Friday, February 27, 2009

Stein: Passionate About Punctuation

Did you know that the computers of the C.I.A. use some form of sentence diagramming in order to sort through emails and the like?

The really cool artwork below is a 2007 installation at the Steven Wolf Fine Arts Gallery of Nicholas Knight’s Sentences:

image 
I’ve been playing with sentence diagramming the last few months. It’s even more fun than Sudoku. Now, instead of doing a couple Sudokus at bedtime, I diagram a couple sentences. There’s even a program that will let you diagram sentences: SenDraw

I did not understand grammar when it was explained to me. I got A’s, but I truly didn’t understand it until I took German.

Now I can’t get enough of sentence diagramming. It’s beautiful! I had no idea how cool it was!

And I’m really not crazy! Gertrude Stein said:

"I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences. I like the feeling the everlasting feeling of sentences as they diagram themselves."


imageShe wrote like she was diagramming a sentence, LOL! Once you get the whole diagramming-sentence obsession, her prose makes a little more sense.

Y’all know how passionate I can get about punctuation. It’s so beautiful! It can say so much! It can also do much damage, LOL. I am not real fond of comma-ridden prose.

Stein hates commas passionately. I wish she were just a little more fond of them, LOL. Even I have a nagging desire to insert commas in her prose!

Commas are servile and have no life of their own... what does a comma do, a comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma.

She uses them instead of question marks, though, because she hates them even more! She says the question mark looks like "a brand on cattle."

image I’m never going to get that image out of my head!

But she was passionate about grammar, and I think that's cool. Grammar and punctuation are all part of the beauty that is the written word.

So how do you feel about punctuation? Grammar? Diagramming sentences? Ever think a question mark looks odd? And what do you think Stein would think of the way we use punctuation today? :-) ;-) :-p

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Rose in a Garbage Pail

We have a guest blogger today! Edie Ramer has progressed to the fourth round of the American Title V contest! You can follow the link to read the dialogue excerpts from each contestant. I think it’s a no-brainer: Edie’s excerpt rocks! If you haven’t already voted, you have until March 2. Please help someone’s dream to get published come true!

image Thanks to Spy for having me here today!  We just had the Academy Awards on TV a few days ago, and my blog is about an Oscar winning movie from 1960: The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray, directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. 

Spy writes emotional blogs, which is why I love her and why I chose this topic.  The Apartment is an emotional movie.  Under Genre, IMDB lists it as Romance, Comedy and Drama, the kind of movie that makes viewers laugh, cry and leaves them with a smile. 

A few weeks ago I saw an old clip of Jack Lemmon talking about the movie.  He said it was “much like growing a rose in a garbage pail.”  If you’re not familiar with The Apartment, MacLaine’s character is dating a married man.  Lemmon’s character is lending his apartment to cheating executives where he works so he can get ahead.  That’s the garbage pail.  But at the center of this movie is a great love story.  That’s the rose.

Here’s the trailer for the movie:



Can you see how loveable Jack Lemmon is?  Despite his sleazy actions, who wouldn’t like him?  As for Shirley MacLaine, she loves MacMurray and when he won't divorce his wife and marry her, she tries to commit suicide.  In Lemmon's bed. 

It’s okay for us to like Lemmon and MacLaine’s characters because they’re paying for their sins.  When Lemmon gives MacMurray his key, he doesn’t know MacMurray is sleeping with the girl he has a crush on.  MacLaine’s suicide attempt is her payment. 

MacMurray is the real villain, abusing his power without any twinges of conscience.  Lemmon and MacLaine his pawns.  Underdogs.  We want underdogs to win.  We want them to climb out of that garbage pail and into the sunshine.

imageSome of my favorite fictional characters are intimately acquainted with that garbage pail.  From Jane Eyre to Harry Potter to any hero in a Dick Francis book.  The hero and heroine in DEAD PEOPLE, my American Title V book, know the stink and the slime of the garbage pail.  They’ve grown thorns and need to unfurl their petals.  First they have to keep from being thrown back into the garbage.

What about your characters?  Are garbage pails in their past, present or future?

 Thank you, Edie! You can vote for DEAD PEOPLE by sending a blank email to votes@romantictimes.com and putting “DEAD PEOPLE” in the subject line. I’m rooting for you, Edie!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Small Pleasures and Stuff

I’m sorry I’m being a dunce again. I haven’t responded to your comments or visited your blogs. I’m still (still!) organizing.

Had a real crappy week last week, but this week is going well. Everything I didn’t finish last week is starting to come together this week.

