September 30, 2010

Storytellers Are Everywhere

What I’m Reading Today: More wonderful Tolkien.

Some of the best storytellers never have anything in print. I just love coming across someone who can tell a good yarn. When I was bartending, I met a number of people who could, and my husband Steve and my sister Nikki are two of the best.

Yesterday, my friend Kim pointed me to a great storyteller. Kim’s an extremely talented artist, probably the most talented of anyone I know in person. She creates these amazing things, both personally and professionally. She sent me a link to a review of a business, of all things. It’s her parents towing business in Elk Mountain, Wyoming. This guy, Stephen W. from Seattle, does these great reviews on I don’t know if he’s a writer, but he’s a natural storyteller. Makes me curious who he is.  Here’s his review of Elk Mountain Towing.

I was driving about 85 MPH across Wyoming with my daughter's cats, which I had let out of their cages an hour or so before. Around 6 PM, a semi drifted into my lane. I jerked the steering wheel too sharply, the front left tire blew, and I went into a roll. The vehicle came to rest on its lid, and with the glass from the shattered sun-roof ground into my scalp, I unfastened my seatbelt and let myself out through the busted driver's side window through which both my daughter's cats had already escaped.

One of the cats, a fat orange rascal named Max, was grabbed by an alert spectator and handed over to the proprietor of this fine establishment.

I was released from the hospital around 3 a.m. I was covered in blood. One of my ears stuck out like a car door. The corner of the back of my head was sheared raw. The front desk nurse called her boyfriend, a very serious little man who worked three jobs: security guard, cabbie, and Holiday Inn desk clerk. He called his hotel, made a reservation on my behalf, then gave me a ride in a Gremlin that was apparently his cab but that had no meter. He also agreed to my request to stop by a liquor store, and he went in with my debit card and pin number and returned with a generously sized bottle of scotch.

I spent the next day or so on liquor and codeine in a Holiday Inn in Laramie. Finally, I thought, I had the strength to go get my daughter's rescued cat. I drove to Elk Mountain, pulled off the interstate, and found myself in a picture-postcard community with a single white church and a post office and little clapboard houses separated into blocks by dirt roads. In the post office, I asked the clerk how to get to the towing garage. He told me there were two ways. Please God, I thought, just tell me one of them. He said I could drive up the gravel road that went up the mountain and that, as soon as I crested it, I'd see the garage. So I drove off in my rented van up the mountain, and suddenly, my attention was arrested by a sign on a tree that said, in black block letters: FREE STOCK. I worked at Microsoft at the time, so I read "stock" to mean "shares". A knife of sudden fear went through me, I slammed on the brakes, the van slid sideways, and the bumper came to rest two inches from the side of a steer. He was joined slowly by cows that surrounded the van, staring stupidly at nothing in particular. Should I blow the horn? I wondered. Will they attack the van? Eventually, they dispersed.

I continued to the garage, which was huge, fronted by what looked like an abandoned gas station. The elevation is about a mile, I'm in pain, and I can't breath, and it's October, and the wind is whipping so fiercely it feels as if it might tip the van. And the proprietor is late. Finally, a little old yellow Toyota pickup pulled into the garage, and I approached the window. The driver, a taciturn old man, rolled it down.

"How you doin'?" he said.

"Well," I answered, "I can't breath at this elevation and I'm in severe pain and I've been waiting an hour. I'm fine, I guess."

Oblivious to my sarcasm, he said, "Wow. I was sure I told you I had to get the wife into Laramie for chemo before I could meet you here." And only then did I register that there was someone sitting beside him -- a pasty, bald woman with her head cradled in a neck pillow. I fell to apologizing for being every rude, self-pitying, cosseted asshole in the world. The man brushed my apologies aside and told me that he'd be back after he took his wife home.

Back he came, and we went into the garage and for an hour, he helped me track down Max the cat. We passed a crushed economy car. The roof was nearly torn off, and there was a jumble of clothing and jewelry and cash and suitcases, and a solitary spike-heeled shoe.

"That one was a fatality," he said. In my emotionally weakened state, I was momentarily and acutely attuned to the infinite sadness of someone who's just learned a daughter isn't coming home and has died violently in a place of almost lunar barrenness. Everyone, I thought, is worse off than me.

After two hours, we finally found Max in the wheel well of a truck. With him hugged to my chest, I raced excitedly to my van, tripped over a trailer hitch, and split my head on the cement floor. Max flew from my arms, disappeared, and I gave up for the day. I had to get back to my liquor and codeine.

The next day, I returned. I passed through the station in front of the garage, and there sat the proprietor's wife and several of her friends, in front of a fuel barrel with a hole cut in it and in which wood was burning. They were knitting, the wife again with her bald head cradled in her neck pillow. She greeted me sweetly and expressed her sympathy for my plight. I wanted to embrace her.

We found the cat, this time in the cab of a truck. I got him into the van, and the next day, I resumed my trip to Texas.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Questions of the Day: Do you know some good storytellers? The instinct to tell a story seems pretty basic and ingrained to me. Do you think it is?

September 29, 2010

Multimedia Tolkien

What I’m Reading Today: More wonderful The Lord of the Rings.

When you find an author you love, in addition to reading everything they ever wrote, do you search out everything about them? I look for bios but also for audio and video and images. I recently reread The Hobbit, and now I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings, so I looked up John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

Everyone called him Ronald ~ though he apparently was John Ronald at school and JRRT or Tollers at other times ~ and he had a day job like the rest of us. He worked as a college professor and philologist (linguist) at Oxford. Then he took what he loved ~ creating languages and worlds ~ and created this complex and timeless work of art.

An aside: That’s one of the things I love about being a creative writer. You get to follow your passion. This isn’t something you get to do in many areas of your life, and some people never get to do it at all. Not something to take for granted. You get to write about whatever the heck you want to. It may be a terrible freedom to some, in that there are too many possibilities, but I find it incredibly freeing. Whatever strikes my fancy.

So, I looked up Tolkien, and I thought I’d share some of what I found. First of all, there’s the wonderful Wiki bio on him. Here's an excerpt:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973), was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis—they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972.

After his death, Tolkien's son Christopher published a series of works based on his father's extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about an imagined world called Arda, and Middle-earth within it. Between 1951 and 1955, Tolkien applied the term legendarium to the larger part of these writings.

While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the "father" of modern fantasy literature—or, more precisely, of high fantasy. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". Forbes ranked him the 5th top-earning dead celebrity in 2009.
But I've found so much more!  Lots of images. 

This is my all-time favorite image of Tolkien because it was on the back of my copies of his books (image from here).

I love this one too ~ because it makes my heart ache for the young man who will have to go to war (image from here).

Have you ever wondered about the inspiration for Rivendell?  Apparently, Tolkien went on holiday to the Alps, and here's his image and a photo of the place in the Alps that inspired it (images from here).

Finally, this is my favorite image that Tolkien painted of his world.  (I love the fact that he painted images of it, and I love his style.)  It's of Bilbo in The Hobbit riding a barrel to escape the wood elves.

