"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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Synopsis Tips
Lots of various colored cumulus this morning along with sun breaks. I never heard of sun breaks until I moved here--but it's a term that inspires hope. One of my Facebook pals has received a request for a full manuscript and synopsis. With his suffering in mine (his message to me read HELP!) I'm posting some suggestions for writing a synopsis here.

Dread is normal
First, if you’re not fond of writing a synopsis, this doesn’t strike me as abnormal. After all, you’re summarizing about 400 pages into the briefest possible form while introducing the major players and situation and somehow leaving no questions unanswered, while not disclosing everything that happens in the story. A synopsis is part bare bones of your story (however, not too bare), part pitch, and part illustration of your writing style. And every sentence matters and pushes the story forward.

Typically a synopsis completes a sales package that includes your first three chapters and sometimes a letter of introduction. Since at times editors read the synopsis first, it must be comprehensive, comprehensible, and compelling, forcing them to then peruse your chapters.Your synopsis will be read not only by an agent and editor, but if it passes muster, the marketing and art department will read it too. A synopsis will also be used in the publishing house meetings where decisions are made about what titles will be published in an upcoming season. In your synopsis these professionals want to see a thoughtful writer at work—one who has crafted an enthralling story, with a gripping main conflict and intriguing motivations in the main players. They also want to understand how the story moves logically from the inciting incident in the opening chapters to the end, with major plot points and turning points along the way.

These days there seems to me no grand consensus on the ideal length of a synopsis. If you’ve written a saga, chance are you might weigh in at 10 pages or more and if you’ve written a fairly simple tale, you might get away with a one-page shorty. Since most agents and editors are notoriously pressed for time and read so much for their jobs, the five page synopsis is appreciated by most. However, in the past the wisdom about length went like this: one double-spaced page of synopsis for each 10,000 manuscript words. If you wrote an 80,000 word manuscript you'd write an 8 page synopsis.

If you’re new to the task of synopsis writing you might want to read the back cover copy on your favorite paperback novels and the inside jacket of hard cover novels. Notice how enticing the copy is and how the story question is revealed. Notice too the verbs and the level of specific detail. Then make a list of all the major characters and events that you need to include in your synopsis.

Start your synopsis with a hook—as in When JAMES MALCOLM, an insurance adjuster, awoke in a strange basement wearing women's clothing, he knows it won’t be an ordinary day, but could scarcely have imagined that the clothes he wore belonged to MELINDA DAVIS who had been recently murdered. Wrongly suspected of her murder, Malcolm is forced to discover who murdered Davis and why and why he was fingered for the crime.

Write in the present tense and the first time you introduce a character, type his or her name in all caps. A synopsis is written in the same order as the novel and is written in the style and tone of the manuscript—a witty, fast-paced novel requires a witty, fast-paced synopsis. If the story is literary, your synopsis will be more serious, but keep in mind that your dazzling prose goes into the manuscript, not the synopsis. Don’t leave major questions unanswered such as who killed the victim, as well as how Malcolm solves his internal conflict, and how the subplot was resolved after he lost his job when he was arrested. A synopsis keeps the reader’s interest, but it’s not a tease and is not written with cliff hangers and such devices. It’s particularly important to demonstrate that your ending provides a satisfying conclusion to the plot and ties up loose ends.

A synopsis demonstrates that your characters are in jeopardy and what is at stake and why this matters. It introduces your main characters and their conflicts and agendas. It is not a list of characters or character sketches, and it usually does not describe physical attributes of characters, although the main characters are given some sort of tag. For example, you might want to refer to a character as the leading citizen in a small Southern town, or a respected doctor or frustrated novelist. Antagonists are always introduced, but secondary characters are mentioned only if they are involved with the protagonist’s inner or outer conflict. A synopsis is also written with a careful attention to flow—ideas follow each other logically and one paragraph leads to the next. This means that transitions will be important in connecting the dots.  
As for the format, use 1 inch margins on all sides and don’t justify the right margin. On the first page in the upper right hand corner write Synopsis. The next line is Genre: (with your story type followed on the next line by Word count: with the number of words. Type your name and contact information on the top left hand margin. All this information is single spaced. Don’t number your first page, but scroll down to about one third of the page and center your title in all caps. Then leave four lines after the title and begin with your hook. After the first page use a header or slug line on the upper left hand corner that looks like this: MORRELL/DOOMED FOR DEATH/Synopsis. The page number goes in the upper right on the same line as the header.

Now, here’s where things get a bit sticky. Some experts claim that a synopsis should be single-spaced, some suggest double-spacing. Jack and Glenda Neff and Don Prues, authors of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, suggest double spacing. The best rule of thumb is that if the synopsis is over two pages, double space; if it’s one or two pages, single space. Do not use fancy fonts. While you might want to include one or two short dialogue exchanges to illustrate a point, generally don’t quote long passages of dialogue or excerpts from the manuscript. You’re summarizing, not copying. Also, when you introduce a new scene or plot twist, begin a new paragraph.

Finally, here’s a checklist that you might want to use to verify that you’ve covered all these points:
Have you printed it out and then edited it for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes?

  • Does the opening paragraph contain a hook that raises a question and forces the reader to keep reading?
  • Does the synopsis prove that the story is based around a single, dramatic question?
    Have you shown the protagonist taking charge of events, making choices and decisions, but also stumbling and dealing with internal conflict?
  • Have you introduced your main characters and defined their conflicts, desires, and motivations?
  • Are the protagonist’s dominant traits demonstrated? 
  • Have you covered the major scenes and plot points?Are reversals, twists and surprises depicted?
  • Is the setting and timeframe of the story clear?
  • Does the synopsis include the places in the story where the protagonist changes? 
  • If your characters are changing, are you briefly explaining why?
  • Have you shown the protagonist’s darkest moment that comes near the end of the story? 
  • Does he or she hit bottom or is there a moment of truth? 
  • Are emotional or internal changes evident during this dark moment?
  • Is the ending revealed and does it clarify how the main conflicts are resolved? 
  • Have you briefly explain what the protagonist has won or lost?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anatomy of a Scene Workshop in Olympia
Saturday, May 22
Times: noon-5:30
Location: Mud Bay Coffee, 1600 Cooper Bay Rd SW, Suite 630 Olympia, WA
Cost: $60 includes lunch and beverages (no outside food or drink allowed)
A scene is a miniature drama in which a single issue is decided in specific circumstances.” Philip Gerard

