"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, June 30, 2010

Wordstock Writing Contest
Wordstock, Portland's annual festival of writers, books, and storytelling, has extended the deadline for submissions to the 4th Wordstock Short Fiction Competition to Friday, July 16.

The winner of the competition receives a first prize of $1,000 and publication in the October 2010 issue of Portland Monthly magazine. All 10 finalists' stories will be published in the Wordstock Ten, an anthology that will be available at the festival, at Portland-area bookstores, and online through the Wordstock website. The final judge for this year's competition will be fiction writer and essayist Charles D'Ambrosio.

Submission guidelines:
- All short stories must be works of fiction written in English
- Stories must be an original work and not previously published
- The entry fee is $25 per short story entry
- There are no genre restrictions, and comics are acceptable
- Manuscripts are to be typed, double-spaced, on 8.5'' x 11'' paper
- Stories should be no less than 1,000 and no more than 3,000 words
- Each submission must have a cover sheet with the writer's contact information--do not put this information on the manuscript.
- No manuscript will be returned
- Entries that do not follow these guidelines will be disqualified

Submit your entry by mail to:
Wordstock Short Fiction Competition
810 SE Belmont St., Studio 5
Portland, Oregon 97214
Heather Sharfeddin 
I met Heather years ago before her first novel was published and noticed immediately how serious she was about writing and craft.  She's now the author of four acclaimed novels Blackbelly, Mineral Spirits,Windless Summer, and Sweetwater Burning which was just released last week.   Her stories are complicated and potent, the kind where the characters linger in your imagination long after you've put the book down. Sharfeddin is especially adept at capturing the power of place such as mountain ranges, sheep ranches and small towns with echoes of her childhood, especially the Salmon River of Idaho. Recently she's been working on her MFA from Vermont College and remodeling a house.  Look for her upcoming events and booksignings at her website.

(photo by Theresa McKeegan Photography)
Q: You strike me as a writer who takes risks with writing. Could you talk about this?
I guess that's true. I'm currently working on a novel that is narrated by the dead. It's been a lot of fun, but challenging in that the boundaries are so broad. I'm fascinated by the fringes of society, group mentality, as well as speculative and superstitious behavior. A tragic event recently happened here in Portland where a seven year old boy went missing. Within a day people were condemning the stepmother. From the grocery store checkout to the office water cooler, people began convicting a woman they didn't know, based on evidence they'd made up. Often it's something like this that compels me to write--an absurd rush to judgment. But illustrating the irrational can also mean learning to identify with irrational people. Through the process, I usually soften and begin feel sympathy for them. I end up painting the characters very differently than I'd planned, but that's what makes writing interesting.
Q: Could you talk about how the idea for Sweetwater Burning formed?
Sweetwater Burning came out of just the sort of situation I described. A local elementary school had banned religious-themed Christmas carols from the holiday concert. The community was divided, some in favor, some against, and many who thought it was unnecessary drama. But there were a handful of people who were so vocally angry that I wondered how deep their passion for this ran. What were they willing to do to be heard? And that was the spark behind Sweetwater Burning.
Q: How do you get to know your characters?
My characters inch out of the shadows scene by scene, responding to the situations I put them in. I begin with a snapshot and flesh them out over the course of the novel. Sometimes, though, I run into a character that is difficult to write. I might have trouble placing them in the scene, or I avoid them altogether (and you can't avoid a necessary character for long). It's an indication that I don't understand them well enough and, in those cases, I interview them. I open a blank document and start a Q&A session where I ask them straight out what they think about what's going on in the novel. I ask them personal questions I would never ask of anyone else. It sounds silly, but they tell me. After two or three pages, I typically have a better understanding of how they fit, and especially what their unseen motives and attitudes are. I have discovered orphans, robbers, and recovering drug addicts this way.
Q: How does the landscape of  West and your childhood in Montana and Idaho inform your writing?
I grew up mostly outdoors in a very remote and beautiful place completely bereft of people. My father was a forest ranger who tended toward recluse, and I wasn't a bookish kid because I was too busy exploring the ravines and abandoned barns near my home. I was also far-sighted and reading was a difficult task, but sitting on a ridge contemplating Hell's Canyon captivated my imagination. As I got older and discovered the richness in books, I was inspired to paint for others the landscapes I loved. In remote places with few people it's still common for neighbors (within a few miles) to get together and tell folktales about the area. I think I learned to be a storyteller before I learned to be a writer because I heard so many of those fascinating stories of funny, tragic, and bizarre individuals who had at one time or another inhabited our canyon.
Q: You call some of your novels Contemporary Westerns? Did you grow up reading Westerns? Do you think women need to sort of re-invent the Western?
That was the biggest mistake I've made as an author. Never call your work a western. People gloss right over the qualifier and your books are suddenly sitting on the shelf next to Louis L'Amour, if they are in the store at all. I haven't actually read many genre westerns, but I am in love with the rural west. And Clint Eastwood as the loner cowboy was (and still is) King. I have been deeply influenced by western authors like Claire Davis, Ivan Doig, and Sherman Alexie. If I could be half the writer Cormac McCarthy is, I'll die happy. When I think of contemporary western, these are the authors that come to mind.
Q:Could you talk about your writing process?
I write chronologically, beginning to end. As I add new elements, or change important details, I go back to the beginning and edit the story all the way up to the last scene I've written, then write the next one. This usually means that the novel has been edited hundreds of times when I finish the last scene. When I write the last word, the book is finished.

Q: What is your advice for a writer trying to break into print?
Persistence and practice. I wrote several stories that were never published, but with each one I learned and improved my craft. I'm still learning and improving. It's easy to get discouraged, and everyone does. But believe in yourself and keep writing. Also, resist the temptation to self-publish, especially if you write fiction. In the traditional market there is a stigma associated with self-publishing. If you choose to go that route, be fully aware of the pros and cons, not just the distribution aspects.
Q: What books are on your nightstand?
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, The Dual by Franz Kafka, Sometimes A Great Notion, by Ken Keesey, The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. But that's just the top layer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A few requests
Gorgeous sunset tonight spun with lilacs and gold. I'm looking for a few good men or women to guest blog between July 7-15. Second request: we've outgrown the facility that we use in Manzanita for the Summer in Words writing conference. I'm looking for a hall or meeting place located on the coast about two hours from Portland. You can contact me at jessicapage(at) spiritone (dot) com
Next year it will be held June 17-19

"A writer needs 3 things: experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others." ~ William Faulkner

Monday, June 28, 2010

Writer's Digest Article
I came home from the coast yesterday and found a letter in my mailbox from     Zachary Petit, the managing editor of Writer's Digest magazine. He's excerpted a segment from my book Between the Lines and the article is called Building Tension to Heighten the Stakes. You can find it on page 67 of the July/August issue.
Summer in Words Recap
The morning sky is the palest blue. I arrived home from Manzanita yesterday afternoon and after stashing some leftovers in the refrigerator, fell into a sleep so deep it felt bottomless.  Woke to a mess of stuff to sort through, paperwork that needed attention, and emails to answer.
If you've never attended a writing conference, I wish you could have experienced the camaraderie, laughter, and inspiration that emanated from the place. As I was packing the car for the trip home, a group of writers was gathered in the parking lot, hanging on to new friendships and new memories.
It was a rare confluence of perfect weather, talented speakers, and congenial writers. Thanks to everyone who participated---my brain is already roiling with ideas for next year's venue and topics.
You know the drill: keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"I don't want to be a doctor, and live by men's diseases; not a minister to live by their sins; nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So don't see there's anything else for me but to be an author." ~ Nathaniel West
When we are writing, or painting, or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions, and are opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize. ~Madeline L'Engle
Yesterday was the first day that felt like summer here--warm, soft, languid. The sort of day that makes your attitude looser, your bones feel different, a little liquid .  By late afternoon, home from running errands,  I had switched into a sleeveless top and watered plants, the hot, midday-feeling sun overhead, the sky stretching into endless blue. The ferns were nodding a bit, the roses are coming on, the branches heavier every day, leaning under the weight of blooms, the grass silky underfoot. 

