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MediabistroTV recently talked to Clyde Phillips, bestselling crime novelist and current showrunner for Nurse Jackie. He shares some advice for aspiring writers, and tells why novel writing is not that different from TV writing:
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Christy Weisiger believes in calling students "writers". Calling students writers gives students automatic entry into the classroom writing community. And that sometimes changes the way they will feel about writing for the rest of their lives.
By: JOANNA MARPLE,
Blog: Miss Marple's Musings
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, MFA in Creative Writing
, Writerly Musings
, contemporary fiction
, Ellen Hopkins
, expats in New York
, Kristin Elizabeth Clark
, Lesléa Newman
, LGBTQ authors
, novels in verse
, OCTOBER MOURNING
, Patricia McCormick
, YOUNG ADULT
, Add a tag
Maceration of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes – source – Wikimedia Commons
Mondays on this blog will be given over to musings on being: a writer (for children), a voracious reader, an MFA student, an expat in New York, a nature advocate, part of the LGBTQ community, a lifelong wanderer, an obsessive observer of human nature, and one who jives to the java bean and the fermentation-flirtation of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape!
While I shall most definitely be writing a post on, ‘Why One Should Read Outside One’s Genre,’ today I espouse the importance as writers of reading the themes, content, forms and genre in which we have rooted our own manuscript. You need to know how your book compares with the competition, and how it is different. Reading your genre is about staying current as an author, just as a teacher or doctor might. Agents and publishers will expect this of you, and you should certainly know on which shelf in a (Indie) bookstore a reader should be able to find your book!
I like to not only read in my genre, but also books that have focused on some of the big themes and subject matter in my story; maybe betrayal, or teenage pregnancy, maybe set in other cultures, or in slang…. You might read to be inspired by form and style. Maybe you are seeking to write in a more literary style, then you could perhaps read Laurie Halse Anderson’s WINTER GIRLS. Since meeting and reading most of the works of author, Ellen Hopkins, I have been fascinated by the form of novels written in verse, and have been reading broadly in this form. I am thrilled that we have on the faculty of the Stony Brook MFA program, Patty McCormick, whose novel in verse, SOLD, has so much of what I want to explore in my own writing.
In which genre are you writing? And/or what theme(s) are you exploring, and what recommendation do you, therefore, have for us? Let me kick off, and let me say that while my novel is at present in prose, I am drawn to a more poetic vehicle for the story.
Genre: Contemporary YA fiction (edgy) Form: narrative prose Themes: Estrangement, abusive parental relationships and/or LGBTQ characters and bullying
SMOKE by NYT best selling author, Ellen Hopkins and published by Simon and Schuster. I was lucky to read an ARC of this novel in verse, which is released tomorrow, September, 10th 2013. I loved BURN and was not disappointed with this sequel. SMOKE addresses big themes – courage and survival, abuse, hypocrisy and silence in religious communities (LDS), gay bullying, neglect, love… the writing is quick and sparse and visually meaningful. All the characters are 3+ dimensional. If you have never read a novel in verse, I highly recommend any of Hopkin’s novels. SMOKE is also included in this recent list of Top Ten YA Releases in Sept 2013.
Okay, I have not yet read FREAKBOY, a YA novel in verse by Kristin Elizabeth Clark, which is going to be published on October 22nd, 2013, by Farrar, Strauss and Geroux, but I have discussed the book with the author and am a huge fan of her writing and very happy to see a book embracing these themes. I am convinced this will be a book with significant ripples in the YA book community. Just this week it received a starred review -“*”This gutsy, tripartite poem explores a wider variety of identities—cis-, trans-, genderqueer—than a simple transgender storyline, making it stand out.“ — Kirkus Review, starred review.
You can buy it now, here.
OCTOBER MOURNING by Lesléa Newman, published by Candlewick, September 25th, 2012. “A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.”
On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming gay bar by two young men pretending to be gay. Matthew was savagely beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die. October Mourning, is the author’s deep personal response to the events of that tragic day. It is a novel in verse, but quite different from the previous two as Newman creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to and the girlfriends of the murderers. This is a heartbreaking series of sixty-eight poems in several different poetic forms offering the reader an enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.
Your turn! Please add your recommendations in the comments below.
I think the thing that makes a writer is Habit. Yes, that’s habit with a capital H. (I go back and forth between whether it’s habit that makes a writer or belief that… Read More
It is the writer who might catch the imagination of young people, and plant a seed that will flower and come to fruition.