I’m in de-cluttering obsessive mode, too. I keep making trips to Goodwill. I just purged another fifty books. I have two empty cabinets in my kitchen, and this makes me very happy.

(Small pleasures.)

And two huge, wonderful things happened this week (so far!): a friend did something really nice and thoughtful, and my dearest ordered me a cleaning lady for tomorrow. My first time ever!

Okay, now I’m going to disappear again. Gotta deal with my massive to-do list and my stuff. As George Carlin once said, “Have you noticed that their stuff is shit, and your shit is stuff?”

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Swallowing the Sun vs. Being a Mule

image Wow. Thanks to DebraL for pointing me to this video. Whether you love Elizabeth Gilbert or think her a bit selfish, this speech is a great one to get you thinking about what it means to be a writer, what the experience is like for you, and how you can keep going and when the going gets hard.

It’s twenty minutes long, but it’s worth every second.



I believe religions have been created for the convenience, whether political or self-comforting, of a section of humanity. That doesn’t belittle the religions, in my mind. It just is, and I think we humans need those beliefs to get through the rough bits and help us excel through the regular bits

image I think I”m going to sign up for this writer’s religion, LOL. My job is to show up. Whether the muse pops out to lend me a bit of pixie dust or not, I just gotta keep typing away. Whether or not my words will meet success or not, I gotta just keep typing.

Still. When I apply that formula to whether or not my words will keep a roof over my head… well, that’s a bit harder.

But c’est la vie.

Ole’ to you for just showing up!

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Emotions of Ending a Book

image It’s true: I love the craft of my endings. Endings are fun in a sort of intellectual way, but I always end my stories with a freak-out then a sense of resigned failure.

It’s inescapable that with each book, you learn more. You see more. Hopefully, you improve with each book. You’re a better writer with each book.

The downside is that every preceding book is not quite as good as the one that follows. You can minimize this effect with editing, but you can’t escape it completely.

So… it’s depressing, sort of. I don’t know.

It’s not that I can say something is wrong. Everything I want is there. I’ve cleaned it all up. I’ve tied it up. I even like my ending.

From the bird’s eye view, plot-wise, the threads all work. It’s as tight as I can make it.

I succeeded in all I set out to do. I even improved what I was hoping to improve. And I’ve learned with this book.

image Still, I always end with a sense of failure. I struggle, I procrastinate, I hide from my WIP, and finally I settle down to finish it.

With a sort of resigned, “You’ll do better next time.” Or “Better luck next time.”

Usually, with distance, these stories improve immensely. Thank God.

But on to the next story! The promise of a new story sure is refreshing after ending an old one! I love embracing the shiny new idea! A brand new chance to write a better story! A brand new chance to be a better writer!

I love beginnings!

What about you? Do you have any of these feelings?

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Editing Exhilaration & Networking

imageA couple of weeks ago, I had my first professional story-edit. It was AWESOME!

While I wrote the editor’s letter to the author, I didn’t get to talk with the author directly. (I’m new, so it’s right that I should prove myself first.) The main editor agreed with everything I noted, which was great.

What I didn’t expect was how much fun I had. Or how I can’t wait to see what the author does with the story. I believe in her abilities, and I’m excited to see what she does.

(I have to resist the urge to call her up and ask her if she’s writing yet!)

It’s not like critiquing a friend’s story. I always err on the side of being a cheerleader. They’re my friends. I am thrilled to be asked and grateful to read their story!

Likewise, (as you guys know) I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of asking a friend to edit my stuff.

I watch people mix friendship and a professional relationship with ease, but it does mystify me. Some people are great friends with all their professional relationships. Some people mix networking with friendships easily, too.

imageSo many of you mix critiquing and friendship. That, too, mystifies me.

I have a tendency to refuse help if I’d rather be friends with someone. This isn’t fair, because I LOVE giving help to friends. (Talk about a double standard.) But I suppose I’m going to have to get past that one day and learn that social skill set, LOL.

Anyway, I have an application in hand for something really, really cool--PERFECT, really—but I’m a little torn. I’d have to pass the editing tests first and then be hired, LOL, but I would just LOVE the job. It’d be such a perfect, ideal fit for me in almost every way.

But it seems that if you’re an editor, you’re not allowed to be a writer. Conflict of interest and all that. You can write, but you just can’t be a writer blogging about writing or a writer working with another publisher.

It’d mean I’d have to give this cozy place up. On the other hand, I really love editing. I’d like to do it every day. I’d love the experience.

