Thursday, August 8, 2019

How to Get the Most Out of A Writers Conference

Check out my quick guide to attending a writers conference. If you are serious about writing, then you will be serious about attending. Use these skills at Hollihock Writers Conference 2019 or at your next event.

Writing conferences bring together like-minded, creative people who are seeking inspiration, education, and community. While all these readings, workshops, presentations, and social events may be exciting, don’t forget that what you put into your experience here is what you’ll get out of it. Here are some things to think about when you attend - Read More


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Warning Reading Might Be Addictive: Here is My List

Haruki Murakami said "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking." He makes an interesting point. So, simple advice would be wander away from the books everyone is reading and try something different. But it comes with a catch - you might have to work harder to understand the books and the ideas. It is okay to not understand a book or an idea. Research it, try to understand why you don't get it. And make that a project. I know that seems like a lot of effort for a summer beach read, but the challenge comes with critical reading skills, the ability to not give up when it gets hard, and you will feel like new ideas and visions of the world are shifting. That is a good thing. 


Friday, July 19, 2019

Writer's Journals Change the Way You Write

New Writing for the Hollihock Writer's Conference 
"Your writing journal is a record of your thought process through time. It will evolve as the months and years pass, and it will become a powerful tool. Not only can you think and process your ability on the page, you can also see the history and the arc of ideas as they develop. It can be very powerful to see where you’ve been and realize where you are all at once." - Read More Click Here 

https://www.hollihock.org/single-post/2019/07/19/What-is-a-Writers-Journal

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Staff / Finalist in the 2019 International Book Awards


The Staff, a novel by author Ron Samul, is now an Award-Winning Finalist in the General Fiction Category of the 2019 International Book Awards. Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of American Book Fest, said this year's contest yielded over 2,000 entries from authors and publishers around the world, which were then narrowed to the final results. Awards were presented for titles published in 2017, 2018, 2019. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Privilege

In my previous post about creating Misfit Manifestos in class, it occurred to me that over the course of the semester, I give a lot of writing assignments. Not all of them are a lengthy research paper, but they are intentionally designed for the continuous practice of writing. It is important in my class to understand that writing is a practiced skill and they should be writing often. 

Yet, as I was writing about their experience with the Misfit Manifestos, it occurred to me that sometimes, students connect with assignments in a way that opens their ideas, and changes the way they see their own lives. The point being is that through a variety of writing opportunities, it is very hard to tell which assignments are going to connect with the students in the classroom. But what comes with experience: is knowing that something will connect with the students.  



Friday, May 10, 2019

Literature is Filled with Misfits


I work with college students, more specifically, emerging college students, so they are constantly on the cusp of things that are coming to them. We develop skills, we tell them that they need to improve just to cut it in college. We also tell them about what it means to have a traditional college experience. In reality, a traditional college experience is a myth. We aren't going to live in some kind of strange 1950's vision of academics. 

Our emerging students are not traditional at all. They have had to fight, push, and work much harder than the people around them. In fact, in most cases the students are satisfied just blending in, just being around a higher education experience. They can be self-defeating, battered, wounded learners. 


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Diving Essay Series Available on Channillo

Like most writers, writing comes in fits and starts. I've been inspired to collect and continue writing based on my interactions with the ocean. This series includes my time as a technical diver, visions of ecology, exploring life in and around the water. This series includes understanding fear, diving in an underwater storm, and celebrating the guy who swam in the suit as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I've chosen Channillo to create this writing. It can be accessed via a free trial and subscription. It is an interesting model of reading and exploring. The goal is to develop this collection and eventually move to a collection worthy of formal publication.


Monday, April 8, 2019

In the Oven / Fictional Story via Technology



I teach a Digital Ethics and Citizenship course and some of the things we talk about is the automation of apps and the story they tell us even is it is merely to keep us busy. Tracking pizza is one of the apps we discuss. This came about as a writing piece but then with a little thought and time, I was able to move it into a visual format. While I like that I wrote it out first -- the visuals add something to the story. The timer, the tracking bar, they all move the story along. The images and the collective look was fun to make and think about. Typically, I use words, but it was nice to enhance the story by way of graphics and design. It is fun to watch the tracker move to the green, when the whole thing goes sideways.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Staff Now On Sale / Amazon / Paperback & E-book


PRINT BOOK AVAILABLE NOW  through Amazon.com
In a remote fishing village, a well-known member of the village is murdered, and the suspect is caught and beaten. When he wakes up he can’t recall who he is or what he has done. The village council decides to invoke an age-old ritual that condemns the killer and a villager together for life. Taska Valimar is selected to be the warden to the killer in this draconian social contract. Scorned by her life of servitude, Taska begins to unravel the secrets of her missing family. What she finds begins a spiral of deceit and revenge. In the midst of the darkest hours, Taska searches for friendship, hope, and a way out. The Staff is a timeless tale of lies, treachery, and hope.

