Thursday, December 31, 2009
So, at midnight on January 1, 2000, the idea that the world would plunge into darkness was true for about three seconds.
Before December 31, 1999, I had only written to entertain myself. If I look down to my left, I can open the second drawer and pull out a first chapter of a fantasy novel--of which there are at least eight copies because I started that novel over and over again. On December 31, 1999, I did not take writing seriously, I thought I was going to be an FBI agent.
Somewhere in 2000, I changed my plans. I was playing pool with my best friend, Shelagh, and my mother, Susie, when a woman approached us and bought us pitchers (Pepsi for Shelagh and I, and Coors Light for Susie). Shelagh and I were pretty sure this woman was hitting on Susie, but my poor clueless mother had no idea and we weren't about to say no to free drinks. During the pretty flirty conversation, the woman asked me what I did. As I was recently unemployed, recently graduated, and so very lost, I was about to say 'nothing' when Shelagh said "She's a writer."
That didn't sound like a bad idea. I went to Barnes and Noble and found the Writing/Publishing section. Since I was new to this writing gig, I looked through to see if there was something helpful. There he was: Stephen King. He'd written a book on writing (On Writing, perfect!). I'd never read anything of his before. Figuring that a bestselling uber-writer was probably the best person to learn from (gotta learn from the best, right?) I bought the book and read it all in two days.
King says that I must write. So I wrote.
In the meantime I got pregnant and married. In that order.
Finished a 600+ page novel. I wrote while I breastfed Owen, my son. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I've never written like that before, or since to tell the truth. It was tinged with desperation--I was not happy in my marriage, we were living with a woman with 8 dogs and there were all kinds of lovely surprises in the communal kitchen. (Yes, you can say 'ewww', I sure the hell did.) I was hoping that I would, of course, write a monsterously bestselling novel that would sweep me away from where I was. Me=Cinderella. Writing=Prince Charming.
Well, that didn't work. But in my need to become a better writer, I joined a writer's group at the Barnes and Noble where I worked. The Colorado Springs Fiction Writer's Group is still around and kicking. I made so many friends and learned so much there, including the fact that the 600+ monster should not be brought out without a lot of reworking.
In the spirit of becoming a better writer (and pulling myself out of a marriage that was totally tanking) I decided that I should go back to school. Lo and behold, right when I decide to go back to school was right when Colorado State University-Pueblo started their Creative Writing emphasis with the English major. I met even more friends/influences there. And I learned that there was more to writing than dreaming about being a bestseller. When you decide to write, you decide to become part of a tradition that is long, honored, and sometimes tedious. It's work, and sometimes it's thankless work. Observe the geniuses that have died in obscurity.
Along the way I got divorced, leaving me to take care of Owen. You'd think that maybe kids would suck the dreams out of you, needing things like clothes, food, and whatever else that is really expensive and thus negating the idea that writing is a dream worth pursuing. Owen, however, has always proved the opposite: an inspiration. Because I want him to always, always to follow his dreams, I feel it is important for me to set the example. If I never give up on what I want, then I hope he'll see that, and never give up.
And I got remarried. To a writer, Shane, who gets it. If ever you're with someone who doesn't get it, it's time to go your own way. And if you ever find someone who does get it, hold on to them. This is an important lesson. Because of Shane, I started another novel--the one that's making the rounds to agents at the moment. It's a good second effort, I think.
Then we had Bronwen, a little girl who loves books and singing. She has given me one more thing to fight for.
So, from December 31, 1999, to December 31, 2009, I have accomplished the following with my writing:
1. The very first flash piece that I ever wrote and ever sent out was published by Anotherealm in their online flash section.
2. The very first short story that I sent into a competition, "For Five Miles," placed third in the first annual All Pikes Peak Reads competition.
3. A grand total of 11 short stories published.
4. Played at Editor in Chief for The Hungry Eye.
5. Finished two novel manuscripts.
6. Finished one book-length poem manuscript.
7. Finished countless short stories.
8. Worked with and helped start two fabulous writing groups. (So, countless critiques too!)
9. I read. A lot.
10. Started a blog!
Not bad for a decade that started in the dark. Tonight I think I'll keep the lights on and start the next ten years with eyes wide open and fingers punching the keys.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
My UGWPers got a partial submission, namely the Bundy section of the poetry book. The result was that, well, it didn't really work.
The CWCers got the whole shebang and they said the things that were in my head as I was working on it...but that the Bundy section was the weakest.
So, off to work on Bundy with the insight provided from writers who know what they're doing.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Then I'm off to critique for UGWP and I'll be done for this year. Satisfying check marks all around.
How are you ending your writing year?
Sunday, December 20, 2009
In two/three weeks I banged out almost sixty poems. Then I hit a snag with Gacy and asked could I please have another week to write thirty more--simple right? After I'd already done as much the weeks before you'd think that one more section wouldn't be rocket science. You'd think. But you'd be wrong.
It took me almost three weeks to finish this section. I say it's because it was more difficult for me to get "in touch" with Gacy, but it's probably because I'd begged for time, gotten it, and then thought "I need a little bit of a break, I'll get back to that in just a little bit. And a little bit more."
When the pressure was off, the pen/typing slowed down. I think this is a common problem for writers, and the real reason the first novel (or couple, as the case may be) takes forever is because we have all the time in the world. There's no one behind us saying "Do this now or your fired!" It's only our own hopes and dreams that keep us pushing those words along the page.
Sorta sad that hopes and dreams don't push us quite as hard as that fire-breathing boss.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
To your right we have a painting by Frederic Bazille, a French Impressionist who worked with Monet, Manet, and all the other great painters of the day. In fact, they're in the picture, along with French author Emile Zola. This is called Bazille's Studio: 9 rue de la Condamine.
I chose this painting (it's probably my favorite of all time) because it's a study of a group of artists working and discussing what they do--I'm a big proponent that works of art cannot be created on a solitary desk in the middle of nowhere.
So the theme of this coming year will be: what I can learn from other people. There's much to learn and I'm off to learn it!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The Bundy section of Up From the Basement was more difficult to write than the Kemper section because Bundy was more of a liar (or possibly, not as good of a liar) as Kemper. Kemper gave details that were consistant across the material that I read/looked up/listened to. Bundy was pretty obviously a big fat liar, but a fairly good one, so some things from the "mythos" of Bundy hold up against some scrutiny.
Gacy was a big fat liar who wore clown masks. Nothing he says matches anything that he said earlier. Even about work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hello? It's a fast food restaurant, not the United Nations. He makes me dizzy and I can't get a good grasp on what aspects I want to hit on regarding him.
There are some startingly good images that pop into my brain from his interviews and photographs, and that's generally enough to kick off a poem. I just want more than that and it's frustrating.
I know, Ali. I shall now just shut up and write.....
Sunday, December 6, 2009
What I did not accomplish and why I think I didn't:
I did not finish either rough draft that I intended to. That kinda stings since I had a whole freakin' year to work it out. Why?
Partly the usual suspects: work, family, a great television season that slowed me down in spite of DVR.
Partly because I was (and still am) stuggling with certain aspects.
La Llorona is difficult because I'm trying to challenge myself into writing a little more literary than I normally do--because I need to pull off a certain effect and I think that particular style will serve my purpose. While it's slower going than I anticipated, I feel that the writing is stronger here than in anything I've written yet. Nowhere to go but up, right?
The Line is tricky because while I think the concept falls under the auspices of the "High Concept of Fiction", it also requires world-building because it's set about 150 years into the future and that creates its own level of change--which I do not have a handle on as yet, making it harder to proceed. So after I set up a Bible (thanks to Ali for the suggestion....) then I will type through with flying colors, I'm sure.
Then there's the part where I didn't accomplish what I set out to do because, well, I accomplished other things.