Scenes are basic units of storytelling that dramatize both everyday life and key moments in fiction and nonfiction. In scenes something significant happens, it has not happened before and will not happen again. A scene—an unbroken action― brings the story to a new place in the narrative, it offers something fresh and somehow stirs reader’s emotions Thus scenes are a means of perception and the intimate moments in the story that create emotional involvement with the reader. Fully rendered scenes are dramatic high points and help the readers see the events, but also experience them via their senses.
But crafting compelling scenes isn’t merely a trick of assembling actors onto a stage.  The best scenes and are built on character’s goals meeting opposition, and often include an emotional reversal. Our discussion will define: half scenes, sequels, action scenes, transitions, and set pieces. This workshop is suitable for fiction and nonfiction writers. We’ll also cover using scene cards, using setting to enhance drama, and the role of dialogue.
Participants will learn: 
*Which events in the story can be summarized and which are written in scenes.
*How scenes advance at least two things in the story—the theme, the plot, a subplot, or develop or change characters. 
*How a scene must be vital to the overall plot; suggests more scenes to follow; and tension and conflict in scenes is cumulative.
*How to move in and out of scenes quickly; when you need transitions and when to use cliffhangers.
*How to structure action scenes.
The Fine Print: Thanks so much for reading this notice. Please feel free to forward to anyone you think might be interested. The workshop requires pre-registration and payment. Space is limited, so you’re encouraged to register early. Contact Jessica at jessicpage@spiritone.com or phone at 503 287-2150 To reserve your place: Please send a check to Jessica Morrell, PO Box 820141, Portland, OR 97282-1141 A confirmation e-mail will be sent when your check arrives that will explain your lunch options, as well as an e-mail several days before the workshops to clarify last-minute details.
"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." ~ Frederick Buecher

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Leads that linger
Dusk is falling and the sky has a purple cast. The weather changed about every fifteen minutes here today and included thunder and lightning and downpours. When I went to college I changed my major from psychology and pre-Law to English and Journalism. And the classes that have been the most helpful to me in my life were my journalism classes. I believe I've written about Paul Hayes my journalism teacher and Pulitzer prize winner on this blog before, because he taught me so much and I've inherited my suspicions of modifiers from him. In fact, he gave everyone in his classes an F on a story if we used very or quite in a sentence. So that lesson sunk in fast and to this day I cross out very and quite from my clients' and student's work.

But I also learned a lot about writing captivating leads that hook or pull in a reader. Leads, or the first sentences and paragraph, need to possess a certain magic and arouse curiosity in the reader. Here's one of my favorites from the April issue of National Geographic:

Aylito Binayo's feet know the mountain. Even at four in the morning she can run down the rocks to the river by starlight alone and climb the steep mountain back up to her village with 50 pounds of water on her back. She has made this journey three times a day for nearly all her 25 years. So has every other women in her village of Foro, in the Konso district of southwestern Ethiopia. Binayo drooped out of school when she was eight years old, in part because she had to help her mother fetch water from the Toiro River. The water is dirty and unsafe to drink; every year that the ongoing drought continues, the once mighty river grows more exhausted. But it is the only water Foro has ever had. 

I believe that I read all the stories in this particular issue-something I usually don't do, because I was so captivated by how water affects all of us and our profound dependency on it. For the past few years I have believed that the coming crisis on the planet wasn't going to be about running out of oil or energy, but water.  But this is the article and lead that I especially remember with all the details of how the women of Foro spend  their days fetching the precious water. The story is woven with striking details: When you spend hours hauling water long distances, you measure every drop. The average American uses a hundred gallons of water at home every day; Aylito Binayo makes do with two and half gallons.

The article described how the writer Tina Rosenberg, accompanied Aylito up the mountain on one of her many trips for the 50 minute walk, where there is often a wait to fill her water jugs at the series of black, muddy pools. The wait is especially long early in the morning, so Binayo usually makes her first trip before it is light, leaving her son Kumacho, a serious-faced little man who looks even younger  than his four years, in charge of his younger brothers.

Before I read this issue I was sometimes prone to long, hot showers. I have neck pain from a car accident and from sitting at this desk, so this is one of my small luxuries. Or, rather, it was. Since reading about Aylito and how so many people die from lack of clean water, my shower habits are pretty Spartan these days.
Other facts:
Nearly 70 % of the world's fresh water is locked in ice
Most the rest is in aquifers that we're draining much more quickly than the natural recharge rate
Two-thirds of our water is use to grow food
With 83 million more people on earth each year, water demand will keep going up unless we change how we use it.
If you want to help:
Water for the People
Water Advocates
Population Services International
Global Water Challenge
"If we cry more tears we will ruin the land with salt; instead let's praise that which would distract us with despair. Make a song for death, a song for yellow teeth and bad breath"
—Joy Harjo, from Mourning Song
Governor Appoints Paulann Petersen as Oregon’s Sixth Poet Laureate

(Salem) – Governor Ted Kulongoski has named Paulann Petersen of Portland to a two-year appointment as poet laureate of Oregon. Petersen will be Oregon’s sixth poet laureate since 1921 when Edwin Markham first took the post. She succeeds Lawson Fusao Inada of Medford, who held the post since 2006.

“Paulann Peters is the perfect choice to serve as Oregon’s poet laureate,” said Governor Kulongoski. “Her wonderful poetry and her commitment to sharing her craft with the people of Oregon through her teaching and service exemplify the kind person that is ideal to serve in this position.”

Paulann Petersen was born and raised in Oregon and spent half of her adult life in Klamath Falls. She is a widely published poet, with four collections – The Wild Awake (2002), Blood-Silk (2004), A Bride of Narrow Escape (2006) and Kindle (2008) – and several chapbooks to her credit. Petersen has received several awards, including Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry, two Carloyn Kizer Poetry Awards, and Literary Art’s Stewart Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon’s Literary Life.

Petersen is a committed teacher who has taught high school English and led dozens of workshops schools libraries, colleges, and writer’s conferences across Oregon. Petersen is an active board member of the Friends of William Stafford, Oregon’s fourth poet laureate, and organized the William Stafford Birthday Celebration each January. That celebration has now expanded to 58 events, 40 of them in Oregon.