For weeks I'd been telling myself to ignore all the rain we've been having, that the weather didn't matter. But yesterday was like a first kiss, a promise of new experiences and new horizons. Feeling the summer breeze against my skin, it was as if the rhythm of days that follow the sun had slipped within.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but we are unable to say. ~ Anaïs Nin
A simple style is like white light. Although complex, it does not appear to be so. ~ Anatole France
Tapping into your Inner Writer
Morning clouds are breaking up because the sun, that near-stranger, is returning again today. I'm prepping for Summer in Words, but just wanted to toss  a little pep talk your way.

Writing is an act of hope. It is a means of carving order from chaos, of challenging one’s own beliefs and assumptions, of facing the world with eyes and heart wide open. Through writing, we declare a personal identity amid faceless anonymity. We find purpose and beauty and meaning even when the rational mind argues that none of these exist.
Writing therefore, is also an act of courage. How much easier is it to lead an unexamined life than to confront yourself on the page? How much easier is it to surrender to materialism or cynicism or to a hundred other ways of life that are, in fact, ways to hide from life and from our fears? When we write, we resist the facile seduction of these simpler roads. We insist on finding out and declaring the truths we find, and we dare to utter those truths on the page
. Jack Heffron

Your writing life must first of all, be a life. Not a maudlin pity fest. Not a navel-gazing goof off. Not a sea of sighs and whining about why New York bigwigs don't recognize you. You’re alive and you’re spunky, aware and engaged. You’re eating and drinking delicious substances. Hanging out with interesting people. Laughing at life’s many absurdities. Striving for balance. And you’re not separating yourself from all that is good and vivid—you’re occupied with all parts and all parts feed into your writing.

Show up for the page. Don’t mess with your head, talk yourself out of writing, or avoid the truth. Just sit there and put down a word, then another. Keep sitting, keep writing and write what needs to come out.

Remember: You’re disciplined and tenacious. If you’re an aspiring writer you need to produce 1,000 words a day, at least five days a week, for the rest of your life. 300 words every day means you’ll finish a book in a year.

Write if you cannot imagine not writing. The writing life is difficult and sometimes painful. Don't subject yourself to it unless you are driven by a passion for it. Writing is something you must love for its own sake, not for fame or money. If you find this too discouraging, you probably shouldn't aim to be a professional writer. But nothing says you cannot be a happy amateur. (Remember, the root of the word "amateur" is amare, to love.) 

Don’t write what you know, write from your passions, not from some notion about what you think the marketplace wants. The market is fickle; the soul is eternal. Write about your authenticity. Readers can smell a phony, so chasing the market doesn’t work, anyway.

Don’t worry about your stage in life. If you’ve come to writing at mid-life or later in the journey, revel in all you’ve learned and seen. You likely have gratitude and perspective and wisdom that can be translated to the page. Or, if you’re young and fresh, bring on what you know like spring comes after winter.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How do you find something good to read in a brave new self-published world?

File Laura Miller's column under H for harsh reality: 
"In other words, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it, and if the prophecies of a post-publishing world come true, it looks, gentle readers, as if that dirty job will soon be yours. Also, no one will pay you for it. Granted, the entry-level editors who used to do this job in old-school publishing didn't get paid very much, but it was better than nothing, and there was always the chance that a career could be made by plucking a hit from the slush pile (as happened with Judith Guest's "Ordinary People" in 1975). You, on the other hand, will be offered no such incentives."
Well believe it or not, the sun is finally  here again. I can scarcely believe my eyes and after checking my flower beds, these are the dahlias (among other varieties)that I fear will not join the party this summer. If this is summer.
Fiction Checklist
© Jessica P. Morrell
____ From the opening paragraphs, is there a clear, distinct and engaging voice?
____ Is there a single, simple conflict that drives the action? Can your plot be summed up in a single sentence?
_____ Does the story begin with a change or threat in the protagonist’s life?
_____ Does every scene and description provide a sense of momentum, or narrative drive pushing the story forward?
_____ Is the story highly visual?
_____ Is there a sense of time running out or another factor that creates tension?
_____ Does the story contain weather?
_____ Have you worked at weaving data, description and back story into the narrative so that it doesn’t interrupt the forward movement of the story?
_____ Have you dramatized the action in scenes or have you summarized?
_____ Can the reader understand what is at stake in the story and why the protagonist is motivated to do what he/she does?
_____ Is your protagonist’s motivation propelling the story forward and building throughout?
_____ Are the settings interesting, unique, memorable? Does the setting have potential to teach readers about a place, a profession, a way of life?
_____ Does the protagonist have a goal in each scene?
_____ Have you ended scenes with thrusters, surprises or cliff hangers?
_____ Have you relied on flashbacks to relate the protagonist’s backstory? If so, is the information necessary and do the flashbacks disrupt the momentum of the story?
_____ Have you repeated some physical characteristics, descriptions of the characters throughout the story so the reader is reminded of their physical attributes and personality?
_____ Is each character consistent? Are his or her dominant traits in evidence throughout the story?
_____ Have you used every character in every scene? Or have you left some characters standing mute or as bystanders in the scene?
____ Are there a series of setbacks, mini crisis and complications along the way?
____ Have you added unexpected events midway in the story?
____ Are your transitions brisk and do they serve to keep the reader moving through time, space and mood?
____ Have you deftly handled your theme and premise, or are you on a soap box preaching or shouting at the reader?
____ When you read the dialogue out loud, does it sound natural? Does the dialogue contain tension? Does each character sound distinctive?
____ Is the protagonist the person in the story most involved in the action, most likely to be changed by events in the story?
____ Do you quickly slip in and out of scenes?
____ Does the ending provide the most emotional and dramatic scenes?
____ Does the ending tie up the subplots?
"There are dreams and there are career plans. They are not the same. Some dreams are compensatory: visions that we retreat to in times of stress, like blankies for infants, things that comfort us and tell us what we need to be told. The dream of being a famous writer can be like that: a dream of infantile power and attention that disguises the more immediate need -- for safety, self-love, serenity, peace in our hearts.

But the work, that is another thing. The real work is staggering; the real work is work. It is not dream. It is pushing against the wall; it is hearing what we do not want to hear; it is doing the numbers; it is learning the new terms as they come along; it is sitting through evaluations and self-evaluations. It is an eternal object lesson in our powerlessness and our smallness. The real work is grinding and slow.

When I look at all the writers who have won coveted prizes and all the filmmakers and artists who have had success, what I notice is that they are the ones who actually filled out the applications for fellowships and sent their work around for critique and rejection; they are the ones who locked themselves in rooms and worked at it; they are the ones who did what was required; they are the ones who allowed themselves to be beginners and to begin at the beginning and do the next obvious thing.

What I conclude is that as creative people, we are citizens. We are citizens of the dream. As citizens of the dream, like citizens of the factory or the city, our job is to follow good working routines, to participate, to lend a hand to the greater enterprise. We are workers. Our work is ethereal but we are workers. Material must be transported. Mouths must be fed. It is work.

