invisible writing: a recommendation

Just a brief note to recommend Montana 1948 by Larry Watson, which I greatly admire after swallowing the book whole in about a day. The narrative is totally natural and believable and beautiful without feeling beautiful, without showing the stiches where the writer put it together, and above all without embroidery of the self conscious writerly kind. The writing is invisible--only the story appears on the page. Very fine stuff.


you can buy me on target.com

Strange results were elicited from my yahoo search of my name today..my book, Point Me in the Right Direction, is available at target.com! How this could be I'm not entirely sure. Here is the history of the little thing, as far as I know it: in graduate school my book or rather chapbook, as the little collections are called, was published by a local small press. It went to two printings. That, as they say, was that. But evidently at some point the small press sold their stock to a number of online booksellers, or just one who then sold to others, because when I periodically search for my name on google or yahoo, up pops the book, as one of millions of offerings from incrediblydirtcheapbooks.com or some such organization.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the negative side, I'm getting no royalties, for the very sound reason that I never signed a contract, and for the other good reason that there probably aren't any to get. I imagine it isn't flying off the cyber shelves. On the positive side, I'm pleased the book is still having a little life of its own, even a small one, and I'm pleased that even in a minor, somewhat accidental, somewhat removed way, I am a published author of a book that can be purchase on target.com.

I've never aspired to be a product, or the author of one, available at target.com. But I must say that they are quite clever to be featuring the designs of Isaac Mizrahi and the books by yours truly, as Isaac and I are both cutting edge producers of the highest quality artistic products, and our collective glow will no doubt transform the heretofore rather homely profile of target.com.

Ok, I'm over it.

Since I'm collecting no royalties from the sale of my books, I have an idea. You kind reader, should buy one! At target.com, they're only 5 bucks. Then you can read it and send me a review of it, which I will publish, be it sweet or tart, here on the blog. C'mon, it'll be fun. Takers?


Per Point Reyes Books & Bookstore Visits & Poets & Writers

On a weekend holiday we stopped into a favorite bookstore, Point Reyes Books. The store is both a great resource of new and used materials and a great community resource for literary and cultural events. Depending on the state of my own writing life, however, visiting even the finest of bookstores can have an inspiring or despairing effect: either I feel that maybe not soon but eventually my book will be here among the stacks, and my reading on the schedule, or I feel that the distance between my work and that of those writers snugly ensconsed on the shelves is great, too too great to travel. On Sunday though, I felt the former and as I spoke briefly to the owner felt strangely sure that we would recall this meeting with pleasure as we were discussing my newly published novel. It was such a strong feeling, I wondered at it. Then I came home and got to work.

While at the store I also picked up the latest issue of Poets and Writers magazine, which is also inspiring, as it lists both recent winners of various contests and prizes, and contests coming up that are open to all. Also interesting are the listings of magazines and anthologies requesting submissions.

Happy reading and writing.


Winner of Sister to the Serious Octopus Contest!

Congratulations to SzélsőFa, the winner of the contest!! True inventive writing here, which was required for such a screwy phrase. This writer's blog can be found at coppermoonproject.blogspot.com. Here is the winning entry:


The afternoon sun peeked inside. It illuminated the table, where our future dinner was rested.

The knife has been sharpened just today and the blade was shining. Cuts fell easily on the board. One after another, soon there was a small pile of chunks, waiting to be gathered into a bowl. Piles after another, the bowl was filling. Finished.

The oil was slowly warming up. The chopped green paprika slices began sizzling. The distinct smell of sautéed pepper gave away it was time for the meat to enter the fat. Whoooops, in you go! The oil fizzled.

Every now and then, scattered voices of children reached the kitchen throughout the open French window. Giggles, some shouting, and the inevitable stamping of feet on the pavement. The curtain was moving with the wind. A small bush was shaking for a moment as someone passed it by hurriedly. Chuckles and excited murmurs again.

The watch on the wall disclosed the passing of time. Man, has summer gone away already! Ten minutes to six. All right, I have another forty minutes to go. That will do.

‘Hey Leah, it was really nice of you to invite us! Say farewell to the summer – Great idea.’ Ally entered the kitchen. Her straw sandals slipped softly on the stone. ‘So, how’re you doing with this very special something?’
Fine, I am. I have just watched a show on seafood the other day.
‘How’ bout the kids?’
They did not believe it. It is so rare that we get to eat fish or something like that. And an octopus….They thought I was joking. I had to tell them Mommy was being serious.
‘I guess Timmy knows what that is…But how about Karen?’
She did not seem to like the idea of eating one in the first place. She has this little puppet of hers, you know.
‘The one she takes sometimes to kindergarten?’

The stew needed some stirring. The fragrance came up in small puffs from behind the lid.
Ally moaned: ‘Wow, I love that smell. I often keep smelling food while…’

The voices now became intolerable. A combination of cries and laughter. Who do they tease again? ‘Momma! Momma!’ – Karen’s weakened voice came closer and closer and finally she was all in, sobbing, her face dirty with streaks of sand mixed with salty teardrops.
‘Momma, Dave’s saying we have Octi for dinner. It ain’t so, is it, Mommy?’
Dear baby, of course not. Octi is sitting on your bed – go and check if you please.
‘No Momma, they say we eat Octi all right.’
Karen, your Octi is unharmed. Want Mommy to get him for you? This one’s here’s another one. An animal that was once alive but now is not. It’s meat.
She was now crying and her words were hardly clear.
‘You told me this is a serious octopus and I am sister to the serious octopus. I can’t….We just can’t let…. us eat…. my brother.’


Eek a month

I'm here, I'm here, and thanks to you few souls who stil hopefully stop by this spot to check its content. My writing has been as poorly attended to as this site, and as one is about the other, well...No. No excuses. I have a contest winner to announce!! I have readers to entertain. All is well, and stay tuned, if anyone's out there at all, after nearly a month of cybersilence.


where to send your gold

Please post contest entries as a comment, or send them to me at kaitlyngallagher@earthlink.net.


superbad stats

This blog has been flatlining for readers in last 5 days, which is SO sad because I have a new little contest going on, and no one will enter it at this rate. *sob* On the other hand, those that do will have an excellent chance of winning...


i am sister to the serious octopus: bronte and a contest

This morning I am inspired by a few things: the consistently wonderful and tender and funny three beautiful things blog (see link below and right).
Also, I like the new look of this blog.
Also, I just donated 11 inches of hair to Locks of Love, so my neck is thrilled to learn how air rushes past on my bike ride to work.
Also, skimming by those poor car-laden sods as they line up at the stop signs.
Also, pandora.com.
Also, Emily Bronte's audacious novel Wuthering Heights, which is a study in the inexorable misery of one man for having fallen in love with his tempestuous and fickle adoptive sister, and his exacting revenge upon everyone who in his twisted, heart-broken logic needs must suffer for what is essentially her betrayal of him.

In Jane Austen, much plot is determined by how society constricts the characters, and she fascinates us by showing how they maneuver through the confines of their society, or push against them.

