"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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sky is the color of soot with clouds the color of gloom. The drifts and piles of snow are mostly melted, the nearby creek has risen two feet, and the city of Portland needs a new plan for dealing with a “snow emergency.” Perhaps they could start by buying more snow plows.

Meanwhile, 60-plus miles away in the Pacific 19,000 Gray whales are surging south to Baja to warmer waters to birth their calves. It’s the largest mammal migration in the world, and they travel about 12,000 miles. In my imagination I imagine them passing by, huge bulks with knuckled backs and spouts sometimes visible from the shore, their acrobatics as they breach from time to time, their songs reverberating into the depths. Whales calve only every two to four years and the mystery of whales seems endless.

In yesterday’s New York Times book section there was another exposé about a falsified memoir, Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat. Now this one was supposedly a shocker because the author was a guest on Oprah, and had previously published the story in shorter versions. The book will not be published and the publisher has asked Rosenblat to return his advance. He said, “I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people,” he wrote in the statement. “I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world. In my dreams, Roma will always throw me an apple, but I now know it is only a dream.”

It seems fairly simple to me: fiction is a pack of lies—the bigger, the better. Memoir is the truth as best you know it.

I wanted to pass along a press release I received for Oregon writers: Willamette Writers Coast Branch starts the New Year off with a workshop, “Writing Oregon 150 Stories,” led by Matt Love, editor of Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon’s Sesquicentennial Anthology (Nestucca Spit Press, 2009) on Tuesday, January 6, 2009, at Newport Public Library from 7-8:30pm.

Part of the Oregon 150 Celebration is the Oregon Stories Project (www.oregon150.org/oregon-stories) an online site collecting stories of 500 words or less about Oregon. Anyone can submit an essay or oral history as well as an accompanying photo, audio or video.

To encourage local authors to write their own Oregon 150 story, Matt Love will provide examples of current Oregon 150 Stories as well as exercises and prompts to get writers started. All interested people are welcome to attend, listen to stories, tell and write their own, and receive help in shaping them to the 500-word limit. The workshop concludes with directions to submit stories either online or by mail to Oregon Stories Project, Oregon 150, 1211 SW 5th Ave. #L17, Portland, OR 97204.

Matt Love, Director of Writers on the Edge and publisher of Nestucca Spit Press is the author of parts 1 and 2 of the Beaver State Trilogy-Grasping Wastrels vs. Beaches Forever Inc.: Covering the Fights for the Soul of the Oregon Coast; and The Far Out Story of Vortex I.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snow is falling again, adding to our white, white world and I’m heading out to spend Christmas with my daughter’s family. I wanted to wish everyone safe travels and a beautiful Christmas and downtime to enjoy the peace of the season. I also wanted to point out a few articles at salon.com. ( http://www.salon.com/)

First, there is Garrison Keillor’s essay about attending a Spanish-speaking mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christmas Without Translation.

Then, there is the list of the top ten movies of 2008 by Stephanie Zacharek—Two of my favorites made the list, The Visitor and Happy-Go-Lucky.

I would also recommend the article about the state of the publishing world Read it and Weep: Book Industry in Financial Crisis by Jason Boog. It behooves writers to pay attention to the huge shakeup happening in the publishing world. It also behooves us to write better and make contacts and then write better.

And finally just a tidbit to pass along--the Saddleback Church of which Rick Warren is the pastor has scrubbed from their website their position about not allowing gays to join their church. They’ve also removed information about how humankind once walked the earth with dinosaurs. Perhaps besides Obama, Warren is feeling the pressure.

He recently was interviewed by Sean Hannity, and Sean Hannity asked him, “Should we attack Iran?” And Rick Warren said, “Well, it’s our God-given obligation to take out evildoers.” Doesn’t that have an eerie ring of familiarity?

