Friday, November 28, 2014

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts

Day after Thanksgiving and I'm finally into gratitude.  

Grateful for the satisfaction of wrestling a paragraph onto the page, never mind the two hours I struggled to get it right.

Grateful for rendering a character's emotion believable and honest. Capturing just the right moment to get him on stage, raw and vulnerable.  

Grateful for the joy of having written.  

Sometimes it feels like a great effort just to sit down and turn on the computer.  I look at all the piles on my desk and give myself permission to ignore them.  Just get to the novel. Mornings work for me.  Face the page, reach into the center of myself and don't look back.

Ignore email,  Facebook, Twitter and all the rest. Ignore the cat and the two dogs who have already been fed.

And today I surprise myself.  A breakthrough.  What I believe is the crux of the novel, the emotional truth, the hard story, turns comic at the scene's end.  Not trivial, but funny.

So thankful for not taking myself too seriously.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Post Election Pessimism

Taking a break from writing to wallow in my role as a curmudgeon.

Don't overestimate the decency of the human race.
 --H.L. Mencken
A pessimist is  person who has to listen to too many optimists. 
--Don Marquis
My pessimism extends to the point of even suspecting the sincerity of other pessimists.
--Jean Rostand
Democracy: The worship of jackals by jackasses.
--H.L. Mencken
If you can't say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.
--Alice Roosevelt Longworth
Early to rise and early to bed
Makes a male healthy, wealthy and dead.
--James Thurber
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
--Oscar Wilde
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginable.
--Oscar Wilde
Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.
--Woody Allen
My heart is pure as the driven slush.
--Tallulah Bankhead

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chaos Into Art - The Writer's Responsibility

These two writers (who couldn't be more different) say the same thing:

Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning.
  --  Katherine Anne Porter

One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art. 
-- James Baldwin, Autobiographical Notes

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Details, Details Details

 . . . Noticing the details takes conscious effort.  We see only abbreviations of life because it takes times and effort to shed the blinders that prevent us from seeing it full blown. We see people as blond, brunette, tall, short, thin, fat. We don't see how they fit in their clothes, the peculiarities of their movements, the expressions or lack of expressions on their faces, the way a hand gestures, the way an eye moves in its socket, how hair is made to obey or how it is a condition of constant rebellion. We don't see the touch of grime on a coat sleeve, the long scratch on the back of a hand, the worn heel, the empty smile, the combative stiffening of a neck. You need to see your characters with unsparing clarity if you expect your reader to see them at all. -- The Art & Craft of the Short Story by   Rick Demarinis, p. 79.
      

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who are you?

People said:  "Oh, be yourself at all costs." But I found that it was not so easy to know just what one's self was. It was far easier to want what other people seemed to want and then imagine that the choice was one's own. -- Joanna Field
If you were a member of Jesse James' band and people asked you what you were, you wouldn't say, "Well, I'm a desperado." You'd say something like "I work in banks" or "I've done some railroad work." It took me a long time just to say, "I'm a writer."  -- Ray Blount, Jr.
To theorize about how I became a writer, and how writing shapes my life now, requires levels of abstraction and reasoning that are beyond my abilities. But by making brief notes, capturing shards of memory or thought, writing specific scenes, I began to discover what they mean and how they might cohere. -- Floyd Skloot 
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How we see ourselves is a nebulous thing.  Others see us; we do not. Mirrors reveal only our appearance, not who we are. I would guess that most of us feel our identity rather than show it. Who is that person in the mirror? 

Writing helps with the process of knowing ourselves. Sometimes we're surprised at the words we put on the page.  In the act of creating we discover our power inside.  And when that happens, we say, yes, I am a writer.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Writers Must Persist in Remembering the Sweet and the Sour

Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”
— Stephen King, Misery

Friday, September 5, 2014

Your Past is Never Over

"I don’t believe in 'laying to rest' the past. There are wounds we won’t get over. There are things that happen to us that, no matter how hard we try to forget, no matter with what fortitude we face them, what mix of religion and therapy we swallow, what finished and durable forms of art we turn them into, are going to go on happening inside of us for as long as our brains are alive." --Christian Wiman, "The Limit"
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 Yes! In fact I mine my past and go where it hurts. That's where the good stuff is; where I can go deep, where I feel it all the way down in my belly.  Then I know I'm writing.  I've got something worth messing with, putting the real words on paper.  -- Catherine

