Comics, Community, and Kickstarter

I’ve been writing prose fiction for a lot longer than I’ve been writing comics. I graduated from Columbia University in 2000 with a degree in writing/literature, and I published my first short story in August 2002 in the now defunct Skyline Literary Magazine. I didn’t publish my first comics story until 2018 (in Constellate Literary Journal w/Marika Brousianou). Like many writers—especially prose writers—I am an introvert by nature, and the collaborative, community nature of comics creation was difficult for me when I first started writing comics.

There were certain people who helped me with that aspect of comics creation and who made me feel like a part of the community, which is why the We Suck At Comics kickstarter from Wayward Raven is an important project for me.

When I attended my first New York Comic Con, I went to a networking event at Twins Pub, and it was there that I met many members of my comics community.

Now, I’m the type of guy who sits at the end of the bar, maybe with one or two close friends, and sips his beer or scotch while watching the game. I’m a wallflower at parties, and there is not enough alcohol on the planet to get me to dance. So, as you might imagine, a networking event among strangers was not the ideal situation for me.

As the night went on, the crowd started to thin. I have an unusually high tolerance, so I remained. A few people started to talk to me. Among these were Alex Sapountzis and Mark Frankel, of Wayward Raven, and Sebastian Bonet, an artist for Inbeon, among other places.

I ended up talking—and drinking—with them until the bar closed, and by the end of the night, I not only made new friends (a rarity for me), but also felt like I was a part of a comics community.

In the coming years, my comics community would expand each year at the Creator Aftercon event at Twins. I met Johnny C who invited me to contribute to his Movie (p)Review Show, Marika Brousianou with whom I collaborated on both that first comics story and my latest book, and so many more.

I have three stories in the We Suck At Comics anthology, two of which are collaborations with Alex, and a third which was illustrated by Tyler Carpenter.

My stories appear alongside stories by Mark, Johnny C, and Sebastian, as well as Jeff Rider and Joel Jacob Barker, both of whom I met at subsequent Creator Aftercon events at Twins.

We Suck at Comics, like any comics anthology, is a community effort, for me it is more than that. It is my community’s effort.

Without the encouragement of the aforementioned creators, I probably would not be writing comics today. I am honored to appear alongside them, and would be honored if you would support the kickstarter.

You can support the kickstarter by clicking here:

We Suck at Comics Kickstarter
Panel from Sit TweetCivil, by me and Alex Sapountzis
A page from Freedom, by me and Tyler Carpenter

A Surrealist Cadavre Exquis

By, Sharmon Gazaway, Jon Black, A. A. Rubin, Polly Alice McCann, and Renee Cronley

Intro: The following piece was composed by the authors as a surrealist cadavre exquis. The cadavre exquis is an exercise practiced by surrealist artists where an artist began by drawing something at the top of a folded piece of paper, and then refolded the paper so that only the bottom lines of their drawing were visible. They would then mail the paper to the next artists, and the process would repeat again, over and over, until the piece was complete. We have attempted to adapt the exercise for writers. The first writer composed a paragraph and then sent their final line to the next writer, who continued the piece using that line as their first line. The process continued until each writer had composed their paragraph. Each writer wrote with no knowledge of the content or style of the previous paragraph, save for the last line.

For more information about the Cadavre Exquis exercise, click here:

Stop. I beg you. Don’t do this. It’s not what you think it will be. Yes, you’ve made this great discovery, and all you’ve wanted your whole small, dull life was to make a great discovery, or a great anything. You know this is your chance. Probably your only chance. Naturally, you can’t let it pass. And how will you know if the discovery is truly great if you never try it out? You can risk only yourself. That’s good. That’s admirable. But don’t. Don’t do it. It’s unlike anything you are imagining. It won’t bring you any kind of happiness. Maybe recognition, but even that can’t be guaranteed. That tingle you’re feeling—it’s not the mere excitement of nerves and thrill of the unknown. Trust me. It’s the electric charge of curiosity mingled with the twist in the gut that accompanies foreboding. It’s inside you telling you what I’m pleading from here. Listen to it. Even if you’ve never heeded another’s advice in your life, heed me now. We all send our direst warnings. Everything you’ve known will be lost, everything you’ve hoped for will be…different. Remember Eve. Remember Pandora. Recall the handwriting on the wall, and the curious cat. It did not end well. No, not death. That’s not the fear here. At least, not now. This is different, worse. Yes, worse. At the risk of repetition, it’s beyond all you have imagined, or can. I would tell you if I was able. I’m not. None of us are. But don’t. Just don’t do it, it’s not what you think it will be. 


