"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, June 30, 2009

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light. Joseph Pulitzer

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It was in the 80s here today and I don't want to sound like a sissy-pants but it felt like the Sahara. Need to adapt I told myself as I wrung sweat from my hair, or maybe cut my hair off.....

What are you reading these days? FROM National Public Radio
Vote For The Best Beach Books Of All Time

NPR.org, June 18, 2009 · NPR is drawing up a list of the best beach books ever — and we need you to help by nominating your favorites.

What do we mean by "beach books"? When you read one, your surroundings recede, time bends and you're transported, mesmerized, enthralled. These are page turners to be sure, but that doesn't mean they're brainless. This year's list will be fiction only; any genre, any period.

To send us your summer suggestions, log in and use the comments field below. Limit yourself to three titles per post. If you like, give a sentence or two telling us about the experience of reading your best beach books.

Later, we'll post the most popular and interesting nominees and let the NPR audience vote on the ultimate list — because, like novels passing hand-to-hand in a summer house, great summer books should be shared with friends.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer is here……Back from my Summer in Words conference in Manzanita and still catching up on my sleep. Thanks so much to Kari Luna, who was the most wonderful of assistants-- good humored, intelligent, competent, and fun. Thanks to Gloria Kempton, Bill Johnson, and Jennie Shortridge for ably dispensing knowledge to the writers gathered and to the attendees for their passion for writing, attentiveness, and friendship. Finally thanks to Lola Sacks of The Center for Contemplative Arts in Manzanita for her help and goodness.

Here’s a quote for you: “The best memoirs seem to be not about a remarkable life, but about a life that is remarkably seen. So much so that readers are able to find the emotional and intellectual strands of their own life in the writer’s.” Thomas Montgomery Fate

And from National Public Radio: “At NPR, we love to hear, and tell, your real-life stories every day. Now, we want to hear your fiction as well. This summer, we're beginning a contest called "Three-Minute Fiction." The premise is simple: Listeners send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less — that's usually about 500-600 words long.

James Wood, literary critic for The New Yorker and author of the book How Fiction Works, will serve as NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" guide. Wood will appear on-air throughout the summer to read his favorite submissions, and we'll also post them here on NPR.org.

Wood tells NPR's Guy Raz that writing a 500-word story "strikes at the very heart of the short story as a project, which is to get something going rapidly." Writing three-minute fiction is good practice. Think, he says, of the masters of the short story, like Anton Chekhov, who began his career writing comic squibs for newspapers.
"This is something that interests all writers, not just short-story writers, but novelists, too," Wood says. "How do you get a character, as it were, into a room and up and going within a sentence or two?"

"One of the most effective ways to get a very short story vivid," he says, "is to think in terms of voice." Maybe the character narrates the story, for example, or perhaps the story is told within the consciousness of the character. "In other words," Wood says, "thinking in terms of the story as a dramatic monologue."
Wood offers a piece by Lydia Davis to show how powerful a very brief short story can be. "For Sixty Cents" is a terse story, just over 200 words, that brings a moment in a Brooklyn coffee shop to life. It's fragmentary and suggestive, like the pieces Wood expects to hear from listeners.

"I'm going to be looking at a writer's ability to suggest a world, rather than to fill it in and dot every i."

Wood's reading of "For Sixty Cents" clocks in at 1 minute, 3 seconds — proof that a good story can be told in three minutes or less.

Now, lend us your imagination. For official rules and to read Davis’ story go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105685925

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Here is info sent to me by Valerie Brooks of Oregon Writers Colony:
The Bite Submission

Oregon Writers Colony MEMBERS AND WRITERS!

Opportunity to promote your work at OWC Founder’s Day weekend, August 15 & 16, 2009.

“Take a Bite of Literature!”

OWC is working together with Jeff Goodwin at The Beach Bite in Rockaway Beach to promote writers over OWC Founder’s Day weekend. You don’t have to be present to take part. At his restaurant over the weekend, his staff will distribute to his customers “A Bite of Literature,” a 5 ½ x 11” page with your poem, a first novel paragraph, a short story beginning, or any piece of humor, memoir or non-fiction. These pages will also be distributed at the library reading on Sunday and at Founder’s Day on Sunday.

Send us up to 150 words of your work. Work does not need to be published, but should be examples of your best work. If it has been published, include publication info and copyright permission to reproduce. Don’t forget your name, website and contact info! The Founder’s Day “Take a Bite of Literature” committee will make final selections for distribution.

