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Unhappy with your life? Write a new one!
Over at the Poet's Market blog, they have a fake author biography contest running until September. Check it out: "since we just recently released the 2009 Poet's Market, I can offer that up as a prize to whoever writes the best fake bio. You can make your bio funny, outrageous, horrible, seriously intense, etc. Just keep it under 100 words (hey, most publications cap it off at 50 words)." (via Practicing Writer)
How much should a great book cost? Edward Champion has some good reporting on the subject, along with breaking news about an upcoming William T. Vollmann book.
Look out for Justin Theroux. Besides starring in two of my favorite mind-bending films -- Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive -- he's also a budding scriptwriter. The Script Reader blog has a breathless feature about the man who could singlehandedly kill the skinny-neurotic-loser-screenwriter stereotype. Dig it:
"If you haven’t been following actor Justin Theroux’s bourgeoning screenwriting career, he co-wrote Tropic Thunder and recently signed up to write the Iron Man sequel. While this is good news for Justin Theroux, I think it’s even better news for screenwriters ... I smell an opportunity…to re-brand." (image via WireImage.com)
Can you finish that tagline? Why not let a computer do it for you?
The excellent Script Reader blogger this essay about the awful glut of science fiction scripts they read on a regular basis. Inspired by the mediocrity, one reader created an Aliens or Predator computerized science fiction script pitch letter generator. Read it and weep:
"the entity shows itself to be a terrifying alien shaped like a huge, grotesque version of a vagina with a acid-filled mouth."
If you are inspired by those laughable taglines, you simply must enter the Worst Storyline Ever contest at brilliant Guide to Literary Agents blog. You only have a few more days to enter, but how can you not write something beautifully bad like this:
"After the death of his goldfish, a priest renounces his faith and gets a job at the local White Castle, where he becomes addicted to special sauce and tries to dance his way to getting respect on the streets."
Most importantly, laugh at all these lines, but use these clichés and jokes and baaad writing examples to purge the nonsense out of your own agent pitches. To that end, read Chris Webb's book proposal advice. Happy reading...
How do you build a reading community around a book with a dark, difficult premise?
Andrew Davidson's first novel, The Gargoyle, opens with some tough passages about car accidents and burn victims. His book site features real people telling real stories about being "burned by love." Read a couple and submit your own. Check it out:
"We met at work. He seemed nice. I was a virgin. He seduced me and made me think that if I gave it up for him that we would last."
Bookninja alerts us to some happy news. Choose-your-own-adventure style interactive stories are making a comeback.
In even odder news, The Avocado Papers is selling first paragraphs to writers. While this seems like one of those kooky web stories that may or may not be true, the satirical site does have an impressive catalog of evocative paragraphs.
That said, the whole battle is figuring out what crazy, unexpected and strange elements I need to put in my first paragraph. Without that process, writing would be pretty boring. What do you think? (Thanks, GalleyCat.)
In case you were sleeping in a cave this morning, The New Yorker published a satirical cover that managed to make both Barack Obama and John McCain upset.
Journalist Michael Scherer reminds us to look back at the Supreme Court's landmark opinion about cartoon art, protecting satirical cartoons everywhere, from Hustler magazine to more highbrow publications--a good legal decision for all writers and artists to re-read every few years. Check it out here.
Over at The New York Observer, Publisher's Weekly. Dig it:
"With this box, a little bit of PW tradition went to its grave, and the mystique of that booming PW voice, once so objective and authoritative, fractured and finally shattered by the 80-something names printed there in red ink, each referring to an individual, a person somewhere who read a book and wrote a review of it. Who are these individuals? Enthusiasts, mainly. Schoolteachers, professors, stay-at-home moms, authors. It takes all kinds."
Both Mike Scalise and Gordon Hurd linked to that inspiring clip of Ira Glass you see up top. If you ever feel sad about your own work, just watch that clip.
Can television save the book?
