"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, March 25, 2009

And here is another writing opportunity from Colleen Sell, the editor of the Cup of Comfort series:
In like a lion, out like a lamb! I, for one, am glad to be saying "so long" to March, because it means that, moving forward, the weather will become increasingly spring-like. Yet, I have only to glance at the front page of a newspaper to be reminded that, for many of us, just as the temperature rises, so, too, do our concerns about how we'll weather the storm of this shaky economy. Some days, it's enough to make even the sunniest person feel down.

The tenacity of the human spirit is never more apparent than in challenging times like these. And when the going gets tough, we often look to others whose tenacious spirits have enabled them to weather similar storms and whose living examples inspire us to persevere and to find a ray of hope behind even the darkest clouds. That's why we want to hear how you cope with, get through, and rise above your own challenges.

To that end, we are thrilled to announce the Silver Lining contest, brought to you by REDBOOK magazine and Adams Media!

In a 1,000 to 2,000-word personal essay, tell us how you've found the silver lining—what or who gave you inspiration, strength, hope, and comfort—during a personal challenge. If your story is selected as the grand-prize winner, it will inspire millions of others—and you'll win $1,000! Your story will also be excerpted in a future issue of REDBOOK and published in full on CupofComfort.com. Prizes will also be given to the authors of the three runner-up stories; these will be announced in REDBOOK and on CupOfComfort.com.

You must enter by May 15, 2009, and submissions will be accepted only through the online submission form. Make sure to select "Silver Lining Story Contest" on the pull-down menu of the form's "Select Cup of Comfort Book/Contest" field. To submit a story, you must be a CupOfComfort.com member (Register Now) and logged into the site (Login Now).

Please note that the Silver Lining submissions are for the contest only and not for publication consideration in a Cup of Comfort book. Please also note that I will not be involved in vetting stories or selecting winners for the Silver Lining contest. Instead, all entries will be reviewed by Meredith O'Hayre, the Cup of Comfort project editor at Adams Media, and REDBOOK editors will review the top 100 submissions and select the winning stories.

To learn more about the Silver Lining contest and for complete contest rules, click here.

Good luck with your Silver Lining submissions!

May the remainder of your March be as gentle as a lamb.

Colleen Sell

Writing Guidelines for Your Silver Lining Story:

* Create an anecdotal story about an event or series of event(s) that had a profound and positive impact on you or on the person(s) you are writing about.
* Write a personal story that embodies a universal truth.
* Show, don't tell. Color your story with action, imagery, dialog, and/or dramatic scenes.
* Write from the heart. Make each scene as real for the readers as it was for the person who lived or witnessed it.
* Begin with a strong lead that hooks the reader and that clearly and creatively introduces the main character(s), establishes the central theme of the story (plot), and sets the scene.
* Create a rich middle that depicts compelling life experiences and human emotions—in other words, dramatic action. The mid-section should include at least one compelling plot point (pivotal moment) as well as transitional scenes or other transitional devices that continually move the story forward and toward the conclusion.
* End with a satisfying conclusion that resolves the conflict/challenge in a positive way, leaves readers with an Aha! or Wow! or Yes! moment.
* Build your story around a distinctive, compelling, and believable premise that weaves together the story and drives the plot forward.
* Use lively, descriptive language that is appropriate for the time, place, and people depicted in the story as well as for A Cup of Comfort and REDBOOK readers
Still raining here in Portland--although it seems like it does every year for spring break. I'm passing along information about a playwriting contest that has just appeared in my in box:

New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest is accepting scripts through June 30, 2009 for new works that:

1) Enhance self-realization
2) Support peace and social justice
3) Foster new understanding of minority issues that focus on racial, ethnic and gender discrimination both in the United States and abroad
4) Empower youth to build healthy inner foundations
5) Educate to gain further insight into healthy social/emotional living
6) Shed new light on religious, spiritual, and cultural differences and issues
7) Build respect for cultural expression and identity in a world that is experiencing rapid globalization
8) Explore the widening gap between the values this country was founded on and the values we present to the world today

For Guidelines and Application Form: PLAYWRITINGCONTEST (dot) CJB (dot) NET

As a direct result of the New Works of Merit Playwriting Contests:

* “Arkadelphia” by Brett Williams was published in Best American Short Plays by
Applause Books.