“The Bite of Literature” page will include your information, OWC info and a sponsorship line and logo from The Beach Bite.

Send your submission to or for further information email Valerie Brooks at
vjbrooks51 (at sign) earthlink dot net.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I write to discover what I know.~ Flannery O'Connor
I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that the person could be me. Anna Quinlen

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Not one day in anyone’s life is an uneventful day, no day without profound meaning, no matter how dull and boring it might seem, no matter whether you are a seamstress or a queen, a shoeshine boy, or a movie star, a renowned philosopher or a Down’s-syndrome child. Because in every day of your life, there are opportunities to perform little kindnesses for others, both by conscious acts of will and unconscious example. Each smallest act of kindness—even just words of hope when they are needed, the remembrance of a birthday, a compliment that engenders a smile—reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it’s passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away. Likewise, each small meanness, each thoughtless expression of hatred, each envious and bitter act, regardless of how petty, can inspire others, and is therefore the seed that ultimately produces evil fruit, poisoning people whom you have never met and never will. All human lives are so profoundly and intricately entwined—those dead, those living, those generations yet to come—that the fate of all is the fate of each, and the hope of humanity rests in every heart and in every pair of hands. Therefore, after every failure, we are obliged to strive again for success, and when faced with the end of one thing, we must build something new and better in the ashes, just as from pain and grief, we must weave hope, for each of us is a thread critical to the strength—to the very survival of the human tapestry. Every hour in every life contains such often-unrecognized potential to affect the world that the great days and thrilling possibilities are combined always in this momentous day."
— Dean Koontz (From the Corner of His Eye)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Glorious evening here in Portland. File this under people who drive me crazy; or a day in the life; or how not to behave if you're an unpublished/unknown writer. I quote his email below. (And yes, I googled him and he has no writing credits.)

Dear Jessica,
I am pleased to have read your book. It is a very content heavy dissertation on villians, etc. I am an aspiring screenwriter, and yours is the first book I've seen that deals with this subject to any great depth. The only criticism that I have with the text is that there is entirely too much repitition. A number of times you used 3 even 4 adjectives instead of using one or at most 2 to describe your sentence's subject. And I lost count the number of paragraphs that were also unnecessary. I estimate that the book could have been 25% shorter without losing any power at all. Well, I hope you don't think of me as being too harsh. I hope that my critique may be of some value. I do repeat my enjoyment reading this book which covers a very interesting subject quite well.
Best regards,
Phil Klassen

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Early here with clouds still blanketing the dawn and a single bird squawking, not singing. I've refrained from writing about politics here for awhile, not because I've stopped caring, but because the same people are up to same crazy actions. Dick Cheney and his family appearing non-stop on every media outlet that will have them --it's all about tainting the jury (the crow bar hotel would loom in his future if the administration and Senate had the stones to prosecute him for war crimes), burnishing his legacy, and because he genuinely dislikes Obama. Then Sarah Palin is as usual vindictive and crazed--her latest dust up with David Letterman proves it. It also proves Letterman suffers from poor taste at times, but I'm sure if he was the governor of say, Alaska, that he wouldn't spout pro-women feminist nonsense while charging rape victims for their rape kits. I've been especially pissed off by the latest wave of domestic violence, exemplified by the murder of Dr. Tiller in Kansas and the nutroll who starting shooting in the Holocaust Museum.

Here's the opening on the subject from Joe Conason's Salon column: "Acts of madness like the killing of George Tiller and Stephen T. Johns can be too easily dismissed as the work of disturbed individuals and then subsumed in the usual rumble of recrimination between left and right. But if we are to understand the deeper implications of those acts of murder, what must be examined is their origin in the shadow world of white nationalism.

Nobody knows more about the movements that spawned the alleged gunmen than Leonard Zeskind, who has spent most of a lifetime observing, analyzing and opposing racism and anti-Semitism in America and abroad. Now he has distilled those hard and dangerous decades of work into "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement From the Margins to the Mainstream," a magisterial new book that explains how and why racial hatred became and remains a significant political force in American society."

In the column and in the book Zeskind describes how this movement was actually more active during the Reagan era than it is today and the steps that were taken to stop it. Interesting reading since domestic terrorism, including those aimed at women's health clinics and abortion providers is as big a threat as foreign terrorism.

