Sunday, September 30, 2007

October Challenge: Get Out of The House

Have you ever noticed yourself saying "Today, I write" and then you decide to do dishes first, then watch that movie you've got by the TV, and catch up on laundry, then you have to make dinner... and before you know it, you've gotten sidetracked and written nothing?

Or, have you ever found yourself thinking you ought to write something, but not knowing what? So, instead of parking in front of your notebook/computer, you wander around the house doing other things. You're waiting for inspiration to hit, right? No use in sitting down before you know what you're going to write about.

I've found, time and again, that writing at home isn't always as productive for me. So many distractions and other things to do that, despite my best intentions, I don't get as much written as I planned to - or, I don't get anything written.

This month, in honor of the writing marathon on the 20th, my challenge to you is to get out of the house and do your writing somewhere else. Like the writing marathon, your job is to go someplace public, sit down, and get your pen a-moving. Before you start, set a time requirement. It can be as short or long as you like, but you have to continuously write during that time.

If you're the type of person who has a bunch of story ideas written down, this is the perfect time to take some with you and spend your writing time on those. Not inspired? Too bad. Start by describing your surroundings if you like, but you have to be writing.

There are a ton of places that can work for this exercise. I'm partial to coffeeshops, fast food restaurants, or a picnic table on the riverwalk. Back when I still worked in the kitchen, sometimes I'd sit at the bar when my shift was over and do a few pages in my notebook. Pick whatever place seems appropriate and comfortable to you. However, on behalf of frustrated waitstaff everywhere, please do not pick a busy restaurant for your writing time.

Now, if you've got friends who write, you get bonus points for going out in a group. Just make sure you all are actually writing, not just chatting. You all can even do some writing marathon-style sharing after you've written for the designated time(s).

Also, you should feel free to write at many different places during one "marathon." Spend fifteen minutes at a coffeeshop, then fifteen at the bookstore next door, then fifteen at the bar across the street. Maybe see how much distance you can cover, 'cause we all could stand to walk a bit more, right?

All right, got your notebook? Got your pen? Car keys? Good. Now, go.

Friday, September 28, 2007

New Blog

"I know we've all been saying forever how we needed a space (virtually or in reality) to share our writing and keep the momentum going from our old Keppy-run workshops. So, here's a space."

After everyone got their bachelors and scattered, it's been tough keeping in touch with all the neat people from school. However, it's about to get much easier. Lydia's set up a group blog for the gang, and I'm looking forward to seeing it get going. Check it out:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

September Recap

This month was all about taking risks and I think I did pretty well in that regard. I submitted five different pieces for publication, went to a variety of get-togethers (even a few where I hardly knew anyone who'd be there), and accepted the job of Head Editor of The Hungry Eye. Not to mention the fact that I've officially decided to write a creative thesis. Scary.

The biggest discoveries were how hard it is to submit multiple pieces at a time and what it's like to get out more. Submitting: yeesh. It was definitely more work than I had imagined, even to just decide which piece should go where. I think the next time I set submission goals, I will make sure to have all my pieces ready before I even start researching markets.

Then, over the month, I've gone to more dinners, parties, etc. than I have over certain years (or so it seems, anyhow). Whew. I'm glad I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and I had fun spending a little more time with certain people, and eating good food, etc. However, now that the semester's in full swing, I think my socializing is going to drop off. Being social takes up a lot of time, and I need to devote that to other things, like homework.

So, in the end, a whole month of deciding to do things, not despite, but because they were outside of my comfort zone was a pretty productive month for me. Some things got pushed to the side - I still haven't revised the chicken heart story yet - but a lot of other things came out that wouldn't have otherwise. A good month for me.

Now tell me, how was it for you? Did you do anything that really made you squirm?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Neil Gaiman Clip

Hey gang, you should hop on over to D.B.'s blog and watch the video clip she has there for the weekly prompt. Gotta love how Neil introduces the poem - one of these days, I can only hope to be able to say something like that:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Let the Rejection Fest Begin!

"Dear Writer: We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but unfortunately this submission was not a right fit for _____. Thank you for trying us.
Sincerely, The Editors"

A couple of weeks after my first submission I get my first rejection. A nice generic form letter. I like the tone of "It's not you, it's us." Hey, at least it wasn't a personalized letter of the sort Jenny longs to send ("At least your mother would like it").

Last year, Jenny proposed a challenge: get three rejections. We had a year to do it, and those of us who did were promised baked goods. I managed to get two acceptances - Apollo's Lyre and The Hungry Eye so Jenny brought cookies to my housewarming party.

A couple people took issue with the challenge, "Why do you want people to get rejection letters?" However, that was missing the point. The point was to try for publication. Since the odds for most writers are that most of what they submit won't be acccepted, rejections were proof that you had submitted something. Besides, an acceptance counted as two rejections, so acceptances were still valuable.