- Isaac Asimov I began a writer’s group last year at… Read More
Teaching writing is a lot like gardening. It requires constant attention.
By: Donna J. Shepherd
Blog: Topsy Turvy Land - Donna J. Shepherd
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, nicole weaver
, Jack Foster
, donna j. shepherd
, penelope anne cole
, Donna Shepherd
, blog hop
, Picture Book
, diana jenkins
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<!--[if gte mso 9]>
My friend, Diana Jenkins, invited me to participate in a
“blog hop interview.” Diana sent interview questions to answer on my blog. I
then tag writers who will answer questions on their blogs.
Diana posted her interview on her blog at DJ's Thoughts. If you get a minute, drop by to get to know Diana
better and leave a comment letting her know you
Spring has sprung and if your spring-cleaning has uncovered your unpublished manuscript, or the warmer weather is simply stirring up your creative side, it’s a great time to get working on your writing.
But what to do with your work once it’s written? There’s plenty of opportunities out there at the moment for aspiring writers, whether it’s making contacts and meeting fellow-minded writers at literary festivals, or going straight for the prize and entering a competition. I’ve rounded up a few interesting possibilities for the budding writers amongst you.
If short and sweet – but very high-profile - is your thing, the Age short story competition is now accepting entries. Entry is free, and comes with a cash prize to boot: first prize wins $1000; 2nd prize, $800; 3rd prize, $500. Winning stories will be published in Life & Style and at theage.com.au. Entries must be under 3000 words and should not have been previously published. Have an idea but not the completed story? You have a few weeks to get it written – the competition closes on September 28th and winners will be announced in December.
Fancy writing something a little more quirky and criminal? One of the more interesting competitions open at the moment is Australia’s Security Nightmares, a national security short story competition organised by Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC).
Entrants should submit a short story with a security scenario as the plot line or essential backdrop. An Australia context to the story is required, and the story needs to be set between today and 2020. They state that, while the story is to be fictional, “it needs to be grounded in a plausible, coherent and detailed security situation. Rather than just describing on an avalanche of frightening events, writers are encouraged to focus on the consequences and challenges posed by their scenarios, and tease out what the official and public responses would be.”
The ASRC competition also aims to raise community awareness of national security challenges and the first prize winner will be taking home $1,000 for their trouble. New and unpublished writers are encouraged to enter and entries close Sunday 30 September 2012.
If you have a full book on your hands and you want to be picked up by Penguin, their Monthly Catch could be your opportunity. For the first week of every month, the General Publishing team at Penguin Australia throw their doors open to unsolicited manuscripts. As many publishers won’t even look at a manuscript that doesn’t have a literary agent singing its praises, Penguin’s monthly open week is one of the few opportunities to get your work to a publisher with a promise that it will not be tossed straight into the recycling.
Not sure if any of the above are for you? The Australian Writer’s Marketplace prides itself on including every opportunity for aspiring writers and is an indispensable tool if you are looking to get published – although it’s about to undergo a spring-clean itself and we should be seeing the 2013 edition hitting the shelves in the next month or so.
So perhaps while you’re waiting for it to sprout up in the shops, you could get started on getting some writing done.
How do you fuel your creative kindling?
With dragons, of course! Janet Lee Carey
, author of Dragonswood
is working shop with thirsty writers this Sunday, September 15
at the Poulsbo library.
How's that to fuel my story sparks?
I've gushed over Dragonswood and Dragon's Keep before
They are among my top fantasy novels.
Janet writes compelling, wholly satisfying tales
so skillfully woven that I want to re-read them
as soon as I finish.
Northwest writers: if you're in the area, come join me
at this Field's End event
Who doesn't need such a creative boost?
After a whirlwind of crazed schoolishness,
I know I do!
Last night was writing night.
I finally sat alone with my manuscript, pen in hand,
distractions tucked away,
ready to blow through with a masterful fury.
But instead of mastery,
I just sat staring into the trees,
letting the wind rush past me
and all my pieces.
No story mastery.
But the space, the air!
It was exactly what I needed.
To get me right first.
Do you ever de-fuzz?
It's the kind of work that doesn't count on your timecard,
but still matters!
Apart from our writing, our desires,
our hankerings to be published,
our accomplishments, our parenting,
our quirks and our failings,
we are all the same.
We are all people who need Love and Shelter
and Bread and Breath.
If you are ever busy, frantic, worried, overloaded,
or just stuck in your story,
try taking it down a notch.
Find a quiet place and de-fuzz.
