Friday, October 30, 2009

From: "Wishlist"

"I wish I were a neutron bomb;
for once I could go off."

Pearl Jam

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From: Love You Hate You Miss You

"There's a couple of other kids who eat by themselves, but I'm in no mood for a very special episode moment, and even if I was it still wouldn't be enough to make me sit with the girl who needs to be told to bleach her mustache or the guy who always wears a suit and tie. I suppose he's making a real fashion statement, but this is high school. You're not supposed to be real. You're supposed to be enough like everyone else to get through and out into the waiting world."

Love You Hate You Miss You
Elizabeth Scott

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Build Your Perfect Character

This post is not about the top ten techniques for creating catchy characters. You can read that here, here, here, and at other sundry locales on the Interwebs. This post is about your perfect character.

First, a story.

A while back, I was watching Into the Wild and wondering why the hell my stories are not as beautiful as the ones I'm always falling in love with. (Yeah, I ended a sentence with a preposition. I'm feeling rebellious today.) I grabbed the closest notebook and began to list my favorite stories--not books, but stories: books, movies, tv shows, what have you. Here's what it looked like:

Jesus's Son
A Room With A View
A Moveable Feast
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Tao of Steve
The Catcher in the Rye
The Virgin Suicides
Pump up the Volume

I stared at those titles for a long time searching for similarities. Here's what I found: They all focused on deeply flawed characters. More specifically, the characters were sensitive souls, outsiders by nature of their eccentricity, hurt big time by someone they should have been able to trust: a parent, a sibling, a lover, themselves. As a result, they've been driven to extreme loneliness, the kind that only thrives if one cultivates it. In these stories, desperate characters crawl through the muck of extreme loneliness to emerge in a better place, or not.

These are the characters I identify with, and the sort I want to write about. These are my people.

Here is where my story morphs into your perfect character. What are your favorite stories (not books)? Jot them down. Stare at them for a while until you identify their similarities--not just character similarities. My favorites stories are set in strikingly beautiful, colorful locales. Their love interests represent a break from the constant fakery of the world. When I stare at my list, I see a very clear representation of my aesthetic*, and that helps me create stories closer in beauty to the ones I love.

Have you jotted? Are you staring, contemplating? What similarities emerge among the stories you love? What have you learned about your aesthetic*? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

*Aesthetic is a word used a lot in grad school even though nobody knows what it means. I've been using the word for nine years now, and I just started understanding it (I think). Merriam-Webster defines aesthetic as "a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses." Those stories you love and write: they mean so much to you because they fit your aesthetic.

Monday, October 26, 2009

From: Tricks

They Call Vegas

Sin City, like calling it what it is
somehow legitimizes the name.
Las Vegas is Sin City. Whole lot

of sinning going on, from fancy
high-rise casino rooms to sleazy
well-off-the-strip motel dives.

People come here specifically
to sin. But I wonder whether
it's really true that "what happens

in Vegas stays in Vegas."
People stain themselves here.
I bet, no matter how hard they

scrub themselves after sinning,
when they go home, a certain
amount of stain remains visible.

Then, I guess, it's up to the spouse
or significant other to recognize
the meaning of that dark splotch

ghosting beneath the bleach.
Most of 'em probably don't want
to look. Don't want to know.

Ellen Hopkins

Friday, October 23, 2009

Found: Hope

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

Jimi Hendrix

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I Love Losing Writing Contests

If you find yourself staring at the wall, reciting your query letter verbatim, wondering if you should change the structure of sentence 3, why not enter a query letter contest? I'm going to enter the Kidlit query contest over at literary agent Mary Kole's site.

How do you feel about writing contests? As the books-as-babies metaphor goes, entering writing contests is a bit like entering your kids in pageants, no? Then again, some of these contests are just plain fun. For instance, I'm writing a short story for the Genre Wars over at the Literary Lab, and--dork alert--I'm enjoying it.

Every year I say I'm going to try to win the Flannery O'Conner Short Fiction Award, and on the eve of the deadline, I find myself shivering on the floor, blowing my nose in the discarded pages of my short stories, wondering why I try--but every year I also do a ton of revising to get those stories in fighting shape. To me, contests are just motivation to do SOMETHING.

Here is what I have accomplished by losing several contests this year:
  • I revised a pile of pages into a semi-finished novel that I later finished.
  • I wrote Chapter 1 and a synopsis of a second novel.
  • I wrote a short story from the point of view of a secondary character in my novel. In doing this I learned so much about him--why he wants to be a doctor, how he feels about his mother, that he learned to be compassionate when he was a scared little boy who had to be extraordinarily brave to save someone he loved.
There's more, but that's enough. The point is: I may have done these things anyway, but probably not. I didn't win a damn thing, but my contest-entering was not in vain.

Do you enter writing contests? Worth it, not worth it? What are the best writing contests? What makes a writing contest worth your effort?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From: "Becoming a Writer"

"[A] writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway."

"Becoming a Writer"
Junot Díaz

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Conventional World of Unhip Undergraduates*

I've read books about writing for as long as I can remember. The act of writing fascinates me. A lot of people, however, consider books about writing useless schlock.

