it Shards: The Omnibus Edition. The themes in Shards: The Omnibus Edition include man’s inhumanity to man; technology in society run amok; freedom; conformity; slice of life; fear; prejudice; revenge; the inevitability of death; sadness and depression; darkness and light; lust; love; regret; repentance; pity; debauchery and selfishness; hubris; obsession; fusion fiction; Christmas; the quest; the trickster; discovery and wonder; alienation (stranger in a strange land); and farewell.

Admittedly Shards: The Omnibus Edition is a mixed bag. Some of the tales are downright hilarious. Some are frightening. And a few are disturbing. There are stories within this volume you will treasure… and others you may wish you had never read. Good writing isn’t about repeating hackneyed memes; it’s about pushing the envelope and extending the boundaries until the reader finds himself well outside his comfort zone. In Shards: The Omnibus Edition you’ll find stories that make you laugh and make you cry; stories you’ll want to share with your children; and stories so horrifying you’ll banish them to the deepest recesses of your mind. So join me in celebrating national short story month with Shards: The Omnibus Edition.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why Do You Write?

My friend Stallion and I were having one of our marathon discussions on the art of writing when he posed the question, Why do you write?

Reflexively, I turned the question back at him, in part to allow me time to compose a satisfactory answer. “To explore ideas,” Stallion said. Bookmark that response; we’ll come back to it. “What about you?” he asked.

My time up, I countered, “To explore, or describe, the human condition.”

“Interesting,” Stallion said. “You added the word describe, which implies you already know; unlike the word explore, which implies uncertainty.”

“That’s because sometimes I’m writing a dynamic character who’s growing throughout the story and I’m exploring his characterization as we go, uncertain where his development will lead us; and other times I’m writing a static character who does not grow and thus I’m merely describing established aspects of his characterization.”

But I found Stallion’s answer intriguing. Let’s go back to that bookmark. Stallion and I have had a long-running debate over the question What is the most important element of a story: plot or characterization? Stallion is a plot-driven writer whereas I’m a character- based writer. With that in mind, our responses make perfect sense. Plot-driven writers naturally write to explore ideas and concepts; character-based writers write to describe and explore the human condition.

Stallion’s stories feature imaginatively intricate (often science fiction) plots populated by admittedly two-dimensional characters, whereas mine rely on deep and complex characterization overlaid on a threadbare plot. Since I’m focusing on the human condition, the setting and even the genre are secondary to my story. For Stallion, the setting may be an essential element of the plot.

Stallion pointed out our approaches may converge with the introduction of the theme. Many individuals confuse plot with theme, but theme actually correlates more with characterization and the human condition. The plot is the storyline; it’s the road map of what happens to the characters and how they get from Point A to Point B. The theme is what the story is about, for example: betrayal, revenge, unrequited love, jealousy, man’s inhumanity to man, or the danger of technology. The way we as people (personified as characters within a story) experience and respond to these often emotional situations showcase the quintessential human condition. Yet, theme may be dependent on plot to describe how the characters arrived at this point: e.g., What caused the betrayal? Why is she seeking revenge?

So why do you write? Are you plot-driven or character-driven?