Like writing a whole poetry book from scratch. Who knew? (I know, still not done, but no worries, it will be!)
Like finishing a submittable draft of Following Julia Roberts. And getting two partial requests after sending out 20 queries (check off that goal why don'tcha?). That's a 10% request rate, and that's pretty good right?
Plus all the critiques that I finished--and learned from. Thanks for it, guys! It's like opening a present every time I pick up new reading.
On to sorting out what I'll do, but probably not, for next year!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I'm still not quite finished with my serial killer poetry book. (That was my magical epiphany that I kept secret to surprise my CWCers.) It's so cool!
So the first part is about Edmund Kemper (also known as the Co-ed Killer), the second part is about Ted Bundy (I don't think I need to tell you who he was) and the third part is on John Wayne Gacy (also, I think, I don't need to tell you much about him). It's called Up From the Basement--it's exploring what happens when these guys come out into the world.
I've banged out the first two parts and am now working on Gacy. And I'm having a hard time with him, even though he's got some really, really whacked out things to write about--hello? A killer clown? That should write itself. Guess I just need to keep plugging along.
I'm trying to keep Ali's advice about finishing strong topmost in my head. Though, when I'm done with the Gacy section, all effort will go to starting the New Year strong.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
One more week to finish the third section and it'll be all in rough draft form! That's a rather satisfying NaNoWriMo experiment.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
On the good news front regarding FJR--another agent has graciously requested to read a partial. Yay! Fingers crossed that she loves it and wants all of it and then she'll love that and then she'll take me on and submit to editors who will also love it who in turn will sell it to bookstores who love to sell it. And then I'll love everyone. Feel the love? It's such a great feeling.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I don't think I'll have as many poems to cut as I wanted to initially--instead of going from 120 to 60, I might wind up going from 90 to 60. Which means a tighter rewrite scheme.
Trying to remember what Ali said: quanitity, not quality. Quantity. Quantity. Quantity.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Second Off: An interesting phenomenon is happening to my dear friend Ali today. After many months of work (years?) on a creative project--namely a collection of short stories called Into the Water--today she is being asked to defend what she has done.
Interesting idea to me: defending a creative work. Asked: Why does what you did matter? How can it relate to what's already out there in the world? Why is your brain child special?
I don't like the idea of having to defend what you put out. But this is a necessary step, I think. If you can answer these questions, if you can come up with a clear reason why you did what you did, then I think you earn the right to say that you own your work. Otherwise it's "I just threw shit on paper and called it art." Nuh-uh. Doesn't work that way.
Also, being able to answer these questions, these inquiries into your 'intention' (oh, be still my heart...author's intentions don't count, right?) mean that you know whether you were successful in your endeavour or not. Thinking analytically--once the work is actually done--means that you can learn from your mistakes and make the next piece of work better, hopefully.
Ali had to go seven steps further than most of us writers do and create an actual paper on her own work. Weirdly meta. Here's to cheering her on: she knows what she's doing, that one.
It got me to thinking about my poetry collection. I have changed mid-stream partly because I think that on some intuitive level, I knew that what I was originally writing was self-serving drivel...all the stuff I despise about poetry. The weaker poetry. Not to mention I was having no fun. Now, though I have a lot of work ahead of me, I'm much more excited about what I'm doing.
I'll come up with the why later.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I have had an epiphany. And it is good. But you have to wait for it. I'm not telling yet. Let me just say that a creative bolt of lightning struck my little head while driving down to see the Sandra Cisneros reading.
And about Ms. Cisneros.
She's great. Really lively and beautiful. Soooo funny. Funnier than I expected.
She's also very giving. Check this out:
Juliana is a former classmate of mine at CSU-Pueblo and she has written a book of poetry. Somehow, Sandra Cisneros gets a hold of this book and reads it this weekend before her talk. At the talk itself she gushes over Juliana's book. She offers to blurb the book. In front of everyone. And Juliana had no idea that Cisneros even knew she existed...you could see it in her suddenly red and exhilerhated face. Juliana actually shrieked a little (and really, who can blame her?). It was an awe-and-jealousy-inspiring moment. It was so cool.
After that, Cisneros read from some of her work. She has a new book of essays coming out called Writing In My Pajamas and I'll be all over that when it comes out. She also talked about, what else? Writing.
Cisneros's two rules for writing:
1. Do no harm. You should only bring good into the world. You don't have to talk about happy subjects, but don't do any damage out in the real world.
2. (Which may seem to contradict the first rule) Tell the truth. If you write about real people--you change their names, you use composites, but don't hurt anyone (see Rule 1). Write from you heart. El Corazon.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Because today Sandra Cisneros is giving a reading/signing in Pueblo and that's where I'll be. A little inspiration never hurt.
Plus Cisneros relates to all of my current projects:
Poetry: she writes it and publishes (publishing of poetry being a rarer thing than you suppose)
La Llorona: Hello! One of her books is Woman Hollering Creek, also a reflection on this southwest story.
YA Novel: While House on Mango Street is not a YA, per se, it is taught from middle school on up (I know because I have sold this book hand over fist to multiple schools in preperation for, well, today as a matter of fact.
Right now, in my brain, she seems the perfect person to intercede as a mentor--so I'll let her mentor from her talk today.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
A few pages have been written. Just me cutting loose and getting words down. Because, like the brilliant Ali says: quantity, not quality.
So I've decided to write freestyle, trying to use a lot of repetition with the words. After all, sestinas repeat six words six times over, at least. With the repetition, I at least have some guage on where my stanzas/lines should be. Then I can cut and paste and then cut and paste again.
The good news about rocking the poetry out freestyle first (by freestyle I mean not worrying about a damn thing--including punctuation) is that a lot of really random, weird, and beautiful things start popping up. You think you're gonna talk about one thing and throw it up on the top of the page as a working title, and then BAM! (as the great Emeril would say) something totally new and unexpected comes up.
It's been a while since I've let the gunk that's in my brain spill out onto the page, but there's some neat bits coming out as well.
Even though I remain a bit frustrated, I'm learning. And I guess, in the end, that's the point.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
So far: 6 poems that are actually in a full rough draft form. About 7 where I have a line or more.
November sucks for doing any of these kinds of things. Especially this November for some reason. I realized that I work seven days straight right before Thanksgiving--one of those being a holiday meeting in which I have to work about 12 hours.
I do a lot of my writing on Thursdays because I don't have to work until later and the kids are both in school. However, today (Thursday) Owen has a play so I switched my hours to work earlier--and I won't be able to really write tonight because, well, Owen has a play. Then Thanksgiving is on a Thursday, so there goes another one.
And who the hell can think up 120 different subjects for poems? I'm hitting a wall. (I'm trying to stay positive, and think about all those great times when you push yourself and get the really creative ideas...but the positivity isn't sticking.)
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Finished the ten-minute play for the competition.
Got the sonnet ready for the sonnet competition.
Got some poems done.
My goal for next month is simple.
You know NaNoWriMo?
Well, I'm doing my own little invention: NaPoWriMo. National Poetry Writing Month. (Though, I guess it's not really national, so do we call it Jenny's Poetry Writing Month? JePoWriMo?) My single, solitary goal:
1. Bang out 120 poems.
My hope is that about half will be viable enough to put together a poetry manuscript worthy to send out. Perhaps half is an optimistic count, but I won't know until I do it, right?
The fact that there is a deadline for yet another contest has inspired me to finish this project instead of my current novel works-in-progress. But after this month, my only goals will be to finish the two novels until their done. Yep, finish them until their done. How's that sound?
And I came across this in my internet wandering and, if you're a writer, you should really check it out: Annie Dillard and the Writing Life.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Apparently a lot.
