"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There is blue mixed in with the clouds this morning and no rain although the pavements are wet from all the rain that came down last night. Yesterday I began a new writer’s notebook and so far this is my big thrill for the week. In fact, I love my writer’s notebook so much that I’ve written columns about it, one reprinted in The Writer magazine. In it I’m copping phrases I see in print or hear on the radio, along with words I scavenge for my word list. (In the last 24 hours I’ve added bloviate, beckon, omigod, boom shackalacka, geezer, chipper, docile, blitzed.) I grabbed those last four words from Garrison Keillor’s weekly column in salon.com Remember When it was Fun to Fly? I’ve also copied a line from an interview with Arthur Plotnik: “I read novels to be stimulated by truth of the heart and hypnotic language.”

If you read this blog with any regularity you know I rail against the lack of investigative journalism, in-depth news coverage, and focus on real issues, as opposed to lapel pins, bombastic preachers, Brittany and Paris H. Weighing in on the topic this week is Elizabeth Edwards in her New York Times opinion piece in the April 27th New York Times.

It’s titled Bowling 1, Health Care 0. It begins: “FOR the last month, news media attention was focused on Pennsylvania and its Democratic primary. Given the gargantuan effort, what did we learn?

Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates’ priorities, policies and principles — information that voters will need to choose the next president — too often did not make the cut. After having spent more than a year on the campaign trail with my husband, John Edwards, I’m not surprised.”

FOR the last month, news media attention was focused on Pennsylvania and its Democratic primary. Given the gargantuan effort, what did we learn?

Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates’ priorities, policies and principles — information that voters will need to choose the next president — too often did not make the cut. After having spent more than a year on the campaign trail with my husband, John Edwards, I’m not surprised.

To read the complete piece go to : http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/opinion/27edwards.html

I also found a short review at mediabistro that might interest you about Secret Lives of Great Authors: What Your Teachers Never Told You About Famous Novelists, Poets, and Playwrights by Robert Schnakenberg: “Famous writers, to paraphrase Fitzgerald, are different from you and me. Well, they're certainly kinkier. Kafka attended a nudist spa; Joyce got turned on by soiled ladies' underwear; Yeats had monkey glands implanted in his scrotum to recharge his virility. And don't get me started on that dope fiend Louisa May Alcott. Fortunately, Robert Schnakenberg’s fun and unpretentious grab bag traffics as much in quirk as in dirt. Hans Christian Andersen, we learn, was Charles Dickens' houseguest from hell. Virginia Woolf, while still a girl, was slapped by Auguste Rodin for peeking at one of his busts. And Ayn Rand’s favorite TV show? "Charlie's Angels." -- Louis Bayard

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I’m staring at the sky and asking myself its color—not blue, not white, not gray, but a pale mix of all three. NPR is on in the background with more hashing over of the Jeremiah Wright brouhaha. This seems like an Oedipal struggle, doesn’t it?

Last night I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR when Alan Cheuese, novelist, professor, and a regular book reviewer for NPR described five new volumes of poetry in honor of National Poetry Month. The story can be found at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89993088

A year or so ago I wrote several columns on writers creating a word list. I was out walking with a friend of mine and confessed I needed an idea for a column and she suggested that I write about a word list. A friend of hers, Lise Goett, a poet, had sent her several words lists she uses in her work. (Lise’s poem Conversion can be found at http://www.poets.org)

So I also started a word list and I try to add to it regularly. It’s simply a Word document where I capture words, placing them under appropriate letters of the alphabet. When I was editing my book Between the Lines, I noticed that I used dazzle, simmer, and whisper too often. Since I try to respect “word territory” that is, try not to repeat words too often or place the same word too close to its twin, this has become a fun practice of scavenging words from what I read and hear. I especially like to find words that are fresh and muscular. But lately, I haven’t kept up on this habit, so am rededicating myself to the task. And in the past few months I’ve talked to several of my clients and students about using a more energetic vocabulary since their writing was flat because their words choices seemed uninspired.

The newest words for my list are: Bulletproof, buzz kill, benediction, partisan, purposeful, squander, impasse, saddle up, moxie, befuddled, pratfall, mine field, heretical, unfrock, furor, deride, outlaw, moonstruck, unhinged, infamous, man love, improbable, tactics, obliterate, fray, soured, unvarnished, mewling, lovesick, slush, predicate, do-over, de facto, chortling, dissect, gasbag, scofflaw, minstrel, disavow, handmaiden, chivalrous, demented, ouster, rapturous, flagging, fuhgetaboutit, hapless, discreet, moiled, obliterate, bitey, fug, spunky, amiable, brawling, Bible-thumping…..

Try it, it’s fun.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

“A short story is like a genie in a bottle. Once the cork is pulled, out gushes a force that may grant you wishes or hound you with malicious intent.” Shelley Lowenkopf

Dawn clouds are deep gray and thick. I’m heading to Vancouver B.C. in a few hours to teach writing workshops. Before I leave I wanted to comment briefly on short stories since I’m editing one for a client. Like many writers he has wonderful concepts, but needs to dig deeper into his writer’s toolbox of techniques.

I describe short stories as fiction on a budget. Like a poet, you need to be especially selective of what you include, what you leave out, and make sure every word counts. So you don’t have much room for a big cast, lots of scenes or settings, or major themes. They typically don’t cover a long time span and most short stories feature 5-7 scenes and only a few players. Now, a short story can range in length and range up to 10,000 words, but the classic definition of short fiction is that it can be read in one sitting. Obviously some short story writers like Alice Munro write more complex and longer stories, but most fall within this perimeter. I believe readers of short fiction are looking for an intense experience which means it needs to focus on a pivotal event in the protagonist’s life.

The best advice for short stories is the old “shoot the sheriff on the first page” adage. Short stories, like a novel, needs an inciting incident to kick the drama into gear, but this event must be explosive.

Once the story conflict is introduced you need a complication to keep the reader engaged. At least one character, usually the protagonist, needs to be suffering in the story, while all characters must want something.

Most short stories require at least one flashback or some means to deliver back story.

Strive for a single, powerful effect on the reader.

Avoid excess; every detail should have relevance to the plot.

As in longer fiction, your characters struggle to keep afloat amid troubles or dilemmas.

Short fiction requires exceptionally meaningful and taut dialogue, preferably dialogue embroidered with tension or conflict or based on a power exchange.