“In the tradition of Orwell and Huxley and Dostoevsky, Ron Samul has imagined a world in stunning detail where justice and human dignity are casualties of the fears that inhabit us. It is a terrifying world that exists beyond our reference points and yet it feels oddly familiar because the people we come to meet there, though strangers to us, give us an unexpected glimpse of ourselves.” - Don J. Snyder author of Of Time and Memory and Fallen Angel.

"A novel with the rarefied atmosphere of ancestral myth, The Staff unfolds in a time and place that feels ancient and simultaneously apart from history: a northern seaside village where the air holds the electric charge of prophetic meaning. Samul has written a dark, tension-filled allegory of crime, punishment, and transcendence that will appeal to fans of Hawthorne, Kafka, and Shirley Jackson." - Tim Weed author of Will Poole’s Island and A Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing.

“An intriguing, skillfully constructed plot about the darker side of human nature.” The Book Life Prize.
Available through Amazon.com




Ron Samul is a writer and college educator at Mitchell College. He is a writing mentor in the Western Connecticut State University Masters in Creative and Professional Writing program. He has worked as a journalist, literary magazine editor and publisher, and book reviewer. His articles and stories have appeared in the SN ReviewLibrary Journal, Liturgical Credo, Inside Out Magazine, Inquiring News Hartford, and on other print/electronic media. He is the winner of the Connecticut AWP Fiction Award in 2005 for his short story Paper ThinThe Staff was shortlisted for the 2017 Del Sol Press Friest Novel Prize. Print and Kindle copies of the book release through Amazon.com on March 15, 2017. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

And now you have to reconcile it, too.


What if The Staff isn’t what you expect? What if it fits the definition of historical fiction but doesn't do what historical fiction does? It isn’t what you think it is. That sounds like a strange riddle. But that is what The Staff feels like - a novel that takes places in unknown history. It isn’t a novel in time, but a novel untimely and unplaced. And that is the whole idea of creating a novel based on an idea.

There is a concept called “the novel of ideas” - stories based on visionary times and seeing more than just our own superficial visions of the world, but seeing an idea, a social value, and seeing it subverted. It is a concept that is apparent in speculative fiction, like Fahrenheit 451, where firemen start fires and don’t put them out. Even in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, we see cathartic and tragic things happening to a man who is alienated. He actually turns into a bug and is completely isolated from his family. The sleight of hand is watching his sister Gerta, draw out of the shadows and become a woman capable of feeling the sun on her face and destroying the evil that is killing her family. Ideas in a novel are imperative. It is more than a theme, but a vision of craft.

The Staff functions as a riddle without a punchline. And the very thing you think you will be reading is intentionally withheld. Not because I am a jerk or just couldn’t come up with a solution. It is because the solution, the answers you want is detached from a genre - this isn't a whodunit - that isn’t the idea at all. You may not like this book because it isn't the genre you prefer. Has genre killed your sense of wonder? Do you need to know how the murder happened? Do you need to be the detective? Do you need a red herring? I’ve given you all the things you desire if you were reading and murder mystery, at least at the start. But the novel is not about conforming to the expectations of a genre. It is about what happens when you are put off by it.