There are a bunch of great examples in the book about what 'practice' really is. Basically, it boils down to working really hard at what you need to improve. Let's say you can write a novel really fast, great. Speed is not what you need to work on. And, along with the speed, I would guess that you've managed to out run your heckler pretty well. Again, editing as you go, probably not what you need to work on.
How's your characterization? Dialogue? Then it takes practice--and let's not forget a lot of it--to accomplish any kind of mastery.
Then there's the idea that deliberate practice is not fun. It's work. You have to enjoy writing, or music or sports or whatever, before the deliberate practice works because you're invested in doing well. You need to be willing to do the work in order to improve. You can write and write and write but without focused concentration, it won't get better. The average for true mastery, according to this book, was about three hours a day. But don't try to do it all at once...you lose concentration after about an hour and then you are just spinning your wheels.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting. And now my blog-writing skills are tapped.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. Finally, something to review on Goodreads.
I'm also pretty close to finishing up my re-read of Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, our current mentor of the month. Last time I read this book, I was thirteen. Around my birthday. Which is June 12. For those of you who don't know--Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929. This makes her (or would have made her) exactly 50 years older than myself. Let me tell you, reading that she started her diary on a day very close in age to when I began reading it was a creepy, surreal, life-defining moment. In a way I think she's always been an inspiration.
Today, she inspired me again. Please check out the following passage, from page 250 of the Definitive Edition, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler:
"A few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humerous, much of my diary is vivid and alive, but...it remains to be seen whether I really have talent."--Anne Frank
I sat there and about cried because, quite frankly (no pun intended!), the need of a writer was so clear. Writers need encouragement. They need readers. They need someone to know that what they have to say counts for something. And not only that our words count, but that our words are good. Creative. Refreshing. Emotionally relevent. So what do we do? We join writer's groups, we make our ever-suffering families read works-in-progress, and
we enter contests.
Like I just did. Nathan Bransford, literary agent, author, and blogger extraordinaire, is hosting a first-paragraph contest on his blog. There's almost 2,000 entries. I mean, that's holy-moly-Batman-! kinda numbers. And I entered, hoping like the other almost 1,999 entrants that someone will like what I wrote.
Here's the thing though:
You cannot base the assumption of your talent on a contest. You cannot. I repeat. You cannot. And, hell, let's face it. Even if you made a million trillion dollars and won all the awards there was to be won and even if your mother loves it--a real writer, the one that sits down and writes and creates worlds and characters and magic, would alway say that "...it remains to be seen whether I really have talent."
However, should you like to throw your writerly hat in the ring, here's the link:
Monday, October 12, 2009
Here's the list of books currently in progress:
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne Frank: The Life, The Book, The Afterlife by Francine Prose
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Sun Stone and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories, edited by Jorge F. Hernandez
I'm just not seeming to finish any of them, which is very strange for me because, believe it or not, I'm really enjoying each of them. It feels like a nice mix. Maybe I just need to read 200 things at a time? Have you guys ever gone a start/stop program like that? Did you actually successfully complete the books you were reading?
How's about you guys? Finish anything recently?
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The day that I must pay up on bet conditions. Since Ali beat me (smoked me! creamed me! made me sit in the corner and cry for three days!) I must now take her to dinner with Deb.
Here is also where I must tell you that Ali, while demonish, is no where near as diabolical as I am. Had I won, I had plans for The Pepper Tree--a very hoity toity kinda restaurant in town with the bestest steaks ever! Also very expensive. Also on my list was Petite Maison because Deb has always said how good that place is. Another alternative in my brain was a trip to Denver and a high quality restaurant that none of us had been to, but that would require a tie and jacket.
Luckily, Ali chose the Texas Roadhouse in Pueblo. It's far more in a struggling writer's price range.
Ali should be thanking her lucky, hard-working stars that she kicked my tail...because otherwise tonight would've set her back a ways....
And on a related note as far as word count goes:
I was reading in an advanced magazine at work about Stephen King's new book Under the Dome. Apparently it should be called Under the Tome. The thing weighs in at 4 pounds, over 1,000 pages, and has over 100 characters. See Ali? Just when you think you've outdone yourself, someone goes and shows us that we have soooo many more words to write.
Monday, October 5, 2009
I just came across a new book by Francine Prose called Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. Prose is exporing the idea of Anne Frank's diary as art, as literature vs. historical record. Because it's been a long while since I've Diary of Young Girl, I'm now reading the 'Definitive Edition' along with Prose's book.
In the first chapter Prose proposes that Anne Frank's diary isn't a diary at all--that it's a memoir in epistolary form. Her argument stems from the knowledge that Anne Frank edited her diary after hearing a call on the radio for diaries, journals, letters, etc. to record Holland's experience during WWII. Anne even titled her book: The House Behind.
Now my question is this (or rather, questions are these):
1. Is literature only literature if it is intended to be read by others?
2. Is literature only literature if the author/creator edits his/her work to make the work more palatable (i.e. if you edit a piece so that there is cohesion to plot, character, etc.)?
3. Can something that was written for yourself become literature? (By literature I mean that others may critique it against a standard--whatever that standard is....)
Thursday, October 1, 2009
So, using the momentum that was created while being challenged by the crazy wordsmiths that are my friends, I have set the following goals for October:
1. All critiques.
2. 40 Pages of La Llorona
3. 20 Poems (for the poetry book that I foolishly requested the CWC to read in November)
4. 10-Minute Play (about 10 pages, for a contest)
Suddenly, after all the word-pushing, this seems very do-able.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I'm not going to talk about our word count now.
Right now I'd like to talk about this process and what it does to your brain (or, at least, my brain because I'm not entirely sure what happens to other brains....)
1. Focus. This is probably the whole point of any writing contest. Like National Novel Writing Month, you just move your focus away from time-suckers.
2. Little bits count as much as big bits. A lot of writers feel they don't have time to write because they feel they have to have big blocks of time to create. While bigger blocks are certainly more helpful, they are not necessary. Many professional writers talk about how they write now--not how they wrote when they were 9-5 jobbers like us, so please keep in mind that a lot of great novels were written bit by bit, in the moments that could be stolen as well as planned. And trust me, if you feel you can't get a lot of words out in a day, it's because you're plotting to spend a couple hours at a desk. Since this competition began I've averaged 6 pages a day...and I have not had more than an hour in front of a desk at any given time.
3. If you're struggling with a plot point, you're pushing too hard. Cut loose a little bit and see what happens. Speed fixes a lot of blocks.
All right. Enough with this mini-lesson. Back to writing!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Now it's in a cubical style layout with Shane's desk downstairs. Hopefully this means that I won't wake anyone up while working late/early hours. You know...those hours where I'll be writing so many words that Ali and Deb will be crying by Thursday night, wondering how they'll ever, ever catch up.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I'm reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. I'm loving it so far (I'm a little more than halfway through). But it occurs to me that it's not really a story in the traditional sense of the word. There's characters. And stuff happens. But there's no one protagonist to latch onto. It's designed so that we are given the information through a series of interviews with fictional characters. We spend a couple pages with a person and then move on, gaining a piece of the puzzle as we go.
The puzzle piecing is what makes it interesting. And it is really interesting. You start wondering where you'd be in the grand scheme of things. Would you be one of the survivors? One of the dead?
There's a part of me that's like an itch I can't scratch as I read it, though. I want to either come back to a character or two, or have someone (like the person doing the interviews) as a focus character. Because, while Brooks has done an amazing job with the characters who have been telling the story bit by bit...I can't remember a single person's name or title. It's all one big blur. So I have chaos on top of chaos on top of chaos. Which, ya know, is effective for a zombie story, but still!