Although I am confident in my abilities, I can’t really see hanging out a freelance story-editing shingle without some “real” experience. (Just look at the kind of editors who give that a bad name!)

image I know there are all sorts of story-editors (What do they call them? Book doctors?) online without much experience at all. I don’t know if they make a living off of it, but if I were a writer, I’m not sure I’d hire them. How could I ask someone to take such a chance on me? Then there’s a whole plethora of ex-NY editors with AMAZING credentials.

So I feel in sort of an odd place at the moment. I understand writing and editing are different skills, but they are two things I love. Why must I pretend not to do one in order to do the other? Is it just a societal continuation of the myth that people are meant to do ONE thing only as their life’s passion?

Anyway, what experience do you have working with professional editors? What would make you hire one? What credentials would you want?

Any thoughts?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Okay, That Didn’t Work

image I thought leaving blogging off my schedule would help me get things done. But it’s only made me more lonely.

It’s really hard to write anything to do with romance when your dearest is thousands of miles away. In fact, it’s almost repulsive. As much as I miss him, I’ve gone into this ridiculous stage where I’m sorta mad at him for being away, even though them’s the breaks and we’re doing what we need to do for our goals. It’s not like he decided all by himself he should go. We both did. We’re at the midpoint: he’s been gone two months and he’ll be back in two months.

I’m also depressed because it’s Thursday and I’d hoped to have so much done. But taxes aren’t done yet, the re-organization of the house isn’t done, the car isn’t done, and I’m stuck on writing. There are a million annoying little things to be done.

I’ve written seven beginnings this week and they all just look like crap to me, and I have absolutely no desire to write them.

I just really hoped I would have a couple days where I was caught up. I’m tired of constantly working and yet always being behind.

image Well, geeze, aren’t I a real swell sort to be around today? Will find happy juice and a happy post this evening.

It looks like it’ll be a year before the conception plan will be able to go full force. Unless I do it without maternity coverage and pay out of pocket.

So here’s the plan: an hour finishing my funk. An hour hanging out on your blogs. And then finish one of the many chapters I’ve abandoned this week.

Magic de-funking fairy dust would be appreciated. Hey, I have an idea for a new word: defunkification. Cool, huh? Must defunkify. Must find a funny and brilliant post to share with you guys. Must find a story that captures my heart (and pays the bills).

What works for you?

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Holy Crap on a Cracker

Wow. I’m still in seclusion (mostly), but check this out. The whole thing. It’s mind-blowing.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

All the Possibilities. And the Cave.

This gave me a real good self-employed giggle:image In times like these, a person like me starts brainstorming ways to make money. Most of my ideas involve lots of work now and maybe some money down the road. Isn’t it always that way?

But I like the way I live. I like having the ability to try different things, to make money all by myself. I like that I have the time and the lifestyle to just up and add a whole new aspect to my work life.

It feels like freedom. It’s empowering, too. As much as I believe that the universe wants us each for a specific purpose and will drive us crazy if we don’t do it, I also like being the master of my own fate.

imageI’m a little overwhelmed, though. I have so many ideas! Which ones to focus on? Which direction to go? How much time to spend where?

I need to go into a cave and figure it out. And get a ton of writing done. And my health is a little wacky at the moment. I gotta get that worked out.

I’m sorry! I’ll be back in a bit. I will keep reading your blogs, and I might even comment!

So how do you deal when you feel pulled in so many directions, and so behind you feel it’s almost impossible to catch up? How do you decide which direction to go next, when there are so many options?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Evening of Compassion

image Thursday evenings are the end of my piano studio work week, so after I get done at 7 p.m., I tend to kick back and relax. So these Thursday evening indulgences might just become a weekly habit. What do you think?

There is no doubt in my mind that, had he lived in our day, E.M. Forster would have been a blogger. What strikes me most is how relevant his words are to our contemporary world, and just how compassionate, hopeful, and inspiring his beliefs are--even though he does not believe in belief. Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

"Forster's humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: "Only connect".

He wrote an essay titled “What I Believe.” You can read the entire essay here, but I’ll quote the bits I love best below. Please forgive me: I've snipped a lot.

First, he writes on tolerance, good temper, and sympathy:

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long. But for the moment they are not enough, their action is no stronger than a flower, battered beneath a military jackboot. They want stiffening, even if the process coarsens them. Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible. I dislike the stuff. I do not believe in it, for its own sake, at all.

Then he goes on about the "bloody" dangers of faith, something that resonates in our current world:

I have, however, to live in an Age of Faith - the sort of epoch I used to hear praised when I was a boy. It is extremely unpleasant really. It is bloody in every sense of the word. And I have to keep my end up in it. Where do I start ?