It requires enough details so that the story has context, the reader can imagine a specific place. But also the setting can either add tension or make things happen in the story.

Short stories require a crisis or turning point where the protagonist’s world changes.

The ending must deliver meaning and should be the best sentences you can write. Now, the ending can be open, or not quite resolved, or closed, which means there is resolution, but it always has impact. Often a short story ending circles back and mirrors the opening—the trick is that the protagonist has somehow been changed by the story events.

Sometimes when working on a short story you reach the conclusion that it wants to be a novel. You often reach this conclusion because a reader has given you feedback that he or she would like to read more; if you need lots of characters to tell the tale; if you want to keep developing it; if your time frame is fairly long, if you need lots of settings; if you cannot develop your themes adequately within the confines of a few scenes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I regard storytelling as one of our great medicines, one of our healing powers.” Scott Russell Sanders

More gray skies but the rains have stopped for now. While there have been many novels and fiction writers that have changed the way I see the world, it seems that it’s been mostly nonfiction writers, and especially journalists who have influenced the way I write. This list includes Timothy Eagan, Truman Capote, Ernie Pyle, Molly Ivans, Scott Russell Sanders and my college journalism teacher, Paul G. Hayes. Hayes taught at the University of Wiscosnin where I attended. After changing my major from pre-law and psychology I studied both journalism and English.

I’d been in a journalism class in high school and was published at 15 because I wrote and edited two columns for local newspapers. So journalism has always been the basis for what I learned and teach about writing, especially my classes with Hayes. He won a Pulitzer when he was at the Washington Post and also won a Pulitzer while working at the Milwaukee Journal as part of team writing about water pollution. He was one of the first science journalists in the country writing about the environment back in the 60s and 70s and prophesized that writing about the environment was the future. And I’ve mentioned this to students over the years when we talk about style and modifiers: in Hayes’ class if you wrote a story that contained a ‘very’ or ‘quite’ it received an automatic F.

Hayes, who is now retired from the newspaper biz is a gorgeous writer. I’ve excerpted an example of his writing. It’s called Loving a Landscape and is about a section of Wisconsin called the Kettle Moraine. Back when I was a kid, before the curriculum was stunted by the demands of “No Child Left Behind” program, we actually studied geography and learned about the moraine. It’s a region in eastern Wisconsin created by the tailings of a glacier and is know for glacial lakes, odd land formations and quiet forests. Here is part of the story:

“I have fished the Kettle Moraine's small lakes in summer from a wind-sheltered canoe, in winter through a hole in the ice, appearing, I'm certain, just as lumpy and sad as all ice fishermen do when they sit upon their upturned buckets. But I tell you that gazing into a circular hole in the ice on a brisk winter day on Mauthe Lake restores the soul more than daytime television.

Some twenty-three years ago, we introduced our seven-year-old son to cross-country skis and listened to his frustrated rage on the upside of a hill and his joyful shouts on the downside. Gravity dictated that he raged more than he whooped, because it takes longer and is harder to go up than down, but the quality of the downside experience carried the day. He was either going to hate skiing or become skilled. He became the latter, and we've skied together countless miles since, sometimes over the same trail and in conditions from powder to near slush.

Once, we spread an elegant picnic with dear friends in the southern Kettle Moraine---one of whom has since died, but her affectionate smile appears still in our memories, glowing against garnet-red sumac leaves in that everlasting Kettle Moraine autumn.

I have hiked the Kettle Moraine both alone and with other friends in each of its seasons. These shady trails are the right place for long and trusting talks or long and trusting silences, whichever form of communication fits the moment.

One floody spring I canoed the Milwaukee River from Mauthe Lake to Kewaskum, and two canoes shipped in icy water on one rocky run that nearly tipped us. Not a half hour later, we slipped wordlessly past beaver houses in an ice-rimmed, black-water marsh that looked like Belgian lace.

I have poked around old stone fences, doggedly built rock by rock by whole families clearing small patches for first wheat seven score years ago. When built, these fences were high and straight; today they're tumbled and grown over with wild grape and poison ivy, but they still yield Silurian coral fossils, jagged pieces of farm iron, and shards of Weber Brewery beer bottles.

I have moseyed through pioneer cemeteries, taking note of the Irish, Yankee, and German names and reading into the lichen-covered dates of their births and deaths the patience with which these pioneer farmers of forty- and eighty-acre plots addressed their hard lives for the century that the limited fertility in these thin soils permitted the farms to survive.

I have joined weekend mushroom hunters in red pine plantations on dewy mornings to pick odd varieties and colors of fungi, some of them edible, all of them interesting, that had forced aside the woven pine-needle blanket to seize their moment of sensuous, fleshy fruition.

With county maps in hand and geology tracts within reach, I have driven from esker to kame to kettle, from drumlin to out-wash plain, trying to imagine the two-mile-thick tongues of ice, one east, centered in Lake Michigan, one west, centered in Lake Winnebago, that lapped down from the north, picking up rock on the way, the ice destined to disintegrate under a warm sun into the watery violence that sculpted the rock into this glorious glacial gift.

I think we should preserve it if we can.” The story is located at http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/wiacrev/wiacrev-idx?type=HTML&rgn=DIV1&byte=266215&q1=&q2=&q3=

I think you can see why he influenced my writing. Back when I was in his classes I tended to hand in stories that were more essays than journalistic stories, and looking back, I think he was puzzled about how to turn me into a real journalist. I redeemed myself when I wrote about the treaty rights of Native Americans that then made the front page of the alternative newspaper. I still have that story somewhere in my files, as most of us treasure our first clips.

By the way, a terrific resource of Ernie Pyle’s wartime columns is located at the Indiana University School of Journalism website at http://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/erniepyle/

There is also a wonderful interview with Scott Russell Sanders at http://www.kenyonreview.org/interviews/sanders.php where he discusses his origins as a writer and how when stuck on writing a novel, he switched to essays with relief since he could write in a voice most like his own.

And speaking of journalism, a column, A Bad Week for Journalism by Sean Gonsalves, is appearing at alternet.org. The subtitle is Why Americans should care that print journalism is going down the drain.

It includes, “Last week began with the American Society of Newspaper Editors reporting that 2,400 full-time newspaper jobs were lost in 2007 -- the largest annual drop in 30 years, bringing the total number of tanked news workers to about 15,000 over the past decade.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pale gray skies with more storms on the way. Last night I talked with my brother who grows cherries and wine grapes in the Yakima Valley of Washington and he lost his cherry crop to the recent cold snap and is now worrying about his grapes. Yesterday also heard a report that it’s too cold for bees to be out pollinating…so we need warmer weather around here.