Which brings me to my main question: Does a novel need to have a main character, with an arch, in the traditional sense? Or is what Brooks writing not really a 'novel' but a 'fiction book'? Does it even matter in the grand scheme of things? (And apparently, in this book, not a whole lot matters in the grand scheme of things.)
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
We're going to officially start next Monday. As there are more takers this go-round, the consequences of failure increase exponentially. Because not only to you not want to lose--but you don't want to be last. And there's a difference. If you're last that means two people came out ahead of you and you're a slacker. Plus you have to buy dinner for two, not one.
Feeling the pressure guys?
Monday, September 7, 2009
Shut up, Jenny. That kind of thinking is very negative and accomplishes nothing. You are just looking for sympathy and you won't get any here.
But it's hard.
Get over it. Life's a bitch and then you die.
Well, that's not very inspiring.
Never said this was an inspirational speech. You want something bad enough, you'll do what you need to do. That's all. And if you need to write a goofy dialogue with yourself on a blog, then that's whatcha gotta do.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
We were both 'writing' right there around midnight and I'm not managing to actually write a word. Which is why I was annoyingly chatting with whoever might be up...poor guy. But he was up to the challenge of being the Writer's Hero. How does one become a Writer's Hero?
By recognizing a writer who is struggling and getting them to shut up and do the damn work.
Phase 1 of the Jenny Intervention: The Race
When he says "Race you to 500 words." I can't back down--I have writerly face to save.
Now, he could've been just trying to get me to leave him alone for a couple minutes and I do not hold that against him. However, it had this blissful side effect of me being held accountable for work that I had not produced yet. Which meant that I didn't care what I wrote. So I hashed out what's gonna be two scenes in that troublesome short story.
He claimed to be finished first. I called him a liar because I was only at 300 words. He recounted, recanted, and we went off again. Then I said I was finished. Basically, he let me win and finish what I'd hastily started.
Phase 2 of the Jenny Intervention: The Quiz
So now it's pretty late. We start talking about life and then we talk about the short story directly. Adam says "Let's talk it out." The he starts bombarding me with question after question. The questions are about the character and the story so I start thinking about it that way. He throws in questions about physical sensations, the senses, and thought process. But throughout there are also questions that seem directed at me personally and my brain starts going all loopy--like I'm the one being psychoanalyzed. So now I don't want to answer on a Facebook chat, ya know? He must've noticed my hesitation (and perhaps one of my sarcastic answers...my fall back when I get all mixed up) because he asked if this was helping.
Yes, it helped but I don't think it worked the way he meant for it to work. But it worked. I wasn't close enough to the work and I realized it right then. Realization: If someone quizzes me about what a character is thinking or feeling, I should always feel like I'm the one being bombarded. It means I'm dealing with something I care about. Suddenly I was invested in what happened. I don't think Adam meant for that particular outcome, it might've been more a 'characterazation-y' exercise than what it wound up being.
Perhaps we do this quiz instinctively with the writers we work with. I know that I've quizzed Ali and Deb at times, inserting issues that I knew were personal. Because deep down I think that the biographical critiques of work have some merit. Not with the facts of life, but the emotions of life. We will (or should) always write about what truly makes us feel.
The Result of the Writer's Hero Intervention: Interesting Stuff.
I'm working on the short story.
Now that we've heard about Adam's Writer's Hero Moment for me...who has worked the same magic for you? Who went out of the way, when they were busy, and helped you. It can't be "Everyone in my group supports me...blah, blah, blah." Name a person. And thank them.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Nowadays there's a certain trend in non-fiction to make it read like fiction--using all the techniques of fiction to create tension that's already happened, atmosphere that's long gone, and to bring characters who are dead to life. And in doing that, the non-fiction writer adds the extra hurdle of the story having to be, well, true. They can't just make it up (well, in some cases they can...). If you're writing about the Mayflower, or Gettysburg, or Abraham Lincoln then the audience is aware of certain factual occurences, which puts a restraint on how much you can do.
Having read this biography and taken a little while to think about it, here are some of the difficulties that non-fiction and fiction writing have in common:
1. First person narratives, whether they be fiction or non, are tricky because the person speaking must always be more observant/intuitive about the real world than normal. Otherwise the reader will think the narrator a selfish asshole. It's all me, me, me, all the time. (And while some of us are like that...not everyone wants to hear about it.)
2. There must be a climax. In a history narrative, you lead up to the main issue that will illustrate whatever it is your trying to say the best--for example, a narrative on the Civil War could end at Appomatox or the assassination of Lincoln or in any number of places, depending on what you're trying to express. In a memoir, you lead to the highest point of crisis that is resolved--Maya Angelou ends I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when she's still a very young woman (I won't tell you the end) because it's a turning point in her life. A work of fiction must do the same thing, only the writer gets to make up what the climatic point is.
3. An initiating event. You must go from point A to point B. We just talked about the climax. The beginning however--how long is the non-fiction narrative going to last? In a biography do you start with the historical figure's birth? Their first memory? The landing on Plymouth Rock to the 1960s? Like a novel, in non-fiction you have to pick your timeline--it helps determine the level of tension and how that tension will be used.
4. Characterization. Here's a punch in the gut: even with journals and articles and photos and portraits, the historical creation in a non-fiction piece will always, always be just as made up and influenced by the writer of the piece as a fictional character. Why? Because as much as we think we know a person, even ones we live with, let alone ones who have been dead for years or centuries, we just don't know some things. We don't know the conversations that were overheard, or the little bits of food that they tasted, or how itchy a certain pair of undershorts were. People just don't write about those things in their diaries. Sure, you may know they went to jail or that they died drunk in a gutter, but you don't know what was in their minds when that happened--because odds are the character/person didn't know himself. But the writer knows and must always know. Even if it's fake, the writer must know or the narrative, the story, will seem fake.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
As I try to move into my new, larger projects (two at a time! whoo-hoo!) I'm trying to learn from other mistakes and thought processes. Right now I'm reading Robert Olen Butler's Where You Dream, Donald Maass's Fire in Fiction, and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. So far I've discovered that there are ten billion different opinions on how to create a good story/art. Vogler talks structure, Butler talks process, and Maass talks a little of both. There have been 'epiphanies' and 'eurekas' and 'that's interestings' in my head as I read these books.
I've heard the argument that writer's books are just a way of dodging writing, and I thought briefly that maybe that's what I was doing. But here's the thing--I haven't reached a pro level of writing yet. I have many more words to write and many more stories to finish/not finish to reach that level. Writing is one way to learn it, sure. But if you're doing a lot of math problems to learn mathematics, it only works if you've learned how to do the problems correctly in the first place. Otherwise, you're just throwing numbers on a page.
Writing to learn writing goes without saying. Reading a lot of what it is you want to write helps too. But if you don't understand why what you're reading works, or why the writing your producing doesn't work, you'll never improve. That's why there are teachers, mentors...and books on writing.
I'm never attending Florida State University and will, therefore, never get to hear lectures in person from Butler, or any of the visiting writers like Junot Diaz. Stephen King isn't going to meet me for coffee and reveal the writing life to me. The only way I get to hear from the pros and learn how they play is through these books.
Right now I try to think of it as tutors working with me. My brain is a little tired from all the new tools they're throwing at me. But I think I'm learning something....
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I thought I would share with you some of the cards I received for my birthday. Okay, so I only got a couple cards. I’ll share with you the comments from the mail I received on my birthday:
“Wow, you’re still alive? Good on ya!”—from Mary Anne, Mother’s best friend since 1954
“You sure look your age…I mean good for your age.”—Uncle John, whom I haven’t seen since I was three.
“I didn’t know you were that young.”—my little sister, Kimmie.
“Your credit score is 123, we can’t approve your application for a gas card at this time.”—Creditor #1
“Due to your failure to pay the last 4 statements, we are repossessing your car.”—Creditor #2, which was convenient since I was not approved for the gas card.
