Friday, November 30, 2007

Consistency: Hungry Eye Dilemma

I stopped by campus today to pick up contact information for accepted Hungry Eye authors. Up until this point, all of the submissions have been anonymous - save those each of us either submitted or recognize from workshop. Now I can put names with all of the pieces.

I started going through, writing down the titles of pieces we want, the author's name, and the author's e-mail. For about four authors, I had to write small when I wrote the titles because these folk had four or more pieces we wanted. These are the people who consistently write great quality work. Kudos to them.

The only problem now is that we're going to have to un-accept some of their pieces because having six poems from one author and only one from another makes for an off-balanced anthology. This problem is compounded by the fact that we need to expand the magazine since we initially accepted so few pieces. Now we're faced with the paradoxical task of expanding the magazine as a whole, while simultaneously limiting the representation of certain authors. How do you like that?

As for these particular authors, I wish them the best and hopefully those pieces we will, out of necessity, be cutting are pieces the authors can turn around and submit to another publication. So, it's really the best kind of rejection one can get, isn't it?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dream (Writing) Job

I've been watching a lot of good shows lately, there's Heroes, Angel, Scrubs, and now I just started Six Feet Under which looks like it'll be fun. Between that, and talk of the WGA strike out in Hollywood, I'm reminded that being a TV writer is a real job.

On my list of dream jobs, TV writer ranks pretty high. Specifically, writing for a show like one of those listed above. An ongoing drama with characters you get to dig into, plus a bit of humor to boot (okay, not so much with Heroes). There's also the fact that it's one of the few non-solitary writing gigs one can have, and you get to hang around with a bunch of people just as nerdy as you. Then, there's the slim chance of one day working with someone fantastic like Joss. Ah, that'd be the ticket.

The downside is that, to write for TV it seems like you pretty much have to live in California, but I think I could do that if I had to. If Joss was involved, I wouldn't mind spending a few years on the moon. It'd be fun, and a story for the grandkids (or, great neices/nephews, anyway).

How about you? With the exceptions of novelist, poet, or short story writer, what's your dream writing gig?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Office

Since I found out about getting the TA, I've been wondering where I'd land for my office hours. My options were a cubicle in the bullpen or an actual office, either of which would be shared by my co-TA. I also wondered if I/we would just end up in the SCWP office. Turns out it's that last one. Rick's off to cube land and I'm sticking around in the office I already spend oodles of time in.

I gotta say, I'm really excited to have an actual office to use. Doors that close are awesome, so too will be the use of the table in the office for conferencing with students. A spot to spread out a bit which none of the other offices (and definitely none of the cubicles) have.

Now I've just got to look over two books of essays and coordinate with Rick to decide which one we want to use (we've got to be in sync) by early next week. I've currently got four books and two CDs sitting on the desk, all materials to use/look over for the TA. It almost feels like Christmas came early.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Philosophy: Making Use of The Terrible Class

Tonight I had to turn in a paper about my progress in the class. My first reaction was a sarcastic one, but I reminded myself that people who refuse to find what's useful in what they experience are those who tend to be less than useful themselves. After all, I give the Tuesday class a lot of credit for keeping up on my letters to Camii as well as giving me time to do my critiques for the group. See? Useful.

With that in mind, I tried to think about how doing the assignments in class will somehow pay off with my thesis. I've been talking a bit about how, in my head, magical realism and fairy tales are really the same thing after all. I talked about it a bit more, writing it down for class, and I've come to the conclusion that I haven't just been going through the motions. Okay, so there's been a lot of going through the motions, but I have gotten some good out of Tuesday nights.

Let's face it, one given as we go through life is that we usually find what we look for. I know it certainly holds true for me. That's why I get annoyed with myself when I realize I'm slipping into negativity. Like begets like, and all that.

So, let me ask this: What are you looking for?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Revision Festivities

In honor of the holiday season, I'm devoting this month to a festival of revision. Unlike some, and quite like many others, I'm more interested in writing something new than revising something old. Still, even though I don't say, "Yay, it's time to revise!" I can't escape the fact that going back to what you've written and making it better is what makes the difference between somebody who writes and someone who is a writer.

My plan for this month is to revisit, edit, and revise my potential thesis stories. I'm not sure if I'll get to all of them, but that's what I'm shooting for.