Do something that doesn't "count" on your timecard.
Twirl. Stomp. Laugh.
Take off your socks and shoes. Wiggle your toes.
Paint with water.
Stretch out on the grass.
Watch clouds. Watch stars. Watch people.
Start a sketch notebook, a Favorite Words List, a Myths List,
a Sayings List, a Thankfulness List.
Play with dragons!
A few fiery tales:
The Deliverers of Their Country - E. Nesbit, Lisbeth Zwerger
The Knight and the Dragon - Tomie dePaola
The Reluctant Dragon - Kenneth Grahame, Inga Moore
Saint George and the Dragon - Margaret Hodges, Trina Schart Hyman
My Father's Dragon - Ruth Stiles Gannet
Talking To Dragons - Patricia Wrede (ill. Trina Schart Hyman)
Dealing With Dragons - Patricia Wrede (ill. Trina Schart Hyman)
Enter Writer Advice’s New Contest: SCINTILLATING STARTS. Grab and hold us with your opening paragraphs.
Deadline: October 15, 2012.
Details at www.writeradvice.com
If your opening is shared on Writer Advice, you’ll be able to tell prospective agents, publishers, and book buyers that you were one of the winners of Writer Advice’s First Scintillating Starts Contest.
B. Lyn Goodwin, Writer, Advice Managing Editor
Author of You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers
By: Robin Brande
Blog: Robin Brande
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, adventure writers
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, contemporary romance
, contemporary womens fiction
, love and romance
, love story
, Outdoor Adventure
, second chances
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, women writers
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PARALLELOGRAM 3: SEIZE THE PARALLEL is coming soon, but while you’re waiting you can enter to win a new adult…
What crazy things do people say when they learn you are a writer?
- Oh, I have a story that you could write. Sit down and I’ll tell you about it.
- Oh, are they real books or just books for kids?
- Um, that’s nice. Is the spelling hard?
- I wrote a poem, and I think it would make a good picture book, but I can’t find a good illustrator.
- I don’t like to read.
- To the writer of a picture book: The art really makes this story come alive.
- I only go to the bookstore for the coffee.
- Why don’t you write something like Harry Potter? (Um, yeah. Start at the top of my profession, why don’t I?)
- Are you rich?
- How much did you have to pay to get the books printed?
Going CRAZY about all the CRAZY things said to writers.
I added the quote for a hint and replaced the name with "he" Guess who this is in the comments.
By: Jenny Martin,
…the one thing you’re good at.
…the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
…just a career.
…the one thing that keeps you going.
…the daily grind.
…the next stolen moment.
…a windowless room papered with rejections.
…an endless horizon, no points of reference in sight.
…an easy escape.
…the hardest taskmaster.
…a high school party–the kegger with cool kids–where you don’t belong.
…a circle you pull others into, your arms outstretched.
…the safest place.
…an affectation, pretentious rambling.
…bare-boned truth, exposed and sharp.
…nothing to speak of.
…everything all the time.
…the secret you never tell.
…80,000 pieces of you, strung out and shouting, 250 declarations per page.
This week’s marketing tip is more of a warning. If you're on the internet, especially if you do article marketing
to generate visibility, you will become . . visible. While this is a good thing, it may also bring you to the attention of some who are looking to make money off of you.
I’ve come across two professional groups, specifically for women, that play on your ego to get you to buy a membership into their organization.
The most recent is the International Women’s Leadership Association. They sent me an email stating that I was honored among women in education. This is part of the email:“On behalf of The International Women’s Leadership Association (TheIWLA), it is my distinct pleasure to notify you that, in consideration of your contribution to family, career, and community, you have been selected as a woman of outstanding leadership in Education.”
At the end it noted to register, and since I wasn't sure what it was about I registered. There was absolutely no mention of a fee.
A couple of days later, I got a call from my ‘personal liaison’ to the group. She fluffed my ego, but having experience with another group with this marketing technique, I very nicely explained that I was hit by Hurricane Sandy and am still rebuilding.
This didn’t faze her – she continued her promo. I again nicely interrupted her and explained that if there was a membership fee involved I wasn’t at all interested.
She continued, saying that’s okay, at the end of her information I could choose what I wanted to do. And, again she continued.
So, again I interrupted and explained that I was still rebuilding from Sandy and wasn’t in a position to spend money. Again she went on.
Finally, still being polite, I said the conversation was a waste of both our time and that there was no point to it.
She finally got that I wasn’t buying and asked if she could contact me at a future date.
