Thursday, June 30, 2011
Even as I write this--a small piece of writing unrelated to my novels--my daughter stands beside me explaining patiently that, "I stepped on Ellias' starfish and he hit me. Is that the baby crying? Can I go get him?" before she breaks into song about something "rubbery-with-bumps." (By the way, that's my baby in the laundry basket.)
So, "writing season" a la Allende, NO WAY! I'm fortunate to find a writing minute in which to gather my disparate thoughts and try to build something.
Being a full-time stay-at-home mother and a novelist, while seemingly compatible from the outside--after all, you do both things at home, and as we all know, writing can be squeezed into you spare time, has no overhead, and can be done while half-asleep and nursing--from the inside it demands some creative scheduling. I feel blessed to straddle both world, as well as confused by the mental gymnastics that are required in order to do both things well.
In truth, as far as my process goes, I rarely am able to write for any uninterrupted period of time, even when I have a babysitter in the house (which I do right now). I've been gladly and happily nursing one of my three babies for the past five years pretty much non-stop, so that even during the writing of my first novel when my house was quiet and I didn't have to pay my babysitter three times what I make in order to watch a whole gaggle of children, I stopped to nurse my son. Even now, sometimes, I stop writing to go watch my children playing. They always play so perfectly when I'm not around!
I would not recommend the distracted method of writing. On the other hand, as I've said to other writers aspiring to publish and produce, don't wait until you have time to write. If you want to write, do it now, however you can do it, in whatever way. I believe in this advice for all activities, and I cringe to hear friends say things like, "I'll do that when I've paid off the mortgage," or "I'll start that when I have enough money."
Yes, I am a carpe diem writer. Being distracted, being pulled by my children's needs probably makes me a lesser writer. In fact, I'm sure I could come up with a hundred more active verbs than "was" if I didn't have little hands pawing at me. But I want them and love them and wouldn't have it any other. If I had a zillion dollars, I wouldn't hire a nanny and spend all day writing the great American novel. There's a great saying in the world of religion and spirituality (of which I am also a part as an ordained minister), that the best sermons are not preached but lived. The same could (maybe) be said of novel writing. Our best stories aren't written but lived day to day. Our lives are much better books than our books. Or so it is for me, anyhow, and so I want it to be.
And so I encourage the distracted among us to write anyway, and any way you can, for its own sake, and to see what might happen. Some writers write to live. Some writers live to write. And some of us write while we live and live while we write and that may mean a little pureed sweet potato gets a free trip to Random House on the cover of a manuscript and that's okay. I'm a work in progress myself.
Samantha Wilde is the mother of three, 4, 3 and nine months, the author of This Little Mommy Stayed Home, a graduate of Smith College, Yale Divinity School, and The New Seminary, a certified Kripalu yoga teacher, an ordained Interfaith Minister, and the Director of Mission at Spring Street Preschool in Amherst, MA. You can visit her website at samanthawilde.com.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I'm going to veer from the current monthly topic of Process here at GBC to talk about something else that's been on my mind tonight.
On a writing forum I participate in, a relatively new member posted today about some of the writing/publishing advice she'd been receiving from nonwriting friends. The writer was upset because she felt the advice was misinformed and misguided. "Why don't you just self-publish your manuscript as an ebook?" people kept telling her. "That's where all the money is these days!" I'm not going to weigh in on that, on the self-published ebook v traditional publishing debate - at least not in this post! - but I will weigh in about the advisability of getting upset about stuff like this.
Cliff Notes version of my advice? Don't do it!
Longer version: There are so many things a writer can and sometimes should get upset about, it's wise to eliminate as many as possible and this is one of them. Having people in your life who are interested enough in what you do to offer advice - even if that advice is misguided! - is a grace. So many writers, over the years, have told me that their significant others, children or friends are dismissive of what they do. For some reason, I've never had that problem. From the beginning, even total strangers grew interested once they found out that I'm a writer. One time, I was on the table having a procedure to determine if I had breast cancer when the doctor, having been told what I do for a living by the nurse, began pumping me for information. I was sorely tempted to say, "Thank you for your interest, but can we wait to have this conversation until after you've removed that hollow tube thingy from the side of my breast???" For the record, I didn't have cancer.
And back to my topic.
For most things in life, there's more than one right answer. But when anyone offers you writing advice, the only right response is gratitude. It's not rage. It's not the stance of being offended. It's not hurt. It's not defensiveness. It is gratitude. Even if you think what you're being told is the most riduculous thing you've ever heard, even if the person offering the advice is the biggest asshat you've ever met, the only thing you need to say is, "Thank you. You've given me something to think about."
For those of you reading this who are in earlier stages of your writing life than my GBC sisters, internalizing this now will serve you well when you later are a published author and you receive a revision letter from your editor.
Believe me, when I first started writing seriously 17 years ago, I wanted what all writers want in the beginning: I wanted people to love my writing unreservedly. But over time, I learned that my best readers are not those who feel that way; my best readers are those who can say, "I love what you're doing here but this is what I think you can do to make it even better." Those kinds of readers are, again, a grace. And you don't get those kinds of readers if you're constantly being defensive and arguing with people who try to help you. I'm not saying you should heed every bit of advice you ever receive - far from it! You need to learn how to turn on your own inner editor so you can filter the useful advice from its opposite. But I am saying that writers need to learn how to take advice so that people will keep offering it. The truth is, if someone asks me for advice and then they make the whole experience unpleasant, I soon learn to stop helping. The thing is, the person can think all they want to that I'm all wet, but what they should be saying is, "Thank you."