This year, Jenny issued the same challenge. Now I've got one rejection on my tally sheet and more to come. I'm thinkin' brownies.

Another good thing about being rejected is the ability to submit to Of course, they want five rejection slips included with your submission, so you best get cracking.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

At Least My Challenges Are Only Monthly

A guy named A.J. Jacobs decided to devote a whole year to a challenge in order to write a book:

What's the most difficult thing you've ever done in the name of writing? Any plans for a year-long challenge in your future?

What's So Great About Books, Anyway?

Both this semester and last spring, the topic of technology and/vs. text is a recurring one in Katherine's class. Last spring, she proposed the idea of framing a composition class where the class's primary text would be MySpace. A fist fight nearly broke out between those who were in favor of the idea and those who thought it would be a terrible corruption of everything they held near and dear. The general sentiment was, if it's in a book at least it's worthwhile. MySpace is a free for all filled with junk, how can that be as valuable as a Norton anthology?

On Thursday night we played with Visual iX, a Bedford produced CDRom that takes you through elements of visual literacy as a way of analyzing things like advertisements and photos in the Newspaper. It's all about things like the way color, shading, layout, etc. go together to make a visual argument. Certain people in the class were resistant. "This is all well and good, but students still need to know how to sit down and read pure text."


In these discussions, we keep skipping over the fact that text itself is technology. Granted, it's not cutting-edge since we've had it for a few centuries, but it was created for the same reasons other communication technology was created. The only reason the Sumerians created cuneiform instead of movie cameras was the limits of their technology. Let's face it, the whole point of text was to accurately record events in real life, right? Text is ultimately limiting.

With text we miss things like voice intonation and rhythm, facial expression, and body language. Granted, when we read text, the author can indicate these things, but it's a translation rather than the real thing. Then you look a film and there it is, no translation. So, in respect to mimicing reality, isn't film a superior medium? But, students need to know how to read text!

I admit to playing devil's advocate here. While I love movies and TV, if I absolutely had to pick between film and books, I'd pick text. When you get right down to it, while film comes closest to recreating reality, it's also a passive medium. We sit and watch and everything is presented to us as long as we keep our eyes open. Reading, on the other hand, is active. We have to work to pull the narrative off the page and in a way, we are creating the text ourselves. Besides, books are portable and need no batteries.

Also, an average movie is an hour and a half/two hours. It takes far longer than that to read the average novel. Okay, not if you're one of those freaky speed-reader people, but that's an exception. It takes a few moments to look at a painting, hours to watch a play, minutes to check your e-mail, etc. Comparatively, books are the most labor intensive.

So, is the real reason students "need" to be able to read text simply because reading text requires more discipline and work than other mediums? When it comes to academia, is the biggest reason we value reading because it's hard?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hungry Eye Submissions

-Last number on the list of submissions

I just finished going through the stack of submissions. Sorry John, it's not like American Idol at all. There's no making fun of the hopeless, no witty remarks, only a box beside the title of the piece where you check "no, yes, or maybe."

I didn't think to look at what my relative ratios were of each, but I can tell you that I went through one hundred and eleven submission in an hour and a half. There were many more poems than short stories, and I think the timing was about right. A couple of poems in a minute, a story in a minute, or a few if I liked it. In the interest of discretion, I'm not going to say much about them in any detail.

Two observations I will share, though:
  • I judged the short stories more critically than the poetry. Of course, short stories are where I live, so it takes more to impress me.
  • A lot of the writers wrote "short stories" that were barely (or not at all) disguised retellings of the author's life. Lots of therapy going on there.

Now, in about an hour, I'm off to the first Hungry Eye meeting where we'll start to talk about the selection process and expectations/standards for what will go into the magazine. I'm very curious to see how my standards compare to the others. The last time I was involved in selection for the magazine I was a kinder, gentler soul and fell mostly in the consensus of what others thought was a good piece or not. I think this go around may be different. We'll see.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time to Get Tall Shoes, or Else I'll Be In Over My Head

"I am starting to plan our agenda for Friday's Hungry Eye meeting, and after consulting with David, I am emailing to ask if you would be interested in being our Head Editor for this upcoming issue."

This is shaping up to be one of my most exhausting semesters as a graduate student (even though I couldn't tell you exactly why). Thus, when I opened this e-mail this morning my initial thought of being complimented was immediately followed by a thought about how much I'd be biting off relative to how much I could chew. A brand new, bigger and better time committment. Whoo-boy!

