"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, September 30, 2009

Woosh I have a lot of email these days. Found something I want to share.

A student writes from Paris where she’s staying for a year: How do I capture this place? Just returned from the Vosges Mountains and wanted to thank you for all your suggestions on travel writing. Every idea is helpful! One of the things that has stayed with me that I heard you say once was that you look at life as a tourist and write through those eyes. Everyday holds something if we just remember to look for it. I'm trying to find a way to organize and best compile travel notes I should be taking during this year here. I haven't done enough of it and your mention of it brought it home that I really need to.

Merci beaucoup,____

Dear______; If I were you I'd pay attention to the small things around me. Notice how the air feels and smells, the temperature, the trees, the way women walk in the street. Colors, always colors. And architecture. Look up. What color is the sky? How do the natives react to weather? Think back to your first days there and what struck you as vastly different from the U.S. Pay attention to how holidays are different, the quality of light in all its seasons, art, objects, food, and people you'll never see here. Notice what the French do for comfort, how their homes are decorated and arranged, how the French react to political news, the sounds of the night, the street, the countryside. How do the seasons change? Who attends church? Where do the children play?

Go to cafes and public places and write. You might also try selecting a single thing that you're going to pay attention to in a single day--water in all its forms, the color red, scarves, bread, laughter, bicycles. Pretend you're a detective, a spy, a woman of mystery, a gypsy.

I believe that all writers must carry a notebook around at all times and eavesdrop on the world. We need to gather, scavenge, and record what we witness via the senses so that these remembrances can show up in our writing. Live with awareness. Sketch even if you're no good at it and jot down interesting bits of dialogue, snatch the moment when a person whose clothes or face or voice intrigues you. Hope this helps and since I'm here in Portland writing and editing away, please live large for both of us.
Best, Jessica
"For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can." Ernest Hemingway
Writing Prompt:
Happiness smells like_________________________.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The skies they are a changing since a new weather pattern arrived yesterday, pushing away the relentlessly sunny and perfect autumn weather. I’m hoping that I’m over my flu and here’s wishing that you all avoid it.

I was leafing though my notebooks yesterday and realized that I have fallen behind in transferring words for my word list into that document. If you’re new to this blog, about three years ago I started a word list after I edited my book Between the Lines. While reading the final drafts I realized how many times I’d relied on my favorite words and how I need to use more of my vocabulary. So as I go through life, I jot down words I want to use more often. Now, sometimes these are words I already use, but this habit reinforces their appeal and serves as a constant reminder that I’m looking for language with pizzazz.

Tsunami, balk, bamboozled, fantastical,nefarious, flinchy, chumpy, dimwitted, clob, vim, limn, clabber, raffish, poppycock, tattletale, piffle, gimcrack, numinous, lustral, grog, higgledy-piggledy, jibber jabber, dovetail, verboten, and in honor of the late William Safire, nattering.

Oh, and I just used jibber-jabber in the preface for the book proposal I’m working on. Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Clouds pouring into town as our lovely weather is fleeing to make way for reain. From my inbox:
We've got new articles posted at Author (www.authormagazine.org)

Editor Erin Brown takes a hard look at the query letter. For most writers, it is the introduction to the publishing world (that is, how most writers introduce themselves to the publishing world) and Erin wants to make sure you put your best foot forward.

Jennifer Paros reflects on the true nature of genius, inspired by Maurice Sendak's description of Spike Jonze, director of the much anticipated film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. "He's not afraid of himself," said Sendak. "He's a real artist and lets it come through the work."

And Editor-In-Chief Bill Kenower encourages us to take our eyes off the prize that is publishing and focus on the process of writing. Not only is it the true reward, but it is the only way to produce the sort of book you would want to publish in the first place.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Have come down with the incredibly evil flu that is circulating our region, so my observations on life will be dull this week, since they're made from my sick bed. So here's a writing prompt:

If I were . . ..
If I were incredibly wealthy I would . . . .
If I could live anywhere I would . . . .
If I were the most beautiful woman in the world I would . . . .
If I never had to work again I would . . . .
If I could change the world I would . . . .
If I could start over I would . . . .
If I had all day to write I would . . . .
If I were living my dreams I would . . . .
If I wasn't afraid of anything I would . . . .

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The biggest difference between men and women is__________________________.
The marine layer is burning away and another day of toasty temperatures is predicted. Happy second day of autumn to all.