It was a hard sell call and she just didn’t want to take no for an answer.
Anyway, the point is to be aware of who’s contacting you and for what purpose. While it’s ego boosting to have an organization tell you you’re great and worthy of being a member, take a step back and question their motive, especially if they contact you cold..
While some organizations, if you can afford it, are worthwhile for the connections and networking, some aren’t.
And, if you get a ‘hard sell’ call, ask yourself why they’re so pushy.
: Article Marketing - Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Optimized Content
If you’re taking the time to use article marketing, whether posting to your blog, guest blogging, or submitting to article directories, you need to create quality, optimized, and shareable content that is properly formatted and delivers on what the title promises. Article Marketing to Increase Your Website Traffic will help you do just that.
Find out more HERE
~~~~~MORE ON ONLINE MARKETINGCreate a Video Vision Board to Keep You on Top of Your Freelance Writing GoalsDon’t be Taken to the Website Design Cleaners30 Ways to Build the “Know, Like, and Trust” Factor that Grows an Audience7 Elements of an Effective Landing Page Designed to Increase Your Mailing List
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Hands down, the Internet beats the old days when writers had to go to the library to research a topic. Now anyone can retrieve information with a few computer clicks. I frequently use Google in my searches and have discovered the following ways to improve results:
- Use the asterisk (*) as a wild card with the words you’re searching. For example, if you wanted to search for me on the Web but couldn’t remember my last name but knew I was a children’s author, you could type Ronica * children’s author and related sites would pop up, providing my last name.
- Use the minus sign before words you want to exclude from the search. Using a similar example, if you searched solely on my first name, Ronica, and a bunch of “Ronica Smith” sites showed up, you could eliminate Ronica Smith from your search by typing Ronica -Smith.
- Put quotation marks around a word or two (such as “Ronica Stromberg”) to pull up sites only with the word (or words) as quoted.
- To find the word you’re searching for on a Web site that came up, hit Control-F (Command-F on a Mac) and enter the word you’re searching for again. This will highlight the word you’re searching for. I’ve found this useful when a Web site has page after page of text but no clear indication where the word or phrase I’m searching for may be.
- To restrict search results to a specific URL, add site: in front of the URL. For example, dognapper site:nytimes.com would pull articles printed about dognappers at The New York Times domain.
- To find sites similar to one you’re using, type related: before the URL of the site (as in related:nytimes.com).
- Use two periods between numeric ranges to find information about a range. For example, if you wanted to find information about gasoline prices between 1970 and 1980, you could type gasoline prices 1970 . . 1980. Writers of historical novels may find this particularly useful for research.
- To use Google as a dictionary and look up the definition of a word, type define: immediately followed by the word.
- To find the current weather in a town (in case you are about to set off on a book talk or other trip), type weather in followed by the town’s name.
- To convert currency or measurements, use search formats such as 50 pesos in US dollars or 100 kilometers in miles.
- To find the title of a song that lyrics come from, type some of the more distinct lyrics followed by :lyric. For example, when I type want to be a paperback writer:lyric, several sites appear, letting me know this line of lyrics comes from the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” song.
- To get alerted about breaking news on a topic, go to http://www.google.com/alerts and enter the topic and your e-mail address. Google will then e-mail you the next time news on the topic appears on the Internet. I know a lot of authors type their name or key words from their works into this site to track online publicity and, also, to check whether their writing is being plagiarized.
Instead of doing a general search of the whole Internet, I may have only a specific area I want to search. The following are my favorites.
finance http://www.google.com/finance This search of the latest financial news may be of particular interest to business and financial writers.
images http://images.google.com This site can be misleading. When I searched on “F. Scott Fitzgerald,” the name of one of my favorite authors, photos of him–and a bunch of other people–cropped up. Had I not already known what F. Scott Fitzgerald looked like, the site wouldn’t have helped much.