There is a bunch of audio of Tolkien reading from his books and also speaking Elvish and singing.  Isn't that great? Here he is reciting the ring verse.

Here he is, singing a troll song.

Here he is reading Elvish.

There was even a vinyl LP of Tolkien reading his work. You can go here to listen to some of it.

Finally, there are actually videos of Tolkien from interviews. The first (which I cannot embed) is a 1968 interview broadcast in 2007, and the second (below) is subtitled and he talks about his life.

Enjoy the multimedia feast!

Questions of the Day:  Who do you research and track obsessively?

September 28, 2010

Evaluating Not-so-constructive Criticism

In yesterday’s post, I deconstructed some unsolicited, overwhelmingly negative feedback I got on the submission of a book of short stories to a contest, and I made a impassioned plea for your help ~ and you came through in a huge way! I can’t thank you enough for your reasoned responses and good advice and empathy. I owe you. (I mean that. Whenever you want to call in the favor, let me know.)

I wanted to recap your great advice (in the comments of yesterday’s post and also on Facebook). You guys said such smart things, and I wanted to pass them along.

Liz Prato said I was on the right track to compare that feedback with feedback I’d gotten from other places on the same stories. She said, “I've found that no matter how much I try to deconstruct negative feedback, it doesn't really make sense to me until a month (or more) later.” How very smart! In the middle of the white-hot first read, it’s hard to be objective.

Both Brad Green and Jenn Scheck-Kahn said really smart things about the strong reaction of the reviewer. Jenn asked whether the reader had to comment or if the comments were unsolicited. What a great distinction. The reader was not required to comment; therefore, the comments I received were unsolicited. She said, “If the answer is yes, this feedback shouldn't be taken seriously. … If the answer is no, that's a different story entirely and this feedback reads as someone who felt wounded, betrayed.” I definitely hadn’t thought about it that way. The reader fell a little in love with the work or had raised expectations, as Jenn said, but then she or he was disappointed.

Brad also made this point. He said, “Taking the time to tell you what's wrong, in their opinion, means they affected that reader nonetheless. I call that a win. Hate is as much a win as love. Hate doesn't apply to these comments, but anything other than dismissal is a win.” (Brad and I have talked about this before - how some people write to be loved and others write to be hated, but a strong reaction means you’ve hit a chord.) Jenn also made this point: “I tend to take strong responses more seriously than others because they reveal that a nerve has been touched, which is your ultimate goal, even if it's the wrong nerve.” Brad also made the point that some of the stories in the collection have been previously published, so a number of editors have liked them.

Jenn also said, because the reader was disappointed, she or he just stopped trying to understand what was going on. The reader’s comments became reductive. “This judge … believed in your skill but somehow the story stopped demanding that s/he keep paying attention. That's what I'd look at - what's missing? Are these stories lacking in ambition? The answer might be no - that you've stumbled on a bad reader or a good reader who gave a bad reading. But I think it's worth considation.” I love the distinction between a bad reader and a good reader giving a bad reading.

I also got some great comments from Facebook friends.
  • Liz mentioned that maybe the reader was just in a really shitty mood. Good point.
  • Bonnie ZoBell quipped, “If the critic likes your work it's valid. If not, it's spite.” Hehe.
  • M.E. Parker said that some of the most helpful criticism he’s received was negative.
  • He and C.C. Russell said that anyone who makes an overarching assertion about the nature of art (“Remember that art is not life. Art explains why something happens.”) is a little suspect; a more nuanced concilatory tone makes the comments more credible.
  • Lucy Jane Bledsoe mentioned offering such negative feedback without the writer asking for it is suspect.
  • Merrik Bush-Pirkle pointed out, about paying to enter a contest with grumpy graduate students as readers: “rather than get a studied and experienced critical assessment, you're getting subjectivity, bias, and limited perspective. And sure, probably a little spite borne out of a sense of self-preservation.”
  • Michael Neff offered the great advice of only get critiques from the best people and look for commonalities.
  • Erica Cote (an artist and my niece and friend) said that this in true not just in the art arena. Wherever you go, people have something to say.
  • Tania Nyman made the very good point that she needs “a sense that the critic understands and agrees with what I'm aiming for. Often I get advice that may be valid, but it heads the piece in a direction I'm not interested in.”

Also, my friend Pembroke Sinclair emailed me to say that this person was not my intended audience and the comments were a little crass because they didn't seem to know what I was doing: "In that case, it might have been better if they kept their mouth shut."  I agree.

I really can’t thank you all enough!! Such smart things you all said, and I’ll be thinking about them for months. I owe you, I owe you!

From the bottom of my heart,


September 27, 2010

I Need Your Help

What I’m Reading Today: This weekend I watched (parts of) A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof back to back, and it left me so bereft and in need of comfort that I picked up the first book of The Lord of the Rings to reread.

I think I need a little help from you guys.

On Friday, I received a rejection. No big deal ~ as writers we receive a lot of rejections. It’s part of the process. But this one is the worst one I’ve received. Lots of detailed negative comments. I’ve gotten lots of encouraging comments from editors, but, ah, this one.

I would like to say that I really appreciate the fact that they did take the time to comment. I even wrote them an email saying thank you. They get a lot of entries ~ the fact that they took the time is gratifying. And I can safely say that this person is not my ideal reader.

What I hope ~ beg, beseech you ~ is to give your take on the notes by commenting on this post. I’ll give you what is my take, after loooooong thought, and if you’d give me yours, I’d be forever grateful. And if you think that they are possibly right on and it’s criticism I should take to heart, feel free to say that too.

The rejection is for my book of short stories that I sent to a contest. I’m not going to say who gave them. So I’ll give their comment and then clarify and give my reaction.

1. “Spotted as a Leopard” - too short & no resolution. The full title is “The Year I Went Spotted Like a Leopard.” This story was an attempt at a short short. It’s only 675 words. I tried to make it clear but poetic. I’ve had other feedback on this story from journals that said, “We felt there was too much exposition in this story, particularly in the ending. We wanted the story to happen, to unfold naturally rather than be explained.” So, it is too short. I don’t think I’m good at short shorts. I haven’t gotten the hang of them, and I’m more interested in longer work. So that criticism is justified, I think. However, I think there is no resolution but it’s because I didn’t want there to be any. I often attempt a sense of closure without a resolution. A lot of my stories don’t have tidy endings. Just small turns or gestures. So this criticism is a wash, I think.

2. “Mouse” - She could have put them back where she found them. Also cows don’t have milk unless they have a calf of their own. In this story, a girl finds some baby mice whose home is going to get washed out with the spring irrigation, so she brings them home to raise them, but her father makes her kill them. So this criticism is on the basis of what is real and possible. This story didn’t work for the reader because she or he was not convinced of what happened in the story. I would refute the criticism on a purely factual basis: No, she could not have put them back because the irrigation ruined their home, and if she touched them, it is possible that the mother mouse would reject them and eat them. Also, yes, a cow does have to have a calf to have milk, but one of the calves she's feeding is hers. I probably didn’t make that clear. I took it for granted that the reader would know that. But even then sometimes you have a milk cow that her calf is older and weaned but she still is giving milk so you feed the bum calves without her natural calf. So as facts I think the reader misses the point. However, I obviously haven’t convinced this person, which is my job as a writer. So this criticism, while wrong, may be justified.