* “He Came Home One Day While I Was Washing Dishes” by Christine Rusch was
published in Best American Short Plays by Applause Books.

* 2004 contest winner, Rudy Gray, is now a Resident Playwright of 13th Street
Repertory Company-NYC

* “Conversation with a Kleagle” by Rudy Gray was produced twice in NYC Feb 16, 2006 – Apr 7, 2006 and also Feb 6, 2009 – Mar 29, 2009

* “Ruby's Story” by Ron Osborne was produced in NYC May 13, 2004 - July 3, 2004
and will be produced again June 12, 2009 – July 19, 2009.

* “Interview” by Valerie Killigrew, was produced in NYC Nov 2 – Dec 2, 2006.
* “Cry Wolf” by Deborah Mulhall was produced in NYC Oct 7 – Nov 27, 2004.
* “Shades” by Paula J. Caplan received a free development workshop
June 28-July 2, 2004.

* Eleven finalists and five scripts that were not finalists received a free reading.

Since January 2002, Sandra Nordgren, the founder of the contest, has been responsible for the offering of over 150 readings, 36 productions, 16 development workshops, and two theater playwriting residencies, all in New York City at no cost to the playwright.

As writers, we have been given a precious gift. Let us use that gift to create powerful, heartfelt new works that not only entertain, but also educate, enlighten and uplift humanity.

You were recommended for this group by either requesting to be a member or through a recommendation from a colleague or industry professional.

Please note that your information and email address will not be shared with anyone and that you will receive no more than 4 emails a year. If you wish to be removed from this list, simply write Unsubscribe in the Subject line and upon receipt, your email address will be promptly deleted.

We look forward to receiving your script!

Merit Theater and Film Group, Inc.
The Literary Staff
New Works of Merit Playwriting Contest

There is also an open casting call happening in Portland this Sunday, March 29 for a Harrison Ford movie being filmed here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Clouds everywhere and more rain in the forecast. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all. And did you know that blue, not green is the official color of St. Patrick?
On Sunday night my book club was here and we were talking about some of the good dramatic series on television. I started the conversation because I’m crazy about Breaking Bad on AMC. Its amazing writing and acting. Now, I don’t watch a lot of series now that I don’t have HBO any more, but compared BB to Deadwood—also an amazing drama. And one of the club members said she’s never wasted time watching television, implying that it was beneath her. I have missed entire decades of television, and don’t watch sit coms or anything with a laugh track. I’ve never seen Will and Grace, or Desperate Housewives, or St. Elsewhere, or for that matter Seinfeld or Friends. But good storytelling can come in many forms, including television, and Breaking Bad is fabulous storytelling.

