Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Friends: Learning to Write Through Other Artistic Means

Can writers improve their craft by participating in or studying other modes of artistic expression? Absolutely. A case in point: e.e. cummings was an accomplished visual artist. He imported those skills and techniques into his writing. The next time you read one of his poems, pay attention to its graphic layout. As an example, in Cummings' poem, Grasshopper, the letters and "words" appear on the page like a jolting grasshopper.

That short preamble brings us to this week's installment of Friday Friends, the July 21, 2010 post from Lynda Young's blog, W.I.P. IT, A Writer's Journey. The title, 8 Tips Actors Can Give Writers, is certainly fulfilled in the text of the post.

Although I've never acted, I have created a comic strip. I found that many of the themes, puns and dialogue from that strip found voice in my first novel. In that sense, I have personal validation that the creative impulses of non-writing artistic pursuits can and do influence an author's writing. Lynda's post is yet another instructive demonstration of how the lessons of acting can positively influence a writer's prose.

How about you? Do your non-writing artistic ventures influence your writing? How so?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trendy Blog Award!

Medeia Sharif was kind enough to bestow a Trendy Blog Award to Thoughts and Ponderings. Hmmmm. Who would have thought that the internal ramblings of a nerd could ever be trendy? :) Alas, I accept the award with the same graciousness with which it was given. Now - the rule is that I post the award and then pass it on to 10 others; never being one to follow rules, I'm passing the award on to 5 others :). My vote for 5 trendy blogs:

Cruella Collett
Alexis Hallum
Creepy Query Girl
Jennifer Hillier
Dori the Giant

Thank you, Medeia, for thinking of me in the context of trendy {blush}!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Friends: Don't be So Sensitive!

This week's Friday Friend is Dr. Lydia Kang's blog, The Word is my Oyster. Dr. Kang's post of May 26, 2010, titled A Scientist's View of a Writer's Thick Skin, is what prompted me to click the "follow" button on her blog a couple of months ago. I've been reading each of her posts since.

Looking at Dr. Kang's illustration, which end of the dermatological spectrum are you on: "bleeds and cries easily" or "nothing gets through this sucker?"

Medical analyses aside, the truth is that many of us who want to be writers are of a sensitive nature. Somehow that doesn't seem incongruous; it takes a sensitive nature to pay attention to so many details of life and existence and to then want to communicate those observations back to the world in emotionally and intellectually pleasing and instructive vignettes of self-expression. OK, it's great that we're sensitive. But don't let that same luxurious sensitivity that compels you to want to be a writer grow horns and compel you to not want to be a writer. Let me explain. When you first get serious about writing (yes, at the beginning, that most fragile, vulnerable point in any enterprise including careers, marriages and friendships), you'll beat yourself up for the slop that you see yourself putting on paper. Day after day, draft after draft, you'll work to a point where the slop looks acceptable enough to you so you'll share it with others for critique. You'll graduate from local critiques, you'll expand the distribution of your writing. And then: agents and publishers will reject you; the self-appointed "best and brightest" in various writers' cliques will treat you like an inconsequential upstart; cyber-bullies will grow their own sense of self-worth by belittling your work in an assortment of forums.

As in life, so in writing; distill the truth from the venom.

The venom: ignore.

The truth: use it to become a better writer.

Most of all: keep writing. Use the years and your own hard work to get better and better. You'll get there! :)

Writers' sensitivities: a gift or a curse? Each of us answers that question by how well she or he manages and channels those sensitivities.

Earlier in this post, I asked you for self-disclosure regarding sensitivities. It's not fair if I don't reciprocate with equal disclosure. Looking at Lydia's illustration, I must admit that I'm closer to "bleeds and cries easily" than to "nothing gets through this sucker?" Oh, well. At least I have the gift of being able to fall in love deeply :).

Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The following is a response to a question from Rama, one of this blog's followers.

Rama asks:

Hi Mohamed,
I don't know how relevant is my way of writing a short story is with the topic in discussion.
Anyway I thought I should share with you. Before I start writing, I always have an idea of the story in my mind, but I have seen as the story moves on, my idea changes, my characters change and my situations change, in fact everything keeps on changing as I keep writing , and finally I find that my story has no resemblance to what I had in my mind. But somehow I like it. I don't know why I can never stick to my original idea. Should I consider it as an advantage or a disadvantage, please let me know what you feel.

Mohamed answers:

Dear Rama,

Please don't feel alone; my characters and stories also evolve through the course of conception. I'm sure that they do for other writers as well. My vote is to allow for that serendipity, especially in first drafts. You'll have plenty of opportunities to enhance consistencies in storyline and character once you're done the initial draft and into editing and revision.

The notion of serendipitous writing came up during an author interview that I did last year. Quoting an excerpt from that interview:

Ed: What’s your writing process?

Mohamed: Serendipity, really. (stop and thinks). It’s difficult to operationalize creativity. If we could, we’d produce Picasso’s paintings or Michelangelo’s David on a conveyor belt. That said, there are specific techniques available to artists of every medium. In my writing, I like to get a set of ideas down and then explore and expand them through prose. Sometimes the prose works, other times it’s crap. Start stringing words together – in the end, that’s the process. That’s about as simple or as complex as it gets. As R.A. Salvatore once wrote to me in an e-mail: “Writers write.”