Attempting to answer that strange question, ABC has a brand new Lost Book Club--looking at how the popular show features some of our favorite books (like Philip K. Dick's Valis and Madeleine L’Engle's A Wrinkle in Time). Read all about it at BuzzFeed:
"ABC.com launches the “Lost Book Club” which will give fans new insight on books that are used as literary references on the show. Here’s your chance to discuss the feminist christology of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret with other Lost fans on a message board."
Ed Champion's final interview with novelist and poet Thomas M. Disch is required listening this week. Many years ago, Disch's book of essays entitled The Castle of Indolence rocked my literary world. He will be missed.
Finally, the always-useful Book Publicity Blog steers us towards a link-full bounty of literary agent resources and a new blog. Check it out: "Joan Reeves of Sling Words posts about agent and editor blogs."
Ever since I saw my first stack of romance paperbacks at a garage sale as an impressionable Midwestern kid, I've always wanted to know who in the heck made them. Today, Barnes & Noble showed me.
Romance and fantasy illustrator Judy York gives these mass-market paperbacks that extra fantastical twist that makes you want to buy the book. Watching her in action, I thought about how novelist Jonathan Lethem wrote about a science fiction novel illustrator in The Fortress of Solitude, mining pop culture ephemera for literary gold. Thanks to Virginia Heffernan for the link.
As long as you're watching videos, Conversational Reading spotted this super-cool documentary about one of my literary heroes, Jorge Luis Borges.
Finally, Wyatt Mason wrote another thought-provoking post about book reviewing, asking a deceptively simple question about the great Philip Roth:
"I am curious over the methodology of its future reader-evaluators. How much of Roth’s prior work they will feel they should read before passing judgment on his latest effort?"
Need some writing music? I can't tell you how many pages I've written while listening to Calexico.
This band sounds like the end of a pulp fiction novel, when the ruined hero trudges off to Mexico--maybe to escape, or maybe to die in the desert.
So get this: U.S. Representative and astronaut wife Gabrielle Giffords chose the Calexico tune "Crystal Frontier" to wake up the astronauts on the space shuttle last week. Check it out at Wired, and get yourself some new writing music:
"Touch and Go is offering the song as a free download up until the mission is complete and Discovery touches down on June 14. Calexico's forthcoming effort Carried to Dust is due out September 9 on Quarterstick Records."
Two book trailers enter the bloody ring, but only one can emerge.
What is the most popular poem on the Internets? Who In The Hell Is Tom Jones? by the intoxicating poet, Charles Bukowski. You must read every poem on this Top 50 Most Viewed Poems list--it's like a poetry anthology edited by a roomful of MySpace kids and webby readers. Thanks to Ed Champion for the link.
I should have linked to this over the long weekend, but I forgot. Sorry, but...
Bat Segundo returns! Check out more thoughtful podcasts featuring everybody from novelist and editor Ed Park to cartoonist Mort Walker.
Next, the Harper's book blog strikes again, archiving the 85,000-most-meaningful-words of criticism all published in the last three weeks. Wyatt Mason makes the best argument against critics (like Cynthia Ozick and Laura Miller) who think that literary thought is withering on the digital vine--he actually does the math and links to under-appreciated essays. Here's his sad conclusion:
"I would insist, to anyone who might take the time to read the variously rigorous and intelligent essays below—not to say the mass of them that accumulates over a year, year in and out—that the 'mass of critics' can not be said to have been gauged, much less mulled, with great thoroughness."
What happens when three women band together to share their literary adventures? Things get purple. Last week I discovered Purple Hearts and quickly subscribed for literary tips, publishing secrets, supportive community and thoughtful link round-ups.
What if you promoted all day but never actually wrote anything?
Journalist Dennis Cass asks that question, and promotes his book at the same time in a bit of web video genius-ness. As I pointed out earlier today, more and more of the book promotion process is falling into the lap of the writer--so this sad-but-true-video is only going to get sadder and truer.
