Interview with author Sam Boush

Sam Boush PhotoSam Boush has just had his first novel published – a sci-fi, techno-thriller called All Systems Down about an imagined catastrophe in the not so distant future. We first connected on Twitter when I asked him to explain the genre. He explains it again below and answers several more of my nosy questions.

Your book came out last week. What has been the most fun part about getting published? What has been the most challenging?

Well, last week my fifth grade teacher reconnected with me and ordered a copy of my book. I just thought about how eleven-year-old me would have reacted if he’d known a special teacher would, twenty-five years later, be reading his book. I got a little teary, which doesn’t happen often.

The most challenging part has been reining in my expectations. I keep telling myself this is a great start, but building up a fan base takes time and years more work. So even though we had strong sales and stellar reviews last week at launch, I know the road to real success is still a long way off.

When did you start calling yourself a writer?

I only started calling myself a writer (and changing my LinkedIn profile) a few months ago, in conjunction with the cover reveal for my book. Most people didn’t know I’d gotten anything published before that.

I don’t really think writers do themselves any favors by announcing themselves too early. It can add pressure and expectations that aren’t easy to meet. The process of publishing a book for debut novelists can take a year or more, even after it’s written. Why invite questions and stress too early?

Talk a bit about your journey toward publication. How did you find your publisher?

Like most of us, I didn’t enjoy the querying process. A lot of rejection. A lot of unanswered emails. But after a few months of working diligently, I had two publishers interested in my manuscript. It was a good place to be since it allowed me to select the one that fit me best. But it was also difficult because the other publisher I didn’t select, Owl Hollow Press, has a talented staff. (I recommend your readers query directly if it’s a fit. I have only good things to say about how they handled the process.)

Ultimately, I chose Lakewater Press, and have been thrilled with the team. They publish more than just sci-fi thrillers like ALL SYSTEMS DOWN, so your readers might find they’re a fit depending on genre. Pretty much all my success should be attributed to Kate, Jodi, Rebecca, Emma, Samantha, and the rest of the team over there. They’re all ladies, and they’re incredible.

asdWhat is your book about? Who is your audience?

ALL SYSTEMS DOWN is a thriller set in present day. Brendan Chogan is an out-of-work parking attendant, unsuccessfully interviewing for jobs when a series of computer viruses from North Korea begin to wreak havoc on the country. Banks close. Bridges are raised. The electric grid falters. Satellites fall from the sky.

From there it only gets worse. I won’t spoil too much.

The audience is broad. I’d say if you liked Jurassic Park, it’s similar in style and pacing. A fun read, I hope.

How does All Systems Down fit into the sci-fi genre as well as thriller? Do you plan to write other books in this genre?

I suppose it’s more of a thriller or technothriller. Broadly I believe it fits under science fiction, so “sci-fi thriller” is as good a descriptor as any.

All Systems Down is the first in a planned series. I’m working on the second book now, with potentially a third. So, yes, I’ll definitely keep writing sci-fi thrillers!

If you’d like to find out more about Sam Boush, check out his website.

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Creative Anxiety

It’s been a month already, huh? As you may or may not recall, last time I rambled for a bit on Today’s Author, it was about the differences between the writing process and a writing cycle. The short version looks like this:

The Writing Cycle

I think that with some very minor revisions, we could view any creative output through a similar lens.

Of course, this is just how one guy thinks about it (that’s me). And I admittedly think about creativity a lot—maybe too much. I am inherently curious about what triggers creativity and why it happens the way it happens for the people it happens for. But that’s for another day.

Today, I want to look at anxiety in both the creative process and the creative cycle–creative anxiety, we could call it. I think that artists are, on average, a pretty anxious breed. We worry about almost everything it seems, but in my experience the anxiety is worst at the beginning of the writing process and at the end of the writing cycle.