Just don’t do it, it’s not what you think it will be. Would it be worth it? Could it be worth it? Guillaume barely heard his thoughts over the hissing steam, boiling water, and crackling fire. Regrettably, he had no problem hearing the church bells outside, their peels like the cadence presaging a firing squad. Drinking deeply from the bottle, his face wrinkled. He pulled his under-linens and shirt from the porcelain bleaching pot filled with onion juice. In the days of his grandfather’s grandfather, launderers had used their own urine. People today didn’t want that. But, truthfully, urine worked better. Most days, a small army toiled in the laundry to meet the village’s needs. Today, it was operated by, and for, one man. The bleached clothes went into the copper boiler where the rest of his outfit already soaked alongside a chunk of lye. Snatching up the baton, he turned his clothes within the water. Guillaume considered the two images on the wall above the boiler. The icon of Joan d’Arc still shone brightly with the colors of passion and pain. The woodcut of Louis XV, so-called “the beloved,” had wrinkled, faded, and stained with generations of steam and smoke. A relic from a world which no longer was. Grimacing, he again swigged from the bottle. The vintage, from Chantal’s father’s vineyard, should have aged at least two years before uncorking. Guillaume didn’t have that kind of time. Better early than never. When at last the bottle was empty, and the clothes in the boiler as heavily churned as the virgin wine in his belly, he removed the garments. He placed them in the soaking basin and then laid them beneath the box mangle. Working its iron crank, the heavy wooden block rolled across the fabric, forcing out the water. Finally, he placed the garments on a table, covered them with thin linen, and took up a heavy iron from the fire. Today’s outfit would be immaculate. Guillaume wondered, had anyone ever so lovingly laundered the very clothes in which they would be buried that day? Outside, the bell tolled once more.


Outside, the bell tolled once more. She tried to focus on the sound, like a Zen monk practicing meditation, and let the monotony drive away her problems. But she had never been much good at meditation: Instead of driving away her troubles, each gong seemed to magnify them. Gong, the mortgage; Gong, the kids; Gong, the pandemic; Gong, another workout skipped; Gong, the number on the scale, ever growing. A loud gong, but in a low register, insufficient to break the glass ceiling against which she kept bumping at work. With each chime, her world grew smaller. With each toll, the walls closed in a bit more. A wave of claustrophobia washed over her. Soon, she would be trapped in a small, glass box, like a mime, unable to speak. It was more than she could take, She got up from her desk and rushed through the house, cringing at each toll of the incessant bell. (Were the intervals getting shorter? They definitely felt shorter.) She fumbled through the neglected Tibetan prayer bowl for her keys, and burst out into the open air of the suburban streets hoping to escape the sound. But the bell continued to toll. Outside, it was even louder. It seemed to follow her, somehow amplifying whichever direction she ran. She doubled back to the house, got in the car, and turned up the radio as loud as it would go. She drove for miles, far past the limits of where the sound could possibly carry, but the bell tolled, nonetheless, if not in the outside world, distinctly in her mind. It echoed through her head, and reverberated off the walls of her skull. There was no escape. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, she thought, it tolls for me


Ask not for whom the bell tolls, she thought, it tolls for me. The words jangled in her head like a bronze clapper. The reverberations seemed to go from the base of her neck down to her toes. She covered her ears and squeezed her eyes closed. When the sounds stopped. She opened her eyes and she didn’t know where she was. A warm chamber with a shell-like ceiling enveloped her with white light. Where was she? She looked at her hands, they seemed different somehow. Why didn’t she feel panicked? Waiting seemed easy, almost weightless until a small port window she hadn’t noticed grew dim and someone entered. That someone swam in, with a long lush green tail, her hair swinging like so many live anemones, her eyes yellow and cool. That’s when it became clear, she was underwater but breathing without any problem. 


That’s when it became clear, she was underwater but breathing without any problem. For a moment, it was overwhelming.

She was used to shallow living, so the depths were frightening and she was worried she might drown in her emotions.

Liquid calm spread throughout her body as a myriad of memories surfaced in her mind.

All those nights of her running out of the beach house, her tear-stained cheeks stinging with an angry hand imprint.