With personal relationships. Here is something comparatively solid in a world full of violence and cruelty...

[snip, snip!]

Starting from them, I get a little order into the contemporary chaos. One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. They often do. The moral of which is that I must, myself, be as reliable as possible, and this I try to be. But reliability is not a matter of contract - that is the main difference between the world of personal relationships and the world of business relationships. It is a matter for the heart, which signs no documents. In other words, reliability is impossible unless there is a natural warmth. Most men possess this warmth, though they often have bad luck and get chilled.

Then he talks about the use of force. I wish Bush had read these paragraphs before taking office:

What about Force, though? While we are trying to be sensitive and advanced and affectionate and tolerant, an unpleasant question pops up: does not all society rest upon force ? If a government cannot count upon the police and the army, how can it hope to rule ? And if an individual gets knocked on the head or sent to a labour camp, of what significance are his opinions?

This dilemma does not worry me as much as it does some. I realize that all society rests upon force. But all the great creative actions, all the decent human relations, occur during the intervals when force has not managed to come to the front. These intervals are what matter. I want them to be as frequent and as lengthy as possible, and I call them " civilization ". Some people idealize force and pull it into the foreground and worship it, instead of keeping it in the background as long as possible. I think they make a mistake, and I think that their opposites, the mystics, err even more when they declare that force does not exist. I believe that it exists, and that one of our jobs is to prevent it from getting out of its box. It gets out sooner or later, and then it destroys us and all the lovely things which we have made.

And this is just beautiful:

I believe in aristocracy, though - if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

I love that: “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky.” I don’t agree with all that he says—I believe in belief and faith—but I definitely agree with the dangers of belief and faith that he cites, and his message of compassion and understanding.

I think he must have been a wonderful man. I need to read Howard’s End again. Do you know? I’ve never read A Passage to India.

Any thoughts today?

And please don't forget: Zoe Winters is in the last round of the Better Sex Erotic Fiction Contest. The winner gets $3000! Please go vote for A Safer LIFE!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Well, I’ll Be Flummoxed.

image This post probably sounds incredibly arrogant. I promise you: Whatever sounds arrogant below is just simple shock, that’s all.

So I was reading some stories over in pseudonym’s neck of the woods, and I came across an author who surprised me. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a complete idiot, but my honest-to-God first reaction was: Ohmigawd, she’s imitating my style!

Of course, she’s probably not. Definitely not on purpose. It’s a small world, so I’d be surprised if she hadn’t read my stories (weekly), and it’s probably all just a random coincidence, but…

I can’t tell you how eerie it felt. I almost could have written it. I swear to God: I know my rhythm. I’ve never read anyone else with it. Ever.

I’m completely flummoxed.

imageIt’s eerie. The whole thing. It’s like all my trademark rhythms, styling, and punctuation were used. It’s not exactly the same, but there are definitely moments when I felt like I was reading an imitation of myself.

Whether coincidence, accident, or design, it’s no matter. It’s cool. I actually pride myself on being able to “hear” an author’s voice so well I could imitate it. No biggie. I find imitation to be a good exercise.

It was just completely surreal.

Has anything like that ever happened to you? Did it make you look twice to be sure you hadn’t written it while you were asleep and drugged or something? Have you ever studied an author’s voice until you know what makes them tick?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Writing is Giving

funny-pictures-always-hold-hands-with-your-kitten When I was responding to your comments on The Art of Styling Sentences, I thought several times: I sure hope this person finishes their WIP soon and gets it published. I like and want to read her/him.

Kath posted a video of Coldplay on her blog, which got me thinking that performing isn’t about you. It’s about the audience. You can see it when watching Coldplay: they aren’t giving the audience their songs, they’re giving the audience the experience the audience wants. More than anything, they are a reflection for the audience's hopes, dreams and emotions.

I have similar feelings about writing (and performing, actually!). The story isn’t about me. It isn’t about my technique or skill or my characters or my imagination.

It’s really about the readers. It’s about giving them acceptance and warmth and love through your characters. It’s about letting them feel that it’s okay to be flawed or different or not perfect. It's about giving them hope, love, happiness. An experience.

image For me, being a writer is about accepting people and loving people, even the ones you violently disagree with. They’re people: they’re still fascinating. They still have hopes and dreams. They love people and/or want to be loved, even when they don’t appear to. (Maybe especially then.)