There is a portion in this novel that directly pays reverence to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. And the purpose of that is because it is the ultimate tale of what you think a lottery should be - and what it becomes (a stoning in the town square), is exactly what this novel is. I am not asking you to like it. I am not asking you to be happy or even satisfied with the ending. I am just asking you to live with the idea built in this novel and find your own moments as the scenes pass by. This is not a philosophical novel that stops to contemplate long-winded ideas. It is just an idea, set into motion. And every single character has to reconcile it. And now you have to reconcile it, too.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Hawkman - A Fairy Tale of the Great War


Jane Rosenberg LaForge
AmberJack Pub.
ISBN: 978-1944995676 (paperback)
280p
Released: June 5, 2018

The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War by Jane Rosenberg LaForge is a re-telling of several Grimm’s fairy tales against the backdrop of World War I.  As a fan of World War I literature, this captures the desperation of trench warfare, the aftermath of war, and what it means to live with those nightmares. But it is this reality, this darkness, this desperation that pushes up against how and why people tell stories. This is not merely a war novel, but the war is what triggers much of the action and ideas around this novel. Miss Eva Williams is an American school teacher that comes to a small English school to teach and hide from the world. Among the small and bucolic setting, everyone has been touched by the Great War. And among the edges is a man so damaged and lost that the villagers are afraid of who he is and what he may do. Miss Williams doesn’t commiserate with the villagers and the leaders, she takes him into her life. These two lost souls begin to rebuild a life together.

This novel weaves stories. It is the function of the book, the story, the plot… everything. It is worth mentioning that LaForge brings about a compelling and often beautiful style of storytelling to the page. Her stylistic voice here is what makes this novel so compelling and profound. The style reaches beyond the well-crafted characters, the woven stories, and the stunning pace of this novel. It makes sense that a poet is a better weaver for so many intangible parts and pieces. In Kate Berhnheimer’s introduction to Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, she discusses how “fairy tales offer both wildly familiar and familiar wild terrain.” But more importantly, she considers the significance of how these fairy tales reflect back something of ourselves. “It is to look at the act of looking at ourselves inside stories, to regard the tradition and the stereotype of female reflection on self. In this, there is a power for all sorts of readers.” In many ways, LaForge is doing this within the nested stories and concepts of The Hawkman. She is restoring story, frame, morals, and piecing together the shattered ideas that are missing. That is where the innovative, creative, and visionary style does so much of the work. Miss Williams becomes the one who creates change, shifts perceptions of the world, and grounds all the fragments that seem to swirl around this novel. She isn’t the Scheherazade (the teller of the stories), but she is the force that makes all these stories possible. She is the curator of all things possible and impossible in this world.

A possible function of writing a novel is to explain how we might save ourselves with a story. In The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War by Jane Rosenberg LaForge, it is clear that these forces of reality, tales, and visionary things are not just important for the art of fiction, but crafted with haunting and beautiful effect. But it takes more than a fabulist, it takes more than a novelist. It takes a poet. The Hawkman is a stunning vision of the blurred lines between the darkest realities and the most beautiful stories, all spinning in a whirlwind of narrative, hope, and loss.

A brief retelling of this book doesn’t shed light on the beauty and the scope of this novel. It is something that you have to accumulate as a reader. The nested stories, the characters, the function of the novel itself, all serve to restore the belief that we are narrative, we need a beginning, a middle, and an end. LaForge does this through poetry, stories, and her lyrical style. Miss Williams in the novel says, “Stories should not have to be cruel.” They can be sad, they can be devastating, and they can be beautiful, but they don’t “have to be cruel.” This novel brings narrative together with a lyrical style to rebuild the lives of people who are separately and desperately fragmented. The result is this beautiful novel that is built on the tradition of fairy tales but refined in poetry and prose in a way that is vivid, inspiring, and human. Excellent, poetic, and literary in story, style, and vision. 


Cited in Review
Bernheimer, Kate, ed. Mirror, mirror on the wall: Women writers explore their favorite fairy tales. Anchor, 1998.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Book Review: Paris in the Present Tense

Mark Helprin
Overlook Press / 2017
  • ISBN: 978-1468314762
400 Pages

It has been awhile since a novel has changed the way I think about the novel. But Paris in the Present Tense is a lyrical novel that has empowered my faith in the contemporary novel. Let's face it, it has been awhile since A Winter's Tale, when we first fell into the world of Helprin's prose and imagination, and while this book isn't as mystical, it is formidable in his prose and his storytelling.

This novel follows the life an aged cello player named Jules Lacour a cellist and teacher who is facing the end of his days and his life in Paris. And while there is intrigue, mystery, and all the plot points that have grown tired in contemporary fiction, this novel rises above all those expectations. Part of it is the nature of this older, wise protagonist and his vision of the world. But it also sits in the root of Helprin's prose and his ability to position you in the most complex moments of life and find more than just plot point, but more.