When seen from afar, like a rainbow, the dream is radiant."
~ Cary Tennis
"The primary subject of fiction is and has always been human emotion; values, and beliefs. The novelist Nicholas Delbannco has remarked that by the age of four one has experienced nearly everything one needs as a writer of fiction: love, pain, loss, boredom, rage, guilt, fear of death. The writer's business is to make up convincing human beings and create for them basic situations and actions by means of which they come to know themselves and reveal themselves to the reader.

Through the study of technique--not canoeing or logging or slinging hash--one learns to discern, in the planning stages, the difference between the better dramatic action and the worse. It is this kind of knowledge--to return to our earlier subject--that leads to mastery." ~ John Gardner,The Art of Fiction
But the mind always
wants more than it has -
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses - as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren't enough,
as if joy weren't strewn all around.

- Holly Hughes
from Mind Wanting More

Monday, June 21, 2010

Larry Brooks
Larry Brooks is the best-selling author of five novels, Bait and Switch, Serpent's Dance, Pressure PointsDarkness Bound, and Whisper of the Seventh Thunder. He's also created a series of e-books that elucidate story architecture, plotting, and character and his blog, which he frequently updates, is a potent resource for writers. Brooks is one of those writers who loves what he does for a living saying, Find something to die for, and then live for it.  Writing is a wonderful way to pursue that passion.  Nothing other than great sex and parenthood will make you feel more alive and vital.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how do you organize your writing time?
 Full time.  But I spread that time between my own book projects (novels and a non-fiction writing book under contract), maintaining my instructional writing website, workshops and freelance assignments. 

 When did you first start writing and what did you write?
I started writing magazine articles and got hooked on seeing my name in print.  From there I went into the corporate world, where what I thought would be a temporary gig lasted well into three decades, forcing me to do my fiction writing on the side. 

What is the toughest part  about being a writer for you and how do  you get past it?
That's easy -- rejection.  And I don't get past it.  Best I can do is accept it and tough it out, and stick to a plan.  This is not a business for the thin skinned. 

Could you talk about your writing process?
 I'm a strong advocate for conceptually-driven story planning.  Up to and including a full manifestation of a scene-by-scene plan, created in context to full awareness and intention of what I call "the six core competencies of storytelling."  That said, I still sometimes make stuff up as I go along, but it's always driven by those six core competencies, which is a developmental model that has become second nature.

How do you take risks with  your writing?
Every time to move down the road on an idea it's a risk.  Maybe nobody will like it, or even get it.  But that risk is part of the deal, if you try to avoid it by trying to please everybody... that's not writing, that's selling out.  When you "make it" by writing what you love, rather than writing what's expected, that's true success.  The other is always temporary.
What books are on your  nightstand?
 Two right now: The Lion  by Nelson Demille, and The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.

What are you working on now?
Writer's Digest Books is expecting my completed first draft of "Story Engineering: Understanding the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing."  Those deadlines turn into a 24/7 focus when the deadline gets this close.  I still write and post three to four blog entries on my site per week in my spare time, which usually comes at about 2:00 am.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Solstice
I was camping over the weekend and if I would go into writerly detail I would describe interrupted sleep, and chill, and damp and puddles and a campfire blazing that brought hope the way that liberators bring hope to war prisoners. Wait, that last line is too extreme. Too Mt. Everest or World War II-sounding. (I fear I'm  betraying my age, she says after creaking home and plunging under a hot shower followed by a nap under a thick quilt). But can I just say that camping in a tent (on the cusp of summer) when you can see your breath when you arise chilled and bleary-eyed (even though you possess a decent sleeping bag) and the whole world is oh-so freaking wet makes you realize how many skills it took for humankind to survive these many centuries....and you snow campers, if you want to weigh in, feel free to write me. Meanwhile, cheers to our ancestors, especially the smart women who first invented fire. Meanwhile II if anyone has an RV to donate to this writer's cause, you also know where to find me.

But all that aside, now that I'm relatively thawed out, let's all note that the Summer Solstice is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and this means that surely long, warmer days and revelry are forthcoming.
And of course, this means that there are more hours for reading outdoors---a rare pleasure, a significant reason to relish summer, however late its arrival.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer in Words only a week away
Folks, the fabulous, inspiring Summer in Words mini-conference begins, Friday, June 25. There are STILL openings. Contact me at jessicapage(at)spiritone (dot) com.
More information is at http://summerinwords.wordpress.com
Emotional Intensity
In most forms of writing, the writer’s main tasks are to tell a story and stir the reader’s emotions. Emotions in the reader are stirred by rendering the emotional lives of people and characters with clarity and complexity. No emotions in the people on the page; no emotions in the reader. Melodrama on the page and you inspire yawns in the reader.

Each of us experiences a range of emotions throughout a single day with peaks and lows and moments of calm. Likewise, on the page, emotions should veer from outrage to mellowness, anxiety and bliss, sadness and joy. But, of course, not every twitch or spike in blood pressure is captivating. A character with wildly veering emotions makes a reader uncomfortable as opposed to empathetic. So let’s look closer at how to create believable -emotions.

Writing engages the reader’s intellect, senses, and emotions as he sees, smells, and hears the unfolding action. Since reading should not be an analytical and removed experience, stories must probe various parts of the reader’s brain. While many parts of the brain and central nervous system are involved in emotions, the  prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in how the human brain processes emotions; and then the deep limbic system, at the center of the brain which is the bonding and mood control center and where emotional memories are stored.

Writers need to pay special attention to the limbic system. It is a primitive region of the brain shared with other mammals and is involved with intuition. The limbic system also controls our anger impulses, processes smells, assesses dangers, alerts our stress hormones and other parts of the brain. The limbic system evolves throughout our life and senses the emotions of other people, including those in fiction or characters on a movie screen. Throughout life the limbic system needs to connect and resonate with other people.

Thus writers can be aware of the emotional triggers that spark the reader’s brain and capitalize on the human need to connect. The brain and emotions are products of evolution and we are programmed to respond to things that affected our ancestors thousands of years ago. Thus, fear is triggered by emotions flooding through the body, the signal that danger is present. A reader is feeling afraid or worried, is a reader who is paying attention.

Emotions flood through us at differing intensities, some lasting a long time, some over quickly. Emotions trigger increased blood flow to the brain. Emotions flicker across the face, which was probably helpful in ancient times to signal dangers in the jungle when hunters were chasing a lion.  Research has shown that the basic emotions are anger, disgust, sadness, contempt, happiness, fear and surprise, with many variations of each. 

So as writers, you want to make certain that you’re working with these basic emotions and their variations and emotions are exhibited by people acting, deciding, choosing, exhibiting values—in other words, through their emotional lives. Emotions are individual and are what make people so fascinating and mimes so annoying. After all, those caricatures of emotions created by the person in white face are broad strokes and exaggerations.
Writing Prompt:
What did your father teach you?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Yesterday was one of those on and off days of at the computer, running errands and mailing a book to my dad for Father’s Day, a meeting, and then a long nap. It was a late afternoon nap, which I’m convinced are the best kind. The kind that should properly take place in some South American fishing village or in an ancient Turkish cave. I mean to imply that I was far, far away.

And the ride into the dream world, was as, is often happens, thrilling and puzzling. I was far away from my to-do list, my editing projects, and BP executives and the horrors in the Gulf. In the final dream scene, I’m at a place, partly shoe store, partly cool gathering spot, and I’m buying shoes. Green shoes with lovely stacked heels. (I love green shoes) And they are of soft, fine (probably Italian) leather, but I’m trying them on with dark (although cashmere) socks. The men in the scene don’t quite understand the sexiness of the shoes because they’re distracted by the socks, so I explain that the shoes are going to look hot minus the socks and eventually I’m making out with a man I haven’t seen in 20 years.