First up: Strong Heart. I need to make a significant change to that one, as well as do some tweaking on POV. So, I'm getting rid of the car accident, giving Chloe a chronic illness instead, and making everything take place in Mathilde's POV. Then it should be perfect.

"Yeah, right," you say. "Perfect. Uh huh."

Hey, I'm psyching myself up here, I don't need your lip.

Now, while I'm digging into thesis stories, I'm challenging you to take another look at your own work. Pick something, roll up your sleeves, and get to revising. Now's the time to take that stack of critiques you got back in June and put them to work. Let the festivities begin!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In Place of Your Regularly Scheduled Broadcast... Cowboy Up

Instead of writing my own post, I'm linking to one of Jenny's. If I were going to write about the subject, I'd say what she has, so I'm going to skip the part where I repeat her and just direct you there:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Jenny's Book on Writing, As Written by Someone Else

Part of FJR is excerpts from a book written by one of the characters. More specifically, we're looking at chapter one of his book on writing.

Writing books, whether written by real or fictional people, are interesting. The main idea of being a writer is that everyone has to find their own way. Yet, there are stacks and stacks of books written by writers to tell other people how to be writers. Seems contradictory, doesn't it? Of course, whatever helps you find your way, right?

Me, I'm fond of doing things the hard way and figuring it out on my own. This is why I've only ever read two books (that I remember) on writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Even then, the second isn't specifically about writing, it just has a ton of metafictional commentary within it.

Then again, plenty of writers I admire give credit to writing books as part of what helped them. If I ever wanted to look up a writing book, I know exactly who to ask for a recommendation. I also love to hear writers talk about their process, so when you get right down to it, I kind of do find writing books helpful, just not necessarily when they're in book form.

Reading Jenny's "excerpt" also makes me wonder a bit about all the writers who write how-to books. Setting aside all question of making a quick buck, it's interesting to think of what motivates people like Stephen King to sit down and knock out page upon page of "this is how I do it." Why are these writers so strongly motivated to share their experience?

"Oh come on," you say, "wake up and smell the blog. You're doing the same thing."

Ah yes, you're a quick one, you are.

As writers, we tend to be a fairly isolated lot. This is why writers groups are so important, they at least get us out of the house and into daylight on occasion. The act of writing is so paradoxical: we sit by ourselves in order to make connections with others. It doesn't make any sense, does it?

It seems the point I'm working up to is this: Even if you don't read "writing books," it seems impossible to escape them. Writers are a cannibalistic bunch, we feed off of our peers in an assortment of ways and no matter how long we've been working away at our typewriters, we're always going to be someone's apprentice.

On a side note, what's the best advice about writing you've been given (whether in a book or not)?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fantastic Art

I've been talking a lot about legends, fairy tales, and magical realism. While I've been focused on writing, I thought it'd be worthwhile to mention art as well. I've seen some wonderful artists in the course of my reading, especially thanks to Realms of Fantasy. Here are some worth mentioning:

Michael Whelan

Paul Kidby

Janny Wurtz

John Jude Palencar

Donato Giancola

Wayne Barlowe

While it is by no means an extensive list, these are some of my favorites.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Catching Up: Trains

A few hours ago I took myself down to a coffeeshop, found a table, and finished FJR (or at least, what I've got of it). Reading this manuscript reminds me of watching a train get started. The first few chugs are almost painful to watch, then the rhythm smooths out, then you have a few tons of metal hurtling along the tracks with scary momentum. That's the jist of what I read.

By the time I got to the last few chapters, the Jenny train was really bookin' it down the tracks and you couldn't pay me to stand in its way. The worst part is that I don't have all of FJR yet. Bad Jenny. The neat part was seeing her writing get stronger and stronger as she went. Now it's just a matter of going back to the beginning and pulling it up to the level of the rest. But, that's the whole point of editing.

While everyone's process is their own, mine and Jenny's are similar. Looking at the progress of Oracle is like looking at the progress of FJR. Toward the end, when I stepped away from it, Oracle had hit the point where the rhythm had smoothed out. I have a ton of work to do when I go back to the beginning, but now I have a good idea of what the beginning needs to match up to.

Today, after I wrote my last note on Jenny's manuscript I came home, turned on the computer, and started writing the next chapter of Oracle. Going back to it is both strange and not at the same time. I remember where I was going, but where I was going was the messiest part of the whole book. It's intimidating to try and get my momentum going right at the bottom of this hill, but if I don't I'll never finish it.