In EB, the rules of society, vis a vis inheritance for example, are secondary to the constrictions of the characters' hearts and minds, and while money and property are tools that Heathcliff uses to pathetically attempt a "gain" back of what he has lost, they are secondary to the emotional, the personal and the psychological costs and possessions of this tale.

The story is very dark, and the construction is quite skillful. And the premise..well: Ever had a friend who couldn't let go of a past girlfriend or boyfriend? Who tortured themselves over it? Who went back and back to that bad love, even at the risk of everything else they have in life? I have. EB's understanding of human foibles is right on, still relevant, since personalities and their conceits, their desires, their egotism, their sad ability to be truly dualities (Cathy as wild moor-roaming child in Heathcliff's arms, and Cathy, primped and petted, dainty wife of Edgar Linton)are universal. It's a train wreck, but you can't look away.

On another note, for anyone still reading, I challenge you to an impromptu First Line Contest: 500 word story, due Friday the 14th by midnight, containing the phrase that is the title of this post, a phrase that slipped out of my daughter's bedroom last night, and made me laugh. One beautiful thing, the way they discover language.


writing: life or death?

A writer friend and I were recently talking about the need to write, to have your own work active and going strong, to have a regular appointment with your desk.

I commented that working on the novel really makes me feel like I "have a life", separate from the demands of parenting and work.

She replied that when those demands and distractions become most urgent is when having a "writing life" is most important, to give you perspective, and a sense of meaning beyond putting out daily fires. She said that a teacher of hers always said, "Writing is life or death."

This week I begin my new fall schedule, and a session of writing each week is on it. I will attend, and if work overtakes those hours occasionally, it won't be death, but most usually, when I get to writing, it will be a little extra life.


cool breeze

We're roasting here so I thought I'd offer some relief in the form of a snow poem, the one that recently was published in The Rose & Thorn Ezine.

Letter to Steven, from a blizzard

Brother the snow is in the teeth of the town
In spots unexpected, heavy and wet
Tourists lift their knees through its graceful blanket
Looking cold and embarrassed
Natives greet it like a drunk friend
Dress and go swiftly on the with the day
Two women just urged me home
Everyone is leaving their posts
At noon
So I shouldn’t be surprised
When weighted branches break free
And crash noiselessly
Like some mute angel’s gesture

I'm edging up on writing the novel again...walking home yesterday I passed a "Free" box on the curb, full of a motley collection of books. As I had just set down a mystery the night before in anguish over the lack of editing ("What Came Before He Shot Her" by E. George), I stopped and sifted through the computer books to find an untouched paperback of "Wuthering Heights".

This is just the sort of thing I love, books falling into my hands, since I am very often at a loss for what to read. This is because I feel remiss for re-reading things I love (I think I should reach out and find new things to love) but most often when I read new works, I am disappointed, although not always.

Therefore, this kind of cosmic Bronte placement allows me to indulge in a classic like this without feeling that I'm backsliding. Also the introduction had a good description of the Bronte's lives, and even better, there is a forward BY Charlotte Bronte, dispelling the myth that WH was written by her and describing Emily and Ann in exquisite sisterly detail. It's a tender and serious portrait of two sorely missed and loved siblings, but also a polite rebuke to the literary establishment that rejected WH almost totally.

The description of Emily Bronte made me think of the main character of my novel, and gave me more insight on to her, what might be driving her and where she might end up. The wheels are once again turning.


what am i doing?

faithful readership of this space has likely lost hope of ever seeing another post...i have been wrapped tightly in the web of everything-other-than-writing this summer, and have just now wriggled my exacto knife out of the pocket of my jeans, and begun hacking away at the binds that have kept me from my real work. it feels like real houdini stuff, down to the underwater-tied in chains-and a padlock detail. i never wanted to make this blog one about my whole or personal life, so rather than posting about non-writing things, i chose to not post. but i'm back, or getting back. i'm hoping you'll return here too, readers.


Winning Entry At Last

At long last (I humbly apologize again for the delay) here is the winning entry to get petty: the contest, posted by Mellifluous Dark. Congratulations to MD and all who entered. Read on for great notable lines from other entries!

The Winning Entry:

You think you're gonna take her away, with your money and your cocaine. But I’m watching you and I’ll do whatever I have to so you’re no longer able to touch her.

I like to think you imagine that I observe you sometimes. Do you do that, Larry? You know how my mind works, the lengths to which I’d go. You know I’m unencumbered by a conscience. Why aren’t you more worried, more watchful?

I wouldn’t say I hate you, old friend. I despise you. She was my perfect match, the one unsullied thing I had in my life. You are her polar opposite. You need to walk away. Put away your money, stop taking her out to those places where the cutlery is six-deep. She is no whore; you know where you can get plenty of those.

After what we’d all been through, I can’t imagine how you are so stupid that you believe we’re done – that I could be fine with you wrapping yourself and your life around her. Are you marking her body the way you now mark her mind? Are you? I almost crept into the bedroom once, intending to watch from the cupboard to see what sorts of things you did, but the possibilities made me dizzy.

Two years may have passed, but with each day you anger me more. When I see you walking down her street, laden with lilies, I hold myself back. I’m gonna have to wait or you’ll get in there first and find some way to keep me away from you. I can’t have that; I’ve worked so hard to find you again, Larry. I’m amazed that you’ve forgotten me. But I am a Scorpio, I never forget. You should have remembered that.

She looks happy when she opens her front door – you stand there in a beautiful suit, your pockets full, posing for a moment as she appraises you before you cross the threshold. Her face is slimmer, her pink mouth is as wide as ever and the shadows have fallen from beneath her eyes. She is my she. Her softness and silkiness and those sensual parts of her, they are mine.

An old woman laden with bags of potatoes caught me watching you once. Her sparse eyebrows lifted at the sight of me and she shuffled away, her dirty sandals scraping the pavement as she scurried, stumbling and mumbling.

It’s bonus day soon. You’ll be so distracted by your wallet, and what it can buy, that you won’t have time to allow yourself to remember the anniversary of when you told me how badly you wanted to screw her. We were off our heads on coke and Cristal. You laughed. I got into my car, blurry with fury.

So, here we are. Your hands are relaxed on the steering wheel of your new Jaguar. Your scream, as my hands grip yours, is piercing. The sudden impact brings you instantly to where you can see me.

Hello, Larry.


Notable Great Lines from other entries:

"The head of security for Winger’s, a Gainsville, Florida venue stepped into the messy dressing room, creaking the threshold with 300-pounds of muscle and closed the door, then stood at parade rest, with his hands clasped behind him."

"She is a Dodge Viper kinda girl and I’m a Hyundai Accent kinda guy. "

"Manny buzzed his secretary to advise her he was going to be unavailable for the rest of the afternoon. Bloody celebrities."