And speaking of unpredictable weather, (a consequence of global warming) happy Earth Day to all.

At http://www.alternet.org/environment/83032/ an article by Terrence McNally is titled How Many Earth Days do we have Left? In it he interviews Lester Brown, author of Plan B. 3.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization. He says: “ It's time for Plan B -- an all-out response at wartime speed proportionate to the magnitude of threats facing civilization.

The four overriding goals of PLAN B 3.0 are to stabilize climate and population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth's damaged ecosystems. Failure to reach any one of these goals will likely mean failure to reach the others as well…”

Also at alternet is another article, Eight Reasons Our Changing World Will Turn You Into an Environmentalist, Like It or Not. Here is reason number one: . “Water

The world is quickly running out of freshwater. Thanks to global warming, pollution, population growth, and privatization, we are teetering on the edge of a global crisis, AlterNet editor Tara Lohan writes in "Our Drinkable Water Supply Is Vanishing." While many point to techno-fixes like desalination as a solution, Scott Thill debunks that myth in "Will the World's Oceans Be Our Next Drinking Tap?" Thill writes that although desalination plants are popping up all over the world, they may very well make the environmental crisis worse. It's not all bad news, though. A growing movement is helping take on part of the problem -- corporate control. In "The Bottled Water Backlash," Michael Blanding explains how the bottled water industry is on the defensive as restaurant owners and cities are canceling their bottled water contracts and advocating for tap.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

The morning sky, blanketed in clouds is mostly soot-colored today. Yesterday I was dissing self-published books because I’d like to see more quality in these products and then remembered that Jane Comerford created a beautiful book based on her research of a section of the Oregon coast. It’s called At the Foot of the Mountain: An Early History. The mountain is Neahkahnie, and this book covers the area around the Nehalem River with chapters that discuss Native American tribes, early white settlement, and shipwrecks among other topics. The narrative ends in the 1940s, when Highway 26 connected this previously isolated part of the coast to the rest of Oregon. It’s full of old photos and quotes and snippets and what sets it apart from other self-published books is that she hired a book designer and the results are gorgeous.

I received this note from Lisa Lenard-Cook that I wanted to pass along: The Mind of Your Story: Discover What Drives Your Fiction is now available for purchase at bookstores or online. Jewell Parker Rhodes calls The Mind of Your Story “an engaging, informative book…required reading for all writers.”

Here is an excerpt from her opening chapter: “Humans can't help trying to find out what we don't know. Because we're creatures of imagination, when we see something we can't explain, we begin to imagine what might have happened. This is why, when I'm staring out a window, my husband calls it "working." What I'm actually doing is imagining why something I've seen or heard might have happened, or considering what might happen next. My imagination fills in the blanks of all I don't -- can't -- know.”

In an interview in the March issue of Writer’s Digest magazine Cook said: “Memorable fiction doesn’t arrive by magic, but if you work at writing—and rewriting—you can learn to make what’s on the page match the picture in your head.”

Honors for Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance (UNM Press, 2003) include the Jim Sagel Prize for the Novel, short-listing for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and selection by NPR Performance Today’s Summer Reading Series and the Durango-La Plata Reads countywide reading program.

Lisa’s second novel Coyote Morning (UNM Press, 2004) was, like Dissonance, a Southwest Book of the Year, and was short-listed for the New Mexico Presswomen’s Zia Award. As Lisa Lenard, she is the author of a dozen trade nonfiction books, including the bestselling Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tarot, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Drawing, and Keep It Simple Guide to Dreams. She is a contributing editor to the website www.authorlink.com, and a teacher, editor, and writing mentor.

There is also an interview with Cook at www.authorlink.com and www.writersdigest.com and her blog is at http://www.amazon.com//gp/blog/A312OGRHVUVFU/ref=cm_blog_dp_artist_blog

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pearly sky again this morning. Yesterday the weather changed about every 15 minutes so it was difficult deciding what to wear when you stepped outdoors.

Whenever I meet wanna-be screenwriters who are convinced they’re going to make it big if they just keep pecking away on their laptops at Starbucks, I always worry about them. It’s simply a fact that there are too many gatekeepers in Hollywood and if you don’t have an agent or manager or live next door to Sean Penn, it’s almost impossible to get your screenplay read. It seems to me your best bet is to enter contests. Of course this advice was fed to me years ago when I interviewed Andrew Marlow who wrote Air Force One after he’d won the Nicholl prize.

But I think a better idea is to write a great novel or story (as in Brokeback Mountain) that might be picked up by the industry. In http.//www.varity.com (Wednesday, April 16) the headline reads Studios turn to books, magazines. The story begins: “Feature development execs were bracing for a deluge of feature spec scripts to flood the market after the 100-day writers strike wrapped in mid-February. But the storm, if it's brewing at all, has yet to hit, so the majors are chasing after books and magazine articles harder than they have in years.

Because the volume of pitches and specs from screenwriters has been light so far, studios, flush with new fiscal-year development budgets, have turned to books, mags as well as graphic novels for ideas, biz insiders say.

The result is that lit properties are moving fast compared to years past.”

The article then goes on to list a number of books and projects that have bought to be shaped into films. So something to think about.

Last year the chair of a writer’s conference asked me if I wanted to be on a panel about self publishing. I declined because I’m just not a huge fan of this trend. Now, I know that some books that were self-published have been picked up by a major publisher and I know that famous writers like David Morrell (no relation) advise writers to try this route if they cannot land a publishing deal. And I know how hard it is to land a publishing deal since it’s what I work at in my life. And I’m all for people writing a legacy for their family and then self-publishing it and I’m crazy about poetry chapbooks. I hear great things about some companies such as lulu.com, and POD (print on demand) is especially cost effective and authors receive a higher percentage of profits. I’m also crazy about the blogosphere which is a form of self publishing and I like watching the old order change and new forms of communication developing.

