"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jeanette Winterson's 10 Rules for Writing
1 Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
2 Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.
3 Love what you do.
4 Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are ­doing is no good, accept it.
5 Don't hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
6 Take no notice of anyone you don't respect.
7 Take no notice of anyone with a ­gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.
8 Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
9 Trust your creativity.
10 Enjoy this work!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing when you don't have time to write
At about 4 this afternoon I went for a short walk along the Clackamas River and I was noticing how the whole scene seemed to be dipped in silver. I've learned to love that river, but then I guess I love most rivers. Last night I crossed the Willamette River on my way home from my book group and noticed that the houseboats on the east shore were decked in lights. All weekend I've noticed how lights are appearing, how they cut through the late-autumn, almost-winter gloom, twinkling with reminders of other times and magic. Earlier that afternoon I was shopping  in Office Depot with a friend buying calendars and a white board for my office. I juggle so many projects and activities that it's difficult to manage them all, so I'm grateful for all the help I can get.

Tonight I'm jotting in the dates of the conferences I'm going to be teaching at in 2011  including (plug) my Summer in Words Conference June 10-12. And yes, I know that these dates do not officially fall in summer--I needed to change the venue to Cannon Beach because we outgrew our space in lovely Manzanita.

With the holidays and end-of-year activities upon us, it's important to make room for writing even in the midst of a crowded schedule. How are you going to squeeze in the time, make headway on your writing projects? A little every day still works best for most of us. Carry around your notebook. Record the magic and chaos of the season. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Scene writing 
 As a writer you have an opportunity to stop time, create an event, dramatize a situation, expose your characters at their most vulnerable by creating a scene. Scenes are the intimate moments in the story that create emotional involvement with the reader worrying about the characters.  In Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern writes: “Your readers can be made to feel the drama of a moment. Actions and thoughts that take seconds to happen in life may take paragraphs, even pages, to be told. When Huck Finn decides he’ll take his chances on eternal damnation rather than betray his friend Jim, Twain doesn’t just tell it—he makes a scene.

When you want to shape a scene in your stories, render sensations fully so that readers cringe at the slap in the face, hear the whimper of pain, see her elbow hit the blue chair, and feel your character’s rage and frustration. Use direct dialogue, physical reactions, gestures, smells, sounds, and thoughts.

Fully rendered scenes are emotional high points. If a novel never compresses action, never summarizes, but is all in full-blown scenes, the endless dialogue and details get monotonous. A shopping trip takes as long as a showdown. It’s as if the writer doesn’t know what is important and what’s not. Remember the wisdom of the child: Make a scene when you really want everyone’s full attention.” 

Writing Prompt:
In media res—“in the middle of the stream” is a common term used to describe writing scenes and beginning stories by jumping directly into the action. Many stories “hit the ground running,” have an urgency and immediacy, but there is more involved to creating a vivid beginning. A powerful beginning draws readers in with a distinctive voice and atmosphere along with other elements that are introduced. Vivid beginnings are not mere gimmicks. Draw a reader into a story by giving her someone or something to care about, a vivid setting and intriguing description.  Or, tease a reader with hints of tensions brewing or immediately plunge into controversy or conflict
Here are prompts to begin in the middle of things:
 “I’m leaving now,” said Alicia quickly gathering her things …
“ The name is George. Like the father of our country.”
“I never even met the man,” said________
It had been raining for three days and a gloom that spelled…..
“You cannot stop me,” warned Ben…..
“Doughnuts would be nice,” Lisa said, curling over onto my side of the bed….
A strange hush fell over the crowd….
“I’m not good at adultery,” he said. “Maybe we should ….
Tom did not believe in coincidences….
When the music stopped we both knew that it meant the ending of many things.
When the doorbell rang at midnight, Jennifer hesitated…..
Thirty years with the wrong man (woman).
It didn’t take me long to discover that tears were not going to help in this situation….
While I waited, every sad cliché came to mind.
That summer, heat smothered the city like a heavy blanket. It was unbearable.
I didn’t want a scandal, I didn’t even want anyone to discover the truth…
It was a death that started the ghastly string of events, and it was yet another death that forced me to….
When he called from San Francisco, I let the phone…
He brings me flowers and hands them to me without saying a word….
Although I agreed to meet him, I knew that it meant a decision….
Although they’re barely visible these days, there are peony bushes and clumps of brilliant day lilies among the tangle of the overgrown garden.
Kristen slipped into the darkened room and fumbled for the light switch.
The moon broke through the wispy clouds and cast shadows on the countryside…
The graveyard looked nothing like I remembered, in fact, as I walked past a tidy row of headstones I began to wonder if…..
“Just tell me you love me,” she pleaded.
“Let’s talk things over,” she said. We were parked outside the Sea View motel although I knew you couldn’t see the beach from here. If fact, the ocean, was a mile down the boulevard and I as stepped back to the car, I wondered how to begin to tell her that this would never work out.
He promised me he could do it with his eyes closed…..