According to the Writer’s Almanac: “On this day in 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned to St. Louis from their westward expedition to the Pacific Coast. They carried with them the first tentative maps of the American West and the most detailed journals ever kept of an exploratory expedition, with notes on the events of every single day of their journey. Their report of what they discovered filled Americans with excitement about the West and launched a flood of expansion across the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.”

There has never been a tale or journey that has so sparked my imagination like Lewis and Clark’s extraordinary trek. I like to imagine them in the deep woods at night, blackness all around, hunkered near their campfire and makeshift maps, studying the stars, debating the next day’s ventures. In the background is the song of a river and creaky, rustling night sounds of unseen animals. There is a dog sprawled near the fire, the smells of food and wood smoke, the tired ache of bodies used up from a day’s excursions.

December 16, 1805 (Fort Clatsop)
The Winds violent. Trees falling in every derection, Whorl winds, with gusts of Hail & Thunder, this kind of weather lasted all day. Certainly one of the worst days that ever was!…Several men complaining of injuring themselves…” -Captain William Clark.

It seems to me that what we can learn from these adventurers is write it down, write it down.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Using a first-person narrator is simply a matter of hearing the voice inside yourself. The character is already in the author, I think. The challenge is not to allow the ego of the character to dominate the story. I remember something the creator of the Bonanza series once said. He was asked how he created such a successful television series, and he said he created characters [that] an American family felt comfortable inviting into their living room every Sunday evening. It's a great line." James Lee Burke
I am remiss. Or is that the correct way to use remiss? Surely someone out there in blogland can correct/inform me. However, I am posting this in the dark of night, since we are in the last hours of summer (it's 9 p.m.) to remind you to check out Pimp My Novel and an especially fabulous entry,The Ten Commandments of Blogging. Words to the wise for bloggers everywhere. Bravo!
In the beginning, ease into writing until you're used to writing as way of life. Don't be afraid to tackle what you don't know, that's what research is for. And don't ever balk at rewriting. It's a crucial part of the process. Nothing comes out perfectly the first time. Writing is done in layers, and rewriting deepens those layers.
Give yourself credit for writing; be kind to yourself. It's hard to write, and it takes a lifetime to get where you're going.

~ Sharleen Cooper Cohen

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Drizzly morning here in Portland. Too bad since my dahlias are toppling over as if they’re laughing so hard they can’t stand up, and I need too stake them for their own good.

On Monday night I had a book signing at Powells and answered questions from the audience. One young man asked me about using my writing notebooks. He keeps lots of journals so I mentioned that at least once a year I go away and read my notebooks, combing them for ideas and they’re like discovering a treasure-filled cave. Sometimes I cannot believe all I write and record. I use them to practice language, jot down words for my word list, dreams, inspirations, quotes, poems I write early in the morning; outline book projects, and for writing exercises that I write along with my students. I should have mentioned to him that I also read through my current notebooks regularly and whenever I feel stuck or doubt myself, I just page through a notebook and there is proof of my creativity.

This past week, although I didn’t leave home, I read through about a half dozen of my notebooks—in fact, I read through them twice. I needed to decide on the next book I’m going to write and I knew that what I wanted to say to the world by writing a book would be there. And it was. Sort of magical. My agent likes the idea too and we see it as a bridge book for the next project I'm planning. I’m going to start working on the proposal on Monday and I’ll keep you posted. And I always sort of scoffed at the short stories and poems I jot down—saw them more as practice, rather than something I want to publish, but after this week I changed my mind.

Keep writing and keep dreaming.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I like to keep the world in touch with what my friends and students are writing and getting published. With that in mind,here's a note from über talented Steven Anderson. His writing is quirky, funny, and classy, but in a non-traditional classy way. As in the real deal confidence of say, Humphrey Bogart.

Dear friends, family, comrades,

I wanted you to know my novel Besserwisser is now available on the Amazon Kindle Store and Smashwords as a multi-format ebook.

Besserwisser is about an American slacker in Munich who pretends to be a top Fulbright scholar and gets more attention than he bargained for. There's lots of dark humor, a rowdy plot and imposters exposed despite their best efforts.

Besserwisser (German for "upstart know-it-alls") is lighter and wackier than much of my writing and a good fit for digital formats. I'm hoping you'll take the time to check it out. It's only a few bucks. You can sample much of the book without having to buy.

I'm going solo on this one, so I'd love it if you'll help me spread the word.

Amazon Kindle is the fastest growing ebook reader and is also available on the iPhone. Smashwords lets you download the book in over ten formats, so there's always a way to read even if you don't have a proper ebook reader. Besserwisser is also available on Scribd, a fast growing document-sharing website.