Over at the New York Observer, got the literary blogosphere in a tizzy today by writing: "it’s not crazy at all to feel bad for the young male writers of our time, despite all they have done to us with their books. There are these legends that loom; all women, all terrifying. (Norman Mailer, sad to say, belongs to 1968, and that was so long ago already.)"
As a sort-of-young man writing in this young-men besotted world, I only have one piece of advice for anybody worried about that article. Read Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night. He had Vietnam and a divided Democratic Party; we have the Iraq War and another fractured political scene.
1968 wasn't so long ago. It's not about the quality of the men, it's about good writers meeting their historical moment. The next few troubled years will give all us literary men and women plenty to write about.
From the imaginary libraries of Jorge Luis Borges to the books-inside-of-books that obsess Paul Auster's heroes--I've always loved imaginary texts inside fictional worlds.
Novelist Chuck Palahuniuk's book trailer takes literary fakery into low-brow history--introducing a fake porno movie that features fictional characters from his book. The greasy porn stars that populate his novel get full porno treatment--complete with bad special effects, horrible audio and a cheesy soundtrack.
The trailer isn't exactly safe for work, but it raises the question--what would Borges do if he had a book trailer?
If that trailer isn't your cup of tea, you still have to check out the award-winning book review section at Truthdig. Novelist and blogger Mark Sarvas pointed us towards the no-nonsense, well-edited reviews have given me a week's worth of new reading. It's real book love.
Finally, comics editor and mediabistro scribe Danny Fingeroth has collected six years worth of comic book writing advice in a single tome--Best of Write Now. Don't forget to check out our interview with comic strip writer Woody Wilson. (Thanks to the good folks at GalleyCat for the link.)
Spring is busting out all over in New York, and it makes me think about poetry. Lots and lots of poetry.
Today, let's celebrate National Poetry Month and Shakespeare's birthday in one fell swoop--the Bard was a poet after all. The Vagabond Scholar blog will guide you through both celebrations, delivering enough poetry links to keep us all happy until the weekend. Dig it:
"Let me praise once again the wonderful Favorite Poem Project and highlight the poetry sites listed near the bottom of my blogroll (Poetry Daily is a nice way to discover new poets). My previous posts for National Poetry Month are far more extensive, and the foolhardy can access them through the too scant poetry category."
If that's not enough content for you, I insist that you visit our friend Edward Champion--he's been mixing up a huge batch of comic convention podcasts. I've barely had time to surf this amazing list of interviews, but I challenge you to find a more comprehensive body of comic reportage than this one.
Finally, congratulations to The Urban Muse for taking The Freelance Leap this spring.
We seem to be having another Monday. I don't even remember having a weekend. Nevertheless, the Internets carry on. Here are a few of the highlights marching across my screen today.
Titlepage.tv launched today, bringing a star-studded literary conversation to the web video screen. That's a picture of the host--editor superhero Daniel Menaker--over there. Everybody's got an opinion, but every self-respecting literary junkie should still check it out.
Memoirs are in the air lately. Over at Papercuts, Gregory Cowles muses on the latest creative liberties taken by a memoirist, with this report on author Misha Defonseca:
"The author was never trapped in the Warsaw ghetto. Neither was she adopted by wolves who protected her from the Nazis, nor did she trek 1,900 miles across Europe in search of her deported parents or kill a German soldier in self-defense. She wasn’t even Jewish."
To chill yourself out after a long Monday, check out Jeffrey Yamaguchi's pictures from India, complete with a good morning greeting for each location on his epic trip.
Happy Leap Year! We're sitting here with this extra day that we don't have every year. What are we supposed to do with it? Write.
You have one extra day to finish your novel this year, so here are a few inspirational links to get you writing again.
Nicholson Baker in the New York Review of Books on the joys of saving writers from obscurity and deletion on Wikipedia:
"But the work that really drew me in was trying to save articles from deletion. This became my chosen mission. Here's how it happened. I read a short article on a post-Beat poet and small-press editor named Richard Denner, who had been a student in Berkeley in the Sixties and then, after some lost years, had published many chapbooks on a hand press in the Pacific Northwest." (Thanks, Ed!)
