"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.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Workshop with Jessica Morrell
It’s all in the Details: Breathing Life and Creating Balance in Stories     
March 19, 9:30-4:30
Location: Arlington, Washington
Cost: $80.00
Reading is an intimate experience and requires that the reader enter an intimate world, away from humdrum reality. Because we read to leave the everyday world behind, we want to be convinced of another reality and to become part of it. Many techniques sweep readers into this other reality. In this workshop for both fiction and nonfiction writers, we’ll cover techniques to create authentic and compelling stories that employ scenes for maximum wattage and lead to a satisfying ending, all underlain with details that simmer, sweat, and breathe on the page. We’ll also cover how all techniques need to be balanced, the story needs to linger for important moments, and explode at times for impact.  Generous handouts will be provided and short writing exercises will enhance your understanding of the discussion.
Topics covered include:
  • How to use sensory details to anchor stories and bring the familiar to life,  to convince readers of a palpable reality, especially when the setting is exotic or unfamiliar; and stir emotions in readers and characters.
  • How to use details and description that also instill forward motion in a story.
  • When to write in scene and when to write in summary.
  • When to pick up the pace and when to slow it down.
  • How to build toward a satisfying and inevitable ending.
This workshop requires pre-registration and payment. Space is limited, so you’re encouraged to register
 early. Contact Jessica at jessicapage (at) spiritone(dot)com 
All is gray in Portland again. Yesterday, late in the afternoon I was walking along a portion of the Springwater trail near the Johnson Creek watershed and except for water bubbling over rock, the world was quiet. Even the birds weren't talking, everything sort of wrapped in a hush and chill.

Writer's Roundup
Here's one of my all-time favorite quotes about writing by Richard Lederer from Writer’s Digest, May 1989. Notice the elegance of this passage:
            Short words are as good as long ones, and short, old words—like sun and grass and home—are best of all. More small words than you might think can meet your needs with a strength, grace and charm that large words don’t have.
            Big words can bog down: one may have to read them three or four times to make out what they mean. Small words are the we seem to have known from the time we were born, like the hearth firer that warms the home.
            Short words are bright like sparks that glow in the night, moist like the sear that laps the shore, sharp like the blade of a knife, hot like salt tears that scald the cheek, quick like moths that flit from flame to flame, and terse like the dart and sting of a bee.
And here is a link to Margaret Atwood speaking about The Publishing  Pie: An Author's View 

And in case you're in a slump or wallowing in any kind of self pity, here's the final post of young adult author L.K. Madigan who died of cancer recently  http://lkmadigan.livejournal.com/185246.html
My sincere sympathies to her friends and family.

"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment."  Hart Crane
And the helpful tip from author Rachel Simon:
“…all time is not equal. Some time deserves to be drawn out and lingered over. Some time should be swept away quickly. Another way of thinking of it is that time is elastic in writing and it is up to the writer to decide what deserves a scene and what should be dispensed with swiftly. The journey of writing itself is important, but on the page, your character’s journey—form the sofa to the kitchen, or the dorm to the classroom may be tedious. Jump when you can. Just find a way to do it….”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Conflict which fails to rise is static.  Conflict which rises too quickly is Jumping.” ~ Lajos Egri
Because of winter storms in the region, the Between the Lines workshop that was to be held this Saturday is going to be rescheduled for March 12 in Portland and April 30 in Manzanita. More details to come. And enjoy the snow folks....
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

FYI: Write like Jane Austen
Well, snow is in the forecast so under this (invisible) gibbous moon I'm as antsy as a school kid about the possibility of a snow day tomorrow. Snow wrecks this region. Drivers panic, then crash. Sort of a bumper cars mentality takes over and worst are the drivers in SUVs who never drove in snow before. Best is when they stay home. Me, I just want to look out at a white world and trudge through it sniffing the freezing air, recalling memories of all my girlhood in the snow and ice. Then simmer a pot of soup--I'm thinking beef vegetable.

For those of you who love satire AND Jane Austen, here's your chance: Write Like Jane Contest
Check out the details here to be part of the Adams Media anthology. AS they say:
Join the esteemable company of Ms. Jane Austen! In the tradition of the Bulwer Lytton Contest and the Bad Hemingway and Bad Faulkner contests, here’s your chance pen a scene of a “classic” novel Jane Austen never wrote.
Not only do we want to continue to collect the best Jane Austen parodies on this blog, we’re collecting the BEST entries in a book that will be published in Fall 2011 by Adams Media AND awarding $250 for the top voted entry!
The contest ends on March 1, 2011, so make like Austen and get your “masterpiece” published – we’re picking over 80 entries!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another foggy morning in Portland. I returned late last night from a long weekend on the southern Oregon coast and teaching at the South Coast Writer's Conference in Gold Beach. Thanks so much to Karim Shumaker and the staff running the conference and all the lovely people who attended my workshops and listened to me read my essay Chasing Wonder at the Author's Night on Friday. It was the perfect way to spend the President's Day weekend. And did you ever notice how when you're traveling that the weather is best on the day you're returning home? Yesterday was sunny, warm, still and as we wound our way north along the Pacific it stretched out-- miles of turquoise glinting endlessly. I've never seen it that particular color before. And don't even get me started on all the rocks I dragged home--agates, quartz, jasper and rocks that are smooth and speckled as a hen's egg for my garden beds. I'm also missing my reading glasses (last had them somewhere between Florence--what a charming place! and Waldport), so have spent the first two hours of this morning fretting and searching and making contingency plans.