Back to the writing life--hang on to your dreams.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blue is being leeched from the skies and my neighbors are barbecuing, smoke and meaty smells wafting in from several directions.

I’ve been meaning to post this from Gawker.com: “Last month, San Franciscan literary figure Dave Eggers promised to personally email anyone who feared that print is dead, and cheer them up. He's done it! Here's your full Dave Eggers 'Print Lives' Reassurance Email:

Dear Person Needing Bucking Up,
Hello and thank you so much for writing. I feel honored that you would take the time to reach out and in many cases tell me your very real struggles with writing and work and the future of the printed word.

I have a few thoughts to share, though unfortunately in this space I can't detail all the reasons I think we have a fighting chance at keeping newspapers and books alive in physical form. But before I do blather for a few paragraphs, I should apologize for sending you a mass email.

We’re convinced that the best way to ensure the future of journalism is to create a workable model where journalists are paid well for reporting here and abroad. And that starts with paying for the physical paper. And paying for the physical paper begins with creating a physical object that doesn’t retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print. We believe that if you use the hell out of the medium, if you give investigative journalism space, if you give photojournalists space, if you give graphic artists and cartoonists space— if you really truly give readers an experience that can’t be duplicated on the web— then they will spend $1 for a copy. And that $1 per copy, plus the revenue from some (but not all that many) ads, will keep the enterprise afloat. Anyway. I would like to say to you good print-loving people that for every dire bit of news there is out there, there is also some good news, too. The main gist of my (rambling) speech at the Author’s Guild was that because I work with kids in San Francisco, I see every day that their enthusiasm for the printed word is no different from that of kids from any other era. Reports that no one reads anymore, especially young people, are greatly overstated and almost always factually lacking. I've written about youth readership elsewhere, but to reiterate: sales of young adult books are actually up. Total volume of all book sales is actually up. Kids get the same things out of books that they have before. Reading in elementary schools and middle schools is no different than any other time. We have work to do with keeping high schoolers reading, but then again, I meet every week with 15 high schoolers in San Francisco, and all we do is read (literary magazines, books, journals, websites, everything) in the process of putting together the Best American Nonrequired Reading. And I have to say these students, 14 to 18 years old, are far better read and more astute than I was at their age, and there are a million other kids around the country just like them.

These kids meet every week at McSweeney's, and things at our small publishing company are stable. We’re a hand-to-mouth operation to be sure, but we haven't had to lay anyone off. To some extent, that's because we're small and independent and have always insisted on staying small and independent. We take on very little risk, and we grow very cautiously. It's our humble opinion that the world will support many more publishers of our size and focus. If you can stay small, stay independent, readers will be loyal, and you'll be able to get by publishing work of merit. Publishing has, for most of its life, been a place of small but somewhat profit margins, and the people involved in publishing were happy to be doing what they loved. It's only recently, when large conglomerates bought so many publishing companies and newspapers, that demands for certain margins squeezed some of the joy out of the business….”

Read the whole piece at http://gawker.com/5277281/dave-eggers-reassures-us-that-print-lives-via-email

Time to light the grill.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NEWS FLASH: I was just out walking a bit. It's almost twilight here with a bank of low-hanging clouds pulling into town overtaking the sky, everything sort of hazy with deep greens bleeding into each other and roses blooming everywhere. Things sort of still and mysterious, yet people still gardening, kids skateboarding, birds twittering. The ballgame at the middle school was ending and a coach took the time to walk a kid to his mom's car and tell her what a great game he played. Went into detail about his moves in the outfield, his times at bat. It was one of the sweetest conversations I've eavesdropped on lately.(I was forced to slow down a smidge.) You hear so much about kids' sports being ruined by adults...this guy was stellar.

But anyway, with one thing or other, I forgot to pick up my mail today and when I returned home found a letter from Zachary Petit the managing editor of Writer's Digest magazine and a copy of the July/August issue. They're running an excerpt from Between the Lines in it about pacing (page 73). Earlier today I was at the Willamette Writers office to have lunch with Bill Johnson, writer and office manager. They're getting ready for their annual conference and the place was humming with the business of helping writers. The conference is from August 7-9 and I'll be teaching 2 workshops there. As I was waiting for Bill to get off the phone I was thumbing through the previous issue of WD, noticing how they've revamped the format and that it is again filled with meaty and helpful articles for writers. So thanks and kudos to Writer's Digest magazine. Besides my article, I'd suggest you check out Your Publishing Survival Guide by Patricia Holt and Hindsight's 20/20 where published authors talk about what they wish they'd known about the publishing process.
Rain is coming down from a sky the color of alabaster. The New York Times is running a Summer Thriller feature on their Opinion page. Here are the opening paragraphs to a story by Lee Childs, A Guy Walks Into a Bar...published on June 7.