I've been thinking hard about just what Oracle is in the grand scheme of things. You hear a lot about how your first novel, or two, is for practice and that the chances of it being any good at all are exceedingly slim. At the same time, I want to make it as good as I can make it and not just toss it aside when I'm done writing it through and say "Well, on to the next one, the one that matters." In the end, I have no idea what'll come of it. I'd like to think I can save it, but I also acknowledge the fact that it might be doomed already. Either way, I've got to at least see it through.

Here's a toast to that first painful chug.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Retelling Old Stories: Beowulf, Authenticity, and Ownership

Went to see Beowulf last night with Nicole, John, and John's little brother. Had to do dinner first, complete with me getting made fun of for my lack of voice and ending with a conversation on the meaning of "dainty."

As an English major, at one point I read Beowulf. Afterwards, I promptly forgot most of it. Also as an English major, I've had a classmate who was in a few classes with me and who is obsessed with Beowulf. By this point, whatever interest I originally had has been squashed by this classmate's over-healthy zeal. Then, I hear Neil wrote it. Okay, I'm in.

My main beef is that the movie follows the tale too closely. Okay, they take liberties with a few points, but plot-wise it's the same story I had to read in Brit. Lit. 1 *Sigh*

I wish they'd have taken more liberties and followed the saga less precisely. The big time jump, particularly, was where they lost me. First story ends, we jump a few decades, and the second story begins. Everything in between is cut away. Of course, that's the accuracy coming through. But, don't they owe more to the story than to just retell it?

"But they don't!" You argue. "They changed lots!"

True, but the changes weren't enough for me. I wanted a re-imagining of the story, along the lines of Roald Dahl's version of Cinderella, or The Mists of Avalon. I felt like the writers had been too loyal to the original and sacrificed their ownership. I'm frustrated with it because it seems like they got so close to what I was hoping for, but shied away in the end. Speaking of the end, yeesh. Not so good.

Still, this isn't to say that the movie was bad. It's decent. But, as far as versions of Beowulf go, the one with Gerard Butler and Stellan Skarsgard is still my favorite. Sorry Neil.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Territory

Today I did another chunk of FJR and finally made it into new territory. I finished the first chapter I hadn't read before and now I've only got fifty pages left of what Jenny's given me so far. I never realized that I've read so much of if already. That's pretty cool.

I'm still not quite to the part she did for American Icon, but I have to be pretty close. I'm thinking tomorrow might be a good day for finishing this puppy off. Then it will be all ready and marked up by the time I see Jenny on Sunday and get the rest of the novel from her.

It's cool to be reading the manuscript of a friend's novel, particularly since I'm getting to read it in such a short time (as opposed to the group where everything is spaced out by months and months). Fun times.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November Blur

I can't believe how quickly this month has gone by/is going by. Sheesh, the writers group meeting is this coming weekend already and I've barely touched the submission pile. So much for tackling it this week.

Thanksgiving is almost here, then comes the Christmas onslaught and before we know it, it's 2008. Whew. I better hurry up and figure out what December's challenge is going to be, because I haven't a clue yet.

I keep reminding myself that I have the whole week off of school, but the reality hasn't sunk in yet. Even so, thanks to calling in sick last night because of this pesky cold, I'm now rounding my second day of being home all day and I'm already getting restless. I don't do well with extended periods of time and nothing particular to do. This, despite my complaints of having no time all the time. Funny, isn't it?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Angel: Redemption Stories

We all have our themes we're attracted to, and one that endures for me is that of redemption. I've always liked Angel better than Buffy and one of the reasons is the fact that while Buffy is trying so hard to protect what she loves, Angel has already lost it. Sure, there are times when Buffy has losses, but nothing she goes through is ever so complete.

Heck, when you get down to it, Oracle is a redemption story (or, will be once I finish it). Everybody has something they've lost, something to try and regain. I think I'm drawn to redemption stories because they feel genuine. No matter who you are, you can relate.

They talk about story archetypes, about how there are only a handful of major plots that all stories somehow correspond to. I suppose I could look them up, but I'm going to skip it. Instead, I'm going to ask another question: Archetypically speaking (yeah it's not a real word, so sue me) what are the stories you're consistently drawn to? Any thoughts on why?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Now It's Thanksgiving Break

Last night it occured to me, "As soon as I finish this paper, I'm on Thanksgiving break." Not that it made much difference, since I just now finished it and it's already Friday afternoon. Still, now I've got a week of no school which is nice, even if no school doesn't equate to no school work.

