Author of six books, I live in Portland, OR, a green, green place. A desert balances on the rim of this region and the Pacific is about 2 hours away. I walk often to free my mind and limbs and work out.I grow giant dahlias and other flowers, although this puts me at war with the slugs of our region.I sometimes host dinner parties with other writers in attendance. I am a former chef and am especially happy when I'm chopping vegetables for a pot of soup or shopping at a local farmer's market. I attend lectures and films and plays and pay close attention to the sky and seasons--whatever it takes to replenish my creativity, stoke the senses. I listen to NPR,progressive radio, and old jazz tunes most of the day and follow politics, feverish for the truth of our times to be more revealed. And I teach writers and I fix the stories of people who are trying to become better writers. It adds up to a life that is sometimes brimming, sometimes quiet, sometimes filled with shared struggles and laughter.
But I spend a lot of time at this desk, looking out at the sky beyond my monitor, watching the rain and clouds, thinking in word pictures. You can also find me at www.jessicamorrell.com
Sun is coming out behind the marine layer here, meaning I won't be able to sit at my computer much longer--it faces east and we don't have all our window treatments up yet. Today I'm going to my old place for picking up odds and ends, cleaning, and digging up plants. This has been a huge lesson in acquiring stuff. Have tried to toss out everything I don't use.
Speaking of which,
Write about a favorite possession. What does it reveal about you or the character?
“The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning,
blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of rearing and peering
from the bent tip of a grass blade, looking for a route.” ~Janet Burroway
Still Moving.....Murky sky this morning and I'm perched in my new office which overlooks a giant stand of Douglas Firs at a nearby park. My desk, which I wanted to toss out anyway, was damaged a bit in the move and like the desk, I'm feeling worn. New sounds here, including lots of crows chattering away now as I write this--a family with chicks living in a tree across the street. But I'm missing the songbirds in my old neighborhood and am going to work on attracting some to our yard. Of course crows are predators.... About 90% of my belongings are in the new house. Still cleaning and packing up the dregs in the old place, then I need to dig out more plants, and replant. Lots to do.
Just for laughs here's the winning sentence from the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.” Sue Fondrie
This prize is part of an annual bad writing competition that began in 1982 at San Jose State University. The contest was named after Victorian novelist Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton an author famous for writing the opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
"Good girls like myself need subversion. Being solemn, I aspire to
comedy. Being a novelist, I aspire to the musical. Being organized, I
aspire to luminous chaos. Loving the power of grammar and the fine
distinctions of language, I seek the part of the mind I didn't know was
there, the part 'sheer,' 'no-manfathomed,' 'cliffs of fall."
~ Janet Burroway
"Why am I compelled
to write?... Because the world I create in the writing compensates for
what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the
world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not
appease my appetites and anger... To become more intimate with myself
and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to
achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a
poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I
have to say is not a pile of shit... Finally I write because I'm scared
of writing, but I'm more scared of not writing." ~ Gloria Anzaldua
Quick Tip: Subtext
Dawn skies look uncertain here. Extending good wishes and cooling breezes to those of you sweltering in parts of the country where summer has become dangerously hot.
In my book Between the Lines I described subtext as a river of emotions that flow beneath the dialogue/scene. It's also the meaning beneath the conversation. Subtext creates depth and nuance. I just read a great example of this from When Harry Met Sally. In the final scene Harry says, "I hate you." However, the viewer knows he really means, I love you, but cannot say it out loud, admit the truth yet. That's how it works. Your secret self revealed.
Quick Tip: Nix to kitchens
And drawing rooms. What I mean is that typically when writers stage scenes in kitchens soon the characters are pouring tea and chatting. Yada, yada. On and on. About the past. About their bunions. About how Junior is impossible. Now tension and conflict can happen in kitchens and even drawing rooms. But you gotta work it. As in your heroine steps into the kitchen and slips on a pool of blood. No chit chats. Fiction leaves out the boring parts of life. Cannot say that often enough.