“As a registered voter in County X, you are hereby summoned for jury duty on XX/YY/ZZZZ.”—Jury Summons.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I also understand it when you get out of your writerly rhythm.
That seems to be the place that I'm in right now. The real world has crept very far into my conciousness, for one. I've also been in editing mode for quite a while now--the 'let's make everything pretty' mode.
I've also let myself sink into "What will my writer's group think if I don't do XYZ?" I've debated about what novel to continue with, whether I should remain in editing mode and submit an old novel while I rework it. That plan included working on something new at the same time. However, I can't switch modes that quickly. I can write two things at once, or I can edit two things at once. I cannot edit one thing while working on another thing. This is a new discovery.
So, addendum to the new plan: revert back to the old plan. Write, write, write.
Then I guess next year will be edit, edit, edit.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Today I had a woman, a writer, come into the store where I work to talk to me. We have had previous conversations and I took a writing sample of hers to be considered for one of the groups. Now, I also told her about another critique group that she might be interested in. Lo and behold, she tried it out. And lo and behold she comes in today and she looks rather shaky.
Me(immediately upon seeing her): I'm sorry I didn't get back to you.
(I've been reading through her sample slowly because I'm swamped with other things)
Her: It's okay, I know I suck.
Me: No you don't. (She doesn't)
Her: I went to that one group and they lambasted me. So I know I suck.
This pissed me off. Not at her, no, no. But at the writer's group. Here was a writer--and not a bad one at all--who had put her neck out there for a bunch of people who proceeded to gleefully hack at it.
This is not what good writer's groups do. If you feel like crying after a meeting instead of writing, then the group is not for you. There's a couple things you need to think about before proceeding/continuing with a group:
1. Was anything complimentary said about the writing? Good critiques should include what you get right. That's really where you figure out what to focus on. If they don't point out what you're doing correctly, then there's something else at work, like jealousy or, more likely, a 'I'm holier than thou' kind of attitude. I've read many, many, many rough drafts of many, many, many people's work and there is always something positive to say. But be careful because it's really easy to get bogged down in the 'Well, this didn't work, and that didn't work.' Listen carefully and if there's really nothing good being said about your work (or anyone else's work for that matter) walk away and don't apologize for ditching them. They're buttheads.
2. Did they direct comments towards you as an author? Comments should always be about the work. 'You' are not in it. The work is it. The words. The story. Not "you." There should be no personal attacking, intentional or otherwise. Nothing like 'You suck' should even hover in the air.
I won't lie. The writer's groups that I am a part of are tough. They read closely. If there's an issue with character, story, description, etc. they will find it and they will tell you about it. However, there's a certain assumption of professionalism. We take this seriously. No name calling. We generally stick to our task--which is to help writers write better. We don't bicker or get catty and if anyone tried to join who is, then they are put in their place but fast. We also do teamwork kind of exercises--round stories, researching submission guidelines for one another.
I gave the writer the time and place for the Underground Writing Project. Now it's up to her.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
For two years or thereabouts, Marie has handed in submissions steadily. Working each month to create a piece of work for us to read. Now, she has a husband, and a daughter, and a job. She completed one novel before this one. She completed this second one because she wrote steady and even, in spite of those everyday obstacles we all face, and now she's the first one in our writing group to have handed over a completed work--a book that we have read from beginning to end. So: Cheers to Marie. Good work.
We've also finished the Round Story. After a couple years of tossing maniacal story bits to each other, we finally have it done enough to edit and streamline those maniacal bits into one maniacal whole.
Look, we all know rough drafts need even more work once they're all done. But sometimes it's good to pause, not look at what you still want to do in the future, and just acknowledge the steps you've taken to get there. Wrote a page today? Awesome. Only a paragraph? Still awesome. Finished the rough draft of that big ol' book you've been working on? More than awesome. That's a step that hundreds of 'writers' out there haven't done yet.
Right now I'd just like to give a shout out to Marie, for having finished the first leg of a really long race.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
1. read all submissions
2. Originally I planned to bang out the CWC submission and then just worry about writing something new outside of that. But I've discovered that the 'banging out' which I thought to be 'editing' turned into 'must rewrite' and by 'rewrite' I mean 'write all over again because most of what I have is absolute tosh'. So that means more writing than I anticipated because I have a hard time turning in stuff that I know sucks the big one. So, three pages a day.
3. One page a day on the new story. That way I can take my time with it.
4. Read some stuff on the side. I want to finish Willa Cather's My Antonia because it turns out I really dig her writing. Plus I want to read one contemporary writer this month. Mix it up a little.
That's all she wrote (or wants to write). What about you guys?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Instead, I'm actually going to pitch this cool new thing from work. Normally I would think this a silly thing to do. But Barnes and Noble has launched a new ebook section--and all the books there are compatible with any ereader, plus iphones and blackberries, and your PC or Mac. It's all free to download:
Barnes and Noble ebooks
So, even if you don't have an ereader like Kindle or the Sony Reader but you're one of those people who haul your laptop everywhere....It's just one more thing to distract you from your writing.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
If I want to finish a 100,000 word novel in 6 months (average 30 days a month) then I figure I have to write 67 pages a month--a tiny bit over 2 pages a day for six months straight.
In my head I tell myself that's a cakewalk. No sweat. Could do it in my sleep.
If I weren't so busy doing the writing math.
So I recalculate. I've spent a month figuring out how long it would take to write a novel in six months and I'm one month down. Maybe I submitted a new story. Maybe I wrote a couple random things, edited a few bits here and there. Did a lot of writing math.
100,000 words in 5 months=20,000 words=80 pages a month=2.6 pages a day, so now it's closer to 3 pages a day but still doable.
Yeah, but between work and the kids and the whole family togetherness thing, I'm out another month. Plus I've got to read, right? Good readers=good writers. Kiss a second month goodbye.
Four months and 100,000 words to go=25,000 words per month=100 pages=3.3333333 pages a day
But, lo and behold, I have not prepped anything for my evil CWC group which demands a certain level/quantity of pages in and of itself. I spend the next few weeks revamping old, trashy work to buy myself time to eventually turn in something new to them.
And I'm down to three months. Nose to the grindstone time. But I lost a lot of sleep because I needed to get an UGWP submission ready too, so I didn't feel guilty about submitting to just one group...I do, after all, owe them an end to the intolerably long Round Story.
So, two months to get 100,000 word novel done.
Two months with 100,000 words=50,000 words per month=1666 words per day=6.66 pages per day.
Freaked out. Wasted time writing a blog post about how much time I was wasting.
Friday, July 10, 2009
For those of you familiar with Jhumpa Lahiri's work, you'll know she has a collection of stories titled Unaccustomed Earth--the stories cover the new generations finding their own home. So, it's the perfect title, written by Hawthorne, years and years and many generations ago.
Now, my question of the day: Where do titles come from?
Nowadays, an author is incredibly lucky if they get to decide their own title (who knows if Lahiri got to pick Unaccustomed Earth?). But I think an author should still be able to figure out an acceptable, maybe even the perfect title for themselves. Though, perhaps, I am an author far too attached to her titles and won't listen to anyone. Not you or you or you or you.
But how to pick a title?
Places where titles have come from in the past:
- lines from other books or the book itself
- quotations (which I guess includes lines from other books)
- totally made up
- references out in the world
- lots and lots of other places
Sidenote: Titles Jenny Likes (does not me she loved the books as much, but the titles helped her pick up a book)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coehlo
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
...and many others
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Custom House", Introductory to The Scarlet Letter
I have just returned to the work-grind yesterday after a week of vacation. It was with a rather sort of bitterness, though I can't really express why since I didn't do anything worth noting while on vacation. Sat around and watched some T.V.--and even that was fairly useless: no station ran anything new because of the July 4th holiday.