3. “Oranges” - We get the idea: the children have been left alone. Ending is too easy. This is the story of a girl, age 5, and a boy, age 3, who are left alone for long periods by their mother, who is a drunk. (It was first published on Ramble Underground and is available to read here.) I tried to stay in the girl’s POV, so there’s not much interpretation for the reader. It’s a lot of this happened and this happened. I wanted the reader to have to pay attention. However, I have gotten a comment on this story that there was “too much blocking”: in other words, the rate of revelation was low and there was too much of “she did this and then this and then this.” However, I was hoping a reader would catch the small bread crumbs I was laying out. So this reader thought there was no change in the story. She or he felt I was beating her/him over the head with the same thing. She/he thought it was too long. Also, the ending wasn’t satisfying. I ended it with the mother coming home having just got a job, and she wants the girl to forgive her and everything to be nice, but the girl can’t, as shown by small gestures. By “too easy” I assume she/he meant predictable. Or I hadn’t earned it. Since there was no change over the course of the story, the ending was pat, maybe? This comment does go along with the first story’s comment - ending wasn’t satisfying. (Note - in the first one, there is not enough resolution, but in this one, it’s too easy, so too much resolution?) So, needless to say, I’m still figuring it out.

4. “Change Your Hair” - An idea story, predictable. The title of this story is “Change Your Hair, Change Your Life.” It’s about two sisters whose mother is a hairdresser. It’s in four parts, each an important turning point in these girls’ lives. It’s told sort of from both their points of view. The conceit of doing your hair runs throughout it. (It was first published on Prick of the Spindle and is available to read here.) An idea story - I suppose it is. I started with the idea of the title and tried to run it throughout the portions. So I guess the reader is saying is that it feels contrived and she or he wasn’t pulled into it. Predictable? Hmmmm. In the first part, the mother punished the older sister by chopping off all her hair; in the second, the older sister joins the army; in the third, the older sister kicks out the younger sister’s abusive husband; and in the fourth, the older sister comes home from overseas having been raped. Predictable? I think maybe this objection is about something else. Maybe it’s about craft - I didn’t sufficiently pull this person in.

5. “The Body Animal” - Another idea story, trying to explain anorexia. This is the story of a girl with body dysmorphia. (It’s been published in Talking River, but it isn’t available online.) But I didn’t approach it by thinking, Oh, I know, I’ll tell the story of a girl with body dysmorphia. I wanted to explore how women get disconnected from their bodies at a very early age. So it didn’t feel like just “an idea story” to me. I felt in her body, blow by blow. This comment made me feel like the reader was congratuling her- or himself on being smarter than me having labeled it. Then I thought that maybe that’s what the reader was doing throughout, making themselves feel smarter by dismissing what I was writing. Which made me a little angry.

The final comment was: “Remember that art is not life. Art explains why something happens.” So this reader must have a pretty specific idea of what art is, and what I’m writing is definitely not art, to this person. But, the thing is, for me the whole point is to try to explain the complexity and subtlety of lived existence. I am trying to explain life, and that is the art. I’m not trying to be art-ificial; I’m trying to use the clearest language I can to portray lived experience and make it a satisfying story. This reader needed more interpretation and more “art.”

So, bottom line, this person was not my ideal reader. She or he didn’t like my style nor how I ended things. I didn’t pull them in at all, and they didn’t have a good thing to say about any of it. (There were more stories in the collection they didn’t comment on.) In fact, I think they sort of resented having to read my stories and they dismissed me out of hand.

This all leaves me both slightly angry but also thinking deeply about my craft.

Questions of the Day: I don’t want to dismiss this person if they have valid criticisms, but I don’t want to take them to heart if what they say had no bearing on what I’m trying to do. What do you think?

September 24, 2010

The Great E.O. Wilson

What I’m Reading Today: I can’t wait to dip into Russell Banks’s Trailerpark, which I just received yesterday. A lot of people have recommended it to me over the years. However, last night was spoken for with kids gymnastics. A hoot to watch, let me tell you.

I went to see the great E.O. Wilson speak yesterday. It was like getting to hear Darwin speak. If you don’t know who E.O. is, you should. He’s the Stephen King of science, the Abraham Lincoln of sociobiology. He’s one of those people who shape the way we think. Not only that but he’s recently ventured into fiction, with fabulous results! He wrote a novel called Anthill. I haven’t read the whole novel ~ but I really want to. I’ve only read the part that was published in the New Yorker, called “Trailhead.” It tells about the birth to death of an anthill in a way that satisfies both the fiction and the science reader. Here’s an excerpt:

The Trailhead Queen was dead. At first, there was no overt sign that her long life was ending: no fever, no spasms, no farewells. She simply sat on the floor of the royal chamber and died. As in life, her body was prone and immobile, her legs and antennae relaxed. Her stillness alone failed to give warning to her daughters that a catastrophe had occurred for all of them. She lay there, in fact, as though nothing had happened. She had become a perfect statue of herself. While humans and other vertebrates have an internal skeleton surrounded by soft tissue that quickly rots away, ants are encased in an external skeleton; their soft tissues shrivel into dry threads and lumps, but their exoskeletons remain, a knight’s armor fully intact long after the knight is gone.

Isn’t that amazing?

He is just the best speaker too. He looks like a 50s teacher ~ tall and thin and a bit stooped, white hair carefully parted on the side and combed and slicked into place, big black-rimmed glasses in that 50s shape, a gray suit with a red tie. He talks with his hands, and his voice has a bit of a lisp from his teeth. The minute he opens his mouth, you know you’re in the presence of greatness.

His talk was about how we are very rapidly decimating our planet’s species diversity. He said we are paleolithic in our emotions, medieval in our institutions, and futuristic in our technology ~ which is very scary. He also said that we are making good progress saving our physical environment but ignoring our living environment. If we save our living environment, the physical environment will be saved too, but if we save only the physical environment, we will lose both the physical and the living.

He went into great fascinating detail about our planet and its species. Did you know that there are literally millions of species that we have yet to discover right here on our own planet? I had no idea. Granted, most of them are nematodes or bacteria or viruses. He said that a scientist could spend his or her professional lifetime just investigating the perimeter of one single rotting tree stump, and he talked about how we see the ground as a two-dimensional thing when really it is layer upon layer of living ecosystem. He would talk about a group of species (a phylum? an order?) and then he would say, “And so for all you students in the audience, if you would like to make a huge splash in your career, have all these discoveries to make, you should go into bacterial biology.” Something like that. Then, he would introduce the next group of species and end it with, “And so, students who are listening, if you want to make a huge splash …” He named a number of species that recently went extinct. He called the ivory-billed woodpecker the Elvis of birds; people keep sighting it, but it really is extinct.