In February, the Oregon Cultural Trust and partners solicited nominations in a public process. A committee of writers, poets and cultural leaders considered 17 nominations submitted from around the state for the post. The poet laureate position is a collaborative project of the state’s five statewide cultural partners, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Historical Society, Oregon Humanities and State Historic Preservation Office, with funding from the Oregon Cultural Trust. The position is funded with a stipend of $10,000 per year for the poet laureate’s work, with an additional $10,000.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

 Rigoberto González

The sky is clearing and the whole world is emerald, glistening, dazzling. Last night I went to Miracle Theatre to listen to the talented and multi-faceted Rigoberto González.  He's the author of eight books and to say he was inspiring is just so flat and, well, uninspiring. He's sort of force of words and observations and explorations of the heart. You can hear the Mexican-American border in his voice along with sorrow, laughter, anger, compassion.  

He began the evening by commenting on the recent anti-immigration law passed in Arizona and the vanishing Monarch butterflies, read an excerpt from his memoir Butterfly Boy, then read poems,  and finally answered questions in an interview and from the audience. He discussed the state of translations (when he was introduced, the representative of PEN Voices mentioned that in the US about 3 percent of the books read here are translations, compared to England where about 40 percent of the books are translations). When asked which authors he'd like to invite to dinner, he said he wanted to banter with Truman Capote and mentioned one of my all-time favorite books, Music for Chameleons and Arundhati Roy, the author of The God of Small Things. I bought a copy of one of his poetry books, So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until it Breaks. 
"We are solitary—that's how we write and revise. But we certainly don't create on our own since we are constantly responding to our environment—
that which angers or inspires us."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tell Us
Our lives are shaped by the written word.

Each month, Multnomah County Library is posing a question in a " Tell Us " feature that asks readers and writers to share experiences that have changed their lives. Selected responses are posted the following month in " Your Words " at www.libraryfoundation.org Don't miss the chance to write, before the end of April, about the person who opened the world of reading to you. Tell us who made you the reader you are today. Read Your Words this month for some of the heartfelt responses that describe a favorite childhood read.

Sign up to receive the "Tell Us" question each month on the foundation's website. http://www.libraryfoundation.org .
Visit Larry Brooks at StoryFix
I just received this note from Larry Brooks about a series he's putting together at Storyfix. It's sort of ironic because I was reading one of his posts recently and meant to recommend that you all stop by. Especially if you have problems with plotting. 
Hey -- just a quick note -- sort of a personally directed online press release -- to some of my writing and blogging buddies announcing that I'm launching a cool series on Storyfix.com that your readers might enjoy and benefit from.  I'm doing an indepth analysis and deconstruction of Dennis Lehane's "Shutter Island," which breaks down both the novel and the recent hit film.  Going deep on this one, as it's a great model that can teach us much.  Hope you'll stop by, and that you'll consider pointing your readers toward this opportunity.  T

Meanwhile, keep writing, keep dreaming
From Jayne Anne Phillips

This is from the Daily Beast interview  Jayne Anne Phillips Goes to War.
What is your writing process like?

I work via the high-tension-wire method, which is maybe going for long periods without writing while the tension builds up—when am I going to write this, am I going to be able to write this, what is this image about—and I’m thinking about it all the time, but I’m not really inside it, inside the writing.

In a way the pressure of being separated from the actual work is part of the process for me. I don’t know that I chose that, but it’s just simply a feature of the life I live which is a life in which I constantly multitask. It’s the demands of living a whole life—the family, the job, the emergencies.

You recently told the Los Angeles Times that you think it’s “heroic” to become a writer. Why is writing a heroic act?

Writing provides no guarantees. And writers who stay with writing do it for reasons that are larger than self.

We live in a culture that is so media-saturated. I think that writers are stemming the tide of the loss of meaning because writers invent or discover meaning inside what might seem random.

It’s very risky to write the material that’s most compelling to us—it should feel risky. I think writers have to overcome their own resistance to the material, their fear of the material, their fear of what they will find out about themselves or about the world every time they sit down to write. So I think in many senses it’s a heroic venture.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"...The first impulse in writing is to flood it out, let as much run freely as you possibly can. Then to take a walk or go to the bank... and come back in a day or six months later. To read it with a cold eye and say, 'This is good. This is not. That sentence works. This is magical. This is crummy.' You have to maintain your critical sensibility and not just assume, because it was an extraordinary dream for you, that it will be a dream for other people. Because people need maps to your dreams." ~Allan Gurganus

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reasons for Writing Fiction

Sometimes it seems that everywhere I go and everyone I meet is writing a novel.I’ve been puzzling about this, wondering if it’s like when you’re pregnant and you see other pregnant women wherever you venture. But then since these days I’m writing another book about how to write fiction, that analogy doesn’t quite work. All I know is that almost every email I receive from strangers and every gathering I attend is blooming with wanna-be fiction writers. Now, if you’re a serious writer you know that many of these hopefuls will not be published. I like to give people a leg up in the game, so I think writing fiction should start with desire, coupled with a deep understanding of the underpinnings of fiction. And fiction writing just isn’t for everyone. It’s a marathon not a sprint, and it requires a blend of skills that are nothing less than astounding. Thus, here are reasons you might want to consider for writing fiction:
1. Because you’ve been an avid and omnivorous reader since childhood when books whisked you away to faraway worlds, where you met ordinary and magical types, and were wrung dry with worry over fantastical or believable situations. This love of story has never left you and sometimes you feel so alive in the midst of the story that the everyday world exists as an irritant or interruption.

2. You love words and have a passionate and respectful involvement with them. Words excite you, give you a sort of high, and you’re always on the hunt for perfect language to match exactly what you need to say.

3. You love to write. This sounds like an obvious point, but some people prefer to have written and find most aspects of the writing game excruciating.

4. You’re able to spend long hours in solitude with characters and your imagination for companionship. If the alone part is too much of a burden, you can always drag your laptop to a coffee shop and the caffeine just might give you an edge.

5. You’re analytical and a problem solver and are part puzzle-meister, part engineer and can not only wrestle with story problems, but can also devise elaborate situations that unfold on the page and fit together like the hundreds of parts and gizmos of an airplane. You understand that characters including their back stories comprise the wings, conflict is the engine, suspense if the fuel, and the body of the plane is a situation where fascinating story people are embroiled without parachutes.

6. You’re not afraid to edit and revise heavily. In fact, you can unflinchingly hack out chapters, change the viewpoint if the one in use is not working and trim scenes, beginnings, middles and endings. On the other hand, when some aspect of the story is thin, you’re also able strengthen it and build in complications and subplots to increase conflict and prove your story world is a vivid and complicated place.