But a daily job forces us, as writers, to get out of our heads for a while. I lifted books and made phone calls and listened during the manager's meeting for our magical sales numbers. For a few hours I wasn't able to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It was a time where "at length, that I should exercise other faculties of my nature."
Hawthorne makes a persuasive arguement in "The Custom House." It's an argument about letting life happen. And sometimes life is tedious, seemingly useless work. For a writer, however, tedious, seemingly useless work is never so. If a writer is paying attention he can catch details...quite like the details that Hawthorne goes into describing his co-workers.
Of course, the whole point of "The Custom House" is how a writer stumbles on to his inspiration. The only fictional piece of the introductory is the part where Hawthorne 'finds' the scarlet letter purportedly worn by Hester Prynne. After finding the letter, he describes how his imagination takes him away....
As of yet, I have not found the little piece of inspiration at the bookstore that will drive me to write something as brilliant as The Scarlet Letter. Not yet anyway. I'm still hopeful. There's plenty I think I have to say about retail and how it works in America...but right now I think I'm too busy occupying that space to write about it. Who wants to work retail and then go home and write about it?
I think Hawthorne and I are at different points right now though. At the moment, I wish that I were around Emerson and Thoreau and Alcott. Wish I needed a break from those guys...(I'm willing to bet good money that if we held a seance and pulled Hawthorne back from the depths of the grave that he'd say he was being sarcastic when he says "Even the old Inspector was desirable, as a change of diet, to a man who had known Alcott." (He's talking about Louisa May Alcott's daddy.) I'm willing to be money because my writer's groups are far preferable company to my co-workers--though I am very lucky in my co-workers, I must say that now. It's not the people I work with who are my problem...it's just the daily 9-5 itself.
Still, I must list the things I have learned/accomplished because of the work I have done:
1. Makes me appreciate the time with my family and the time with the pen.
2. Introduces me to a whole range of interesting people. (Like the woman who said Obama was the reincarnation of Hitler, and the homeless dude who reads the Bible and chapters on female anatomy equally as loud.)
3. New skills--I can make a latte. I can disassemble bookshelves and reassemble them faster than your average bear.
4. Discovered I am claustrophobic. You try wearing those goofy, hot costumes for storytime and see how you feel.
5. I have actually saved a couple lives (maybe more) as a lifeguard.
6. Taught kids to swim--later they placed in state competitions.
7. There's more, but this list has served its purpose: there's been a lot I've experienced because of the day-to-day and if I keep working and paying attention and keep writing, one day the three will merge and it won't really matter. I'll have gone where I needed to go.
Friday, July 3, 2009
But I'm really glad I read it. It was definitely a wonderful psychological piece. Talk about messed up children and all kinds of emotional damage.
If I'd read this in high school when I was supposed to, I know--deep down in my heart of hearts--that I would not have appreciated it. At all.
Part of the appeal also came from Hawthorne's introductory "The Custom House." In this little intro to why he wrote The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne makes me feel a whole lot better about being an author. Apparently, even back in the day, authors (genius authors even!) had to work tedious, shitty day jobs. Because of this, I'm going to make Hawthorne my mentor of the month. Stay tuned for further expansion on the day job and the genius!
Now, on to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass!
(I've begun these two Lewis Carroll works and I have to give the writing edge to Hawthorne. By a lot. It's obvious Alice is totally kid's lit, just from the language.)
So Deb set up her goals and ten points to her!
Now for my stuff:
1. rough out concept for 10 minute play competition in November
2. two rough drafts of poems for poetry competition in November
3. get two submissions for CWC ready--and this has suddenly become more like writing new stuff as I streamline things a bit...so this is probably the bulk of my month...but then I won't worry about it for a while.
4. finish out the little black book challenge that I set for myself last month. I didn't do too bad, but I'd really like a complete notebook done. We'll see how that goes with the Last Night rewrites.
5. prep bio, pub credits, photos, query letters, and agent research for CWC
Plus finishing all the critiques and maybe getting something ready to submit to UGWP--that'll depend on the little black book exercise.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Since high schoolers have to read these things over the summer, then, I decided, I shall read them over the summer. But, because I'm a lot cooler than a lot of high schoolers and have had some training reading these kinds of things *She says snobbishly* then I'm going to read all of the high schools' lists. There are three lists from three different high schools that I have a hold of. Caveats: I don't have to read the books I've already read--namely Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm. Yep, I've only read two on the present lists.
So, here's my reading project for the summer (I give myself until the end of August):
1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
2. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
5. My Antonia by Willa Cather
6. Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
7. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
8. 1984 by George Orwell
9. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
10. The Kite Runner and
11. The Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I'm already into The Scarlet Letter (and thinking 'What did I get myself into?') and will report back from the field of Literature occasionally.
**Just a funny little aside: the favorite quote when I posted this was "Well-read people are less likely to be criminals"--Lemony Snicket
I tried out all of them, of course, with a little help from Owen and Bronwen. They all work wonderfully but I couldn't help but start to pick favorites. And it reminded me of the scene in Harry Potter--which is all now fresh in mind since I finished reading them to prep for the new movie--where Ollivander describes how wands choose the wizard and, while you can use another wand, it won't work as well for you as yours.
So here's my wand/pen:
Fountain, five inches, silver, flowy.
What's your wand/pen?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I'm writing this blog on my brand spanking new mini computer. It's got a built in web-cam, microphone, and is faster than my normal laptop...but it has definitely been designed for hobbit use. Takes some getting used to, I guess. But the battery life kicks all kinds of tushy.
And did I mention that it's pink?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
But something struck me as very interesting--initially I thought, whoa, this'll be tough because these guys really know their game. They've gone through the real-life ringer already. They must be awesome. What challenges could possibly, well, challenge them?
In the past Top Chef has had chefs make amuse bouches via vending machine, forced them to cater street parties, twisted their chefly arms into creating a unique ice cream flavor, given them budgets of $10 to feed a family of four. Not easy. The tasks force the chefs to get creative and use all techniques available to them. (Still not as hard as a round with an Iron Chef, I'm pretty sure, but definitely taxing.)
Then, in the preview/teaser I hear one chef say that he doesn't shop for ingredients in a grocery store. That brought me up short--then I realized they have all their ingredients shipped in straight from the farms, lifted right up out of the ocean, or butchered a block away. These ingredient are brought in by purveyors...meaning the chefs don't head into a grocery store and sift through the offal to get the gold. So even something as simple as sending these professional chefs out into a grocery store with a time limit is really something that makes their life difficult.
All this made me think about writing.
What if we did not have the happy computer tool that everyone has? What if we had to make our own pens, develop our own ink, etc. etc. etc. With the invention and popularization of the technology I'm using even as I type this out, everyone thinks they're a writer. More and more and more people are bombarding agents with manuscripts hastily typed out and sped along. But typing isn't writing. Not all of the people click-clacking away would think about writing if they had to go pluck the bird that would give them the quill (or hunt around outside for an appropriate tool). If writing were an inconvenience, would we still do it?
Imagination is needed to write, like cooking. A certain skill level is needed to produce something worth reading or eating. Technique is given to utilize the necessary tools of the trade (grammar and language for the writer, ingredients for the chef--without those basic things there's nothing). But if you don't have a chef's knife or a computer, are you doomed to never produce something worth tasting or something worth reading?
Sure, you can pummel vegetables to death, but carrot mush just isn't as tasty when compared to neat slices of carrot. I'm sure you could write a dissertation without spell check or a backspace button...but who will want to decipher the crap you're putting out?