Of course, I sent an e-mail right back saying that I'd love to. Besides, realistically, when else will I ever get to be Head Editor (look, it's even capitalized) of a university lit mag? Not to mention that some of the stuff I'd be doing as one is the same stuff I'm already doing for Katherine on my work on the various anthologies. I've already got a lot of practice coordinating with a publisher, and I know a better one than the one the H. Eye has used in the past. Realistically, given that experience, it's surely nothing more than I can handle. Surely.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hungry Eye Meeting

"If you haven't started yet, please go ahead and start reading submissions."
-Juan, e-mail

I haven't started yet. Mostly because two weeks ago I wasn't planning to be on the editorial staff of the campus lit. magazine. Then Juan said, "Wanna?" It can't hurt, and is one more thing to plop on my resume about what I did in school that had something to do with writing.

So, for a while now I get to be on the opposite side of publishing. I did this a few years ago, and it was an eye opener. I had to go sit down and read through a nice big pile of submissions. Let me tell ya, it gave me a whole new empathy for those who do that for a living. When I started with the first few submissions, I was really nice and read the pieces the whole way through, searching for talent. When I got past the middle of the pile, I was putting pieces aside after a paragraph or two. It's impressive how quickly I ran out of patience.

The first Hungry Eye meeting is going to be this Friday, and between now and then I have to go to campus and read through the submission pile. The timing entertains me, that I get to be a big bad editor at the same time I have submissions of my own out. Maybe I should be really nice as I go through the pile - send out that good karma, you know?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Worthwhile Stories

"And then there are calls for these foolish essays for conferences. Like, a few years ago there were a lot of people writing about Buffy."
-New Prof.

I tell ya, Tuesdays are turning into my day to be aggravated by academic snobbery. It wasn't bad enough that she had to insult creative writers, now she's going after Joss? Talk about near and dear to my heart...

It's always interesting when pop culture comes up in class because there are always a lot of people in the snobbery camp who then say things like, "Yeah. That's just watering down serious academia." Good grief.

Not only are these folks disregarding those who create the literature they write all these essays about, they're also completely overlooking the fact that, in its day, most of said literature was the equivalent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The whole point of books is entertainment. That's the soul of it. Jane Austen didn't set out to write Pride and Prejudice just so people two hundred years later could write Marxist analyses. She wrote it to entertain.

Joss writes to entertain. He also explores feminism just as surely as Austen's writing ever did.

Sometimes it seems like English departments define worthwhile stories in terms of how long the author has been dead. The longer, the better, and this TV/movie stuff? Bah! None of it can be worthwhile because there are so many trashy movies and reality shows. Again, blinders - what about all the trashy novels and garbage poems that were being written at the same time Shakespeare (who was, let's mention, the equivalent of Steven Spielberg) was scribbling out his plays? They forget that there's always plenty of poor quality writing going on and being published or performed in any period we study as literature scholars.

Can't we look past "the test of time" and venture into less canonized forms of storytelling? I mean, we've gotten to the point of including women on the list of the worthwhile, is it so much of a stretch to admit that these moving pictures might have something to them?

Of course, seeing as how three of my seven admired writers have either written movies or "sold out" to have their work made into one (in Neil's case, both), you already know what my answer is.


"Workshop and Exercise: Practice in textural criticism; choosing an edition of a text for your larger research project.
Project: Locate at least three separate 'witnesses' to a text you are studying. Look in the library for various editions, for example..."
-Assignment for my Research Methods class

Right. Now, this assignment assumes two things. One, it implies that everyone's doing a critical thesis. Two, it implies that the subject(s) of that thesis are works that have been around a while. So, if one is writing their thesis about Shakespeare, this assignment would fall perfectly in line. However, if one is writing their thesis about Sherman Alexie's latest novel, well, how does one find three "witnesses"/versions of a novel that only has one version published?

Not only are the creative thesis folk being... disadvantaged, so too are those who are writing about contemporary literature (or, how about those writing about composition theory, eh?). Going into this class, I wasn't sure what to expect. The further I get into it, the less I find myself motivated to put forth effort.

If I had put any thought into the assignment before yesterday, I should have contacted my professor and asked her about examining drafts of my own work. After all, it would be much more applicable to my actual thesis, not to mention it's still the same general idea of comparing versions of text. Somehow, I don't think she would have been supportive.

Why is it that the mandated classes are often the most frustrating?

Monday, September 17, 2007


If you're watching, you'll notice that my goals for this week are all leftovers from last. A classic case of the amount being bitten off in relation to what can be chewed. I'll not say I didn't have time to meet my goals. I am very cynical when people say they don't have time, because there are only very few times when this is actually true. What really happened is that, in the time they could have done X they chose to do something else. So, I had time to revise and submit. I chose not to because I decided I would rather do other things.

What things? You ask. Nothing in particular. I spent an hour and a half at the library reading magazines. I read 300. I did many loads of laundry, caught up on dishes, went to a party, did some cooking, got a head start on my homework for Katherine's class, and spent some time watching movies.