Thanks to all who entered and stay tuned for more contests in this space.


i'm late for a very important date

Announcements of the winners and notable entries in get petty: the contest are forthcoming shortly. Apologies for the delay, kind readers and writers.


novel written in the time it takes to apply sunscreen

Or one could be.
Anyone itching to be the inventor of the century should focus their creative merchandising on the application of sunscreen, at present a gooey and tedious task that almost everyone engages in. Some strides have been taken in the children's application field (the 'sticks' for the face are excellent), but very little has been done in the way of innovation for the adult sunscreen putter onner. So while you're waiting to hear about the result of get petty: the contest, or while you're waiting until the next time you have to spend 20 minutes putting white paste all over your body, send me some solutions. A bath? A pill? There's gotta be a better way.



Contest news: entries are in and I'm thrilled to have the little stash of stories to go through, like when you have that fat wad of monopoly money (all the 500's on the bottom) and are just starting to buy hotels. So exciting.

Other news: just reread a story by Richard Bausch, a writer I had a lot of fun with (a great storyteller) at a writing conference a couple years back. The story is called "No One in Hollywood", and even though I remembered the central event, it still made me gasp when I read it, laying in the bathtub with the curtains drawn. I love that.

Other other news: I haven't had a lot of time to write during summer school, but work is slowing up come next week, and I have two or three voices nagging in my ear. Nicely, I haven't felt bad for not writing, just happy looking forward to when I can get back there. One lesson learned: I pitched an article to the local weekly paper, and they were interested. Catch was I hadn't written it yet. Soooo, I tried to get time and it's about half way done, but I suspect their interest in it is all the way done. Silly me. First write the thing, then try and sell it. I'll try to remember that order in future.

The poem that came out in the Rose and Thorn was a nice little sweet treat this summer. I'm interested that it wasn't a bigger deal for me, and I think that's because I don't write much poetry now, so it's not the genre closest to my heart anymore, and because I went through a spell a while back where I was a bit bothered by all the "no, thanks" notes I was getting. Dispiriting, sometimes, but I'm on to other spells now, and ain't that just the way.


put down the mickey's. pick up the pen.

M'kay people: I know it's summer and the sun is sunny and you're drinking good things that make working seem funny, but at the risk of sounding like I should be wearing pom poms on my hands (never been there), YOU yes you can win get petty: the contest. Know why? Because you my friend will be one of only a few entries. So do as the post title says and git writin.

What could be better than penning a stunning l'il entry and giving it flight, only to receive the best news a writer can: you're better than all those other stinkin writers, so there! You're triumphant! You're higher than high! And it's not the Mickey's! It's your fabulous brain and heart and mind. In your FACE, pathetic other writers, you sneer. Ha ha. I crush you! I step on your pens! My pen is king. King Pen! Like in Spiderman! You shave your head and gain 325 pounds and buy a velvet dinner jacket. You're a criminal mastermind.

Who knows what great things might come from one success? Who can guess? I'll be waiting eagerly for your entries.


poem appears

My poem is out in the new summer edition of The Rose and Thorn ezine. But I hope you are all terribly busy writing your entries to the contest, and can only stop for a few moments to see it at www.theroseandthornezine.com.


get petty: the contest

For a while now I've toyed with the idea of hosting a contest series in this space, wherein all entries needs must begin with the same first line, which is the first line of a designated Tom Petty song.

Said contest is now on.

My reasons are not complex. The mind casts about restlessly for means to express the admiration one feels for Mr. Petty. This is but a meager effort to sing his praises to the masses, as if they needed singing.

Also, I don't sing. Also, to quote Dr. Seuss, these things are fun, and fun is good.

So here's the scratch on get petty, the contest:

rules: all entries must begin with the following text: "You think you're gonna take her away, with your money and your cocaine."

length: 500 words max

deadline: midnight, july 17 07

genre: any

hints: be inventive. edit mercilessly. surprise me. have a spanking good time.

winning: one winner and a few honorable mentions will be announced and posted on the blog by july 24 at the very latest.

other rules: this contest is judged by me and is totally subject to my tastes, blah blah. the moon topples is a blog that runs excellent contests and he has a bunch of highly developed rules, so if you need more rules, you can go and read his.

Send your entry as a comment to this post by the deadline.


goodlist, badlist: a little update on the writing

Having strayed momentarily from the subject of this blog to expose my tastes music wise to the masses, I now must quickly return, and give a writing update.

By the way, this isn't writing. Neither is reading other people's writing, and neither is googling my writing school classmates to see if they're writing, or what they're doing, and reading their writing online, if they're writing, and if their writing is online.

This is fun and practice, but not writing. Just to let you know.


The novel is still on the good list, but I haven't touched it in a few weeks. But I still like it. Goodlist.

The story that is "done" and that I'm onehundredthousandpercent sick of reading is still on my desk. Something's wrong, and I don't know what yet, so I haven't sent it out yet. Badlist.

A poem, "Letter to Steven, from a blizzard" will appear in The Rose & Thorn's Summer issue, in July. Wootwootlist.

The story that I have just started is awesome and I love writing it. Superduperlist.

So, bye. After all the above listed timewasting, I'm going to do the work. Goodlist.

Exciting PS: stay tuned to this space for a thrilling new contest soon to be announced. Sharpen your pencils:::


and now for something c.d.:music

Friend blogwriter strugglingwriter challenged the world to name 5 songs you're proud you listen to (on ipod or elsewhere) and 5 songs you're not so proud of, but still rock OUT on.

'Kay. Here goes.

The Fames:

1. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (entire album) (Lauryn Hill)
This. Album. Is. Fierce. Love it.

2. Oye Como Va (Santana)
A classic that retains its explosive charm.

3. More and then some (Nina Simone)
A song with special meaning for me, and the power of her voice is almost uncontrolled. You get the sense that it could go five times louder, stronger, if she would let it.

4. Jerusalem (Matisyahu)
Matisyahu is so great. Lyrically thoughtful, playful, diverse, yet (gasp) righteous. It gives me hope for the tadpoles that he's so popular with them.

5. American Girl (Tom Petty)
I was a fan of this excellent song way before the utterly brilliant use of it in Silence of the Lambs, (one of the best song placements in film, to be sure--can you name any others?) but that use cemented my appreciation for it. I love Tom Petty for his encapsulation of the desire to take part in the so-called American dream, even if you are a short skinny guy with stringy hair and a whine for a voice, and this is one of his best, though not his only best by a long shot.

The Shames

1. Moneymaker (Ludacris)
Sexist, while making a lazy attempt not to be.

2. Be Without You (Mary J. Blige)
Schlocky and so overdone that it might as well be a stage show, but it's good for the floor exercise portion of my workout.

3. This is How We Do It (Montell Jordan)
Whenever I heard this song on the radio I would blast it, because it's so snapping, so when I got iTunes I immediately found it. It's a bit cheesy, but between cheesy and thuglife sexist I'm so great hip hop, I'll take the 6'8 Montell.

4. Hot in Here (Mc Platnum)
Sexist, while making no attempt not to be.

5. Gold Digger (Kanye West and Jamie Foxx)
This is an interesting song, which has appeal for both the sexist and non sexist listener. On its face, it is a humorous jab at all the money grubbing ladies of the hip-hop set (if there are any--I'm out of that loop) but upon further inspection, ie the second half of the song, it is the men who are being capped on, as we used to say at MLK elementary. With the addition of Jamie Foxx's uncanny Ray Charles impression, the song is a gem, even if it is in the rough.