Is the easiest way to separate the wheat from the chafe to simply take away the tools and see who can come up with something brilliant? In Quills the Marquis de Sade is depicted as writing with his own blood (and fecal matter) because he can't stop the writing that needs to come out (or perversions...whatever you want to take from that...).
I know what you're thinking: Shakespeare didn't have a typewriter. But he's Shakespeare. That's my point. I bet Shakespeare would have written in blood. (Oooo, maybe he did--"Out damned spot!")
What tools do you, as a writer, absolutely need in order to write? Blood and a needle? Pencil? Paper? Spray paint and a wall? Fresh clean snow and the call of nature? The computer?
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Other than that:
Prep next two submissions for CWC so that I can focus on the Llorona novel.
Read a lot. (Including the last two Harry Potter books so that I'm fresh for the new movie!)
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Here is why:
My writer's group members show up--and when I say show up
- his car broke down (like it's not gonna move at all without serious work)-John called Eric and they both made it, leaving the car on the side of the road until later
- I showed up the day before I gave birth
- Marie came on her daughter's birthday
- Kacie and Ali both drive from "Way the Hell Away" to get there every Sunday
- Mary was recovering from pneumonia and still showed up at last night's CWC meeting
- Fred showed up every single meeting, through blizzards and storms until he died--death was the only thing keeping him away
Everyone has shown up on their birthdays, sick, tired, grouchy, whatever. They always have their critiques done and most times have produced new work for others to read. Employers would give their eye teeth for this kind of loyalty.
And last night here was the kicker:
Locked out of Panera because it was Memorial Day, Ali, Shane, Deb, and I all waited outside--in the rain--for recovering-from-pneumonia Mary so that we could come up with an alternative meeting place. We go to On the Border. We're halfway through the critiques--Mary's short stories--and the power goes out.
Do we stop?
There, in the dark, with everyone else and their brother listening, we continue to critique in near-pitch blackness. The only light came from the outside cars passing by. The waiters were wondering what the hell was wrong with us...but they had to stay and clean by the light of their cell phones, so I don't think we had it the worst.
So we finished critiquing Mary in the dark and did all of Shane's. Someone at another table brought us an oil/candle/lamp thing that did nothing to illuminate pages (we probably would have set the whole place on fire if we tried to read our notes by open flame). It was a nice gesture though. I'm sure they were amused by our discussions of gutted antelope, witch burnings, and wife battering.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
In order to buy myself some time and get my WIP finished, I have polished up my very first novel. Yep. That one. The one that should be locked in a drawer according to a good many writer's books.
I put it aside years ago. According to my Word program, I haven't touched the thing in five years...almost exactly. My son was two. I remember that I started writing this first book because my whole idea was to have a writing career where I could stay home with him and write novels. This would be an instant bestseller and I'd be set. I finished this 600+ page whopper in two years, because I started right before Owen was born.
When I was finished I looked at all of those 600 pages and just couldn't bring myself to revise. It was too big. Too much. I went back to school, wrote a bunch of short stories, wrote Following Julia Roberts (a much shorter novel--designed specifically so that I could revise it) and basically chalked this first guy up to experience.
But now, having started to polish it, I've discovered I'm not scared of it anymore and am more than a little curious to see what would happen to it once readers tell me how to fix it. I know some of the major flaws already: it's way too long, there's definite deus ex machina at work throughout, I have a ton and a half of characters...and apparently I thought 'descriptive' meant 'repeat until your readers get bruises on their heads from all the beatings'.
Here's my dilemma: I'm worried that I may be 'cheating' on the CWC submission idea--where you've got to work on new stuff. But I am working on new stuff. I'm just not submitting it. I want to be done with it (or close to) before I send in the new stuff.
The flip side is that I feel that part of the CWC idea is to work on making 'publishable works'--and the group is around to help me with that. And, after looking through what I've got, I think that what I thought was drawer-worthy might could be fixed.
And yet another part of me wants to feel that I gave all my writing a fair shot.
But you want to know the biggest reason why I think that I should go ahead and give this First Novel a run through a critique group?
Because I remembered, as I read it again, that I had a lot of fun just writing it--deus ex machina and all.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
3. Work-related anxieties
Turns out the death of a writer friend tops the not-handling-well list of all time. I have had horrible dreams since he left. Dreams of other friends-who-are-writers dying. I've waited to post about the death of Fred, a dedicated science fiction writer and friend, because I haven't known what to say other than "That fucking sucks and is really, really unfair"--which isn't very useful for anything.
But then Deb said something about not looking at it by what he did not accomplish, but we should look at it like Fred was writing right up until the end. Then I remembered Fred's sister saying something about 'filing cabinets full of stuff'.
Filing Cabinets Full of Stuff.
That's my new plan.
I'm pretty computer-friendly, so I'm guessing that my filing cabinets will be more along the lines of Jump Drives Full of Stuff. Which is less impressive in the taking-up-mass department, but still fun and productive nonetheless.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I just got back from a coffeehouse filled with writers. I now wonder at the melding of caffeine and writing.
In college I had a great friend who would slam Mountain Dews to finish three papers in one night. And he was successful at those papers and now attends an MFA program in Oregon, where I can only imagine what his wife goes through to get him to stay still at two o'clock in the morning.
In the quote above, Mr. Galbraith touts the importance of caffeine in relation to a deadline. Apparently soda, now the metabolic-disorder-king-of-evilness, was the poison of choice at that particular time (1970ish times).
Today we have moved on into the Country of Starbucks. Where espresso reigns and there is plenty of syrup for those who, to paraphrase Deb, do not like the taste of coffee with their coffee. Lattes, mochas, frappacinos. All those faux Italian words that will eventually confuse European-traveling Americans.
Why is it that writers are drawn to it? Seriously, if you want to meet a writer just swing a dead cat around a coffee shop and you'll hit at least two wannabes and probably a journalist--and you'll be kicked out for one or two healthcode violations. Deb met another author at It's a Grind just recently. At work, where there is a cafe, I see at least two or three people with laptops or notepads out--scribbling away.
Are out-of-house pages automatically in-coffehouse-pages? Does caffeinated=creative? Are jittery hands the hands of an artist?
Friday, May 8, 2009
rating: 4 of 5 stars
P.D. James can turn a sentence, let me tell you. She can also build a crazy-ass world, create believable characters, and set up a premise.
All in all, I though this was a great book. Not particularly heartwarming, but definitely an impressive read. The best stuff, for me, were the little touches she did to define the world. Women buying dolls because they can't have children. The youngest, most viable generation going wild on the border lands because they can't handle the pressures and the inevitablity of the end--and because they've been indulged in every whim by the dying older generations.
My only issue with it, in the end, were parts of the end. But I can't really tell you about that. Because I could be heavily influenced by the movie version, which I saw first.
Also, keep in mind the adage: Never judge a book by its movie. Because, man, are they different. I think the only thing they have in common is the fact that the human race has become infertile and that suddenly a pregnant woman appears.
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Saturday, May 2, 2009
rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really loved the parallels that Alvarez created in this book:
Alma (woman touched by idealistic man in today's world)-Isabel (woman touched by idealistic man in yesterday's world)
Richard (idealistic man today)-Francisco Balmis (idealistic man yesterday)
Basically Alma's husband is trying to develop a vaccine for AIDS in the Dominican Republic and Isabel is in charge of a group of orphans who are carrying the small pox vaccine to the New World. This story is about the casualties that are involved when you try to save the world. Who is affected? Who can be saved? Are people worth saving when there's war and poverty and all kinds of man-made badness?
Alvarez avoids being preachy and she doesn't judge her characters, which I really, really appreciate. This is all about what the reader puts in and pulls out. And, like I said before, the parallels are very interesting as they develop.