It was walking along the beach that soothed her. The ocean had a voice, and the sound of her name seemed to roll off whitecaps like a soothing lullaby. 

She would write save me in the sand with a stick.

Throughout her life, she felt like a piece of property—a ship that one man had commandeered after the other. She was nothing but a vessel to steer on their own course. She had no control over her life. 

But they could never conquer the sea and so she admired it. Some days, it was like she was stuck in a prison staring out into the azure through a window of blurred tears, wishing she could dive in and swim away. 

But this was better.

The warm water cradled her like the amniotic fluid that once protected her long ago while she was in utero.

She was born of the sea.

And she was free.

The knots that lived inside her unraveled. She embraced her repressed untamed nature that always existed below the surface. 

She made skirts of bright red kelp and decorated her hair with hibiscus flowers. A flounder took her under his wing, and told her legends and showed her lost treasures. 

Sometimes ships full of men would linger near them, casting their nets so they could blindly catch whatever they could reel in and watch gasp for air on the deck. 

She taught her friends to sabotage nets and hulls using the knowledge she gained on land. They would use the weather to their advantage. Once the men were overboard, flailing their arms for someone to save them, she would pull them under and fill their lungs with the sea. 

The more men gone, the better for her survival. 

She knew the life that awaited her on shore.

And she would never allow herself to be caught again. 


The paragraphs were composed in the order indicated in the byline.

Sharmon Gazaway writes from the Deep South where she lives beside a historic cemetery haunted by the wild cries of pileated woodpeckers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Forge Literary Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Enchanted Conversation, New Myths, Metaphorosis, Breath and Shadow, Ghost Orchid Press, and elsewhere. You can find her work in the anthologies, Love Letters to Poe Volume 1, Dark Waters, Orpheus + Eurydice Rewoven, and Wayward and Upward. You can contact her on Instagram at sharmongazaway. 

Jon Black is an award-winning writer of historical fiction with pulp, supernatural, or Mythos twists. He is best known for his Bel Nemeton series, combining 6th century Arthurian historical fantasy with brainy 21st century pulp as well as the Jazz Age supernatural mystery Gabriel’s Trumpet. Jon is obsessed with the Parisian avant-garde, on full display in his short story “The Green Muse,” a mythos tale revolving around the Montmartre Cubist scene and featured in the anthology The Chromatic Court. He dabbles in creating Dadaist and Surrealist visual and performance art. In 2016, Jon hosted the Austin, Texas celebrations honoring Dada’s 100th anniversary. Find out more about him at

A. A. Rubin surfs the cosmos on winds of dark energy. He writes in many style, ranging from literary fiction to comics, formal poetry to science fiction and fantasy, and (almost) everything in between. His work has appeared recently in Love Letters to Poe, Ahoy! Comics, and The Deronda Review. He can be reached on social media as @TheSurrealAri, or right here on the website which you are now reading.

Polly Alice McCann, poet, artist, says that poetry saved her life. She began writing  after a night sleeping under desert stars with only a book for a pillow. Her work explores faith, loss, and the search for the true heartland: “I will not forget,” she writes. “I am woman, all things began in me.” Her first books, “Kinlight,” and “Puss ’N Boötes” published in 2019, 2020. She has been published internationally in Naugatuck River Review, Arc 24 and elsewhere. She credits her narrative free verse style from studying under poets Julia Kasdorf and Ron Koertge, and her degree from Hamline University MFAC. Her art has been published in several publications including Rattle Magazine. She is the founder of Ketchupedia Poetry Radio and the managing editor of Flying Ketchup Press.

Renee Cronley is a poet, writer, and nurse from Brandon, Manitoba.  She studied Psychology and English at Brandon University, and Nursing at Assiniboine Community College.  Her work has appeared in,  Love Letters to Poe, Black Hare Press, SmashBear Publishing, Canadian Stories, Panoply, and Discretionary Love and is forthcoming with Dark Dispatch, Dark Rose Press, and Off Topic. Social Media Links:,,

On Banned Books, Privilege, and Stephen King’s Poor Choice of Words

In response to the recent appalling spate of book banning, many of my friends and fellow writers have posted the following meme which based on a quote by Stephen King:

While their, and King’s, motivations for posting this quote are noble, I find the content of said quote unhelpful, dangerous, and misinformed. It isn’t often one can say this, but in this statement, King chose his words poorly.