I was so tired from my garage sale activities and various trips to charities to unload stuff (more slated for a woman's shelter tomorrow) and picking up necessities for the new house that I conked out at 9:30 last night. And was awakened at 1 A.M. by someone picking through my neighbor's garbage for bottles and other returnables. Which is why I'm up working now for a bit in the middle of the night--the world black and dense and mysterious. Our garage/moving sale, which three of my friends joined in on, was a big success. Lovely, and I mean truly lovely people stopped by and carted off various items. One young man was so excited about the set of cast iron pans I sold him; another woman who has just moved to Portland to attend grad school bought 3 antique suitcases that she's going to turn into a table; a charming man who lives in my new neighborhood bought my chopping block; and a reader of this blog stopped by with stunning roses from her garden with a fragrance that is almost celestial. And in the lulls between shoppers, my friends and I chatted and told stories as if we were around a campfire; my granddaughter Paige dressed up in various items and sold lemonade, and it was just a sweet experience. I was reminded again and again of the goodness in people. And man, am I glad it's over. Now on to the hard part--the actual moving.
Meanwhile, even though it's summer in the North or winter Down Under, we should all be looking ahead toward our writing goals. With that in mind, here's another chance to get published. I'll keep them coming and also I'll be adding more interviews here--sorry for the lag in getting to them.Here is the info and link:
Send us your BEST poetry (4-6 poems), short stories (1-2 stories
max, 500-3000 words), artwork, and photographs. We prefer that you copy
and paste your poetry into the body of your email or send as ONE attachment in word.doc format. Send ALL
short story submissions as a word doc. attachment. Any poetry or short
story submissions sent as multiple attachments or not in word.doc will NOT be read. DO NOT submit your work as a docx file. It will NOT be read.
If you have a novel/poetry book, a poetry/music cd or dvd that you're
interested in having us review, please email us your query to firstname.lastname@example.org with REVIEW REQUEST typed into the subject box. BOOK and MUSIC REVIEWS submitted will be considered for publication.
Send us your ARTWORK and PHOTOGRAPHY. Send in high resolution (jpeg file). We will consider all artwork submitted for the COVER of TTQ8.
ALL SUBMISSIONS should include a short biography (5-6 lines MAX) stating town/city you reside in, previous publishing accomplishments, educational background if so desired. Please DO NOT send us a novel about yourself. Make it interesting and promote your books and/or webpages if desired.
PLEASE: ONE submission per issue. Multiple submissions will NOT be read. Be sure to send us your BEST work the first time or wait until the following issue to submit again.
We DO NOT publish previously published works.
PLEASE NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS
ALL RIGHTS and COPYRIGHT upon publication in TTQ8 remains with the author.
PAYMENT: Each contributor to TTQ8 will receive a FREE e-book of TTQ8 as payment. It will be emailed to the contributor as a pdf file.
ALL SUBMISSIONS should be emailed to: email@example.com
From an Editor's Desk: Lewis Lapham on Voice A writer’s voice lies behind his or her words. Lewis Lapham, editor of Harpers magazine has this advice: "On first
opening a book I listen for the sound of the human voice. By this device I am
absolved from reading much of what is published in a given year. Most writers
make use of institutional codes (academic, literary, political, bureaucratic,
technical), in which they send messages already deteriorating into the
half-life of yesterday’s news. Their transmissions remain largely
unintelligible, and unless I must decipher them for professional reasons, I am
content to let them pass by. I listen, instead, for a voice in which I can hear
the music of human improvisation as performed through 5,000 years on the stage
of recorded time…..As a student, and later as an editor and occasional writer
of reviews, I used to feel obligated to finish every book I began to read. This
I no longer do. If within the first few pages I cannot hear the author’s
voice….I abandon him at the first convenient opportunity."