7. You’re capable of handling criticism and using it to better your work.

8. You’re in it for life. Fiction isn’t for dabblers and it’s important to understand that agents and publishers are interested in writers who are in for the long haul. They want to know you plan on building a market segment of faithful readers and you’ll deliver the goods to these readers again and again.

9. The more you read, the more you long to write your own stories. Sometimes this urge comes from dissatisfaction with books you’ve read, that “I can do this better’ feeling. Sometimes you want to write novels because other writers have sparked story ideas or the beauty of their language or depth of characters propels you to write your own.

10. You relish a challenge. Unless you’re climbing Everest or attempt other feats of derring-do, in writing fiction you push yourself more than you can in everyday life. You explore the truths, hurts and hungers of the human experience with more scrutiny. You enter the minds of madmen, the fears of children, the lust of lovers, the promise of redemption.

11. You’ve tapped into all the rich mythology and archetypes of humankind, that fascinating history of the human heart as told in stories. You believe the world is told in stories, and is built of stories. You dream in stories and when you’re in a bar or coffee shop, you’re inevitably telling stories to the guy in the next stool.

12. You find fiction writing therapeutic and cathartic, and like the mystery maestro P.D. James believe that “Through fiction I can deal with strong emotions by letting my characters feel them. You also find whacking a bad guy or three cathartic, and making love to the man or woman of your dreams almost as good as the real thing."

13. When you read and write fiction, all your childhood beliefs of Santa and fairies and kingdoms beyond the sea can be entered into. Let’s face it: life can be hum drum, jobs can be sucky, kids often don’t listen to our wisdom. Life also can also be frenetic, or demanding while fiction is simply magic. And life sometimes offers a short supply of magic. You’ve discovered in real life that happily ever after usually doesn’t happen, nor are bad guys punished and in fact, are often in positions of power. But in fiction often the scales of justice balance out and the plain Janes and Johns of the world, the ones with the wicked sense of humor and amazing Scrabble scores, also score the man or woman of their deep desires. Writing magic beats the heck out of folding sock and emptying the dishwasher and writing memos for a boss who you suspect can barely read.

14. You’re lucky. Ever since you and your best pal, Chris Schofield, a chubby asthmatic, won the three-legged race in fourth grade because the other teams toppled over on the wet lawn, most things you touch turns golden. You own a horde of door prizes, raffle prizes, radio show call-in prizes, golf tournament prizes, and a gleaming new Chevy won from the local mall lottery is parked in your driveway.

15. You’ve tried your hand at short stories, but the ones you craft are so long, textured, and involved that they need a novel format to make them work. reason of all: you have a story you’re burning to tell. It won’t leave you alone and fills your imagination with its potency and you’re convinced it belongs in the larger world, your characters starring in readers’ inner cinemas.

If these reasons fit, then join the tribe of fiction writers.Your tribe is filled with noble and potent people. Now, sure there are no-talent scum bags who get published, but the more published authors I meet, the more I’m astounded by how many are great and good humans. And if none of these reasons fit, well getouttahere—how many reasons in the world are there to write?.
“Write what you’re afraid of.” ~ Donald Barthelme
So here’s what you do: take your memories and present them to the reader. Take your passions. You take as much guilt and as little total depravity as you can safely mix in. You read. You steal. You want desperately to be a writer. You volunteer to nail your soft parts to a tree. You soak up everything. You take notes. You retire to your garret or your study or your office and you tie yourself to the chair with the belt of your bathrobe. And you write. You slowly go crazy, but you write. You drink lye, if that is what it will take, and you remember the nights and caves in Granada. Because you desperately want to be a writer. You do. You write. You write. And you write.  ~ Bill Brashler, The Total Writer

Friday, April 23, 2010

New words, 7 drops at a time.
Sky is changing to blue and the birds that have nested under the eaves are swinging in and out of the nest this morning, so fast that they're often a blur.

Arthur Plotnik is a contributing editor to The Writer magazine, a former publishing executive, and has written a slew of books about writing and language. If you haven't read his columns or books you're missing out on an amazing resource. Here is an excerpt from his book  Spunk and Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language and Style which explains how vocabulary boosts can energize writing--or overload it. He writes: "For special purposes, a writer's word can be anything from firkin to floccinaucinihilipilification. But to earn a place in an author's working vocabulary, a word should be at least one of the following:

  • Precise: tor (hilltop rock heap)
  • Concise: mulct (defraud, as of money)
  • Euphonious: fanfaronade (bluster)
  • Onomatopoetic: williwaw (violent squall)
  • Forceful: fulgent (dazzlingly bright)
  • Evocative: mojo (charmed object)
  • Fun: cachinnate (laugh immoderately)
  • Fresh: nimiety (an abundance instead of, say, stale plethora)
What if a word is likely to be outside the reader's active or half-known vocabulary? Then even undefined, it should lend some special aura, some majesty or exoticism, to the context. Perhaps the unknown word reveals itself by sound or placement--steam purled (flowed in curls) up from the pavement--or begs to be looked up, like scumble (to soften brilliant color). In my grapefruit parable, I planted what seemed to be three such words: jessant (shooting upward), virescent (tending toward green), and attar (a perfume obtained from flowers). Did they add a certain flavor, or merely squirt in your eye?"

For more from this chapter go to Choice Literacy. You might also want to check out this interview.
I told you he was the real deal.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Uncivil War
As some of you might know, I used to teach on line at iVillage years ago, and during that time worked with some amazing writers. I was especially happy to meet writers like Lani Diane Rich before she was published and help her launch her best-selling writing career. I've stayed in touch with some of these writers such as Linda Easley. Linda is the kind of writer that gets every detail and word just right, and, oh, her characters! They practically walk off the page and into your kitchen. I don't know, somehow her characters strike me as belonging in the kitchen. Anyway, I just learned that she has an ebook novel An Uncivil War out now about a woman struggling to survive during the Civil Warn.I'm planning on buying it and wanted to recommend anything this woman writes. In fact, I can still remember her stories ten years after I read them and my memory is not that great.
"I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes about 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief - and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions - that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder." ~ Anne Lamott
"Like it or not, when you're a writer, there's no escaping the writer's life . . . when it comes to the feelings, obsessions, and just plain worries that accompany any writer's efforts, there's no getting out. Regardless of career experience, advancing age, and sizeable amounts of therapy, there's no 'cure' for the writer's life. As soon as writers commit to the writing of a thing, they embark on a journey through both an external world of crises and triumphs and an internal world of feelings and belief systems." ~ Dennis Palumbo
Generally I'm against exclamation marks, but I've been realizing that it's time to start passing along information about funding and residencies for writers.Especially in these recessionary times or whatever you want to call it when there doesn't seem to be enough money to go around.  So here's my first link for you. I plan on passing along more, along with a reminder that the online version of Poets & Writers always lists contests and grants for writers. If you have information to share, please pass them along.