One last thing to think about: The person whose advice you spurn today could turn out to be the person who could help you tomorrow...if only you hadn't turned them off.
Thank you for listening. I hope I've given you something to think about because you give me something to think about every day.
Years ago, I participated in a symposium called “Women and Popular Culture” at Brown University. In the morning, I sat on a panel with two other novelists. In the afternoon, professors presented talks on the depiction of women in film, TV shows and music videos. One professor analyzed a rock music video, claiming it was a meditation on Christianity because of all its “cross” imagery: the singer’s crossed arms, a crucifix-shaped earring, the X-shaped intersection of two spotlight beams. The speaker went on and on about how the people who created the video were making a subliminal religious statement. When she said this, one of the novelists from my morning panel muttered, “Or else they were all high on cocaine when they were filming it and they said, ‘Hey, that looks cool!’”
I was reminded of that comment recently when a friend sent me a link to a writing coach’s dissection of Karen Stockett’s novel, The Help. The essay explained the book’s phenomenal popularity by breaking it into scenes and beats and showing how Stockett had constructed her novel with the plot’s first turning point occurring exactly one-fifth of the way into the story, and each chapter containing a specific and uniform number of scenes, and so on. I couldn’t get through the essay because I was laughing too hard. For all I know, the writing coach may have conceded later in the essay that The Help’s huge success had something to do with its being a beautifully written book about a group of smart, sympathetic women who change the world for the better. But he was obsessed with the precise, mechanical composition of the story.
Perhaps some authors create their novels the way these academicians seem to think we do: Graphing the turning points to make sure they’re exactly one-fifth, one-half, and three-fourths of the way through the story. Counting the beats. Inserting symbolic imagery at regular intervals.
But that’s not the way I write.
I’m a sculptor, not an engineer. For me, the process is intuitive. It’s possible that my stories have their turning points located exactly where a calculator says they should be, but if so, this happens purely by chance. I don’t write with a straight-edge and a compass. I write the way a sculptor creates a statue, kneading and molding, chiseling away this part and slapping some more clay on that part, then stepping back to assess what I’ve created and thinking, “Hmm, it needs something more here and something less there,” or “I like the way that part is shaped,” or, if I’m very lucky, “Hey, that looks cool!” (I should add that cocaine plays no part in this process.
My next book, Good-Bye To All That, has five point-of-view characters. I start a new chapter each time I enter a different character’s point of view. When I was writing the manuscript, I never counted the chapters and tallied whose turn it was or how many pages I devoted to each. Instead, I thought, “I’ve spent enough time with Jill. Let’s see how Ruth is doing now,” and opened the next chapter in Ruth’s point of view. It was a thoroughly organic process. I switched chapters and viewpoints whenever it felt right.
When Good-Bye To All That comes out next March, some academician may post a meticulous analysis of the novel, explaining how masterfully I paced all those point-of-view changes, how cleverly I used Diet Coke as a symbol of Jill’s attempts to reinvent herself, how brilliantly I deployed Brooke’s and Melissa’s hair styles as a metaphor for the emotional turmoil in their lives. I’ll read this analysis and laugh myself giddy, thinking, no, I used Diet Coke because Jill just seemed like a Diet Coke kind of woman, and the hair thing fell into place because Melissa was dating a gorgeous salon employee and I needed Brooke to make Doug jealous, and anyway, hey, it looked cool!
Monday, June 27, 2011
You might have gleaned from previous pieces I've written that I'm no fan of camping. In fact if given the choice to camp or take a Calculus exam, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory decision. (You may have also gleaned from previous columns that my math skills came to a grinding halt in Mrs. Harcharik's fourth grade math class. Thank goodness she mercifully allowed me to write an essay about Albert Einstein in order to make up for my lackluster year-end grade. Didn't help me to ever learn to balance a checkbook, however. Nevertheless picking between the two would practically be a Sophie's Choice for me.)
Back when my husband and I were dating, he decided he wanted to make a believer out of me in the camping department. I'd grown up as a beach baby, vacationing with sun, surf and sand when I went on holiday. The idea of roughing it in a tent in the woods during vacation never arose in my childhood. Well, there was that time my Girl Scout troop was supposed to camp for a weekend, only to be thwarted by flooding from Hurricane Agnes. Instead we did a day-trip and were forbidden from using the latrines because poisonous snakes were floating around in them. Yep, camping didn't present much in the way of charms with that red flag.
But my husband came up with a snake-free plan that entailed us camping amidst the rugged coastal beauty of Acadia National Park in Maine--how could we go wrong? Well, we erroneously arrived a day early for our reservation. On Independence Day weekend. Nary a campsite to be found (a day earlier in Freeport we were told the only place to stay in all of coastal Maine due to holiday crowds would be a display tent at the LL Bean store. Seriously.).
Luckily the park ranger was able to come up with a lone campsite that had been abandoned by some early-departers. After setting up the borrowed ancient tent (I was warned not to touch the canvas as any place you'd touch would leak if it rained--good luck there), we cooked steaks over the grill, made s'mores, and basked in our happy camper experience, just a little smug we were able to nab a campsite so late despite our scheduling error. After once more admiring the breathtaking canvas of stars in the clear night sky, we zipped the tent closed for the night. I set my book down next to my pillow as I was falling asleep, then several hours later woke to it floating away from me. Turns out a storm had come in, and the aged tent leaked in approximately, oh, two million places. And our campsite was at the bottom of a flood plain.