I traveled down to Boston for the AWP Conference, the first time I'd been to AWP in 5 years. It's always a busy, frenetic, overwhelming, and generally wonderful experience, made all the more wonderful this time by the presence of quite a few friends I only occasionally get to see in person these days. On Thursday, I moderated a discussion between Samuel R. Delany and Kit Reed that was one of the featured events of the conference, and on Friday and Saturday I worked the morning shift at the Rain Taxi Review of Books table, something I enjoyed very much because it meant I got to stand in one spot and talk to lots of people instead of having to move all around to talk to lots of people (which is what I spent most of the rest of the conference doing). It was a great delight to catch up with folks like Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan of Omnidawn, Dustin Kurz of Melville House, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link of Small Beer Press, Hannah Tinti of One Story, Lawrence Schimel of Midsummer Night's Press, Parker Smathers and Stephanie Elliott of Wesleyan University Press, various folks from Unstuck, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting (sorry! you are so closely woven into my life that I take you for granted!). (Also, everyone who worked the Coffee House Press booth, because each time I walked by, I couldn't help saying, "I love your books!") I had a great conversation with someone at the Copper Canyon Press table about how they handle poetry lineation in ebooks by offering a sample line from which to calibrate, kind of like color bars on a tv. This allows the reader the flexibility to read the lines as the writer intended them, or to not. It also gave me a great excuse to buy an ebook (Laura Kasischke's Space, In Chains).
I went to panels and discussions and readings. Highlights were the joint reading/discussion by Dana Spiotta and Don DeLillo, moderated by Nan Graham, publisher and senior VP of Scribner. It was a highlight mostly because I haven't yet read anything by Spiotta, so it was a nice introduction to her, and because I've often wondered what DeLillo is like in person. He seemed pleasant enough, not particularly uncomfortable on stage, and in discussion his comments were often accompanied by a marvelously dry wit. I'm not a DeLillo fanboy — I like Underworld very much, but haven't ever warmed to the other books of his that I've read or sampled, and I positively hated White Noise. But hey, it's Don DeLillo. And it was an especially DeLilloesque moment because there were lots of warnings about taking pictures, making recordings, etc. We must abjure the age of digito-mechanical reproduction. (It was okay, they said, to use Twitter, though!) Meanwhile, because the event was in a giant auditorium, there was a massive screen up above that broadcast faces to us all. It was difficult not to look at the screen rather than the actual people.
Another great event in the same giant auditorium (indeed, immediately following the Spiotta/DeLillo event) was supposed to be a reading/discussion between Jeanette Winterson and Alison Bechdel, but Bechdel was trapped by snowfall in Cleveland, so it was Winterson alone. And if anybody can hold the attention of a giant auditorium full of writers, it's Jeanette Winterson. But still, I thought the pairing of Winterson and Bechdel was genius, and I desperately looked forward to seeing their interaction. Nonetheless, Winterson was awesome (for a somewhat similar version of the performance she gave us, see this video of her at the Sydney Opera House). I'm not quite in agreement with her Modernist self-help shtick, but I could watch her for hours, because she's a marvelous performer and a great reader of her own work. And I'm looking forward to reading Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal very much, because I'm a total sucker for her writing — reading Art & Lies at 20 was a revelatory experience, and I went on to devour just about everything else she wrote.
But the best event I saw at AWP may have been the discussion of the VIDA Count with various writers and editors. In fact, I have so many thoughts about it that I'm going to make it a separate post. [Which is now available here.]
Of course, I bought some books. Quite a few poetry books, in fact, because I've had a lack of poetry in life over the last few years, and it's a genre I love.
It was especially fun to see my friend and colleague Ivy Page sell out of her hot-off-the-press first poetry collection, Any Other Branch
. And Lesley Wheeler very kindly gave me a copy of her new book from Aqueduct, The Receptionist and Other Tales
, because Lawrence Schimel said nice things about me (haha! I fooled him!).
Overall, and as always, the greatest joy of AWP was getting time with great people. Eric Lorberer, Rudi Dornemann, Meghan McCarron, Jen Volant, Richard Larson, Nick Mamatas, and so many others (Laird Hunt
! Who I don't think I'd seen since my first AWP back in 2006!). I came home exhausted and with a cold, but it was completely worth it.
|Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013|
It's going to take me a while to have anything coherent to say about Chinua Achebe
now that he has died. Not just because he was a great writer — and he was a great writer, as Aaron Bady says, "full stop"
. But because, right now at least, I can't think of a more deeply influential writer in our era. Not just for Things Fall Apart
, though that book certainly did a lot. But for so much else — his work as an editor for the African Writers Series
, his essays on Conrad, his championing of Amos Tutuola after Tutuola's work had gone out of fashion, etc. etc. (If you ever needed evidence of the irrelevance of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fact that Achebe never won it is Exhibit A.)The best writing I've seen so far on Achebe in the wake of his death comes from Keguro Macharia.