Jules is an older protagonist who is eccentric in some ways and contemporary in others. He is suspiciously healthy and can still run, swim, and row. His routines are simple, but his life complex and fraught with pitfalls. He lives as a renter on an estate, and he has a life that has shaped his romantic and often practical vision of the world. His life proves that things like love can still fill our lives through intimacy, music, longing, and fate. It is modern in terms of the world that Jules lives in, but it is also worldly in the connections to the past - through music, personal history, and dynamics of all those relationships accumulated over the years. There were times when the use of more flashbacks may have focused a few more things, but that isn't the point of this book. What we missed is left for the reader to contemplate.

In terms of the prose writing, it is exceptional. Helprin's writing is vivid and so well balanced. As I mentioned, this book is about a lot of plot points that (if I wrote them here) sound trite and typical of a thriller novel. But this novel doesn't run on the answers to plotted questions. This novel is threaded with an emotional quality that comes from Helprin's prose.

And sometimes, the phrasing of his writing just stops you. He writes "That kept me alive. For you, they would say it was trauma, but I wouldn't. I'd say it was simpler, that like everyone else you have a paradise you long to restore, but your paradise is also hell. Although getting back is dark and dangerous, you won't be deterred. Love draws you back. You can't escape." The push and pull of ideas and words is a constant tension. Helprin is constantly playing with opposites - or in this book lyrical dynamics. Paradise is compared with hell. Trauma isn't real unless there is something to lose. And it becomes this kind of vision of pushing and pulling words apart that makes this book feel less a plotted thriller and more like an epic love story.

During a war flashback, Helprin used his descriptive art to describe the sounds of troops moving. This is relevant because music, sounds, and shaping music is thematic to the novel. "The sounds of arrival and departure were always the same: straps slapping against metal, engines starting, tripods folding, the slides and bolts of weapons exercised after oiling, commands shouted, and upon leaving, the blast of a whistle followed by the revving of engines as the vehicles rolled off." One of the hardest parts of writing about music is that the novel lacks the ability to hear music directly. And writers then have to spend time describing the nature of the music without hearing it. While this novel deals with the essence of music, it doesn't stumble with long expositions about music, in fact - like his description, he turns troop movements, thunderstorms, and cafes into music that inspires the sounds of the music.

This novel is based on the later years of an older man - a many with years of experience and vision. When his daughter thinks he is getting senile because he can't remember the name of a film, he argues, "You learn to see with your emotions and feel with your reason. If at its end the life you're living takes on the attributes of art, it doesn't matter if you've forgotten where you put your reading glasses."

This novel is a very human, a very stunning testament to the complexities of living a full and meaningful life. Even with the best intentions, the world has different plans. This novel is about hope, love, and value in our personal history. It is a rare idea so elegantly placed in a contemporary novel.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Staff Shortlisted for the 2017 Del Sol Press First Novel Prize

I am very excited to be a semifinalist for my novel The Staff in the 2017 Del Sol Press First Novel Prize. The winner will be announced in late August of 2017. 

Del Sol PRess seeks to publish exceptional work by both new and recognized writers, as well as republish literary work that we consider extremely significant and that have done out of print. Their approach is eclectic, but with an emphasis on original, unique, and accessible work with an edge. 



My sincere thanks to the nominating editor(s) and all the writers in the list. It is an honor to be among them all. Check out their website here

HERMOSA by Marisa Clark
MALHEUR AUGUST by Nancy Minor
MALL by Pattie Palmer-Baker
MARILYN & THE NEW YORK ITCH by Pat Ryan
OUT LIKE A LION by Robin Martin
THE BEREAVED by Emma Schrider
THE PSYCHOPATH COMPANION by Claire Ortalda
THE STAFF by Ron Samul
STORIES YOU NEVER TOLD ME: AN IMMIGRANT
DAUGHTER'S JOURNEY by Catherine Kapphahn
THESE THINGS HAPPEN by Jane Sadusky
WRAPPED IN THE STARS by Elena Mikalsen


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"Suppose We See It Like This...."

One of the most useful tools in writing is constantly writing to the muse. I've always been one to write a journal -- strictly on the concepts of the writing and what is moving around in my head. And while that sometimes distracts the writing process, it is important to map out some of the flow to capture it and make it useful later. Snapshots of the mind can help shape and form longer projects and ideas. 