But hey, I'll take what I can get.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

About Paragraphs

"I didn't understand that 'in paragraphs' comment. When I brainstorm things go into paragraphs."

I have no beef with paragraphs. I think they're great. I usually write in paragraph form. Paragraphs, in and of themselves, don't bother me.

The reason I commented on them was their context. The fact that, in a class of fourteen, only two people wrote their brainstorming in a format other than paragraphs, is weird. One thing I know about writing is that everybody has a writing process, not unlike a belly button, which is their own and doesn't exactly match anyone else's.

Whit writes down brainstorming in paragraphs. I write it down in a much more irregular way, a sentence here, a word there, bullets and lines connecting ideas. My brainstorming notes are more like PowerPoint slides. Between the two of us, our notes look different. So, how can it be that so many students write notes that look exactly the same? That's where my comment comes in.

Now if these students wrote paragraphs because that's what worked for them, fine. However, my suspicion is this isn't the case. Talking with them, hearing their comments during the class discussion Tuesday, and looking over their papers, I see a lot of people who are struggling to figure out their process, not those who have already. Enter public education.

I'm not saying that all teachers are corporate clones. Most of those I know from my classes or SCWP are anything but. I am saying there's a lot of pressure in the education system to create measurable products. Standardized tests are a big player here. The budget question ties directly to test scores, where there is a right/wrong answer.

One teacher I know has actually been given a hard time by her administration because she was asking students open-ended questions. "That's fine," they said, "but there needs to be a right answer."

To which the teacher replied, "But, then it's not an open-ended question."

Taking this back to paragraphs: Standardized tests and "scientific" approaches to writing boil down to this push for something that can be measured. They want to measure how proficient a student is at The Writing Process, and this means having steps that they can check off: Student did/did not do step 1, 2, 3. The only problem is that most writers I know don't write that way. Most do the steps out of order, or skip some. This doesn't fly with the tests, so students are taught to write in measurable ways, regardless of how that student might learn to write on their own.

Organic/authentic is not measurable. Standardized is. Thus, my problem with seeing so many paragraphs.

Adventures in Comp: Part Two, More Flashbacks

If you want to really know your students, give them work to do in class. Today is the day I filled in for Katherine. A lot like babysitting, in ways that I'll expand on in a minute. The agenda for the day was peer review and revision. Each student was to have their pre-draft peer reviewed by two others, then, time-allowing, begin to revise according to those reviews. And off they went...

A few clumped up with their buddies. A few went off alone. Some stayed on-task, some didn't and needed prompting along the lines of "Oh, finished already, are you? No? Well then, get to work." It was funny to see how they broke out, though about what I expected.

Substituting today reminded me less of waitressing (though, I still remembered everyone's names and was able to name those who were absent) and more of babysitting and working as a tutor in the writing room. The babysitting came in because the dynamics are much the same. A stranger steps in and takes on an authority role usually reserved for the parent/professor. There's a lot of water-testing that goes on and trying to guage how to interact with the kids/students based on their personalities relative to being in that authoritative position. The tutor part is pretty obvious. A couple of students asked me for help today and I flashed back to the writing room and trying to pull the answers out of the student instead of handing the answer to them.

Not so easy, especially when they're asking, "That's what I think, I think. Is what I think right?" Then to reply, "Well, what have you said to me? *repeat* How does that sound to you?" It's an answer that annoys people, but gets them to dig a bit and they usually come up with their own answer just fine after they give me that exasperated look.

Now, after this experience, I'm glad of two things:
1. That I visited Tuesday. Walking in already knowing the students' names and having an idea of their personalities did a lot to put me at ease. I already had a pretty good idea of who I'd need to keep an eye on vs. who would be pretty self-sufficient.
2. That I did it. In my imagination, this whole teaching adventure was getting a bit blown out of proportion and scary. Now that I've actually been in a class I'm less intimidated. Today wasn't too bad, and once they're my own students in my own class, it'll be easier.

My own class, by the way, will be MWF from 10-10:50. I checked the online registration and, while it still says TBA for the professor, it also says FULL. I have students. Now I just need a syllabus, reading list, and course calendar.