Have you read the Alexander Chee article about learning to write with Annie Dillard?

It's beautifully written and boasts all sorts of valuable thoughts on ego and writing. One of the most memorable lines came not from Dillard or Chee, but from Chee's father:

"Whatever it is you want to do, find the person who does it best, and then see if they will teach you."

In the old days, they called this an apprenticeship. I'm a writing apprentice, willing to unquestioningly wax on and wax off for the right person. That's what I'm doing when I read Speak for the 50th time, when I read On Writing and Stein on Writing and A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, the blog that recently mentioned that Donald Maass's book The Career Novelist is available for free download. (go 'nap it!)

As far as I know, Laurie Halse Anderson (aka, the person who does it best) isn't accepting any mentees, but if her book-eating daughter tweets that she LOVES a certain writing essay, I'm going to read it with an open notebook and poised pen. Does that make me a neophyte? Do I care? In the new age of life coaches, blogs, and tweets, I'm still an old-school apprentice learning my craft.

*I searched high and low on the Interwebs to find a poem I love called "I the Graduate" by Ted Joans because I think it complements this post. It's not widely booknapped, so it's probably not well-known. That's a shame, 'cause it rules. Read the whole thing on the ultimate booknapping site. Here's a taste:
I graduated
From my mom's womb
From childhood and family
From neighbors
From villages/towns/and cities
From religions/creeds/nationalities
And stagnant allegiances
And fad conformity
I graduated
From it all
Do you read writers writing about writing? Why or why not? If you do, how 'bout some recommendations?

Monday, October 19, 2009

I ♥ Mondays. You should too.

Did you read that title? Do you think I'm being sarcastic? 'Cause I'm not.

Lots 'o people associate Monday with the end of fun, but me being sort of manic about getting things done, to me Mondays are weekly opportunities for renewal:

I start something new. I try again. No matter what happened last week, Monday signifies a time to get over it. Stop looking in the rear-view. Get this life train back on track.

I was gloomy and doomy last week. While buried in a weekend pity-gorge of hot wings and pizza, I did some hardcore self-analysis, and I spotted the the reason for my emo-ness. With a certain book as they say completed, I'm clearly suffering from PND--post-novel depression. My characters are still in a way they've never been since I met them. I keep picturing them together in a hospital waiting room, checking their watches, eating vending machine snacks. They're depressing me.

So today I write:
Dear Characters,

I have done all I can for you (for now). I can't wait with you anymore. It is Monday, and I've a new week, a new story--and fine, it's true--new characters to write. It's not you, it's me.

I wish you all the best. You truly deserve it. When you meet a nice editor who makes you feel even more complete than I ever could, I'd love to have dinner with the both of you.

I am a better person for having known you.


Bloggies, it is Monday. I dare you to start something exciting. Make your fresh start more real by telling me about it in the comments. What new adventure are you about to begin?

Friday, October 16, 2009


Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
at the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.

James Wright

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From: "Tickle Me Pink"

"Pray for the people inside your head,
for they won't be there when you're dead."

Tickle Me Pink
Johnny Flynn

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Self-inflicted Deadlines for The Masses

Well, I've done something outrageous--truly, truly, truly outrageous.

Like legions of crammers, procrastinators, and dreamers before me, I've registered for NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is just what it sounds like--a group of crazy writers linked by a series of tubes attempting to write 50,000-word novels in 30 days. My writing style gels well with NaNoWriMo, as I am a binge-and-purge kind of writer.

Aside from providing me with extra guilt for the non-writing moments of my life, NaNoWriMo provides all kinds of glorious wonderfulness:
  • The NaNoWriMo site boasts a procrastination station. Having to search for my own diversions is time-consuming, so this is handy.
  • Freedom to genre jump. I know most of you take zero issue with genre jumping. When I wrote about the ties that bind me to one genre, many of you commented that you have no genre loyalty. That got me feeling adventurous, so I may try writing a middle grade novel or some hardcore dark YA during NaNoWriMo.
  • My Betas joined too. Writing is more fun with those ladies around.
In the spirit of Booknapped, I read over the NaNoWriMo site this morning and found this gem:

"Win or lose, you rock for even trying."

Nice words to write by, no? Are you joining NaNoWriMo? How come? Got any tips for a newb?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Found: Awesomely True Writing

I have this friend who writes an amazingly honest blog about her and her partner's quest to have a baby. If you're looking to read a future best-selling memoir while it's still in blog-form, check out A Vas Difference. I dare you not to cry.

Friday, October 9, 2009

From: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

"Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free."

Tom Robbins
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

P.S.: Thanks to real-life friend Trilby for suggesting this quote for a booknapping.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What I Learned from the Murderati

Murderati is mostly for mystery and crime writers, but they write stuff that appeals to authors of every genre. Toni McGee Causey recently wrote my favorite kind of post: relevant, introspective, and original.

I love when someone views writing from a fresh perspective. In this post about the space of writing, Causey views fiction through the lens of architecture. It's on the long side, perfect if you have time to let your mind loll around and consider new ideas.