When I wake up it’s past time to make dinner and I watch Rachel Maddow creating her own Obama address about the Gulf Oil mess that has broken all our hearts and spirits; toss dinner into the oven, then soon my place is replete with the smells of broccoli. (roasted) With windows all open, I return again to the desk to work and watch the Pacific move into my neighborhood. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but we are a place of maritime influences and the skies were amazing and when the clouds arrive at dusk you can practically imagine a rugged coastline where fog-shrouded cliffs are rising out of pounding surf. The Pacific Northwest contains only 3 percent of the world population and I’m so grateful I live in this enshrouded landscape of mountains and firs and clouds.

I couldn’t leave the (neglected) project, so by the time I went out for a walk in the once-again moisture-laden air, the world was turning grey again, so I picked a few wild daisies and checked out the creek, breathing in a damp that felt prehistoric. I was, as usual stalking my neighbors—two houses are being demolished, a new greenhouse has been installed in a rare empty lot, the park deserted except for a young couple trying to train a terrier.

Then back to my desk, everything still smelling like broccoli when I was longing for the Pacific. From Portland, which sometimes feels like it’s on the far side of the word.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

100 Memoirs
For those of you writing memoirs, you might want to check out Sue Silverman's list of 100 Top Memoirs.
Sue is the author of two memoirs and Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to  Memoirs.
The greatest lies harbor the finest truths. ~ Yolanda Fivas
I started writing stories because I was lonely. I wish there were more artistic and noble reasons that I put pen to paper, but the truth of the matter is that I wanted people to kiss me and I had the unfounded notion that, if I wrote a good enough story, people would be compelled to make out with me. This was not a sound theory. ~ Kevin Wilson
Quick Take:
Writers are the custodians of memory and truth. Unleash them in words. 
Quick take:
Only trouble is interesting

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

 Polly Campbell
There's an interview with the lively and contemplative (interesting how those two qualities can co-exist) Polly Campbell at my summer in words blog. I met Polly years ago and have watched her bloom as a writer. Watching writers blossom is even more fun than watching a garden bloom over the years.  You can also find her at her blog Imperfect Spirituality .
Quick take: revision

Approach revision with the same openness to inspiration with which you began writing the first draft.

Start with an important action that creates stress in at least one character. Unpublished writers do not have the luxury of building up to a conflict or other main event. Something must happen right away to hook the reader (here, the reader always means the editor or agent.)

Establish the setting early. Let the reader know where we are, and when. Work to make the season affect the mood of story.

The beginning must foreshadow the ending and create causality. Your story is not a random series of events.
All activities are carefully linked together, all creating down-the-road complications. All plot elements must intertwine with one another.

Knowing your ending before you begin writing makes it easier to write.

Really mean every word you write.

Make use of all the senses to give life and immediacy to fiction and nonfiction—everything from physical descriptions of characters, the quality of light, weather, smells. But use them judiciously walking the skinny line between use and overuse.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is living a writer's dream.The second book in her YA fantasy series Blue Fire is being published in October and she's hard at work on her third book in The Healing Wars series.But I'm going to let her tell you about her work:

Q:I'm so intrigued by your innovative story concept and your central idea of healing, pynvium, and the Healing League, then sort of turning healing upside down and inside out. Could you talk about your inspiration?
A:There's actually two parts to my inspiration. About seven or eight years ago I was trying to think up new twists to common fantasy ideas. I stumbled upon healing and realized that I'd rarely (if ever at that point) seen healing have consequences. It was usually a laying of hands and everyone was fine. I came up with a boy who accidentally healed when he touched people, drawing more and more pain into his body. The only way he could get rid of it was to give it to someone else. He gets discovered by evil pain merchants who want to use that pain as a weapon (I think they wanted to put it in a box of all things). This original idea developed into a really bad ten-page outline so I stuck it in a drawer and forgot all about it.

Jump ahead five years. I'm at the Surrey International Writers Conference pitching a fantasy novel and all the presenters were stressing originality and fresh ideas. I realized my novel wasn't any of those things (and mediocre to boot), so as soon as I got home I started looking in my old ideas file for something original. I came across that ten-page outline. It was still bad, but the idea of pain shifting really stuck with me. I started wondering what the darker side of healing might be. What if it had consequences? What if it could be evil? That started me world building, trying to imagine a culture based on healing and what it might be like. I came up with the idea of buying and selling pain, which naturally led to the mechanics of how someone would buy and sell pain. It would have to be portable and tangible, and it would need to be used for something (or why sell it). Metal seemed a great choice, as it fit those requirements and could be melted down and turned into other things. If you had healers, you'd need a place to train them, so the Healers' League developed from there.

Q:Can you discuss stakes and motivation in YA fiction. Why did you decide to put the protagonist's sister's life at stake in the story?
A:To be mean to Nya (grin). Stakes drive a protagonist, and the best stories result when those are personal and high. If the hero can just walk away without personal consequences, anything she does can feel contrived for plot. But when she HAS to act to save something important to her, it's more believable (and more gripping). I think YA is fantastic at this because YA stories are almost always personal. Teens can be very in the moment and they usually care about things deeply. They don't yet have the world experience to know what "can't" be done, so they approach problems in unique ways that can be quite effective. I find these traits lead to much better stories, which is why I love YA so much.

Tali was created for a few reasons. I wanted to give Nya that personal connection and stake, and orphaned sisters just felt right for the setting (a city crippled by a failed war for independence).You'd do anything to save your little sister when she's all you have left. Especially if you promised dead parents you'd watch out for her. I also liked having Tali be the Healer Nya never could be, so Nya always knew what she was missing. Sisters can have great and complex relationships, and you can love and hate them at the same time, which let me play with some fun inner conflicts.

Q:Since fantasy requires so much world building, how did you go about building Geveg? And why a tropical island?
A:I knew I wanted to do a canal city like Venice, but set on a lake instead of the ocean. I started researching the world's biggest lakes, because a city like that would need to be on a big lake. I picked Lake Victoria in Africa because it was huge and shallow, which made sense if you were building on it. Because I chose an African lake, it seemed fitting to use the climate and geography of the region for the story. I grew up in South Florida, so I know hot and humid, which made it easy to put myself there. It was also different, and I wanted to do something a little outside of the norm. The rest of the city developed as the story developed. I like to do a lot of research before I build any world, because the more real my foundation, the more real the world on it becomes. I change things to suit my story, but it makes it a lot easier when I use real things for the basics. I don't have to make up what the climate is like, or what grows there and what people eat. I have real details I can draw from as I need them.

Q:Although this is a medieval world, your dialogue and your protagonist's voice sound contemporary. Why did you make this choice?
A: I wanted Nya and her friends to sound like kids teens might meet on the street (minus the modern slang) so they'd be more relatable. The world isn't part of our world or history, just inspired by aspects of it, so if the characters sounded like they were from England, that would cast everything around them as "Medieval England" which I didn't want. That's one of the other reasons I did a tropical island, to counter that standard "default setting" for fantasy. I wanted the world to be its own world, with its own feel and sound. I also enjoy reading a contemporary-sounding voice, so I naturally write that way.

Q: I like that your protagonist Nya is a war orphan because it seems she's terribly vulnerable in her world. You prove this with your opening where we meet her stealing eggs because she's hungry. Can you talk more about creating vulnerable characters and characters with secrets?
A: I spent a lot of time coming up with that opening for those very reasons. I knew Nya had to do some not so nice things in the book, and it was critical that readers like and understand her from the start. She was just trying to survive, but she was a good person at heart. Showing all sides of that right away let the reader get to know her before I threw her into real danger. Vulnerabilities are so important to characters, because that's where you can take advantage of them and make them squirm. Characters who never make mistakes and never have to work hard to win are boring to me. I like to watch them struggle and see them earn their victory.