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Setting, Landscape and Atmosphere

Setting - where the story takes place, how characters respond to their surroundings, the sights, sounds and smells that connect the reader to the written word.  This is the building site of the writer's craft.
Setting adds color to the story, affects characters, adds authenticity to the narrative and paints pictures in the imagination of readers.--Nancy Lamb, The Art and Craft of Story Telling.
Settings aren't just backdrops.  Just by where you have the action happening will tell a lot about the action itself and the people involved.--Ansen Dibell, Plot.
Setting grounds your writing in the reality of place and depicts the theme of your story through powerful metaphor. Without setting, characters are simply there, in a vacuum, with no reason to act and most importantly, no reason to care. Without a place there is no story.--Nina Munteanu, scribophile.
Landscape - the broad vista.
On the surface, it would appear that landscape and setting are the same creatures, identical twins given different names just to confuse the beginning writer. This, however, would not be the truth since setting is where a story takes place--including where each scene takes place--while landscape is much broader than that . . .  Landscape in writing implies much the same as that which is implied by the word when it's used to refer to a location in a country: It is the broad vista into which the writer actually places the individual settings of the novel, sort of like the canvas or other medium onto which a painter has decided to daub color.
You need to think about the landscape of your book because if you're able to make the landscape of place real, you can make the land itself real, which gives you a leg up on making the entire novel real for the reader.
Atmosphere - tone and attitude.
Sometimes referring to subject matter, sometimes to technique.  Part of the atmosphere of a scene or story is its setting, which includes the locale, period, weather, and time of day. Part of the atmosphere is its 'tone,' and attitude taken by the narrative voice that can be described, not in terms of time and place, but as a quality--sinister, facetious, formal, solemn, wry, and so on . . . As we need to know a character's gender, race, and age, we need to know in what atmosphere she or he operates to understand the significance of the action.--Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction, a Guide to Narrative Craft.
Setting, landscape, atmosphere are separate entities but connected. The first puts you in the action. The second contains the story's broader vista. The third enables the characters to breathe.
  
  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Great Betrayals

The following is an excerpt from The New York Times' opinion page dated Sunday, October 6, 2013.  I quote from Anna Fels, a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical School:


As a psychiatrist, I can tell you that it's often a painstaking process to reconstruct a coherent personal history piece by piece--one that acknowledges the deception while reaffirming the actual life experience. Yet it's work that needs to be done. Moving forward in life is hard or even, at times, impossible, without owning a narrative of one's past. Isak Dinesen has been quoted as saying "all sorrows can be born if you put them in a story or tell a story about them." Perhaps robbing someone of his or her story is the greatest betrayal of all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Linear Vs Spatial Narrative

Second part of Kim Barnes' handout at the July 2014 Fishtrap writing conference in Oregon:

"There are SO many ways to tell stories, but every story is, in its way, an argument. First, the story must argue for its own validity--its right to exist. That requires recognition on the part of the reader/audience of some melodic engagement--some 'base line' that we recognize as common to our narratival experience. The basic linear narrative is kind of like a number system or syntax or composition: 1-10, subject-verb-object, five-paragraph essay. It's the foundation on which everything is built and/or interpreted.

The next argument is that, in the absence of the linear 'melody,' something else (also recognizable and held in common) must come in to take its place. And that's the challenge for the writer/composer/artist/dancer. What is that 'something'?  Whatever it is, it must also be observable and have progression, movement, and pattern, with an inherent logic that we can follow, or learn to follow--be taught by the story to follow. If you can define/delineate that OTHER SOMETHING that takes the place of the 'melody' of linear narrative, you'll have an argument for a story that is outside of convention. But, no matter what, I believe it's all either STRUCTURE or ANTI-STRUCTURE that we recognize. Outside/between is chaos without chaos theory (because, of course, chaos as defined by theory is, alas, inherently linear and structured and observed and articulated via a rubric that is absolutely defined).