Take care and keep in touch,

PS: This book contains content that may not be suitable for young readers 17 and under.

If the links above don't work, here are full links:

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Besserwisser-ebook/dp/B002NU5LCW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=digital-text&qid=1251999472&sr=1-1
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/sfanderson
Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/SFAnderson
Skies are a glorious shade of last hurrah-of-summer blue. NPR is reporting that the release of Ted Kennedy's memoir, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol and the new Oprah Book Club pick, is a big boost to the publishing industry. What a difference a year makes. And on October 5th the Huffington Post will launch a new Books section under the leadership of editor Amy Hertz.

And for short story fans you can read Marian Pierce's story, The Grocery Store Cart at Portland Monthly. Marian won the Wordstock prize for her story, so a big congratulations is in order.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this. - Cormac McCarthy
File this under "who would have thunk?" I was just sorting through my mail and read an article that a friend sent me from The Wall Street Journal: They're No Bodice Rippers, but Amish Romances are Hot. The covers all feature a beautiful young woman wearing a bonnet with a pastoral setting in the background and the sales numbers are impressive. An excerpt: "Most bonnet books are G-rated romances, often involving an Amish character who falls for an outsider. Publishers attribute the books' popularity to their pastoral settings and forbidden love scenarios à la Romeo and Juliet. Lately, the genre has expanded to include Amish thrillers and murder mysteries. Most of the authors are women." You can also read three excerpts from novels at WSJ.com.
Morning skies are smothered in clouds. I'm going to start posting writing prompts here from time to time, but to get things started I wanted you to know about three blogs that have great prompts going on. If you know of more, pass them on. So check out: totallyoptionalprompts, easystreetprompts, and threewordwednesday. Keep writing because it's more fun than most other parts of life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dusk is settling in and in the distance I can hear geese honking. I saw several V-formations pass by today, although surely it's too early for migration. There is a huge pond about a mile away, where they gather and are fed bread and snacks by walkers and totter around fat and obnoxious.

For years I've assigned various writing prompts to my students and workshop attendees when we gathered. Here is one, based on Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier. The first line of her novel begins: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. The first line of your story begins: Last night I dreamt I went to____________again.

Try it.
As a writer, I need an enormous amount of time alone. Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. Having anybody watching that or attempting to share it with me would be grisly. - Paul Rudnick

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blue skies this morning and my talk last night at Powells was lots of fun, although the joint needs some air conditioning....but what's not to like about being surrounded by thousands of books?

My Facebook experiences are already yielding great results. I want to let you know about a blog for self-employed artists/creatives funding your bliss by Dmae Roberts. Here is part of her bio.

"For 25 years, Dmae Roberts has made a living producing and writing award-winning radio programs and stage plays. She has successfully navigated the non-profit world to fund her artistic projects and created an independent business as a freelance writer and producer. Funding Your Bliss highlights some of her experiences and offers helpful hints and success stories from her own life as well as others in creative class professions." I was scrolling through the various interviews and info--it's a treasure trove folks, and she also links to this Writer's Digest
article Ten Questions Writers Must Ask Before they Quit Their Day Jobs.

Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Question for writers out there who are working on fiction: What is your protagonist hiding and what is he/she most afraid of?
Clouds obscuring the sky this morning. I love reading a good travel writer for a bit of armchair travel, and the September issue of Smithsonian magazine features six travel writers' dream assignments. The writers are Susan Orlean, Francine Prose, Geoffrey C. Ward, Caroline Alexander, Frances Mayes, and Paul Theroux.

Here are the first two paragraphs of an introduction to the series by Jan Morris: “Now that nearly everyone has been nearly everywhere, it might be thought that travel writers have lost their purpose. In a way they have. Only the most spectacularly perilous journey is nowadays worth writing a book about, and a public almost surfeited with TV travelogues rarely needs to be told what foreign parts look like.

Ah, but what they feel like is something else, and in a profounder sense the best travel writers are not really writing about travel at all. They are recording the effects of places or movements upon their own particular temperaments—recording the experience rather than the event, as they might make literary use of a love affair, an enigma, or tragedy….”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Woke up much too early so sky is still the color of soot. Yesterday I set up a Facebook account and will be adding a profile and other items to my Wall soon. My friend Stacey has been after me for ages to do this, but I have always protested that it's a big time suck. Guess what? It's a big time suck.