For Nya, a lot of her vulnerabilities came from the world building. Understanding her life let me figure out what she'd have to have learned to get by, and what might have scarred her in the past. I knew she was a war orphan, so I started thinking about what problems she'd face every day. No money, no job, always struggling to find food and work. To make things even harder, I decided the city was still under occupation by enemy forces, so she also had to deal with soldiers who don't treat the Gevegians very well. Getting by is even harder when you're constantly under threat of attack or imprisonment. I knew she had this ability (her pain shifting) she had to keep secret, so I naturally had to put her in situations where the good person in her wanted to use it to help others, even though it put her at risk. I think that's the key to vulnerable characters. You find their good traits and put them at odds with their flaws or secrets. They always want something, but trying to get it puts them in danger. Exposing those secrets is bad, with dangerous consequences. If it can touch on a personal fear as well, even better. Revealing Nya's secret would get her imprisoned (and worse as she finds out in the book), but she also made a promise to her mother never to use it or tell anyone about it. But it's also an ability that could solve her day to day problems, yet that would force her to do things she's morally opposed to. Everything has to have consequences, the more personal and dangerous the better.

Q: So often fantasy and science fiction writers have such big story concepts that they believe they need to write a trilogy. Could you comment on the pros and cons of writing a trilogy and getting them published? Did you land a 3-book deal with Harper Collins for your Healing Wars trilogy?
A: I blame the world building (grin). You put that much work into a world, you see so many possible stories and things that can happen. All worlds have troubles, and the better your world, the more likely it is to be fleshed out and real with all those inherent problems just waiting for your protagonist.

The Shifter was not planned as a trilogy. I had one book idea in mind when I started, but about halfway through the rough draft, I realized Nya's story was only part of a much larger problem. When I queried the book, I said the story could continue as a trilogy if it made the book more marketable (I was fine either way). From a purely business standpoint, agents like to get multi-book deals, so that's what they try to sell when they can. It's good for the authors and the agents. I did synopses for books two and three for my agent for any editor who was interested in more and she sent it out. I had two offers for the book, one for a two-book deal where The Shifter was a stand alone novel, and one for a three-book deal with the trilogy (from Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It really could have ended up being one book and it would have ended without the larger plot arc that spans the trilogy now. When my wonderful editor at Harper made the offer, my agent was surprised by the three books (one or two is more common). My editor said, "well, it is a trilogy, right?" So I guess had it not been a trilogy I wouldn't have sold three books. It's funny how things work out. (One note here, my experience is not a reason to turn your story into a trilogy if it isn't one already. Be true to your story, however many books it is.)

This was my first trilogy. I'd always written stand alone novels before this, and it was quite the learning experience. As an unpublished writer, that first book really has to stand alone, because you can't guarantee an editor will want more (I had one that didn't after all). It's rare to find an editor who will take a chance on an "unfinished" story from an unknown writer (one that requires more books to resolve the main story) so the story needs to be something that can build over several books, but still be a complete story per book. Second books are one of the hardest things to write, because you suddenly have all this pressure and usually a LOT less time that it took to write your first book. Middle books for trilogies are THE hardest thing to write, because it's like the middle of a book. You have all this stuff from book one, but you don't want to rehash it and bog down the story. But readers still need to be able to understand what happened. You have to have a solid contained plot that drives book two, but still allow for some setup for book three. But you can't have it be all setup for book three or the second book won't be satisfying. And you don't want to re-do something you've done, which can be tough when the general conflict is the same over the three books (like a major plot arc that takes time to develop) It's a challenging balance to maintain. Worst thing, if you think of really great stuff to do in book two or three, you can't go back and edit book one, because it's already on the shelf. It does force you to be more creative though, and find throwaway things that you can make something bigger out of so it looks like you planned it all along. It's really fun when that happens.

Q: Could you describe your writing routine and process?
A: I'm an outliner, though I like to outline only my main plot and turning points. Then I just turn my characters loose and see how they get to those points. I often joke that I always know where I'm going, but never how I'll get there. I think this helps keeps things spontaneous. I'm a firm believer in structure, and find that helps keep me focused so I can spend my effort on the story and characters. I like to write in the mornings, usually between 8am and noon, but I don't write every day unless I'm on deadline and have to. I find I get burnt out if I don't have a break. I prefer to write for a few days in a row, then take a day or two off. My rough drafts are pretty rough and I focus on getting the story down and not polishing the words. That'll come later. I like to write in layers, doing several passes over a chapter. One for plot, one for characterization, another for goals and stakes, etc. I focus on a specific area and build the chapter up instead of trying to get it right on the first try. I enjoy revision, so I'm never afraid to delete anything I've written or try a different chapter or scene if it's just not working for me. The story is what matters, and the words are just how you tell that story. Words can change.

Q:What is the best part of being a published author?
A: I love to tell stories, so for me, being able to share those stories and hear from readers that they enjoyed them makes my day. And it totally cool to see your book on the shelf at the bookstore.

Q: How is your eel faring these days?
A: He's doing great, thanks! In fact, just yesterday I got him a friend, so I have two now. I was worried he was getting lonely. I'll be giving him (them now) their own page on the website soon since folks ask about him all the time. My husband says I should set up a live webcam and call it EelTV.

Q: What books are on your nightstand?
A:I just finished Gone, by Michael Grant (great book), and Wings, by Aprilynne Pike (another great book) and I'm halfway through I'm Not a Serial Killer, by Dan A. Wells (so far so good, some shocking twists). I have literally 50 books on my To-Read pile (being on deadline for a year and half really makes the books stack up). So let's see, there's... Heist Society (I'm a huge Ally Carter fan), Changeless, by Gail Carriger, How to Ditch Your Fairy, by Justine Larbalesteir, several books by Roland Smith (who I recently discovered and totally love), I could go on and on. I'm really looking forward to getting Shifter 3 off so I can dive into those books. I love to read and I really miss it when I don't have time.
Justin Cronin
On Saturday morning I was driving on my way to teach writers about characters and caught a segment on NPR. Justin Cronin, the author of new novel The Passage was being interviewed and talked about the dynamics of storytelling. It's probably the most talked about book of the year and after hearing this interview, I can understand why.  He said: "All novels come down essentially to moments in which characters make choices that they can't un-choose - where things change, they can't be changed back. You can do this at, you know, with an awkward dinner party. Or you can do it by strapping your characters essentially to a runaway train of a plot, which is what I decided I was going to do.

Plot is different from story. Plot is something you can describe in the abstract, it's a series of events, every book's has got one. But story is where plot and character meet - that's where they combine. And I'd learned to be a writer by writing about people, by writing about characters. And that just because I had this very large canvas and very energetic plot, I wasn't going to go about it differently in any way.

I've never met even a secondary character that I didn't want to spend time with and figure them out. For the duration in which I'm writing them, they feel like the main character to me. And the way I go about this is I always make sure that I know every character's secret, what they're not telling anybody. And once I do that, their humanity just kind of ignites."