Now you know all my dirty little iPod secrets. I tag maryjunebrown to do this little task on her excellent blog of the same name, at maryjunebrown.wordpress.com.


for writing geeks only

A lively discussion of the writer/editor exchange is taking place in the comment section of the post "and i trust her with my heart", for those interested in that type of thing.


poem finds home

Youse readers whatre writers too might give a little yahoo: a poem I sent to The Rose & Thorn magazine has been plucked from the piles for publication: "Letter to Steven, From a Blizzard" will appear in their Summer 2007 edition.

I got this news sitting in a cafe on a small square in the walled city of St. Malo, on the northwest coast of France. A block west the Atlantic tossed its blue tresses against the ramparts, built in the year 1000. Beside me sat a steaming cafe creme, and behind me my girls made messes of their chocolat chaud and their father lapped up his own cafe creme to the familiar strains of the one and only B. Marley, which confirms my theory that it's just when our bowls are full of pudding that the cake is served.

The news was lovely, and learning it where I did gave it a flavor I'll savor for a while.


home and hugo

Just rolled in from the biggest travel day ever, but the trip was great and much inspiring. Witness jet lag grammar here. Stood at Victor Hugo's desk and looked across the Place des Voges toward where he watched George Sand approach for their regular writer's group sessions. Kudos for readers who can name this city!


i'm off

Just a note to say we're off on our trip--I'll be back at my desk on 6/9.


that's quality baby

From the fiction warehouse website, I came across fiction writer Claudia Smith. She's writing and publishing good quality fiction online and in print, and regularly. Really, that's all I want. Check her out at http://www.claudiaweb.net. Props.


i took the brockovs

Candy covered kudos to any reader who can tell me the origin of the title of this post. For those sans clue, this phrase means to approach your greatest fear with fierce determination and trembling lip, almost turn tail and run sixteen times on the way, get to its door and pound with your tiny fist. When the fear shows its face, you reach deep into your flour bag and throw a mighty handful right on the kisser. Then run, girl, run.

I did so, more or less, last week. For writers, there are infinite variations but a finite number of plots or situations one can write on. Notice that when someone comes up with a newish one, the pubs pounce on it and devour it whole, though most of the time even the newish ones have been done afore, like taking an existing product and putting a clock in it.

At my fine writing group on Tuesday night, one writer mentioned that an author she had recently read and enjoyed had written a previous book, and that book seemed to have the same premise as the novel I am currently working on.

I'm not ashamed to tell you, dear readers, that the heart dropped. Dropped, seemingly down into the stomach, which, not expecting a sudden visit from his upstairs neighbor, wasn't pleased.

The next day, I just happened to be passing the library and shot in like a streak to see just what the he!! this woman's book was about. I searched. I found. I skimmed, viciously.

The bad news: basically the same premise.
The good news: vastly different character, writing style and outcome. Also, the approach to the idea is quite different.

So, I can safely say the worst has happened, novel-idea wise, and I have survived.

My new and improved-for-optimum-doability goal before I leave for vacation on 5/15 is to finish the edit of a story (see post "the girls alright with me") and send it out to only the finest establishments before we jet off. That way, I'll have responses to look forward to when we return from the land of salt and cider.


and i trust her with my heart

Here's a modest proposal from the thinking throngs of writers submitting to all y'all editors of zines, journals and the like:

If you needs must keep our work for more than, say, 15 days, then you needs must return it with a personal comment. Am I right? (Nothing like having your hard written stuff out in the breeze for 30, 40, 50 days, only to get it back with rubber stamp response.)

And if you're keeping it for that long, you might take the time to formulate a response that would be helpful (or not) to the writer, that might (hope against hope) improve their work and thus the submissions to your publication.

It's demoralising for the writer to get nothing in the way of feedback, and for the editor to get nothing in the way of quality material, so if we both do our jobs completely (writers, research the places you're submitting to for appropriateness--DO read some of their stories, or poems, whatever fits, and evaluate them vis a vis your own work, DO submit professional level work), (editors, see above) we might see some true progress in this relationship.

We need each other, yes we do. So spell it with me: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Socking it to me is optional.

the girl's alright with me, you know the girl's alright

Up and Down Date:

Been hacking away at a story and continuing at a trickle on the novel, but won't (there's just no way) make the deadline for a first draft by the time we jet out for three weeks on 5/15. 'Salright. The last year has seen more continuous progress in my writing work than in many years previous, so I'm good with it.

The story is a trip: started as a nothing much happens but has a great strong character voice story (my speciality), then morphed into a dark revenge tale where something really DOES happen (gasp). This is good. The trippy part is that in the first version, she had one reaction to seeing another character, and in the last version, her motivation is different so her reaction is different, and I've had a hecka hard time taking out the first parts. Not because I'm so enamored of 'em, either. It's like I can't see them, because I've read the silly thing too many times. I'm both sick of it and blind to it.

So, put it away for a while, you say. Work on something else. We'll, I don't want to! I'm excited about bringing the story to this new place. I'm excited about finishing it, having it be a whole thing, not just Frankenstory of the Many Versions, about sending it out, feeling hopeful. I'm excited about someone reading it and liking it, and feeling the same way about it myself.

Despite missing the self made deadline, I will be taking the novel with me on our trip. We're not taking any screens, so I'll print out the whole document, grab a couple of pencils and be off. I'll be seeing you, and vice versa, before then though.


i'm a loser

According to the fine website Duotrope, I am now the proud recipient of SIX rejections in as many months. That's not right, though. There are rejections they don't know about, rejections I've been hiding from the glaring eye of Duotrope. They're mine, mine! I don't have to tell anyone about them.


There are rejections, and rejections, though. My New Yorker and Harpers rejections are fond mementos, gentle breezes from the publishing heavens that ruffle the fine feathers of my tail, though not offering to open gates of said heaven.

Then there are the form door-slammers. Slam! Many of them don't have that much energy. Slam. They don't hardly make a breeze, or if they do, it's more like a...wind.

I must say, though, that I like having work out there so I'm willing to risk rejection. I even expect it, especially when so much of the work (though by no means all of it) that I read in print (can't, sadly, say the same for online journals) is superior to my own. That's right--superior.

But readers of this space know I'm not set back by the above naked truth. I'm not giving up. I continue to learn and improve, through practice and study of the work of others, and with the help of my fine writing group and yes, those rejections, too.

And reading the good stuff (Tin House Magazine's fiction, most recently) and the not so g.s. (my recent rejections) reminds me of how much I love this work, this endeavor, this funny little thing I want to do.

It's too late for figure skating, too late to start on the road to being the second female puzzle editor of the New York Times. So, onward this loser goes.


one terrific radiant humble

(thingama, jingama pig!)

When you look for great writing you see it everywhere. In books, in films, on TV, but mostly we notice when it's NOT there, when we can't stand to read further, to watch more.