But I’ve yet to read a good self published book (although I’m sure they’re out there) and I wonder how there can be more 100 companies that create these books. I’m especially leery of companies like Publish America which, unless they’ve changed their policy, demand the right to publish the title for seven years. It seems to me that self publishing only works if you already have a platform or are willing to work your butt off to create one and are a whiz at marketing because most book stores (especially the majors like Borders and Barnes and Noble) won’t sell self published books. And now apparently amazon.com has lowered the boom with their new mandate: they will only sell self published books through BookSurge, their POD arm, although the details don’t seem to be clear. There is a story about this at www.writersweekly.com written by Angela Hoy of Booklocker and Whispers and Warnings column along with other stories scattered throughout the web. And speaking of sites helpful to writers, you might want to check out http://www.beneaththecover.com which covers many aspects of the publishing industry including self publishing. And for more news on the publicity and marketing side of the industry you might enjoy http://thebadpitch.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The sky again is pearly gray and a foot of snow is expected in the mountains. Last night a friend e-mailed photos of snow covering her yard in Seattle and the orange plastic tarp protecting her plants. As I was out walking last night I noticed the dogwoods are beginning to bloom. I had been talking on the phone with my brother who lives in Illinois about a family matter—our mother’s deteriorating health—and then politics. He told me that after he watched the so-called debate on ABC on Wednesday night he was so pissed off he’d had a hard time sleeping that night.

Then I returned home in time to watch Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. He began the show with remarks about the lack of journalistic ethics by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos in the 21st meeting of Clinton and Obama Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Moyers began, “You knew it was going to be a dismal night this Wednesday when just a few minutes into the debate, ABC interrupted the candidates for a long commercial break -- the first of many. By the time it was over, the audience had had enough.

Makes you think that if Lincoln and Douglas were around, they'd be sandwiched between a Viagra ad and Victoria's secret. In a real debate the candidates would face each other on the stage with no one but a timekeeper to enforce the clock. As it is, these 'debates' are commercially-staged press conferences about as connected to reality as an Elvis Presley sighting.

THE WASHINGTON POST's Tom Shales called the affair "shoddy" and "despicable." Greg Mitchell of EDITOR AND PUBLISHER said it was "perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years." And the historian and writer Eric Alterman said: "I don't like to speculate on people's motives. Just why ABC thinks that a presidential 'debate' should entirely ignore health care, environmental issues, science policy, our over-stretched and under-resourced military, an epidemic of people losing their homes, the bailing out of mega-banks, and our disappearing civil liberties… is a mystery to me.”

Sadly, as the fantasy-inducing commercials and journalistic narcissism built through the evening, the most damning indictment of all came from facts on the ground, otherwise known as reality. …” The full transcript of the show is at http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04182008/transcript3.html.

Then Moyers spoke with Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. She has covered the war in Iraq for Knight Ridder and now McClatchy on and off since June 2005, as well as the 34-day war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006. The interview began with news photos from Iraq where 110 Iraqis have died this week and some of Fadel’s footage from Sadr City. She has just received the Polk Award.

It was one of the most remarkable interviews I’ve ever heard. Fadel, is only 26 but has the most articulate and clear-eyed understanding of the situation I’ve heard so far. She can explain with eloquence the role of all the players such as Iran (“Iran has chips on every table. They’re betting on everyone.”) the role of Maliki and the Mahdi Army that we’ve been paying off, the history of Sunni and Shiite differences, the foreign leaders of Al Qaeda, and how the American troops are faring. The interview was interspersed Bush’s saber-rattling speech and Lieberman’s questioning of Petraeus. When asked if she thought we could invade Iran she said “The American army is tired.” And went on to discuss how the soldiers stationed there were on there third or fourth rotation and that from a practical matter there were simply no troops to send into another country. She had returned recently from being embedded with American soldiers who had taken over a civilian’s home in Sadr City. This is a slum of Baghdad where sewage runs in the streets. At this point Baghdad has been divided up into fiefdoms, many of the guarded by Blackwater troops.

There are a number of blog posts at the site and I believe Fadel is going to respond to them. You might also want to check out her blog, Baghdad Observer http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/baghdad/ and the blog of her Iraqi colleagues, Inside Iraq at http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/iraq/

The second guest on the show was Martha Nussbaum who discussed her new book Liberty of Conscience and how religion needs to be separate from politics in this country.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The sky is pearl colored and cold weather is on the way. This week has been one of distractions because I needed a bunch of medical tests and as you know, medical appointments steal time from your schedule. Weeks like this make me feel sort of queasy because not enough writing gets accomplished. And then, of course, I needed to surrender a lot of brain power worrying whether Obama was wearing an American flag lapel pin. I mean, like the pundacracy, I’ve got my priorities. Seriously, I’m hoping that the House Democrats can force Karl Rove to testify about a portion of his various crimes, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m still plugging away at reading Frank Delaney’s Ireland. If you’re interested in Irish history, it’s the book for you. However, I’m finding I want more of a storyline to pull me through the book between the author’s dips into various legends and sagas.

So a few more tidbits on books and the blogosphere. You might want to check out Tim Robbins keynote speech to the National Association of Broadcasters at Huffingtonpost on 4/16. It’s so tart and satiric it practically burns your skin. Here is a snippet of his concluding remarks:This is a nation divided and reeling from betrayal and economic hardships. And you, the broadcasters of this great nation have a tremendous power, and a tremendous potential to effect change. You have the power to turn this country away from cynicism. You have the power to turn this nation away from the hatred and the divisive dialogue that has rendered such a corrosive affect on our body politic. You can lift us up into a more enlightened age. Or you can hide behind that old adage; "I'm just a businessman, I provide what the audience wants." Well, I'm here to tell you that we don't need to look at the car crash. We don't need to live off of the pain and humiliation of the unfortunate. We don't need to celebrate our pornographic obsession with celebrity culture. We are better than that.”

Aren’t we fortunate as a species that each season brings a crop of new books? Karen Joy Fowler's follow-up to her bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club is called Wit’s End. It’s about a mystery writer, Addison Early whose tales come back to haunt her when her goddaughter moves in with her. It’s getting mixed reviews so if anyone has read it, please drop me a line.

Now I haven’t read a Walter Mosley novel in a while, but I was thinking about hearing him speak on NPR’s Talk of the Nation show. He was talking about writing and his book This Year You Write Your Novel. During that program he was so calm and wise and deep about his practice that if I wasn’t a writer, I would have begun that day. Here is a segment of his opening chapter:

"First words

Probably the highest hurdle for the novice novelist (and many seasoned veterans) is writing the first few words. That beginning is a very emotional moment for most of us.