I don’t need to dream of a white Christmas any more but I do dream of a world where everyone is given dignity and a place at the table.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice and Hanukkah to all. Winter began around here awhile ago and snow, lots and lots of snow toppled from the heavens, followed by ice and more snow and now our world is frozen and quiet and still. Oh, and more snow is in the forecast. My plans for Christmas are now in doubt as the world remains white. I have to laugh at myself—in my secret heart I’ve been longing for this much snow and like the song says, I dream of a white Christmas. But now that it’s here I fret because I cannot go anywhere…..

A lovely reader of this blog sent me an email decrying my opinion of Rick Warren being chosen by Obama to take part in his swearing-in ceremony and suggesting that I dislike all Christians. Since she doesn’t know anything about my religious or spiritual affiliation I find this accusation puzzling. I have nothing against Christians in general who are in the majority in this country and do countless good works, although there are certain religious organizations that I believe are dangerous. Particularly right wing evangelicals who are constantly inserting themselves into our laws and rights of individuals and who operate with such breath-taking hypocrisy as they espouse pious views about family and the sanctity of life. Now, I know that Rick Warren and his church accomplish lots of good works, but I still don’t trust the post-Falwell face of the evangelical movement and question how the Saddleback Church, which doesn’t allow gays into its congregation, can identify themselves as love-thy-neighbor Christians.

As a writer I recognize that symbolism matters. And the symbolism of Warren at the inauguration ceremony infuriates me. For the record I believe firmly in a separation of Church and State, believe in a benevolent God, a just society, and freedom and equality for all, not just the 80 million evangelicals in this country. And that art matters. But don’t get me started on all I believe…

Like many people in the publishing industry I’ve been complaining about the mega-advances that celebrities receive for their books and so was thrilled to read Timothy Egan's NY Times attack on Joe the Plumber. If you haven’t had a chance to read Egan’s books, you’re missing a great writer.

Also, since books lists are so much fun, here’s Jezebel's list of 75 books that women should read. The article was in response to Esquire's list for menwhich is a response to Esquire’s list for men. I’ve read most of them! Happy holidays to all and stay warm out there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The morning sky, a dismal shade of slate promises snow.
I’m getting jazzed about 2009. Since I spent half of 2008 recovering from a car accident because a young woman could not find her cell phone while driving and plowed into me, I’m ready to close the door on this not-so fun year where I spent so much time in bed I’ve memorized the obscure pattern in my bedroom ceiling. I’m not kidding about this. And since I’m still recovering and lately my head has been throbbing constantly, well, it’s best to dream of spring and new things and imagine goodness that must surely follow travail.

So I was thrilled to hear that Elizabeth Alexander will be the inaugural poet when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in next month. She is the fourth poet to achieve this honor and along with Aretha Franklin and Yo—Yo Ma, I’m sure she’ll rock the place. Violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill will join Ma for a new work composed by John Williams. I always equate Williams with Steven Spielberg movies, don’t you? And I hear that Nickelodeon is going to cover the inauguration. How fun is that? Everyone is planning for a massive turnout with Rick Warren giving the invocation as the sour note for the day. Would someone explain why it’s necessary to court evangelicals?

But back to Alexander. From her website: “Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She is the author of four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellum Dream Book, and American Sublime, which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She is also a scholar of African-American literature and culture and recently published a collection of essays, The Black Interior. She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954,” and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers. She is a professor at Yale University, and for the academic year 2007-2008 she is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.”

And speaking of poets, W.S. Merwin was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross on December 16th and discussed his new volume of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius. If he’s still writing at 81, surely we can all pen a few more lines?

Meanwhile, speaking of out with old and in with the new, I’m trying to ignore the Bush Crime Family’s Farewell/Legacy tour as they try to reshape their oh-so tarnished image. Like they’re going to change our minds that invading and occupying Iraq was a good idea??? And now that Cheney admitted he authorized war crimes, what are we going to do with him? Throw shoes at him? So let’s not schlep down that wincingly obvious pile of horse pucky.