Lately, I've been amazed at the inventive and sharp writing from my kids' bookshelf: the original Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte's Web the book and the film ("fine swine, wish he were mine, so what if he's not so big?"), a wonderful book called "May I Bring a Friend?" by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, the unparalelled Seuss, "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf, "Make Way for Ducklings" and other books by Robert McCloskey.

Such a pleasure to share these with the littlies, and to experience an added level of writer's appreciation while doing so. Other nominees are welcome.

Another layer of spooky: In his post of late, anxious m-f (http://anxiousmofo.wordpress.com/) says he's reading the books of the main inspiration for my cousin's novel, mentioned in the spooky post of last.


novelution: spooky

Ewkaay, how's this for coincidence: at a family gathering on Sunday, a cousin tells me that he is essentially living the situation that is the crux of my novel. That's one.

Then he tells me he can offer "inside information" about the REAL LIFE people who are going through this situation. I can't think what to say to this.

That's two.

Then he tells me he's written a novel.

That's three.

No, it's not on the situation we were discussing.

That's when I start to breathe again.

So, my head is spinning a little at this point. We talk about my novel, which I can tell he thinks is not the most original idea ever, but admits he's never seen anything quite like the idea out there. We talk about his novel. I'm impressed, very, and depressed, slightly, at being in the presence of someone who can talk about it in the past tense. I wrote. Not, I'm writing.

He kept it a secret, mostly, which while I'm talking to him starts to sound like a good idea. No exposure, no risk of public failure for lack of follow through. No risk of never getting to the place he's at: the "I wrote" place.

Finally, I grab a chair and stop spinning.

On one, I'm glad to know that there is relevance in the real world for my narrator and her situation.

On two, I have to say no to this. I'm not looking to be a reporter, and fiction is about creating larger truths from smaller lies, so smaller truths won't help me. The character is driving this bus, and she's not taking any passengers but me.

On three, I'm inspired by his hard work and courage (I think it really takes this to write, for anyone) but I suddenly feel like demanding to see his Longtime Suffering Writers Association membership card.

Funny, on the surface it seemed he had much of what I'm looking for: the nitty g. on the very situation my character faces, and on another level, the divine past tense of "writing". In fact, no one has what I'm looking for but me. I wouldn't have chosen my chosen subject if I didn't think I could make it real, and that past tense of "writing" will only be real for me when I make the present tense of fanny-in-chair a constant.

Talking of which, if I were being paid to write my novel, I'd be fired by now. The last weeks have been uberstressful and chockful of truly paid work, so my poor darling is sulking in the corner. Come Saturday, though, I'm grabbing her wrist and dragging her out. Can't wait.


you've got to read this: rulebreaker rules

Up since 2:15 AM. In the bath at 4 AM to calm me down (interview at work scheduled for 8 AM). I grab a Best American Short Stories to get the loop of interviewspeak out of my head, and come across John Keeble's story "The Chasm", originally published in Prairie Schooner. The story moved me to tears, which few do.

Like Chris Offutt's story "Melungeons" in the same book (B.A.S.S., 1994, Editor Tobias Wolff) it teaches so much to the writer. In this case, Keeble breaks a "cardinal rule" of writing: he commits the sin of "telling". And it works, beautifully. It takes the story further into the territory of its plot and its theme.

In my writing group, we were just hashing this out, since my piece this week was a short short in a confessional voice, a speaker "telling" her story. People don't talk in images, and you know this, and I know this. They talk, sometimes plainly, sometimes not.

To make all writing unnecessarily obscure in order to follow any rule is foolish. We know this, and I'm sure there are editors who know this too. Readers certainly know this. It was just nice, in the bath at 4 AM, to have a little professional validation on the matter.


my ugly baby

Good news from the nursery: an ugly baby of a story that grew into a problem child is finally moving out of the awkward stage. This is a story that began with a very strong voice but not much plot. With some quality help, I came to see where it could go plot-wise, and finally got the courage to start cutting here and adding there.

This is news because of my continual struggle to see writing as a long process, in which where you begin might not be where you end. I have no trouble writing the first draft. It is staying with the piece while it's not working, persisting in writing it until it does begin to work, and bringing it all the way into that new place that I struggle with.

But at least with this story, I've done it. Almost. The story is far from where it began, and almost to where it needs to be. In this last rewrite, I had to remind myself that despite my over-familiarity with it, I should work to make it new, work to make it something I would want to read in a magazine, work to make it something that I would be proud to call my own.

That seems basic, I know. But I want to finish it with pleasure and excitement, rather than with relief at never having to work on it again. That's the same goal that parents have with their real babies, isn't it: to face parenting with confidence and delight, rather than grim determination to make it through the day.


novelution: she loves me not

This week, I had my first non-starter session on the novel. I didn't want to read it from the beginning, didn't have the will to start a new section, had fresher drafts at home while I was at the office (note: this is an excuse), etc.

I kept looking for a way in, doing a bit of research which proved very edifying, but research ain't writing. I should have taken that research and incorporated it immediately into the draft I had available, then melded that one with the newer one at home. I should have pushed, but I didn't.

So this is it, our first fight. The character was silent, would not slip her voice into my ear. But I am an ardent suitor, undeterred. I will woo till I drop. I will keep showing up. Serenades on bended knee with trio of strings. Flowers by the mile. Come to think of it, those won't work.

What would my character want? What would win her over? This is another way in--the questions about your character that don't need urgent answering but that will lead inside the work, get you in the door again.

My girl isn't girlie, but she is a kid. And a reader. Maybe a paperback of a Jane Austen she hasn't read (is there one?) wrapped in a NYT Book Review and left at her doorstep (she's pretty shy).

Ah: she loves me again.

PS: Have begun reading McEwan's Atonement, both for pleasure and as a study of voice, of how he reveals information, of character (one main character is an adolescent, so it's doubly relevant for me, although the novel is 3rd person). So far, very engaging--I always worry with these hyper-praised books that they'll be impenetrable or dull or both. This one's neither, so far.


i've got it

Tonight as we trailed in from a just perfectly sunny and still spring day at (get this name) Heart's Desire beach, I get it: my first breath of warm evening air. The sun is down, the grass is cool, but the air is warm.

It's thrilling, as it shoots me forward three months: all those evenings in the yard after dinner in that air, all those muddy then dusty kids' feet to clean off, shorts and lemonade and rides through town on the bikes to get ice cream.

At the beach I was telling my niece and nephew about the novel, and my deadline, of May 15. May 15?? Eek. But then, I felt excited, like I felt breathing the warm spring evening air. It's a pleasure, a pleasure to have this arduous task. It excites me, and I can see it, like I can see the evenings spread before us in the coming months.


from the source: writing advice from an actual writer

We've all sought out or come across writing advice as we hone this skill. One way I try to teach myself about what works is to read, read, read. Well, it turns out I'm not alone.