Giving yourself over to the simple narrative, the archetypal progression, is a kind of submission to the laws of the universe, in some ways. To EXIST is to abide by linear laws; to LIVE is to exist inside the spatial, and story must bring those two experiences together in a horizontal/vertical way. In my mind, this is the role of all art. But vertical movement expands, interrupts, deepens, slows, adds texture and space to an otherwise linear narrative. It's in the vertical movement that the 'why'--rather than the 'what'--of the story exists."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vertical Vs Horizontal Movement in Narrative

The following is an handout excerpt from literary writer and Professor of English at the University of Idaho, Kim Barnes. I met her at the Fishtrap writing conference in July 2014 where she taught:

"Vertical movement is what gives a narrative depth, texture, tension and resonance.  It interrupts the forward, chronological pace of a story or essay (action--what happened) and replaces simple linear movement with spatial complexity (thought--the why of the story). It represents the act of imagination--what propels us into the imaginative leap. There are many ways to achieve vertical movement, including:

1) Backstory (part of plot/action--more of an interruption of horizontal chronology than vertical movement but provides spatial texture)
2) Associative memory (part of thought)
3) Intellectual contemplation and query
4) Detailed, concrete description of characters, objects, setting, landscape
5) Figurative language, including similes (like, as) and metaphors
6) Lyrical "flights" (extended poetic contemplation)
7) Inclusion of outside information and research
8) Appropriate and intentional intrusion of the narrator

As you work toward vertical movement in your writing, read essays and stories by  authors whose work you admire. Pay attention to places where the author is employing vertical movement. You will find that most successful literary prose is made up of a majority of spatial rather than linear telling. Remember that horizontal writing suggests what, vertical writing suggests why. It is this contribution of action and thought that defines our best stories."   

More tomorrow . . .

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Conflict: The Indispensable Element in FIction

The following is paraphrased from pages 192-3 in a handy little hardback,  The Writer's Little Helper, about 7"x 5". Nice to carry in your pocket to read on the bus or subway.  

Conflict sells.  More so than sex, which in all its forms and treatments usually can be condensed into conflict anyhow. 

Conflict occurs in all literature, from Cinderella, to Tarzan to Harry Potter to the Bible, everywhere from Genesis to Apocalypse.  In a word, everywhere.

Good characters can't be interesting unless they triumph over something, normally an evil thing. This involves conflict. The stronger the conflict, the more precious the victory.

One of the best places to exploit conflict is in dialogue exchanges.
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I totally agree.  We are bound up in conflict.  It would be perfect if we all got along.  But then where would the stories come from? Rather than explain your conflict, let your characters take over in dialogue. They'll talk to each other, maybe in a dysfunctional way; but that's what we want. They'll be sarcastic, passive aggressive and insulting--just to mask their feelings. And the mask wears so thin that the reader soon catches on to their true feelings. Even if they lie.

In short, no conflict, no story.
  




Monday, July 21, 2014

Late Night with Fog and Horses by Ray Carver

Late Night with Fog and Horses" by Raymond Carver
They were in the living room. Saying their
goodbyes. Loss ringing in their ears.
They'd been through a lot together, but now
they couldn't go another step. Besides, for him
there was someone else. Tears were falling
when a horse stepped out of the fog
into the front yard. Then another, and
another. She went outside and said,
"Where did you come from, you sweet horses?"
and moved in amongst them, weeping,
touching their flanks. The horses began
to graze in the front yard.
He made two calls: one call went straight
to the sheriff - "someone's horses are out."
But there was that other call, too.
Then he joined his wife in the front
yard, where they talked and murmured
to the horses together. (Whatever was
happening now was happening in another time.)
Horses cropped the grass in the yard
that night. A red emergency light
flashed as a sedan crept in out of fog.
Voices carried out of the fog.
At the end of that long night,
when they finally put their arms around
each other, their embrace was full of
passion and memory. Each recalled
the other's youth. Now something had ended,
something else rushing in to take its place.
Came the moment of leave-taking itself.
"Goodbye, go on," she said.
And then pulling away.
Much later,
he remembered making a disastrous phone call.
One that had hung on and hung on,
a malediction. It's boiled down
to that. The rest of his life.
Malediction.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Few Spaces Left in my Teasing the Muse Workshop Saturday, July 26, 2014

Writing: Teasing The Muse   NEW!

Can't get started writing your fiction or non-fiction? Are you stuck on a page? Join this workshop to incite your muse and end writers' block. Interactive exercises will put you at ease and let the words flow. Simply put, this class works.NOTE: Be sure to bring a brown bag lunch.