Well it's raining here in Portland this morning on day 2 of my garage sale. Up early trying to figure out how to reconfigure this stuff (treasures all) to fit into the garage since yesterday we had spilled out onto the driveway and yard......will figure it out somehow. Corner of 19th and Harney for those of you living in Portland, Sellwood neighborhood.
From the Speculative Literature Foundation (with thanks to Portland writer Camille Cole) Here's the link and an excerpt:
The Gulliver Travel Research Grant
SLF travel grants are awarded annually to assist writers of
speculative literature (in fiction, poetry,drama, or creative
nonfiction) in their research. They are not currently available
for academic research, though we hope to offer such funds in the future.
We are currently offering one $800 travel grant annually, to be used to
cover airfare, lodging, and/or other travel expenses.
Our travel grants will be awarded by a committee of SLF staff members on
the basis of interest and merit. Factors considered will include:
a one-page written description of the project in question, including
details on the travel location and an estimated completion date (no more
than 500 words)
a writing sample in the proposed genre (up to 10 pages of
poetry, 10 pages of drama, or 5000 words of fiction or creative
nonfiction); please note that the writing sample must be a solo work
(work completed only by the applicant).
a bibliography of previously-published work by the author (no more than
one page, typed); applicants need not have previous publications to apply.
If awarded the grant, the recipient agrees to write a brief report of
their research experience (500-1000 words) for our files, and for possible
public dissemination on our website.
The sky is undecided today, but we're having mild temperatures around here. Good luck to all who are sweltering away in other parts of the country. This morning a friend was talking about the William Faulkner interview in the Paris Review so it seemed a good time to post an excerpt or two. It's been years since I read Faulkner, but his stories have still left a mark in my imagination and memory. They reside in memory where rich language, potent images, and complicated people all live. They always held some kind of difficult truths and moral themes--the kinds we'd sometimes rather avoid. And then there was the general jigsaw puzzle nature of his stories--they required patience and trust while reading, because the stories were also full of blemishes and geegaws. But I have a soft spot for writers from small towns, especially those prone to radical experimentation.
Here is perhaps his most famous comment during that interview: "The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies."
How did The Sound and the Fury begin?
It began with a mental picture. I didn't realize at the time it was symbolical. The picture was of the muddy seat of a little girl's drawers in a pear tree, where she could see through a window where her grandmother's funeral was taking place and report what was happening to her brothers on the ground below. By the time I explained who they were and what they were doing and how her pants got muddy, I realized it would be impossible to get all of it into a short story and that it would have to be a book. And then I realized the symbolism of the soiled pants, and that image was replaced by the one of the fatherless and motherless girl climbing down the drainpipe to escape from the only home she had, where she had never been offered love or affection or understanding.
I had already begun to tell the story through the eyes of the idiot child, since I felt that it would be more effective as told by someone capable only of knowing what happened but not why. I saw that I had not told the story that time. I tried to tell it again, the same story through the eyes of another brother. That was still not it. I told it for the third time through the eyes of the third brother. That was still not it. I tried to gather the pieces together and fill in the gaps by making myself the spokesman. It was still not complete, not until fifteen years after the book was published, when I wrote as an appendix to another book the final effort to get the story told and off my mind, so that I myself could have some peace from it. It's the book I feel tenderest toward. I couldn't leave it alone, and I never could tell it right, though I tried hard and would like to try again, though I'd probably fail again.
Last night I was falling asleep with the window open, listening to the far-off sounds of a train rattling past. First, a train whistle, then the thwack, thwack of the cars rolling along. Another whistle, another train. Then rain began, pattering down, gentle as a breeze. This morning dripping against the pavement, water running in the gutter, the sound of the workmen sorting through tools, metal on metal.
If you want to grab a reader's attention use sound. Our brains are programmed to respond to sounds as a survival mechanism, so when you especially want to scare someone, arrest someone insert harsh sounds--a slap, a gasp, a raven's cry, tense dialogue, nature unleasing. Like a scream in the night, car brakes squealing, mourning at a funeral. Of course not all sounds are meant to scare--there are early morning bird calls, giggles on the playground, bedroom sighs.