Writing is about understanding and sympathizing with every character, even ones we might judge at first glance. By extension, it’s also learning to try to understand and sympathize with every person we meet. Even loving them, all of them, even the ones I violently disagree with. Not a condescending love, just a love, just an acceptance. Just an appreciation for the different experiences of being human.

When I write, I feel like I’m opening my arms and letting my readers into a hug. My heart opens. That’s silly, but when I sit down, that’s exactly how I feel. I want my readers to feel loved when they read my stories.

For me, writing is giving.

You?

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

She Looks A Little Scary

Am doing taxes.

Have post scheduled for tomorrow.

I hope I see you then.

Will respond to comments after. Will visit blogs after.

After I finish.

Or after I give up.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Art of Styling Sentences

image I am so embarrassed—egg-on-face, I’m-an-idiot embarrassed—that I used to imagine copyeditors as anal fuddy-duddies.

I AM SO SORRY! I WAS WRONG! REALLY WRONG!

Digging into word choice, punctuation, grammar and the like have been an absolute blast. I not only enjoy this stuff, but I am absolutely delighted and fascinated it with it!

And, everyone—pretty please, with sugar on top—will you please cross your fingers, light a candle, and/or pray? I might have found a little copyediting gig. Maybe even some actually writing, but we’ll see. When starting out as a freelancer, the first gig is always the hardest to get. Hope for me, please! Pretty please?

One of the old writers (I’ve forgotten who) learned his craft by practicing sentences first and then paragraphs. This fascinated me when I heard it; then and there I decided I would make a list of all the varying forms and structures of sentences I could think of.

imageI never got around to it, but Ann Longknife, Ph.D., and K.D. Sullivan did. In The Art of Styling Sentences, they list twenty basic sentence patterns. It is skewed toward student writing and essays, but that does not lessen its usefulness to writing fiction.

Twenty different sentence patterns!!!

Isn’t that cool?

Sometimes I feel like I only use three or four. I know we do most of this stuff naturally, but it’s fun to remember and learn how to do it consciously. It makes me feel like I’m sharpening my swords. Knowledge is power, and learning all this copyediting stuff is both exhilarating and thrilling to me.

I think I might explore the different patterns a little more in some upcoming posts. It’s fascinating stuff. Just let me know if I start to sound like a boring old professor, LOL.

So do you think about sentence patterns? How many different patterns do you think you use? Have you ever tried to list them?

And I haven’t asked in awhile: how are your WIPs going? I finally finished the novella that would not end. I am now finishing the second novella that would not end. Then I’ve got a fun novella to write, and by March I start my vampire novel. Yay! I’m really hoping the fun novella will be a “gift,” and I’ll get it done quickly.

What’s going on in your writing world? Your life?

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Friday, February 06, 2009

What Is Your Philosophy?

My brain “writes ahead.” I promised myself I would write whatever grabs me this year. And what grabbed me?

A vampire novel.

Of all things. I keep Googling, but I haven’t found a vampire book with a similar hook. (Well, one, sorta comes close, but I’m pretty sure we’re okay.) If it turns out that there is one, well, I have to write it anyway. I promised myself.

So my brain is working out “What I Want To Say” in the novel. If I don’t know what I want to say, I can’t really pick the characters or plot or situation.

image My brain is also working out the “vampire rules.” I’ve been trying to think out of the box, but I confess I don’t know the genre well.

Why are vampires never wise elders who are treated with respect? You would think a person who’s lived for upwards of two or three hundred years might perhaps have a few drops of wisdom and perspective to share. Often, vampire “groupies” in novels are drawn to the danger, the excitement, and the sexuality of vampires, but why are there never a group of professors hanging on for a tidbit or two of wisdom?

And I gotta tell you: I’d become a vampire in an instant. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have the perspective of centuries to inform you? Just think of all you could learn, all the different subjects in which you could become a true master! Think of how many books you could write!

Why are vampires not inventors, artists, and philosophers? After hundreds of years experiencing life, why the heck would you only be running a nightclub?

Then you’ve got a whole slew of issues: spirituality, souls, religion, the meaning of life, the meaning of death, what happens after death… 

Why do vampires never seek to understand themselves? Why are there no vampire monks, no vampire religions, no vampire gods?

imageWhy does a lot of vampire lit claim that vampires have no souls? What purpose does that serve in us, the readers? Does it reassure us that people die for a reason? Does it reassure us that we want to eventually die, simply because we all must die? Does this fulfill a need in us to give our death meaning, as we give our life meaning?