I’m also jazzed that Caroline Kennedy might be joining the Senate because I’ve long admired her and think she’s a terrific writer with a great mind. Other good news: in case you haven’t heard, check out ART BEAT at pbs.org/newshour/art/blog which is covering the national art scene by Jeffrey Brown, Newshour correspondent—I’m looking forward to this coverage. As I’m sure you know, in hard times we need art…and more art….

The wintry weather is still blustering through our region, and I’m keep listening in to the prognosticators trying to figure out when I can venture forth. Stay warm and keep it lit and power to the people.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The morning skies are pewter colored as we’re heading for the Solstice and another winter storm is arriving to add to the snow and ice already on the ground. School closings are being announced and I can imagine children all over the city still tucked in their beds. Yesterday afternoon after the sun shone on the icy street in front of my house, I was able to make it to the post office to mail out-of-town Christmas gifts and the grocery store to stock up on food. The line in the post office was the longest I’ve ever seen, but everyone was cheerful and resigned and laden with packages. I passed the time trying to peek at the addresses on these packages, imagining them arriving in North Carolina and Ohio and other destinations.

At the store, there were few parking spots and carts available and inside it buzzed and clattered with throngs of shoppers jamming the aisles in search of provisions. For the first time since I’ve lived in Portland, the shelves were being stripped of basics like bread and butter and milk. I was reminded of people stocking up before a hurricane although the parking lot was slick with ice. After returning home with my provisions I walked inside and experienced a dull, empty sensation that can only be called cabin fever as there are predicted more days ahead of storms and ice and cold.

Now, since I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, I know that winter can deal out much harsher blows that our below freezing temperatures and traction-device only driving conditions. Last week I was talking with someone about the coming storm and talking about a winter I spent in Wisconsin on the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation when I was in my twenties. My daughter was in first grade and every morning I’d walk her about a half mile to the bus stop through the woods. Most mornings it was about twenty five below and the dawn came in shades of violet painting the horizon and we’d shine a flashlight on the animal prints in fresh snow. As we walked along it was still as if the whole world was holding its breath in the snow-covered forest except for loud cannon blasts emitting as trees cracked in the deep freeze of winter. Somehow, these memories are still some of my best although I can still remember the bone-chilling cold and what it felt like to return to my cabin and the wood stove.

This morning I told myself I was a winter writer, that sun is a distraction. I tell myself that cold weather makes a person feel really alive—and it does, it does. So I’ll concoct a pot of stew and I’ll drink tea by the quart and I’ll watch the snow tumble down, marveling at how the world is transformed under fresh layers of white.
For people living in Washington, Kay Kenyon, of the Write on the River conference held each May in Wenatchee, WA sent me this announcement: Update: Expanded Writers' Competition

Greetings! It's time to give yourself a gift this holiday season, or to spice up your new year with an early resolution. The 2009 (second annual) WOTR Writers' Competition has been expanded with two distinct prose categories, both fiction and nonfiction, and more generous awards.

Some things are the same: maximum word length is still 1000 words, and the entry is $15, or $40 for entry fee and a written critique. Anyone in Washington may enter -- aspiring, pre-published, or published, and you have until February 6, 2009 to mail in your entry. See our website for rules, guidelines and printable form.
You can start the new year right -- just start writing!! (http://www.writeontheriver.org)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The neighborhood is blanketed in such thick fog that some of the nearby trees are mere shadows. Over the weekend I was out a tree farm on Saturday during a day with turquoise skies then drove home later with my tree under a sunset of rose, amber, and violet that was spectacular. On Sunday morning I was upstairs at my desk in my pajamas when I heard a loud truck approaching. A house was sailing past with two men riding on top of the roof like circus performers riding elephants. One man walked along on the sidewalk snapping photos with his cell phone as a gaggle of families with children followed along. I dressed quickly and joined my neighbors to watch the house being lowered into the lot. A deep hole had been dug because they’re adding another story beneath the house, then the engineers spent the next hour positioning it so that it could be winched into place. I spoke with one of the drivers of wide load trucks who described some of their more difficult jobs and then chatted with neighbors I’d never spoken with before. And I kept imagining a real circus arriving in the days of old when the men would erect the Big Top and all the excitement and speculation.