Writing: Teasing the Muse
Item: C513Catherine Alexander
10:00 AM - 5:00 PMLocation: Snoqualmie Hall   205
Sessions: 1 Sa20000 68th Ave W Lynnwood, WA 98036
7/26/2014 - 7/26/2014Fee: $79.00
Email:  uLearnartsnow@edcc.edu
Edmonds Community College
425.640.1243

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Adjectives and Adverbs - Use Them Sparingly

"Adjectives and adverbs are rich and good and fattening.  The main thing is not to overindulge...Some adjectives and adverbs have become meaningless through literary overuse.  'Great' seldom carries the weight it ought to carry.  'Suddenly' seldom means anything at all; it's a mere transition device--'He was walking down the street.  Suddenly he saw her.'  'Somehow' is a weasel word; it means the author didn't want to bother thinking out the story--'Somehow she just knew...' 'Somehow they made it to the asteroid...' When I teach science fiction and fantasy writing I ban the word.  Nothing can happen 'somehow.'

Ornate adjectives are out of fashion.  Nobody much is likely to say that anything is sesquipedalian, these days. But some conscious prose stylists use adjectives as poets do; the adjective's relation to the noun is unexpected, far-fetched, forcing the reader to stop and make the connection. This mannerism can be effective, but in narration it's risky. Do you want to stop the flow? Is it worth it?

I would recommend to all storytellers a watchful attitude and a thoughtful, careful choice of adjective and adverbs, because the bakery shop of English is rich beyond belief, and narrative prose, particularly if it's going a long distance, needs more muscle than fat."

        -Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin, pp. 61-62

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Theodore Roethke on Craft

Theodore Roethke. Manic-depressive, hard-drinking male-chauvinist-pig. Extraordinary, nurturing teacher and legendary poet. In class he tread lightly on some students' strange work, in case this evidenced a hallmark of an emerging style.

We love to call him our Northwest poet, but he was imported from University of Michigan to the University of Washington. At the infamous Blue Moon in the University District where he hung out, there is a picture of him on the wall. The adjoining alley is named after him.

Here are some of his quotes taken from the book, On Poetry & Craft:
  • Literalness is the devil's weapon.
  • Art is our defense against hysteria and death.
  • There are only two passions in art; there are only love and hate--with endless modifications.
  • God is one of the biggest bores in English poetry.
  • The sneer is easy to master and usually the mark of the adolescent.
  • Break in on the reader sideways. Think with the wise, talk like the common man: Give noun a full swat, But adjective, not.
  • The idea of poetry itself is a vast metaphor.
  • Simple and profound; how little there is.
  • Too eager to say what a lot of people will want to hear.
  • I long to be a greater failure in life so I can write better books.
  • Today I'm going to lecture on confusion.  I'm all for it.
  • This course is an act of faith. In what? In the imagination of us all, in a creative capacity--that most sacred thing--that lies dormant, never dead, in everyone.
  • Transcend that vision.  What is first or early is easy to believe. But...it may enchain you.
  • I dream of a culture where it is thought a crime to be dull.
  • Never be ashamed of the strange.
  • There are those who can hold forth, but me, I have to holler.
  • He was a man with little capacity for any kind of thinking: therefore he was made an administrator.
  • Teaching goes on in spite of administrators.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mr. Muse Lives in the Basement

There is a muse, but he's not going to come fluttering down in your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He's a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live  in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.  Do you think this is fair? I think it's fair.  He might not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he's on duty), but he's got the inspiration.  It's right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There's stuff in there that can change your life.

--Stephen King, On Writing, page 144.

As far as how-to books are concerned, there are many out there.  I like to couple Stephen King's memoir with Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.  They couldn't be more different.  Yet, they both are right on, as far as writing goes.  My students find them both equally helpful.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Self-Deprecation

If we're honest, we have a treasure trove of self-deprecation.  You know your foibles better than anyone else. Rodney Dangerfield's "I don't get no respect" attitude is fodder for writing. Mine your own insecurities once in a while; laugh at yourself and encourage your reader to laugh at those qualities in them.  It's part of the human condition.

Anne Lamont is a good example.  She describes a reading where she had jet lag, the self-esteem of a prawn, and to top it off, she stopped breathing. She said she sounded like the English patient.