He ended his speech with a quote (I don’t remember from whom): “A civilization is measured not just by what it creates but also by what it decides not to destroy.”

His talk got me thinking about our world. We take it for granted and think of it as fixed. When we want to feel pulled out of our world and taken to an alternate universe, we read science fiction. But really alternate worlds/universes exist right here under our noses if we just take the time to investigate. He talked about the worlds that exist in our backyard on a very small scale (he discovered his first species ~ a type of fire-ant ~ in a vacant lot when he was 13), and I would argue that alternate worlds exist on a human scale in our backyard, if we just take the time to discover them and try to convey them. If we can get past our preconceived notions and really see what’s going on, try to make sense of it, convey it in all its glorious detail, we’ll have something. We don’t need to go to Borneo to get the exotic (though E.O. would argue that places like Borneo hold the greatest species diversity); all we need to do is see it in the world around us and really comprehend its strangeness. Make the world new!

Questions of the Day: Do you get inspired like I do when you go to hear people speak? Do you think the exotic is right in your back yard?

September 23, 2010


What I’m Reading Today: More Sherlock Holmes.

Like any family with kids, our mornings are hectic. My husband Steve gets up first and showers and when he’s done I get up and shower and he gets breakfast for the kids. While they eat I feed the cat and sometimes fold laundry and do a quick email check. When they’re done, I get them dressed one at a time and French-braid my daughter’s hair while Steve brushes their teeth. Steve takes them to school in the morning (I pick them up in the afternoon because Steve works late), so they’re out the door shortly after seven.

And that’s where I am right now. I’m ready to go to work, but I’ve got a half an hour of me time. I’m not a morning person, so this little gap is pure heaven. I use it to read a New Yorker story or think about writing or something like that (though sometimes I don’t get my shower in till now).

Today is one of those rainy fall days that make me introspective. We’ve been really dry, and so the moisture is a welcome relief (I can hear my daughter, “What’s ‘moisture,’ Mommy?”). First time I’ve ever seen it ~ we had an electric-bright short rainbow with the morning sunrise.

Because I was raised on a ranch, I grew up with a lot of alone time. Now I know I was intensely lonely, but at the time I didn’t. Fish don’t know that they live in water. And because I was alone a lot, I need some alone time as an adult. I get a lot less of it nowadays, but I still crave it and have to demand it sometimes.

This penchant of mine suits writing really well. I think if you’re someone who has a hard time being alone (like Steve), you’d have a much harder time writing. You need space to create worlds. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron calls this a weekly date with yourself to let your kid out to play.

Questions of the Day: Did you have a lot of alone time as a kid? How has it affected your adult life? Your writing?

September 22, 2010

Promotion and Rejection

What I’m Reading Today: More Sherlock Holmes.

Have I mentioned that I can be a little obsessive? Once I get a bee in my bonnet about something, I spend all my available time trying to accomplish it. Lately, that bee has been all those promotional and social networking things a publisher expects of its authors. I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, but with any luck I’ll be there soon, and these efforts are a lot more successful the further out you start them. So I’ve been doing all this research ~ a bunch of online stuff and reading a bunch of books.

But what I really want to do is write. I want to be writing my fiction! I’ve started revising a novel I wrote a while ago, and I was in a sweet spot ~ got a whole new take on it, a luscious voice and a couple of great points of view and I’ve already worked out the plot. I was making great progress.

I miss it.

My husband, that very smart man and a wonderful iconoclast, said that I was going to miss that time when I was just writing without the pressure. But, you know, if serendipity comes your way, you need to take full advantage of it. Who knows? It may be your only shot.

With that mournful lament, I thought I’d pass along this great bit I read yesterday in the inestimable M.J. Rose and Angela Adair-Hoy’s book How to Publish and Promote Online. This is from M.J. Rose’s chapter "Last Words":

Like it or not, people say no more than they say yes. But when I started out on my own in the publishing business I got paralyzed by the first few dozen no’s that I heard. Rejection is tough on even the most self-confident person. …

So I was telling a friend, who is a professional fundraiser, about my dilemma. She laughed and told me that in her business that the no’s are a good thing. “For each no you are getting closer to a yes,” she said. She even had a mathematical equation she’d worked out from ten years of experience. She had to get fifteen no’s to get a yes. And since she was asking for contributions for a worthwhile charity, her no-to-yes ratio would be lower than mine would. I could count on a thirty-to-one no-to-yes ratio.

So I started to tally the no’s.

In the first two weeks I got ten no’s.

In the second two weeks, twelve no’s. (I was starting to get excited, twenty-two no’s down, only eight to go. Finally, after six weeks and thirty-four no’s, I heard one wonderful, resonant yes. These no’s and yes’s were about getting a major reviewer to read my self-published novels.)

A funny thing happened to me in those weeks. I went from dreading and hating the no’s to understanding something about them. They represented hard work and determination on my part. I was proud of those no’s. Plus, the no’s were important. They weeded out the people I really didn’t want to review the novel anyway. Only someone who truly was open to the idea that a self-published novel could be any good was the right person to read it.

Yes! She so eloquently says something I’ve long thought. Being successfully published is a process, and no’s are a sign of progress. In fact, my husband congratulates me every time I get a no (a rejection) because it’s something to celebrate. (It all goes along with my haystack theory of publishing).

Did you get rejected today? CONGRATULATIONS! See it for the forward momentum that it is and go celebrate!

Questions of the Day: What do you think about authors promoting themselves? Are you old-school and think they should focus only on the writing? And what about rejections? How do you handle them?

September 21, 2010

Write ... Or Don't

What I'm Reading Today:  More Sherlock Holmes.

I don't think I can add anything to what John Scalzi on his blog "Whatever" so eloquently says, so I will just link to it.  Enjoy!

Questions of the Day:  Is he being harsh?  Or is it a reality check we all need sometimes?

September 20, 2010

Your Writer Friends

What I’m Reading Today: Last night I started reading a little Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve never read them. The gap between the image I’ve seen of Holmes and him on the page is striking. Before, I’d always imagined him a father figure, kindly but very intelligent. On the page he’s quite different. He does cocaine, he’s detached and unemotional and quite cold, and he’s pompous and arrogant. The Watson character narrator sort of sets him up in opposition to himself, a family man. Very interesting.

This weekend, two wonderful writer friends of mine, Ken and Nina, stopped by for dinner. I made pulled pork mojo (Cuban garlic lemon marinade), homemade herbed cheese rolls, Spanish rice with big chunks of Italian tomato, pickled beets, and butter-fried bananas and served fresh tomatoes from the garden. It all turned out well ~ you just never know when you plan these things.

Ken Olsen is a freelance writer from Portland who writes wonderfully moving veterans stories and also is writing a memoir that reads like a great novel. Nina McConigley writes wonderful Wyoming stories, but she’s of East Indian and Irish descent, though she grew up here, so they’re fascinating ~ not to mention wonderful.