Saturday, November 27, 2010

When I sit down to write, my job is to move the story. If there is such a thing as pace in writing, and if people read me because they’re getting a story that’s paced a certain way, it’s because they sense I want to get to where I’m going. I don’t want to dawdle around and look at the scenery.”~Stephen King

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Gratitude is the memory of the heart." ~French proverb

Gratitude for......
It’s that time of year when we especially contemplate that for which we’re grateful. It still amazes me that in this country (and others) a day has been set aside for gratitude—what a soulful, powerful tradition.  I’m sitting here in my old bathrobe, heat blasting away to banish the night chill, thinking about all the parts of my life that I'm thankful for. My list is long, so here is just a start:
I’m grateful for all the storytellers in my life.
For my family and the man of my heart.
For books and writers everywhere, especially those who opened doors to me in childhood.
For my readers and students.
For editors and all they do to midwife books and articles and stories of all sorts.
For Rachel Maddow and other knowledgeable people who help keep me informed and sane.
For friends and laughter and listening.
For people who volunteer.
For teachers.
For nurses, cops and firemen and other people who work the front lines.
For American troops and their families and although this country is fraught with problems, our freedoms, laws, and courts.
For lightening strokes of inspiration.
For gardens, forests, and all the babies and toddlers that I spot daily seemingly set apart by their luminance.
Happy Thanksgiving. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tips from Oakley Hall
1. Write every day 2. Observe and listen 3. Employ all the senses 4. Use strong verbs 5. Detail! 6. A specific always beats an abstraction 7. Describe people and places in terms of motion 8. Anglo-Saxon words are usually more effective than Romance-language-based words 9. Fiction is dramatization; dramatization is point-of-view, sense impressions, detail, action and dialogue 10. In dialogue keep speeches short 11. Look for likenesses, parallels, contrasts, antitheses and reversals 12. Beware of use of the habitual case (would), the passive voice and the word "there." 13. Plotting is compulsion versus obstacles 14. In the second draft start deleting adverbs 15. Borrow widely, steal wisely
Quick Take: 
Build your plot so that each action leads to a reaction that heightens the suspense. This reaction can be to run, hide, seek revenge, seek answers. Some of these actions will be plot points-- a major event that serves as kind of one-way gate forward. Once the protagonist passes through this gate, there is no returning to the way things were, tension is cranked up, and new elements and dilemmas are introduced.

Praying for Snow
There's a light dusting of snow on the ground here, but I'm praying for more. One of my favorite activities is walking in fresh snow, something that doesn't happen too often here in Portland. But there is ice, especially black ice, on the roads and some schools have closed. Of course there is snow up in the mountains, but I live in the valley. I keep reminding my students to really experience the moods of light and weather so that these influences can seep into their writing. Walking amid a snowfall makes me feel like a girl again and creates awe and wonder about all that is possible.

And here's a lovely quote by Jeanette Winterson: "Yes, I do think of poems as lie detectors, it's because the language has to be precise, exact, profound, and layered. Language isn't just about conveying meaning; it's also a metaphor, a way of saying many different things. That's what poetry can offer. In a poem, the language is always authentic. We live in a world of spin, where we find it very difficult to believe anything that we read or anything that we hear. Either we have to put up with that kind of chopped up karate syntax of the sound bite, which is what you hear on the TV, or a kind of verbal incontinence favoured by politicians.