Language has created the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone. ~Paul Tillich
Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some under culture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”
~Don Delillo
Another quick take:
In fiction and most forms of storytelling, each scene is driven by some palpable conflict, friction, or tension. Readers (or viewers) are left feeling unease, dread, suspense, disquiet, or, in other words, all the sorts of torments we writers impose on readers or viewers.  Along the way, we toss in absurdities, laughs, suck-in-your-breath truths, and small moments of beauty to balance out the heartbreaks, large and small. (Of course, in real life, we're nice people. Although some of us are edgy, some of us are even unapologetic.) 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Moon, June 12
(Allow me to get slightly woo-woo today). Here we are nearly half way through June and the new moon will be rising in the almost-summer sky this evening. In astrology lore, a new moon is considered an auspicious time to set goals and  begin new projects. So if you've been postponing writing a story, or starting a blog, or  sending out queries, this is the period when you should launch these projects.

No matter the moon phase, keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart.

Friday, June 11, 2010

More on Characters
It's 9:41 and it's STILL not dark here. Well, I really should be prepping my notes, but I want to pass along this brilliant insight from Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter and other books:
" For a character to be convincing, what's on the page must somehow evoke knowledge that extends beyond what's strictly visible. Readers must feel a certain empathy so that a character's actions seem both unique and understandable. Even if this character doesn't cause a car accident or lose a parent or leave a spouse, the author must have a clear sense of what he or she would do in such situations--and readers must, as well. When we close the book or put down the story, we should be able to imagine these people going on with their lives, just as we might imagine a sister, an uncle, an acquaintance on a train. moving through the world when we're not there. In a story, what's invisible must hulk like a shadow, informing the visible, supporting it. In some true sense, allowing it to be.

This is sometimes called the iceberg theory of character, the idea being that what's unstated must nonetheless exist clearly in the author's mind for a character to have sufficient depth. Much of what readers know about any given character is never stated explicitly but is rather submerged in the way a character speaks and moves and thinks--and all of this, in turn, is shaped by the author's knowledge of each character. The iceberg is a metaphor because it works, contains a truth that's slippery, hard to grasp, harder to convey...."
I'm home tonight gathering some notes for workshops I'm teaching tomorrow for the Rose City Romance Writers. The dusk-turning sky is calmer than it has been in weeks, settling into shades  of pearly sunset instead of storm clouds. And as I was looking through notes,  I ran across  the intro to chapter one I wrote for my book, Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction (I know, I know, the title is audacious) and you know how sometimes you run across something you wrote years ago or maybe even months ago and when you read it you're sort of choked with pride like when your kid is performing? It's how I felt. Here it is:
Long after the intricacies of a fictional plot fade from a reader’s memory, the characters linger with an almost physical presence, a twinkle of personality, unforgettable actions, and their happy or sad fates. Fictional characters whisper their secrets, allow us to witness their most intimate moments and sorrows, and trust us with their messy emotions, bad decisions, and deepest longings. They penetrate our aloneness, populate our imagination by starring in our inner cinema, and slip their hands in ours and transport us to another place, another time. And while all this is going on, often they teach us what it means to be human complete with all the troubles, heartaches, and mysteries.
"We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more.... perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." ~ Paul Bowles

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another quick take
I wish you could see the sky outside my office window--layer upon layer of clouds and hues as if the sky is promising eternity. 

TIP: Stories are much more compelling AND easier to write in a rich, vivid environment. The more pallid the place, the more difficult it is to write. 
It seems that most writers can use help in finding places to submit their work and insider tips on what editors are looking for. I call these literary magazines and such pockets of warmth. As a writer, even if you're writing novels, you need about five pockets of warmth to launch your career. With that in mind, check out CLMP "The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses serves one of the most active segments of American arts and culture: the independent publishers of exceptional fiction, poetry and prose. Literary magazines and presses accomplish the backstage work of American literature: discovering new writers; supporting mid-career writers; publishing the creative voices of communities underrepresented in the mainstream commercial culture; and preserving literature for future readers by keeping books in print."

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Plotting tip:
When you're plotting fiction it helps to remind yourself that you're sending your protagonist into new physical and emotional territory. Often this territory requires facing a dilemma, particularly a moral dilemma. This  venture beyond ordinary life must bring the character to a new place, a solution, or new understanding.
Quick Take:
A successful plot puts people/characters through an operatic range of emotions, including deepest despair, yet does this without melodrama.
The most appealing short-story writer is the one who's a wastrel. He neither hoards his best ideas for something more "important" (a novel) nor skimps on his materials because this is "only" a short story...A spendthrift story has a strange way of seeming bigger than the sum of its parts; it is stuffed full; it gives a sense of possessing further information that could be divulged if called for. Even the sparsest in style implies a torrent of additional details barely suppressed, bursting through the seams. ~ Anne Tyler

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"Real life, if yours is anything like mine, tends towards chaos. Fiction has structure, order, refinement. Imposing the artificial--that's what fiction writers do to turn stories into art. Fiction can be boisterous, even obnoxious at times. The art of writing fiction, like a good magic trick, is often in making it seem easy, effortless--in never letting the reader see all the practice you've put into it.

The temptation, which must always be resisted, is to include everything that happened, rather than making wise selections. Be parsimonious with your experience. Don't give it added weight simply because you're fond of the memory. If you include everything that happened, your book or story risks becoming muddled and weighted down by a voluminous chronicle of your associations. Remember, this is a piece of fiction, not a slide show of your various experiences. " ~ Robin Hemley
Interview with Lisa Brackmann
Lisa Brackmann's writing career is taking off like a rocket with the publication of her first novel, Rock Paper Tiger. It's set in modern-day China and features Ellie Cooper, an Iraq war vet, suffering from PSTD and caught in intrigue and mayhem among the world of online gamers, artists, American mercenaries, and Chinese spooks. It has already earned a Publisher’s Weekly starred review. “The China scenes are fast paced and strikingly atmospheric, and Ellie’s backstory—her and Trey’s return from combat is tough, sad, and endearing—is given in doses that perfectly complement the central action.” You can also go to Nathan Bransford's blog to learn more about her writing habits.

Q: I love that your protagonist Ellie Cooper is an Iraq war veteran. This seems to bring such a fresh perspective to the story. How and why did you make this choice for her backstory and the particular damages and losses she must cope with?

A: I felt that the choice to go to war in Iraq was made without serious consideration ofwhat war does to the people who must fight it, to their loved ones when they return home, and to the society as a whole. I think war is a sort of virus that can infect the larger culture, and that we really need to think a lot harder about the decision to engage in them. Unfortunately the decision-makers by and large don't care about "the troops" and their sacrifices, all rhetoric to the contrary.

 I wanted an "ordinary" young woman thrown into an extraordinary situation, one where she struggles to get and keep her moral bearings and doesn't always succeed, and consequently has a great deal of guilt and anger that she has to deal with for many years after. That's the reality of war: it doesn't end when the troops come home.

Q: It sounds like you don't outline or do a lot of preplanning when you write. Is this true? Since your storyline is complicated by a lot of factors--modern-day China, online gaming, and the Iraqi War, I'm fascinated by how you managed to balance these elements. If writing is an act of discovery for you, how do keep the storyline from too many digressions and dead ends?

A: As I mentioned on Nathan's blog, a lot of panic, wine and caffeine!< More seriously, I spend a lot of time thinking away from the keyboard, which is really helpful. I take a lot of very long walks, go to the gym, ride my bike.

I also have learned to think of my first drafts as very long, very detailed outlines.
Q: What's the biggest lessen you learned about the writing process and rewriting from working on Rock Paper Tiger?

A: Patience. Trying to get all of those disparate elements you mention to work and play well together was a considerable challenge, and sometimes the only way to problem-solve is to give it time.

The other thing is that good readers/editors are worth their weight in platinum!

Q: Could you please comment on how you developed your protagonist's voice? I was struck immediately by the vibrancy and immediacy of her personality on the page? How did she come to occupy your imagination?