A confession: I don’t text, I don’t tweet or twitter, or have a profile on Facebook. Don’t have the time or interest. And although I’m not a Facebook gal, here are 25 short things I know about writing.
1. Writing while artful, it is a craft and can be learned.
2. Keep a writer’s notebook where you capture the world around you.
3. Gather metaphors from great writers to inspire your own.
4. When you’re writing your final draft and the writing seems flat keep asking yourself, what does that remind me of.
5. As Strunk & White proclaimed “Omit needless words.”
6. Make sure your beginnings grab a reader. Use an anecdote, dialogue, action, raise a question, slip in a potent description.
7. Use a variety of sentence lengths and structures.
8. Verbs are the most important parts of the sentence—collect vivid verbs.
9. Use onomatopoeia—it brings language to life.
10. Prepositions are the carbohydrates of language—comb your writing and trim prepositional phrases that clutter your sentences, burying nouns and verbs.
11. Justify every modifier—they should only modify what the noun cannot and should always surprise or jolt the reader. Arthur Plotnik’s example is don’t use yellow daffodils because daffodils are yellow, instead describe them as gaudy. As Mark Twain said about adjectives, when it doubt, strike it out.
12. Adverbs are usually clutter, especially those with an -ly ending as when you write walk slowly instead of plod.
13. Write in the active voice.
14. Use short sentences for emphasis but don’t overdo because a series of short sentences actually slow the pacing—sort of like driving over speed bumps.
15. Use words of mostly Anglo Saxon origin.
16. Learn all you can about narrative structure, including the structure of individual scenes.
17. Read critically analyzing authors’ techniques.
18. Avoid using qualifiers (sort of, kind of, pretty much, a bit, etc.) and intensifiers (very, quite, really, awfully, deeply, truly, etc.)
19. Write your first draft as fast you can while the idea burns bright within you.
20. Learn the rules of punctuation as a courtesy to readers and avoid using exclamation marks because they make you look like you’re 8 years old!!
21. Don’t wait for the muse or mood to arrive—you’ll be waiting most of your life. Write despite your tiredness, bad back, low self esteem, worry about your mother’s health, or despair over your kid’s addiction. Just write. Every day.
22. Editing can feel like you’re wandering through the seven circles of hell. Do it anyway.
23. Don’t talk too much about your writing—it dissipates its power. Spend your energy on the actual writing.
24. In the beginning, before you have developed the discernment to understand if your writing has power, find readers to give you honest feedback. This is likely not your spouse, best friend, or mother.
25. Accept that rejection is part of your job description.

And if you’re having a bad writing day: Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. (George Orwell, "Why I Write," 1947.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pale blue skies this morning and another day of sunshine on the way here—it’s been so lovely lately it's ridiculous and yesterday I spotted buds on a cherry tree.

Well, another big book deal just came down. From the Daily Beast: “Yes, it’s official: The book world has gone crazy. Here we are, a few weeks after some of the darkest days in publishing—both in layoffs and in actual sales—and along comes the newly revamped HarperCollins imprint William Morrow to give more than $3 million to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the admittedly genius pilot who saved 155 lives by landing USAirways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in January. Yes, Sully’s a bona fide hero, and after hearing his testimony in Washington about the conditions pilots work under, I believe a grateful nation owes him a big payday.
But wait: The crazy part is that the Sullenberger deal was for two books. The first will be a memoir, and the second is a collection of Sully’s inspirational poems. Who knew that next to the heart of a hero lurked the soul of a poet? …..”

So on one hand, we hear about the demise of the publishing industry, on the other hand, these crazy mega deals are still going on for celeb writers.

Here’s more from the article: “But the rest of BookLand doesn’t have this pandering rationale to blame for some of the nutty deals that have gone down in the last few weeks. $2.5 million to comedian Kathy Griffin? (Who, with that advance, goes from Hollywood’s D-List to publishing’s A-list.) And a staggering $4.8 million to Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife? That, too, was a hot auction—the first book was a phenomenon—run by New York’s Joe Regal. At one point more than ten publishers were in the mix, some within Random House bidding against each other (as is their wont). Last night the rumor was that Reagan Arthur of Little, Brown had “won” the privilege of publishing Her Fearful Symmetry in fall 2009, but at least one wag, who rightly insisted the auction wasn’t settled yet, was willing to believe it. “It figures. They’re buying up everything all over town.” In fact, the book went to Scribner, leaving all that money in the Hachette coffers (left over from Twilight goddess Stephenie Meyer) with which to overpay another day.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I just wanted to pass this tidbit along from www.powellsblog.com. The folks at SMITH magazine have been compiling tiny memoirs for a while now, first published in print as Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Contributors range from ordinary people who submitted their six words online to not-so-regular folks like Amy Sedaris ("Mushrooms. Clowns. Wands. Five. Wig. Thatched.") and Chuck Klosterman ("Nobody cared, then they did. Why?").

Now, they've followed up with Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: By Writers Famous and Obscure, being released just in time for the most polarizing of saint-based holidays. Some of our favorites include Elizabeth Minkel's "Silently suffered his facial hair experiments" and Jaynel Attolini's "Among your sexiest attributes: health insurance."