One of my favorite parts:
"[P]ositive space—not just positive thinking, but positive space—is as necessary to our mental health and our survival as that negative space—that moving, ever onward. We need the connections around us, the grounding in the here and now, the raft of joy in the midst of a chaotic world, to replenish the soul and the well of creativity. You can go a lot of years without doing this, and still function. I can attest to that. But you’ll be missing so much."
Man, that just speaks to me, ya know? Thanks to literary agent Janet Reid for leading me to this post.

Now, go writers. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Blognapped: Creative Intelligence

This post for aspiring writers by author Orna Ross is Right On. Here's my favorite part:

"If you want to be a writer... [y]ou’ve got to do the work. Lay down sentences and paragraphs, like an athlete lays down miles. Put words through your fingers, like a musician drums scales. Go on your metaphorical knees to the mystery of inspiration, like a priest before an altar."

I heart simile.

From: Ballads of Suburbia

"Liam and I snuck out to concerts on a weekly basis. We went to the Metro, the Aragon, the Riv, anything on an "L" line because we didn't want to deal with getting permission and rides from our parents--though we did help ourselves to their wallets when allowance money ran out. We saw famous bands, local bands, whoever happened to be playing an all-ages show whenever we happened to need to get the hell out of the house. That was the ballad of suburbia: give me loud to drown out the silence."

Ballads of Suburbia
Stephanie Kuehnert

Monday, October 5, 2009

Librarians are Hot; Good Grammar is Hotter

Occasionally (oh who am I kidding?) when I've no time to blog, I point you in the direction of cool sites that will knock your socks off. Today I offer two great sites.

Direct your browsers to Awful Library Books, a goofy literary site where librarians post the worst books clogging their shelves. When you're done laughing it up, head over to Paul Brians's Common Errors page. Paul Brians is a no-nonsense professor with a PhD in comparative literature. In other words, he knows his shiz. I don't think you can spend time at his language errors site without having at least one ah-ha writerly moment. Go learn something, bloggies.

Good sites come to those who hyperlink. Found any literary sites worth sharing lately? Post 'em in the comments, please.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vonnegut in a Box

1. Find a subject you care about.
2. Do not ramble, though.
3. Keep it simple.
4. Have the guts to cut.
5. Sound like yourself.
6. Say what you mean to say.
7. Pity the readers.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thanks Audrey Owen of Editor's Notes, who regularly sends writing advice and author's quotes to my inbox. Finding Kurt Vonnegut in my inbox is like a hickey from Kanicky (aka, a Hallmark card).

Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Survive Drowning in a Sea of Rejection

I read blogs for all sorts of reasons:
I found this blog by a successful publisher the other day, and I wanted to blognap a quote from it and share. Some of you are querying in vain. Some of you hate your day job. Some of you have had horrible weeks and can't wait until 5PM so you can get slothy for 48 hours.

Some of you want to give up.

Well, this successful publisher dude gave some solid practical advice for how to talk yourself out of quitting. His words are simple yet genius:
"[W]hen Gail and I have a fight—yes, we do have fights—I ask, 'So why should I stay in this marriage?' Instead of pushing that question down like holding a beach ball under the water, I let it surface and embrace it. 'What is at stake?'

But notice: I’m not asking 'Why should I quit? because I will get answers to that question too. The mind is tricky that way. It will attempt to answer whatever question you ask it, so you must be very careful with how you frame the question. Instead, I focus on the positive. I am looking for reasons to keep going."

Got it?

Why should I keep going?


Why should I quit?

I'll help you get started. One reason I keep writing: because some stories hit me with a truth so big and obvious (yet not) that my heart feels like it's going to explode out of my chest, and I want to make other people feel that. What's one of your reasons?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Latest Disease: Do you have it?

If you've ever been unemployed long enough to get into Dr. Phil, you know about body dysmorphia--a social disorder that makes people obsess about a perceived physical flaw. It's a "perceived" flaw because the flaw isn't nearly as horrendous as the perceiver thinks.

According to Wikipedia, the most freaked-about flaw in people who have body dysmorphia is acne. Wrong again, Wikipedia. Meet my new anxiety disorder (I have several. I collect them.):

Writing Dysmorphia

I have no friggin' clue if my writing is any good. How does one tell? Just this week, I've described my writing with one or more of the following adjectives:

crisp / stilted
funny / cheesy
gripping / WTF?

You know those people on American Idol? You know the ones! So confident they're going to blow the judges away, they open their mouths and we viewers are stuck between laughter and the immense guilt of watching someone's genuine dreams crushed on international television for our entertainment.

What if I'm one of those people?

Perusing the web-definitions of dysmorphia, I came across this tidbit:

"Body dysmorphic disorder interferes with functioning and may lead to social isolation..."

Oh my, yet another symptom I exhibit. While my friends hit the local hipster hangout, I lock myself in a tiny upstairs room à la Bertha Mason, deleting and re-entering commas, reading aloud, pacing. I am sick, y'all.

Writing brethren, two of my non-virtual writer friends tell me that writing dysmorphia is rampant. In fact, they say everyone has it. Is this true?

Do you have writing dysmorphia? Have you any idea whether your writing is good, bad, or fugly? How do you gain this objectivity? Cure me, peeps!