A: No idea, honestly! A lot of it was probably just working out her background and how she would be as a result of that, but after a false start of a page or two, she pretty much was who she was.

Q: I understand that you wrote Rock Paper Tiger while working full time. Could you please tell writers how you managed this difficult, but all too common feat?

A:As mentioned on NB's, sleep-deprivation and coffee! Unfortunately there's no way around sacrificing some measure of health and sanity, at least not that I was able to find. There are two keys however. One is setting a schedule. I am about the least organized, most "go with it" sort of person there is, and I came to the reluctant and later enthusiastic conclusion that having a regular designated writing time is the only way to go when you are working. I found that by breaking down the huge task of writing a novel into manageable chunks, it made the process less intimidating and also made me more productive -- I sort of trained my creativity so that when the writing time rolled around, I was more ready to go, the ideas flowed better, the creative pump was already primed.

The other is getting away from that keyboard and getting oxygen to the brain. When you are doing a lot of mental work, exercise and physical activity are key.

Q: How did you consciously add details about China to add layers, mood, and tension to the story?

A: I've traveled a lot in China and have for many years, so a lot of it is familiar and natural to me. I also set most of the China stuff in places I'd actually been, so it was relatively easy for me to conjure up specific details.

Q: How did you come to live in China and become so fascinated with China?

A: Complete coincidence. I went with a high school friend to visit his parents in Beijing, who were some of the first Americans to teach in China since the revolution. In a way I did okay there because I had no expectations, but it was a very alien environment, no familiar American cultural artifacts at that time (no TV, no ads for American products and celebrities, not even Coca-Cola!); I was quite young and it was really overwhelming, in a way that I did not really understand for many years. That fed the fascination -- I kept returning to the scene of the crime, as it were, to try and untangle what the experience had meant to my younger self. Now I just feel oddly comfortable there.

Q: How did you research Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Some of it was intuitive -- how would a person of Ellie's age, background and personality react to being in that extreme situation and having those experiences? I also just read a ton of material. I have a background in research (specifically for film/television) and I am a believer in "research by the pound" -- you can rarely do too much of it. I read books, more articles than I could possibly count, watched documentaries....

Q: What's on your nightstand?

A: An English translation of a famous (infamous) Chinese contemporary novel, "Brothers," by Yu Hua.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: Another sort of "existential thriller" set in Mexico that deals with the intersection of drug cartels, political power and another woman in over her head!

Monday, June 07, 2010

"Look . . . Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, also a damn sight holier. And the lives of such stuff as dreams are made of may be rounded with a sleep but they are not tied neatly with a red bow. Truth doesn't run on time like a commuter train, though time may run on truth. And the Scenes Gone By and the Scenes to Come flow blending together in the sea-green deep while Now spreads in circles on the surface. So don't sweat it. For focus simply move a few inches back or forward. And once more . . . Look." ~ Ken Kesey
What are you reading this summer?
Well, it's time to start talking about the new books that have been recently published and what we plan to read this summer. One thing I love about travel and airports and beaches is the sight of so many people with a book in their hands. Not sure how Kindles will fare in the sand, but anecdotes are welcome. To kick off this discussion, check out what Dennis Lehane, Ruth Reichel and others are reading this summer at this Wall Street Journal article.
More on e-publishing
Portland author Audrey Braun's book A Small Fortune is selling like crazy on amazon these days and the world of publishing is becoming more democratic. Here's an article at the Wall Street Journal about digital publishing that just might fuel your publishing dreams.
A vulnerable and believable character/person (with some emotional wounds or baggage) faces an important struggle (sometimes unwillingly) which has major ramifications and consequences, and after facing the struggle, makes a discovery that changes his/her life or way of seeing the world.  
Writing tip:
Aim for the heart, not the head. 
Revising without losing it
I flew in from southern Oregon last night where I taught workshops on editing and revision. And as I was heading south on I-205 toward home, I was awed by the sky. It was tornado dark and so low that it seemed shoulder height and so mysterious it was as if I'd landed on a new planet. The hills along the freeway were shrouded in mist, and this place feels like it's been underwater (although Saturday while I was gone was reportedly gorgeous). Today the sun is returning, and I'm afraid that the slugs might have taken over my flower beds.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be posting some tips about revising here so please watch for them. I have a chapter on editing and revision in my latest book Thanks, But This Isn't For Us, A (sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected. But here are a few tips that help me more than most: When I write a first draft, I write in in an easy-to read font like Comic or Trebuchet. This lets me know this is a rough draft and I can experiment, dabble, and write little notes to myself on what I want to say. Every morning when I begin writing, I go back over my work from the previous day and lightly edit. I fix typos, punctuation, move words around, refine sentences. Thus when I finish a first draft it's in good shape. When a first draft is complete,  I change the font to Times New Roman and then print it out. I then move to another room or head to a coffee shop to read the draft. The new font and new location helps me gain more distance and perspective and I can more easily spot my mistakes and see the pages anew.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Quick Tip:

Plot = Turbulence

Friday, June 04, 2010

There is still time to register for Summer In Words

Manzanita, Oregon will be the setting for the Summer In Words Writers Conference (SIW) at the Center for Contemplative Arts. Dates are June 25-27. It brings together Northwest’s best-selling authors and writing instructors for a three-day program of workshops and events.< The theme for this year’s conference is Deepening the Craft. SIW provides aspiring writers the chance to network, hear inspiring advice and instruction, and take part in a reading. Cost for all three days is $215.00; single day pricing is also available.

Workshops will cover the most necessary tools and techniques for writers including Narrative Drive taught by Jessica Morrell, Pacing by Larry Brooks, and Narrative Truth by Bill Johnson. On Saturday afternoon a luncheon will feature with keynote speaker and best selling author Jennie Shortridge talking about, Staying Afloat in a Turbulent Sea: Righting the Craft

For more information contact me at jessicapage@(at)spiritone (dot) com. Get all the details at http://summerinwords.wordpress.com
"Take risks. Think deeply. Care about what you write. Have the ego and non-gendered balls to think that your work is important. Write what moves you, what entertains you and sometimes, what pains you. Dig into the places in yourself that hurt the most and see what you find. Sometimes that’s where your book is hiding." Lisa Brackmann, author Rock, Tiger, Paper
"With writing, you can examine your feelings and beliefs, providing a catalyst for revelation. When a feeling is internalized, it expands and can become overwhelming. As emotions are released onto paper, it often leads to healing. Writing can be a tool for transformation, shining the light on the inside, dispelling the darkness, taking you through external layers and bringing you closer to your soul." ~ Hillary Carlip

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I've always loved birds and the older I get, the more I realize how miraculous each is and listen for the trill of a songbird or watch for the flash of color in the trees. After the most recent national election I decided to keep politics out of this blog. So I don't know if this breaks my vow, but I'm going to post this photo anyway. Please do something about the oil spill in the Gulf.
We can all express our outrage. We can all help somehow. We can all demand new laws and new ways of thinking.

When I'm at the Oregon coast, the sight that most arrests me, besides the endless Pacific, is a flock of pelicans soaring far away, so prehistoric and timeless. The world would not be the same without these birds. The world will not be same if the Gulf Coast turns into a Dead Zone. Please act.
"The best piece of advice I've heard is from singer Maria Callas. A student once asked her what piece of advice she would offer someone trying to master a particular song and Callas said you have to live the music. Unless you can create the feeling in yourself that you are doing something in the glory of its creation, you might as well be selling computers to insurance agents--the work I did before I was able to work full-time on my writing." Sara Paretsky
Dreams Within Dreams
This morning there is a break in the rain and the sunrise is spread before me in ever-changing  shades of lavender woven into it like a batik or a ball gown from a fairytale.