And writing tips gleaned from Thrillerfest on writing a smart thriller:
1.Don’t try to show how smart you are as an author. Instead, create a smart protagonist and ensure that readers want to spend time with your hero.
2. Try to surprise yourself while you’re writing; if you can surprise yourself, there is a good chance you’ll surprise your reader.
3. Ensure that there is a feeling of authenticity whenever you are presenting interesting information.
4. Anticipate where the reader thinks the story is going and then give them something unexpected.
5. Don’t neglect the details–they can make all the difference
Glorious blue skies this morning. If I ever have doubts about my profession I need to only visit my email in box where lovely notes, success stories, and thank yous arrive from readers. Here is one that I thought I'd share:
I've been meaning to write this message for months. About two years ago, I was writing a fifth draft of my memoir 'Our Man in Orlando', which describes my time as the British consul in Florida. I was having problems with the work, and I wasn't sure how to resolve them. I found, perchance, your book 'Thanks, But This Isn't For Us' in a bookstore in Orlando and a careful study of it took care (to the best of my ability) of the problems I was having.
My book was published late last year and has done modestly well. A British television company is now attempting to adapt it for the BBC. Most importantly - thanks to you as much as anything else - I am proud of the book and I think I did the best job with it that I was capable of doing.
So, this is just a brief message of thanks and encouragement to keep up your great work.
Very best wishes,
The link below will take you to the Our Man in Orlando's readers' reviews on the British Amazon site:
But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was
the invention of the adjective. ... The mind that thought of light, heavy,
grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived
of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead
into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the
one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from
grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s
power. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river
runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over
rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.
Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters."~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own
judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good
from the bad – including your own bad.” ~ Doris Lessing.
“Let the grass die. I let almost all of my indoor plants die from neglect
while I was writing the book. There are all kinds of ways to live. You can take
your choice. You can keep a tidy house, and when St. Peter asks you what you
did with your life, you can say, I kept a tidy house, I made my own cheese
balls.” ~ Annie Dillard.
Quick tip: Don't spell forward, backward, homeward, afterward, downward, toward, earthward, and heavenward with a final s.
risks as a writer—go where the pain, the shadows, secrets, obsessions, embarrassing moments and buried
memories lie. I am endlessly fascinated by how the people and situations that
we avoid in real life make such compelling fiction and memoir. How our secrets and regrets and what ifs shape us and also make for engrossing stories. Visit the gloaming, the cellars, the recesses. Explore.
Quick Tip: Scavenging
knows no season.For writers, scavenging
is a necessary habit because good subjects aren’t just lying around waiting to
be scooped up or alighting like a golden dove on the page.Thus you need to keep a stockpile of images,
sensory details, memories, bits gathered from eavesdropping. Scavenging teaches
us awareness and this noticing willmake
your writing more alive.A stockpile of
images and bits can be helpful for all sorts of reasons. My gathering can
trigger a poem, be the source code for an article or story.Scavenging can become a kind of writing
practice or you can slip small the details you gather into fiction.Trust me, if you start gathering, keep gathering, you will
use the material.
Pale blue skies this morning in Portland. I've been out watering and gardening early before the construction workers arrive--which should be any moment. Such a change to be out taking care of plants in the morning instead of at my desk. And I don't know why, but these soft summer nights make me feel like I could live forever. Especially when there's a thin, crescent moon in the sky and I've spent most of the day outdoors.Especially when I've been bedazzled by a fireworks display and the nearness of life.
I turned in my monthly column on Saturday and was quoting author Steven Pressfield. If you haven't read the War of Art, I recommend it.
I like this thought from him: "The part we create from can't be touched by anything our parents did, or
society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof,
waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we've got, the
better and richer that part becomes."