When I start a new writing project, I freak out in the early going. Are the ideas good enough? Does the story have enough going on? Are these characters interesting? As a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” writer for a good chunk of the process, this anxiety hangs around for a while. As a writer of general fiction, the anxiety starts to fade when I get up around 40,000 words. It’s almost all gone by the time I finish my outline of the last half of the book. That’s when I know, for better or worse, the book will be finished. The momentum takes over.

Writing poetry was similar. At the inception of an idea for a new poem, I was nervous about writing. I would struggle through the lines for a while, and eventually, if the poem was meant to be, some line or couplet or stanza would snag me and the anxiety would fade away.

I enjoy the early stages of the process, though—in spite of the anxiety. It’s new and exciting and I’m learning about these new people, so there is a chance that some of that anxiety comes from the excitement of starting something new.

 

We’ve established that the writing cycle encapsulates all of the movements of any writing project—from its planning, to its editing and revision, to cover design and layout, all the way through publication, if that is the goal of the project. Of course, a creative cycle can end when you put the binder clip on and shove it in the back of a drawer. Once a writing project is abandoned for whatever reason, that cycle is done.

I’ve learned that I feel the greatest anxiety at the very end of this process. When I’m out promoting the book, I’m anxious about two things:

1.    My creation doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the world. Will they take care of it? Will they love it? Will they hate it and burn it? Will they understand it?

Not that any of that really matters. It’s up to readers to read and draw their own conclusions. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a source of anxiety.

2.   What will the next project be?

This is different from the anxiety felt at the beginning of the writing process. Here, we worry if we will have another idea worth pursuing with the same vigor as the one that just wrapped. Will we always have stories to tell? For some people, it may be alright to imagine a world where they don’t write anymore. But for me? I don’t know what that looks like.

There is a great scene in Salman Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, where a young Rushdie meets Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut asks the young writer, who was fresh off publishing Midnight’s Children, “Are you serious about this writing business?” When Rushdie responds that he is, Vonnegut says, “Then you should know that the day is going to come when you won’t have a book to write, and you’re still going to have to write a book.”

That scene sticks in my head for a couple of reasons. First, it would have been super badass to be in that room. Second, what if I run out of stories?

What are your experiences with creative anxiety? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Looking for Inspiration

I often hear writers say they aren’t inspired or can’t think of a story.  Inspiration is all around us, just look and be willing to ask a few questions.  Read the news, listen to friends’ stories, or think about something that happened to you. For example:

A couple of days ago I was frustrated with my computer.  More that normally frustrated.  You see, I was in a hurry to get something done at work when the weekly software update message popped up on my screen and wouldn’t let me continue until I clicked, NOT NOW!  Yesterday the same thing happened with my cell phone as I went to check my voicemail, “A new version of iOS is available, install now, install later.”  Okay it only took 15 seconds to click 10 times to get rid of the popup so I could get to listen to my voice mail.

Maddening.  Yes, I could go through and maybe silence all those, but some, like the ones my IT department at work forces on me just will never go away and will continue to popup at exactly the wrong moment.  What really got me thinking was this what if question, “What if I were in a space ship when ground control sent a software update?”

Or, what if my spaceship’s computer decided it was time to download and install a major software update just as I am landing on Mars?

A few years ago my local marquetry club had a guest speaker give a class on designing.  He stepped us through some design processes, gave us some tips and did a few design exercises.  One exercises was to take two very different things and see if you could combine them into one thing.

For example, take a giraffe and a toaster.  Now design something.  What I came up with is the Giroaster.  The finished concept is a toaster, with a light and a recipe holder. Okay, I added the recipe holder, but I needed something for the giraffe necked light to shine on that would make sense next to a toaster.

No, I haven’t solved the problem of toaster occasionally setting the recipes on fire.