LitPark on why you need to keep writing despite rejection.
Watch memorist Janice Erlbaum explain how keeping a journal can improve your writing in my web video feature.
SciFiSignal on the R. Crumb and Philip K. Dick's religious experience.
Finally, our buddy Michael Calderone just landed a new blog over at Politico. Cruise his archives and spice up your novel with biting insights into election coverage in the age of reality television.
"Even though Barack Obama declined to answer the all-important "boxers or briefs" question — who says he's getting a free pass in the media? — the Senator's Us Weekly interview was a huge success, according to WWD.
Where should writers live?
The question is so so so important. I nearly starved to death during my first year in New York, living on a book clerk's salary and paying nasty Manhattan rent. It was a terrible financial and writing decision--I'd go to Brooklyn or any other city in the whole world before I'd do that again.
Today the MFA Blog is exploring that question with a little more detail, helping writers find "a community with a strong literary scene, in terms of events, workshops, etc, where the cost of living is reasonable, aka, not NYC." Add your city to the mix!
Sometimes it feels like you will never finish your book, but you need to remember you are not alone. Jeff VanderMeer has a new feature called Conversations with the Bookless, talking to published writers struggling to finish their first novels. Rachel Swirsky opens this fine new feature.
Got a head? Chop it off and write about it. Hot Metal Bridge is taking final submissions for the headless issue. Details here:
"Please send us your poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction on the theme of headless ... Whatever your interpretation, be sure to stun us. We’ll know it’s good when we feel, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, as if the tops of our heads were taken off."
Would you write a book for $25,000 and a publishing deal?
This New York Times’ article about Penguin's new contest has got the Litblog world buzzing. Readers can submit manuscripts to the publishing house's Breakthrough Novel contest, and a team of agents and editors will pick a winning novel for publication.
Ed Champion cried foul, generating a string of comments debating the contest and judges--including some additional investigation by blogger Mark Sarvas. It's all worth reading...
Once you win the contest and savor your book deal, Bookninja has the scoop on all the trials and tribulations you will face at book readings. Author Meg Rosoff explains her least favorite reader question:
"I get “who’s your favourite author?” with terrifying regularity, or its variant, “what’s your favourite book?” You’d think after the first four hundred and eighty five times, I’d have a prepared answer, but there simply isn’t one. I don’t have a favourite book, or a favourite author. I have fifty, but not one."
Publishing Spotted collects the best of what's around on writing blogs on any given day. Feel free to send tips and suggestions to your fearless editor: jason [at] thepublishingspot.com.
Is blogging your book dangerous?
Writing over at the fabulous Institute for the Future of the Book, Siva Vaidhyanathan explores why he's scared of live-blogging his book while he writes it. But that won't stop him from doing it:
"[I]t could get ugly in here. I could make tremendous mistakes. I could shoot something out there that shuts all doors at Google. I could undermine my ultimate market (but I seriously doubt that I could). I could just write myself into a corner." (Thanks, Quick Study!)
What happens next for Sarah Weinman, book critic, former GalleyCat editor, and mystery expert? Check out this interview with Kacey Kowars for some writing advice from a lit-blog leader.
Finally, Charlie Stross just wrote a book that made me really, really excited to read. More details forthcoming, but just listen to this
"[A] novel about a "multimillion dollar heist in gamespace." It's a sticky idea, and one that a lot of us are going to end up playing with over the years -- but it's also clearly one that Charlie has had an indecent amount of fun playing with."
Now I like the sci-fi madness of Philip K. Dick as much as the next obsessive fan, but this is just amazing.
A film company has just bought three-year, first-look rights to the entire collection of Dick stories and novels that have yet to be turned into movies. It is a rare writer who can inspire this kind of commitment from fans. Just listen to this:
"Based on material from Dick's vast body of work, co-productions may include film adaptations, as well as television and other media projects. Details of the production slate are forthcoming. Dick's works include more than 120 short stories and 45 novels."
