"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.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving morning is dawning in shades of mysterious gray. I’ve gotten off easy today—only need to bring side dishes to the gathering. My condolences to the citizens of Mumbai and India—what a heartache. I hope anyone who reads this has a bountiful, safe, and love-filled Thanksgiving. While it’s always wise to focus on gratitude, in these worrying times, I’m listing things that keep me sane, make me smile, laugh, and fill me with hope. I’m sure as soon as I post this I’ll think of more although I’m going to leave out puppies and babies….but here goes in no particular order. I’m grateful for:
the children in my life who always make me laugh and enchant me with their insights and vision.
friends who lead interesting lives, who see things differently than I do, listen to my woes, and laugh at my jokes.
my family
this great country, no matter how battered and off track we veer at times.
a childhood that taught me a love of books, laughter, and nature.
writers and artists everywhere for enlarging the human story.
librarians and booksellers everywhere for keeping the flame lit.
Barak Obama for his big brain, real family values, and running a smart campaign. And, of course, winning. Ditto for Joe Biden.
Sarah Palin for running for an office that she nothing about and for misjudging the American peoples’ intelligence.
that we can soon bid farewell to George W. and Cheney.
Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden, Bernie Sanders, and other smart and caring folks in our Congress.
the doctors who are helping me recover from my accident.
Tarcher for buying my latest book and to my great editor Gaby for her insights and support.
my students and clients who teach me so much about writing and storytelling.
everyone who reads my books and supports my work.
Teaching writers
the beauty of the Oregon coastline with its sweeping beaches, ever-changing skies, and endless swath of blue ocean and sunsets that practically break your heart they’re so magical.
My pile of notebooks I’ve kept over the years filled with ideas, phrases, poems, short stories and jottings
A good writing session
Walking at dusk
The Columbia River Gorge
All the shades of green
sandcastles--they always inspire whimsy.
tea, especially Earl Grey—and whoever started dumping leaves into boiling water.
ditto for soup—it’s my staple these days and has there ever been a meal so warming and satisfying?
that I can work in my pajamas or bathrobe.
that gas prices are coming down.
that I don’t work on Wall Street.
And let’s not forget:
My computer which has become an extension of my brain.
Fresh sheets.
Moisturizer. (I’m serious)
The internets.
The sound of the ocean
Reading in bed
That I Joe Six Pack is not my man
Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.
Learning something new.
Bird song.
Dreams, even when I cannot decipher their meaning
Train travel.
J.I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder (this should be further up the list)
The lonely sound of a fog horn, especially when heard in dense, horror-movie type fog.
Live music.
Art museums.
Outdoor concerts.
Walking in brisk weather.
The far-off sound of a train whistle
Little boys in bow ties
Bulbs emerging in the spring
The smells of Thanksgiving dinner roasting in the oven.
Suitcases with wheels.
Autumn colors.
Christmas trees.
Strings of lights.
Red barns.
Small children who wear glasses
New socks.
Jeans that fit just right.
Greeting cards.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s almost 7 a.m. and still dark here in Portland. A big congratulations to Tom Daschle for his new position as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Eric Holder as Attorney General. It’s so exciting to have grown-ups running things again!

As you might have guessed I own a bookcase crammed with books about writing. Well, actually dweeb that I am, I have two, although one contains a lot of anthologies. A few years ago when my copy of Between the Lines came in the mail hot off the presses from my publisher, Writer’s Digest , I had an epiphany. For years I’d been a member of the Writers Digest Book Club, and for years I had considered other writers the experts, while I was, well, if not a hack, maybe a runner-up or perpetual bridesmaid. But when I held that book I realized that all along I’d wanted my book in that catalogue and I’d had a vision for years of creating a book about writing….I hadn’t imagined that I’d write five or six, but that’s another story. But I still read what other writers say about craft and the diligence it takes to crank out words. One book I own that you might want to peek into is written by thriller writer, David Morrell (alas, no relation). The lecture was called, Why Do You Want To Be a Writer?