We spent the night in our Honda Civic, and cleaned the muck out of our mildewing tent at dawn the next day. Memorable? Yes. Fun? Not so much.
A few other camping experiences (one after the release of the Blair Witch Project had me sleepless for fear of looming murderers) left me with a generally tepid reception toward the practice of camping. I did, however, love camping one time: when we were in Africa, some 25 years ago. Much of our trip involved roughing it--including a few nights in a spartan tent in which we came face-to-hairy-face with a hirsute spider the size of my hand skittering across my bed (which resulted in my enveloping myself from head to toe in a circa WWII army-issue stiflingly hot wool blanket/spider guard each night). But then we spent two glorious nights in a luxury tented safari in the Masai Mara with a mahogany four-poster bed, marble sink, the works. I was in heaven.
Now Africa was about the only place in which austere camping even remotely appealed to me. Cloaked beneath the barely-there canvas of a tent with the possibility of a pride of lions or a herd of elephants loping by seemed so cool. But snoozing away in dense Virginia woods with ticks and spiders and snakes of no real mystique threatening me? No thank you. I'll take my own cozy bed any day over that.
But then I heard about about glamping. A friend filled me in on the beauty of glamour camping, the pampered persons alternative to getting down and dirty to enjoy the great outdoors. It involves king-sized beds and maybe 600-thread count sheets and fluffy down comforters and someone else doing all the dirty work. And me not having to trudge in the dark amidst the things that are going bump in the night just to find a public toilet (one that always fails to have a seat, is usually prison-issue stainless steel and comes equipped with cobwebs). Glamping is my kinda camping: the country club variety. Not that I'm elitist, but when it comes to camping, I need the comforts of home. And then some.
I usually suck it up and camp once a year with my family, me in full martyr mode. Usually the general family consensus at the end of the weekend is that Mom should've stayed home. But this glamping thing, it seems like a happy medium, a meeting of the minds. Except for the price, which can't compare with the pack-it-all-from-home way, darn it. If only someone would come up with discount glamping, all the comforts, none of the expense, I'd be golden. And maybe even try to pretend I'm enjoying myself just a bit.
Until then, I think I'll aim for microwaving s'mores and kicking back with the TV remote, maybe even attempting to balance my checkbook. And just be very, very grateful I'll get to sleep in my own bed with a roof over my head.
Jenny Gardiner is the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver (coming back in ebook form this week!), as well as the novels Slim to None and Over the Falls and the humorous memoir Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me. She also has a story in Wade Rouse's upcoming humorous dog anthology I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship (NAL/Sept '11), a fundraiser for the Humane Society of the US and selected animal charities.
Feel free to visit me at my website
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Saturday, June 25, 2011
by Maisie Houghton
RULES OF CIVILITY: A NOVEL by Amor Towles
Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.
It was the last night of 1937.
With no better plans or prospects, my roommate Eve had dragged me back to The Hotspot, a wishfully named nightclub in Greenwich Village that was four feet underground.
A starred PW review
Blurb by David Nicholls, author of “One Day”
Friday, June 24, 2011
I'm a big fan of deep beach reads. I save the light stuff for my day-to-day grind.
This summer, I'll be going to Hawaii again and traveling for the paperback release of 32 CANDLES, so I'm hoping to get a lot of reading done, including THE SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones: http://amzn.to/lUNDI7 , KINKY GAZPACHO by our own Lori Tharps http://amzn.to/lZJs6u , and the second book in the GAME OF THRONES saga, THE CLASH OF KINGS by George R.R. Martin: http://amzn.to/if3qkj
I am really curious about Before I Go to Sleep by S.J Watson. This is the description that grabbed me:
Every day Christine wakes up not knowing where she is. Her memories disappear every time she falls asleep. Her husband, Ben, is a stranger to her, and he's obligated to explain their life together on a daily basis--all the result of a mysterious accident that made Christine an amnesiac. With the encouragement of her doctor, Christine starts a journal to help jog her memory every day. One morning, she opens it and sees that she's written three unexpected and terrifying words: "Don't trust Ben."
I'm all over the map with my summer reads this year . . . currently, I snagged an ARC of Ellen Baker's I GAVE MY HEART TO KNOW THIS, and even though I've just started it, I know I'm going to love it. I also have Ann Patchett's STATE OF WONDER waiting for me, and I'm really looking forward to that. A couple of my English teacher buddies and I are tackling WAR AND PEACE--and I'm reading it on my iPad which is a first for me. I'm eagerly awaiting Melanie Benjamin's MRS. TOM THUMB, too.
Judy Merill Larson
I'm currently reading The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman. A mystery about a literature professor who goes to Italy for the summer--can't beat that for summer reading!
Another favorite escape book: Austenland by Shannon Hale. A woman who is a tad bit too obsessed with William Darcy heads to England for a vacation at an Austen-inspired resort.
So much sun, so much fun! My 2011 Summer TBR pile (in no particular order.)
1. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
2. Bossypants by Tina Fey
3. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
4. Ten Things We Did by Sarah Mlynowski
5. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Oh, my most recent favorite book (in hardback still) is TOO MUCH PRETTY by Carah Hoffman
Right now I'm reading GONE WITH THE WIND which I somehow never got around to before. If I had known how magnificent it is, I would have made time sooner. Every writer should read this book. It's like taking a graduate course in constructing a novel. Later this summer I'll be reading a few books for professional reasons, as well as Sandra Novack's PRECIOUS, which I've been meaning to read for a good long while, and Gilbert Gottfried's RUBBER BALLS AND LIQUOR, because I need to laugh and he makes me fall right off my chair.
Some of my favorite summer reads are Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Flirting with Forty by Jane Porter, Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs, and Younger by Pamela Redmond Satran. Plus, anything written by my fellow Girlfriends!!
My favorite summer read - so far - is The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. Great story-telling and gripping romance against the backdrop of the nightmarish Viet Nam war. Loved every page!
Summer books I've loved/am loving: Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer, Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany, Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto (think this comes out in August), and Wherever Grace Is Needed by Elizabeth Bass. Right now I'm reading Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan and peeking at Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand. Looking forward to the new Kristina Riggle: Things We Didn't Say. --
On my summer reading list (so far):
Money Can't Buy Love by Connie Briscoe
You Are Free by Danzy Senna
Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany
Black Girl @ The Gay Channel by Darlyne Baugh
The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton
Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker
Summer in the City by Candace Bushnell
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Exposure by Therese Fowler
An advance copy of My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due
An advance copy of Passing Lane by Jacqueline Luckett
And I blurbed If Sons Then Heirs, which just came out, by Lorene Cary and HIGHLY recommend it!
I just read a phenomenal book. It wasn't necessarily on my "planned" summer reading list. I ordered it for my son for his birthday, then stayed up three nights to read it before wrapping it to give to him. It's MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, by Ransom Riggs, and it is wonderful! I highly recommend buying the hardback version because it has old, Victorian photos that accompany the story. It was heartwarming, odd, and sad and I can't recommend it enough!
Currently, I'm reading "The Island" by Elin Hilderbrand. I'd never read her before and find her writing style quite unique. After that I'll finish up the Hunger Games trilogy and read "Mockinjay." Then I have "Summer Rental" by Mary Kay Andrews and "The Daddy Catch" by Leigh Duncan to keep me busy. Should be a fun summer!
Summer means beach books, and I don’t mean just fluffy, entertaining reads, I mean books that are actually set at the beach, some even having the word beach in the title. (Hmm… wonder why mountain books for winter have never been a trend? Or how about fall foliage books?)
Seems like there are more of these sandy tomes every year because the beach is a healing place where characters go to heal their wounds. (Unless, of course, they get sunburn or jelly fish stings)
If you’re looking to ride the waves, here’s a few books to tuck into your tote this summer
Would it be summer without a low country release from Dorothea Benton Frank?
One-sentence summary: A woman returns to the past to find her future in this enchanting new tale of loss, acceptance, family, and love.
Setting: Folly Beach S.C. just outside of Charleston.
SUMMER RENTALNot to be outdone by Dot Frank, the saucy Mary Kay Andrews blows into town with Summer Rental.
One-sentence summary: Five people who each need a sea change, and one month in a summer rental that might just give it to them.
Setting: North Carolina Outer Banks
Nancy Thayer continues her run of beachy books with Heat Wave. (Apt title for Thayer who also wrote the Hot Flash Club series)One-sentence summary: Heat Wave tells the moving story of a woman who, after her seemingly perfect life unravels, must find the strength to live and love again.
This year Nantucket must be overrun with fictional characters because Elin Hilerbrand also sets her ripped-from-the headlines novel Silver Girl there.
One-sentence summary: Hilerbrand Meredith Martin Delinn just lost everything: her friends, her homes, her social standing - because her husband Freddy cheated rich investors out of billions of dollars.BEACH TREES
Karen White (who already covered Folly Beach in a previous novel called On Folly Beach) has written Beach Trees.
One-sentence summary: Julie, the main character, begins a long and painful process of healing for leading her to a house on the Gulf Coast, ravaged by hurricane Katrina, and to stories of family that take her deep into the past.
Setting: Gulf Coast
A little father north is Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. You may remember this author from her last novel, Commencement.
One-sentence summary: By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other
Setting: It’s Maine, of course. Specifically Cape Neddick, ME.
Do you have a favorite beach book. (Literally beach?) Do you like to read books set at the beach? Any new beach books I missed you want to tell us about? Will the beach be a part of your vacation plans this year?
Join us tomorrow when girlfriends share their favorite summer reads.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
I think about that phrase often, for while it seemed more insulting than not, I took it as a compliment. In addition, I have enough self-awareness as a writer to agree with this editor, at least in part.
As a writer, I love character. That's where I begin inside the mind of a person. I am less interested in the driving plot that makes for page-turner popular fiction, usually littered with death, scandal, sex, disaster and redemption, in one form or another. Now, don't get me wrong. I love to read well-plotted novels, writing them simply doesn't come naturally to me.
What happens to me, my starting point, usually evolves out of a glimpse into someone's life, perhaps a person walking down the road, or maybe spotting a house in the country and imagining the people who reside in it. I rarely spend time in the mall, but it is the sort of people watching that occurs in populated places like the mall that inspire my curiosity. I also love the idea that in fiction we can live out parts of our life we haven't chosen, create a new ending for some part of ourselves.