Chris Offutt was mentioned in this space as the author of one story I read, Melungeons, that blew me away and taught me a lot. Offutt is the author of Kentucky Straight and Out of the Woods, the novel The Good Brother, and two memoirs, The Same River Twice and No Heroes (Tin House Contributors, Vol 7 No 1). Offutt read the blog post and wrote to me in the comments section. In my reply I asked if he'd be willing to answer a few questions. Willing he was, and here are my questions and his answers. I'm sharing them because they're simply right on target--no magic formulas and no turning back.

KFG: If a hierarchy exists between voice, setting and plot in stories, which would you choose as most key for your work?

CO: I don't see a hierarchy among those three. Foremost is language itself, then character. I like stories with a strong sense of place in order to ground the character in a firm reality. Voice is how the writer thinks, the confidence inherent in the language. Narrative is what happens; plot is why it happens. A character's reaction to setting and event informs voice. My chief interest is learning how the character responds to difficult circumstances.

KFG: Do you consciously plot and plan stories, or work from an idea and wait for plot to develop through first draft development?

CO: My stories tend to evolve through the process of revision. I often think about them a good long while before writing. But I try hard not to impose myself upon them. It's better to give them free rein. I've ruined a few stories by trying to force them to be a certain way.

When I feel that I can't do anything more with a story, I set it aside for a few months. The number of revisions isn't crucial to me. What matters is gaining sufficient emotional distance from the story in order to revise it with a clear head. On average, my stories lie around for 2 years or so, and run to 15 drafts.

KFG: A story of mine just got raves at my writing group. It's in the fifth or sixth draft, with another to come. If it were yours, would you send it to a smaller literary magazine or to a big time one? Do you think getting published in little magazines accomplishes much for a writer? Do you think unknown writers (like myself) have much chance of getting published in big magazines?

CO: The potential danger of a writing group is unconsiously trying to write for their approval. If I believe the raves are fully legitimate, I might cease working so hard. Turning that around, if a story gets trashed by the writing group, I risk revising it to please the group dynamic. Feedback is necessary. Always listening to it isn't.

Yes, publishing in small magazines helps a writer. First, you feel good for getting in print! Second, strangers somewhere are reading it. Third, agents and anthology editors follow literary magazines, looking for strong material. Fourth, when you have enough stories for a collection, the fact that some have been published in literary magazines gives publishers a certain confidence. Fifth, publication is just plain cool.

I don't know the chances you or anyone has of getting published in big magazines. I do know that if you don't try, you never will.

KFG: What was your process from aspiring writer to published? Would you recommend it, or do you know of a better way?

CO: My process from aspiring writer to publication is embarassing to admit. I wrote stories for 10 years and never sent them out because I was too terrified of rejection. At age 32, I was shamed into it by a poet who assumed I sent work out, and was shocked that I didn't. To offset my fear, I decided to make rejection itself my goal. I wanted to get 100 rejections in a year. Things went well until #87, when a tiny magazine published my first story. It felt good. Last year I published two stories, and harvested 11 rejections. Each rejection hurt. But I'm getting better at accepting them as part of the whole deal.

I recommend finding the process that works best for you. My lame method did for me.

KFG: What are the three most important things you'd tell a beginning writer?

Three most important things for a young writer? Read, read, read. Try to write one minute per day minimum. (That works for me.) Only listen to 20% of any feedback. Read your work aloud to yourself. Trust yourself to improve with steady effort. Don't drink too much. Try to avoid full-time jobs. Make sure your romantic partner is absolutely fully supportive of your efforts. (If not--either you won't write or you'll break up.) Read, read, read.

Literary achievement is based on commitment, discipline, and endurance. For thirty years I've had one motto: Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

You can't really hear this kind of advice enough, or at least I can't. Thanks, Chris.


got chickens?

I often see things I know to be signs of great import and meaning, but I don't know what the meaning is, so I make it up.

Today out walking in the warm, blossom rich spring air, I encountered a white rooster with a red comb. He was just stepping around a little narrow sidewalk in front of a house. The street was quiet, except for the sound of two women who sat in a parked car, talking.

I stopped and watched the rooster, maneuvering the stroller around so my daughter could see him too. He gave us the full profile, high and proud, then stepped about a little more and started scratching. There were no open gates or holes in the fence that I could see, and he could clearly fly, so I thought he had probably winged it for some fresh perspective, it being such a fine day.

Reluctant to leave him and imagining his owner's dismay at seeing him on the street, I paused near the car where the women were talking. I thought of waving to them, and saying, "Do you have chickens?" They didn't notice me, or the rooster, and continued to talk, oblivious to us.

I walked on, leaving the rooster to his sidewalk scratching and the women to their parked car chatting.

Now for the quiz: What does the white rooster in this story symbolize?

For me, the voice of my novel's character. I've been studying up on good story writing lately, reading especially those whose inventive and rockem sockem language I admire, just to get the juices flowing. The other night in the bath, it was Barry Hannah in a story from an old Best American Short Stories. What I love about that series is the feature in the back with a bio and short statement about each story by the author. Many give insight into the source of the story's content and the process of its writing. Hannah said in his blurb how key voice is, how you can get people to listen to a good story around a campfire but in black and white on the page, you've got to grab em, and you do that with voice. I'm paraphrasing.

I also read a killer one by a guy called Chris Offutt. Man o man.

But the rooster is the voice of my hero. She's got to be that unexpected, that strong, reaching her neck up to give the mighty profile when confronted with a foreign vehicle in an unprotected area, that cool--step and scratch, not bothered.

And me? I just have to be sure I'm not like the women in the car, too enamored with my own voice to see what's in front of me.


Novelution: doing the numbers

At over 11,000 words to date, the novel is filling out nicely. I'm able to work on it 2 times a week, for 2 or 3 hours at a time. Tonight I thought of a beginning, which might also be an end--I'm 5% sure of that. So it goes!


warning: more writing advice

This just in from NPR.org: Samuel G. Freedman is the author of six books, the most recent being Letters to a Young Journalist and Who She Was. He gives a course on narrative nonfiction at Columbia that’s a kind of bootcamp of self-editing: “Mixed metaphors, overwriting, and cliches are beaten out of every student. At the end of each critique, Freedman tallies everyone's cliches. That effort goes into creating the CPP: Cliche-per-Person index.” The course then teaches students how to write a book proposal. NPR.org gives Freedman’s 10 tips for writing non-fiction, which are applicable in many cases to fiction writers.