From The Successful Novelist, A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing & Publishing LESSON ONE: WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER? "When I teach at writers’ conferences, I always begin by asking my students, “Why on earth would you want to be writers?” They chuckle, assuming that I’ve made a joke. But my question is deadly sober. Writing is so difficult, requiring such discipline, that I’m amazed when someone wants to give it a try. If a student is serious about it, if that person intends to make a living at it, the commitment of time and energy is considerable. It’s one of the most solitary professions. It’s one of the few in which you can work on something for a year (a novel, say), with no certainty that your efforts will be accepted or that you’ll get paid. On every page, confidence fights with self-doubt.
Every sentence is an act of faith. Why would anybody want to do it?

The usual answer I get is, “For the satisfaction of being creative.” The students nod, relieved that this troubling line of thought is over. But in fact, the subject has barely been started. I rephrase my question, making it less threatening. “Why do you want to be writers?” This time, I tell my students I don’t want to hear about the joy of creativity. Squirms. Glances toward the ceiling. Toward the floor. Someone is honest enough to say, “I’d like to earn the kind of money Stephen King does.” Someone else chuckles. “Who wouldn’t?” We’re on our way."

While you’re at the Backspace website, you might want to check out the 23 articles written by literary agents—such as Ethan Ellensburg’s article on targeting agents.

As you know every year People magazine has it’s sexiest man alive issue and this year they chosen Aussie Hugh Jackman. I would recommend that you jog over to salon. com for “Our third annual alternative to People magazine's Bible of Sexy -- with its pretty pinups and bland predictability -- has become a tradition here at Salon. In our third year, we've curated a list of 17 men for whom 2008 was a winning season. (For the first time, we also opened up the awards to the Open Salon community, selecting our two favorite picks from their suggestions and adding them to our list.) These are smart men, men of brains and brawn, art and athleticism. And they're not bad looking, either.” I won’t give away the winners, but agree with all of them (there’s even a novelist in the mix) and also think the writing in this article is clever and fun and smart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sky is still dark this morning. Today is the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address: It began: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

According to The Writer’s Almanac “It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived at the new national cemetery in Gettysburg at about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. The audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken.”

Thank God eloquence is now back in fashion in our political leaders. But then there are rumors that Sarah Palin has a $7 million deal publishing deal to write her memoirs. If you’re offended by this number, join the club. I’m hoping the rumor is wrong—but then I keep hoping that she’ll disappear from the national stage and stay home in Wasilla with her mouth shut and her reputation, such as it is, permanently tattered, tarnished and ruined (couldn’t think of a third word that begins with t) . But no such luck…

What is comforting that book deals are still being made. Every day in my email box I receive notices about newspaper journalists being axed by the thousands, magazines being shuttered or having their staffs slashed, and now publishing houses laying off their employees. No matter how you add it up, there are a lot of writers out of work these days. But books are being bought and read and savored and are still our companions. Barak Obama is reading books about FDR, The Defining Moment: F D R's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter and F D R by Jean Edward Smith and according to industry experts, those books are flying off the book shelves and many are going into additional printings. Then of course Doris Kearns Goodman’s book, Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is also selling like crazy.

And here’s a new take on the industry or perhaps a sign of the times. A group of women authors that include Ursula LeGuin have banded together to form Book View Café. They describe the site this way: “Book View Cafe is a new approach to publishing made possible by the Internet. While most of the fiction on the site is free, authors will also be offering expanded work, additional content, print versions, or subscriptions for a fee. Our authors are all professionals with publishing credits in the print world. The Internet is giving us an opportunity to make their out-of-print, experimental, or otherwise unavailable work to you. We love feedback on how we are doing.

Every day, new content available nowhere else will be served up on Book View Cafe: short stories, flash fiction, poetry, episodes of serialized novels, and maybe even a podcast now and then. The content will be archived and available after the posting date by visiting the author's bookshelf.”

Meanwhile, I’m planning on supporting the publishing industry by buying books as Christmas gifts. Now, I always buy books as Christmas books and gift cards to books stores as gifts, but this year I’m doubling my efforts. If we all buy at least one extra book for a Christmas gift maybe it will help keep the book stores and publishing houses alive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sullen skies again but the big rains that have been causing flooding in parts of the Northwest are supposed to be ending…or at least for awhile. Well yesterday my editor at Tarcher sent me a mock up of my cover—and it’s fabulous! If you read this blog you might know that we’ve been wrangling over the title because they didn’t want to use my title Dear Bad Writer….Anyway, the book is about all the ills that I’ve seen in my clients’ and student’s manuscripts over the years because I’d like to help people NOT get rejected. The book cover looks like a manuscript cover page and it has coffee rings in one corner as if the editor had placed a coffee cup on it and includes red ink. I cracked up and voted for adding more red ink because often when I return manuscripts they look like a bleeding corpse…And the new title is Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us which is a common line from a rejection letter, although we haven’t quite settled on the subtitle.