You should read the whole, beautiful essay, but here is a taste:
His departure now – euphemism must be used, if only once – feels much like an encounter with his work: it was unexpected because it had been possible to believe that he was beyond mortality. Achebe simply was. He existed in the world and the world existed because he did. I could afford to take his existence for granted, could afford not to teach or discuss or write about his work, because he simply was. His being in the world made certain things unnecessary. Because he was. Certain figures inspire a kind of faith that they have transcended death, and their deaths hit all the harder – most recently for me, Adrienne Rich who, like Achebe, simply was. When they die – euphemisms can no longer work – we continue to call their names, hoping that they will return to us, that their ghosts will continue to energize the labor they started and sustained and that we now feel unable to continue. So it is that we continue to call for Audre Lorde. Believing, as we must, that she can still provide the right words, the necessary words, the transforming words.
Simon Gikandi has written that Chinua Achebe “invented” African literature. This is not a claim about who wrote first – other Africans wrote before Achebe. Nor is it a claim about the volume of his work – others have written more. It is a claim, I think, about Achebe as an institution builder, as one who made possible a certain kind of imagination and, in his role as editor with the African Writers Series, made possible many other imaginations for African literature. Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given to a writer is this: that a particular book has been written. A particular imagination explored. A room populated. And multiple other rooms made possible.
Few contemporary Africans, if any, feel the need to write another Things Fall Apart. Indeed, by the mid-1960s, Things Fall Apart could not be written again. Achebe’s work had given African writers the permission to pursue their geo-histories, to take multiple paths, to pursue the mystical and the routine, the profane urban and the perverse rural, the unending past and the foreclosed future. Things Fall Apart had been written, and African writing pursued its multiple afters, with Achebe as inspiration, as guide, and as champion.
Do you remember when you thought you might be able to fly,
if you just jumped high enough?
Do you remember when anything was possible?
On Monday, I helped at a young writer's conference.
I was surrounded with small writers
belly-full pleased with their writing,
oblivious to that dreaded taskmaster Revision,
unconcerned about snagging a publishing deal,
purely finding joy in their words.
All that youthful buoyancy
made me want to climb out of my writing slump
and grow some wings!
How do we as writers return
to that weightless pleasure in our words
the wisdom earned
from critiques and rejection slips,
writing groups and how-to books...
How do we find both our feet AND our wings?
As soon as we returned from our very long day,
the girls embarked on a writing project:
to send letters
to 100 authors and illustrators
of some of their favorite books.
Think we can do it?
If you're an author or illustrator friend and a crooked little envelope comes to you,
would you be kind and write back?
We have two hopeful writers, who think anything is possible.
In Need of Some Snail Mail?
Leave us a comment, and we'll put you on our snail letter list - whether you're published or not.
A Letter to Amy - Ezra Jack Keats
The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, ill. by David Small
Toot and Puddle - Holly Hobbie
Click, Clack, Moo! Cows That Type - by Doreen Cronin, ill. by Betsy Lewin
Mailing May, by Michael O. Tunnell, ill. by Ted Rand
|Most images grabbed off the internet are terrible.|
A few days ago, I wrote a draft of this post that was a snarky attack on a badly thought-out essay by J. Robert Lennon at Salon
. It would be nice if sites like Salon would expend more of their energies in bringing attention to some good writing that doesn't get noticed rather than running yet another quick-and-dirty "contrarian" takedown.
After writing the snarky draft, I realized my problem wasn't with Lennon or the essay per se. My problem was more with the people who seemed so desperately to want to like his essay.
Lennon sets himself up against some comments by Dan Chaon
that have been bouncing around the internet for a while (for some unfathomable reason, that website doesn't clearly date its material). These comments by Chaon are intelligent and accurate. He says writers need to read widely and eclectically, and he even suggests some good things to read. Specific, helpful advice.
Lennon decides to contradict Chaon's advice. And that's where he goes off the rails, making vague accusations that something called "literary fiction" is "terrible" and "boring".
Here was my original first paragraph:
J. Robert Lennon proves himself to be the latest person who needs to have Sturgeon's Law tattooed on his arm so he can be reminded of it every day. Yes, Mr. Lennon, most contemporary literary fiction is terrible. Most everything is terrible.
Lennon provides little evidence and little analysis, just yammering for the knee-jerks in the peanut gallery. (For a vastly better discussion of "literary fiction", with evidence and analysis and all that jazz, listen to this podcast with Nick Mamatas
. The set-up of "literary vs. genre fiction" is inane, but Nick actually knows what he's talking about, has read widely, is not a "SCI FI RULZ!" kind of guy, and in any case is mostly discussing one of the strongholds of adorable My Literature Is The One Ring cosplay, the AWP Conference.)