SF Signal readers are talking about why Dick's stories lend themselves so well to other media, as well as proposing new films.
If you want something a bit more down to earth, PeteLit has nice, well-written list describing his favorite lit-bloggers. Find some new reading material.
Over at the MFA Blog, Daryll Lynne Evans has some grim professional advice for writers thinking about MFA's. The readership is already chiming in over the great career debate:
"I've got a fresh, if alarming, take on what's out there. First you need to understand that you're not getting the MFA to learn a job skill or walk into a paying career. No "precise job opportunities" are attached to the MFA."
Do we have a duty, as writers, journalists, and media people, to read the newspaper every day? Some people think the new media shift has turned all of us into thoughtless, uninformed citizens.
Responding to a Poynter Institute article entitled "Your Duty to Read the Paper," Steve Yelvington begs to differ:
"Quit blaming the Internet. There's nothing wrong with paper. It's your journalism that isn't relevant ... I've previously described how newspapers don't have an online revenue problem, but rather an online audience problem. Just to put a point on it: I spent today with yet another newspaper new-media director whose biggest problem is sold-out ad inventory. The site needs people and pageviews."
How do we tell me interesting and gripping stories to find those new readers? Journalist superhero Carl Bernstein says we should be working around the clock to report our stories better.
Finally, Conversational Reading has a guest essay by Joshua Henkin about the fine art of writing about writers. It's a difficult style, but this is some of the most practical advice I've ever read about the meta-noveling.
Why use the same boring old textbooks over and over for writing classes? If you could build your own creative writing textbook with your favorite stories, poems, and excerpts, what would it contain?
Over at Beatrice.com, short story writer Nalini Jones, the author of What You Call Winter, is building an imaginary mix tape that contains all her favorite short stories. Check out her list, and start building your own in the comments section. I'll post mine later this week. Check it out.
How are social networking and instant blog sites like Twitter changing the ways we tell stories? Over at Smith Magazine, Larry Smith muses about a suicide letter posted on Twitter--required reading for all storytellers.
Finally, graduating journalism student Sean Blanda has some uncomfortable, but practical, advice for fledgling writers. His "Why Journalists Need To Be Selfish" essay lays out the writing market without a single illusion:
"Unfortunately, no one is going to help the next generation of writers. That’s not to say that no one wants to, but no one can. It up to us to help ourselves and each other."
God bless Journerdism for the link.
As we contemplate the weekend, I'd like to leave you with three bits of glittering Internet writing gold.
Over at Portfolio's media blog, Jeff Bercovici just staged the first Peter Travers vs. Pete Hammond movie critic face-off, looking at two film writers who rave most often on advertisements for bad movies.
Dig it: "Who is the true master of the electrifying! pulse-pounding! glorious! movie write-up? Which deserves to be beatified by studio flacks, and crucified by moviegoers who just want to avoid plunking down $11 on straight-to-video-quality dreck?"
Then, check out The Best of Smith Magazine 2007 post, it's jam-packed with storytelling goodness. Start with Writing the Whip by Mistress Y for some pulse-pounding weekend reading. You won't be able to stop...
Finally, Gawker's new science fiction blog (edited by one of my journalism heroes, Annalee Newitz) has an essay about stills from serial science fiction movies from the 1930's. Staring at these ghostly panels describing Gene Autry's surreal adventures as a space cowboy, my head buzzes with story ideas.
I'm having one of those days when everything on the Internet fascinates me but I hardly have time to check it all out. Still, there are a few stories that were too important to miss.
The Urban Muse has a sweet post about freelance friendships, ending with some solid links to new writers. Check it out: "My freelance friends understand what’s at stake ... why it’s necessary to obsess over headlines and second-guess story angles, because they’ve been there."
Be sure to check out Levi Asher's foray into the The Huffington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. I've worked with him in the past, and I was glad to see his byline in new places.
Most importantly, Obsidian Wings posts about the death of Andrew Olmsted--a soldier and writer in Iraq. His final post really shook me up:
"Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven't known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war."