As for residencies, here's one for those longing for the woods:
Andrews Forest Writers Residency. Application Date: May 15, 2010
The H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest offers one-week residencies to poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers in September, November, and December in the Oregon Cascades, 40 miles east of Eugene. The residency is open to writers whose work “reflects a keen awareness of the natural world.” Residents are provided with a three-room apartment, which includes kitchen facilities, access to the forest research site, and a $250 stipend. Submit three sets of up to 10 pages of poetry or 15 pages of prose, a one-page project description, and a curriculum vitae by May 15. There is no application fee. Visit the Web site for an application and complete guidelines.
Andrews Forest Writers’ Residency, Spring Creek Project, Oregon State University, 101 Hovland Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331. Charles Goodrich, Program Director.

Keep dreaming and inspire others to dream also.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Advice to A Young Writer
1.If possible, be Russian. And live in another country. Play chess. Be an active trader between languages. Carry precious metals from one to the other. Remind us of Stravinsky. Know the names of plants and flying creatures. Hunt gauzy wings with snares of gauze. Make science pay tribute. Have a butterfly known by your name.

2. Do not be awed by giant predecessors. Be ill-tempered with their renown. Point out flaws. Frighten interviewers from Time. Appear in Playboy. Sell to the movies.

3. Use unlikely materials. Who would choose Pnin as hero, but how did we live before Pnin?

4. Delight in perversity. Put a noun into the dictionary. Now we recognize the Lolita at every corner, see her sucking sweetened milk through straws at every soda fountain, dream her through all our fantasies.

5. Burn pedants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.

6. Age indomitably, in the European manner. Do not finish your labours young. Be a planet, not a meteor. Honor the working day. Sit at your desk." ~ Vladimir Nabokov
From: Nabokov: criticism, reminiscences, translations and tributes by Alfred Adler

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PEN World Voices, April 26
Thanks to an exciting collaboration between Literary Arts and the Miracle Theatre Group, Portland will participate for the first time in the PEN World Voices Festival this month. In 2004, PEN President Salman Rushdie decided that the organization needed to do more to create cultural understanding in post-9/11 America. The result was PEN World Voices, a festival of international literature that gathers hundreds of writers from around the globe to participate in panels, conversations, and readings in New York City. 

Now, six years later, Portland begins what we hope will become an annual tradition when Literary Arts and the Miracle present Rigoberto González on Monday, April 26 at 7:30 pm at the Miracle Theatre. Rigoberto is an acclaimed poet, memoirist, novelist, and critic. He is also the author of young adult and children’s books. For this event, Rigoberto will be reading from his memoir Butterfly Boy, winner of the American Book Award, and from his poetry collection, So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks,selected by Ai as part of The National Poetry Series.  In an in-depth on-stage conversation, he will also discuss his life, his creative process, and his work, including Fifteen Years of Latino and Latino Writing, the recently released (March, 2010) Camino del Sol anthology of poetry, nonfiction and fiction which he edited for The University of Arizona Press. 

I hope you will join us for what will be a unique literary evening.  And please spread the word.  (Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at HulaHub or at 503.236.7253.
Just for fun
Up in the middle of the night working and I ran across this listing  that's just for fun...or to impress others at your next literary shindig.  How to impress Chimanda Ngozi Adichie I especially appreciate the Chuck Palahaniuk listing since I get it wrong every time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The writer is something of a shape-changer and trickster, someone a little more treacherous, eccentric, and unpredictable than she at first appears, because she is continually buffeted and transformed by an inner life invisible from the outside. She may speak to you in complete sentences about what her day was like, but inside another life is being lived, one full of beauties and monstrosities, upheavals and transgressions." ~ Eric Maisel
April in Portland
Cloud cover taking over the sky and I'm trying to handle a bunch of correspondence and phone calls that I've been putting off.(Injuries from my car accident--doesn't that sound like fun?) And I'm working on some new projects...more to come on that. The spring time glories and weather over the weekend couldn't have been lovelier. Never spent April in Paris, but April in Portland is magical.  And here's a shot of redbuds in bloom to prove it: 

And then there are the rhodendrums and other beauties joining the throng of blooms.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Writing Prompt

Since April is National Poetry Month, keep writing by adding on to a first line of a published poem. However, it is not necessary to continue writing a poem. Try switching genres; pen a story, essay, or scene.  Try these first lines written by Richard Hugo. Or try the first lines of your favorite poems. 
This is the final resting place of engines  
One tug pounds to haul an afternoon  
We had to get him off, the dirty elf-  
In gold life here a small guard  
A field of wind gave license for defeat  
This summer, most friends out of town  
You remember the name was Jensen. She seemed old  
Dear Bobbi: God it’s cold. Unpredicted, of course, by forecast  
He is twice blessed, the old one buried here  
Town or poem. I don’t care how it looks. Old woman  
Believe in this couple this day who come  
Now I’m dead, load what’s left on the wagon  
You might come here Sunday on a whim
    From Dylan Thomas
    “The first poems I knew were nursery rhymes, and before I could read them for myself I had come to love just the words of them; the words alone. What the words stood for, symbolized, or meant, was of very secondary importance. What mattered was the sound of them as I heard them for the first time on the lips of the remote and incomprehensible grownups who seemed, for some reason, to be living in my world. And these words were, to me, as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of mild-carts, the clopping of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane, might be to someone, deaf from birth, who has miraculously found his hearing. I did not care what the words said, overmuch, nor what happened to Jack and Jill and the Mother Goose rest of them; I cared for the shapes of sound that their names, and the words describing their actions, made in my ears; I cared for the colours the words cast on my eyes.” Dylan Thomas, Notes on the Art of Poetry

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Pale skies this morning and it's supposed to be in the 70s today. Time to stow away the winter clothes for good...I love that whole ritual of packing and unpacking seasonal clothes. Last night I met with one of my critique groups and we got into an involved discussion about fiction endings. We've been meeting since October and we're heading toward the proverbial finish line.I think I'm going to write a column or article on endings because of course they make or break the book. Sometimes a reader will overlook a so-so beginning, but a lousy ending means he or she won't read your next book.