When you go to the poem you find something which is exact, which is precise and which is true in the best sense of the word, that it is about an authentic emotion, or an authentic experience that really happened and is therefore passed on. So it's a place of trust. When you bring poetry into your life you find that it asks you not to lie, not to lie to yourself and not to lie to others, because art has a way of challenging our laziness, our apathies, our inertias and asking that we be better than we are. I think that regular contact with poetry works as a kind of homeopathic medicine and some trace of it still stays under your tongue so that when you next speak, you too are speaking with that precision, with that exactness, with that emotion, with that authenticity. We need, all of us now, to have that authentic voice and not to be seduced by the blandishments of spin."
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Monday, November 22, 2010

Writing tip to file under: Could not agree more
Start a writing a project Bible
This tip is aimed at the NaNoWriMo writers out there who might be flagging while visions of carbohydrate-laden turkey dinners dance through your heads. Pip Hunn adapted Nathan Bransford’s idea for a Series Bible to keep track of a sprawling story. Here is an excerpt:

Write Your Own Bible
"A ‘Writing Bible’ in this context is simply a document that keeps track of everything that deserves it in your story. It’s a phrase used commonly by creative staff working on things like TV shows and movies with a long creation time. It’s the writing equivalent of keeping Polaroids of actors in between takes in shooting a movie to make sure their make-up is consistent.
Your Writing Bible can have as much or as little information in it as you’d like. You don’t need to exhaustively cross-reference everything you write about. That would take an inordinate amount of time, and for most writing, it’s simply not going to be necessary. Some information covering the basics – the vital signs, if you will – of your story will get you pointed in the right direction.
Once you start using a Bible system, then there’s a good chance you’ll fall in love it. It will start to grow, protrude in odd little bulges of colour and information. As with any tool, your use of the reference materials you create will probably be minimal at first, and then get increasingly complex and sophisticated as you develop your material."
I've also written a column on this and will post it.
Meanwhile, Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Is it not astounding that one can love so deeply characters who are composites, portraits, or born of the thin air, especially when one has never seen or touched them, and they exist only in an imprint of curiously bent lines?     ~Mark Helprin
"Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, Oh well, I'm going to put away the writing until my children are grown, then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing. If you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous -- which is very different."  ~Jane Yolen

Sunday, November 21, 2010

National Book Award Winners
Here are the winners, complete with biographical links. They were picked from among 1,115 submitted books this year.
Fiction winner: Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.)
Nonfiction winner: Patti Smith, Just Kids (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Poetry: Terrance Hayes, Lighthead (Penguin Books)
Young People’s Literature: Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird

Friday, November 19, 2010

"I'm not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion." ~ Sharon Olds

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writing Advice from Thomas Pynchon
I was more concerned with committing on paper a variety of abuses, such as overwriting. I will spare everybody a detailed discussion of all the overwriting that occurs in these stories, except to mention how distressed I am at the number of tendrils that keep showing up. I still don't even know for sure what a tendril is. I think I took the word from T.S. Eliot. I have nothing against tendrils personally, but my overuse of the word is a good example of what can happen when you spend too much time and energy on words alone.

This advice has been given often and more compellingly elsewhere, but my specific piece of wrong procedure back then was, incredibly, to browse through the thesaurus and note words that sounded cool, hip, or likely to produce an effect, usually that of making me look good, without then taking the trouble to go and find out in the dictionary what they meant. If this sounds stupid, it is. I mention it only on the chance that others may be doing it even as we speak, and be able to profit from my error.

This same free advice can also be applied to items of information. Everybody gets told to write about what they know. The trouble with many of us is that the earlier stages of life we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance. Ignorance is not just a blank space on a person's mental map. It has contours and coherence, and for all I know rules of operation as well. So as a corollary to writing about what we know, maybe we should add getting familiar with our ignorance, and the possibilities therein for ruining a good story.

Opera librettos, movies and television drama are allowed to get away with all kinds of errors in detail. Too much time in front of the Tube and a writer can get to believing the same thing about fiction. Not so. Though it may not be wrong absolutely to make up, as I still do, what I don't know or am too lazy to find out, phony data are more often than not deployed in places sensitive enough to make a difference, thereby losing what marginal charm they may have possessed outside of the story's context.

Witness an example from "Entropy." In the character of Callisto I was trying for a sort of world-weary Middle-European effect, and put in the phrase grippe espagnole, which I had seen on some liner notes to a recording of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat. I must have thought this was some kind of post-World War I spiritual malaise or something. Come to find out it means what it says, Spanish influenza, and the reference I lifted was really to the worldwide flu epidemic that followed the war.
Rain, etc.
A storm slashed through here yesterday and it rained so hard people in Portland used umbrellas. Folks who don't live in this region might not appreciate this sign indicating the severity of the onslaught from above, but Northwesterners do. It  was a hard, serious, wind-driven rain that deserved the adjective torrential. It was a soak-to-the-skin kind of rain as if some major deity had lost his true love, in fact, it could soak down into your bones. I was driving home from a Backfence performance (by the way, their next show is January 24th and this one will be free) streets had become small lakes and the world seemed drowned and distorted.