Not Time, Motivation

People often talk about not having time to write. On the whole, I think this excuse is a bogus one. What they really mean is "I'm not making the time."

I bring this up today because I have an 8-10 page paper due tomorrow. Yesterday I wrangled the night off of work, part of my idea being that I would have "time" to work on this paper. Instead, I opted to do some experimental cooking, watch another disc of my nifty new Angel box-set, and go to bed early. While I can partly use as an excuse the fact that my throat is breaking (woke up yesterday with a sore throat and it's not gone away) the main issue at hand is motivation. Let's face it, I've hit that burned-out, worn-out, just-don't-wanna point of the semester. Add to that my nearness to graduation, and I've got what boils down to as Senioritis.

Part of me is telling myself to just cowboy up and get it over with, or that if I just do half of it today, I can tear through the other half in no time tomorrow. Part of me is saying, "Yeah, but after I do this paper, I've got to do that other one, and then the big portfolio project is due soon after." Ultimately, these parts don't matter. They're irrelevant because there's another part, not of me, which is my professor who has decreed tomorrow as the due date. That's the part of this equation which is going to win out and get my butt in front of the computer and my fingers a-typing.

Thinking about this brings me to a question: What are the main motivations for your writing? Are they internal or external? Have you written more just because you wanted to, or because in some way you had to?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Into the Breach, Dear Friends

At least, I think that's what the line is. Something like it, anyway. Oracle has been sitting in the back of my mind and with everyone talking about NaNo, it's begun to shift in its seat. Perhaps it's about time to go back and finish it. I have the next scene in my head. It's been there ever since I finished the last chapter. It's about time for it to get typed up.

So, planning ahead a bit here... During December, one of my goals will be to write the next chapter of Oracle. Maybe, depending on how Thanksgiving break goes, it'll even happen sooner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Adventures in Comp: Part One, Untraining

Since Katherine's going to New York to lobby for SCWP, she's asked me to fill in for her during her composition class Thursday. I went with her today as a warm up, i.e. so the students know just who the heck I am when I'm there Thursday. During class today, the students handed in "brainstorms." They're exactly what they sound like. Katherine told the class to just do some jotting down of what topic they want to explore, some possibilities for argument, where they could get started, etc. Her only specification was that they should be about a page long.

When everyone had them in and had split off to do some computer research, I looked through them. You know what I saw? Almost every person wrote their brainstorm in paragraph(s) format.

These students are, with one exception, all traditional, fresh out of high school, students. Fresh out of the public K-12 education system which indoctrinates all students in The Writing Process (Yup, it's capitalized, and singular) in which there is a right and wrong way to do everything from come up with an idea to presenting the final, five-paragraph, product.

There's only one small problem with this indoctrination: it doesn't work. Quick show of hands, how many of you write according to the precise formula you were taught in school? Exactly.

When I was in school I had teachers who wanted me to outline before I wrote my rough draft. This was an important step, they said, and I absolutely couldn't start writing until I had outlined. If I did the steps out of order, I was doing it wrong. Right? Whatever. I did what worked for me, despite their admonitions, and wrote my rough draft first. Then, since the teacher demanded it, I wrote up an outline which followed my rough draft (but I turned it in first, even though I wrote it second, because it came first).

Now, skip forward in time to a time when I'm sitting around with creative writers, talking about the writing process. Everyone's is different, and I'm far from the only one where The Writing Process doesn't work. In fact, now that I think of it, I can only think of one (two?) writers I know who, for instance, outline.

Back in class: During the discussion time when Katherine asked each student about their idea for their paper, a lot of the students' answers showed how uncertain that student was about whether or not they were doing it "right." Their emphasis was not on writing a good paper, but pleasing the instructor.

So let's roll this all up together. In all my talks with other students/writers, reading the theory, talking with professors, etc. it keeps coming back to this question of ownership. Good writing is writing that comes from the writer owning it. If we don't have power over what we write, how we write it, how can we write anything worthwhile? That said, a lot of standardized K-12 education is counter-productive to writing. The one-size-fits-all model (CSAP, anyone?) displaces ownership and sets students behind once they hit higher ed. As Katherine said, we've got to "untrain" them.

Here's my question for you: How much did K-12 writing instruction help you? Hinder you? How did you figure out your writing process? Has your process always been the same?

Monday, November 12, 2007

On to Part Two

I got Jenny's novel in two chunks. Last night I finished chunk one. Still in familiar territory, but I'm closing fast on what I haven't seen before.