There are all kinds of ways for people to cajole themselves into starting their book. Some get a special pen or a particular desk set at a window looking out on something beautiful. Others play a favorite piece of music, light a candle, burn incense, or set up some other ritual that makes them feel empowered and optimistic. If this is what you find you must do to write — well… okay. Rituals frighten me. I worry that if I need a special pen or desk or scent to start me out, what will happen when I lose that pen or I'm on vacation or a business trip and my window looks out on the city dump?

My only ritual for writing is that I do it every morning. I wake up and get to work. If I'm in a motel in Mobile — so be it. If I am up all night, and morning is two o'clock in the afternoon, well, that's okay too.

The only thing that matters is that you write, write, write. It doesn't have to be good writing. As a matter of fact, almost all first drafts are pretty bad. What matters is that you get down the words on the page or the screen — or into the tape recorder, if you work like that.

Your first sentence will start you out, but don't let it trip you up.

If you are the intuitive type, just sit down and start writing the novel:

Lamont had only enough cash to buy half a pint of whiskey at Bob's Liquor Emporium, but he knew it wouldn't be enough. Ragman was dead, and that was at least a quart's worth of mourning.

What does it mean? How should I know? Those were the first words that came out. I'm not going to worry about it; I'm just going to keep on writing until either something clicks or I lose momentum. If it doesn't seem to be working, I'll start with a new first sentence. I'll keep on like that until something strikes my fancy and I have enough of a handle on the story to continue.

The next morning I read what I wrote the day before, making only the most superficial changes, and then continue on my way. This is all you have to do. Sit down once a day to the novel and start working without internal criticism, without debilitating expectations, without the need to look at your words as if they were already printed and bound.

The beginning is only a draft. Drafts are imperfect by definition.

If you are the structured kind of writer, you might start by getting the outline of your novel down on paper. You know the story already, but now you have to get it down scene after scene, chapter after chapter.

Every day, you sit down, just like the intuitive writer, writing what it is you think your story is about. You discover new characters, add little thumbnail sketches of them; you make notes about the feeling you want to get here and there. You create the whole book out of bulleted phrases and sentences, paragraphs and maybe even flowcharts.

Finally the day will arrive when you come to the end of the outline. The story is set, at least theoretically, and now you must follow the road that the intuitive writer takes. You sit down with your outline somewhere in the room and start writing the prose. You begin with a sentence and keep on going. Maybe you will follow the plan assiduously; maybe you will be diverted onto another path that will lead you far from your original ideas.

Whatever the case, the work is the same. Some days will be rough, unbearable; some will be sublime. Pay no attention to these feelings. All you have to do is write your novel this year. Happy or sad, the story has to come out.

Stick to your schedule. Try to write a certain amount every day — let's say somewhere between 600 and 1,200 words. Do not labor over what's been written. Go over yesterday's work cursorily to reorient yourself, then move on. If you find at some point that you have lost the thread of your story, take a few days to reread all you have written, not with the intention of rewriting (though a little editing is unavoidable) but with the intention of refamiliarizing yourself with the entire work.

Using this method, you should have a first draft of the novel in about three months. It won't be publishable. It won't be pretty. It probably won't make logical sense. But none of that matters. What you will have in front of you is the heart of the book that you wish to write.

There is no greater moment in the true writer's life.”

His latest novel is a comedy The Tempest Tales about Tempest Landry who refuses to linger in hell after death because business back on earth still demands his attention.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The morning sky is gorgeous and the scattered clouds are tinged with silver and pale lavender. The morning news is remarking that there is so much snow in the mountains that people might be able to ski through October. I’m still rounding up news about books and the publishing industry, and plan to do so more in the future. Here are a few more notes:

In case you’re not familiar with the story, author J.K. Rowling has been in federal court in New York trying to block the publication of The Harry Potter Lexicon a sort of encyclopedia of all the characters, places, spells and details of the series claiming that it rips off her work and will clear the way for more rip-offs. "I believe the flood gates will open," Rowling said, her voice rising. "Are we the owners of our own work?"

The would-be author is Steven Vander Ark a 50-year old librarian and avid fan who is basing the book on his web site of the same name. Rowling claimed that she was “vehemently anti-censorship” but that he’s plundered her books because he’s simply lifted her work and put it in an A-Z format. I’m with Rowling on this one.

There are so few venerable newspapers left in this country, just as there aren’t nearly enough investigative reporters. One such paper that has been under attack is The Los Angeles Times which has been in turmoil since they were bought out by the Tribune Company. The latest issue of Forbes on-line features an Q & A with David Hiller who has been in the hot seat ever since he was appointed publisher, president, and chief executive in October 2006. Hiller came on board after the Tribune fired his popular successor Jeffrey Johnson, who had opposed further staff cuts at the newspaper and soon more heads rolled. He talks about the challenges facing the Times and the newspaper industry, saying the company's priority is to continue aggressively building its online business. It also sounds like owner Sam Zell won't sell the paper. By the way, Forbes has endorsed McCain. The story is at: http://www.forbes.com/business/2008/04/16/newspapers-latimes-hiller-biz-media-cx_lh_0416hiller.html

Ever since I read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, I’ve been a huge fan. Now her 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College has been turned into an inspirational book What Now? (Harper, $14.95) In the book Patchett describes the many twists her life has taken and postulates that sometimes not knowing what is next ain’t so bad. She spoke with Carol Memmett of USA Today. http://www.usatoday/com/life/books/news/2008-04-16-ann-patchett_N.html

In the brief interview Patchett explains her message is “That there are so many things you don't have control over, and that you can't get it all ironed out, that you'll never get it all ironed out, and that's OK.” She claims she has those moments after finishing a book and that she supports Obama. She is also at work on a new novel about two women scientists in the Amazon.

And in case you have the stomach for politics today, it sounds the clear loser in last night’s debate was ABC—in fact, they were booed by the audience who were exasperated with their sleazy line of questioning. For more on this story you can read Tom Shales at the http:www.washingtonpost.com. In his opening graphs Shales writes: “When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.

For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pale gray skies this morning and the rains are supposed to end today. Since it was in the 80s on Saturday, when it crashed into the 50s yesterday the air felt raw and unfair. My pal Stacey and I were eating lunch at a Thai restaurant in her neighborhood and wondering why we can't concoct the sort of curry sauce we were tasting and when we stepped outside again it felt like winter. Since my relatives in Wisconsin are still shoveling winter off their sidewalks, I'm aware this sounds like whining.