After writing on and on about Lennon's vapid essay, I realized I didn't care about what he had written, nor did I care if he'd made an idiot of himself in public. Go for it. We all do it now and then. God invented the internet so we'd all have an easier way to parade our stupidies for the world to see.
What really annoyed me, I realized, was seeing Lennon's piece linked to approvingly by people on Twitter and Facebook, those machines of social infestation. Clearly, it wasn't Lennon's argument that was appealing to people, because his argument is about as strong as homeopathic water. What appealed to people was, it seems, the impulse to clan identification that Michael Chabon described so well in his 2004 Locus interview
It's quite obvious to me that so much of what goes on in the world of science fiction has analogies with a ghetto mentality, with a sense of clannishness and that ambivalence that you have: on the one hand wanting to keep outsiders out and identify all the insiders with a special language and jargon so you can tell at a glance who does and doesn't belong, and on the other hand hating that sense of confinement, wanting to move beyond the walls of the ghetto and find wider acceptance. It's a deep ambivalence. You want both at the same time: you feel confined, and you feel supported and protected.
People who spread around the most bombastic and attention-seeking sentence from Lennon's essay — "Let’s face it: Literary fiction is fucking boring." — likely did so for reasons of clannishness and ressentiment.
In Lennon's construction of the sentence, there's the audience-flattering opening: Let's face it
. Like the guy at the bar who says, "Let's face it, we all know the Yankees suck." (The difference here is that "the Yankees" is an identifiable thing.) Anyone passing this sentence around is excluded from its claims. Are you a self-published writer who identifies with genre fiction of some sort or another? Lennon's sentence, then, was built to make you feel good about yourself. Are you somebody who's been rejected by all the major university-sponsored lit mags? You are loving that sentence, because you know your own writing is just too interesting for the tweed-spattered boringheads who edit those publications. Anybody who nurses a grudge about their writing career, anybody who doesn't feel appreciated, anybody who thinks the institutional They is enforcing boredom so as to keep the individual, interesting You outside the gates raises a fist in solidarity with that sentence. Every unpublished, highly-rejected, destitute writer can love that sentence in just the same way that Stephen King can love that sentence. No matter what, it's not about you. You are not boring.
Except you probably are. To somebody, at least. Maybe to J. Robert Lennon. (Full confession: I thought Lennon's Castle
was sometimes boring. Not as boring as lots of other books, but sometimes, yes, boring. To me.)
The problem is not that most x
is boring. It is. Stories, books, poems, movies, food, appliances, bunny rabbits, sex, drugs, rocknroll. Fill in the x
and the equation will always be true for somebody. (A person once even said to me, "Cocaine is boring." I have no experience with the drug myself, but while I'm sure many things could be said about cocaine, this statement surprised me.)
The problem is that saying, "Most x
is boring" or "Most x
is terrible" lets you off the hook. It's easy. It makes knees jerk and fists rise in the air. It creates a hierarchy in which you stand in the superior position. How's it feel up there at your exalted heights?
While saying, "X
bores me," is an incontrovertible statement of personal experience and taste, making a universal ontological statement ("X is
boring") is indefensible. You can say, "William Gaddis novels and Andrei Tarkovsky movies bore me," but once you say, "Gaddis novels and Tarkovsky movies are
boring," you have entered dangerous territory in which you have set yourself up as superior not only to Gaddis and Tarkovsky, but to anyone interested in their work. You are saying, "If you enjoyed and appreciated x-that-bored-me
, you are wrong."
Are you really that much of an egomaniac that your
lack of engagement with something must become universal?
What Sturgeon's Law really gets at is not that most everything is terrible, but that most of us experience most everything as terrible. A person who likes everything is a person who likes nothing (and other banal and obvious statements). Our experiences in life condition us to appreciate some things and not appreciate others. Somebody who finds everything interesting is somebody who probably has trouble getting out of bed in the morning because the potential for absolute awesomeness is too overwhelming.
Even that, though, is not really what most bothered me about Lennon's essay and people's support for it. We all say stuff is boring all the time, it's a rhetorical claim rather than a statement of fact, whatever dude.
What really, truly, deeply bothered me is that Lennon's claims are so broadly dismissive when in reality there's all sorts of varied work being published that could be tagged "literary fiction".