"SHE was about 19. No older. Maybe younger. An insurance company would have given her 60 more years to live. I figured a more accurate projection was 36 hours, or 36 minutes if things went wrong from the get-go.

She was blond and blue-eyed, but not American. American girls have a glow, a smoothness, from many generations of plenty. This girl was different. Her ancestors had known hardship and fear. That inheritance was in her face and her movements. Her eyes were wary. Her body was lean. Not the kind of lean you get from a diet, but the Darwinian kind of lean you get when your grandparents had no food — and either starved or didn’t. Her movements were fragile and tense, a little alert, a little nervous, though on the face of it she was having as good a time as a girl could get."

This news arrived from Media Bistro: As the publishing recession continues, the number of self-published books will undoubtedly rise. While these books lack traditional editorial support, a new generation of gatekeepers may help curate this vast sea of content.

This month Amy Edelman will launch IndieReader, a selective marketplace for self-published books. The site will accept submissions from self-published authors, curating a selected amount of titles--accepted members will pay an annual fee to sell books on the site.

Here's more from the site: "Books will be chosen for inclusion on the IndieReader site by a panel of editors, literary agents, and marketing professionals, and all categories of books (except for porn) will be represented. There will be a charge for membership; in exchange, authors will get a sales venue and a web page with its own URL. Authors will set their book's retail price and receive 75% of the sales (the buyer will pay for shipping). Authors will have complete control over the editorial content of their sites with no general restrictions on reviews, interviews, video, and audio."

Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Heading for dusk sky is pearly pale blue. I know I look like a blogging slacker these days with scant entries but I ripped up one of my lower discs last week and at the same time am getting ready for (drumroll please) my SUMMER IN WORDS writing conference. If you haven't spent time at the Oregon coast lately, you should. (especially with me, and my cool comrades, Jennie Shortridge, Bill Johnson, Gloria Kempton, and Kari Luna June 19-21). Now I know if you're reading this you probably live on the other side of the country and cannot hop a plane and join us. But still, come to the Oregon coast. This is advice like if you've never eaten a fresh artichoke, or grown basil, or drank champagne or kissed the dawn, you need to. Soon. And if you haven't been writing lately, bury your excuses and start. I mean, what else brings more meaning to life? (After all, you're too old or not pop enough for American Idol)

But back to my back-aching, not spending enough time at my computer ways. This comes from today's Writer's Almanac: "It was on this day in 1909 that the first woman to drive across the United States, Alice Huyler Ramsey, left New York City for San Francisco. She was 22 years old, a housewife from Hackensack, New Jersey. Her trip got a lot of media attention. In 1909, not many women drove cars, and some doctors thought that it was dangerous for women to even ride in cars because they would get too worked up at more than 20 miles an hour. Alice Huyler Ramsey drove 3,800 miles across the country in a Maxwell 30 with three other women, but she was the only one who knew how to drive. They drove for 41 days and used 11 spare tires. She wrote a book about the trip called Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron (1961). In 2000, she was the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame."

To road trips and chicks behind the wheel everywhere. Now.....after the almost summer, soft as silk air starts to change and dusk descends spend a little time with words.....

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Clouds, thank God---enough with the heat already! Here a terrific link to a list for writers that I've been meaning to post for awhile--read it and weep, or, fix your writing so you look competent.

The Ten Mistakes
Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do) "Like many editorial consultants, I’ve been concerned about the amount of time I’ve been spending on easy fixes that the author shouldn’t have to pay for.
Sometimes the question of where to put a comma, how to use a verb or why not to repeat a word can be important, even strategic. But most of the time the author either missed that day’s grammar lesson in elementary school or is too close to the manuscript to make corrections before I see it.

So the following is a list I’ll be referring to people *before* they submit anything in writing to anybody (me, agent, publisher, your mom, your boss). From email messages and front-page news in the New York Times to published books and magazine articles, the 10 ouchies listed here crop up everywhere. They’re so pernicious that even respected Internet columnists are not immune.
The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be."