Ed: Where did you get your ideas for Resolution 786?

Mohamed: The story started out as a concept for a play, a loosely assembled set of literary images that floated around on my desk on scraps of paper and little yellow stickies. This went on for about a year. The play carried a tentative title of “War Crimes” and was a courtroom drama with God on trial. In the midst of this never-finished draft, the Iraq War came about and the events of those days began to stand out in my consciousness. Eventually, those headlines wrapped themselves around “War Crimes,” turning the embryonic play into a cubist novel. See? Serendipity.

You say that your characters and situations change. Well, in this case, not only did that happen in my writing, but the structural medium of the piece changed from a play to a novel. Change happens. Let it.

Later in the same interview, Ed asks if I've had any specific experiences of serendipitous writing. I refer to phenomenon as "kismet" in my response. Quoting that question and its answer:

Ed: Tell us about your forthcoming non-fiction title?

Mohamed: While doing research for my second novel, I realized that I’d developed a set of techniques for creating fiction that may be useful to other writers. I decided to catalogue and describe these techniques in Creating Fiction: A Hands-on, Practitioner’s Guide. So far the draft has chapters on the essentials of reading, developing ideas, constructing narrative, style and voice, and the utility of colleagues in what is otherwise a solitary undertaking. I also have a chapter titled “Kismet,” where I explain how characters can be born from the womb of the story.

Ed: Have you experienced that?

Mohamed: Yes. The custodian in Resolution 786 didn’t come from out of my head and onto the page. He was born from within the story itself.

No only do characters change, Rama. Sometimes new characters are actually born from the story. As you might guess by now, I value serendipity and kismet in my writing. Should you consider it an advantage or disadvantage? It's neither and it's both (I realize that's a strange answer, but I AM an absurdist:)). The larger point I'm making is that the passion and magic of creation is beyond mechanistic description, somewhere outside of dichotomous right or wrong. That said:

Don't fear serendipity.

Don't fear kismet.

Let it flow.

Keep what works.

Ditch what doesn't.

In your question you make the point that although your stories evolve mid-stream, when you're done, you "somehow like it." If there ever was a benchmark for evaluating your own creativity, that has to be it. If you like it, embrace it.

Keep writing, Rama. I am and I will continue to be one of your readers :)


Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Friends # 2

Here goes the second installment of a new custom that I've created for this blog: Friday Friends. Each Friday I select an interesting, instructive or otherwise intriguing post from one of the blogs of my followers and I post a link to it.

Our second-ever Friday Friend is from Valerie Geary's blog, Something to Write About. Ms. Geary's post from June 20, 2010, titled 6 Reasons Why I Haven't Read TWILIGHT...Yet, is a lovely tribute to bucking trends. Is it dysfunctional to not embrace the current "it" phenomenon? No; I believe that it demonstrates a healthy and courageous independence of thought that's refreshing, stimulating and appealing. Whether or not you agree with Ms. Geary's 6 reasons, you can't help but applaud her courageous honesty.

How about you? Are there any "it" phenomena, current or past, that just didn't do it for you?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

y ~ eye ~ f

y ~ eye ~ f


in : ter : twined

{ legs + hearts = lives }

Thank g_d for u

"remember that time when...?"
"i forgot about that!"


y ~ eye ~ f

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Using Literary Cubism to Write a Novel

In the following question, a reader asks about using literary cubism to write a novel.

Specifically, the readers asks:

Greetings Dr. Mughal,

As a Poet/writer I'm always contemplating the best/right approach to relaying the message. Resolution 786 has introduced me to the realm of Literary Cubism, and I'd like to know why Cubism as your approach? It certainly was the best approach as Resolution 786is by far, brilliantly written. Did Cubism as your approach come before the message that Resolution 786 carries, or the other way around?

Its incredible how the elements of history and religion are infused together, along with the fragmented forms in poetry, legal documents, etc... again brilliant. How long did it take to put it all together and fine tune it in such a way that harmony is achieved in connecting all the elements together in one book?

Congratulations on a well-written book and the challenge offered to the readers, through it, to expand the mind to undiscovered realms. Your work is surely a Storyteller's Artwork. Much kudos.

Mohamed answers:

Dear reader,

Thanks so much for your kind assessment of my work. It means a lot to me, especially since it’s coming from a practicing poet.

I think the reason I use literary cubism is grounded largely in who and what I am as a human being; my multivariate geographical, theological and educational backgrounds likely contributed to my cubist inclinations.