Reading the rough draft of a novel is interesting. I think I can see her writing process in respect to where she hit her stride, and now I'm looking forward to hitting the spot she did an excerpt of for her American Idol award.

Okay, I'll let Jenny be the one to say more about it, since it is her novel, not mine. In any event, tomorrow's Tuesday and I expect I can get through at least 30 more pages. I'm closing fast on the rest of the book and I can't wait to see how it all unfolds.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Not So Much Foresight

Here I decided to do NaBloPoMo this month and update this blog, my writing blog, daily. This is also the same month where I decided to step back on my writing and focus my energies on other things. You'd think I should have made the connection earlier, wouldn't you?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Let's Talk About Words

When I got home on Thursday, I found a letter from Camii in my mailbox. The arrival of these letters is always a highlight of my day. I get to catch up on all the latest news and gossip from her part of the world and doodles are often involved. It's great. Even though I've only known her in person for a few months, we've been close friends for years, almost solely through letters.

So, ladies and gents, here's my question: In this age of online dating, e-mail, and blogs, do you think that (all issues of pretending to be someone else aside) sometimes writing allows us to be more honest (whether by a little or a lot) than we are in reality?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Grad. School Field Trip: Government and Education

Last night, Conversation 2007 had a meeting on campus. The idea was to get people from the community together to talk about education, then use what came out of this "conversation" to give state legislators input on the needs of the community.

Katherine took our class to this meeting. It's the first time I've had a field trip in college, and it was very, very interesting.

I have a hard time with politics/the government/beauracracy. Last night was no exception. I think the intentions behind this shindig were good, but it was far less informative than one could hope. Less "conversation" and more "well, this is what I think" and "okay, but what category does that go into?" I can't help but feel that we accomplished very little.

In any event, a handful of teachers were there, as well as a handful of students (college) and K-12 parents. Added to the mix were a few politicians, school administrators, and higher-ups from our very own campus.

A few telling things:

  • One of the greatest "needs" of educators was more money. (One of my classmates, who is also a K-12 teacher, vehemently disagreed that this was top-priority. She was more in favor of up-to-date materials and functioning classrooms, and giving teachers more authority to decide what goes on in their own classrooms.)
  • The group had a lengthy argument to define who was an educator that needs more money: We started with "classroom teachers," then someone said, "But music/art teachers should count too" (I know, I know, not a lot of thinking it through there), and someone from the first group said, "Really, we just meant that we're not talking about administrators."
  • The meeting was interrupted so a politician could give us all an "um" laden speech about the budget, because it's all about, um, money.
  • While the meeting was going on, some of our educational higher-ups were actively engaged and participating in the conversation (both in the small groups we broke into, and in the overall discussion). Some were ignoring it by, in one case, humming and doodling, and in two others, having a side conversation all their own. I can't help but question their priorities and whether or not I have much/any faith in them as a person in a position of power.

If you're curious to find out more about what this is, here's the website However, at the time of this posting, said website isn't working. Doesn't that just say it all?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

No Longer the La Llarona Story

It's been interesting to see people's responses to my question on titles. For some, titles are everything, for others titles are one of the last things that come into the writing equation.

Like I mentioned, titles are a clarifying tool for me. It's like adjusting the magnification on a microscope. You're always looking at the same thing, it's just the knobs that you adjust, but all of a sudden that slide you're looking at is clear instead of fuzzy and you finally know exactly what you're looking at.

Yesterday I spent some time asking myself questions about the La Llarona story and what it was really about, what was I really getting at, who was truly my focal figure, and what exactly was I trying to say about them? At the end of these questions, I had a title: When Ben Bucater Met His First Ghost. It's not a perfect title, and I may change the wording a bit, but it's there. It says what I want it to and now I have the right magnifying lense to use when I look the story over again and do some revising.

It's a small thing for some, but a big "click" moment for me. It even makes that sound in my head, a metallic sound like the sound of switching lenses on a microscope (thus the analogy, see?).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Race is On

I've been threatening Jenny that I'm going to read what I have of FJR as quick as I can and give her grief if she doesn't have the last chapters ready for me by the time I catch up. Admittedly, I've been saying this partly to uphold my demonic reputation.