And I just wanted to post a reminder that you might want to enter the Kay Snow Writing Contest.What's cool about this writing contest is that it's open to kids also.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Poetry is not a luxury.”—Audre Lorde
" It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and hunger for it... and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger SATISFIED... and it is all one." ~ M.F.K. Fisher, from The Art of Eating
Quick Take:
A plotted story has a skeletal structure that can be extracted and examined. Plot and story are not the same thing. Plot is just one part of a story; it’s a series of events linked by either external circumstances or by the character’s actions. Story is a cohesive frame that binds the theme, premise, events and emotional development of the protagonist.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's always very important to me to have work every day that is physical, and that puts things into a certain order and achieves something. At a certain deep level for me, life is really all about work. But I'm also equally comfortable with just completely flaking off. As long as I'm earning my keep in the world, I don't have any sort of guilt about relaxing and doing exactly what I want. ~ Lorian Hemingway

Short Story Competition
Last night I attended the Oregon Writer's Colony award banquet. I had judged the nonfiction and fiction entries and not only was it fun to discover the identities of the winners, but also meet them. But there was also something else tangible and powerful going on in that room. As each person read their poem or an excerpt from their story, they were met with such appreciation and  warmth from the audience, that I left there in a sort of afterglow.
 I believe in beginning writers entering contests, investing again in again in their craft. With that in mind, here is information about the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest as well as a link to a fabulous interview with her at January magazine.

$2000 Awaits Winners of Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition

Writers of short fiction are encouraged to enter the 2011 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. The competition has a thirty-year history of literary excellence, and its organizers are dedicated to enthusiastically supporting the efforts and talent of emerging writers of short fiction whose voices have yet to be heard.

Lorian Hemingway, granddaughter of Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway, is the author of three critically acclaimed books:
Walking into the River, Walk on Water, and A World Turned Over.
Ms. Hemingway is the competition’s final judge.

Prizes and Publication:

The first-place winner will receive $1,000. The second and third-place winners will receive $500 each. Honorable mentions will also be awarded to entrants whose work demonstrates promise.

The Saturday Evening Post To Publish First-Place Winner:

The Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition is pleased to announce that each year -- beginning with our 2009 competition -- The Saturday Evening Post will publish our first-place winner in its pages. And occasionally, The Post may also choose to publish our runners-up, either in its pages or on its website.

The Post will pay a fee to winners upon publication of his or her story, in addition to the $1,000 first-place prize given by the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. The Post’s payment will be in keeping with the magazine’s general rate structure for fiction at the time of publication. Entrants whose stories are published will allow The Post first serial rights, nonexclusive electronic (including online) rights, and nonexclusive anthology rights. This is a standard agreement for magazine publication.
First serial rights do not prohibit an author from republishing his or her winning story in an anthology collection of the author's works. First serial rights, should the author agree to have his or her story published in The Saturday Evening Post, do prohibit the author from submitting the story to another magazine: i.e., one can't, for instance, go to another major magazine and say, "Hey, The Saturday Evening Post just accepted my story for publication and payment. Will you publish it, too?" This is a simple explanation of first serial rights, which unlike a publishing house copyright turns all rights of the author to his or her work over to the publisher.

For many years it has been our dream to be able to offer an assured publication for our first-place winner. The Saturday Evening Post, through its generosity and deep appreciation for new voices in literary fiction, has made that dream come true.
All manuscripts and their accompanying entry fees should be sent to The Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, P.O. Box 993, Key West, FL 33041 or submitted online.

For more information, please explore this website or e-mail: shortstorykw@gmail.com

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jack Kerouac's tips for writing.
Dawn coming in shades of steel and I'm awake with a sense of a lot pressing on me as the holidays approach. How to get everything accomplished in the next 40 days before Christmas?  Since I'm self-employed one of the biggest tricks for me is to keep my everyday life from intruding into my work life. 
From the Gotham Writers: "Jack Kerouac was one of those writers who reinvented literature. He climbed in James Joyce’s stream of consciousness car then careened down the streets of Beat poetry and the alleyways of Bebop jazz, creating such novels as The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and the landmark On the Road. He influenced countless writers and, some say, helped usher in the 1960s counter-culture movement.
Fellow writers were always asking Kerouac how he did what he did. So Kerouac set down 30 essentials in something he called “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” These tips may or may not make sense to you, but that’s Kerouac, man." When I read them I feel like slipping on a black beret and heading to a coffeehouse and using angeled as a verb.But then I believe in the holy contour of the mind:
  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You're a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Henry Miller's Writing Commandments