Plot comes later. I find my characters tell me about their lives, for better or worse. Writing about nothing much happening may not be a marketable skill, but it's interesting. I still remember reading a passage (I think by Sylvia Plath) where she described someone picking her nose in page long detail. Gross, of course, but also fascinating to see the ordinary, and for most of us, quite common occurence played out on the page.
I'm always in search of a plot that propels. In real life, the internal world seems so rich to me, and the tragedy/comedy of life often too far from Hollywood pace to be worth much on the commercial page. Still, it is good for me to try; it is where I need to grow as a writer. As it is, I usually only know the whole story when the book is done.
Any good advice from plotters on how to be "good writing accomplishing a good plot?"
Samantha Wilde is the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME, the mother of three small children, a yoga teacher, and an ordained minister. Visit her at samanthawilde.com.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
by Susan McBride
A few years back while scoping out the bargain table at a local bookstore, I found LETTERS TO A FICTION WRITER (edited by Frederick Busch). It didn’t take long for me to realize what a gem it is. I’m not much on how-to books, but I love those that inspire me, and this one sure did. I wanted to share my favorite tidbits from some of the authors showcased in LETTERS. I have a feeling you’ll be nodding your head, smiling, and enjoying these wise words every bit as much as I did. So without further ado, here we go!
Lee Abbott: “Don’t write drunk…or stoned. Get a reader. Better yet, be a reader. Write fan letters. Show up for readings and the like. Fret not about fame and fortune. Take every opportunity to write well. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Pay your bills promptly. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Change your oil every three thousand miles.”
Richard Bausch: “Don’t compare yourself to anyone, and learn to keep from building expectations. People develop at different rates, with different results, and luck is also involved. Your only worry for yourself should be: did I work today? Be happy for the successes of your friends, because good fortune for one of us is good fortune for all of us…You will never write anything worth keeping if you allow yourself to give in to petty worries over whether you are treated as you think you deserve, or your rewards are commensurate to the work you’ve done. That will almost never be the case, and the artist who expects great rewards and complete understanding is a fool.”
Ann Beattie: “Find the time to write. Protect the time to write. Be inventive: get gorgons. Forget e-mail. Whatever it takes. Because you’ll still need more time than there is, and also it’s important to leave enough time to waste…hope for luck, wish to turn out to be photogenic, and pray that the mess that book publishing is in may eventually result in something good.”
Andres Dubus: “I learned from Hemingway to stop each day’s work in mid-sentence, while it is still going well, then to exercise the body and not to think about the story till you go to your desk the next day…then with pen in hand, I turn to the first page of the story and read all that I have written, and I revise, cutting, adding, changing words and punctuation. When I reach the unfinished sentence, I do not have to pause.”
Shelby Foote: “The dirty minds, the slow wits, the critics with their pick-brain tendencies: these people must be ignored in the creative process. Nothing but ruin can come of even considering them. A man must write for himself, and then he must accept the penalties, including the possibility of damnation. You’ve got to put it all on the line; anything less than all is hedging and your work is weakened at the wellspring, hopelessly flawed, shot through with rot. Not to mention the sapping of vitality; that’s what hurts.”
George Garrett: “Trust your original impulse. Trust the muse completely until she proves to be, beyond the shadow of a doubt, unfaithful. But after vision comes revision. That’s another thing, a bag of tricks and then some. You need to know, confidently, that during revision you can fix anything, change anything to suit yourself…the creative process is a little like taking a bath. Other people can help you do it, but they can’t do it for you…all of us would rather not have to revise anything at all. Just put it through the typewriter or into the computer, perfect and complete the first time, effortlessly. Pure inspiration. No sweat and strain and doubt. And that happens, probably will happen once or twice in your lifetime. And that will always seem to be the best time, the way it ought to be. But through the labor, sometimes hard labor, you will discover what every good writer does, that you can make a work seem to be the effortless result of pure inspiration.”
Joyce Carol Oates: “Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject…Don’t be discouraged. Don’t cast sidelong glances and compare yourself to others among your peers. Writing is not a race. No one really ‘wins.’ The satisfaction is in the effort and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any. Read widely and without apology. Read what you want to read, not what someone tells you you should read. Immerse yourself in a writer you love and read everything he or she has written, including the very earliest work. Especially the very earliest work…Write for your own time, if not for your own generation exclusively. You can’t write for ‘posterity’—it doesn’t exist…don’t expect to be treated justly by the world. Don’t even expect to be treated mercifully…Don’t be ashamed of being an idealist, of being romantic and ‘yearning.’”
Megan Staffel: “The mistake people make when they think about writing has to do with the assumption of ease. In other words, because you can write, you assume that you can write fiction. But writing fiction requires the same kind of struggles that doing anything requires…it will continue to be a struggle even after you’ve done a lot of fiction writing. It’s just the nature of the process.”
Hilma Wolitzer: “So this is what you’ve decided to do with your life. I’ll bet your parents aren’t exactly thrilled. When they were walking the floor with you during those long colicky nights, visions of a future neurosurgeon or international banker were probably what kept them going. But instead of supporting them grandly in their old age, you’re off to work in your pajamas every day, at no one’s behest, and without a guaranteed market for your product.”
I couldn't have said it better myself. ;-) Now I’m totally inspired to put on my hot pink Hello Kitty jammie pants, settle down at the keyboard, and get ‘er done. Happy writing, everyone!