    One of the worst endings I've read in recent years was in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Murial Barbery. I will never read another one of her books and felt manipulated as a reader. Ditto for Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island although because he's written a number of great endings including Prayers for Rain, I'm going to crack his books again..

    Endings need to culminate the story that came before, but also provide a logical progression of the previous actions. Endings in fiction provide the most drama and excitement, but they also must leave a lasting impression, a lingering magic. But mostly endings stem from every element in your story, including tone, voice and genre type, but particularly from your protagonist’s motivations.

    Good endings can be suggestive rather than spell out every aspect of the characters’ fates, and can allow the reader to imply some of his or her own meaning, but are never confusing. Satisfying endings always provide closure. As Nancy Kress says, “Closure means you give your readers enough information about the fate of the characters for them to feel that the book is really over.”

    A good resource on the topic is Nancy Kress' Beginnings, Middles, & Endings
    More to come....keep writing, keep dreaming, and nail the ending

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Poetry picks on NPR
    In case you  missed it, Nancy Pearl recommended several poetry collections in honor of National Poetry Month on NPR this morning. The poems she read knocked me over and I now need to track down Blue Dusk by Madeline DeFrees. And maybe all her poems

    "I've discovered over my years of reading poems that voice is incredibly important to me. Whether it's the voice of an omniscient narrator or a narrator who's telling the story in the first person, I need to be captivated by the tone and language in order to get into the work and keep reading.

    I also most appreciate writers who use everyday language and straightforward diction, without any attempt to puzzle or frustrate the reader. But at the same time I want the poems to somehow say more than the words themselves do. I want the mystery and the glory of a poem to arise from the way the poet has put words together. I think that the poets I describe below all exemplify this kind of writing, which is why I like them so much."
    Good news story behind the latest Pulitzer

    If you're having one of those days where you wonder if writing is worth it, or if you'll ever get published, check out this story about how word of mouth helped propel a novelist to win the Pulitzer in fiction. The author is Paul Harding and his novel is Tinkers. And here's an interview with Harding at bookslut.
    Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
    Make your readers hear the pauses between the sentences. Let them see characters lean forward, fidget with their cuticles, avert their eyes, uncross their legs. -Jerome Stern
    Blue skies woven with fragile-looking  cirrus clouds. If you have questions about some aspect of writing, please send them to jessicapage (at) spiritone (dot) com.

    I'm adding a link to Author magazine published by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association here because it's fabulous resource for writers.

    From the latest issue: As always, remember to visit Editor-in-Chief Bill Kenower's daily blog where he looks at the intersection of writing, creativity, and life in general. His motto: Writing the book you most want to write is the same as living the life you most want to lead. Here's an excerpt from a recent blog:

    Every story has its own idea of what it must be. A writer's job is to follow that idea along its most natural route. The worst thing you can do is to decide ahead of time what that route must be-to think, I must write something post modern and clever, or I must have at least three women between the ages of 35 and 50 appear by page 100. Most readers, most editors, most agents, despite what they might claim they require in a story, actually just want a story that feels authentic. This is great news. We don't have to figure out what an authentic story is, we need only listen faithfully to the story delivered to us and we will be guided toward an authentic journey.

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Spring memory
    When I was a girl, one of my aunts tenderly dissected a bleeding heart and turned into a ballerina. A spring never goes by that I don't recall that memory, especially since I've planted a pink bleeding heart bush next to the front door.
    Thinking about style and the need thereof:
    “Grammar is not a set of arbitrary rules concocted by a committee in Zurich. It’s a system whereby words can be combined in the head to make magic.” Philip Gerard
    “There is nothing more human (that is, less mineral, vegetal, animal, and even angelical) than grammar.” Jorge Luis Borges
    “You may think the sense of motion and pleasure depends on the subject matter. That is not so. It depends on tone, rhythm, sentence structure, selection, and organization.” Jacques Barzun
    “Before stirring an inch in the direction of fiction, is a review of the fundamentals. No one can hope to write well if he has not mastered—absolutely mastered—the rudiments: grammar and syntax, punctuation, diction, sentence variety, paragraph structure, and so forth.” John Gardner
    “With the proper help and the proper book, any good student can cover the fundamentals, once and for all, in two weeks. The proper book, in my opinion, is W.W. Watt’s An American Rhetoric, the most accurate and efficient book on composition available, also the most interesting and amusing.” John Gardner
    The Elements of Style was Will Strunk’s attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin.” E.B. White
    “I can’t get across this argument that if you write, then surely you must respect things like grammar. Grammar is a bore as an academic subject, but it’s the basic good manners of writing.” John Fowles
    “Unlike medicine or the other sciences, writing has no new discoveries to spring on us. We’re in no danger of reading in our morning newspaper that a breakthrough has been made in how to write a clear English sentence—that information has been around since the King James Bible. We know that verbs have more vigor than nouns, that active verbs are better than passive verbs, that short words and sentences are easier to read than long ones, that concrete details are easier to process than vague abstractions.” William Zinsser
    “We are all writers and readers as well as communicators, with the need at times to please and satisfy ourselves (as White put it) with the clear and almost perfect thought.” Roger Angell, foreword to The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Fourth Edition
    “Our standards for writing are higher and more formal than for speaking. They have to be, because when we read, we don’t have the speaker’s voice and expression and intonation to make half-finished sentences and misused words clear. We have only the words. They must be clear. And, to be clear to as many readers as possible, they have to follow the generally agreed-upon rules, the shared rules, of grammar and usage.” Ursula K. Le Guin

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Are you ready to be published?
    I realize that if I keep posting my sky watch descriptions of Portland's morning sky it will sound like Transylvania or some gloomy outpost around here. But the truth is that it did rain like crazy here last night and the sky is now a soft shade of pale blue-grey. However, since we're 60-some miles from the ocean, marine air often jogs in here each night and is sometimes slow to leave in the morning. I'm sure you  know that climates near the ocean generally have moderate, cool summers and warm winters, with not much variation in temperatures. That's usually how it is around here, although with climate changes happening, it seems to me that all bets are off.   