Ten Thoughts for Writing Narrative Nonfiction
by Samuel Freedman
~ Read avidly and analytically. Don't just read the currently popular narrative writers such as Erik Larson or Susan Orlean; read the authors who created the tradition: Stephen Crane, John Hersey, Gay Talese, J. Anthony Lukas. Read plenty of fiction along with nonfiction. And whatever you read, as you read, consider the book a text in how to research and write book. What worked? What didn't? How was this organism assembled? How does it function?
~ Understand that reporting enables writing. Even the most stylish prose, absent research of the first order, is ultimately an empty vessel. The writer who has done the indefatigable and intellectually curious reporting can write an accomplished book without being a lyric poet, because he or she has a powerful, important story to tell.
~ Pay attention not only to the external dramas of your characters but the internal ones — the drama that takes place between the ears, the drama of motivation. There is not richer, more compelling material.
~ Never be afraid to sound ignorant or foolish. The only stupid question is the one you don't ask.
~ Take the time to outline before you write, whether you're writing a short feature story or a full-length book. For fiction, an advance plan is a death knell, a curb on the imagination. (I agree—kg) For nonfiction, it is a blueprint, a musical score, the structure that liberates you to enjoy the writing process because you are always aware of the overarching structure.
~ Forget about the market. Write only the book you burn to write. Choose a topic you love, because you'll be married to it for years. If you can develop a gripping enough proposal about a vital enough topic, if you can paint memorable characters, then you can get an agent and editor to put aside the conventional commercial wisdom.
~ Every work of narrative needs to have these elements: character, event, place, and theme.
~ A book needs to operate on both a temporal and an eternal axis. The temporal axis is what makes your subject newsworthy, for lack of a more artful term, right now. The eternal axis is what will make it enduringly relevant.
~ Think back to high school chemistry class and the chart of the Periodic Table of the Elements. That chart told you that every thing in the material world can ultimately be reduced to only those elements. As an author, your territory is the Periodic Table of Human Nature. It's all the basic elements of human experience: love, hate, yearning, ambition, disappointment, ecstasy, etc.
~ Never put too much faith in any list.


hi! i'm: an old dog

It took me many years to realize that my writing talent wasn't going to miraculously produce a writing career, if baked at the right temperature in the oven of time.

So I started writing, for real.

I quickly realized that the work I was producing was in most cases good, but not quite good enough.

So I started editing, for real.

I published a short book of stories, and some stories and poems in magazines. I did a lot of readings and even a few signings. I got reviewed, favorably.

But I'm still learning the second lesson. Still learning it, like TODAY I'm still learning it.

I edit my work, usually between 3 and 5 drafts before I send it out. But at times I feel the piece could be better, could be stronger.

I send it out anyway.

Why? The answers aren't pretty.

This week I tore through The First Five Pages, a book about staying out of the rejection pile. It's unusual for me to read a writer's guide of any kind, but it was recommended by a friend, and I was curious. Much of it was dismayingly basic (don't send a soiled manuscript) but other parts hit home: the book goes into tone, into characterization, into focus.

With every section, I thought of my work. Mainly, I thought of the novel I'm writing, and I felt good. Then I thought of some of the stories I have sent out, and I felt...something further away from good.

Here's the biscuit: even with thorough editing, it is difficult to see the weaknesses in my own work, and this book's examples of how writing can be made stronger have resonated with my own sense of what's not working in some stories. It made me want to rush home and edit those stories, or at least review them with the book's points in mind.

I've had successes in this game, and many rejections, and I'm still learning. I don't quite qualify as an OD, so I should have no trouble learning NTs.


back in black and white: telegram

Novel stalled STOP
Work increased STOP
As expected STOP
Rejection yesterday STOP
Don't care STOP
Not giving up STOP


bad, bad unicorn: a review

Allow me to share with you a few lines of the devastatingly awful book I just read to my daughter. Actually, that's a lie. I couldn't get through the thing. Please gimme a witness on this:

"In a mirror of sunrise glitter, dawn was born again in a land of crystalline splendor. As the sunshine crept across the diamond mountains, it shimmered from the crystal trees and flowers that made up this wondrous land."


"For, you see, all living things in this land were cast from either glass, diamond or crystal. The only colors were splashes of blue, silver and gold."

I feel a little woosy just typing the words. But I'm hanging on because:

"In this magic land, many strange crystal creatures frolicked in the dancing lights of day. There were crystal-like birds called glimmerings, smiling little lizards called beamers and, most beautiful of all, horse-like creatures called lightasoars, who had wings made of delicate diamonds so they could fly wherever the eye could see."

OK. That's just a taste. The story goes on to relate the strange occurence of something brown in this blue, silver and gold world, and how all the creatures (despite their beauty) are total haters to the brown thing, except one, of course. This brown thing grows up to be a beautiful rose and brings beautiful red rose color to their formerly red-deprived world. Theeeee End.

All the above dreck is copyrighted, of course, and I bow low to the copyright gods (and to the book's corporate sponsors, the diamond industry). I grovel at their sixteen-toed feet. But puhlease, people:

Is this what gets published? I mean, how should I take this? I see two ways:

1. I'm appalled that this manuscript came into print. It makes me lose faith in editors and publishers of children's books, and by extension in all editors and publishers.

2. I'm encouraged because if this piece of something that rhymes with pap can get into print, so can a manuscript of mine.

Neither satisfies.

I look at the imprint: "Copyright 1980" (maybe that's the explanation right there). "No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages included in a review appearing in a newspaper or magazine."

Or a blog.

I added that last part. But this is a review, or has caused one--a review of my own goals for my writing. We've all seen terrible books in our own coveted genre get published, books we hear great things about and hope to love and end up putting aside, aghast by what gets printed.

So. I don't write to get published. I don't write to get paid. I hope to continue writing the book I'm writing, because I love doing it. I hope to have a finished manuscript, and to look for an editor and publisher.

Do I want my work published? You damn skippy I do. But that's not the point of writing. I'll find an editor, and a publisher, but they don't sit at my desk with me, they're not at the table. It's my character I'm writing for, it's her story that I want to tell, not my own, not the story of how I wrote a book and got published.

What luck! It's recycling day. I have just one more item to add to the pile.



Deadline is set for my novel's first draft completion: May 15, five months give or take from the start. We're going on a trip that begins that day, and I imagine spending each morning on the sun-drenched porch, making edits whilst the others frolic in the sand.

This strikes me as an unlikely reality for a number of reasons, but not the writing part. The deadline can be met. Now back to work, hacking my path to that porch in the sun.


can't find nothing on the radio

Eating a quick dinner tonight between students, I heard on the radio the lamentable story of d-league basketball players who face deprivation (shared living quarters, sparse budget) on their way to (hopefully) becoming NBA players. The article mentioned that the salary cap for NBA players is 21 million dollars per year.

I sat in my car, looking out at the dark trees and the windy, rainy, street. Cars lined up, people making their way home from work. People not facing the limitation of a salary cap of 21 million dollars per year.

Basketball can be an art, especially when it is played as a team, a collaboration. Sometimes you get a Leonardo (Jordan), but mostly the beauty is in the miraculous rhythm of teamwork.

Writers work their art alone. Most struggle to do so in the confines of their paying work and other obligations. I'm happy to say that I am not facing the salary cap. I'm not facing a salary, so far. I'm working, alone, bouncing the basket in an empty auditorium. No one to pass to, but no one guarding the basket, either.

I can dunk it. The crowd will roar. Let the salary caps come as they may.


say goodnight gracie

After the initial turbulence of a new semester's schedule, we're nearly at cruising altitude. The novel now has an official a seat of its own, isn't walking the aisles in hopes of squeezing between the bulky masses of work, kids and sleep.