In Henry Miller Miscellanea (and re-printed in Henry Miller On Writing), there exists a Top 11 list of "commandments" which Henry jotted down for himself, as inspiration for his writing work schedule in 1932/33.
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to Black Spring.3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can't create you can work.6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it--but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tip: Write from the world around you
The fog is so dense out there this morning the world looks like a haunted forest or the setting for a vampire's castle. When possible, allow the atmosphere of the day--the sun, the clouds, the heat, the cold, the fog, the storm, the snow, the oncoming nightfall to infiltrate your mood and writing. Notice shadings of sky, the hues of dawn and dusk, the cut of a crescent moon. How does this make you feel? How would it make your characters feel?
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"If you were to ask me for a formula for writing, I can simply say, write every day of your life. Write at least a thousand words every day. Write a short story a week. To write every day is to know yourself better and to write better and to relax more, and, in relaxation, become ten times more creative." 
~Ray Bradbury
Adopt a word
The fog is dispersing out there and I'm at my desk--my usual perch for mornings. A few nights ago I was driving home in a downpour and heard this story on NPR about adopting words to prevent them from languishing into obscurity. Just for fun you might want to check it out:
"The website savethewords.org offers the chance to bring arcane words back to life. Web surfers can "adopt" a word like "historiaster," which means "contemptible historian," or obarmate, which means "to arm against." By adopting the word, people pledge to use it in everyday speech and writing. The site has attracted media attention from around the world. Upon investigation, it turns out to be the project of an advertising agency. The office of Young and Rubicam in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, was hired to promote the print version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Robert Siegel tells us about it, and we hear from Y&R creative director Edward Ong, who helped create the site, and has been astounded at its worldwide appeal."

I'm vacillating between famigerate and boreism. Now to fit them into sentences...
Many Thanks
to veterans and service men and women everywhere.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

According to Ian Flemming: How to write a thriller
It's been raining most of the day here, clouds so many shades of gray and deep blue that is almost gray, you feel as if you're under the sea. I've been editing a thriller manuscript lately and so have been thinking about the required pacing and components of thrillers (and plan to send the writer a column I wrote on the subject), then chanced upon this piece by James Bond's creator.

When I was about 14 or 15 I got into reading James Bond. It wasn't a common practice for a budding young thing of my age. One day, feeling embarrassed about my triller-slash- JB tendencies, I tossed them into the trash. Somehow, in our town (Grafton, Wisconsin--twenty or so miles from Milwaukee where I attended high school before happily escaping) the  trash collectors discovered my stash and pulled them from my teenish wicker waste basket with hoots of delight.  Thinking back on that long-ago morning with the trash collectors beneath my window, here is wisdom according to Ian Flemming:

How to Write a Thriller
Fleming, I. (1962). How to write a thriller. Show. August. 2, 58-59.

People often ask me, "How do you manage to think of that? What an extraordinary (or sometimes extraordinarily dirty) mind you must have." I certainly have got vivid powers of imagination, but I don't think there is anything very odd about that.

We are all fed fairy stories and adventure stories and ghost stories for the first 20 years of our lives, and the only difference between me and perhaps you is that my imagination earns me money.

But, to revert to my first book, Casino Royale, there are strong incidents in the book which are all based on fact. I extracted them from my wartime memories of the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, dolled them up, attached a hero, a villain and a heroine, and there was the book.

The first was the attempt on Bond's life outside the Hotel Splendide. SMERSH had given two Bulgarian assassins box camera cases to hang over their shoulders. One was of red leather and the other one blue. SMERSH told the Bulgarians that the red one con-tained a bomb and the blue one a powerful smoke screen, under cover of which they could escape.

One was to throw the red bomb and the other was then to press the button on the blue case. But the Bulgars mistrusted the plan and decided to press the button on the blue case and envelop themselves in the smoke screen before throwing the bomb.

In fact, the blue case also contained a bomb powerful enough to blow both the Bulgars to fragments and remove all evidence which might point to SMERSH.

Farfetched, you might say. In fact, this was the method used in the Russian attempt on Von Papen's life in Ankara in the middle of the war. On that occasion the assassins were also Bulgarians and they were blown to nothing while Von Papen and his wife, walking from their house to the embassy; were only bruised by the blast.