However, it's mostly a warning instead of a threat. I don't expect it to take me long to get through the 200+ pages. Jenny's a good writer and I've got the manuscript of a novel I like. Yesterday I took the manuscript with me to the terrible class and got through page 44. Up to this point, I've read it all already, and I'm making a lot of the same notes I remember making on another copy of the manuscript she gave me a while back (no edits between the two, apparently). I expect I'll slow down a bit once I strike into the new part, but I'll certainly have it read by the next group meeting.

Now, Jenny's got those of us who volunteered to read the whole novel split into two groups - her first readers and second, post-edit, readers - in order to save some money on copies. What she doesn't know yet (but will as soon as she reads this) is that I plan to be in both groups. My campus printing account has lots and lots of pages left, so all she'll need to do is e-mail it to me. (Hint, hint, Jenny).

I suppose I'm starting to sound a bit possessive here, but I have a hard time apologizing for it. She knows that I wouldn't get possessive if I didn't like the book, and who's going to turn down a bonus (and free) extra reader/proof reader? Exactly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Verdict

So, as it turns out, the turn-around was very, very quick.

I'm going to be one of the T.A.s next semseter.

Ignoring Deb, U-Turns, and A Need for Titles

I managed to get everything done that I needed to yesterday, plus a quick shopping trip for new jeans, and wound up at the coffee shop plenty early. Latte in hand, I snagged the comfy seats by the fire, scooted the table up, and got to writing.

About a page later, I was at a climax point, where I had originally planned to wrap up the La Llarona story. The ghost has a hold of the boy, he's struggling to get away... and then he does. That was not my plan. Every writer talks about times when the story gets away from them and all of a sudden the writer realizes that they're not driving any more. In my case, I realized there were about three more pages to the story (if not more when I start to revise).

Before I could finish, Deb walked in with her laptop and said she was going to ignore me for a while to do some writing of her own. So, there we sat, ignoring each other for a while until the rest of the gang started to wander in. I finished my rough draft, finally, and resigned myself to the fact that this story is going to be more work than I originally planned it to be. I'll tell you right now, this rough draft is one of the roughest I've ever produced. Usually, I'm more of a writer who does mental pre-writing and then when I get to physical writing, I've got a pretty good idea of what's going on. Not this time. Not by a long shot.

I'm beginning to sense a pattern, as well. Right now I've got two stories I keep calling The __ Story and both have proven to be very problematic. I think the lack of clear title and the lack of clear vision go hand-in-hand. When I think of titles, I think of distilling the essence of what the story is all about and pasting a few words to that effect at the top. I can't help but think that once I get the perfect title for these problem stories, the rest of the difficulties I'm having with them will fix themselves. Focus, right? Clarity of vision.

So tell me, what's your title philosophy? Does having a strong title make it easier for you to writ the story that goes with it? Or, do titles come last in your writing process?

Monday, November 5, 2007

It's Done

Submit a poem, submit a TA application, it's all the same. Acceptance? Rejection? Who knows!

Well, I finally finished the teeth-pulling that was my application letter. Katherine suggested I keep most of the stuff from the last one, then add a "since my last application, here's what I've done" part. That part was easy, the first part (since I no longer have my last letter) was far more difficult. I've mentioned before that I hate writing sales pitches for myself, and nothing's changed since then: "I'm Super!" just isn't something I say often, because it's weird to do it unless one is an egomaniac, or Jenny (though they're not so mutually-exclusive). Just kidding, Jenny. Mostly. But hey, a bit more egomaniac in most of us wouldn't hurt, would it? Especially not in these circumstances.

So, the "I'm great" letter is done, and I think it came out pretty well. Of course, as they say with the proof and pudding, I won't know until we get the announcement of who got it. At least the turn-around should be quick, and it'll certainly be before Thanksgiving break.

Here's hoping for a quick verdict.

The Day of Much Accomplishing

Today is do or die day. The TA application materials are due. Here, I thought I had a copy of the last letter I wrote saved on the school computers (I deleted it from my home computer, 'cause that ship had sailed, right?). Turns out the file marked "TA Application Letter" is all of two sentences. No help there. Well, in any event, the supplementary stuff (letters of rec., mainly) is already taken care of, so it's just all on me. Super.

Let me explain something briefly: Mondays for me are like Sundays for everyone else. They are day two of my weekend, thanks to usually working at the bar on Saturdays. I like Mondays because I get to goof off and watch DVDs, etc. Mondays are beautiful.