And speaking of editing. Awhile ago I was having dinner and listening to live music with friends at a local blues club/restaurant. That night there was one bartender working the entire room and waitressing/busing the tables, although there are usually two women working on a Saturday night. She was a maestro of efficiency—whisking around the room like a ballet dancer, but she forgot my friend’s order for crab cakes. When she returned with the order and her apology she mentioned that the previous night she’d had a waitressing nightmare where the orders were piled up and people were yelling “Miss!” and grabbing at her as she struggled to keep up with a huge crowd of hungry people. Which led us into a funny conversation about our stress/worry dreams. I used to be caterer and would dream that hundreds of people were showing up at the door for the event and I hadn’t yet begun to cook their food. Or sometimes these days, I need to speak before a large crowd or teach and I dream that the event is starting and I haven’t prepared my talk.

So this morning I woke up from a dream in which I was teaching or leading a writer’s critique group. There was an older writer in the class and her manuscript wasn’t coming together. In the dream I was struggling to explain to her how she might improve her plotting techniques and I suggested that she start working on complicated jigsaw puzzles, to try and slip into a more creative problem-solving mindset. Then I suggested that she copy my habit of using a notebook when she reads and make notes on metaphors and similes because her language was flat. In the dream I’m sort of stumped as to how to help her, but I don’t want her to give up….I want her to make a big leap in her writing…..

In case you haven’t heard about it, the good folks at the University of Oxford have assembled a list of the ten most annoying and overused buzzwords and phrases. The list appears in a new book, Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, by Jeremy Butterfield. Butterfield said: "We grow tired of anything that is repeated too often – an anecdote, a joke, a mannerism – and the same seems to happen with some language." (Drum roll please)
1. At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

Bless their hearts, although they left out my top irritations: very, synergy, strategy, utilize, think outside the box, needless to say, paradigm shift, quite literally, long story short, agree to disagree, hands-on, the bottom line, tongue in cheek, totally, absolutely, really, so called, sea change, wake-up call, no brainer, not an option, my friends and maverick (don’t get me started) Irregardless of whether you agree with them, it’s plain as day that compiling this list wasn’t rocket science. Happy writing and deleting those clichés.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day is emerging and the world looks as gloomy and foreboding as a Gothic tale. A big thanks to all the veterans among you. I hope you are safe and well and realize our gratitude for your service. If you don’t know of these sites, you might want to check out a social networking sites for vets and their families, www.comminityofveterans.org or www.mywetwork.com .

Well I’m still basking in my post-election bliss. Here’s how columnist Frank Rich in his op ed describes how Karl Rove’s wedge politics aren’t working any more and we Americans can no longer be ruled by fearmongers: “Our nation was still in the same ditch it had been the day before, but the atmosphere was giddy. We felt good not only because we had breached a racial barrier as old as the Republic. Dawn also brought the realization that we were at last emerging from an abusive relationship with our country’s 21st-century leaders. The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.”

And I am sending a big shoutout and thanks to Howard Dean who has announced that he won’t continue as head of the DNC. Remember how so many, especially Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove, laughed when he declared the 50 state strategy? They ain’t laughing now….

And didn’t I tell you that Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving? You might want to check out her Fox interview where she complains about her handlers and the people that are outing her for not knowing that Africa is a continent or the countries in North America. Meanwhile, she’s saying that she hopes that God will “show her the door” of the White House. Over my dead body but she is not going quietly.

From the Fox interview with Greta Van Susteran: “I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is.

"Even if it's cracked up a little bit, maybe I'll plough right on through that and maybe prematurely plough through it, but don't let me miss an open door."
Also, she claims her fall from grace is all the media’s fault, especially "those bloggers in their parents' basement just talkin' garbage". Tee hee. Just for the record, I blog from my second floor office and my parents live far away.