I woke early from a long, involved dream about my aunt. She’s been dead for about 10 years now; she died at 54 of cancer. However, in the dream, she’s robust and alive and has moved back into her childhood neighborhood. We’re walking around the neighborhood, which is now much more urban, and visiting stores and houses. And several times in the dream, when we walked into a place, I’d say, “Wait, I’ve been here before in a dream.” And it was true; there was a familiar smell, a sense of knowing. I kept trying to remember the previous dream as I walked through the current one. My aunt was sometimes angry and sad in my dream—her ex-boyfriend was now a wealthy realtor and hadn’t included her in his life enough. She felt abandoned by him and was rebuilding her life without him. In the dream we keep touring interiors, and I awoke with images of rooms and strangeness and tried to get back to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come.

Yesterday afternoon I was driving home again from my last Wednesday critique session, thinking about the writers I’d been working with and their stories. About two inches of rain landed in on-and-off-again deluges and sometimes when I looked up from a page, the rain was drumming down so hard it was almost laughable. I’ve lived here since 1991 and this is the rainiest spring that I can recall.

Portland is divided into east and west by the Willamette River and the Columbia River is our northern border and separates us from Washington. So this is a city of bridges.
As I was about to drive onto the Burnside bridge, the red lights flashed on and barriers came across the road. And so I pulled into line and watched the bridge rise. It’s been a while since I was on a bridge that was raising and I was wondering about the boat or ship that was passing through. Each June there is a Rose Festival here and giant Navy, Coast Guard and Canadian Maritime ships dock downtown and there are parades and a carnival and usually it rains and the weather becomes fine after it’s all over. I was wondering if it was one of these ships heading for the water front.

I turned off my windshield wipers and kept looking around at everything—a wet world, etched in silver and so many shades of grey, the water streaming down the windshield. I was noticing the bridge design and wondering how old the bridge was (it opened in 1926).  It was a bit like being underwater. And as the deck rose in increments until it was nearly upright in front of the parked cars and the lane markings were visible, the whole thing was dreamlike and surreal. Then the whole process reversed and bridge was lowered and the traffic crept south, past the east Italian Renaissance tower and I craned my neck, hoping to spot a ship, but instead saw a yacht skimming along the lead-colored waters.

Later that evening I was driving to the Blackbird Wine Shop to hear a reading by Cheryl Strayed and Mike Love and the clouds were so ferocious and layered and sometimes shot through with sun, and although things need to dry out here, it again felt like I was driving into a dream and I felt so thrilled with the cloudscape. And I know that’s one of the reasons I love this place. Years ago when I was a girl, I saw a photo in a magazine of someone in the Pacific Northwest driving home with a Christmas tree strapped to a car. In the photo, there is mist or fog enveloping the car and that photo has always stayed with me, and now here I am in land of dreams and clouds.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep watching the skies  

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Interview with Julie Metz

Julie Metz’s life changed forever when her husband died of a pulmonary embolism at age 44. At first she thought being a widow was the worst tragedy, then still grieving six months after his death, she learned she hadn’t really known her husband. The proof: he had racked up a lot of debt she was unaware of, had been serially unfaithful, and had,  in fact, been in the midst of a three-year affair with one of her friends. That’s when things got really bizarre because Metz did what many wronged woman longs to do: she unlocked her husband’s secrets and confronted the women who had slept with him. And then she rebuilt her life. This story is the basis for her searing memoir Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal published in 2009.

I’ve often advised writers that betrayal is fertile territory for exploration because it cuts so deeply into our lives and hearts. You go into this topic with intense depth in your memoir Perfection. What made you decide to write about these difficult events and realizations?

I was not a writer before I wrote Perfection. While I was living through the events, first widowhood and then betrayal, I kept a journal and I wrote letters to friends. I found this writing to be a comfort and the letters and journal became the raw material for the book. A few friends suggested that I write a book, and while I dismissed this idea at first, I saw that while novels and stories deal with these kinds of dramatic life events, there wasn't much out there on this topic in the nonfiction category.

In Perfection you mention that you looked “at Henry's dark side with eyelids peeled open.” Could you talk about this a bit more and how you found the courage to face so many areas with honesty and courage?

I know that many people wouldn't want to know the details but for me this examination was essential. Perhaps there is something of the detective in me. I felt strongly that I would never be able to remake my life without looking at the truth. I wanted to start over with as complete an understanding of what had happened as I could manage so that I would not make the same mistakes again.

Could you comment more on using Perfection for the title and what it meant to you during your marriage and what it means to you now?

I think so many of us are struggling with this idea of perfection. We want perfect bodies, perfect kids, perfect houses. To that end we become concerned with the appearance of things, and while I was married I spent plenty of time trying to create a surface that looked good to the outside world. At the time of his death Henry was writing a food book about “umami” (a Japanese word that describes the moment of perfection), so my title evolved as an ironic comment on the futility of achieving perfection. Insisting on perfection gets us into a lot of trouble. We make choices that might create a surface impression of perfection but underneath that is a deep-seated unhappiness and a sense that we are living an inauthentic life. I make mistakes every day and now I just try to learn as much as I can from them.

In your memoir, it’s clear that you’re using a lot of narrative techniques although this is nonfiction. The opening pages especially contain a great deal of suspense. How did you work on crafting these techniques?

I wanted to write a factual memoir that would read like a novel. I am mostly a fiction reader and I know that what readers find compelling is a well crafted story with great characters. While writing, I read many novels, classic and contemporary, to see how other writers took readers into their stories. I wrote and rewrote the opening section many times in different ways. One day, after many failed drafts, I was trying to explain to my boyfriend the feeling I wanted to create. I just started speaking the words. He said, “Write it just like that, with that sense of urgency.”

How has your life changed since Perfection was published?
My book has received a lot of review and media attention. This took some getting used to as it was my first experience in a "public" sphere. I do receive a lot of mail from readers, women, men, even a few high school students. Most of the mail is from women who find themselves widowed or divorced, and dealing with betrayal. Many are in the anguished place I wrote about and that I remember so well. I am so glad to hear that my book gives them comfort. With any controversial topic, there will always be critics and I have had to deal with that as well. A wise writer friend remarked that unkind anonymous reviews reveal more about the reviewer than they do about the book in question. As a writer, you just do your best, you put your work out there, and then it has a life of its own. For me this has been an overwhelmingly positive adventure.

My family life is very little changed. My boyfriend and my daughter have been incredibly supportive and we continue to live much as we did before. My daughter is now a teenager. She tells me she is proud of me and what I have accomplished, describing my book as "a real woman's story." The most important change in my life is that I now see myself as a writer. While I am just as insecure as most writers I meet, I do feel more confident that writing is a calling I want to pursue in my life.

Can you talk a bit about your writing process?
Hmmm. I had a feeling you might ask me that, and I am chuckling here, as I sit tapping on my laptop at the dining room table where I write, surrounded by yellow post-it notes and 3 x 5 cards. For now, my process involves juggling writing with my design work and my parenting life. I know that many writers have a ritual in place and that is a goal of mine! As a freelance designer for many years, one talent I have is my ability to work with many distractions. I do not need a perfect working environment, though the few times I have experienced that have been so wonderful. My weeks at The MacDowell Colony were amazing. To have quiet, space, and time to work is truly a gift for any artist. Meanwhile, I just try to do my best with every day, moving forward a page at a time.

What are you working on now?
I am working on a novel...wish me luck!