My husband was gone for the weekend, but my four-year-old twins joined us. It always makes for interesting conversation to be batting two or three conversations around. My daughter was in a hostessy mood, so she was making small talk and telling stories. My son was feeling sensitive, so he stuck close to me and didn’t eat much. Ken brought some lovely red wine, and Nina brought brownies, which makes her one of the kids’ favorite people! Once dinner was over, the kids watched a little TV while we sat around and talked. I took a break to put them to bed and then we talked some more.

I don’t know about you, but for me these occasions where I sit around with writer friends and talk about writing and life are just the best. So so great. Whether it’s at a conference or at a friend’s or at my own house, I feel so rejuvenated afterwards. (Nina gives the most wonderful parties every month or so and invites such fascinating people.) I feel so supported and it helps my writing in innumerable ways.

It got me thinking about groups of writers throughout history. There have been clusters of writers who have been extraordinary - in their output and their publishing success and in pure craft terms. The ex-pat community in Paris that included Hemingway, the Algonquin Round Table, the Merry Pranksters, Virginia Woolf and all those writers, and so many more. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Groups like these offer support, but not simply support. They also offer competition, which spurs the writer to do even better, to try even harder. They also offer a ready-made network that helps create buzz and get the writer’s name out there.

I think I read somewhere recently that a writer is much more likely to be “successful” if she or he has a group of friends who are also striving.

And, once again, back to the internet: I also have a lot of writer friends online who are so great. Though I’ve never met them, they also support me and goad me on and connect me to the wider world.

Bottom line: Thanks, guys! I owe you so much.

Questions of the Day: Do you have a group of writer friends? I sure hope so.

September 17, 2010

The Tool of Fear

What I’m Reading Today: You know, stuff.

I was going to write today about how I wrote the story that is my second On-again Off-again Audio podcast ~ Check it out! Warning: it’s very dark. It’s called "Revelations." However, I read an interesting post this morning, and I wanted to talk about it instead.

The poet and writer Kelly Davio has a great post on her blog about fear. She begins it talking about her childhood run-in with a praying mantis ~ I almost wrote preying mantis ~ and then talks about fear. She ends with a great rumination on art and fear:

Fear, we are told, is a good thing: it keeps us from petting the salivating lion or sticking our arms in the fire. Fear is supposed to keep us safe. But safe, I think, is exactly the opposite of where the creative person wants to be.

I think she’s absolutely right. We have to be emotionally and intellectually brave to be a writer. We have to fight our inner demons, just as they are towering above us and crashing down on us with their slavering jaws. If you’re like me, there’s always a part of us that’s saying to ourselves, “You know what? You suck. How can you possibly think what you say is in any way interesting and worthwhile?” We have to get used to uncertainty and shunt our inner editor off to his closet in the corner. In a word, we have to live with fear.

But, as Kelly said, it’s the fear that keeps us going too. Our determination kicks in and we think, “No, I’m going to best this thing.” Sometimes the fear associated with competition ~ our writer friends are doing well ~ also spurs us on. This isn’t a bad thing, I think.

As I tell my two four-year-olds, being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid; it just means you do what you have to do even though you are afraid.

One distinction I wanted to make, though, was dealing with the inner fear associated with creativity vs. real-world fear. We definitely have to fight the inner demon that stunts our creativity, but when a person has something they fear in the real-world, it’s often different. By that I mean, if you’re below the poverty level and working three jobs to pay the mortgage and support your kids. Or if you’re a battered spouse and you never know when your husband is going to beat you until you die or going to take a gun and shoot you ~ and I mean you know that it’s going to happen. Or if you live in a war-ravaged country and you may get killed ~ or worse ~ any day.  Or if you are phobic.

If you are living in this world, you probably don’t give a good goddamn about art, and you might possibly think that artists don’t know how good they have it and they should just shut up and help the rest of the world. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy, but it basically sets up a hierarchy of needs, and if your basic needs are not met, you won’t be able to achieve ~ or even want ~ the higher needs. Later, after someone is out of these situations, then I think art helps us to heal. But when we’re in them, we could care less.

So fear, like so many things, is a double-edged sword. It is a tool to be used to help us get stuff on the page and to elicit our best work. However, it can also irrevocably cripple us.

Questions of the Day: Is fear a help to you? Or does it cripple you? Or does it depend on the day?

PS Totally unrelated: A great way to keep up with what’s going on in cyberspace, in addition to following certain blogs, is to set a Google alert for a word or phrase. For example, I have an alert set for “literary fiction” that includes the double quotes. Once a day I get an email that points me all kinds of interesting places. And if you’re a writer and you don’t have an alert set for yourself, you should.

September 16, 2010

Extreme States and False Constructions

What I’m Reading Today: More Adderall Diaries.

The techniques in fiction for portraying extreme states are fascinating. By extreme states, I mean, high emotion or dying or sleep or sex or the influence of drugs.

Certainly one way they can be written is “straight,” with a strong omniscient narrator telling you what’s going on. Examples: The Great Gatsby, Victorian novels, Dickens, Tolkien, children’s books. The narrator is a reasonable fellow and he or she explains that this character is overwrought. We’re not so much in the poor character’s point of view as observing from heaven. Though antiquated, this is an interesting affect on a number of levels. It gives the reader breathing room. We feel above the fray, and there’s room for humor. It’s a very comforting and comfortable place to be, and I guess this is probably why it’s a good approach for children’s books.

A step closer is third-person limited. It’s sort of a nice compromise between the claustrophobic first person and the distant omniscient. This is a popular choice these days. Of course, it can have varying degrees of proximity and be just as close and claustrophobic and immersed as first-person. But you get a little more latitude than first person. (Though third-person limited and first person is actually a lot closer, in my mind, than a lot of people think.)

The reader can be way in there in first person, another popular choice. It often feels more immediate for the writer, I think, though it might be harder to separate yourself on craft questions. I think a lot of people favor first person for extreme experiences nowadays.

Then there’s the question of past tense vs. present tense. Past tense, being the tense of choice for the Victorians, feels like it has more emotional distance, while we in the internet age are more used to present tense. (Some people object to present tense because it’s a false construction, but I would argue that all tenses and POVs are false constructions.) First person and present tense often go together, and for extreme experiences and train-of-thought subjectivity it works well.

All these, though, are false constructions. No one can be omniscient. No one can know another person’s subjectivity; hence, third person is false. First person may seem the most genuine, but in order to make it the most effective for the reader, it’s less like someone talking and closer to third-person craftwise. Past tense fells natural for a lot of people, but like all forms it concatenates and metaphorizes (is that a word?). No one could write in present tense: you can’t sit there having something happen to you and be writing about it at the same time.