Understatement and hyperbole work in writing.  Exploit them both.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Favorite Quote on Writing -- James Baldwin

One writes out of one thing only — one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.
Baldwin, James. Autobiographical Notes. 1952.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Try Five Different Styles


Write this incident in five completely different styles:
A man gets off a bus, stumbles, looks over and sees a woman smiling.

Let me know how it goes.




Saturday, May 3, 2014

Song and Rhythm

Struggling with my novel about a Vietnam combat Marine, I came across this quote from Woody Guthrie in the Sun, May 2014, Issue 461:

". . .When a soldier shoots a soldier, that's a note to this song. When a cannon blows up twenty men, that's part of the rhythm, and when a soldier march off over the hill and don't march back, that's the drumbeat of this song. . . ."




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Difference Between a Short Story and a Novel

Taking a break from short stories, I am in the midst of writing a novel.  I've heard that the only difference between the two is that a novel is longer.

I couldn't disagree more.  Writing a book demands tenacity and endurance. Faith and patience. Hope and letting go.  A strict writing regimen.

Short stories come to me quickly.  I'm in control.  After every word is checked and my writing group critiques, I send the finished product out to literary journals.  So far I've  received gratification in a short time in the way of an acceptance.  After publication, the copyright reverts to me.

Not so with my novel.  It's taking an agonizing amount of time, effort and discipline.  The plot changes as do the characters, without any direction from me.  Suddenly a character shows up I've never met before.  A new plot develops.  Part of the old one gets thrown out.  I don't expect gratification now or anytime soon.  I am far from submitting to small presses.  Far from finishing the first draft.  Even further from editing and revising.

So why am I torturing myself?  Because my protagonist and his tale have been following me around for decades.  I cannot not squeeze his life and soul in a short story.

In the meantime, I'm furthering the story by getting out of the way and letting it happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Angels or Demons? Contradictions are the Stuff of Story

You must carry a chaos inside you to give birth to dancing.
                                                                                             --Nietzsche        
                                                                               

The creative principle must have opposition in order to exist.
                                                                                            --Norman Mailer

All suffering is bearable if it is seen as part of a story.
                                                                                           --Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa)

A creative person has little power over his own life.  He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daemon.
                                                                                            --C.G. Jung

Nothing resembles an angel so much as a demon, and vice versa.
                                                                                            --Jean Dutourd

I feel there is an angel in me whom I am constantly shocking.
                                                                                             --Jean Cocteau

The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time, of divine beauty.
                                                                                              --C.G. Jung

Art is a lie which allows us to approach the truth.
                                                                                                --Picasso

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Love-Hate Relationship

I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn't wish to have any other life . . . and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is. The reward comes sentence by sentence.  The reward comes in the unexpected inspiration. The reward comes from creating a character who lives and breathes and is perfectly real. But such effort it takes to attain the reward! I would have never have believed it would take such effort.

                                                                          Journal of a Novel
                                                                          December 15, 1997

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Complexity and Contradictions in Characters

A writer cannot go wrong with Janet Burroway's book, Writing Fiction, eighth edition.  The following is a bit on characterization and complexity:

Conflict is at the core of character as it is of plot. If plot begins with trouble, then character begins with a person in trouble; and trouble most dramatically occurs because we all have traits, tendencies, and desires that are at war, not simply with the world and other people, but with other traits, tendencies of our own. All of us probably know of a woman of the strong, striding, independent sort, attractive only to men who like a strong and striding woman. And when she falls in love? She becomes a clinging sentimentalist. All of us know a father who is generous, patient, and dependable. And when the children cross the line? He smashes crockery and wields a strap. All of us are gentle, violent; logical, schmaltzy; tough, squeamish; lusty, prudish; sloppy, meticulous; energetic, apathetic; manic, depressive. Perhaps you don't fit that particular list of contradictions, but you are sufficiently in conflict with yourself that as an author you have characters enough in your own psyche to people the work of a lifetime if you will identify, heighten and dramatize these conflicts within character, which Aristotle called "consistent inconsistencies."
                                                                     pp. 131, 132.