While I am very much in favor of encouraging kids to read banned books, the assumptions underlying King’s advice reveal a gross misunderstanding of the on-the-ground realities for many students and assume privilege as well.

I’m willing, for now, to leave aside the opening gambit which say King “is never much disturbed” as a poorly-chosen rhetorical gambit. The real issue is the false dichotomy placing. Seeking out and reading banned books in direct opposition to being angry and protesting. One must fight against book bans because the alternative which King presents does not address the problem for most kids. Consider the third paragraph:

King advises students not to protest or sign petitions, but “instead, run, don’t walk, to the nearest non-school library or the local book store and get whatever it is that they banned.”

I’m going to begin with the end of that sentence: the assumption that a kid has enough money to buy a book, let alone the many that are likely banned by their district reveals King’s economic privilege and assumes the same of the students. I don’t know the demographics of the district where King taught way back when, but I have been a New York City public school teacher since 2007, and most of the inner-city kids whom I teach do not have extra cash to spend at book stores.

Moreover, the assumption that there is a local book store also indicates a certain type of community. Not every town has a book store, many do not have one within walking distance, and, even in suburban communities, the closest bookstore may be many miles away.

Let’s move on to the library. First off, books are being banned from libraries as well. While librarians generally try to fight the good fight, municipalities often will threaten to pull funding if the library if doesn’t pull certain books from the shelf, effectively banning those books.

But even if the banned books are available at the library, there are a number of other issues with King’s advice. First, in order for the advice to work, every kid in the class would need to borrow the book from the library. Let’s assume a class of 25 (I’ve had 34 kids in a class in the bast majority of classes I’ve taught, but let’s take 25 just for the example). Is a local library going to inventory 25 copies of Maus? Most likely, not. If a school has four sections, each with 25 kids, the library would need to carry 100 copies for each kids to have access to a copy so they could read it. I’ve taught in schools with graduating classes ranging from 100 to 900+. Eventually, the numbers get ridiculous. Let’s say that each kid borrowed the book for 2 weeks. How many books do we expect a library to carry? How long would it take for every student to read each banned book?

Not every kid would take the initiative to read the book, you might say—and you’d be right—which presents another issue with King’s argument. Only the kids with the interest and initiative to go to the library and read the banned books would read them. Most would not. To believe otherwise is idealistic nonsense. If Mr. King would think back to his days as a teacher, surely he would know this.

With the amount of ignorance which pervades our culture, and the rate at which the ignorant vote and even hold powerful positions, the dangers of the ignorance which arises from not reading banned books is great, indeed. We should be fighting against ignorance even if the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, like the Aesir against Ragnarok, rather than acquiescing to it.

“Ah,”you might say, “ but do all the kids in a class where a book is assigned read it?” The answer is certainly not. But, just as certainly, a greater percentage of them will than if the book was not assigned. Moreover, every student who attends class will have some exposure to the book, as well as its themes, issues, and historical contexts through the class discussions. Something, in this case, is better than nothing.

There is also a privilege issue with the library argument. In my district in New York City, which has one of the largest and most well-funded public library systems in the country, the public libraries close around 6pm. In the town in which I live, the library is only open in the evening twice a week, never past 7pm, and never on the weekend. Many of my students have after-school jobs which they use to help their parents pay the rent. Many take care of their siblings while their parents are at work as well. These students do not have the luxury of first researching, and second going to the public library to take out banned books on a regular basis. Maybe students in the district where King taught could, but I’m willing to bet that there are more students across the country who find themselves in a similar situation to the students whom I teach.

In addition, as students get older, they participate in after school activities. Let’s say a child is a member of a basketball team. Often, practices and road games end well after the public library would be closed. We can tell kids to pick books over their teams, but does anyone think the majority will make that choice?

For younger children—and children’s books are being as well—the problem is even greater. How are young children supposed to get to the book store or library? Who is taking them there? Surely not the very adults who populate the school boards that are banning books.

One last thing: My father was kicked out of his house for reading Catcher in the Rye. He happened to have a life situation and live in a community where he could spend the night elsewhere. Many kids do not. I wonder where the kids I teach would go if they were kicked out of their houses. Would they feel safe spending the night somewhere else even if they could obtain the book from the local library or book store? I know for a fact that many of them would not.