And then there’s the HUGE topic of sexuality which underpins all to do with vampires and how humans relate to and view vampires. One thing I’ve discovered is that we all have these sexual desires and fantasies and urges, but we’re more “okay” with them when they are presented in a nice and safe “just-is” box.

People will watch a male vampire sink his teeth into another man and it will be a box office hit, but fifteen years later, they will vote against gay marriage.

I am starting to understand why vampire novels are still resonating with readers. What an amazing treasure trove of issues to explore!

A whole lot of writers in history wrote a ton of essays. I love to read these: they are like the blogs of the 19th and 20th century. One such book of essays, by an author I’ve just forgotten, began with a declaration of her life’s philosophies, what she believed to be true thus far.

If you write, I think you have to have philosophies, whether you're aware of them or not. Even if you’re “just” writing an entertaining story, your stories will be informed by your beliefs: little things here and there. Your story doesn’t have to be profound to be infused with your worldview. It’s your “trademark color.”

Have you ever written an “I believe” essay? Listed your life philosophies? How do these things inform your writing?

And what say you on vampires?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

An Evening of Margaret Atwood

imageOne of my students is teaching me about poetry. Some people are sort of automatically awed when they meet a pianist (or an author, LOL). Well, I’m one of those people who is automatically awed when someone writes poetry.

So, having just found a poem I loved by Margaret Atwood, I wanted to see if I could hear her read it.

I didn’t find the one I love, but stumbled across two others, plus an interview on her newest book, Payback. The book was released at the same time as the whole economic mess. I haven’t read it, but it’s about credit and debt in literature and history (and even the future!). Fascinating stuff.

And the first video is her reading her poem, “This Is A Photograph of Me,” the second her reading of “Morning in the Burned House.”







Here's the poem I was hoping Margaret Atwood had read. (Sorry, I can't get the italics off in my blockquotes!)

Tricks with Mirrors

i

It's no coincidence
this is a used
furniture warehouse.

I enter with you
and become a mirror.

Mirrors
are the perfect lovers,

that's it, carry me up the stairs
by the edges, don't drop me,

that would be back luck,
throw me on the bed

reflecting side up,
fall into me,

it will be your own
mouth you hit, firm and glassy,

your own eyes you find you
are up against closed closed


ii

There is more to a mirror
than you looking at

your full-length body
flawless but reversed,

there is more than this dead blue
oblong eye turned outwards to you.

Think about the frame.
The frame is carved, it is important,

it exists, it does not reflect you,
it does not recede and recede, it has limits

and reflections of its own.
There's a nail in the back

to hang it with; there are several nails,
think about the nails,

pay attention to the nail
marks in the wood,

they are important too.

iii

Don't assume it is passive
or easy, this clarity

with which I give you yourself.
Consider what restraint it

takes: breath withheld, no anger
or joy disturbing the surface

of the ice.
You are suspended in me

beautiful and frozen, I
preserve you, in me you are safe.

It is not a trick either,
it is a craft:

mirrors are crafty.


iv

I wanted to stop this,
this life flattened against the wall,

mute and devoid of colour,
built of pure light,

this life of vision only, split
and remote, a lucid impasse.

I confess: this is not a mirror,
it is a door

I am trapped behind.
I wanted you to see me here,


say the releasing word, whatever
that may be, open the wall.

Instead you stand in front of me
combing your hair.


v

You don't like these metaphors.
All right:

Perhaps I am not a mirror.
Perhaps I am a pool.


Think about pools.

-- Margaret Atwood



Here’s a cool site: Save the Words is where you can adopt a word that is dying from the language and promise to help use it back into activity. It's fun! The words say, "Pick me!" LOL!

Do you write poetry? Listen to it? Read it? What author has been inspiring you, lately?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Real Reason Why I Don’t Just Go Get a Day Job

image So, ya’ know, with the health insurance and dying-to-have-a-baby things, there’s a whole new facet to the “Why don’t you just get a day job?” question.

Erica reminded me of one of the things I repeat ad nauseum to my students, and that reminded me of one of the main reasons I make the choices I make: sacred duty.

There are obstacles, and then there are messages from the universe.

When I got mono my last semester of my Bachelor’s of Music at CIM, I considered it an obstacle. When I was still struggling with CFS/FM seven years later (and still to this day a little bit, but I won’t admit this: I say I am cured), I started to consider it a sign from the universe.

I concluded that the universe wanted me to teach. I was very happy with this decision and informed the universe that it could have just gently told me so! (Well, okay, I probably would have been a vocal coach/accompanist, otherwise. When I get my eye fixed on a goal, I’m pretty much like a dog with a bone. I don’t look sideways, which sorta explains why I was writing for four or five years before I realized I wanted to write, LOL.)