Of course, a lot of politicos are claiming that Mitt Romney is behind these Palin smears because he’s trying to take down Palin now since he wants to run in 2012. And have you heard how much money the Mormon’s spent on California’s Proposition 8? Keep an eye on the election results in Alaska—something fishy is going on up there and I’m not talking about the salmon industry. Votes are disappearing, Harry Reed doesn’t want to seat convicted felon Ted Stevens (imagine that!) and Sarah will have a big say in their Senate seat.

The New York Times has an interesting article online, For South, a Waning Hold on National Politics which talks about how the South is no longer a solid voting block and thus Nixon’s famous Southern Strategy is dead. The article is at www.nytimes.com/2008/.11/11/us/politics/11south.html

Call me an elitist, because brains are in fashion again, but I’ve never been happier about our political landscape. Or, as columnist Michael Kristof wrote: “Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.” The times they are a-changing. Happy writing to all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Skies are gloomy but my mood could not be more buoyant. I want to thank Barack Obama and his family for all their sacrifices and hard work. Ditto for his staff especially the able David Plouffe and David Axlerod and the millions of volunteers and donors that helped make this victory possible. Thanks to John McCain for his gracious and classy concession speech, especially his congratulations to "the next president of the country that we both love." And thanks to Jesse Jackson standing in the crowd at Grant Park with his emotions sketched on his face, proving the power of this moment.

We the people have spoken. This victory is George W. Bush’s impeachment, an end of an era, and a resounding repudiation of the criminal, right-wing faction that has wreaked so much damage on the country. I need to echo Gerald Ford after he took office after Nixon left the presidency in disgrace when he announced to the country, “Our national nightmare is over.”

No more apathy in the American electorate. No more being ruled by fear. No more of our personal liberties being violated. No more elections stolen. No more voter suppression. No more being reviled by the rest of the world. No more ignoring the reality of global warming. No more unbridled executive power. No more signing statements. No more torture. No more no-bid contracts. No more Abu Ghraib. No more ignoring the Geneva Convention and illegally and indefinitely holding prisoners at Guantanamo. No more warrantless surveillance of American citizens. No more borrowing billions to keep this limping economy afloat. No more deregulation of the banking industry. No more watching Bush and Cheney’s incredibly self-satisfied, smug, smirky expressions, no more enduring their obvious disdain for anyone who is not a billionaire Republican. No more empowering the evangelical wing of the Republican Party and allowing them to set the agenda for our national policies. No more Sarah Palin in our face every day, although I predict a huge book deal or talk show. And the list goes on…..

And three of the main reasons I’m so happy about last night’s victory: Justice John Paul Stevens is 88; Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 75; David Souter is 68; and all are expected to leave the Court within the next four years. With many cases likely to be decided by the Supreme Court in the next several years that linger from the years of Bush lawlessness and radicalism, this is one of the most important long-term effects of this historic election. As Obama said last night in Chicago, “It's been a long time coming, but change has come to America." Let’s bring back the Constitution keep hoping and keep the faith.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sky is pale with cloud cover. The Packers lost in overtime yesterday, but I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m also trying not to dwell on my worries about the election, but the truth is I’m as nervous as a cat. In case you haven’t voted, here are the two scariest words in the English language: President Palin.

Last week I thought a lot about the passing of Studs Terkel who died at 96. A great story teller with a keen sense of history, he wanted to live long enough to see Obama elected. He left behind a pile of published works and amazing interviews from his radio shows. He most often talked with and about the common person, as in his book Working, but was not common. He was the essence of Chicago, he was erudite and compassionate, and what I love about Midwesterners—brash, bold, plain spoken, and funny.

He didn’t set out to be writer because he first went to law school, and was a writer through the WPA writer’s program in the 1930s. He was an actor, but then he became a columnist, and had his own television show until he was caught in the crosshairs of Senator Joseph McCartney’s House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted. After the Red Scare abated he landed a daily radio show on Chicago’s WFMT which was when he learned the power of oral history. In his last years he kept on cranking out books, held onto his love of life. I loved listening to him chat with Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion who also wears red socks, the Studs trademark. I’m going to miss his wit and curiosity and his voice like gravel over whiskey.

He said, “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.” And, “I hope for peace and sanity—it’s the same thing.”

Now go out and vote.