I'm going to be moving this month so if my posts become erratic, I wanted you to know the cause. Meanwhile, keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
"At least twice a week, I pause in the rush of work and have a meeting
with myself. (If I were part of a team, I’d call a team meeting.) I ask
myself, again, of the project: “What is this damn thing about?” Keep
refining your understanding of the theme; keep narrowing it down."
~Steven Pressfield (Do the Work)
"A work-in-progress generates its own energy field. You, the artist or
entrepreneur, are pouring love into the work; you are suffusing it with
passion and intention and hope."
~ Steven Pressfield (Do the Work)
"A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius
or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny
hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate."
~ Steven Pressfield (Do the Work)
"Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part
of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't
cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got."
~ Steven Pressfield
Summer temperatures are rumored to be on the way although as I write this, the skies are changing and sometimes dark, shot through with sunset, sort of the color of whale bellies.....Of course, I've never seen a whale belly close up--just some cruising the Pacific in the distance; then there was a spout or two spotted off a catamaran near Kauai, but still this image is stuck in head.
But mostly I'm wondering, how can we now be in the seventh month of 2011 already? And for all you sweltering in the heat in other climes, around here, it hasn't much felt like summer. May you find an air conditioned oasis, I'll be happy for a bit more sun, followed by the usual sweet arrival of marine air that wafts in just before dusk.
A few notes for you as you're about to launch into your 4th of July weekend:
First, the estimable Garrison Keillor delivered a graduation speech that will make you laugh, sigh, and recall your youth. Or your children's youth. Here's the link.
He advises: "You have to be independent if you want to be somebody and have a real life. You've pleased your teachers and your parents, and now you have to do something harder, which is to please yourself and to do things that you in your heart know to be right and that you're proud of.
You have to be independent because it's your own opinion of yourself that matters now. Scores don't matter that much. Prizes don't matter. You're all above average, but so what? This is not a nation of great intellects. According to one survey, about half of the American people cannot tell you how long it takes the earth to make one revolution around the sun. Most Americans can't speak English very well. They, like, go, like, "Huh?" y'know, and you go, like, "You know," and they, like, go, "Oh." So if you can write a term paper, you're way above the average, but don't be too proud of it.....
Be better than you need to be. It's easy to have an opinion, it's hard to tell a story: to be able to look at things and describe them accurately; to describe action, chronologically, in a way that conveys the reality of experience to another person. You were there during your childhood. You saw us and the clumsy things we did and the terrible dumb things we said--- you saw what happened ---- and now it's your story to tell and we can't tell you what to say. But if you can tell that story truthfully and with humor and with a little forgiveness, then you're on your own. If you're coasting along on your personal charm and your sweet smile, learn how to be honest. Learn to look people in the eye and tell them what you think. This will come in handy someday. If you're fearful, master your fear so that you don't have to think about it. Afraid of the water: jump in. Afraid of people, what they might think of you: go talk to them. Afraid of making mistakes, afraid of looking foolish: learn a foreign language and speak it with people for whom it ain't foreign. It's an education in itself...."
I've been listening to Alan Cheuse on NPR talk about books and fiction for years so want to suggest his latest picks for summer reading.
Then there are also Three Critics Picks for the Best Books for Summer Reading.
And finally, from NPR, suggested YA books for summer reading. And they're designated for all ages.
I'm sitting here writing this, trying to recall where I read in the summer when I was a girl. Summer and childhood is so associated with the outdoors that I can smell the giant honeysuckle that grew near the dining room bay window, and see the world beyond our yard. And can recall with such clarity the thunderstorms that swooped in like crazed thunder gods from on high, shaking the earth, changing the air. I can remember reading away in my bedroom as rain fell, tucked onto my Hollywood twin bed. My windows on the second floor were level with giant maple branches (and I've loved second story rooms ever since). In this room was my small maple desk with the somewhat rickety legs that I was so proud of (the desk, not the legs--and I wish I still owned it). Beyond our front yard lie the creek and the young forest on the far side of its burbling banks. It's summer....let's all slow down and read more and spend time under the sky dreaming.