America has always been a place of opportunity and second chances. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, is now writing a column for Slate. His first column is titled We need to stop using the bailouts to rebuild gigantic financial institutions. I couldn’t agree more…

I received this notice from amazon.com yesterday that I wanted to pass along:
We invite you to visit the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award website at www.amazon.com/abna where you can read the latest news on this year’s contest. Find out more about bestselling authors Sue Monk Kidd and Sue Grafton who will be leading our expert reviewer panel upcoming contest.

You can also read about some of last year’s finalists who have since received publishing contracts. Plus, don't miss Bill Loehfelm's 2008 winning novel “Fresh Kills,” hailed by the Associated Press as “the finest crime fiction debut since Dennis Lehane burst on the scene,” now available in hardcover from Penguin Group (USA).

The submission period begins on February 2, 2009 and ends on February 8, 2009 or when we receive 10,000 entries, whichever comes first. If you're an author with an unpublished novel, you can sign up for important contest updates and information on how to get your entry prepared for submission. Please note that previously published titles, including self-published titles, are not eligible for entry.

Visit the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award website at www.amazon.com/abna.

Writers ask me often about finding agents or if I can hook them up with agents. Sorry, not in the business of match making, but I suggest that if you’re agent hunting that you read their blogs or at the least the submission guidelines that their agency posts online. Here are two blogs that are worthwhile. The first is from Nathan Bransford who writes:
I'm a literary agent with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd., a New York based literary agency that has been representing writers since 1914. I'm particularly interested in literary fiction, mysteries and suspense, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, business, history, sports, politics, current events, young adult fiction, science fiction and anything else I happen to like! I'm afraid I do not represent poetry or screenplays. If you are interested in submitting a project for representation, please e-mail me a letter describing your project at nb@cbltd.com. No attachments, please. If you have a question, please first check the links in "The Essentials" directly below, and especially the FAQs. Thanks for reading this literary agent's blog, and best of luck with your search for representation!

And another blog by Janet Reid Literary Agent . Here is her introduction: I’m a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. I specialize in crime fiction. I’ll be glad to receive a query letter from you; guidelines to help you decide if I’m looking for what you write are below. There are several posts labeled “query pitfalls and “annoy me” that many help you avoid some common mistakes when querying.

Monday, December 01, 2008

It’s December already and today the sky shifted from foggy mist to a silver hue. Then it was sunny and blue and by mid-afternoon a cloud bank had rolled in like it meant business and now it’s drizzling. Temperatures still warm, ski resorts still not open on the nearby mountains. Luckily, I write instead of ski and clouds are conducive to writing. On this day in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King Jr., took up her cause and called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company, which lasted 382 days. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of buses was unconstitutional.

So I was thinking about Rosa Parks and her rare act of courage and thinking too about how writing requires courage and belief. What if the book you’re writing or are afraid to write causes a movement, just as Rosa’s refusal exploded the South’s Jim Crow’s laws? Or maybe your book will make a reader look more closely into the past, or understand her sister or father or neighbor better. Or maybe your book will open a groundswell of compassion for all humankind. You never know what a single act of courage or words on the page can unleash.

And news from MediaBistro: Bill Shapiro (editor of Other People's Love Letters) is looking for your literary rejection letters, planning to publish them in a 2010 collection entitled, Other People's Rejection Letters.

If you need more immediate satisfaction (or sympathy) feel free to include your literary rejection in the comments section. Or check out the excellent Literary Rejections on Display blog.

From the press release: "Whether typed form letters or handwritten in a fit of rage, whether sent by text message, email, or scrawled in crayon, any kind of rejection is fair game ... If you have a letter, you can either send it to me or scan it (600 dpi, por favor) and then email it."

For my word list ballyhooed, boondoggle, hornswoggle, crimeny....What words have you added lately?