Let me give you another example.  Let’s say you want to write a crime story that features an arson.  Are you an expert on arson?  I am not, but I’ve got a story to tell about an arson.  30 years ago I took a real estate sales class thinking that selling houses could be a career choice.  It wasn’t a good choice for me, but I heard an interesting story.  A man in our class owned a house that he rented out to a woman.  Over time the woman proved to be a bit mentally unstable and she stopped paying her rent, so he sent an eviction notice.  Shortly after the notice was delivered he got a call from a neighbor saying that they’d just called the fire department as people were smelling a strong chemical smell from the house.

When the man arrived the fire captain told him that someone had put pots of turpentine on the stove and they were starting to boil when his crew showed up.

It was a cautionary tale about a mentally ill person bent on destruction.  In this story everything turned out fine as the woman was quickly located, charged, convicted and sent away for a long time in a mental hospital.

Given those facts, could you build a story?  Let’s ask some basic questions:

  • What kind of man would own a rental home?
  • Why was the man taking a class in real estate sales?
  • What was the man’s relationship with the neighbors?
  • Why did the neighbors have his phone number?
  • How did the arsonist convince the man to rent her the house?
  • What other arsons had she done and why?
  • What kind of mental problems did she have?
  • What would happen to a pot of boiling turpentine on a gas stove? On an electric stove?

I am thinking that you could come up with a lot more questions to ask and in the end come up with an interesting story.  Perhaps something like this:

A man named Bob recently was laid off from his job as manager at a local restaurant.  His mother had recently died and left him her home.  A local real estate broker convinces Bob to rent it out and get a real estate license so Bob could work for the broker.  Needing a tenant for the property, he advertises and finds Sue, a 29 year-old who has just moved to the area and has a job with a local chemical supply company.  Little does Bob know that Sue killed a lover in another city by setting a house on fire.  Sue turns out to be a one woman crime wave (possible she’s involved with the drug trade which has taken a toll on her mind). And of course the neighborhood knows the fine young boy, Bob, who came to see his mother and their friend every Sunday afternoon.  So sad about Bob’s divorce just after losing his job and his mother dying.

So, just go get inspired.  Remember stories from your past.  Take two unrelated things and put them together, or think about what annoys you.

But mostly, just keep asking, “what if?” And keep writing.

Looking for a Few New Authors

Here at Today’s Author we are have been working to build a community of aspiring writers since December of 2012. We’ve accomplished a lot in the first few years of working toward this goal and we are constantly seeking new ways to improve what we bring to the community.

To continue our growth as a community, we are looking for a few new contributors to write for Today’s Author. Do you feel you are ready to commit to writing a post or two each month, sharing your techniques, strategies, goals, challenges and dreams with respect to writing? If so, please fill out the contact form on the Contact Us page and let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

We also want to be sure that we are bringing you articles that interest you and fit the topics you want to learn more about. If you have anything you wish we would cover – or cover more often – please leave a comment and let us know!

We hope you enjoy the posts and writing prompts here at Today’s Author. Thank you for being part of our community and remember to just keep writing…

Writing when Busy

mundane to do listLife is busy for most (dare I say ALL) of us. And now, as November 1 and the beginning of NaNoWriMo loom in front of me,  I find myself fretting about whether I should even consider participating in it (even though I know I’m ultimately going to do so).  So, as I’ve done now every late October since 2006, I feel it’s time to think about how to squeeze just a little more time out of my day so that I can write.

There are days, weeks and months where I can’t even stand the thought of trying to find an hour or two to put pen to paper.  Between the day job and it’s attempts to steal my soul, the kids and their busy social, sports and school schedules, the yard work, the housework and the occasional need to eat and/or sleep, there’s hardly any time left to stop and drink the coffee, let alone do anything else.  Every day is a delicate balancing act—a minute-by-minute attempt to do all the things I have to do while also saving some time for the things I want to do.