No day off for me today, however. I've got to write my TA letter, do a couple hours on campus (to make up for what I missed last week for the craft show), get some things together for a major project due in Katherine's class soon, and take care of some Hungry Eye business. Then, there are a couple of personal errands I have to run and the Rogues' meeting happens later tonight, which I plan to be early for so I can sit in the coffee shop and finally finish the rough draft of the La Llarona story.

I'm not even supposed to have had breakfast yet on Mondays, and here I am, already on campus.

I just keep telling myself, "You just hafta make it to Thanksgiving break. A whole week of no school. You can make it..." It's kind of working.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

More on People Who Influence Others

"...That's why it was no surprise that Cho Seung-Hui, the murderer of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, was an English Major"
-Phyllis Schlafly

Speaking of antagonizing, I've been meaning to talk about an article I read recently, and now seems like the perfect time to do it.

The article in question appeared in a local paper at the beginning of October. I just Googled it to find a link for you all, and realized that this same article has appeared across the country. Just think of all the people who have read it. Now, read it yourself:

Another classic example of canonical elitism, and did you catch the racist overtones? Yeesh. I like that her writing is illogical and often makes no sense, too: "Current works promoting multiculturalism written by women and minorities replaced the classics of Western civilization written by the DWEMS, Dead White European Males." Even though it may look like she's making fun of the DWEMS, she's really defending them. So, why the satirical acronym? Beats me.

I took Shakespeare, so by definition, I'm no fraud. However, I considered it then, and consider it now, one of the least useful classes I took as an undergrad. Funnily enough, one of the most useful was one of those "worthless courses," Ethnic Literature. Worse yet, most of the authors we read were *gasp* still living!

Why is Shakespeare so important to these people? I can give credit for the fact that he influenced a lot of what came after him, and that he had some nice complex plots and characters. Fine. But, think about it. People have been studying him for so long that the proverbial Shakespeare well is pretty dry. You want to learn more about homoerotic themes in Hamlet? There are plenty of articles already written about the topic.

But, when you get to the living authors, authors whose book was just published last year, and you want to dive deeper, well, you've got to do it all by yourself. Isn't that more of a challenge than just searching for what other people already said about it? Isn't that where true scholarship lies?

So, let's ask the question, shall we? What's the point of an English degree? An also-important question: On the list of "worthless courses" she gives, how many would you like to take?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Reading for Fun

Something I haven't done for a couple of months now, with the semester in full-swing, is pick up a novel that has nothing to do with either of my classes, and read it. I'm now sixty or so pages into Making Money and boy was it ever nice to sit on my porch and be entertained. I even found a new featured quote for the blog.

I never did make the pie, but I just got back from the store a bit ago and now have pie fixin's for tomorrow. In fact, I've now got fixin's for all kinds of fun food, like egg rolls. I feel a cooking binge coming along with the reading binge.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Schizophrenic Blog and ROF

Here we are, day two of November and I already had a blanking moment on what to write. Lately, all my energy has been directed into non-writing things, and this is a writing blog, ergo my difficulty. So, instead of focusing on new posts, I've been spending entirely too much time on new looks. Over the past week, I've gone through a significant number of them. The good news is, I've finally decided to settle on one. I hope you like it.

Now, for a word about book type things - I'm one story into the latest issue of ROF and it's about a character who I've seen before in another issue. Every now and again they'll sneak these stories in. If you're a regular reader, you'll catch it. If you're not, they can stand alone. It's fun. They also went on a Halloween kick, it seems. This story has zombies and it looks like the next one takes place in hell. Good times.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Impending Terry Pratchett Binge

Today, in the midst of dashing madly about trying to get ready for the craft show tomorrow, I hit the library to pick up two Terry Pratchett books: Wintersmith and Making Money. Though I have yet to get a chance to open either, I'm pleased that they're in my grubby little hands and that I've read neither. New Pratchett!

Tomorrow is chaos and exhaustion. Friday is much the same. Saturday I have off. I have grand plans for Saturday, which include sleeping a lot, watching Scrubs and The X-Files, and possibly making a pumpkin pie.

That leaves me with Sunday wide open. I'm thinking it'll be the perfect time to ignore everything, settle into a chair, and see if I can read one of these books in a day. I should really try to get that pie made, because I think it'd go excellent well with a Terry Pratchett book. Mmm... Pratchett book...