    I want to draw your attention to this fun, helpful and zany poster by Anna Hurley, entitled "Are You Absolutely, Positively, and Wholeheartedly Ready to Publish Your Novel?" - is a last minute checklist for budding authors everywhere. Are you ready to be published? 

    Friday, April 09, 2010

    "Writing chose me. I think if your really a writer, you just have to write. I've always incorporated writing into every single job I've had. In some form or fashion, I've had to write. I think it goes to the core of who you are. It's about having to write, and sitting down every single day. Having to write and going through the soul-crushing moments where you can't find anything to say. Writing novels gives me an ability to express myself and explore a totally different part of myself that I never really let come out before." Elizabeth Flock
    The marine layer is still coating the sky, but blue is appearing. According to the latest edition of The Writer magazine, PoetrySpeaks is a new web site that takes a multi media approach to poetry. It was conceived by Sourcebooks and seems to be trying a new approach to bringing poetry to the people, including downloads and building an online community.

    Thursday, April 08, 2010

    Favorite Poem?
    I'm supposed to be teaching tonight but am home nursing an incredibly painful lower back. So between icing and pain pills and cursing my fate, I've checked my email. The lovely poet Sage Cohen has launched a lively discussion this month on Facebook. Today she's asking What is your favorite poem? Of course most questions with 'favorite' in them are difficult to answer, but I'm weighing in with W.S.Merwin, Mary Oliver, and Gerald Manley Hopkins.  Spring by Edna Vincent St.Millay was suggested as were poems by the illustrious Richard  Brautigan,  Sage voted on The Name of a Fish by Faith Shearin which is also one of my favorites, although I first read it last month when it appeared in The Writer's Almanac. In fact, I copied it into my writer's notebook.
    Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
    Kurt Vonnegut on writing
    Mysterious-looking sky this morning. I'm still fascinated with how authors explain craft, especially if their advice is reflected in their work. Here's Kurt Vonnegut weighing in on storytelling.

    1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
    2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
    3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
    4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
    5. Start as close to the end as possible.
    6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
    7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
    8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
     Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    "Write what you know ...and prepare a toast. To a life without stars that carry strange life forms, talking animals, machines that come to life, mysterious strangers, sudden revelations, words you've never head before--and the thoughts in other people's minds. You may have to forfeit forever the music of a close-range gunshot on a cool blue morning or the clash or battle-axes at the gates of Mordor (although you may not miss the hiss of the demon who's taken over your spouse's body).

    Indeed, you stand to sacrifice much more than you gain by following this stale and unexamined bit of advice (which is offered with relentless frequency in writing programs, workshops, conferences, articles, etc.). In fact, the list is so very long of what you stand to lose that it forms a curious index of precisely what so many of us might well consider to be what literature and therefor good writing actually is about (including a lot of passion and bizarre situations that us aroused.)"
    Kris Saknussemm, The Writer, May 2010

    Glimmer Train Contest

    Guidelines for the FAMILY MATTERS category: We are interested in reading your original, unpublished short stories about family!
    • We don't publish stories for children, I'm sorry.
    • It's fine to submit more than one story or to submit the same story to different categories.
    • When we accept a story for publication, we are purchasing first-publication rights. (After we've published it, yohttp://www.glimmertrain.com/index.html can include it in your own collection.)
    To make a submission: Please send your work via our new online submission procedure.
    It's easy, will save you postage and paper, and is much easier on the environment.
    Just click the yellow Submissions button above to get started!

    The category will be open to submissions for one full month, from the first day through
    midnight (Pacific time) of the last day of the month. Results will be posted at www.glimmertrain.org.

    • April. Results will be posted on June 30.
    • October. Results will be posted on December 31.
    Reading fee:
    • $15 per story.
    • 1st place wins $1,200, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue.
    • 2nd-place: $500
    • 3rd-place:$300
    Other considerations:
    • Open to all writers.
    • Stories--about family--not to exceed 12,000 words.(Any shorter lengths are welcome.)
    • This category has stimulated lots of questions about fiction/non-fiction/creative nonfiction, since many people have significant real-life stories they want to write. It seems to us that a substantial proportion of fiction submissions are heavily rooted in actual experience, which is entirely fine with us, but we do want stories to READ like fiction and anything we publish is presented as fiction. (Also, sticking too tightly to "truth" can limit the larger truth that fiction is able to reveal.) I would certainly recommend changing details that would allow the real-life people to say, Hey, that character is--without a doubt--me. I hope that makes sense.
    We look forward to reading your work!

    Glimmer Train Press, Inc. • 1211 NW Glisan Street, Suite 207, Portland, OR 97209 USA • All Images Copyright © Glimmer Train Press, Inc.;
    Copyright © 1998-2010 Glimmer Train Press, Inc.

    Tuesday, April 06, 2010

    There is still time to attend a workshop in Vancouver BC
    Anatomy of a Scene
    Sunday, April 18
    Time: 10-4:30

    ETC:Cost: $90 American funds
    Includes beverages and snacks, participants provide their own lunch. Space is limited so please contact me soon.
          “A scene is a miniature drama in which a single issue is decided in specific circumstances.” Philip Gerard
    Scenes are basic units of storytelling that dramatize both everyday life and key moments in fiction and nonfiction. In scenes something significant happens, it has not happened before and will not happen again. A scene—an unbroken action― brings the story to a new place in the narrative, it offers something fresh and somehow stirs reader’s emotions Thus scenes are a means of perception and the intimate moments in the story that create emotional involvement with the reader. Fully rendered scenes are dramatic high points and help the readers see the events, but also experience them via their senses.
    But crafting compelling scenes isn’t merely a trick of assembling actors onto a stage. The best scenes and are built on character’s goals meeting opposition, and often include an emotional reversal. Our discussion will define: half scenes, sequels, action scenes, transitions, and set pieces. This workshop is suitable for fiction and nonfiction writers. We’ll also cover using scene cards, using setting to enhance drama, and the role of dialogue.
    Participants will learn:
    • Which events in the story can be summarized and which are written in scenes.
    • How scenes advance at least two things in the story—the theme, the plot, a subplot, or develop or change characters.
    • How a scene must be vital to the overall plot; suggests more scenes to follow; and tension and conflict in scenes is cumulative.
    • How to move in and out of scenes quickly; when you need transitions and when to use cliffhangers.
    • How to structure action scenes.
    For more information contact me at jessicapage (at) spiritone (dot) com
    Hugo Nominations
    A fascinating collection for the Hugo nominations have been announced. I'm happy to see a novella by Nancy Kress and the film Moon in the line up. And I've been meaning to read Boneshaker and am fascinated about how the awards include fan fiction, editors, graphic stories. This is such a vital, evolving genre, don't you think?
    Water Our Thirsty World
    The skies are clearing after our last storm. Yesterday afternoon the sky was the color of a day-old bruise and the wind was roaring through here, the tall firs across the street bending and waving, till it seemed they might bow or break. A bicyclist was riding past and was bent forward, struggling against the wind. And since the ground is saturated around here, trees started toppling over, although none in my neighborhood.