Simply post a comment containing your six-word autobiography below — a general summation, not limited to love or heartbreak. (But really, is it ever about anything else? Sigh.) We'll pick 10 finalists, to be featured on our blog, and submit them to the HarperCollins panel of judges, who will choose the soon-to-be-published author.
Deadline for submitting is 12:00 midnight (PST), April 15, 2009. Click here for official contest rules.

How about: You too young, me too wise? Or am I giving too much away?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Gorgeous layers of clouds this morning. I’ve mentioned before in this blog that writing practice—writing just for fun with no expectation of getting published— is a terrific means to keep your skills sharp and your voice fresh. Practice can open up new possibilities for your writing life, can be used as a warm-up exercise, and can invigorate daily routines. It’s one of the reasons why I include writing prompts in my newsletters. So I was combing through old emails yesterday looking for some contact information and ran across this email from one of my students who lives in British Columbia that I want to pass along. In case you haven’t seen this before:

It’s a sometimes funny, automatic situation generator that might be useful in your writing – enjoy! Here are a few examples.
A bank teller meets an one-armed restaurant owner.
A race car driver engages in pointless banter with a hot-shot outlaw in a cave.

Also, did you know that March is National Sauce Month? How fun is that? Sauces were likely originally invented to hide the flavors of spoiled meats, but these days are, of course, flavor enhancers. A sauce is liquid or sometimes semi-solid food served on or used in preparing other foods. Sauces are not consumed by themselves; they add flavor, moisture, and visual appeal to another dish. Sauce is a French word taken from the Latin salsus, meaning salted. Sauces need a liquid component, but with dishes such as pasta can contain more solid elements than liquid? I like any sauce with ginger in it, but then there’s adobe or chipotle chilies, lime, garlic, shallots, wine, and, of course, bacon. Gotta stop, I’m getting hungry and I need to get back to working on my manuscript. After you’ve concocted your sauce, just keep writing.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Clouds this morning after rain in the night. Yesterday was so soft and lovely and spring-like that it's difficult to describe in words. Well Blagojevich got his six-figure book deal. His publicist Glenn Selig says that it’s going to be a tell-all about “the dark side of politics.” Doesn’t he personify the dark side of politics? The deal is with Phoenix Books, “run by maverick publisher Michael Viner.” Hhmm...there’s that word maverick again, code for a**hole. The working title is The Governor.

“The governor chose to go with a large independent company because he wanted to tell his story without any restrictions over content that might’ve come with a major publishing house,” Selig said in the release. “He simply did not want to accept constraints or conditions on what he could say in this book.”

Anyway, read between the lines about why he isn’t with a major publisher, but I’m sure he’s raring to be out on a book tour, proclaiming his innocence. Except there’s a small hitch. The Illinois legislature doesn’t want him to cash in on his notoriety if he’s convicted of federal charges. “Corrupt Illinois politicians, for example Rod Blagojevich, are looking to cash in by telling their stories after the fact,” Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock) said. “They should not be allowed to benefit from their actions in any way, most of all financially.”

Yikes, the more we learn about the Bush Crime Family, the more they sound like, well, a crime family. The Huffington Post is running links to the released the memos from the Obama administration. They are previously inaccessible memos written by Bush administration officials outlining their reasons for why the military had the right to warrantless wiretaps and warrantless search and seizures of people in the U.S. they deemed to be terrorist suspects.

This just in from the Associated Press: "New documents show the CIA destroyed nearly 100 tapes of terror interrogations." Confirmation of the destroyed videotapes came in a government letter filed in a New York court today as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU "seeking records of the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad."

Is it just me, or are you feeling like we’ve just lived through the Stalin administration?

One more bit of depressing news. Salon is starting a new blog—The Brand Graveyard about the American businesses that are folding in our bottomed out economy. One of first entries is about the death of Rocky Mountain News. R.I.P.

Monday, March 02, 2009

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured,will revive and will prosper.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment. Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of temporary profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself,treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.

This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

first inaugural address, January, 1933 (edited for brevity)