Anyway, I wanted to recommend Steve Almond's article on salon.com Glen Beck is the Future of Literary.And you thought the New York Time's Bestseller List was unattainable? Read it and weep.

Diana Page Jordan gave Thanks, But This Isn't For Us a terrific review at her blog. Thanks Diana--much appreciated.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blazing hot afternoon here in Portlandia. I just ran across this essay on another blog and had to put up the link, because it's hilarious....and oh so true.
Publish and Perish
Published: October 23, 2005
"For any writer, the publication of a book, labored over for years, is an exciting event. But excitement is a fleeting emotion, and the business of publicizing the book, so that it sells and the author can earn out his advance, quickly displaces any initial euphoria. The writer then embarks on a tortured journey toward acceptance of the fact, several months after publication, that his book isn't going to vault him into the empyrean of fame, or even improve his life. At the intersection of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's stages of grief and Stendhal's stages of love, the contemporary author trudges along a predictable path that can only be described, in hindsight, as self-induced misery."
Cloudless skies this morning and another day of hot weather is predicted. Just a reminder from my division of shameless commerce (to borrow a phrase): I'll be reading from my new book, Thanks, But This Isn't For Us, A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected and chatting about the writing life. Or should I say, how to keep your sanity amid the writing life, at Powells on Hawthorne at 7:30 on Monday night (September 14).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Skies are overcast with temperatures heading into the 80s again. According to The Writer's Almanac, today is the birthday of editor, author, and essayist Cyril Connolly who said, The true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and no other task is of any consequence.

Also, my audio interview at Author magazine is now available. In this interview I talk about common mistakes I notice in manuscripts and how to avoid them.
Keep writing, keep dreaming.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Overcast skies again this morning. I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of mentors lately, especially since the brouhaha over President Obama’s going-back-to-school talk to kids. I’ve rarely witnessed such crazy behavior as lately when the hate mongers like Glen Beck, Monika Crowley and their ilk keep voicing their consternation and comparing him to Hitler. And then there is Steve Anderson the pastor of the Baptist church in Arizona who has called for the president’s death. It would seem that if there is any morality in this organization this man should lose his job for his violent rhetoric. So I’ve been in one of my what-the-heck-is-this- country-coming-to-moods? And knew that if we elected a black president the shit would hit the fan and all the racists and haters would emerge. Meanwhile, Americans need to rise up and say enough is enough.

But I’m going to stop my rant and I want to quote something from Obama’s talk: "Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide. Maybe you could be a good writer--maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper--but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class."

The speech goes on to list a host of professions after President Obama's tribute to writers: "innovator or an inventor," "Senator or a Supreme Court Justice," and finally, the traditional favorites, "doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer."
But did you notice that writers came first?

I wish, I wish when I was a girl that I had more mentors. Someone who noticed my passion, my talents, but mostly my doubts and I’m-not-good enoughs. I think my life would have been far different. I was thinking back to my years in a small northern town and my love of ice skating. I skated every day in winter. Sometimes twice a day. When it was twenty or thirty below and I couldn’t feel my toes and the sky was black and glimmering like a diamond field, because out on the ice you’re kind of free and wild and unsure all at once. I could skate backward, I could stay on my feet, I could skate fast, but I didn’t have a special aptitude for skating. I was just a sort of athletic kid who possessed fair balance—most of the time.

Often on returning home from school I’d hang out in the driveway at the side of the house and practice until dusk fell on those hard, freezing winter afternoons. And I practiced Olympic-type moves---balancing and swiveling on one foot sort of things. The driveway ice was a bumpy, treacherous and the ice equivalent of potholes. I was alone. The sky was as purple as a bruise. But I never really mastered any of those steps, I never really became ballerina graceful—not like the picture in my head.

It was only about 10 years ago that I realized that the reason I never progressed as a skater was that I never had a teacher or mentor. In fact, as far as I know there were no professional skaters in our town. However, for years I carried a kind of inner failure that I hadn’t done better. The girl in me never realized that I needed instruction, guidance, a kind word—not just a kid alone on a cold night struggling to scrap together a performance without any instruction or help.

So thanks to Obama and every other adult who lends a guiding hand. If you’re a writer find a mentor. If you cannot find one, read books on craft. And for all the hate mongers who are poisoning our country, I curse you with a serious case of frostbite.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Paige, the six year old in my life failed to reach home by bus on her first day of first grade today. When I called at about 3:45 to chat with her about her new teacher, Mrs. Glove and first grade happenings, I heard hysteria on the other end of the phone line. Trouble is, that Paige, like many bright children whose souls or intelligence or whatever you want to call it, is/are too big for their small bodies, has a serious case of anxiety. We’re talking really serious.