Susan McBride is the author of the forthcoming Little Black Dress (William Morrow Paperbacks, August 23, 2011) about two sisters, one daughter, and a magical black dress that changes all their lives forever. She has also written The Cougar Club, a Target Bookmarked Breakout Title and one of MORE Magazine's "February (2010) Books We're Buzzing About." For more scoop, visit SusanMcBride.com. Just for fun, view the book trailer for Little Black Dress on YouTube.
Monday, June 20, 2011
I'd love to give some kind of witty response to that question -- and would, if only I could think of one. When asked at author talks about where I get the ideas for my books, I worry I'm supposed to grin and say brightly, "Why, at The Dollar Store, of course. They're cheap and easy to find there." And then, when the few polite chuckles die down, launch into some semi-serious and detailed ramble about how my mom and her sisters said something wise to me while making holiday pastries when I was an angsty adolescent and how the memory of that conversation lodged itself deep into my mind and flowered into an original plotline when combined with a handful of less-than-delightful dating experiences years later...
It may well have happened that way.
But, for me, the where of getting a story idea is an almost uncomfortable thing to discuss because...well, I rarely understand its appearance any more than the person asking me about it. Often, the ideas are just out there. I wander out into the world and they exist. Like stepping onto a patio in summer and being surrounded by sunshine, oxygen and the occasional swarm of mosquitoes. How could I explain the existence of story ideas any more than the presence of air molecules or insects? They're a familiar part of my world, ever present, undeniable, frequently mystifying.
But I think there's another question, lurking right behind it, that has proven marginally easier to analyze and, perhaps, something else aspiring writers and thoughtful readers might wonder about as well: How do writers manage these story ideas once they're here?
In my (admittedly, heavily food-obsessed) mental world, I think of the ideas as sitting in wait for me, like an infinite variety of ingredients listed inside the cookbooks next to my stove. The ingredients on their own don't usually make a meal, but when combined in appropriate amounts, they might result in a pretty good recipe.
My real-life cookbook collection contains recipes with an ethnic flavor, vegetarian meals, lite dishes, grilling guides, more dessert creations than one person should be allowed and scrap sheets of paper with special family favorites scribbled on them. All of these clamor for my attention at meal time, and I must choose between them. There are a gazillion possible combinations and, yet, before dinner (or before writing), I have to sift through them and pluck out a few that appeal to me because "that's what I'm in the mood for right now" or "that's what I know I can do reasonable well" or "that's one I'm absolutely fascinated by and just have to try for myself" or even sometimes "that's one that was highly recommended."
For me, selecting menus -- or novel plots -- are strikingly similar tasks. And before choosing either, I've always got my fingers crossed in hopes that it'll turn out.
But, in my experience, it's the next step that requires the trickiest manuevering. There are times, yes, when I'll fix a one-dish meal. A stew in the crockpot, for instance, or a casserole in the oven. But, most of the time, I'm not so focused. Most of the time, I have a few different things on the burners and one thing heating in the microwave and another that needs to be tossed together on the counter.
My story ideas are like that, too. A set of blog posts, essays and/or interviews that I can assemble, like a salad, in between other tasks. A short story I'm revising -- a brief but intense project. A couple of items on the stove top: the proposal I'm working on, for example, which requires constant attention and frequent stirring, along with this other idea, which sits on the back burner and mostly just simmers. I know what it needs most is time...like rice that takes 30+ minutes to soak up the water. You don't want to mess with it too much until it's ready. Once it's ready, though, some fast action is required or you'll end up with a dish that's burnt on one side and mushy on the other.
I'm not an expert in the kitchen by any stretch of the imagination (the truth is that I love looking at the pictures in cookbooks more than doing the actual cooking, LOL), but the multitasking doesn't bother me. I'm well accustomed to this as a writer. And, as a reader, I'm much the same. I have four or five different books that I'm reading now. I'm in different places in each of them, and I switch back and forth often between titles, depending on how I feel and the time available to me.
What about all of you? If you're a writer, do you tend to only work on one project at a time, or do you juggle multiple stories/essays/articles frequently? What about reading -- do you read one book completely before picking up another, or do you have several books in progress at once? I'd love to know!
Marilyn Brant writes women's fiction for Kensington -- her third novel, A Summer in Europe, will be out at the end of November. She also writes light romantic comedies and recently released her first ebook romance, On Any Given Sundae (aka: a literary ode to one of her favorite foods!), about a shy dessert cookbook writer and the talkative ex-high-school football star she once had a crush on. Her website is: www.marilynbrant.com.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
“Where do you get your ideas?”
This question is one every writer I know has fielded countless times. My answer is often something like “from the Story Well,” “from the Story Fairy,” or “from the Story Cloud”--which of course hovers nearby full-time, and all I have to do is reach up and pluck out a new idea the way Harry Potter plucks memories from Dumbledore’s pensieve.
The truth is that there’s no actual answer to that question. Story ideas come from everywhere, and they come from nowhere. Sometimes I’m inundated with new ideas and have trouble prioritizing my interests; at other times I’m stumbling through the desert under a blazing sun, my hand shielding my eyes while I search and search for the smallest story seed, but to no avail. You get them when you don’t need or want them; you can’t find one when you need one…they’re fickle, that’s simply the way of it, and every writer has to embrace that truth or go find a more predictable occupation, such as mortuary technician.