As a writer, I’ve struggled to find that balance for years now.  Partly it is because of the sheer volume of things I’m required to do; partly it’s because of the large number of things I want to do.  What this has netted out to for me is a severe lack of writing time because I cannot find ways to prioritize writing over other demands.  Yet, I see other authors I admire putting pen to paper and churning out fantastic stories each week, including some terrific works in response to our Write Now prompts. I often wonder how other people have managed to balance their time and put a priority on writing when they have at least as much going on as I do.  I’ve tried forcing myself to write when I’m too tired or too stressed to do it willingly, but all this has done is make the writing unenjoyable – just another chore I am angry for having to do – and ultimately it is just as stressful as anything else I might have on my to-do list.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I resent the time I spend writing, the bitterness and anger shows through in the words that get onto the page. While I might use this negativity to my advantage when I am writing performance reviews at work, it is not usually something I want coming through in my fiction.

Thinking about this as I often do, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. There is not enough time in the day.
  2. I do not know exactly where all the hours go.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering these two seemingly-simple items and I’ve determined that there is nothing I can do to resolve the there-is-not-enough-time-in-the-day conundrum – thus far, I have found no practical, sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to increase the available pool of hours per day beyond the current arbitrary limit of 24.  So I’ve set my mind to working on the second item.

To approach this issue, I have started keeping a chart of how I spend my time.  As anyone who knows me might expect, I am using Microsoft Excel to keep track of this data because that’s the kind of geek I am. Basically, I’ve been attempting to put together a general list of what I do each day, from the mundane “go to the gym” or “drive The Boy to baseball practice” to the more broad-based “hours spent on the day job”.  My goal, of course, is to find a few hours per week to dedicate to writing without taking away even more time from tasks I hate but must do anyway (sleep, for example).

I’ve only been working on this for a few days but what I’ve found already via my pretty charts and graphs is interesting:

  1. I spend less than 5.5 hours per day sleeping
  2. I spend at least an hour per day (on average) driving the kids to and from events.
  3. I spend 9 to 12 hours per day on the day job.
  4. On average, 1 to 2 hours per day is spent on household chores such as laundry, dishes, pet care, etc.
  5. I spend 1 to 2 hours per day watching television
  6. I spend, on average, less than 1 hour per week dedicated to writing.
  7. There are, on average, 2 hours per day that I can’t reasonably account for.

Looking at the above items, it is clear why I’m not getting enough writing done – less than one hour per week is not enough time! It would be easy to say “well, just cut the television time and write instead.”  But the problem is that I am a daylight-hours kind of person. Once the sun goes down, I am essentially a useless excuse for a human being and it takes an exorbitant amount of effort to do anything that takes thought.  I only watch television at night because it takes little-to-no mental activity to do so.  The bit that bothers me, though, is the 2 hours I can’t account for – just like when you’re tracking money, anything you can’t account for is bad.

Clearly, this analysis is nothing more than a tiny, first step toward conquering this problem by starting to understand what is going on in my day.  My plan of attack is to find those two missing hours and beat them into submission.  My second step will be to re-arrange the tasks and order them such that mindless activities, such as dishes and laundry, can be put into the evening hours. Ultimately, I hope to end up with a block of time each day which falls during hours when the sun is still up. That block, I hope, can be devoted to writing.

I am very interested in how other writers find ways to balance their need for sleep, food and family with their need or desire to write. Do you schedule time to write?  Do you budget your time like I’m describing?  Do you have other tricks or tips?

Improvements and Changes for Today’s Author

Here at Today’s Author we are have been working to build a community of aspiring writers since December of 2012. We’ve accomplished a lot in the first couple of years of working toward this goal and we are constantly seeking new ways to improve what we bring to the community.

That is why we are pleased to unveil today a new feature at Today’s Author: our Discussion Forums! Our goal with these forums is to provide a more open and interactive place to discuss our collective journey with writing. We’ve put some forum categories together to start things off and these will continue to grow and change as the community grows and changes.  I hope everyone in our community will create an account in the forums and that this will enable a new level of interaction and growth within the community. Since we are just getting this started, there may be a few kinks to work out with it, but I hope you will give it a try today!