None of these things were on my list, but I'm okay with that. I've got a whole new week ahead of me, and now more time since I've taken care of other necessary things. This is also the advantage of breaking down montly goals into weekly ones - stuff happens, you can rearrange the smaller parts and still accomplish what you wanted to for the month.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More on the Gender Question

"The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!"
-Gender Genie

A couple of years ago, my advanced comp & rhetoric professor showed us a website that guesses whether you're a man or woman based on your writing:

So far, I've tried six writing selections from three different stories and three different blog entries, one of which was my last post. Every single one of them gave me the same result. The Gender Genie thinks I'm a man.

For the sake of curiousity, I decided to do some research by plugging other people's writing into the Genie to see what happened. Here are my results:
Neil Gaiman (text from his blog): Entries - 5 male, 6 female.
Terry Pratchett (text from L Space website): 3 male, 1 female.
Jenny (from blog): 2 male, 1 female.
Whit (from blog): 3 male, 0 female.

The results are interesting. Of the people I plugged in, Whit and I were the only two who were totally consistent. Neil's results kept going back and forth, switching off almost exactly every other sample. I kept trying to get results that would indicate a majority, but no luck. Maybe I needn't feel so guilty about wanting to be him when I grow up - after all he writes more like a woman than I do.

Am I a Bad Feminist?

I've been spending some time wrestling with myself about my favorite storytellers. The conflict comes from the fact that of the writers/actors/directors who will make me read a book or watch a movie, purely for the sake that their name is on it, only a couple are women. For books: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Sherman Alexie. For movies/TV: Joss Whedon, Robert Rodriguez, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Winslet.

As someone who's a feminist (not the aggressive, bra-burning kind, but the men should cook too kind) shouldn't I have more female heroes? I tried to think of women authors who are my favorites, or who seem like they ought to be. I like Joy Harjo, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan. I have respect for Toni Morrison, but none of them are what I aspire to be.

Three female fantasy authors come to mind as being quite good: Lane Robins and Carol Berg wrote good books. Sarah Monette not only wrote a good book, but also influenced some of the decisions I made in how I wrote Oracle. Here's the funny thing - Berg and Monette's books feature male protagonists. Lane Robin's book features a female protagonist who spends almost the whole novel pretending to be a man. So, even though the authors are female, there's still a masculine focus, which means I'm back where I started.

I'm trying to figure out how to negotiate this quandry, and one thing that strikes me is that some of my favorite female characters have been the work of male writers. Joss, in particular, is the king of strong gals. Terry Pratchett has many a female led book, and Neil Gaiman has some strong girls and women too.

There's also a question of - despite feminisim and all - whether book writing is still a male-dominated game? Or, more specifically, how about fantasy book writing? I can't think of many guys who write "chick lit" but I can't think of the last time I read one of those, either. Of course, there's also the fact that there's a trend for female fantasy authors to have an aggressive feminist agenda - with a trend that "strong" female characters means female characters who can beat up men. It gets old, really, it does.

Add to that the different theories about how men and women use language differently. Do I just like a more masculine style of writing? Is it the tomboy in me coming out? What about the fact that, when Jenny compared my writing to another author's, said author was a man? Why can't I find a solid female role-model? What gives?

Can any of you all help me sort this out?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Solidifying My Thesis

"I read your stories last night, and at first I didn't know what to say about them."

His lack of knowing what to say was a compliment, so that made me happy. Don't worry though, he looked at them again this morning and found plenty of things to say. As I write this, I have copies of Albatross and Knowing the Dragon in my bag with Juan's handwriting on them. We're off to a good start, and I'm not even technically working on my thesis yet. Huzzah!

Going into this meeting, I was a little uncertain of how it would work out. After all, this was the first time Juan and I were going to talk about my work, the first time he'd seen any of it. I had a bit of concern that we wouldn't quite mesh in terms of vision. Turns out, we're not only on the same page, but the same paragraph. Magical realism and supernatural themes are his element, and that's what I'm doing. It works.

We talked a bit about publication, and he showed me a new place to look for publication markets: Now let's see if I can get any of my thesis stories published before my thesis is reviewed by the appropriate people at the end of spring. Talk about nifty. Juan also gave me some exciting news. He talked to Dr. Sheidley (to double check the process since he's brand new to the school) and it turns out that I only need to take one more honest-to-goodness class. Otherwise, I'll be taking six hours of Thesis.

I'm incredibly pleased by this. I find myself growing more and more sick of formal classes where I'm stuck following someone else's agenda. Not that I'm digging on any of my lovely professors, but I've spent most of my life learning things just because other people think I ought. I'm ready for a change of pace.