Returning to that opening gambit, there is no reason to place seeking out books in opposition to being angry and pursuing other means. I might, for example advise a fellow teacher who teaches in a district where Maus was banned to try to teach Joe Kubert’s Yossel, another graphic novel about the Holocaust. Leaving aside the issues of funding and acquiring the books this might be a way to stay ahead of the censors and teach a similar book. I would never advise them, however, to give up their fight to keep teaching Maus, not to protest the decision, or not to be angry or disturbed. I would, in fact, encourage that teacher to fight on multiple fronts. Similarly, while I might advise students to seek out the banned book wherever they could, I would never tell them not to be angry, not to fight, not to protest, etc. Had King advised his students in that manner, or used his immense platform to do so, I would not have a problem with his advise. The realities of how his advise would play out (as detailed above) makes his rhetorical ploy. One off as the kind of privileged indifference that people like Martin Luther King and Eli Wiesel warned against.

I agree with King’s final statement. Read banned books. Find out what “they” don’t want you to know, but be mad that those books are banned. Protest, carry signs, raise a ruckus. Even if you’re in the position where you can follow King’s advice. Fight like hell for those who don’t share your privilege. As another famous writer recently posted,

If that’s not a reason to get angry, I don’t know what is.

A #NanoWriMo Diversion

It’s #nanowrimo again, so instead of procrastinating and by writing a new blog post, here is one from a couple of years ago that I wrote while procrastinating instead to working on my nano project. Enjoy.

A. A. Rubin

The writer sits down in front of his computer. His phone has run out of batteries; the dishes are washed; the laundry is done. He has fed the cat, and the kids are asleep. There is nothing preventing him from getting on with that #NanoWriMo novel, except for anxiety and writer’s block.

He stares at the screen. The screen stares back at him. He rereads what he wrote the night before. Complete drivel. He had stopped the previous incoherent, stream of consciousness session of inane babble at particularly difficult plot point, and, having slept on it, and having gone through an entire day taking care of his two kids, he is no closer to resolving the conundrum than he had been the night before.

He briefly
considers summoning Mephistopheles, which, if the texts he’s read are any
indication, would be significantly easier than resolving that plot issue, but
considers whether…

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Ray Bradbury’s Noun Exercise: A Gift for Writers on his Centennial Birthday

Today is Ray Bradbury’s 101st birthday. In his honor, I’m reblogging this post I wrote for his centennial.

A. A. Rubin

Today, marks Ray Bradbury’s 100th birthday, and in his honor, I am going to share one his favorite writing exercises. This exercise, which I learned in the Ray Bradbury and Creative Storytelling class I recently completed with Bradbury biographer Sam Weller, addresses two area with which many authors struggle, writers block and writing titles. I have begun to incorporate it into my own writing practice and it has become one of my favorites as well.

On a blank sheet of paper, list nouns that pop into your head. These should be free-associated nouns that come to you from your subconscious, without thinking too hard. The only restrictions are that, A. the nouns should not be about the same subject (don’t list boat, sail, water, ocean, fish); and B, you must write “the” before each of the nouns (The Sky, The Candle; The Painting; The Chair; The Tree; The…

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Moonlight Sonnet, In Memoriam, Scott Beebe

Like many in the writing community, I was devastated to learn of Scott Beebe‘s recent passing. Scott was one of the most encouraging and enthusiastic members of the vibrant writing community on twitter, hosting prompts such as #poetryin13 and #converstory, and publishing anthologies both based on those prompts and about other themes. We are all poorer for his loss.

Scott published my work in a number of anthologies, and I thank him for that, but my favorite is Prompting The Moon, which to which he specifically asked me to submit, and in which I published my “Moonlight Sonnet,” which is probably my favorite poem I’ve written thus far. I would not have written it without Scott’s encouragement. My story is but one of so many stories where Scott inspired so many of us.

I’ve shared that poem in this space before, but allow me to do so again, in memory of Scott Beebe.

When I gaze up at its dark, inky gloom,
The sky reflects my sorrows back at me–
Like the vampire’s victim, I’m fit to swoon,
Surrendering to my melancholy.
The burdens, heavy, of my working day
Weigh down on me and hang like darkening clouds,
Which hide the bright orb’s stately face away
Obscured by night’s aphotic, murky shroud.
But with the glimmer of her tender light,
A sliver of hope in my heart doth grow–
Waxing gibbous, though not yet full tonight,
Beneath Selene’s benevolent, pale glow.
Like the werewolf by her light’s transformèd,
By moonlight, my self to me’s restorèd.