I began writing fiction seriously ten years ago. To date I’ve completed eight novels. Three of those are published. A fourth—number eight—is under contract and scheduled to come out next year. I turned in the manuscript just before my newest book, Exposure, was released, then held my breath waiting for my agent’s and editor’s feedback. While I was on tour, the news came in: the story was “drafty,” yes, but its bones were good and they were confident it was all going to come together very well.
This is exactly what a writer needs to hear after spending long months (or sometimes years) with the story idea that captivated them enough to merit such a commitment. When tour ended, I was all set to review my editorial letter and then get to work again.
I read the editorial letter and, as I always do, began mulling my wonderfully astute editor’s various questions and observations. Each character arc was examined, the plot arc tested, the overall message considered. This manuscript had a lot going on, and so my editor asked what, in my view, did I think readers would take away from the story?
When I answered that question for myself, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Something that didn’t suit me at all. Something that, after two weeks of mulling things over, made me realize that I as a reader didn’t want to read that story—and therefore I didn’t want to have it published.
I hardly need to tell you that this is not an ideal situation.
I knew that before I told my editor I’d gone off the rails in this way, I needed to offer a solution to the problem. So I went to the story cloud and plucked from it a brand new story premise. Remarkably, that premise contained almost all the same characters as my completed draft, but in a situation that was so elegant in its simplicity and so interesting that I could see the story in its entirety. I was confident (or as confident as an experienced writer ever is) that the writing would feel more like taking dictation than the pushing of boulders uphill that it sometimes is.
Do I make it sound like finding that solution was easy? It felt easy—once I’d obsessed about it for almost three weeks, tortured myself with scenarios of never having another novel published, of being thought difficult and unreliable. It felt easy once I overcame my certainty that real pros would never write the wrong story in the first place. It felt easy once I remembered that the only person I ever truly have to satisfy is myself.
Will this new idea turn out to be the right one? That test is still ahead of me. The challenge is a rigorous one. But it’s the kind of challenge I’ve succeeded with before, so as I set out, I’m both confident and terrified—which should play well on the page, since that’s the state my characters find themselves in as well.
One thing I know for certain is that even if this story doesn’t end up working the way I want it to, doesn’t get published, never reaches readers, I can go back to the story well/fairies/cloud, and if I’m patient, be rewarded with a new idea, another chance to get it right.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Here’s some fun facts about Deborah:
She was raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer.
She thinks Diet Coke is a life-sustaining beverage.
The reason she moved to Vegas… wait for it… her 15-year-old son wanted to live there, which of course makes her the coolest mom EVER!
One of her favorite books is The Thirteenth Tale, demonstrating that she has excellent taste.
On to her books. They’ve caused quite the sensation. Kirkus loved them. Those folks at Booklist said they “hit the proverbial jackpot;” the New York Times said, “Deborah Coonts makes the cut with WANNA GET LUCKY? and there’s also couple of starred reviews to boot.
First sentence of Wanna Get Lucky?: As her final act on this earth, Lyda Sue Stalnaker plummeted out of a Las Vegas helicopter and landed smack in the middle of the pirates’ lagoon in front of the Treasure Island Hotel, disrupting the 8:30 P.M. pirate show.
Wanna win both Wanna Get Lucky and Lucky Stiff? Leave a comment with your email address. Winner will be chosen by 10 p.m. Sunday.
Congrats to Laura Kay, winner!
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
My personal musicality ranks somewhere between a rusty tin ear and a flat F sharp, but this doesn’t prevent me from owning an iPod—though my kids think it should. In the afternoon, we walk: my music, my dog, and me. Lola, the good dog, gets to go because she knows how it’s done. Auggie, the bad dog, who cannot acclimate himself to the rules, stays home and cries at the window. (Don’t feel too bad. My daughter walks him later, Auggie screaming like a banshee the entire way) Lola and I maintain a steady gait and do not deviate from our path; we don’t speak to passersby. Well, except for Jim. If we see Jim, I will remove the earbuds. He owns the funeral home on the corner. His dry wit fascinates me. Maybe that’s because Jim’s days are so anchored to reality and mine are not. After chatting for a bit, Jim waves goodbye, saying something like, “Stop in anytime. There’s always room for one more!” I don’t think Jim gives a rat’s ass about music or writing. Over the years, the walk and music have become part of the writing catharsis. At the end of the day, I actually feel as if I earn it, indulging in tunes that mirror the mood of my work. In addition to the soundtracks that complement the mental movie of each book, there are the pity-me songs, which get me through literary pitfalls, and pump-me-up songs that, eventually, negate the pity-me material. Then there’s the rare day, overload hours where I can’t consider another conundrum or character. They are people and plots that exist because two weird wires crossed in my brain, spitting out 300-pages of something that’s destined to haunt me. You understand the need for the catharsis? Anyway, this queer frame of mind results in my catalog of reserve music. It plays obscure tunes, like Abba’s The Visitors, Rhapsody in Blue, and an 8th inning rendition of Sweet Caroline, live from Fenway Park. If you’re not on my part of the planet, check it out online; it’s amazing. On these days, book music takes a backseat to comfort music. That’s a good thing. No doubt Lola and I will be chugging around the block tomorrow, scrolling through a playlist that has no entertainment value. It only exists to inspire.
So what’s playing on your inner iPod? Is there a go-to song that’s a game changer, or an entire catalog guaranteed to complement your mood?