One last thing that came out of the meeting is that I think I've finally figured out how my stories are/will be unified. Juan mentioned that both of the stories had transformations in them and someting clicked in my head. That's what makes them fit together. Transformation is the key. Now I just have to figure out how I want to emphasize (or not) that common element through the stories. Okay, so I have quite a bit more to figure out too, but I've got one more problem checked off on the list marked "Thesis" in my mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Problem Solving

"Writing is problem solving."
-My 10th Grade English Teacher

Ever since I heard that description the first time, it has stayed with me. I have this spot of my brain where it's etched in. It's just above my left temple.

Now, years later, I'm taking a class with Katherine where she wants two papers for every one we write. First, she wants the paper itself. Second she wants a metacognitive paper which talks about our process of writing the first paper. My writing process now is much as it was in 10th grade. I try and figure out a series of problems.

For Katherine's class, the process looks something like this:
1. What the heck is a topic in this reading that I'm interested in? (Katherine calls the answer to this question the "entry point")
2. What do I want to say about the topic?
3. Where do I pull supporting references/quotes?
4. How do I structure this?

My creative writing process is essentially the same, though it tends to involve more questions and allow for greater freedom. Either way, my approach is to think of it in terms of solving a series of problems, the solutions to which will get me to where I want to be.

Then, I show my writing to someone(s) else and they throw new problems at me, which I then get to work on solving. Sometimes this is a shampoo-like process: lather, rinse, repeat. The number of problems I have to solve varies for each thing I write - An Ocean Kind of Blue has few remaining problems, Oracle has big monstrous piles of them - but it's always in my head in terms of what needs a solution.

How about you? What kind of framework(s) are in your mind that structure how you approach writing? Is it/are they the same for all types of writing that you do?

Nifty News from Neil

"In a couple of weeks the BBC World Service will be recording a dramatisation of ANANSI BOYS, starring Lenny Henry and Matt Lucas (as Fat Charlie's boss). I'll put more details up as I get them."
-Neil Gaiman

I just read the latest on Neil's blog and look what I found? BBC is my hero.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Writing Letters to the World

"Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home"
-The Police

Okay, so the quote's a bit obvious. So sue me. It still hits on where I want to get with this post. A couple of days ago I wrote about writing as reaching out. Now, this brings up the question of who you or I are reaching out to. Put another way, it's the question of audience.

Depending on who you talk to, there are a lot of different ways you can break down audience with respect to genre, immediacy, etc. I tend to think of it in terms of three types of audience we write for: ourselves, people we know, and people we don't know. By people we don't know, I'm talking about people like magazine editors, book agents, and strangers who'll be picking your book off the shelf.

I usually have an audience in mind that's much like Camii. I've been writing letters to her for years and all that time I've been working on finding the right words to describe exactly what's happening in my life and my reactions to it. It's all about this idea of, "You're not here, but if you were, this is what it would be like." It's a strange and neat thing to be friends with someone almost solely through written words. Yet, here we are some six (or is it more now?) years later.

As a result, it's natural for me to use a narrative style and voice in my creative writing that has a lot in common with my letters. I'm trying to accomplish the same things in both. I'm trying to get to that point where I can put someone else inside my head and have them see out through my eyes. In a way, I guess my ideal audience can usually be described as someone else who doesn't know they're me yet.

Of course, since I'm submitting work for publication (not to mention blogging), that creates a change in my audience. Or, is it just that I'm trying to become friends with people I have never and may never meet?

When you sit down with your writing instrument of choice, how would you describe your intended audience? Is this description always the same? What's most important to you in your description?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How To Release a Ferruginous Hawk

Cradle the hawk against your body. Hold its feet in your hands, its back against your chest, its wings tucked in by your arms. Walk to a clear place on the prairie where there are no trees to block its way. When the moment is right, throw the hawk into the air. You don't need to use much force, all you need is to make sure the bird clears you and has enough lift to spread its wings and take flight. Watch the hawk fly away, or maybe perch someplace high enough to get its bearings. Then, you do the hardest part. The next step is to leave and trust that the hawk will do all right on its own, without you.

Sunday, when Jenny and I went to the movie theater, she asked me how my submitting process was going. I told her that I was having an easy time submitting poems, but was hesitant about my short stories. I was less afraid they'd get rejected than that they'd be accepted. After all this time, I've grown attached to my stories.

When I volunteered at the Raptor Center, we'd often have a dozen kestrels at a time, all thrown into the flight cage together. I only ever remember a few ferruginous hawks during the six or so years I spent there. It was easy to release the kestrels. You just open the kennel door and let them all fly out. Some needed prompting, but that was easy. Reach in, grab, toss. For a bird that's only the size of a fist, there's not much ceremony. But, to release a ferruginous hawk, that's another thing entirely. They take more to rehabilitate, mostly because they're larger and eat more. They're also rarer in this part of the country. To let one go is more of an event.