It's sleep that doesn't have much a place. If I don't want to be away from home three evenings a week, I'll have to take one of those evenings, the writing one, and turn it into an early morning. Or something.

So maybe the novel's place isn't that secure. And maybe they're not coming around with the drinks quite yet. There may still be periodic turbulence, when the stacks of papers start coming in, and time to write the novel will disappear, like the 13 roasted peanuts inside the little foil bag.

The only way the novel will get priority is if I'm willing to give up sleep, go to bed early knowing that a thermos of coffee is ready on the counter for my 5 AM wake up. If I can do that once a week, the manuscript will continue to grow.

The good news: it's still coming. 10 pages last session. More notes made as kids played in the sand at the park. I could be worrying about content, not scheduling. That's a good thing.

This week in the paper an article heralded the much anticipated arrival of the Queen Mary to our shore, with a photo of the captain of the vessel. He looked intensely worried, and between the lines of stats about the size of the ship, I realized why: the boat had only a 30 minute window in which to slip beneath the golden span of our fair bridge, just 30 minutes to get that big ass boat into port.

Timing is everything.

He made it. According to early estimates, one million people came out to see the boat pass through the gate. One million. I'm happy for him. He's my new role model-- big project+ tight schedule=no problem.

Now off to bed.


(you wouldn't like me when i'm) green with envy

Working hard to find a home for a story that's got crooked bones and a thin layer of downy white hair.

Used to be, I would only send work to markets I knew. But this strange little tale grew up funny, bled over into genre, so I went wandering outside my sphere and into the dazzling rave of genre mags.

Some fine work being done there. Seems steep competition ups the ante on innovation while still holding its hand out for the basics: skilled writing that has been carefully and completely edited before submission.

We'll see if my little goose finds a nest. Any road, I'm heartened by what I saw of the genre markets, and a little jealous: with some notable exceptions, mainstream literary fiction mags don't have the same POP, the same persistent beating heart beneath the floorboards.

Shame, too, because even though they have dragons and scythes and man eating babies, I think we could take them down. Or at least hold them down, and make them tell us their secrets.


novelution: fighting for it

The first riffs of panic are reverbing inside me.

With the onslaught of a new semester, time to write the novel is slipping away. My schedule is still forming, and as it does I'm fighting for a time I can set aside to write.

No suprise: time to write must be built in to my schedule, a permanent block that I attend without question or fail. Any writer will tell you that otherwise, it doesn't get done. On-the-fly doesn't cut it.

I'm still having flashes, making notes, writing dialog in my little b.b. It doesn't feel delicate, elusive. But if I don't get back to it, I'm afraid I'll lose my fluency in the language of the idea.

So I'm pushing, massaging, bullying my time until it says Uncle, says Uncle.


novelution: i'm telling

I'm not sure why, but I'm telling a lot of people about this novel. This is a departure from my usual highly furtive writing stance. In the past, people would ask, "Are you writing anything?" and I'd produce a hybrid nod/shrug/frown and slink off. Even my closest readers wouldn't hear boo until the first draft was done.

Possible Reason #1: The need to gather the troops, get support, hear people say, "Oh, that's wonderful." One of the first people I told, a teacher I know, said, "Now every time I see you I'm going to ask about it. Every time."

Possible Reason #2: I had to make it real to people who don't live inside my head, to make it exist in the world, even as an unfulfilled idea. Seems a little less like making something from nothing that way.

Saying the phrase "I'm working on a novel" still feels a little like a lie. Feels like a lie although it's not: the novel first draft is already longer than anything I've written in years, and I haven't filled in half of the draft content I have notes for. It's happening.

Being married in the first months, and saying to people, "This is my husband," has much the same effect. You feel like giggling after, because you half expect people to say, "Please, be serious."

I still suprise myself a little every time I say it. I still surprise myself every time I do it, too--every time I leave the office having added pages to the document.

Say it, do it. Say it, do it. A new way of working, perhaps fitting for a new territory like this one I'm in.


novelution: the invasion

On the way to begin writing the novel for the first time, I waved at a neighbor standing in front of his house. He hopped in the car and I gave him a ride downtown.

The conversation I had with him confirmed my suspicions about the conclusion of the novel I was about to begin. It had to do with miracles, and mitochondria, and Christmas stockings, and the poor standing of crows in the order of the universe.

Today as I ordered at the drive-thru coffee stand, I glanced down at the front page of the local paper. Novel connection on the front page.

Today as I glanced through the week's newspapers before recycling them, one article stood out. Novel connection.

The other day, browsing in a used bookstore during some brief and unexpected free time, I found two books that could help with the novel.

Maybe it's just my imagination. In fact, that's exactly it--my imagination. Not "just". It is thrilling to be inside this idea, and to see connections to it on the outside, like little encouragements, like seeds for the tiny bird of my writer's confidence. I gather these seeds so that when (not if) I get stuck, and the bird stops singing, I can use these seeds to perk it up.

That bird is cousin to another--Emily Dickinson's.

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul –
and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all."


novelution: im in it and its in me

In it: With the start of this novel, which began its life in a pool, I feel myself slipping beneath the surface of the idea, proceeding cautiously to explore the primordial ooze of the thing. It's dark in here, and not a little smelly, as the beginnings of new life tend to be. As I write in the character's voice, I come to some dead ends, where the idea gets small and cramped and the liquid tepid. So I stretch out to what I came for, the big somethings that brought me to begin at all. Touching back to these solids is a glimpse of light in the dark. For example:

For the novel, I've been reading about Poe. He had this to say about focus and intention in prose:

"In the whole composition, there should be no word written of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the preestablished design."


In me: I feel the novel's presence almost constantly--it's the room to which my mind returns whenever possible. I'm even sneaking through the door at unexpected times (see: the five miles I cycled while reading Proust today). These short visits are to ensure my smooth entry to the novel when I can get back to the room where I'm writing it.

At least for a little while, I do have a room of my own, luckily. But, VW also said that in order for a woman to succeed as a writer, she must not have family or work obligations, that she must not have the demands of domestic life to attend to.

Hope she was wrong on that score.


amen, i say amen sister Margaret

This from the NYT obit on the great and sorely to be missed writer Tillie Olsen: "Margaret Atwood attributed Ms. Olsen’s relatively small output to her full life as a wife and mother, a “grueling obstacle course” experienced by many writers."


the high dive

During the warm months, I swim laps at a local pool. To take my mind off the pain while doing so last summer, I started batting around an idea for a novel. The idea was exciting. Each time I swam, I put my mind to the idea, like dialing in to a staticy radio station that occasionally plays great songs. Damp and chlorinated, I made notes in the changing room or sitting in the empty parking lot. The notes became pages of bullet points and arrows, smudged and dappled with drips.

Today, I began it in earnest.

Terrifying and thrilling, the start of a novel is the high dive for writers--I feel the chilly breeze of anticipation as I grip the cold rungs of the ladder leading upward, knowing that at the top, only my balance and will can bring me into the air.