I am in the throes of writing a novel with a central character, an ex-Marine, who is a pushover for babies. Yet as a kid he slapped a baby who wouldn't stop crying.  He hates his sister for his dependency on her as he slogs his way into alcoholism.  Yet it is she who he turns to for help along the way.  We'll see what his feelings are in sobriety.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Do Not Dwell on Your Faults

Do not think of your faults; still less of others' faults; look for what is good and strong; and try to imitate it. Your faults will drop off, like dead leaves, when their time comes.
                                                                                        John Ruskin

This definitely applies to writers. Concentrating on your faults or those of others is an impediment to good writing.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On Writing


Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.
                                                                                                  Jessamyn West

He asked, "What makes a man a writer?" "Well," I said, "it's simple.  You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge." 
                                                                                                 Charles Bukowski

The most solid advice. . . for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough. 

                                                                                                  William Saroyan

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What's Your Obsession?

Writers write about what obsesses them.  You draw the cards.  I lost my mother when I was 14.  My daughter died at the age of 6.  I lost my faith as a Catholic.  When I'm writing, the darkness is always there.  I go where the pain is."
                                                                      --Anne Rice

Monday, February 17, 2014

Advice to a Young Writer

To a young writer, William Faulkner urged: "Read, read, read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!  You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out.  If it's not, throw it out the window."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You Must Be Driven

People who write are driven.  Otherwise nobody would do it.  I mean, I was warned when I began writing that it was very, very hard.  I thought it was easy.  I thought, well, you don't have to show up anywhere and go to work, and you can make up stories, and so forth.  But I was warned, rightly, that it was very, very hard work.  All writers who regularly write, I think are driven.

                                                                             -Robert Stone 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Much Money Can You Make From Writing?

You can make a lot of money from writing, but you’re more likely to earn a lot of heartbreak—but sometimes that can be more valuable.

                                         CJ Farley

Monday, January 20, 2014

More on Memoir, Memory and Truth

My students sometimes relate that their sister/brother insists that a certain event about which they are writing happened much differently or never occurred at all.

Memory isn't false.  You could say it is unreliable in its inclination to make a totally accurate story of our past.  The whole idea is to make sense of what's happened to us.  These memories reflect our purpose and identity; we reflect on how we see ourselves.

The way we tell our story is the way we begin to live our lives.  What we remember is a reconstruction of image and feeling that suits our needs and purposes.  This is an attempt by the author to narrate memories with the greatest emotional truth.  It's your memory of the event from your perspective.  Each family member may tell the story of an event differently because of their particular point of view, but that doesn't mean that your account is untrue.

This is your life you are writing about--your ambitions, successes and perhaps, even your failures,  Your memories are filled with folks who have adorned, scarred and skewed the plot of your life.  Put them in your stories before time robs you of your impressions.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Is Memory Reliable?

Some students of mine are worried about the truthfulness of their memory.  

The purpose of memoir is to capture essence rather than factual details.  As a memoirist, your job is to relate your memory as sincerely as possible.  You assure the reader that you've done a sufficient amount of reflection so that what you write is your best understanding of what originally happened.  You cannot expect to remember every single detail accurately.  But the reader has the right to expect that what you claim to be true will be accurate to the best of your recollection.  Memoir is about honesty, not about how you appear to others.  If you write about emotional truth, your writing will appear authentic, which is more important than making you look good.

One of the steps to writing the successful memoir is to mine the emotional truth.   We experience our past through feelings and senses.  No one can disagree with them.   Memoir deals with our personal experience as well as our attitudes and our cherished feelings.  In other words, capture the emotional essence of your remembrance.  Why is what we feel less true than what is?

I have paraphrased the above from Unreliable Truth by Maureen Murdock.  A book I highly recommend for memoirists.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Do Not Get Over It

I like to think of myself as a seasoned short story writer.

I can't, however, forget a character who's been part of my psyche for a couple decades.  He's the protagonist of a short story I never finished.

Now I have revisited him and realize that a short story will not reign him in.   So, I am 70 pages into a novel or novella.

Much fiction depends on people and writers who never forget.  Sometimes, this clinging, this refusal to "get over it," is very useful in fiction and in real life.  Just think of The Great Gatsby:
"You can't repeat the past."
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously.  "Why of course you can!" 
Readers want intimacy with the character.  To make this happen, I need to remember his past as well as mine, even though they are very different.  In this novel, our psyches meet.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.  Wish me luck.

Best Submission Rejection Ever

"Catherine, at this time, we don't handle projects with swearing in them."