I'm reluctant to release my short stories because I'm more invested in them. That's not to say I take my poems less seriously, but the rough draft of a poem is the work of ten minutes. The rough draft of a story is far more labor intensive. Stories eat more. When I've published in the past, I've noticed that having something in print takes it away from me. Seeing it take wing is great, but then I have to leave it on its own. The best, and the hardest, part.

I've got two more submissions to hit my goal for this week, and I'm going to force myself to make those submissions short stories. Time to let them go and turn back to the others that are more in need of my attention.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Feeling the Season

Today was chilly and overcast, and I wore a jacket for the first time since spring. I took a walk along the river and smelled the smell of dying leaves, and saw the color fading out of things. Tonight I looked outside and realized all of a sudden that it was already dark. How did the day end so fast?

I wonder if fall and winter might be the best times of the year to be a writer. The shorter days, longer nights, the chill in the air that means you don't leave your doors and windows open to catch the breeze, it all compiles to create the feeling of being isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. It makes the urge to reach out, to call out (even if only in a whisper), all the more imperative.

I turn on the radio, creep to my desk, and turn on the lights to make up for what's gone from the sky. I start typing, or writing (I've got a letter to Camii by my side right now), and put the words together because if I can get them down, they can get to other people. Time is short. Winter's coming.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Browsing Duotrope

"What We Are Not Looking For...accounts of all the zany things that a character does after getting drunk and/or stoned...stories that feature a protagonist who is a writer...passive protagonists. The protagonist must do something rather than have something done to them."
-Guidelines, Bust...

I've been on Duotrope for the past hour or so. Interesting stuff, let me tell you, like magazines named Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens. Some of them offer the potential of a nice chunk of money, like $130 for 1st place in On the Premises contests. Others, like Bust... offer no cash, but contributor's copies. While the thought of getting paid honest-to-gosh money for my work, the idea of having a copy of Bust... which features one of my stories is also quite appealing for its novelty factor.

Along with my browsing, I'm also compiling a Word document listing potential markets, their websites, and notes on pay rates. Another new document I've created is a table to track my submissions with. My main reasons for tracking:
1. To avoid submitting the same story to multiple markets ('cause some don't like you to do this, and because I'm being optimistic and assuming everyone will love me, so I don't want to irk any potential publishers by saying someone else already accepted it).
2. To keep track of who's gotten back to me and who's forgotten me.
I've got one entry in my table thus far, a poem sent to an e-zine. I wasn't thinking I'd be submitting yet, but the e-zine seemed just right for my poem with the zombie sheep. I thought I'd give it a shot and ease into the submission process.

How do you go about submitting your work? Do you have a system for keeping track of markets and/or pieces you've sent out? What's your process?

The Bridge

"You have the writer on one side, the reader on the other, and in between is a bridge."

Last night in class we were talking, as we will all semester, about the connection between reading and writing. Of course, any good composition instructor or creative writer knows that on of the best ways to study writing is to read. A lot.

In the group we're constantly suggesting to people that they read such & such an author, or such & such a book. It'll make their writing stronger, we say. All this time, I've had a difficult time articulating exactly why this is beyond saying that what we read can act as an example.

Finally, last night, one of the guys in my class said it in a way that clicked for me. The more we read, the better our writing tends to become. This is because reading is another way of studying that bridge that goes from one end of the discourse to the other. So, it's not so important all the time which end you're working from, as long as you're learning more about the bridge itself. That's the key.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Publication Markets

There are oodles of publication markets out there and a variety of how much they pay, if they pay, how they publish, and how they accept submissions. The good news is that there are also some websites that'll help you sort all that out.
I'm pretty partial to Duotrope
There's also
and others I can't remember right now.

Anyone else have suggestions?

Will Steal for Writing

"A lot of the time, I'll put people I know personally into roles. Or I'll take parts and mix in different parts."

Ever since Monday, and everyone's funny stories about dating/being hit on, I've been thinking about reality in fiction. Not necessarily in the highly intellectual, metafictiony, The Things They Carried kind of way, but simply how a thing that happens to us, or a person we meet can become seeds for a great story.

I can think of a handful of stories, right off the bat, that I've written based on/informed by reality. They tend to be some of my favorites, too. Go figure, right? Then, you have someone who devotes an entire blog to lines they've overheard, and another blog where lots of people contribute Take a look, there's a lot of good potential material at either.

Of course, another beautiful thing about fiction is the ability for a writer to tell their secrets without anyone knowing that the secrets are real. You get to change names, change circumstances, but still get something completely true and real out. Okay, now I'm getting into The Things They Carried territory. Speaking of which, who's read it? If you haven't, go to the library/bookstore and get it. I'm serious. Anyone who's a writer ought to read this book at least once in their life.