A Reading of Moonlight Sonnet

Rest in peace, Scott.

Rules, What Rules: Eliminating Adverbs

Salman Rushdie signing a book

In the first post I published on this blog, I bemoaned the reductive nature of writing advice. “If you write like everyone else,” I wrote, “your writing will read like everyone else’s. I have gotten away from that theme over the years, but today I wish to return to it. Over the next few months, I will present a series of blogs that deal with common pieces of writing advice, and then present a famous work by a successful author which breaks those rules. My aim is not to criticize these authors—I enjoy all of them, that is the point. Rather, I present their works as examples of successfully writing, which might cause you to reexamine the writing “rule” critically. I am not advising you to ignore these rules, rather to take control of your own craft, and consider your choices actively. As always, I believe there is more than one path to success, more than one formula for great writing. Consider these posts synecdochally. The specific rule is not the point; it speaks to a general attitude which is prevalent within the contemporary writing community.

In each blog post in this series, I will give a brief summary of the rule, followed by a case study of a successful author, work, or series that breaks that rule. Finally, I will provide some analysis of the rule and the alternative techniques the featured author makes. Since the posts in this series will not necessarily be consecutive blog entries, I will link each piece to previous entries.

Previously in this series:

Dialogue Tags

The Rule: Eliminate All Adverbs

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions—Stephen King

One of the most common pieces of writing advice is to eliminate all—or at least most—of the adverbs from your writing. Adverbs, especially those common ones that end in “ly”—and especially when they are used to modify dialogue tags are considered lazy writing. Better writing would describe the action conveyed by the verb interestingly and correctly (get it) rather than using a vague modifier as crutch to “tell” rather than “show” the reader the way in which the action occurs, or the dialogue is said.

Adverbs, and to a lesser extent adjectives, have been railed against (famously) by such writers as Stephen King (See the quote that kicks off this section), Mark Twain, Ernest Hemmingway, and virtually every writing class, blog, website and workshop.

Case Study: Salman Rushdie

By any measure, Salman Rushdie is one of the most decorated writers of contemporary literature. His lists of awards, which includes the Booker, two Whitbread prizes, and a plethora of others takes up a good 6 inches on his official about the author page. He has been knighted by the queen of England, is a fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature, and was the subject of a prominent subplot on a (really) famous Seinfeld episode (let’s just say the episode is real and it’s spectacular). He is famous for writing magical realism, blending Eastern and Western literary traditions, and remains one of the most popular serious literary writers among the general public.

And yet…

In Midnight’s Children, arguably his most famous and decorated novel, he uses adverbs liberally. For example, in the opening paragraph of the chapter Alpha and Omega (which is one of my favorite passages in the novel), he uses multiple “ly” adverbs.

Alpha and Omega page

Later on in the same chapter, he uses more “ly” adverbs, this time (gasp!) to describe a character’s actions (first line of final paragraph.

Alpha and Omega page

When I reread these passages for this blog, I wondered if Rushdie’s use of adverbs was specific to Midnight’s Children, or if it was typical of his style, so I pulled The Satanic Verses off my shelf and took a look. I flipped through the book randomly (had enough yet?) and quickly (ok, I’ll stop now) came across this passage.

As you can see, Rushdie uses “ly” adverbs to modify here as well, this time to modify dialogue.

How could this be?


Midnight’s Children is one of the most decorated books in recent literary history. Not only did it win a Booker, it was voted The Best of Booker—the best book among the winners in the 40 year history of the award. Clearly, Rushdie’s use of adjectives has not kept the novel from literary acclaim. So, why does Rushdie’s use of adverbs work here, when according to every piece of advice an aspiring writer is likely to receive, adverbs are bad?

Reread that first paragraph of Alpha and Omega again. Read it out loud. Listen to the rhythm. It is a beautiful paragraph, it has pace; it flows. Has Rushdie rewritten the paragraph to replace the modifiers with more descriptive language, the rhythm would not have worked as well (unless he came up with one word descriptions with the same metrical properties (syllables and stresses), he would have sacrificed the flow for the sake of so-called “better description.” Rushdie is one of the most lyrical and readable literary writers, and this paragraphs—complete with the its two prominent adverbs—is a perfect example.