So you see the line between fact and fantasy is a very narrow one. I think I could trace most of the central incidents in my books to some real happenings.

We thus come to the final and supreme hurdle in the writing of a thriller. You must know thrilling things before you can write about them. Imagination alone isn't enough, but stories you hear from friends or read in the papers can be built up by a fertile imagination and a certain amount of research and documentation into incidents that will also ring true in fiction.

Having assimilated all this encouraging advice, your heart will nevertheless quail at the physical effort involved in writing even a thriller. I warmly sympathise with you. I too, am lazy. My heart sinks when I contemplate the two or three hundred virgin sheets of foolscap I have to besmirch with more or less well chosen words in order to produce a 60,000 word book.

One of the essentials is to create a vacuum in my life which can only be satisfactorily filled by some form of creative work - whether it be writing, painting, sculpting, composing or just building a boat - I was about to get married - a prospect which filled me with terror and mental fidget. To give my hands something to do, and as an antibody to my qualms about the marriage state after 43 years as a bachelor, I decided one day to damned well sit down and write a book.

The therapy was successful. And while I still do a certain amount of writing in the midst of my London Life, it is on my annual visits to Jamaica that all my books have been written.

But, failing a hideaway such as I possess, I can recommend hotel bedrooms as far removed from your usual "life" as possible. Your anonymity in these drab surroundings and your lack of friends and distractions will create a vacuum which should force you into a writing mood and, if your pocket is shallow, into a mood which will also make you write fast and with application. I do it all on the typewriter, using six fingers. The act of typing is far less exhausting than the act of writing, and you end up with a more or less clean manuscript The next essential is to keep strictly to a routine.

I write for about three hours in the morning - from about 9:30 till 12:30and I do another hour's work between six and seven in the evening. At the end of this I reward myself by numbering the pages and putting them away in a spring-back folder. The whole of this four hours of daily work is devoted to writing narrative.

I never correct anything and I never go back to what I have written, except to the foot of the last page to see where I have got to. If you once look back, you are lost. How could you have written this drivel? How could you have used "terrible" six times on one page? And so forth. If you interrupt the writing of fast narrative with too much introspection and self-criticism, you will be lucky if you write 500 words a day and you will be disgusted with them into the bargain. By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day and you aren't disgusted with them until the book is finished, which will be in about six weeks.

I don't even pause from writing to choose the right word or to verify spelling or a fact. All this can be done when your book is finished.

When my book is completed I spend about a week going through it and correcting the most glaring errors and rewriting passages. I then have it properly typed with chapter headings and all the rest of the trimmings. I then go through it again, have the worst pages retyped and send it off to my publisher.

They are a sharp-eyed bunch at Jonathan Cape and, apart from commenting on the book as a whole, they make detailed suggestions which I either embody or discard. Then the final typescript goes to the printer and in due course the galley or page proofs are there and you can go over them with a fresh eye. Then the book is published and you start getting letters from people saying that Vent Vert is made by Balmain and not by Dior, that the Orient Express has vacuum and not hydraulic brakes, and that you have mousseline sauce and not Bearnaise with asparagus.

Such mistakes are really nobody's fault except the author's, and they make him blush furiously when he sees them in print. But the majority of the public does not mind them or, worse, does not even notice them, and it is a dig at the author's vanity to realise how quickly the reader's eye skips across the words which it has taken him so many months to try to arrange in the right sequence.

But what, after all these labours, are the rewards of writing and, in my case, of writing thrillers?

First of all, they are financial. You don't make a great deal of money from royalties and translation rights and so forth and, unless you are very industrious and successful, you could only just about live on these profits, but if you sell the serial rights and the film rights, you do very well. Above all, being a successful writer is a good life. You don't have to work at it all the time and you carry your office around in your head. And you are far more aware of the world around you.

Writing makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product of writing.

 Overnight Success Stories The enduring myth of the overnight success is as old as publishing itself. Although a fortunate few have managed to thwart the odds, for most writers the road to publication is long and usually arduous. Here are some of their stories, in their own words.

I believe in communication; books communicate ideas and make bridges between people.  ~ Jeanette Winterson

Monday, November 08, 2010

Quick take: 

Don’t write long dialogue exchanges in the midst of heated action. Particularly during sex, fights, battles, chases, sword fights (Have I ever told you what an uncouth fellow and barbarian you are? In fact did I ever voice how I loathe your entire family, your sire, the mongrel bitch you call mother, your ragged tribe of miscreants and your whole wretched village of idiots?) and other activities that require energy, stamina, and, um, concentration. Writers everywhere: reality must prevail.