Right, so let's talk about stealing from reality to feed your writing. For my part, I have a poem I like a lot about a rehab. bird that came through the Raptor Center. The bird was a golden eagle with lead poisoning. On a whim, he got a blood transfusion from a great horned owl (One of the gals who ran the RC had him at another facility for treatment, an owl died and they said, "Hey, I wonder what'd happen?). Said golden was a dark, hunched over thing and I named him Igor. It fit. He was one of the few golden eagles to ever survive lead poisoning. So, he was ugly as sin, but also miraculous. In the end, far more impressive than his rommate, despite the fact that she was the biggest and most gorgeous golden any of us had ever seen.

How about you? How often to you steal for your writing? Do you have any particular favorite examples of your theft? Tell me about your thieving ways.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Do I Fit In?

"I also don't understand, even without the studying of creative writing, why some cannot make the leap between what the creative writing students are doing and what the great geniuses of literature did. It's writing."

Here I am, right in the thick of academia, ready to dig into writing a thesis, and I'm beginning to wonder where I fit in the greater scheme of things. Last spring, I applied for a position as a TA, which would've meant teaching comp. 101 & 102 this year. I didn't get it. At the time, I was real bummed out. Now, a few months later, I'm reassessing.

You see, when it gets right down to it, I don't think I have that much interest in teaching comp. anyway. Not just in terms of how no one wants to teach comp. because it tends to be filled with nutty freshman, but because I've never gotten excited about academic writing. Yes, I've done quite a bit of it, but that was all because I had to. This semester, in Research Methods, our professor is talking a lot about publication. She means academic journals, but I can't imagine writing an academic paper for publication. I just don't care enough.

Then, we get back to doing a creative thesis. What then? MFA? Ph.D? I could technically go either way, though a creative thesis sets me up for an MFA rather than Ph.D. Then again, a few schools have begun to offer Ph.Ds in creative writing. (What's the difference? Marketability.) My mom likes the idea of having a "Doctor" in the family. But, I'm not doing this for her, am I? Add into that the question of whether or not I'm even going to continue on right now.

It comes down to a question of what I want to do with the rest of my life. If my priority is writing fiction, I need go no further. There are even those who say that MFA programs are counterproductive to becomming a writer. If I want to teach creative writing, then an MFA is necessary. But, do I want to?

I keep coming back to this question: Do I want to be in academia for the rest of my life? If so, I'm on the losing side of the academic-creative writer war, and I face the challenge of having minimal "marketability" when I look for a job. If not, what are my other options? The kicker is, I don't think I can make this decision yet. Even though I've gotten this far, I'm still not far enough. At least I know I can always get a job waiting tables. The same cannot be said for teaching creative writing. So, in the end, will the student loans be worth it in terms of career?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Speaking of Academic Hierarchies

"Oh, creative writers. They don't want to hear anything except how great they are."
-New Professor

On the way out of class tonight, I was talking with Rebecca about the writers group. Our professor overheard part of the conversation when I was talking about how we'd had a few crazies come through the group. She made a blanket remark. I was offended. The implication is that creative writers are a bunch of self-obsessed whiny babies. Granted, some are. It's the blanket part that miffed me. I almost replied, "Right, 'cause literature students are totally different."

I was instantly back in Katherine's class last spring when we talked about the stigma writing has in a university setting. She was speaking in terms of composition classes, which fall at the very bottom of the prestige hierarchy. Nobody wants to teach comp. 101. It's not at all cool. No, to be cool, you've gotta be teaching a literature course. Creative writing is just half a notch above comp. 101, and tonight that was brought brilliantly home to me. Yeesh.

This stigma gets on my nerves like you wouldn't believe. Oh let us bow down and worship the canon and write critical essays in praise of the literary gods! They overlook the fact that without creative writers, there'd be no canon. Without the self obsessed, ego maniacal poets there would be no poetry to write critical analyses of.

More than anything, the whole back-asswardness of it appalls me. How can one profess to be a literature expert when they don't know how to make the stuff? It's like only knowing half of your trade. Imagine a NASCAR driver who doesn't know how to repair an engine. A professional painter who can't prepare their own canvas. A realtor who knows nothing about architecture. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. What gives?

How can certain academics look at creative writing and write it off as easy or just fooling around? These academics, who only know how to take a work of literature apart, sit there and act like it's so easy to put one together. Alright, I'm getting overly rant-y here, so I'll finish it up.

I hereby issue a challenge to any critic/academic who looks down on creative writers: try being one for a semester. Workshop some of your creative writing, let strangers take it apart and tell you how to make it better. Try to make these readers happy on your first, or even tenth, try. Then tell me it's easy. I dare you.

A Streetsweeper's Tale

My brother sent me here, and now I'm sending you.

