October 31, 2009

Need Any Marketing Material? Editing?

Today I’d like to get the word out about a great editor and writer friend of mine. She and I got our master’s together. Our class was particularly close, and if you would’ve asked any of us, “Who do you think is the most prepared and works the hardest?” I bet they all would’ve said, “Kerry Ceszyk.” When teaching classes, her syllabus was always prepared months in advance, and she was always so conscientious. She loved teaching at 8 o’clock in the morning because that’s when the best students took Science and Technical Writing. Not only that, but she’s a really nice person.

Now she has her own freelance writing and editing business. It’s called Elements Writing. If you need a resume, a thesis or novel copy-edited, a nonfiction book indexed, or promotional materials, she’s your person. I can wholeheartedly and unequivocably say, Kerry Ceszyk is who I would ask. Check her out.

What I’m Reading Today: The litmag Granta, Chicago-themed issue 108. I just read the short story “Parrot,” by Peter Carey. Such magazines are the literary heart of our day ~ passionate in youth, steadfast in age, and glorious all around.

October 30, 2009

Thank You All!

Wow! Thank you all. I sent out an email yesterday to let writer friends know that I was linking to them and to ask (beg?) them to link back to me, and I got such wonderful emails back. I connected with people I hadn’t talked with in a while, and I got to read some people’s work. I also mentioned something on Facebook and got a lot of nice notes there. Really, your generosity is overwhelming. After yesterday clicking the send button with much trepidation, now I feel like I’m in It’s a Wonderful Life.

And thanks to everyone’s efforts the bots finally noticed me and put a listing on Google.

So that’s my thought for the day. I am not alone; you are not alone. We often feel stranded out here in the writers life ~ or just in life in general. The world not just passively but actively works against creativity and productivity, and the writing itself doesn’t cooperate. But there are others out there feeling exactly the same way. If you’re feeling blue, or would just like to chat, please don’t hesitate to email me. If nothing else, misery loves company.

What I'm Reading Today: Mary Gaitskill's short story collection Because They Wanted To. Raw but nuanced. Wow!

October 29, 2009

Why I Love Alpine Hot Spiced Cider

Well, a storm has closed Laramie down today. It’s not the heavy wet flakes but instead the unremitting powder that the wind sculpts into wave forms. It reminds me of why I love Alpine hot spiced cider.

When I was growing up, we had a late-season grazing lease up on the top of the Pryors. This meant that late in the fall while we finishing up our summer grazing—which we spent in cabins with no electricity or running water—we would cut out a herd of cows and drive them up the steep mountain to where shooting stars and pine trees grew. Then, months later when the snow was deep in the high country and we were back at the home place, us kids would be taken out of school for a long weekend in December to round this herd up and bring them down.

It was always frigid and, let me tell you, cowboy boots are not warm. I always dreaded having to pee—finding a copse of trees, creakily hoisting myself off the horse and hopefully into a space blown free of drifts, and then hiking up my coat, down my chaps and pants and longjohns and underwear to try to hold the horse and squat and miss my pantslegs. Anyway, it would take a couple-three days to bring the cows down, winding through canyons and cutbanks down to the home place.

One year, after that first day of roundup, we stayed in some friends’ cabin. It was dark by the time we dropped the cows and piled into the suburban. The warmth of the heater made me drowsy and I could feel as I thawed the radiating cold from my extremities. I didn’t know where we were going. When we drove up, the kerosene lamps through the windows of the cabin looked like Christmas, and when we were invited in, they offered us Alpine hot spiced cider. I glanced at my aunt to make sure that it was okay, and she nodded. The smell of the apples and the cinnamon and the heat of the cup in my hands and the steam on my frost-chapped cheeks gave me such a sense of warmth and satisfaction.

So to this day, I love all things apple, and especially Alpine hot spiced cider.

Oh, and I finished a story today!

What I’m Reading Today: Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, a short story collection. A week ago, I finished her short story collection Half In Love. I’ve always had a hard time finding writers to compare myself to. By that I mean writers who write the same type of material that I attempt. Maile Meloy is the first and only writer I’ve come across who writes what I’m trying to write ~ the West of Wyoming and Montana from a (recovering) ranch girl’s perspective, as well as more broadly. Maile Meloy, wherever you are, this is my love letter to you!

October 28, 2009

Let's Play

Well, it was the switching that helped (see yesterday’s post). I shelved the Vietnam story for a couple of days and responded to a call to write about blue (thanks, Nina!). The voices of the protagonist of this story and of the previous story are actually not much different, but the mode of expression is much different. In the Vietnam story, it’s all very serious, mimicking my approach to the piece, while this second story writes like a fairy tale.