If Lennon had said, "Most of the anthologies used in Introduction to Literature classes for undergraduates are created with a pretty conventional and quite narrow definition of 'literature'," he'd be on solid ground. If he said, "In my experience, lots of writing workshops define what is 'acceptable' for students to write in narrow, conventional ways," he'd also be on perfectly solid ground, just as he's on relatively solid ground in implying that the Best American Short Stories
volumes are ruled by quite conventional and conservative standards, ones enforced by the publisher and series editor even, it seems, occasionally against the will of individual guest editors (the brand must be protected).
Anyone who uses the term "literary fiction" as anything other than an admittedly unsatisfactory placeholder for an undefinable something-or-other ought to feel some obligation to get specific. Do you mean Tin House
and Ninth Letter
and Denver Quarterly
? Do you mean books from Dalkey Archive
and Coffee House
and Melville House
and Open Letter
and...? Do you mean Pulitzer winners
or Sukenick Award winners
or Booker winners
or PEN Faulkner winners
or Nobel winners
or Whiting Award winners
What are you talking about when you talk about "literary fiction"?
Are you sure that your view of fiction isn't narrow, provincial, and more based on your own limited assumptions rather than any actual evidence? Are you primarily annoyed that you didn't get a good review in the New York Times
and nobody has nominated you for a major award and your books are taught in college classes and you got dropped by your publisher and Dan Brown sells more books than you? Are you still angry about your 9th grade English teacher making you read The Scarlet Letter
Instead of blathering on about how terrible literary fiction is, instead of sharing links to vapid essays about the evil conspiracy of boredom committed against you, instead of ra-ra-ing for your clan and salving the wounds of your ego with the balm of drivel — why don't you try 1.) reading more broadly, and 2.) pointing to interesting work that isn't getting noticed?
Most literary fiction is terrible.
Most fiction is terrible. Most nonfiction is terrible. Most blog posts are terrible.
Most everything is terrible.
Big deal. Get over it. Go read something that interests you, and if nothing interests you, then the problem is not with other people and other writers, but with you.
ReadWave has just announced the launch of a new reading widget, that aims to revolutionize the way that stories are shared and authors promote themselves online. The widget allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form.
An example of the ReadWave Widget can be found at
The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to “follow” the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. The widget is designed specifically to help writers build up a fanbase and grow their readership online. The widget is also the first to be directly integrated with Facebook, so that content is automatically shared via social media.
Raoul Tawadey, CEO of ReadWave commented, “The ReadWave widget doesn’t simply provide the technology for embedding stories online, it also provides a legal framework for re-posting other people’s content within the bounds of copyright law. Every day, millions of indie writers post up their creative writing for free on their personal websites with the aim of attracting as many readers as possible. Currently other website owners can’t repost those stories due to copyright law. Our widget eliminates this copyright problem, and enables anyone to post your story anywhere without limits, and it does so in a way that ensures the original writer is reaping the rewards.”
Existing widgets use a predefined page size, so when the widget is made smaller the text is made smaller. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget where the width and height are fully customizable and the text automatically adjusts itself to fit the space available.
“The ReadWave widget is great news for website owners,” says ReadWave’s Chief Technology Officer, Simon Van Blerk. “Rather than linking to someone else’s website, the ReadWave widget allows you to keep traffic on your own website. This means website owners can retain visitors and keep them engaged for longer.”
ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop. Writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers who are just right for them.
Pat Thomas & Harold Underdown
Pat is the author of many wonderful picture books like Firefly Mountain, There are Rocks in My
Socks, Said the Ox to the Fox, Red Sled and Stand Back, Said the Elephant. I must have read Stand Back, Said the Elephant 100 times when I taught first grade. I loved it, and so did my students!
She is also an instructor with ICL.
By: Jean Matthew Hall,
Blog: Jean's Encouraging Words For Writers
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"How can we help non-Christians understand that being a Christian doesn't mean living up to a standard of goodness, but rather means trusting a good God to do for us what we can't do for ourselves?
As writers we have a unique opportunity to tell the world what it's all about. In our stories and in our characters, we can show what it really means to be a follower of Christ, and that means
I’ve been thinking about student engagement in writing workshop for the past couple of weeks. I started thinking about it as I was reading Guy-Write, Ralph Fletcher’s new book. My thoughts about engagement… Read More
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I have news.
Good news for readers who live anywhere around or near Western North Carolina.
On Saturday, September 8, 2012, I and other Write2Ignite! Team members will be leading our second A Day Apart event in Spindale, NC.
And it's only $45 for the full day of write, review, critique, brainstorm, rewrite and lunch, too!
Details are here. I hope some of you will plan to join us.