Now the universe has told me I should write. I don’t know exactly how it told me this, but it did. After seven-plus years sick in bed with no energy to even think--trust me on this--YOU DO NOT DARE QUESTION THE UNIVERSE. You say, “I will do whatever you tell me do, just don’t put me back in bed, PLEASE.”

image So I write. I don’t think it matters whether or not I’m any good: I just know I’m supposed to write. I don’t worry overly much about where I'm going to be published. I don't care if I stay where I am or end up with NY. My job is to write the best stories I can.

I have neither cockiness nor a blind faith in my abilities; in fact, I believe I am a "made" writer instead of a talented one. I have faith that I can work and can improve, and I am completely comfortable with these facts. All doubts, insecurities and fears are completely beside the point.

The fact that I might look like an idiot for saying the universe told me to write? Again, it just doesn't matter.

All that matters is that I must write, that I have zero doubts. Every cell in my body is CERTAIN of it. My bones even tell me to write. You could reject me a thousand times over and I wouldn’t blink.

(Can you see why I loved Milla Jovovich‘s portrayal of Joan of Arc? No matter what, she knew what she was supposed to do, even though she was a little crazy about it, LOL.)

I find it ironic that I rejected a God who demanded blind obedience, and here I am fifteen years later, blindly obeying the universe. Or maybe I am blindly obeying myself, LOL.

Maybe my fate is not to get rich writing, and maybe I will only touch a few people with my stories. Maybe I will get much more money writing, and maybe I will be a bestseller featured on the front tables of bookstores. (Universe, are you listening? Do I get a say, here? I'd like the sort of advance Jude talks about, please!) Maybe my blog caused one person to vote for Obama, and that is the sole purpose for my entire existence on this earth.

It doesn’t matter. I will write. I will find a way to have babies, no matter the obstacles. These are my sacred duties, and imageI don’t dare violate them.

So why do you write? What do you have faith in? What are your sacred duties?

What do you blindly and unshakably believe, all else be damned?

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Time: Is It Still There?

As I was writing today, I was thinking about how sometimes, time must pass. Sometimes, time must stretch, and sometimes it must be skipped or summarized. Story time isn't proportional. A minute can take two pages; four months can take a single page.

We all know we can skip every detail. (Do forgive my off-the-cuff examples, please!) We don’t want:

He walked across the room. He put his hand on the doorknob. He turned the doorknob. He stepped back and pulled open the door.

Boring! (Note how good I am at coming up with a boring example, LOL!)

On the other hand, sometimes we can use that sort of exaggerated telling of every detail to stretch out time. Sometimes making a mountain out of every second can build suspense:

Someone pounded at the door.

He closed his eyes for a moment, wishing this didn't have to happen now. He checked his watch, even though they hadn’t made an appointment: they weren’t the type.

His daughter wouldn’t pound, and--thank God--she was at a friend’s house. His wife was gone, gone for good. What would she think?

Knock, knock. More curt this time. Almost polite.

He stood, glanced at the window. Reminded himself he couldn’t jump ten stories and survive. Reminded himself he wanted to survive.

He wished, for a moment, that it could be an old friend. Maybe Danny, still young, still fresh-faced and mischievous, still asking him if he could come outside and play. But he had no friends left, not since--

“Open up!”

A single, harsh knock splintered the wood.

He walked to the door, put his hand on the cold, sharp metal of the lock. Even as the pins tumbled, his mind searched for an escape. He moved his hand to the doorknob, but he was too slow.

The door crashed open.

Sometimes, passing time must be summarized. It wouldn’t make sense to be in a scene like that, and then say, “Four months later, he got the money."

Time needs to pass. It can't be perfectly proportional, but I can't spend two pages on one minute and then one line on four months.

It went on like that for weeks, again and again. They came. They knocked. They demanded the money he didn’t have. They always beat him until he submitted, until things went foggy and he passed out.

He could run. Hide. Disappear.

But it was better this way, better for his daughter. If he ran, he’d be running for life. He’d never get to watch her dance in The Nutcracker, never get to see her squeal when she got her toe shoes for Christmas, never get to kiss her boo-boos and make them all better. Not that she'd let him do that anymore. She was too old for that, she'd say. He thought she was too old for her age, too brooding for one so young, too street-smart to enjoy her time of childhood. It was all his fault.

So he opened the door every week.