You asked how long it took to write this first novel. It’s difficult to put a start time on beginning the novel. Here’s why: The story started out as a concept for a play, a loosely assembled set of literary images that floated around on my desk on scraps of paper and little yellow stickies. This went on for about a year. The play carried a tentative title of War Crimes and was a courtroom drama with G_d on trial. In the midst of this never-finished draft, the Iraq War came about and the events of those days began to stand out in my consciousness. Eventually, those headlines wrapped themselves around War Crimes, turning the embryonic play into a cubist novel. The novel took about six months to set into a loose, cubist form. Through the next six months, a few trusted literary friends reviewed the draft and provided comments ranging from coherency to clarity to just plain-old grammar and spelling. All in all, I think it was about a year and a half before I was happy with the final draft.

You also pose an interesting “chicken and egg” question regarding the structural antecedents of the novel: “Did cubism as your approach come before the message that Resolution 786 carries, or the other way around?”


That’s a tough one; it’s tough because in my mind, I can’t see any sharp, defined delineation between my approach to writing a novel and the eventual message that that novel carries. Writing a novel is a wholly creative process brimming with a serendipity that’s driven by the random influences of our accidental human experiences.

Consider: we set out to write an anti-war novel with a human dimension, a novel that “fits” the newspaper headlines of the year in which we’re writing it. A particularly intriguing actual headline, in adapted form, becomes the basis for a newspaper excerpt in our fictional story. A new policy or incident at work invokes the most absurd elements of human experience; that incident, again in some adapted context and form, becomes a vignette in our draft. A beautiful young woman walks by you at the mall; you mentally capture some quintessential sense of her motion and gesture and you imbue that into a female personality in your story to help bring that character into three dimensions.

For me, writing novels is a serendipitous, non-linear process of unfettered creation. Because of this, I can’t truly say that cubism came before the message or vice versa. Rather, I think my literary approach and the book’s eventual message did a year-long dance of co-creation, a wanton and impassioned tango in the ballroom of my mind. Resolution 786 is the child of that crazy dance.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with me. Best wishes with your poetry in the coming months and years.

Your fellow writer,


Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Friends

I've created a new custom for this blog. I call it Friday Friends. Each Friday, I'll pick an interesting, instructive or otherwise intriguing post from one of the blogs of my followers and post a link to it.

Ready for our first-ever Friday Friend? OK. Here goes:

Our first-ever Friday Friend is K.M. Weiland and her blog Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors. I enjoyed Ms. Weiland's post from July 4, 2010 titled Is the Thesaurus Your Friend? I found the information instructive, even-handed and immediately applicable to my writing.

How about you? Do you use a thesaurus for creative writing?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Indictment of G_d?

In the following question, a reader asks about the indictment of G_d in Resolution 786.

The reader asks:

Mohamed, The story line seems to contain an indictment (pardon the pun) of a particular version of God (known in many circles as OOO, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient). What would you say to that? Is the book against that version of God? Is it just pointing to questions that are asked by spiritual seekers in trying to determine how their concept of God fits their theology? Something totally different?

Mohamed answers:

Dear Reader - I see it's time for some literary hardball/fastball :). Only kidding -Resolution 786 is a novel all about asking the hard questions and your particular question is certainly consistent with that theme.

First the short answer: No. My novel is in no way meant to be pejorative towards any concept of G_d or towards any framework of spiritual belief, to include the belief that the Cosmos is inert of spiritual elements.

That said, why a storyline that focuses on the Abrahamic “face” of G_d? Simply put, because that’s the face that I, through the circumstances of my birth and life, am most familiar with. I was taught to pray in a certain direction, in a certain way and at specific times of the day. I was taught a set of stories that depict a G_d who behaved out of jealousy and anger and who, at times, hurt and killed. As a child, I questioned that G_d. I got older; I lived in Africa, Europe and North America; I traveled on pilgrimages to Varanasi, Kathmandu, Jerusalem and Mecca, into the rituals of the Masai in Kenya and through the ruins of the Mayans; I read; I lived with and loved souls of different faiths. Now, through the mosaic of those life experiences, I no longer question the G_d of my youth. I question humanity and the choices that we make for ourselves.

Adam Hueghlomm lives in a prison of his own making, trying to force logic and linearity onto a phenomenon that lends itself to neither. The notion that one may find G_d through entirely logical means is akin to saying “I will reduce the process of falling in love into an integrated set of first order differential equations and when I solve for variable ‘x,’ I will be in love.”

You can’t. I tried.

And so G_d is a minor player, background scenery in the stage that frames the story of Resolution 786. In the end, it’s a story not about G_d, but about us and our struggles and our choices and the world that we’ve created for ourselves, a world in which we see a tremendous, hopeful spirit of human kindness residing side-by-side with a shameful disposition towards butchery.

Is Resolution 786 an indictment of G_d? No. Rather, it's an open-eyed, full-frontal exploration of ourselves.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for thinking. Thank you for taking the time to ask the hard questions.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy 4th!

This weekend marks America's 234th birthday. I scanned the haphazard array of books in my study for an appropriate read. I settled on Jimmy Carter's We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, a selection plucked from my small collection of signed books.

The book reminds me of our country's tradition of good deeds. As a nine year old refugee, I was a direct beneficiary of our benevolence. We Americans have a national tradition of doing good in the world. On this, our 234th birthday, I know that we have not lost our grace.

Happy Birthday, America! May G_d bless you.