As in on Sunday we were at a farmer’s market. It started to blow and rain. The sky was the color of soot meets The Wizard of Oz tornado scene. Paige, sensibly clad in her new LLBean raincoat and carrying her red and black ladybug print umbrella started freaking out. We retreated to a canopied area where great jazz was playing, the aromas of food were permeating, and Paige was melting down. I pointed out: “Look around. Don’t you notice that nobody else, not even the kids are crying?

Trembling, she surveyed the crowd. “Nobody’s crying.” she agreed.

“What do you think that means?

”I don’t know.” Lips quivering, large brown eyes spilling tears.

“It means there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s only rain. It’s all in your head.”

“Can we go now?

With no options since she was frozen in terror, I left her in the hands of her older sister ("It's only water, like the shower) for a few minutes so I could quickly dispatch with my necessary forays in buying veggies. Yesterday I delivered her home and she immediately stuck to her mother like a bur (if you’re not familiar with burs you should seek one out because they are a really apt simile) and started trembling about the first day of school. So the next hour or so was about cajoling, assurances, distractions, and choosing the perfect outfit.

So when she hopped on the wrong bus it wasn’t good. This is a kid who is afraid of rain and lives in Oregon. Many phone calls and walkie-talkie bus driver communications later she was discovered in her pink dress with cherries and pink Converse and was driven back to the school. When I talked with her later she knew she belonged on bus 5 and that Mrs. Glove was having a baby and she had received an award for already knowing how to read. Sigh of relief.
Whenever I have endured or accomplished some difficult task -- such as watching television, going out socially or sleeping -- I always look forward to rewarding myself with the small pleasure of getting back to my typewriter and writing something. ~Isaac Asimov
Skies are overcast, but the sun is going to break through and warmer weather is on the way after a weekend of gloom and rain. I was just listening to Obama's talk to kids returning to school and thinking about how it is time for people of decency and common sense to talk back to all the hate speech and bizarre rhetoric that is choking the air waves.

Meanwhile here is a thought on writing:
“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” Mark Twain

Friday, September 04, 2009

It strikes me again how many works of fiction end with a character’s death… The use and reuse of death as an ending points to the inevitable resemblance between the arc of story and the arc of an individual existence rising and falling. It indicates, among other things, how elemental form is. Joan Silber, The Art of Time in Fiction
Art has given me everything I have wanted or needed. Peter Small, author Stitches, illustrator

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Skies washed over with clouds and the roofers should be here any moment. Yesterday they left soon after arriving because the wrong shingles were loaded up onto the roof. I'll be leaving home today.

But I wanted to point you to Kay Kenyon's blog. She just posted a segment from my July column in my newsletter, The Writing Life. If you don't receive the newsletter, please contact me. As for Kay, she's a science fiction author and her novels include Bright of the Sky, one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year 2007,A World Too Near, City Without End,concluding with Prince of Storms (Jan 2010).

Kay is also chair of the Write on the River conference which is held each May in Wenatchee, Washington, perched along the Columbia River. If you want to visit a town that feels like stepping into the Old West, this is the place. Fabulous architecture.

Also, I checked out her post excerpted from my newsletter and had that oh-so lovely "I wrote that" pride....Keep writing out there.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Overcast skies and it's 7:20 and a crew of roofers have just pulled up in a rattly- looking red pickup. Which means that soon it will sound as if a herd of elephants is at war overhead (my office is on the second floor). So if I'm noticeable in my absence in the next few days, it's because I've abandoned ship. Is it just me or every year when you hear about the hundreds of acres in California being devoured by flames don't you wonder if they're going to run out of places to burn down?

Meanwhile, a question for any readers who are tech savvy. Deone Kohler featured my Powells.com blog post at her blog--oh the world of cross-blogging--and then informed me that she cannot link to my blog in her Google reader. Does anyone know why? If so, please email me at jessicapage at spiritone.com.

Oh, and Mediabistro is reporting that Storm Large is going to portray Gretchen Lowell, Chelsea Cain's serial killer in a marketing campaign for her upcoming novel Evil at Heart. I recently saw Storm's one-woman show, Almost Crazy at Portland Center Stage. She is freaking amazing--sort of a triple threat since she can sing, act, and write. And she's hot.Yeesh.

Keep writing, keep dreaming.