At first, they were content to yell, throw a few punches, knock him out. They had a pattern: first one cheek, then the other, then a few good ones to the stomach. They made a wreck of the knee he'd messed up playing football and gave him more than his share of concussions.

Then boredom set in.

They got creative, had some fun taunting him, humiliating him, threatening him with that damned fancy Santoku knife his wife had spent a fortune on. It didn't take them long to enjoy its versatility: just a little cut here, a little slice there…

Um, okay, I’ll stop there. I have to write real stuff, LOL. My point is that sometimes we need to summarize time rather than just cut to four months later. That whole “four months later” thing in italics at the beginning of a new chapter doesn’t really do it for me.

I don’t know how to think of the proportions except to feel them. Am I passing time and boring a reader? Am I not passing enough of it? Is it passing too quickly? Am I missing moments to make a mountain out of? Am I making a mountain out of one boring molehill? Where should I summarize? Where should I jump ahead? Where should I draw out the suspense?

How do you know that sort of thing without just feeling it?

How do you pass the time?

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Voice: Is It Still There?

image When writing a story, there is so much technique and craft to keep in mind, that I try to learn them so well I can “forget” them. I want them to happen automatically.

Jon’s post, Voice Lessons, got me thinking about my voice. (And I love Amy's post on voice today!) Making my voice distinct and different was a priority of mine, but I wonder if I’ve lost my voice. I’ve been more lyrical this year. It matches the mood I’m creating in my books, but I feel like I’ve lost my own special rhythm. My voice used to be much snappier and more energetic, with quick paragraphs and lots of one-liners for accent.

But I panicked and worried I was too different. Now I fear I am too “normal.” (One must always put “normal” in quotation marks, because there is no such thing. ;-)

How do you balance being distinct against the fear of being "too" different?

I need to study my voice and think of it again. It's time to think of lots of things again.

In general, I feel like I need to go back and touch base with all the basics and make sure they’re still there. I hope they’re happening automatically, but who knows?

What have you learned so well that you haven’t thought imageabout in awhile, but you’re trusting is happening anyway? What are you keeping in mind right now? How are you trying to grow as a writer right now?

And speaking of voice, how different do you dare go? How do you balance being different with not being too different?

PS: Zoe Winters is a semi-finalist in a fiction contest! Please go vote here!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

How Do You Manage Your Time?

image When I was little, there was this purple book about a (person? rabbit?) who carried a pocket watch and zoomed everywhere, always hurrying, always rushed. The moral of the story was he needed to stop and smell the roses.

When I was little, I didn’t care about the moral of the story. What was fascinating to me was the illustration in the middle of the book, where there was a detailed schedule of everything he had to do in a week. (We’re talking extremely detailed! 6:45: Wake up. 6:48: Brush teeth. 6:51 Wash face.)

I thought that was the COOLEST thing. For years, and I’m talking from about age 5 – 8, I would trace this illustration on a piece of paper and then fill in my own schedule. (I would still try the schedule thing for years after, but I graduated to graph paper.)

I’m having the same desire now. I feel so overwhelmed, I want a nice, comfy, reassuring schedule to keep track of everything I have to do, so my head can be as spacey as it wants and my life will still stay put-together.

Except every day is different. There is not one day where I start working at the same time, end work at the same time, have to get up at the same time. I miss that!

I suddenly have a ton of BIG projects:

  1. Competition season is coming up for my students.
  2. I have five new students.
  3. I need to scan, sort, and label all my receipts.
  4. I need to do my taxes: ugh. I need to do Glenn’s taxes: cool.
  5. My pseudonym’s website is at least two or three years out of date.
  6. She’s got a great idea about the whole fan fiction thing that she wants to develop.
  7. I’m still (kind of) on track with my insane writing schedule, but the last two weeks have been procrastination he... (I always procrastinate ending a book, and I’m ending two books simultaneously. It’s like torture!)
  8. I need to finish two novellas this month, and one of them will require a fair bit of research. I’m laughing, but I really need to do this so I can start 2009 Novel #1 in March.
  9. And I’m serious about this whole copyediting thing, but I need to learn, practice, practice, learn, and practice.

I Was going to announce a  break from blogging, but I think I’ll keep plugging along. I am feeling a little overwhelmed. I need to put more of my life into little routines so I don’t have to remember them.

imageHow do you manage your time? How do you get yourself on a routine? How do you keep track of all that you have to do? How do you manage things so that you don’t get so overwhelmed you feel like you can’t take an hour to watch a TV show without Mr. and Mrs. Guilt each sitting on a shoulder? Are you a list person? A calendar person? A on-the-fly person?

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