But I’m getting off track a little. In craft terms, there’s all kinds of things you can do to show extreme states. If your character dies, the end of your story is kind of set in first person and you can talk about it more easily in third person ~ in first person, in theory, the person’s subjectivity would be cut off (unless you’re talking from the afterlife ala The Lovely Bones). You can also alter your very sentence structure and punctuation and choice of words to reflect the altered state. It’s one effect to talk about an altered state in straightforward conventional structure and quite another to disregard all convention to try to convey the feeling. The transition to that state is tricky too. It can’t be too abrupt.

These effects are hard to talk about and hard to achieve but when they’re done well, they’re out of the park.

Questions of the Day:  I immediately think of Denis Johnson’s fabulous craft effects.  Stephen Elliot’s effects in the memoir The Adderall Diaries is interesting and compelling - combining newspaper reporting style with extreme states. Who do you think writes really good extreme states?

September 15, 2010

"Success is counted sweetest"

Had a dream last night that I was with the cool people and they were pleasant enough but then they just looked at me and stared, telling me to leave, they had something to discuss that didn't include me.  So this morning I've been thinking about the nature of success and self-confidence.  On that note, a lovely Emily Dickinson poem.

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

September 14, 2010


What I’m Reading Today: Started the fabulous Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall. Tony writes the most amazing stories! Have you read the story “The Shell Collector”? One of my favorite all-time stories.  In Memory Wall, there’s a story called “Procreate, Generate” that is amazing ~ and not just because it is set in the town where we live and is about a couple with infertility problems as we have had.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a novel being about a worldview. Every novel sets forth a certain worldview. It’s often, understandably, the worldview of the author, but not always. It can also be the author’s understanding of another world. Another way to think about this is a character is an aspect of the author’s subjectivity.

Often, if you’re like me, you don’t think about it on this meta level. You don’t think of it as a worldview, especially if the worldview is very close to your own. Things just make sense. This is the logic of the world. So it’s odd to step back and think of it as a world view, which it is your world. It’s easier to think of a novel protagonist that’s very different from you as having a worldview.

But if you take a step back even farther, there are layers of worldview. Each character has a worldview, and the setting takes a role. Then there is the cumulative worldview of the book that includes all the characters. Then there’s the author’s worldview.

From a craft perspective, it’s the exact right detail on all levels that makes the worldview come alive and seem authentic. Worldview, for me, is often largely unconscious. It just feels right. This character has this motive and that character has that motive and when they come together this is what’s going to happen.

Think about these worldviews from a reader’s perspective. It helps if it’s interesting and maybe a little odd, even surprising. Either that or exactly like theirs. They want to be transported to this other place. They want to “buy” each character’s point of view and the book’s world view and also that author’s art. Think about how momentous that is: a person wants to be pulled out of his or her selfish little universe to experience someone else’s for a while, even if it’s a bad one ~ such a social impulse, the ultimate act of empathy.

Questions of the Day: Do you think about “how to be interesting” when you write? Do you think about worldview?

September 13, 2010


What I’m Reading Today: Catching up on some blog reading.

One of those great things happened to me this weekend. It happens periodically, and when it does it makes my whole week. I friended on Facebook a writer whose work I admire. I always send a note when I friend (just as I always send a note when someone friends me). But then it started a wonderful email exchange where I got to know him and he got to know me. So so cool.

(Thanks, Guy!  Guy writes the best book reviews on his blog Guy's Library.  Check it out.  He also writes for Bookslut.)

It reminded me of the many many people I owe so much to. There are many people whom I owe my wonderful life as it is: my husband, my kids, my parents, my family, my inlaws, my long-time friends. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I’m very happy.

But, in addition to these very fundamental relationships, there are innumerable others who have helped me in so many ways small and large.

I think of a man who led a session at the very first very small writing conference I went to. He wrote (writes?) westerns and taught at a central Colorado college. For the life of me, I cannot remember his name (something Brown?). But he led such a great session, and weeks after it was over, I sent him the first couple of chapters of my first novel. The encouragement he gave me on what was surely awful material made all the difference.

A new professor and creative writer at the university where I work took the time to read my complete first manuscript when it was done. He gave me such great feedback and I owe him so much (thanks, Caskey!). And then I did that horrible thing where I offered to give him feedback but I was so so nervous about it that I never got myself to do it. For that, I apologize profusely! So so sorry!

I’ve talked here about Alyson Hagy’s wonderful support in my first writing workshop.

Oh! And the kindergarten teacher who taught me the alphabet with large blow-up monster letters (Mrs. ?), the grade school teacher who taught me to read (Miss Jones), the grade school teachers’ aid whom I trailed around every recess and who listened (Miss ?), the middle school teacher who impressed upon me that “a lot” is two words (Mrs. Workman), the middle school teacher who encouraged my reading (Mrs. Dixon), the high school teacher who accepted a short story in lieu of an essay (Mrs. Crosby), and the high school teacher passionate about the sciences who took us on field trips to collect minnows (Mr. Dixon). (Mr. and Mrs. Dixon are married, and their daughter Elizabeth, whom I idol-worshipped, was a year ahead of me.)

Four of my writer friends also read that draft through completely and gave me feedback. So cool! I don’t know if they realize how appreciative I am!

And then there’s all the people I’ve met at conferences and online that are just so great. They’ve all encouraged me in ways they probably don’t even know.


It really does take a village, and not just to raise a child. It takes support to pursue a creative endeavor and to succeed at anything, much less just make it through day-to-day life. The self-made man is a myth; he had a lot of help along the way.

Questions of the Day: Whom are you thankful for? Are there people out there who made a huge impact on your life and they probably aren’t even aware of it?

September 10, 2010

On-again Off-again Audio Presents “Men Are Like Plants”

What I’m Reading Today: I started Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to see what all the hubbub was about. I can definitely see how he and David Foster Wallace, who was his close friend, were trying to do some of the same things. Jonathan’s work is very ornate, rococo, baroque, but not simply decoration. He piles simile upon metaphor upon simile, so that you are constantly reminded of the text, rather than what’s happening. You know my penchant for clear straightforward language; however, as Jonathan says, he’s trying to capture life, and when he nails a metaphor, he really nails it. Like in The Corrections, the wife running guerilla actions against her husband. This struck me as so honest and true.

So, you want to see how badly I failed at the whole podcasting thing?

Check it out! You can either listen to this short story on the page or download the mp3 or double-click on the link and see if a player pops up. It’s about 16 minutes. I worked late into the night figuring out how to record and how to convert and how to edit and how to add music.

I tell you what: at this stage in my writing career ~ more importantly, my publishing career ~ I am very thankful for my backgrounds in both computer engineering and in marketing. I was in electrical engineering computer option for a lot of years before I realized that it wasn’t for me and either a) it didn’t matter if I could make a living with an English degree or b) maybe I could make a living. All those programming classes have never gone to waste. I use the mindset and math skills for technical editing and the computer skills in pretty much everything. I’ve done a lot of marketing in about every job I’ve done. Goes hand in hand with writing.

So all you struggling writers out there working on your degree in teaching in order to make a living, take heart. Your experience won’t go to waste. Also, follow your dreams and major in what your passion is subject-matter-wise.