Secondly, we are looking for a few new contributors to write for Today’s Author. Do you feel you are ready to commit to writing a post or two each month, sharing your techniques, strategies, goals and dreams with respect to writing? If so, please fill out the contact form on the Contact Us page and let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

The new Forums are just the first of several exciting things coming to Today’s Author.  In the coming months we hope to be bringing you even more tools to help you in your writing journey. Thanks for being part of our community and remember to just keep writing…

Should we expect memoirs to be true?

Years ago, I watched the episode of Oprah where she interviewed James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, to discuss his memoir on overcoming drug addiction. I read the book and didn’t love it. But I sort of gave him a pass: not everyone who pens a memoir is a good writer.

Later, when it turned out that parts of the story were fictionalized, I watched the episode of Oprah where she raked him over the coals. I never really understood her anger.

First of all, I believe that every memoir is fiction to some degree. It’s subject to the faulty memory and bias of the writer. Add to that the fact that this writer struggled with demons- drug addiction being one, honesty being another. Did he exaggerate things to make himself look good? I don’t have a hard time imagining that.

If he made the whole thing up, that sucks. I can see how readers who were inspired in a “if he can do it, so can I” way would feel cheated. I wasn’t struggling with a similar issue so I just felt vindicated that the reason many parts of the book were unbelievable was that they never happened.

But one of the things Oprah was upset about was that he changed the method of a character’s suicide. In real life, she’d taken pills; in the book, she’d hung herself. That is the sort of change that preserves the meaning of the story, while obscuring identifying details for this real person and their family.

I think a memoir often blurs the line between what is literally true and what feels true. The question becomes: does a memoir writer owe the reader the absolute truth?

In Wild, Cheryl Strayed begins by assuring the reader that although she may change names and identifying details to preserve anonymity, she does not create composite characters or events. Lena Dunham says the opposite. She actually begins a chapter of Not That Kind of Girl by writing “I’m an unreliable narrator.” That didn’t save her from the controversy that chapter caused when the altered description of a character led to accusations that she had made the whole thing up.

I think these ethical questions about a writer’s obligation to be truthful are ramped up when they write about an event with historical significance, like war. Chris Kyle’s memoir has been used as the basis of the film American Sniper which is so full of misinformation about the Iraq War, many are calling it propaganda.

When reading a memoir, I expect that some of it is fiction. Who can reproduce a page of dialogue as it actually occurred? At what point is it the writer’s story and their right to express it in whatever way they choose and at what point do they have a duty to portray things as they happened? Where is the line? Where is it for you?

Technology, Skimming, and the Future of Creativity

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been making my slow way through a nonfiction book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The book is a fair and fascinating look at how our brains have developed over time in response to new technologies. Carr not only looks at more recent technological developments, like the internet, but he also ventures farther back, and reflects on how our minds have changed as a result of maps, clocks, and bound and printed books, amongst other innovations.

This book is not about bashing technology or bemoaning the state of “kids these days” with their iPads and Twitter accounts and Whosits and Whatsits. It is about doing some honest reflection about what this technology might be doing to our brains, neurologically speaking, and the way we think. Carr suggests that we have become more adept at skimming and quickly collecting data, and less adept at deep thought and tasks that require prolonged attention and contemplation.

I teach both traditional and online college classes, and I have noticed in the last couple of years that my patience for anything slow is nearly non-existent. I blame the online teaching. (I’m only partly joking.) I don’t seem to have time for peripheral information, that is, anything that doesn’t serve my immediate purposes. I jump from tab to tab at staccato pacing. I do not linger. But this was not always the case.