Writing Prompt
Write a story that begins on a boat or ship. 

The Final Edit Workshop

November 20 Location: Room 207, Pacific Northwest College of Art,
1241 NW Johnson, Portland, OR
Times: 10:00-5:00
Cost: $75
First comes the blank page and how to fill it, then comes the written page and how to fix it. Most often it is while revising that the real writing is accomplished. This workshop offers suggestions on how to be your own editor, with a special focus on readying a memoir or fiction manuscript for submission.
We’ll cover the three stages of revision: First Revision: Looking at the big picture and analyzing the overall coherence, structure, pacing, theme, and plausibility. This is where you determine if you’ve written mostly in scenes, if the scenes are needed, and if they’re in the correct order. Second revision: The aim of a second pass-through is to make the story seamless and to fine tune individual scenes and the ending and to track character development and arc. Final Revision: This is where you think like a copy editor and correct language, style, dialogue, and hone in on details. This draft is also for making certain that there is enough tension throughout.  Additional topics include: pacing, middles, reversals, and plot points. We’ll discuss what editors notice and reject in manuscripts. Generous handouts will be provided including checklists for revision. The workshop will be geared to the specific needs of the group, so participants are encouraged to submit questions beforehand and bring along the first pages of a novel or memoir and synopsis for feedback from the group. Additional topics include:
Are there holes in the plot?
How to spot viewpoint shifts.
Making certain the story’s themes are woven into the whole.
How and why to kill your darlings.
How and when to weave in backstory.
Balancing subplots with main storyline.
Line editing for passive voice, imprecise language and purple prose.
Tips for writing a synopsis
To reserve your place: Please send a check for $ 75 to Jessica Morrell, P.O. Box 820141, Portland, OR 97282-1141. A confirmation e-mail will be sent so please include email address and phone number. For more information: contact Jessica at jessicapage@spiritone.com

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Quick Take:
First drafts don't sell

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Best of the best
I woke up to rain drumming on the roof this morning. Still dark. Snugged under my quilt of just the right warmth and my dream still lingering on my dream screen. I'm a sucker for lists about books and films and just about anything, so wanted to pass along this link to Best of the Best at Largehearted Boy. He writes: "For the third straight year, I will be aggregating every online "best of 2010" book lists I find in this post. As the lists appear online, I will add them to this master list, updating daily compiling lists  going to keep updating this list every day, so check back." And if you've never visited his blog before, you might want to look around.

Meanwhile, I'm getting ready to teach a workshop today in Portland and will post information about the next workshop I'm teaching coming up on November 20th. To all you NaNoWriMo writers, the weekend is stretching ahead full of promise and writing hours. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Friday, November 05, 2010

From an editor's desk:Fiction Basics
The sky is just beginning to lighten as I get started on my day. The beautiful weather of the past few days--- with the sun glistening off the autumn leaves and the kind of warmth in the air that makes you think of skipping school--is supposed to make way for a storm. I woke up musing over my dream which involved baking blueberry bread and cornmeal cookies for a writer who had just written a poetry chapbook. I've never baked these items and then as I turned heat on under the tea kettle, I started thinking about the writers in my critique groups and what is needed and not needed in their stories. Sometimes my head gets crowded with all these stories, but I'm never bored. With that in mind,
Here are some fiction basics:
  • Fiction is based on adversity.
  • Begin with a threatening change that causes stress in at least one character. 
  • Fiction is based on a single, dramatic question. (Who killed Colonel Mustard? Is a dinosaur park, with living, breathing dinosaurs brought back to life safe and feasible?)
  • All major characters  have an agenda.
  • Fiction is dramatized in scenes whenever possible because they happen in the now and cause the reader to worry about the outcome. Most scenes should end with emotional reversal--that is, the main characters feels an opposite emotion .
  • Events are all linked by causality--nothing should happen at random and no coincidences and chance meeting of long-lost lovers please.
  • The events are also linked by theme--the central concept (greed, forgiveness, guilt, the tenacity of grief) that whispers beneath the story and the premise. The premise is the take away message of the book, proven by the ending--love conquers all, humankind should not fool with mother nature (Jurassic Park)
  • Fictional characters are vulnerable since we all relate to vulnerability from our own childhood and lives and vulnerability makes readers care.
more to come

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Larry Brooks Tip
Fiction author Larry Brooks blogs at storyfix.com and features some of the best breakdowns of plots and practical advice about storytelling around. His latest tip is for NaNoWriMo authors:
"Make your NaNoWrMo story this year the birth of something bigger than the contest itself.  Make it a learning exercise, a birthing, a project you care enough about to nurture and develop far beyond the month of November.
That’s the Bit Tip here.  Care enough about the story you are writing to approach this properly.  To do it justice.  To prepare it for a life after NaNoWrMo.
There is much you need to know – about the craft of storytelling, and about your story – before you begin writing it.  The extent to which you grasp these fundamentals defines your ability to write something of worth.