Casting Oracle

There's a game you can play with your stories. It's called imagining the movie. They say it can help make your characters more concrete, too, because you're putting a specific face to a character. I've tried it a few times, to figure out which actors had the right look/personality to play the characters in Oracle. Before, I could always get some, but a few characters eluded me.

Last night I watched The Quick and the Dead and, watching Russell Crowe, it hit me. Now I've got Arnell. A few other characters fell into place last night too. If you're interested, here's my thoughts on casting my novel.

Sedge: Sean Maher, Charlie Cox, or maybe Elijah Wood
Gwyn: Kiera Knightley
Nolan: Bruce Willis
Maeve: Cate Blanchett
Stefanee: Emma Watson (but when she was 14ish, not now)
Dorian: Max Pirkis, or maybe Daniel Radcliffe
Devyn: Dunno if it'd work, but I'm thinking Sam Elliot
Kelda: Kate Winslet
Arnell: Russell Crowe
Baylor: Kevin McKidd, Johnny Depp, Sean Bean, or maybe Alan Tudyk
Attun: Still fuzzy on this one
Jalena: Maybe Polly Walker or even Judy Dench

Of course, this is purely for entertainment purposes. What about you? Have you got the cast lined up for the movie version of one of your pieces? Who's in it?

Rods and Cones

"Let it sit and see what you need to have happen to connect the first bit to the last bit."

A while back, I finished the chicken heart story. I wasn't completely happy with the way it came out, and I had that nagging sensation that something was fundamentally wrong with it. However, at the time, I hadn't the faintest idea of what needed fixing. Anyhow, I satisfied myself with the fact that it was done, and that I could always come back later.

Yesterday as I was lying in bed, half dozing, and the pieces started to come together. Get rid of the father in the story, it's about the mother and daughter. Father's dead. He gave the chicken to the daughter before he died, that's the why of the heart continuing to beat. Also the why of Mathilde letting Chloe keep the heart. Stretch out the timeline so Chloe has the heart a week or two before the accident. In my head, I could almost hear the click, click, click of issues resolving themselves. Now the story and the "whys" are perfectly clear.

Of course, it wasn't just a random epiphany. I was working backward. I wrote the story and felt like it had issues. All of it, that is, except for the last paragraph or two. Mathilde sitting in the hospital waiting room, holding the jar with the beating heart in it. That part rang true. I just had to work on getting the rest of the story to match up. In this case, my subconscious mind figured it out before my conscious mind could.

Sometimes, it seems like writing has more in common with night vision than anything else. You know, how when it's dark you can actually see things better if you don't look directly at them?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Thesis Time

"I'm excited."

I just got out of Juan's office where I talked to him about doing a creative thesis. After months of going back and forth, I've finally decided not to do the critical thesis. Also, it turns out that I can graduate in spring, theoretically, if I get my thesis done in one semester. I told him I wanted to work ahead a bit and write stories for my thesis before we're actually "working" on it, which will help with the getting it done soon.

Since he's new, he doesn't have all the details yet about what I'll need to do, but we've got a starting point, which is cool. He's excited about it, and so am I. It'll be great. Kinda funny, too, when we were talking about my writing. He's never seen anything I've written, so some of his comments were a bit oddball for me personally. For instance, he warned me that there'd be a lot of revising involved. I would expect nothing less. But, like I said, we've pretty much just met and he's covering his bases.

Some time in the next week or two, I'm going to show him a couple of stories. I think Albatross and the chicken heart story would be good because that's what I'm aiming for with my thesis. So, I've kinda already started it. Then, too, he'll have a clear idea of what/how I write and we can get down to specifics. Revising, too, I'm sure.

I'm a little relieved, too. Now I have a specific direction I'm working toward. Before, whenever people asked, "When are you graduating?" I never had a concrete answer. Ditto for "What are you writing your thesis on?" Making those choices was tough, but now that they're made, I feel good about them.

The funny thing is, I talked to Camii the other night (ah, the wonders of IM) and told her I'd finally made the decision. To which she pretty much replied, "Well, duh. I could've told you you'd do a creative thesis." It never ceases to amaze me how sometimes other people know what we'll do before we do.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

This Week's Goals

"Specific goals for this week: Create shop. Look over my writings to see what might be ready to go out into the world. Go to bartender John's Labor Day party."

Okay, time to do a status update. Thanks to being sick, I've struck off the party. However, I've replaced it with a state fair outing with my brother, so I'm still calling that one a win. I've picked a couple of potential submission pieces, so I've met that one. Most exciting of all, I've got an shop

I have to admit, it's rather strange to describe one's own work in glowing terms, but hey, that's advertising, right? Besides, I like to think of it as a writing exercise. I'm working out my descriptive muscles today.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Because You Can Never Have Too Many Comics

Darn, if only I didn't already have a new quote of the week, I would so use this one.