I used to linger a lot. As a lover of literature, I lingered all the time—over long Thomas Hardy passages, over the verbal trickery of Jane Austen’s characters, over “boring” texts assigned in college classes (even if I found them boring, I still read them). I don’t think it occurred to me to skip or skim over something; to me, that seemed taboo and tantamount to disrespect. I still believe this to be true of literature, but as far as reading emails or articles, I have become a skimmer.

Regardless of where you fall in this debate, and regardless of whether you are in favor of skimming or diving (to borrow Carr’s terminology), I think the ideas in this book have some interesting implications for writers. If we accept Carr’s premise that technology is rerouting our brains, and disallowing deep thought, then will this affect our writing? Will our writing suffer because we skim? Will we have less patience for polishing our drafts, for smoothing out the rough patches? Writing takes time, thought, and revision.  As I see it, writing is not an art form for skimmers.

I’ve noticed that in the last few years, when writing or planning what to write, I have been heavily concerned with finishing.  To address that concern, I write quickly to get everything out. I have to make sure I finished what I started. Even more lately, the fear that I won’t finish, or that I’ll become disenchanted or disinterested with my topic, has stopped me from writing anything at all. It’s as if I want to be assured of the finished product, and if I can’t be, then I won’t start. I seem to have forgotten that producing something worth reading takes many iterations.

My dad, who is enjoying a second career as a writer after having been an engineer (a job that demands a methodical and patient mind), has a term for what he does when he writes and edits: editate. It’s a cross between edit and meditate, and I think it accurately conveys what a writer’s job is after the rough draft has been constructed: to get into a contemplative place, and work through the problems the draft presents in a mindful, meditative way.

Editating sounds divine, but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. It’s not quick enough. It’s not immediately gratifying. And therein lies the problem: the need for immediate gratification. I get this from the internet, from my phone, from clicking between tabs, from little noises that tell me when mail or messages have arrived or when a friend has updated her Facebook account. Carr writes that all these little pings and blips are pleasurable to receive, and the more we receive them, the more we expect them, and the more of them we want.

I have never thought of myself as someone particularly up to date with technology. I don’t get the latest and greatest of any product on the market. Yet, I think I want those pings. And I don’t get them after slogging through a cumbersome sentence. I don’t get them after connecting two previously disconnected ideas. I do get something else, I suppose: a sense of slow gratification, earned and prolonged, which should be better, should be enough, but sadly, doesn’t seem to be.

If slow food is something to be praised, then so should slow writing be. But slow writing seems like death to me—like paralysis. It feels this way, despite knowing what I know about the pace of some successful writers. In an article called “How Many Words a Day?” James Thayer writes that Graham Greene wrote 500 words a day. And J. R. R. Tolkien took 11 years to write the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, which comes out to a slow, and deliberate, 245 words per day. That’s a paragraph, folks. Per day.

Now, I’m not trying to say that pre-internet, writers wrote fewer words because they didn’t have all the distractions. Not so. Plenty of writers pre- and post-internet wrote/write very, very fast. Stephen King finishes a rough draft in three months (and bear in mind, his books often creep toward the 1,000 page mark). Victor Hugo produced 20 pages per day.

What I am saying is that the influence of technology’s pace may eventually show itself in our work. We may fall prey more easily to sloppy plots, quick cuts, bad edits, and misspellings. And so it’s worth asking, will a link eventually be seen between technology and the results of our (maybe) not so contemplative work? Will we be skimmers in writing, as many of us already are in reading? And what will that look like for the future of creativity?

Today’s Author articles and writing prompts available in Google Play Newsstand

Our mission here at Today’s Author is to foster a community of creative writers through a healthy and supportive environment which encourages participation via articles, comments, and writing prompts.

To help promote our mission, we’re extending the reach of Today’s Author by making our content available in the popular news reading application, Google Play Newsstand.

With Google Play Newsstand, you can take Today’s Author articles and writing prompts with you—online or offline—on your Android and Apple phones and tablets.