Bush is going to meet with the Pope today and 12,000 people are expected on the White House lawn. Last time I visited D.C. the White House looked about as inaccessible as a medieval fortress so I imagine that they’re changing their security measures today and removing some of barricades. Do you know Bush’s hosting a fancy, huge 81st birthday party for the Pope and the Pope is not going to attend? And that the Pope is going to speak to the U.N. about Bush & Co. leading this country via fear? Isn’t that fascinating?

More roundups on writing and writers Every week storyteller Garrison Keillor writes an essay about some aspect of life that is posted at salon.com. Today it’s about the merger of Delta and Northwest airlines. He describes how when he was a boy in St. Paul, Northwest held a promise of escape and romance.

He writes: “I did not fly in an airplane until I was 28 years old and that was a late-night Northwest flight on a 747 to New York. I sat back in the 30th row, surrounded by empty seats, my nose to the window, and when we came down through the clouds to the great city spread like a blanket of glittering stars and into Kennedy Airport, I felt as if I'd been given a great prize.” The story is at http://www.salon.com/opinion/kellor/2008/04/16/northwest

If you like women’s fiction I want to alert you that Jennie Shortridge has a new novel coming out on May 6, Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. Jennie’s first book was Riding with the Queen ( I talked about some of her writing techniques in Between the Lines) and her second novel was Eating Heaven. I believe she’s going to become the Elizabeth Berg of the Northwest (she now lives in Seattle, although I met her when she was living in Portland.) Also, if you’re an aspiring or first-time author, you would be wise to pay attention to Jennie’s promotion strategie. For Riding with the Queen her book signings included live music. With her second book which had food themes, she baked cookies for people attending her events. She also talks to book clubs and various groups, teaches at conferences (I recommend her workshop on writing sex scenes) and blogs at http://www.redroom.com/blog/jennie-shortridge

And speaking of blogging. I meet and work with lots of writers who want to get a book published and often my first bit of advice is that they need to start blogging. Why? Because every writer, including those who write mainstream fiction need a platform and a blog is an easy way to build one. The second reason is that even before Julie and Julia became a book (after it was first a blog about cooking Julie Childs’ recipes) editors at publishing houses were trolling the web for blogs that might be translated into a book. A story on this topic is at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/fashion/30web.html?_r=1&oref=slogin I suspect the latest $300,000 advance will make you a believer.
And for helpful information on making your blog readable, check out
http://onlineapps.newsvine.com/_news/2008/03/24/1387514-how-to-make-your-blog-post-look-more-professional written by techie Andrew (akaonlineapps). As always, happy writing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Clouds again and more rain in the forecast and snow is falling in the mountains with 7 inches of new snow on Mt. Hood. Happy tax day to all, I hope you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth from this government….. I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to collect news on books and the blogosphere. So here is part 2. Check out http://www.alternet.org which is a terrific one-stop shopping sort of site that features a vast array of voices discussing politics and culture. There logo says “the mix is the message” and you can have it delivered to your email box. Here is a smattering of the stories on today’s home page:

How the Republicans Quietly Hijacked the Justice Department to Swing Elections By Steven Rosenfeld, Ig Publishing Democracy and Elections: The GOP may have committed massive vote fraud in plain sight by encouraging widespread voter purges and restricting registration campaigns.

Wallstreet and Washington are Failing Spectacularly Where Do We Go? Wendy Thompson, Labor Notes Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace: Workers are fighting two-tier wage system; offshoring at profitable Detroit firm.

There is also a story about Obama by Jane Smiley first written on the Huffington post; a piece titled A Torture Debate Among Healers by Amy Goodman asks why members of the American Psychological Association give the okay for military torture; another by Annalee Newitz,The Queen’s English is Dead which is about how proper English has been supplanted by the language of our times and another piece on my favorite political pundit and Rhodes scholar ;Rachel Maddow. While much of the stories have a political slant you’ll also find a piece about the transgendered guy from Oregon who happens to be pregnant. The site includes blog links, video links, wire stories, and reader comments.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The morning sky is a glorious palette of soft blue and gray clouds shifting colors minute by minute. The weekend was mostly glorious and I was able to spruce up flower beds and start planting. The rains are supposed to return today so it’s back to the computer.

This week I wanted to give a round-up from the blogosphere and web. So here’s a start: At www.readersread.com you can read excerpts of these books: Creation in Death by J.D. Robb (Putnam); The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry (Ballantine); Metal Swarm: The Saga of the Seven Suns, Book VI; The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central); Playing For Pizza by John Grisham (Dutton); Celebrity Detox by Rosie O'Donnell (Grand Central Publishing); Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (HarperCollins); I Am America by Stephen Colbert (Hachette Books) and Dark Possession by Christine Feehan (Berkley.

At the same site they have a nice long list of author interviews ranging from John Irving to Anne Rice to George Pelacanos.

As for politics: Of course a lot of sites and blogs are talking about the latest Obama-Clinton dust up about Obama’s remark that voters are bitter. Of course, the Sunday talk show pundits blasted him. In fact, I hear her campaign has quickly created “I’m not bitter” buttons. However, isn’t this is another no-brainer? Everyone I know who has any gray matter has been bitter (not to mention depressed, frustrated and horrified) since the Supreme Court handed the election to Bush & Company in 2000. And we’ve stayed bitter as he’s invaded a sovereign nation, stole another election and generally flushed this country down the toilet while the oil industry recorded the highest profits in the history of humankind. Bitter? Yeah, we’re bitter as our industries our being shipped overseas and our stores are filled with imports from China. Yeah we’re bitter that our steel mills are being shut down and 47 million people don’t have health insurance. Yeah, we’re bitter that gas is heading for $4 a gallon.

Why is it elitist to call people bitter? Just like when Jeremiah Wright, a Vietnam vet complained that this country is racist, war is bad and this place is run by rich white men and we shouldn’t necessarily be proud of a country run by criminals? So would somebody please explain why that made Wright a racist and bad guy? And didn’t you notice that Clinton was making this charge to distract voters from her husband’s latest gaff about her Bosnia trip? And that the Clintons have raked in over $100 million in the past few years—how does that sort of income make them more in touch with the common people?

But I digress, for more info on this scrap you might want to check out the http://www. huffingtonpost.com and Robert Shrum’s blog Obama’s Not Running for Sociologist-in-Chief and also at www.rawstory.com--a terrific resource .