You can’t just make up your story as you go. 
By the seat of your pants.  Without an intuitive sensibility about the fundamentals of structure and character and dramatic theory.
That’s lesson one.  If it takes NaNoWrMo to drill that one truth into your head, then the exercise will be worthwhile.  If you think you can reinvent the craft from a zero-base of knowledge, or from your vast experience as a reader/consumer of stories… welcome to hell, where everybody, especially you, is believing their own lies.
You can’t learn storytelling from reading novels any more than you can learn to fly by sitting in First Class.  It’s way harder than it looks.
The most basic fundamental of all: your story needs a hero… a hero with a problem or a challenge… with obstacles… with effort and failure and growth along the way… and with an outcome.
No travelogues, no linear memoirs, no stories without conflict."

And I second everything he said here. Thanks Larry!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Cliché Finder
Clichés have a way of sneaking into our writing like ants at a picnic. Oops. If only a little alarm would buzz every time you typed one without thinking. And some days it's so hard to come up with fresh expressions and rollicking language that expresses our best selves or deepest or most complex ideas. To the rescue: cliche finder  The site claims it has more than 3,300 in stock. And you know, some days I'm sure I've read them all.....
S. Morgan Friedman, the creator of the site says "A cliche is not just something that lots of people say; It's something that lots of people say and it conveys some sort of idea or message. A cliche is, in other words, a metaphor characterized by its overuse."
Writing Prompt
Write about bravery, but it should be an atypical behavior in a person or character who is not known for courage.
The best part about writing
is hearing from readers. In the past few days I've received some emails from readers of Thanks, But This Isn't Us thanking me for writing the book. It's so gratifying and fun to hear that your words, typed sometimes in desperation or loneliness or doubt, have landed somewhere. Now, as much as I love the solitude of hanging in my office (today the curtain is blowing on a soft breeze, the hammering from the house project down the street is coming through window, the sky blue as the fourth of July) there are times when I just about crawl out of my skin from spending too much time inside my head and inside this room.  I also realize that being a writer changes the way I see the world and analyze  things and that too can be isolating.
Which is why I love teaching, blogging, and spending time with writers. 
But mostly I love knowing that I have changed the way someone sees the world or understands a part of the world. You can find  PK HREZO writing about me, this blog, and my book at this link.
Many thanks for the kind words. Meanwhile, keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing
Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle
from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series.
by Elmore Leonard
       These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.
There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories “Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character—the one whose view best brings the scene to life—I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.
What Steinbeck did in “Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. “Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, “Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled “Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter “Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: “Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”
“Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.
Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.
1. Make a list of the top 10 stories you want to work on.
2. Make monthly goals for when you want to finish these stories.
3. Chip away at those goals every week in between everything else.
~ Erika Hayasaki

Monday, November 01, 2010

November = NANOWRIMO
It's hard to believe that it's already November. But the maple across the street again is dressed in scarlet finery and another storm is heading our way. If  you've been paying attention to the calendar you must realize that National Novel Writing Month began officially at midnight.  To add to your write-your-ass-off mindset, here is inspiration from award-winning novelist Julia Glass:

 “I’m actually not a patient person. I guess I was persistent. But I like to joke that the two things that got me through were determination and denial. I just refused to be told no. I think a lot of very talented writers quit before they are fortunate enough to cross paths with that editor.   No matter what you hear about publishing, there still are incredible editors out there whose day is made by spotting that new unpublished writer and putting that writer in print.

One thing that really kept me going were some very encouraging rejections from editors.   Ironically, it was the editors at the biggest magazines–back then, The New Yorker and The Atlantic (we’re talking the 1980s). They never took any stories of mine but they wrote me really thorough, encouraging letters, obviously wanting me to rise to the level to be published.  One of the hardest parts about being rejected is when you are getting these tiny form rejection letters. You have no idea if anyone is really reading your work.”