     I just wanted to call your attention to the April issue of National Geographic which is focused on water (it's the print edition). In it, Barbara Kingsolver the novelist and essayist has written a lovely essay about the simple miracle of water.

    It begins: "We keep an eye out for wonders, my daughter and I, every morning as we walk down our farm lane to meet the school bus. And wherever we find them, they reflect the magic of water: a spider web drooping with dew like a rhinestone necklace. A rain-colored heron rising from the creek bank. One astonishing morning, we had a visitation of frogs. Dozens of them hurtled up from the grass ahead of our feet, launching themselves, white-belied, in bouncing arcs, as if we'd been caught in a downpour of amphibians. It seemed to mark the dawning of some new aqueous age. On another day we met a snapping turtle in his primordial olive drab armor. Normally this is a pond-locked creature, but some murky ambition had moved him onto our gravel lane, using the rainy week as a passport from our farm to somewhere else."

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    "The inability to correctly perceive reality is often responsible for humans' insane behavior. And every time they substitute an all-purpose, sloppy slang word for words that would accurately describe an emotion or a situation, it lowers their reality orientations, pushes them farther from shore, out onto the foggy waters of alienation and confusion." ~ Tom Robbins
    Deep Fiction Workshop, April 10
     If you're feeling the urge to spend a day at the Oregon coast and have your writer's brain rattled in a good way, join me in Manzanita for a practical, as in you can immediately put these techniques to work, workshop.
    Date: Saturday, April 10, Time: 9:30-4:30
    Location: Center for Contemplative Arts,
    Underhill Plaza, Manzanita, Oregon
    Cost: $80
    Readers want to be haunted by stories, characters and specific scenes that linger in their memories. They want to carry a story within them as they go about daily activities. They want to be transported to another time and place. The best fiction does this; touching the deep layers in us. A writer achieves this effect by embedding dozens of techniques into his story to create a deep and simmering story world. Yet since some elements in fiction are suggested or handling with delicacy, they’re difficult to analyze. This workshop brings these fictional elements into the light so you can create a nuanced, layered, and compelling story. In this workshop we’ll combine discussion and exercises to cover methods for creating depth including:
     How to focus the storyline on a single, dramatic question.
     How to weave in back story, via flashbacks and other means.
     How to structure scenes then layer them with mood and tone.
     How to write with balance, unity and subtlety.
     The how and why of balancing subplots with the main plot and secondary characters with the main players.
     How theme and premise underscore and unify fiction.
     How increasing complications and motivation drive fiction forward.
     How tension and suspense contribute to every page and the part foreshadowing plays in achieving it.
    Contact me at jessicapage (at) spiritone (dot) com
    The Mother Lode

    Easter was rainy and cool here, and this morning looks like more of the same. If you don't follow Jane Friedman, the Editorial Director of Writer's Digest Books, you're missing out on red-hot news in the publishing industry, an amazing resource, and all-around wise woman. She's the mother lode, writers.  Every Sunday she compiles Best Tweets for the Week (I watch Twitter so you don't have to) at her blog There Are No Rules.

    Also, if you're interested in penning flash fiction, check out  round four of NPR's  Three-Minute Fiction contest, the next deadline is April 11, the judge is the amazing Ann Patchett, and the words that must be used are: plant,button,trick and fly.

    "They're dull little words, little everyday words that I want to see in all of the stories," Patchett tells NPR's Guy Raz. "People can use them as nouns, as adjectives or as verbs." You can also use the words in any tense, if used as verbs.

    "It's really nice to have little markers to go by, something to sort of occupy one side of your brain while the other side of your brain is being very creative," Patchett says. "I think of these four words as the splint that will hold the story together."

    Patchett says she picked those four words because they work in a lot of different ways. For example, she says, "you can plant information, and you can have a plant on your windowsill."

    Saturday, April 03, 2010

    It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. . . . If I started to write elaborately . . . I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline. ~ Ernest Hemingway

    Friday, April 02, 2010

    "Perhaps the questioner is more than just curious, yearning for a jealously kept prescription on how to be a writer. There is none. Writing is the one "profession" for which there is no professional training: Creative writing courses can teach the aspirant only to look at her or his writing critically, not how to create. The only school for a writer is the library - reading, reading. A journey through realms of how far, wide and deep writing can venture in the endless perspectives of human life. Learning from other writers' perceptions that you have to find your way to yours, at the urge of the most powerful sense of yourself - creativity. Apart from that, you're on your own." ~ Nadine Gordimer
    Writing Prompt
    Drizzly skies and the forecast calls for more rain. I'm writing my monthly columns and have just made a big mess in here because I was looking for a file among the thousands of papers I've got stashed here. Some days I can work amid a paper cyclone, but I suspect this might not be one of them.

    Continue writing a poem, essay, or story, using one of the following as the first lines by William Stafford:
    Tomorrows ago the world spun
    Everyone first hears the news as a child
    Every rock says, “Your move,” and then waits
    Winter stops by for a visit each year
    They made a wolf out of sheet iron
    When they criticize you how do you
    He wants to go north. His life has become
    A hand appears.
    Have the phone ready
    Now it seems that I am not sad enough. Some
    A blank space on the page,
    At the store the gave me the wrong
    Think about Gypsies—
    One time a clock said midnight
    Everyone first hears the news as a child
    Some people don’t know this:
    A balloon ascends on that path it finds in the air
    On a corner you meet a face. It follows you,
    Once I feel bad, it takes chocolate
    Fog in the morning here
    Time used to live here
    I like to live in the sound of water
    Under the earth a great river has found
    Look at me.  My family are gone. I am old and alone.
    Don’t just stay tangled up in your life.
    Trees are afraid of storms. Even big ones.
    Little things hide. Sometimes they
    Bent over a ship in a bottle, on an island