I’m getting off topic here. I wanted to talk a little about the story. It’s called “Men Are Like Plants.” I don’t normally think of myself as someone who writes funny, but this voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. The story is about a woman who is very afraid of relationships and she’s also very passionate about plants, so she uses her passion for plants to keep herself away from the world. That and a wry sense of humor. I wrote this story almost in one sitting. I was laying in bed trying to go to sleep and this woman’s voice struck me and wouldn’t go away. I had to get up and get a pen and write it all down. I didn’t have it figured out from the beginning ~ I just had the character. She really wants a relationship but she doesn’t know how to get over herself.

This is a story I often read when I give readings because it plays well to an audience. Though I always wonder whether the men in the audience equate the protagonist with me and think, what a bitch.

So, check it out if you’d like…

Questions of the Day: Have you tried podcasting? It’s a lot of fun. Hard work to figure out, but once you do, it’s great!

September 9, 2010


What I’m Reading Today: Not much. My time was wonderfully claimed by making homemade macaroni and cheese with my four-year-old twins. They did such a good job!

I’m working on figuring out how to podcast! Very cool, and very exciting.

I listened to a great interview with Scott Sigler on Author magazine, and he talked about how he serialized a couple of novels via podcasting and how they really took off after a while. He’s a publishing phenomenon.

So that got me thinking, my work is nothing as compelling as Scott’s but why couldn’t I read some stories? I don’t have a novel ready to serialize, but short stories would do nicely. Just another way for people to see if they like what I write. I already have a few clips up.  I know, for myself, I love coming across audio of an author I like, and I listen and relisten to it as I work. Who knows, maybe eventually I could interview people or add other things. But for now, just stories.

So I’ve create On-again Off-again Audio, which will be an occasional podcast on my website. I bought a good headset/microphone from Radio Shack and downloaded Audacity, a free audio editing software. I found Melody Loops, a site where I can get music clips to use for intros. I’ll have to pay for them, but they’ve got a great selection, and I like the idea of paying artists for their work. I tried the headset/microphone. After a number of false starts (okay, maybe 10), I got it to work and I’m recording! Now, all I have to do is figure out how to edit them and how to put a player on the page. Oh, and find some quiet space and time to record where the twins are asleep and our elderly deaf cat isn’t yowling at the top of her lungs.

If I were to serialize a novel, I might use Podiobooks. They give you tips, help you out, and even offer an RSS service.

Wish me luck on this new endeavor!

Questions of the Day: Have you tried podcasting? What do you think? Is it a good way for writers to get their stuff out there?

September 8, 2010

Rattawut Lapcharoensap Reading

What I’m Reading Today: Started Stephen Elliott’s The Adderall Diaries. Fascinating memoir. Books about drug use are often written in this sort of dreamy style, where the effect of the drug overshadows text conventions. Stephen’s is written in a matter-of-fact, almost newspaper style. He’ll toss something off, mention something that happened to him, and the disconnect between the tone and the horrific thing he’s talking about just shocks me. I’m curious to see if he “goes there,” i.e., more fully confronts the emotions involved.

Rattawut Lapcharoensap, or A (sp?) as he is called, is our university’s visiting writer this semester. He writes short stories and has won a bunch of prestigious awards. He was born in Chicago but raised in Bangkok. I went to his great reading last night.

In person, he’s tall and slender and gangly and gives the impression of being a young university student. Though he’s spent a lot of time in Thailand, he does not have a trace of an accent. As he told us, he and his lovely wife June are 10 days away from being parents.

Brad Watson gave a great introduction, talking about all the accolades he has received and welcoming him. Brad mentioned that Rattawut was in Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists 2 (which is why I was reading it), and though he’s thankful for the honor he mentioned that he doesn’t really consider himself American first and he isn’t really a novelist but a short story writer. It would be a fascinating novel, if he wrote one.

He read a new story called, I believe, “In the 90s.” The phrase “in the 90s” was a refrain that haunted the story. Sometimes it reflected the optimism of that time, sometimes the harsh realities, when they hit. The story was about a young man in Thailand and his growing up. It’s the prosperous 90s. He has a brother who he is close to who is gay and his mother dies of cancer over the course of the story. There are compelling scenes that so masterfully underscore the theme in subtle ways, down to the very details. For example, an uncle leaves to work in Saudi Arabia doing construction, and when the uncle and the boy’s mother hug, they hold each other like it’s the end of the world. And for them it is: they realize they will never see each other again. This resonates with the feeling in the story that something is coming to an end, that something that was wonderful is going away.

There’s another great scene where the two young boys get their mother to ride on a roller coaster, and the mother is scared to death but does it for her sons. She has a line, I forget, but something like “I’m fucking dying here” and this mother never curses. It’s a premonition of what’s to come in the story. This sounds dark, and it is, but there are also some very funny scenes, like when the brother at the airport? rail station? announces he is gay before he goes north to help workers protest. The main character says, “Well, I hope you can accept me for who I am, because I have to confess that I’m heterosexual.”

Then, it ends with the protest coming closer and closer to the city, and finally the protagonist is reuinited with his brother. I was so afraid it was going to be a shocker ~ protestors would be shot or something ~ but it wasn’t. It was a celebration. Kudos for the wonderful uplifting but not trite ending.

Afterwards, at the reception, I got to talk to some great friends and got to chat with Rattawut’s wife June. She’s an artist from NYC. She and I and two other women from the university had a great talk about the OBGYNs in town and about kids. And I also got a chance to chat with Rattawut.

A lovely, lovely reading. Looking forward to reading more from this great writer. Check him out.

Questions of the Day: Do you attend readings? Do you think they’re worthwhile?

September 7, 2010

My Friend Pembroke

What I’m Reading Today: A friend lent me Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists 2 (thanks, Nina!). Every story I’ve read so far, amazing.

Good friendships are my social lifeblood. You know, the ones where you share common interests, you’re always emailing or getting together, it’s not one sided and you both put in the effort, you always look forward to hearing from them and you do a lot to try to make them look forward to hearing from you.

As a writer, having a great friend who is also a writer is so wonderful and sustaining. I have a number of these (thank you so much, peeps!), and today I wanted to talk about my friend Pembroke Sinclair.

We met when we were both going to grad school here at the University of Wyoming. We had a nineteenth century novel class together. My friend/mentor/Sir Walter Scott-expert Caroline McCracken-Flesher taught it. The class included both grads and undergrads, and the grads met separately once a week. Pembroke was looking out after a friend's baby, so she brought him to class, with Caroline’s okay. We got to know one another a little in that class. Then, later, she applied for a job as word processor and technical editor at the place where I worked. We really got to know each other then, and we’ve bolstered each other’s writing ever since. I’m rooting for her to go all the way!

It’s great when you know another person’s writing so well. Pembroke loves scifi/fantasy/horror. She’s particularly attracted to kick-ass women narrators, zombies, the devil, and events of biblical proportions. You can check out her blog here and then check out her stories (right-hand menu).