My only issue was the pacing--and it was slow. Very slow. Plus there is a subplot involving Alma's dying neighbor that I'm still a bit fuzzy on. However, none of this put me off going out and buying How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. So we'll see what else Alvarez has got up her sleeve....
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Thursday, April 30, 2009
But now I'm in a quandry on how to balance the story. See, the story ends*, if not happily, then at least hopefully. How do I balance the light/dark sides? It has to start dark, because the whole idea is that the family that I'm writing about comes out of this dark period 'into the light', as it were. However, will a reader throw the book down in disgust because the story is too depressing to continue?
There was much argument about The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, being way too dark--opening as it does with the rape and murder of a twelve/thirteen year old girl. That story is saved, at least for me, because it's narrated by the little girl from heaven...so you know at one level that she's okay before you even find out what horrible things happen to her, plus you have that youthful voice making it seem less jarring.
I have no such balance at the moment.
Right now I'm not gonna worry too much and just see what comes out. That way I can see if there's a spot of light somewhere later that can come in earlier.
But it's still a bit of a worry.
*Story ending disclaimer: I won't really know how it ends until it ends.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
You know what my plan is, though?
To do nothing but read this first week going into May. I went a little nuts at the library and so have to finish reading--and I haven't really read much in a while. Must recharge batteries. Then rip into the writing.
So, May plan:
Read a lot.
Write a lot.
See what happens.
Oh, and critique a lot because this was the big three-fer month for CWC and I've got three for UGWP.
Lots of stuff to do.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
But how about with short story queries/submissions? As a rule, you put your whole story into the mix and let the magazine decide based on the story. Some writers don't even put a cover letter in their submission package, let alone worry about a hook. However, would they be better served with a cover letter telling all pertinent details of self and story (word count, etc.) along with a hook line like the one you'd use for a novel? Obviously, the sentence would be shorter, at the very least.
Enclosed please find "The Story Aaron Told", a short story of 2,000 words. It's a story-within-a-story about two writers figuring out the mystery of 'where stories come from' as they decide the fate of Paolo, their character, and the twin babies he sews together.
Etc. so on a so forth,
When I was an editor, I admit to not reading all short story submissions to the end and disregarding 'animal' poems out of hand. Sometimes I didn't even get past the first paragraph of a story before going, "Not happening". I realize so many things depend on the writing of the story itself. But what if I'd had a really great hook telling me what the story was about? Would I have finished some of those disregarded stories? Would the writer have turned it all around and impressed me?
What do you guys think?--and how have you submitted short stories? Cover letter? No cover?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
As I was going through the story, however, I started editing as I went along--never a good thing if you want to progress. My theory was that I'd get a good grasp and maybe find the lines that needed to be tied up. This happened.
But remember: several people have written this novel.
There were the moments where I went "What the hell?" There are whole meandering chapters but, to make life more difficult, those same chapters generally hold a tidbit of information that drives the rest of the main line. Some chapters are maddeningly longer and some maddeningly shorter than others. So some are going to have to be melded. Some sections would fit better toward the beginning. As I'm going through, I have some really great, detailed ideas for how to get this thing in shape. And it'll be funny and cohesive (for those of you who have read this, please believe that this is possible!).
Here's the thing. I figured I had enough time to read, get a general editorial idea, and still have time to finish the book. But I only got the first two done because (surprise!) we have over two hundred pages of material...and that takes longer to sort through than you think.
So, my brilliant, overachieving idea is gonna hafta wait another month. Sorry Scooby Gang!
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I just wanted to jump up and down for a moment because an agent has requested the full manuscript for Following Julia Roberts!
Whether or not anything comes of it is beside the point right now, because I'm assuming that everyone has their fingers crossed. *Peering at everyone's hands* It's my first full request!
Commencing with the jumping for joy....
Friday, April 17, 2009
--Julia Alvarez, "On Finding a Latino Voice" from The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work
On Deb's blog, she discusses the idea that a writer should, well, write for writings sake. Not for financial gain, not for recognition, not for awards. Writing should be it's own reward, basically. And I totally, totally agree.
I think it goes even a little further. I think it's like Julia Alvarez states in the above quote: we want to move people. What you, as a writer, have control over is the honesty and quality of your writing. So I say you should not only write, but endeavor to write well. Are your readers only going to be your critique group? Then try your damndest to make that group laugh/cry/scream with horror. Don't make it a half-hearted attempt. (This doesn't mean you can't turn in first drafts, by the way, as long as you've put thought and work into those first drafts. I'm not talking editing, I'm talking heart.)
This, in my opinion, is what 'feeds the sea'. Imagine if Emily Dickinson had gotten too disheartened by the one editor she'd sent her work to (which he sort of accepted at a point or two in her three-or-four-published-poems career) and had just stopped writing altogether? And I don't think anyone would call E.D. a 'little river'. Even if she wasn't published after her death, don't you think her family was not-a-little-awed by what they found?
So go write. And write what you want. And love it.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
--Julia Alvarez "On Finding a Latino Voice" from The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work
I am not a Latino writer, I'm a white girl raised as an Army brat. I have never been ridiculed or teased for the color of my skin (perhaps for the color of my hair...). I have never had to reconcile living in two different cultures--though you can make the argument that a military base is a different culture, even though it does create its own community--but something resonates with me when Alvarez says that her differences forced her to create a secret life.
I think all writers experience this to one extent or another. Without our secret worlds, with our secret friends, we couldn't come up with our stories, our settings, our characters, or our own, original voices.
When I was little, I didn't feel pretty enough (even when I was really little--like four or five) or smart enough or cool enough. I felt like an outsider. Books became my love. If I was told to clean my room, I insisted that I had to 'organize my books', which took all day because I stopped to read every single one before I put them away. My head was filled with happy little fairy tales, and later with some wonderfully horror-inducing plotlines and my room was never clean.
These little worlds/mental stories helped me when I was teased, or when I felt left out. I think this is a defense mechanism that helps to build and develop a writer. It's something that's done automatically in our brains. And you could never speak about what you came up with in your head because people would 1. think you were insane, or 2. make fun of you. It was necessary to keep that space private.
Now I put a lot of those secret pieces onto paper and I've discovered that I don't need to hide it, I don't need to be afraid that people will make fun of it. As I grow as a writer, I grow more confident because I understand that there's a whole lot of people that think the same way I do. Later on in the essay, Alvarez explains that through her writing, or her desire to write, she finds more people like herself. She doesn't say so in the essay, but you can tell from the writing that, by meeting these other people and doing the writing work, she grew in confidence too. And let me tell you, if I ever write anything close to what Alvarez or Maxine Hong Kingston or Sandra Cisneros writes, I will die a happy, happy writer.
Friday, April 10, 2009
rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bulfinch likes the word 'propitious'...at least that's the word that stuck out the most to me as I listened to the narrator. Also 'thither'--such an old word that it seemed really forced, even with the knowledge that the book was written Back in the Day.
However, as far as getting across the stories of the myths of Ancient Greece, and The Northern (read: Norse) Mythologies, he does a fairly accurate--and sometimes painfully detailed--job. All of the old favorites are there, though I did get confused because when I originally learned all of the stories, it was with the Greek names. Bulfinch uses the Latin or Roman versions so I had to mentally check myself everytime Minerva, or Juno, or all the others were mentioned. (Especially confusing when he reminds us that Athens is named for Minerva--who is Athena in the Greek).
Long story short (because this is kind of a long read) it's a good introduction both to the myths and to a great deal of Romantic and Classic poetry. Definitely filled in some gaps of learning for me. I also think he did the best job describing the basic ideas behind Hinduism and Buddhism...though I have the distinct impression all he knew were these basics. There's definitely a lack of detail in the Eastern Mythology portions of the work.
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**This was an experiment to see if I could get the book review posted. Experiment=success.