Isn’t that interesting? Now that I think about it, any move to be more childlike ~ whether it’s by writing in a childlike style or by playing or by taking myself less seriously ~ helps me to become less blocked. Last year when I was trying to write a synopsis of a novel, the only way I could accomplish it, simplify it enough, was to tell it like a fairy tale: “Once upon a time, there was a good girl who fell in love with an idealistic young man who was a writer.” Then, from that purely chronological and essentialized version, I complicated it and removed it from the “once upon a time” style. But it really really helped. (Just as it would help to begin writing a synopsis as if you were sitting on a barstool and trying to explain a movie to the guy next to you.) It’s the taking everything so seriously, the anxiety of influence, of competition, of failure, that gets me sometimes. It’s not what I’m saying; it’s that I’m not saying it well.

So, let’s play! Get out those slinkies and footballs and Barbies and crayons ~ here we go!


I think I’ll add to the blog, instead of status, “What I’m Reading Today.” Which doesn’t mean I’ll read it all the way through and finish it before I move on to something else. You might notice I skip around a bit. Uh, a lot.

What I’m Reading Today: Just finished Tom Piazza’s City of Refuge for book club. Very ambitious, which is hemming and hawing for I both admired it and thought it needed to be focused a bit.

October 27, 2009

Are you hearing the Voices?

The question is, when starting something new, how do you silence the voices? You know the ones. “Hey, what ever made you think you could write?” “This is shit ~ you know that, don’t you.” “Not only that, but everything you’ve ever written is shit. Everything, no exceptions.” “That sentence is so wrong, cliché, overwritten, underwritten ~ what were you thinking?” I try and try ~ and bang my head against the wall ~ and try some more.

What I sometimes do is quit ~ and then try something else. Start something new, or pick up something else I’ve been working on. Then maybe read something that inspires me ~ an essay by another writer or a short story I particularly like.

But when that doesn’t work, I know I’m in trouble. Sometimes, it’s not because of the writing but because of life. For instance, right now I have a cold. The hard part for me about being sick is not the physical pains and aches and misery. For me, the worst part is the emotional pit that sucks you down into depression. When you lay in bed and wish you could voluntarily stop your heart.

So at these times it’s best for me just to have faith in the process and know that I’ll come out of it and feel better and to keep trying. And try not to let myself get pulled too far into the vortex.

October 25, 2009


I received a rejection from a litmag today for a story submission. I get lots of rejections, just as every writer does. But I treasure the ones like this that say, “I really enjoyed this. It doesn’t fit our magazine, but send us some more.”

This is a great big thank you to all those tireless readers out there who screen submissions for litmags. No pay, no recognition, just the honor and, hopefully sometimes, the pleasure.

October 24, 2009


I’m at that stage of writing this story where I’m world-building.  I have the general outline in mind, but the specifics of scene aren’t there, so starting to write is harder and slower and a lot more work.  The trajectory isn’t yet pulling me along.  I don’t yet have enough of the foundation bricks laid to watch the walls go up.  Some stories just flow out of me, which is one of the best feelings, but even the stories that come tough, eventually I’ll reach a critical mass and have enough momentum to go forward. (Are you tired of the mixed metaphors yet?) When the going is tough, I just have to have faith that it will catch fire, or at least sputter forward.  I find that helps me a lot ~ to just have faith that the process will work, that the way I get things written will result in a story.  Then that’s one less thing that will block me.

But I am moving forward every day, and that’s the important thing.

Speaking of perserverence, check out Benjamin Percy's column about what he learned from Rocky Balboa in the latest issue of Poets & Writers.  Sorry ~ it's not online but very much worth the cover price.

October 23, 2009

The Urge to Create

I have a friend, Kim, who is an amazing artist.  She does graphic design, flash, painting, photography, sculpture, and so much more.  I am in awe of her talent and her hard work.  (Her profile is not yet on the web, or I would link so you could see her work.) We were talking yesterday about the creative process.  

She’s working on a series of five amazing paintings of closeups of everyday objects, and she was telling me about her successes and her frustrations.  I kept nodding, because everything she said also applied to writing: It’s never good enough. There’s never enough time.  Sometimes there are happy accidents.  This part here works but this part doesn’t. Other’s work is so interesting and inspiring. You can get so into your work that the time flies but you can also be so focused that the muscles in your shoulders tense so much it gives you a headache. The dread before starting a project.  The excitement of starting a new project that catches your imagination. Your ambitions are too big.  You get nervous about its reception with other writers/artists.  It’s always easier to get to the projects that other people ask you to do than to your own. There’s so many projects you would love to do. Finishing something makes you very happy.  Life interferes but contributes. I could go on and on. I guess I had always thought about the creative process being similar across media, I’d never thought about it being exactly the same. 