One of my favorite article titles is today at salon.com by Sidney Blumethal: Dick Cheney was never a ‘grown up.’ The piece is part of a book excerpt The Rise of the Counter-Establishment and begins (oh happy days!) with a comment about Dick’s drinking, I mean hunting accident when he shot a friend in the face. (Makes you wonder what he’s done to his enemies, doesn’t it? ) The story speculates that Cheney might be suffering from vascular dementia (calling John McCain?) The article then goes into the various Bush policies and the cabal of decision-making and skullduggery that featured Cheney at its center. To quote: “The Iraq war was largely a neoconservative production conducted under the guidance of Cheney and Rumsfeld. Cheney took command of the intelligence process, even arranging for Bush to sign Executive Order 13292, written by Addington, giving the vice president the same power over intelligence as the president. The disinformation campaign that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction was a joint enterprise of the Office of the Vice President and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, providing a steady stream of evidence that was later revealed to be false and fabricated.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dawn has not yet broken in Portland, so I cannot comment on the sky. However, tomorrow is supposed to be in the 70s so I'm going to start planting. Colleen Sell edits a series of books called A Cup of Comfort. I met her last year when we were both teaching at the Pennwriter's Conference and think a lot of her work. So I wanted to pass along information about these upcoming anthologies in case you might be interested in submitting an essay. Here is her message:


We’ve just added 4 new Cup of Comfort books to the development schedule, and I wanted you to be among the first to know. As usual, I’m swamped, so to get word out pronto and to save a little time (and my sanity), I’m sending this as a group email, blind-copied to protect your privacy.

Please note that I’m also still accepting submissions for 3 other Cup of Comfort volumes.

The Cup of Comfort Website will be updated with the new call-outs soon (I hope). Meanwhile, the basics are covered below, and the writer’s guidelines currently posted on the site still apply to all books.

Feel free to forward this to others.

Thanks so much!

Colleen Sell

Cup of Comfort editor

wordsinger@aol.com

SHARE SOME COMFORT

The bestselling Cup of Comfort book series is currently seeking inspiring true stories for 7 new volumes:

A CUP OF COMFORT FOR MILITARY FAMILIES

It has been said that military life is “not for the faint of heart.” But neither is it without its benefits and blessings. One thing is certain: it is an experience like no other—for both the soldiers and their families. For this book, we want positive stories about how military life affects the personal lives of service men and women (enlisted and officers), how family affects soldiers’ on the job, and how military life affects family members (primarily spouses, children, and parents but also siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts/uncles, fianc├ęs, etc.). Any situation or subject that is significant and/or unique to military personnel and their loved ones is acceptable. Our goal is to compile a collection of inspiring or uplifting stories that cover a wide range of topics and reveal a variety of perspectives, experiences, and emotions specific to military families. Stories may be written by the service man or woman or a close family member; military service may be current, recent, or past.

Submission deadline: April 15, 2008 (last call)

A CUP OF COMFORT FOR NEW MOTHERS

Few experiences bring forth as many anxieties, blessings, challenges, wonders, and changes as having a baby—whether it’s your first child or fifth, your birth child or adopted child. And nothing is as miraculous as giving birth to or witnessing the birth of your baby. This heartwarming anthology will be filled with birth stories and newborn homecoming stories as well as a wide range of stories about the various experiences, emotions, and concerns involved in adding a new baby to one’s life and family. Potential topics include but are not limited to: nursing (or not), caring for a newborn, bonding/falling in love with infant, lack of sleep, relationship with spouse, how siblings respond, returning to work, balancing responsibilities, post-partum depression, self transformation, unexpected joys, life lessons, small miracles, etc. The majority of the stories will be about birth children, but the book will likely include a couple adoptive stories as well. Likewise, most of the stories will be written from the new mother’s perspective, but we are open to including a few stories written from the spouse’s or a very close family member’s perspective. All stories will be uplifting and positive, no matter how difficult the situation portrayed in the story might be. We do not want stories that simply recount misfortunes and sorrows and that do not clearly reveal a positive outcome or redeeming result (silver lining).

Submission deadline: May 15, 2008 (last call)

A CUP OF COMFORT FOR ADOPTIVE FAMILIES

The primary purpose of this book is to celebrate adoptive families and to recognize the extraordinary and challenging experiences unique to “chosen children” and their adoptive families. We are most interested in stories written by adult adopted children and their adoptive parents and siblings, but the book will likely include some stories written by members of the extended adoptive family (i.e. grandparent) and birth family members. Virtually any topic relevant to adopted children and their adoptive parents is acceptable—as long as it is authentic, positive, insightful, and uplifting or inspiring. We do not want heartbreaking stories about adoptive or birth families that regret the adoption. All of the stories in this collection must reveal a positive aspect of adoption and must bring comfort, joy, or inspiration to those who have been adopted and/or to the families who adopted them—no matter how difficult the experience and emotions portrayed in the story might be.

Submission deadline: June 15, 2008

A CUP OF COMFORT FOR FATHERS

The connection between father and child can be as deep as the ocean, as strong as a mountain, and as uplifting as fresh air. For all its rewards, though, fatherhood is not without its challenges. And for all the gifts dads bring to their kids' lives, dads sometimes falter and fumble. Yet, the father-child bond forms, holds, and grows. A Cup of Comfort for Fathers will feature inspiring and insight true stories about the life-defining and life-enriching relationships and experiences shared by fathers and their children. These personal essays will be of varying topics and tones (heartwarming, humorous, poignant, provocative, etc.); about fathers and children of all ages and varying circumstances; and written by fathers, daughters, and sons.

Submission deadline: August 1, 2008

A CUP OF COMFORT FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

For this very special collection, we seek uplifting true stories about the ins and outs, ups and downs, blessing and challenges of parenting children with special needs. The stories will cover children of all ages (birth to adult) and a wide range of developmental, physical, and mental delays/disabilities. No matter how difficult the experiences/emotions conveyed in a story might be (we want them to be authentic, after all), the story must reveal a positive aspect, resolution, or outcome and must be of comfort to parents of children with special needs. Stories may be serious, humorous, insightful, heartwarming, or inspiring. The majority of the stories will be written by parents of children with special needs; we will also consider stories written by adult children with special needs. (No articles or commentaries by clinicians, please.)