Moreover, the sound in this case is, indeed, an echo to the sense. The paragraph describes uncertainty on the part of the narrator, and the ambiguity of “oddly” and “badly“ as opposed to a more specific, concrete description fits the content as well.

Additionally, the point of view is key. Rushdie, here, writes from a first-person narrative perspective. Think of the way people you know speak. They probably do not use innovative and unexpected descriptions as a regular feature of their speech. They probably do use adverbs, and one that end in “ly” at that. Thus, the narrator’s use of vague modifiers makes characterization more realistic.

All right, you say, but what about the other examples, the ones where Rushdie uses adverbs to modify his dialogue tags?

The simple answer would be to refer you back to the first blog in this series, in which I stated my belief that any style of dialogue tags—from the traditional invisible “said” tags, to the contemporary literary counter-cultural convention of not using quotation marks, to using adverbs to modify dialogue tags, becomes invisible over the course of a novel if used consistently. I would, however, be remiss is I didn’t mention Matthew Salesses, who in his book Craft in the Real World discusses how Rushdie is influenced by different, non-western literary traditions than certain other well-respected writers. I do not know enough about the eastern tradition to say for certain, but this stylistic convention may come from that source as well.

Speaking of literary traditions, Rushdie mentions Dickens and Austen as two of his major western influences. Dickens and Austen are considered, perhaps, the two greatest novelists in the history of English literature, but their writings are often used as examples of old (read outmoded) style. Modern writers tend toward a sparser, Hemingway-esque style. King’s book on writing is very (sorry, couldn’t resist) influential as well, especially among authors who aspire to write popular fiction. While there are certainly writers like Rushdie who go against the grain, their voices are often lost beneath the groupthink that Salesses derides in his book about writing instruction.

Personally, I prefer Rushdie and Dickens to King and Twain. I like a more verbose narrator, one with a real personality. You may not, and that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion. That is a matter of opinion, however, just as most of the so-called writing rules are really matters of style and trends rather than evaluations of quality.

One additional note: Even if you buy into the idea that adverbs are bad writing and that they should be replaced by better description, just replacing the adverbs does not solve the problem. When researching this blog, I did a google search for eliminating adverbs. In one of the first blogs that comes up on google, the writer suggests replacing “flirtatiously” with “she batted her eyelashes. If one is going to use cliched descriptions instead of adverbs, one weakens one’s writing by making it cumbersome and verbose. Any lengthy description can slow down pace and rhythm, an empty cliche even more so. I would focus on writing a few exciting and original descriptions and using them judiciously, at important points in the text.

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Moonlight Sonnet

In honor #NationalPoetryMonth, I am, once again, sharing my Moonlight Sonnet. Enjoy.

A. A. Rubin

In honor of the rare occurrence of Halloween falling on a full moon, I present my poem, “Moonlight Sonnet,” which originally appeared in the Prompting The Moon Anthology.

When I gaze up at its dark, inky gloom,
The sky reflects my sorrows back at me–
Like the vampire’s victim, I’m fit to swoon,
Surrendering to my melancholy.
The burdens, heavy, of my working day
Weigh down on me and hang like darkening clouds,
Which hide the bright orb’s stately face away
Obscured by night’s aphotic, murky shroud.
But with the glimmer of her tender light,
A sliver of hope in my heart doth grow–
Waxing gibbous, though not yet full tonight,
Beneath Selene’s benevolent, pale glow.
Like the werewolf by her light’s transformèd,
By moonlight, my self to me’s restorèd.

If you enjoyed this sonnet, and you’d like me to write one for you, check out The Great Command Meant

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How (Not) To Pick A Poem For Your Valentine

In honor of Valentine’s day: a classic from the archives.

A. A. Rubin

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks

It’s too early, babe, shut the shades.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

I’m hot, you’re sweaty—are you sure you want to go there?

How do I love thee let me count the ways—

Ok, but don’t leave any out—I’ll be mad if you don’t list the right ones…

When you are old and grey and full of sleep…

Is this about the curtain thing? I was working late last night, otherwise…Wait! are you saying my roots are showing? I just had them done.

A queen from some time dead Egyptian night/Walks once again.

Are you really comparing me to a zombie?

We loved with a love that was more than love—

Doesn’t she die in the next verse?

And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eye…

Didn’t his relationships usually end “in

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