Which got me to thinking about something I’ve been cogitating on a long time.  Don’t you think that there is an urge to create just as deep as there is an urge to destroy?  There’s certainly a nesting urge, a urge to have a baby, but it’s broader and deeper than that.  The need to make something, to produce something, is not just a byproduct of needing things because we’re hungry, thirsty, or desirous.  Wanting to leave our mark on the world, sure. Sort of the opposite of the need to consume, a counterbalance. I don’t know what I’m saying exactly ~ only that it’s more fundamental than people think.  The arts are sometimes considered extraneous, but they are part of something that is profoundly human.  They are the outward expression of creativity and imagination, and without creativity and imagination, we wouldn’t have science or society or anything.  Science uses metaphor ~ though they might call them “laws” or something else ~ especially with new innovation (think Einstein).  I’m not merely justifying the arts; I’m saying that creativity has an evolutionary basis that got us where we are today. Creativity is a wanting to connect to the world, to other people. 

We have urges both to create and to destroy, but creativity takes longer and more effort.  To nurture a plant or a child, it takes lots of time and attention.  To create art, it takes energy and material and time.  To destroy something, sure it takes an outburst of energy, but it’s much easier and much faster.  And maybe both these urges stem from the same place.  What do they say?  A critic is a stifled writer?  A hater hates what he sees in himself.

I feel like I’m not articulating this very well.  And many people have probably said this before me, and much better.  Ah well.    

Go create something. I’m gonna.

October 22, 2009

Alice Munro is da bomb

It was a good writing day today. I started a story early last spring as part of an online workshop (put on by American Short Fiction and the wonderful Jill Meyers) and then got stuck on it and put it aside. It began as an exercise in which we chose a paragraph from a published short story or novel and then played with it, making it our own ~ first word by word, and then sentence by sentence. I chose a paragraph from a story by Alice Munro (of course) and dove in with no preconceived notion of where I was going. This is unusual for me ~ usually I write a lot in my head before I write a line, have a title and/or a first line, and know where I’m going to end up. (People argue the merits of this approach, but whatever works, right?)

The story became, or was going to be, a story about a young man who dodged the Vietnam draft and spent the rest of his life trying to prove his bravery. I wrote a couple of pages but couldn’t get any further on it so put it aside. I went to a couple of conferences, talked to a wonderful man about conscription (Hey, Lauren), and conceived of the idea of a book of linked short stories. This story fit in that idea for a collection but not perfectly, so I played around with the initial premise until it evolved to a young man who doesn’t know he was adopted. He avoids the draft because he realizes that his military father, who he’s idolized but has never been able to please, is not really his father. It’s about his search to find out who he is.

So today’s progress was taking the three pages I had already written in the first storyline and converting it to the second storyline. Very interesting process.

On that initial paragraph, I once again went through and changed it word by word, sentence by sentence. This paragraph was not in my usual style of writing. I have a spare style, more Hemingway than Woolf, and this paragraph had lots of commas, lots of dependent and independent clauses, lots of looping structures. Mimicking this structure, putting my head into those sentences, makes me think differently and illuminates a character I don’t often inhabit. Someone who’s stuck in his own head, bound up tight and going in circles, tentative and tortured, searching, yet very articulate and nuanced. (Wait ~ some of that sounds a little like me… hehe ) It’s an amazing thing to have the very structure of the language pull you out of yourself involuntarily and shape the character you’re writing. Especially since I usually approach things top-down, from the head, and this process started deep within and worked outward. I don’t think I could work this way all the time, but every time I try something new, it furthers my grasp of craft.

And let me just say, if you’re going to attempt to mimic a master, Alice Munro is da bomb.

October 21, 2009

What This Blog Is About

When you start a blog, you think a lot about what you want to write about and what you don’t want to write about.  I know I want to write about writing because I think a lot about it.  It obsesses me.  I don’t want it to be just the surface stuff, the usual questions.  I want it to go deeper.  All the stuff you talk about late at night while drinking with your writing buddies or around a conference table at a workshop or in essays on craft.

I know I don’t want this blog to be about publishing, or only peripherally.  I’m equally passionate about my family and what they’re doing, but I like my privacy and I think they probably do too, so it won’t be about that much either.

I think it will also be about ideas, since I’m fascinated with those too.

Speaking of which, if you’re not familiar with it, go immediately to the TED site (Technology, Entertainment, Design ~ and watch some of the videos.  Do it now (but don't let your boss catch you).  It’s fabulous.  Ideas that make you look at the world differently.  I’ve spent full weekends watching these videos.

October 19, 2009

First Post

Hey everybody!  So here I am.  Let's hope I have something interesting to say.