From my writing journal, I've been able to ask questions (existential and practical)  about writing, thoughts, and visions of long-term projects (typically novels).  This ability to speak on the page is a meandering that I find indispensable. It is a conversation with the writing, and it is there that I've established my personal ethics and values in writing and thinking. My journal isn't a treaty on thought - but a vault of my own creation. I use it to remember books, write reviews, try out poetry, and even explore my own dreams. But it is always with the value that it connects to another part of my thinking. That is why my journal exists and that is how I prefer to use it. I can always write in my journal. There is no writer's block because it is merely snapshots not meant for anything more than building ideas. 

When I was reading I Heard Voices in my Head by Helen Vender in the New York Review Of Books (2/23/17), I was slapped in the face with a reminder of why process thinking is important to me. She explains, 

"In truth, what a meditative poem contributes to the history of consciousness is a reenactment in real time of the volatile inner life of a human being. Such a poem [refering to The Preludes by Wordsworth] does not present itself as plot or character portrayal or argument, but rather (in I. A. Richard's theory) as a hypothesis: "Suppose we see it like this." The poet's proposed hypothesis change "minute by minute," and include waverings, self-contradictions, repudiations, aspirations, and doubts; they are not offered as a philosophical system." 

This awoke something in me. As I mentioned above, I don't write in my journal to create a treaty of thought - it really isn't that formal, but to record the visions I see now, to compare them to the visions in the future. Keeping this record is both validating and useful as it grows outside of your mind, freeing this space for other connections. It helps that I can also keyword search it on the computer if I need to find something from the past.   

The complexity of self-rumination is a gift unto itself and that journal has been fascinating to me in that I can release these ideas. If I come back to specific ideas - then perhaps they need to find a place in a story or become part of a character. That being said, Wordsworth's relationship with Coleridge was also something that has always been connective. Coleridge was one of the masters of documenting his creative vitality in his journal, letting small fragments and parts eventually turn into his famous poetry. It is this awesome creative power that inspires me to see the worth in this idea that Wordsworth (in The Preludes). Seeing Wordsworth as someone who is considering the very nature of who he is through query and poetry, it is very connective to the ideas that Coleridge put fourth. In fact, one of the most influential quotes that changed my understanding of literature was the inscription at the beginning of The Rhime of the Ancient Mariner by a philosopher named Thomas Burnet. It reads: 


"I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family of all those beings, and the ranks and the relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What do they do? What places do they inhabit? The human mind has always sought the knowledge of these things, but never attained it. Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the pretty things of daily life, narrow itself and sinly wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night." Adapted from Coleridge from Thomas Burnet, Archaelogiae Philosohicae (1692).*

This becomes the vision of the writer, thinker, and the creative mind. Your job is to see the unseeable. And then admit that to paper at all costs. While that may seem heroic - perhaps that is exactly what it should be, a call to define truth as something more than just what you know as fact - but something we desire, something we hope for, something that only fiction and prose can create. We don't need fact to create truth. We need a vision of "a greater and better world" even at the cost of losing some of our current world. It is sacrifice, it is purposeful, and it is the life of a creative thinker. Poets, prose writers and even visual artists should understand this important connection, even if it is unattainable -- it is still vastly and completely worth the writing down the ideas and words that will change you. It will shine light on the darkness. And we can ask that question, "suppose we see it like this" with thrilling and beautiful hope that someone will be willing to "see it like this," and will carry it forward.  


*Abrams, M. H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York, NY: Norton, 1993

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Poetry Review / Body Politic by Rich Murphy

Body Politic 
by Rich Murphy 
Prolific Press Inc. / 2016 
ISBN: 978-1632750846


Language and politics have a symbiotic relationship in strange and creative ways. George Orwell knew this when he wrote about the language of politics and what that language does for our society. In Orwell's Politics and the English Language, he spoke about dead metaphors, pretentious diction, and meaningless words. The obfuscation of the real meaning and intention of politic actions are deliberately intertwined in language meant to confuse or misdirect. There was a time when I thought George W. Bush had an issue with language, and then came the Trump leadership with Tweets and strange jargon that means nothing from the leadership. Orwell mentions in his treatise that meaningless words are confusing and dangerous and "words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows the hearer to think it means something quite different." And he goes on to give the example of, "Marshal Petain was true patriot." Sounds like rhetoric I heard last month.