Click here to get started:  http://google.com/newsstand/s/editions/CAownKfNAQ/Today%27s+Author

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To Name or Not to Name: Reflections on Genre, Character, & Poetry

I’m currently teaching a research writing class, and this particular class is unique because it asks the students to explore and respond to various kinds of art (short stories, poems, plays, creative nonfiction essays, visual art, etc.) through their writing, all the while following MLA formatting, of course. It’s a fun class to teach, because, well, I love art, and it gives me an opportunity to introduce these students to an assortment of genres. For each genre, I discuss the various elements that are fundamental to that genre. For example, short stories employ setting, poetry relies on literary devices, creative nonfiction is based in fact, with a novelistic twist. And so on.

When it came to poetry, and I was putting my list of fundamentals together, I stumbled over whether to include character as a necessary element for this genre. Questions went through my mind: Does poetry require characters? What is the ratio of poems with characters to those without? What poems off the top of my head can I think of that include characters? What poems of my own have characters? What’s the virtue of adding characters? Is poetry more imagery based than prose? Who classifies what a poem is and what isn’t?

All of these questions led me to rediscover what the word genre means. In M. H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms, it says that “Through the Renaissance and much of the eighteenth century, the recognized genres . . . were widely thought to be fixed types” and that mixing genres was considered abhorrent. Skip forward to today, and Abrams says “. . . genres are conceived to be more or less arbitrary modes of classification, whose justification is their convenience in discussing literature.”

So, basically, once the distinction and classification mattered, and now, not so much. Now, we exist in a more fluid space, where it seems that the writer determines what his/her piece is: It’s a poem, because I say it is! Never mind that the poem is novel-length, and doesn’t seem to observe other poem-y techniques, as is the case with Gabriel Gudding’s Rhode Island Notebook.

Or consider the six-word “short story” attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Certainly, this would seem to fall more within the realm of poetry due to its brevity, and yet, these six words contain fundamental elements of the short story genre: characters, setting, conflict, plot, tone, etc.

Consider also Bruce Holland Rogers’ “Three Soldiers,” which is a triumvirate of mini stories, each with their own title, under the larger title. You can read the “short story” here: “Three Soldiers” This might seem more like a poem, in part because it follows a strict form (69 words per story), but Holland Rogers has classified it as a short story, and therefore, apparently, so must we.

So, back to my dilemma of whether the genre of poetry includes character . . . in the end I decided that yes it does, but not always, which seems to be the way we define genres these days: Sometimes. Maybe. If the author wants to.

Running alongside my questions as a teacher are my questions as a writer of poetry: Why include characters? And if I incorporate them, should I name them? In a lot of poetry, there seem to be implied characters: the “I” behind the words, or the vague hes and shes. And in my experience, the named character doesn’t appear as often in this genre. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot comes to mind with its “I” and “you” and its coming and going women. But would we call these characters, in the same sense that we would call Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice a character? Yet, Eliot does something interesting by naming his character in the title, but that name is never referenced in the poem itself. So, what’s the value of naming the character at all?

Look at any haiku poem, and what you might see is an “I” here and there, but more likely you’ll see elements of nature. Are the natural elements characters? Are the implied wind or the leaves characters in Buson’s haiku?

Blowing from the west
Fallen leaves gather
In the east.

And another question to ponder, when we think about the “I” in poetry, is that really character, or is it narrator? When E. E. Cummings says “and what i want to know is / how do you like your blueeyed boy / Mister Death” in his poem “Buffalo Bill’s,” is the “i” a character, or some omniscient eye (no pun intended)?

I certainly don’t think I know the answers yet to any of these questions. I’m not even sure I can articulate why I sometimes choose to name characters in my own poetry, and why other times I leave them murky and in the distance with generic hes and shes. But I think these are questions worth pondering, since writing is in part about intention, and understanding the reasons for our choices in whatever genre we are working in is crucial to good writing.

For all you poets out there (and non-poets, too), how do you deal with character? To name or not to name? And why?