We've all sung along to We Are the World. All seen LIVE AID and FARM AID and we all know about Physicians Without Borders and all the other wonderful organizations that take what they know--music, or medicine , or sheer fame--and use it to help others.
So when the tsunami and earthquake and nuclear meltdown hit Japan--the amazing Tim Hallinan (you know him, right, he was an Edgar nominee this year for his incredibly good Queen of Patpong plus he's adorable AND brilliant) had the idea that we as writers-and readers--could use what we know (and love) to help.
(That was all one sentence with pretty elaborate punctuation. But you follow me, right?)
So he had this terrific idea to...well, let him tell it. Then I'll be back.
by Tim Hallinan
The most ancient Japanese religion is Shinto.
The name is taken from two Chinese words, shin, meaning "spirit," and to, which is a derivative of tao (as in Taoism), a path or a course of study. So I suppose you could say it's a spiritual path of study. It's sometimes translated as "the way of the gods."
Shinto holds that the natural world is the home of kami, or spirits.
Many of them are spirits of place: stones, trees, hills, bodies of water.
The Japanese reverence for nature has its roots in Shinto.
This is a torii, a gate for the kami to pass through. They stand outside virtually every Shinto Shrine and also provide passageways for spirits of place in spots where their influence is strongest. Many of them stand in bodies of water.
On March 11 of this year, something unprecedented in modern memory rose up out of nature and struck Japan.
Following a massive earthquake, the waves invaded an enormous area in the northeast of Japan. In a matter of moments, both the natural and the man-made landscapes were altered, perhaps forever.
Watching the devastation, all I could think was that writers should be able to pool their talents to raise money as musicians and actors do. And it occurred to me immediately that we can. With the immediacy of e-books, writers can join together to try to bring some small solace in the face of tragedy. People who have lost children, parents, loved ones, friends, communities, livelihoods -- they deserve our best efforts, however humble.
Less than three months after the disaster, nineteen wonderful writers have donated their talent to make this possible.
This is a collection of original Japan-themed short stories, almost all written since March 11, inspired by the desire to help.
The writers who responded with such wonderful stories are:
Hank Phillippi Ryan
C.J. West and
Another fine writer, Gar Anthony Haywood, designed the cover.
Taken as a whole, these people have won every major mystery prize and sold hundreds of thousands of books.
Two remarkable translators of haiku, Jane Reichhold, whose 2008 volume translating all the haiku of the 17th-century master Basho has been hailed as a new standard, and David Lanoue, who has done beautiful translations of Issa, allowed us to use their renderings without charge.
Kimberly Hitchens and her first-class crew turned the manuscript into a beautiful a-book.
One hundred percent of the writers' royalties from the purchase go directly to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund administrated by Japan America Society of Southern California, which has already sent $750,000 to organizations working on the scene.
HANK: It was all Tim's idea. And each of us is honored to be part of it. Each story just had to have some reference to Japan. And as it turned out, each is very different--it's an irresistible array of stories. To illustrate--and to tempt you even more--here are a few snippets!
**Wendy Hornsby "The Emperor's Truck"
One thing Eunice had learned very well during her internment was how to bargain. When you wanted something that was scarce – which was just about everything – you needed to come up with something useful to trade with, a compelling argument, and a quick finish. Too many deals got lost when people had time to think them over. So, here she stood, toe to toe with Mr. Antonelli, ready to bargain. She intended to get Papa’s truck back – his truck, not just a truck.
************************Tim Hallinan "The Silken Claw"
Someone killed the big arc light, and beyond it, Kiyoshi saw his friend Kenji, waiting. Kenji looked like his ears were ringing, like someone had hit him in the face with a tree. Kiyoshi waited while a wardrobe woman unbuttoned his robe from behind and slipped it off his shoulders, and then, with the arc light still a dark flare at the corner of his vision, he found his way to the edge of the platform and down the steps.“You're not working today?” Kiyoshi asked in Japanese.
“Sit down, Kiyoshi-san,” Kenji said. “It will be best if you sit down.”
All of a sudden the shrill drilling of the telephone came between them. Her business-like voice answered.“Moshi mosh, hello.”
Her tone changed immediately. “Anata,” she breathed.He could never get over how that Japanese pronoun anata, which meant ‘you,’ could mean so much. A simple pronoun. But the way a woman said it spoke volumes.
***********************Hank Phillippi Ryan "Father Knows Best"
I risked an email to Teri: “We’re problem-solvers. We should do something. But I can’t think of anything that’ll hurt her more than it’ll hurt us.”Teri’s response popped up. “Anzuru yori umu ga yasushi.”
I turned to her, assuming it was one of her dad’s sayings, but not being able to read Japanese or whatever, that didn’t help. Of course I couldn’t say anything out loud, so I turned to her and made a face like, Huh?She hit send. “It means: Fear is greater than the danger. An attempt is sometimes easier than expected.”
Did she think we should try something to, um, exterminate the Queen Bee? Like what?*********************************************
HANK: Fun, huh? And really one of a kind. And it's a wonderful, easy way to make a difference. Because words can change the world. Remember, 100 per cent of the authors royalties go to Japan Relief.
You can buy SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN as a Kindle e-book on Amazon right here http://www.amazon.com/SHAKEN-Stories-for-Japan-ebook/dp/B00556WX9A/
If you don't have a Kindle, you can download Kindle for PC here