Over the last 24-hours, we went from bitter cold to slush to cold rain in New York City. Who can write with weather like that?
For today's writing wisdom, I went to sunny California, where the LA Times Jacket Copy reports on recent developments of literary import.
The Cohen brothers have picked up Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I really, really enjoyed that novel, but I couldn't manage to score an interview.
The Cohen brothers will rock that detective novel set in an imaginary Alaska. Check it out, and imagine a movie set in an even colder place than a frozen New York.
Secondly, half of this writing business is all about sending emails; to editors, to other writers, and to sources. Learn the email craft from the best. The Urban Muse has a post on email perfection, which include this nugget:
"The archives of Deb Ng's Cover Letter Clinic are filled with other writers'cover letters, as well as Deb's excellent feedback."
Finally, if you haven't checked out our interview with the Smith Magazine Editors ; well then, you are missing out. It's like writing encouragement sunshine in daily installments.
Got a 75-word story to tell? I've got a writing contest for you.
Over at LitPark, a McSweeney's writer reveals himself as the mysterious author who writes The Education of Oronte Churm. His interview features a short, short writing contest that we all should join:
"Write a creative nonfiction story or essay, 75 (seventy-five!) words or less, in which someone reveals something, is unmasked, or comes to a new understanding. (This is most of literature, by the way.) We call these 'little truths.'"
If you're looking for inspiration, check out Ed Champion's interview with novelist and short story writer Charles Baxter. Baxter has published some of the most elegant prose I've ever read, and he's well worth a listen.
Finally, Galleycat creates an Ultimate Blog list, following Sarah Boxer's book by the same title (a process lovingly detailed in this article). While we don't do too much rating around here, the list contains a whole bunch of useful writing resources.
And don't forget to check out Felicia Sullivan's Five Easy Questions interview as well.
How simple is it to write you novel on the clock? Pete from PeteLit breaks it down. It might seem simple or obvious, but this is the kind of dedication you need to finish that novel burning a hole on your desktop. Visit PeteLit for more literary goodness.
"When I started working at my last job I'd regularly slip out of the office in the afternoon for 30 minutes, go to a coffee shop and write. I rationalized it by the fact that I took only 10 minutes for lunch, brown-bagging at my desk, so the company 'owed' me some extra time."
Isak is getting her readers involved in an online effort to answer the question, Who's Your Favorite Fictional Journalist? If your favorites (or least favorites) are on the HBO show The Wire, then you will want to read this article.
'Shut up already about the mobile journalism nonsense,' you might be saying, but Steve Bryant alerted me to this article about "Pocket Theaters." These handheld devices perfectly suited for video storytelling, and when they get to the United States, lots and lots of writers will have new jobs writing for bitty screens:
"Portable media players are selling like hot cakes in Korea. Industry sources say over 2.3 million devices were sold last year, a 100 percent increase from 2006. Given that some 2.1 million TV sets were sold during the same period, it seems these new gadgets are not just for early adopters anymore."
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Can you spot a bad memoir from 100-yards away? If you are going to be a writer, you need to recognize your bad writing just as quickly your best writing.
With that in mind, John Coyne reflects on years of experience as editor of Peace Corps Writers and as a novelist, identifying surefire signs that a writer needs more editing:
"What I see at PeaceCorpsWriters are a lot of self-published books that have very limited value and aren't well written. For example, some RPCVs think that they can collect all those letters home, slap them together, add a few grainy black-and-white-photos, and have a book. Rarely, are those Letters Home worth reading...you really have to be a pretty good writer to make a book like that of interest to anyone beyond you and your family."
How else can you hone your critical reading abilities? By reading the best critics in the best book sections. I'm happy to report that our book blogging friend, Pinky Paperhaus, just joined the online staff at the LA Times, bringing together a great critic and a great book section.
Finally, when your writing radar is really strong, test it out on these strange, fascinating web videos with intentionally bad writing.