She has a book out called Coming from Nowhere. Here’s what it’s about:

JD does not have a past--at least not one that she can remember--and that makes living life on Mars challenging. With nowhere to go, she is sent to the local military academy where she is trained to become a member of the elite secret police. While there, she becomes a pawn in Roger's struggle for military dominance and Chris's rebellion to overthrow the military regime. She supposedly holds a secret that will change the face of the soldier, but, unfortunately, she doesn't know what that secret is. Her only desire is to find the truth of her existence, and finds herself thrust into a realm where the truth of her past and present is more horrific than she ever imagined.

And ~ SO COOL ~ here’s her book trailer. She’s the first close writer friend who’s had a book trailer! They did such a great job creating it, and the text is spot on. Short but exactly right. And I love the fact that the end part ~ “the success of either cause rests entirely on the discovery of her true identity” ~ is exactly what the book is about. She’s looking for who she is, and what she discovers impacts everything. I love the aliens in this book, and you’ve got to pay attention ~ she creates a great plot!

Questions of the Day: Do you have great writer friends? I sure hope so!

September 3, 2010

Should I Be Building a Mountain?

What I’m Reading Today: More delightful Stoner.

Have you come across Rumpus Radio yet? Great, as is everything that comes from the Rumpus. Not to mention that Stephen Elliott, who created the site/phenomenon, is a great writer, teacher, and person. I just listened to Rumpus Radio Episode 8, where co-hosts Stephen and Nato Green interview Steve Almond. Their talk ranged ~ compellingly and touchingly and entertainingly ~ from writing to Stephen’s love life.

Stephen said something that really struck me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since:
Five or six days a week, I send out a daily Rumpus email. Originally this was supposed to be links to various things. Fairly quickly, it turned into whatever I was thinking about, and then I felt guilty because I wasn’t working on a book. Then, at some point, I thought, you know, this is what I’m working on. This is all I care about. I spend two to three hours a day writing a literary email about whatever I’m thinking about, whatever’s going on in my life, and I no longer have any interest in putting out a book. That might change, but I’m feeling it, you know what I mean? It’s completely satisfying creatively. I think it’s similar ~ not financially, but creatively ~ to putting a book out. I’m getting so much out of it, more so than I ever did with a book.
This left me with equal parts elation and desperation.

I’m elated because yes! someone’s said it, and said it in a positive light. “You know what? You don’t have to feel guilty about this. You can be fulfilled by all kinds of writing, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s about your creative fulfillment, not about all those other things.” Because writing this blog is fulfilling to me. As is the professional writing I do for my day job. As is helping other people with their writing. And I also think all my other writing symbiotically feeds my creative writing.

But, on the flip side, what if it is also about those other things? In other words, what if I’m writing these things not to fulfill a creative need but because I “should”? I’m thinking promotion rather than art? What if I’m writing it because it’s easier to write a blog post than to write the book? What if I’d rather muse about what another writer said than to confront the emotional and craft issues I need to to do the thing that is at the center of it all? What if I’m being chickenshit?

In other words, what if I’m frittering away my creative strength building a series of small hills, instead of the mountain I was meant for?

Questions of the Day: What do you think? Does all your other writing help or hinder what you were meant to write?

September 2, 2010

140-character Book Review

Something fun!


What I’m Reading Today: More wonderful John Williams's Stoner. A great antidote to what I’m talking about in today’s post.

You’ll have to forgive me. I’m a bit distracted. I dove into Twitter yesterday. Well, belly flopped might be more appropriate.

The way I got there is the same age-old story that you’ve read over and over. I wondered what it was all about. I started an account and put my location to Baghdad (wasn’t it?) when they were asking people to foil the government tracking down bloggers. (Sorry ~ I feel bad that I don’t remember the specifics.) I didn’t do much. Then I thought, maybe I’ll try it. So I did. Not much happened. I wondered, what’s so great about this? I got an agent (Hi, Rachel!) and as a result felt I should be doing more online. I felt guilty. I still wondered, what’s the big deal. I made a plan: Okay, I’ll tweet at this time and this time and this time. (You’re going to see later why this is funny.)

Then I installed Tweetdeck, a desktop app that lets you follow in realtime. (It lets you follow Facebook posts too, but that service has been intermittent. They’re trying to fix it.) I don’t know how you can really effectively do Twitter without some sort of connection on your desktop. The conversation is transient and ephemeral.

Then I tentatively tweeted a bit. I thought, I’ve got a lot of friends on Facebook. I’ll ask them for their Twitter feeds so I can follow them. Lots of great responses. (Thanks, guys!) I started following more people. But the first person to respond was friend/writer/great gal/tweeter extraordinaire Jeffe Kennedy. (Check out her great blog, Love, Power, and Fairytale Endings!) She tweeted to friends for #WW WriterWednesday a very sweet introduction. Then all hell broke loose.

But now I get it! It’s a rapid and ever evolving conversation. It’s not about announcing things to the world, a one-way conversation ~ though some people use it this way. It’s like Facebook but much faster. It’s like a dinner conversation ~ you have to pay attention and listen and try to be amusing and informative. That’s why it’s so funny to think that you can just tweet every couple of hours. It doesn’t work that way.

So, it’s also pushed me over the edge. I’m thinking about getting a blackberry. Next thing you know, they’ll be installing digital “augmentation” into my brain!

Questions of the Day: So, tweeps? Do you hang out? Are you a lurker, a shouter, a twee brilliant conversationalist?

PS  If you would like to follow me, I'd love it!  My handle is TamaraLinse. I'll follow you back.

September 1, 2010

Professional Listening

What I’m Reading Today: Some social networking stuff.

I recently came across this great piece by Chris Brogan. He says:
I’m a huge proponent of professional listening as part of a business communication strategy. Lots of people will sell you ways to speak. They’ll give you lots of ways to get your message all over the place. Me? I’m passionate about listening as much as I am speaking. You know: two ears, one mouth, that stuff.
I love that! I had never heard the saying two ears, one mouth. And I’d also never heard of listening as a professional skill. How fabulous!

Especially since I pride myself on being a good listener. When I was teaching, they took videos of us to help our teaching (both exhilarating and horrifying to view), and one of the main things I took away from that is that I listen. My body language says, hey, I’m listening.

But to explicitly say that it is a professional skill. Wow. That means you need to work on it. You should be able to bill your client for it. Not just your presentations skills, your talking, your putting it out there. No. How, and how well, you listen.

It makes perfect sense. How can you possibly do your job without listening to others, no matter what your job is?

It also struck me that it is our job as writers, even more so, to be professional listeners. Whether we’re eavesdropping to develop an ear for dialog or doing research for historical accuracy or just perceiving the sounds around us (the shshshshs of the air system, the pad-pad-pad of feet on the stairs, the click of the keyboard as I type). It is not just our pleasure, but our obligation. How can we hope to emulate the world around us if we don’t really sense it?

Questions of the Day: Is it just me? Have you thought of Professional Listening as a skill you need in the workplace, like PowerPoint?