Submission deadline: September 15, 2008

A SECOND CUP OF COMFORT FOR DOG LOVERS

Oh, how we humans love our canine companions -- for so many reasons and in so many ways that one Cup of Comfort collection of uplifting dog stories just wasn’t enough. So we’re giving all you dog-loving writers another opportunity to share your personal stories of canine comfort with a growing legion of dog-loving readers. This volume will feature both serious and humorous anecdotal stories covering a wide range of topics and perspectives and varying breeds of dogs. We do NOT want sad stories about a dog’s illness, injury, or death, though we will consider stories that weave a beloved pet’s illness or death into an otherwise positive story. The story should focus on the dog’s remarkable attributes and/or actions as well as on the special relationship between the dog and his/her human(s).

Submission deadline: December 15, 2008

A CUP OF COMFORT FOR THE GRIEVING HEART

When a loved one passes away, comfort is often fleeting and hard to come by. Yet, even a small comfort, like a personal story of how someone has faced a similar loss, does help to ease the sorrow. This volume will feature uplifting personal stories that reveal the special relationships and extraordinary experiences shared by the deceased and his/her loved one(s) immediately before, during, and after the loved one’s passing; it will also includes stories about the internal and external processes by which one deals with and heals from the loss of a loved one. The stories will vary with regard to subject matter, circumstances of death, and the relationship of the author to the individual who has passed away. The book will not include eulogies, profiles/memoirs of people who have passed away, or clinical depictions of death and dying.

Submission deadline: February 1, 2009

Please note that deadlines are sometimes extended by one to four weeks.

BASIC GUIDELINES

All Cup of Comfort stories must be original; true; appropriate for mainstream Americans (adult, primarily women); inspiring, comforting, and/or uplifting; and 1,000 to 2,000 words.

Creative nonfiction and narrative essays preferred (that is, incorporating such fictive elements as scene, dialogue, character/plot development, imagery, and literary word usage). Whether serious or humorous, the story should be authentic and engaging.

Electronic submissions preferred. One submission per email. Copy and paste (or type) into body of email. No formatting (no indents, centering, doublespace, bold, underline, etc.). To: wordsinger@aol.com.

Mailed submissions are acceptable. Standard typed manuscript (double-spaced, indents). Send as many submissions per envelope as you’d like, but include one SASE per submission. To: Colleen Sell, 71563 London Rd., Cottage Grove, Oregon, 97424, USA.

Each submission must include: author’s full name, mailing address, email address, phone number, story title, story word count, and theme of volume for which it is being submitted (i.e., Grieving Hearts).

For more detailed writers guidelines: http://www.cupofcomfort.com/share.htm.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The morning sky is the color of the smoke, the radio announcer is predicting another rise in gas prices and since I’m back from the Oregon coast, am trying to adjust to life in town when I really long to gaze out at the vastness of the Pacific. While I was there one storm after another ripped through complete with a huge rainbow, mist shrouding the mountains, brilliants swaths of sunlight, and birds so busy and happy at the feeders that they seem to embody spring in their tiny bodies.

Before I left town I attended a lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. After Mystic River was made into a movie I saw the main actors interviewed on a television show. I recall them mentioning that Clint Eastwood was the least disappointing icon they’d ever met. So it was with Gilbert who was as witty, wise, articulate, and intelligent as her writing. No, probably more so. Not to mention humble and self deprecating. Most of her talk was about art and the need for artists in our times.

After listening to her amid the throngs of devotees I understand why she has throngs of devotees. The book is based on the notion that a woman can heal herself of a deep emotional and spiritual crisis. While I was at the coast this weekend a friend told me she hated the book, that she found it selfish and self involved. Well, all memoir is self involved. But I found it fascinating that a woman is looking for faith in our pop culture times, that she is a genuinely gifted writer who has paid her dues and wields metaphors with great genius; that she showed a lot of restraint when describing her divorce; that she made me feel like I was along on her journey.

Here is a segment of an interview from the Barnes and Noble web site:

What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
”I can't get behind the ambition to be "discovered" as much as I can get behind the ambition to write beautifully and honorably and steadfastly. Here's what I believe about creativity. I believe that creativity is a living force that thrums wildly through this world and expresses itself through us. I believe that talent (the force by which ephemeral creativity gets manifested into the physical world through our hands) is a mighty and holy gift. I believe that, if you have a talent (or even if you think you do, or maybe even if you just hope you do), that you should treat that talent with the highest reverence and love.

Don't flip out, in other words, and murder your gift through narcissism, insecurity, addiction, competitiveness, ambition or mediocrity. Frankly -- don't be a jerk. Just get busy, get serious, get down to it and write something, for heaven's sake. Try to get out of your own way. Creativity itself doesn't care at all about results -- the only thing it craves is the PROCESS. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless. Just love the work.”

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dawn is breaking on another cloudless day. The news is on in the background and I’m sitting here dabbling away at my first projects of the day. Have you heard that a kidney specialist released a study that says we don’t need to drink 8 glasses of water a day? University of Pennsylvania kidney specialist Dr. Stanley Goldfarb said “We set out to take a look at the eight-by-eight myth, and we were really unable to find any scientific rationale for it." I’m so happy to remove that one from my guilt list…

Now, I am the sort of person who hates it when people e-mail me those “pass it on" messages. You know, the kind that claim that if you don’t pass along this e-mail within the next five minutes to ten friends you’ll be cursed and your toenails will fall out. Grinch that I am, I usually hit 'delete'. But this morning I found a message in my in-box that I like and want to include the link here. You can send a message of peace and hope that is meant especially for the women and children survivors of war. You can find the link at:

http://www.dircksny.com/message_of_peace/

It is sponsored by Women for Women International and at their site is information on how you can support women survivors. The site is at http://www.womenforwomen.org/ and includes a report on the lives of women in Iraq.

There are now about 5 million people or one in five Iraqis who have displaced by the violence in their country. About 2 million have fled Iraq. Not exactly Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn" theory but instead the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. There are no estimates of the number of women and children who have turned to prostitution in order to survive, but numbers are high. Information about Iraqi refugees is at http://www.refugeesinternational.org At http://www.theIRC.org you can find a number of magazine and newspaper stories detailing the crisis.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dawn is just breaking in a cloudless sky on a day that promises to be sun-filled and blossom-scented. After a week of raw temperatures, spring has returned and yesterday was so lovely that as I walked along the city streets I felt a restlessness invade me as if I was a kid during the final days of the school year. This morning I’m up early writing and listening to the radio, thinking about a workshop I’m teaching at the Oregon coast this weekend. I’m so ready for a weekend at the coast, ready to fall asleep to the sound of the surf.