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Brief News flash: Just heard from Sarah Lange, associate editor of The Writer magazine and they’re running a review and brief excerpt from Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us in their September issue. On newsstands in early August. I'm serious as a heart attack here: if you write, you should read (and study) The Writer—chock full of gems and useful techniques.
Clouds tinged in purple are brushed against the morning sky and temperatures are going to hit the high 80s again today. Every Tuesday Garrison Keillor has a new essay or opinion piece in salon.com. This week he's written about attending a party and the transcendence that can happen from art:

"And an intensely quiet blond girl, a math whiz, who, with no reluctance, sat down at the piano when I asked her if she played piano, squared her shoulders and played the exquisite Chopin Prelude No. 2 in A minor, the notes of the slow movement like raindrops on birch leaves, smoke drifting by, an anguished old man pacing in the grass, and played it so beautifully it transformed the entire evening.

Transformation is no easy trick: It's what art promises and usually doesn't deliver. But she did. It was a difficult piece, and what she showed us was the intense poetry underneath her calm Lutheran exterior. She borrowed Chopin's passion and made it her own, an astonishment, and then she stood up awkwardly and we all clapped and whooped. It was so much more than what we deserved to hear, which is true of art, a lavish gift of the heart that shames pretense by its outrageous generosity." The Heart of Saturday Night

Monday, June 01, 2009

(Manzanita at sunset) Can you believe it’s already June? Clouds have finally rolled in here after a long spell of heat and sunshine and thunder is rolling off in the distance. A few sprinkles have fallen and the world has that delicious wet rain smell after a dry spell. I’m hoping for more rain since I’ve had enough heat. Did you watch the BEA coverage on CSPAN? I especially enjoyed the talks from Richard Russo, John Irving, Mary Karr and Jeanette Wells. And I realize I’ve been a lazy blogger lately and promise to pay penance in the future with juicier posts.

In the meantime, to borrow a phrase, from the annals of Shameless Commerce—there is still time to attend Summer in Words at the Oregon coast the weekend of June 19-21.
Here’s the skinny: Can you believe it’s already June? Clouds have finally rolled in here after a long spell of heat and sunshine and thunder is rolling off in the distance. A few sprinkles have fallen and the world has that delicious wet rain smell after a dry spell. It’s like the earth is I’m hoping for more rain. I’ve had enough heat. Did you watch the BEA coverage on CSPAN? I especially enjoyed the talks from Richard Russo, John Irving, Mary Karr and Jeanette Wells. And I realize I’ve been a lazy blogger lately and promise to pay penance in the future with juicier posts.

In the meantime, to borrow a phrase, from the annals of Shameless Commerce—there is still time to attend Summer in Words at the Oregon coast the weekend of June 19-21.
Here’s the skinny:

This year's conference kicks off Friday, June 19th with Jessica Morrell’s workshop Writing a Book That Makes a Difference followed by best-selling author Jennie Shortridge’s workshop Writing With and From Your Passions. Friday’s workshops will be followed by an open forum for writers –Out Loud—which gives writers a chance to read their latest works to an audience. It will also feature a raffle with proceeds going to Write Around Portland, an organization that helps people transform their lives through writing.

On Saturday, attendees can look forward to a Question and Answer session with Jessica Morrell and Jennie Shortridge on Getting Published and Staying Published. This session will be followed by Unforgettable Characters workshop taught by Jessica Morrell. Saturday afternoon will feature a luncheon with keynote speaker Gloria Kempton, Chasing the Shadow: Finding the courage to stare down your writing demons. This will be followed by Creating Narrative Tension taught by Bill Johnson and Shadow Writing, part 1 taught by Gloria Kempton.
Sunday will feature part 2 of Gloria Kempton’s Shadow Writing workshop and wrap up with Revising Without Losing It taught by Jessica Morrell.

Manzanita, Oregon is vibrant community on Oregon’s coast also known for its love of the arts and books. The Center for Contemplative Arts serves the region with a variety of arts offerings and personal and spiritual development courses.

Visit any of the instructors websites Bill Johnson www.storyispromise.com,Gloria Kempton www.writersrecharge.com, Jessica Morrell www.writing-life.com, Jennie Shortridge www.jennieshortridge.com.

The registration fee of $180 covers tuition for the three-day conference, Friday Continental breakfast, Saturday lunch and keynote. The cost for the Saturday lunch and keynote is $20. Out Loud, $10.
"Art, it seems to me, should simplify finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole - so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page." Willa Cather