But back to blogging. Here's some information on Emphasis
Every writer makes decisions about what to emphasize in his or her story. These decisions range from choosing the character who is going to star as your protagonist, to deciding which setting details heighten the unfolding drama. When the writer emphasizes a moment or element in his story effectively, the reader slows down to savor it or tucks it into his memory.  And emphasis is a writer’s version of using Velcro™, because not only do you want to showcase some aspect in the story, but you also want it to stick in the reader’s mind.
            Researchers have shown that the human brain pays more attention to beginnings and endings, and that people also remember them best.   Thus, as a writer, you want to load your most potent ideas and vivid words at the beginning and ending of sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters.
            Another powerful tool for emphasis is repetition. When words, phrases and ideas are repeated the reader is clued in to their importance. Repetition can also create cadence, rhythm and a forward movement. However, like so many techniques there is a fine line between repetition to create specific effects and those that wear on the reader’s nerves. You want to examine how the masters handle emphasis—noticing how much and how often they repeat, or find ways to do so without overkill.

In Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi, the reader follows Trudy Montag, a dwarf, through the harrowing times before and after the Nazis come to power in Germany.
            In her opening paragraphs, notice how she uses emphasis via placement of key words and repetition.
"As a child Trudi Montag thought everyone knew what went on inside others. That was before she understood the power of being different. The agony of being different. And the sin of ranting against an ineffective God. But before that—for years and years before that—she prayed to grow.
            Every night she would fall asleep with the prayer that, while she slept, her body would stretch itself, grow to the size of other girls her age in Burgdorf—not even the taller ones like Eva Rosen, who would become her best friend in school for a brief time—but who would become her best friend in school for a brief time—but into a body with normal-length arms and legs and with a small, well-shaped head. To help God along, Trudi would hang from door frames by her fingers until they were numb, convinced she could feel her bones lengthening; many nights she’d tie her mother’s silk scarves around her head—to keep her head from expanding.
            How she prayed. And every morning, when her arms were still stubby and her legs wouldn’t reach the floor as she’d swing them from the mattress, she’d tell herself that she hadn’t prayed hard enough or that it wasn’t the right time yet, and so she’d keep praying, wishing, believing that anything you prayed for this hard surely would be granted if only you were patient.       
            Patience and obedience—they were almost inseparable, and the training for them began with the first step you took: you learned about obedience to your parents and all other adults, then about the obedience to your church, your teachers, your government. Acts of disobedience were punished efficiently, swiftly: a slap on your knuckles with a ruler; three rosaries; confinement.
            As an adult Trudi would scorn the patient fools who knelt in church waiting. But as a girl, she’d go to mass every Sunday and sing in the choir; during the week she’d sometimes slip into the church on her way home from school, taking comfort in the holy scent of incense….”
            This opening accomplishes so many aims in a few paragraphs. First, it introduces Trudi and the dilemma of her dwarfism; second, it creates sympathy for her with the provocative details of how she hangs herself from door frames until her fingers were numb, and tied scarves around her head to keep her head from expanding.
            But Hegi is also setting up a larger context for the events that are going to unfold as the Nazis come into power. Ever since the atrocities of the Nazi regime have come to light, people have been wondering about the complicity of the German populace and Stones from the River explains how the it happens. So by starting out with the mores of the time of obedience to family, church and government, the reader is being lead into how such things happen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When I’m working on a book, I constantly retype my own sentences. Every day I go back to page one and just retype what I have. It gets me into a rhythm. Once I get over maybe a hundred pages, I won’t go back to page one, but I might go back to page fifty-five, or twenty, even. But then every once in a while I feel the need to back to page one again and start rewriting. At the end of the day, I mark up the pages I’ve done – pages or page – all the way back to page one. I mark them up so that I can retype them in the morning. It gets me past that blank terror.”~ Joan Didion
How to Salvage Your Wrecked Novel
Here's a link to an interesting interview with Michael Chabon in The Atlantic on how to salvage your wrecked novel. Notice what he says about the necessity of having a strong, talented, vocal, articulate and above all persuasive reader. Now doesn't it make you feel better that the author of Wonder Boys struggled so much to get a story right? Just ignore the fact that he wrote Wonder Boys in seven months. Yeesh.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: Description
Beginning writers often create characters who are obvious or stereotypical, themes that lie along the surface or are openly discussed by the characters, along with dialogue that is always “on the nose” and never suggestive.

Effective fiction, on the other hand, is nuanced and layered. It also, in a sense, haunts the reader with its subtle refrains like a powerful melody. So how is this accomplished without creating a muddled mess or a story as naked as a hatchling?

Let’s focus first on details, the mainstay of fiction that resonates. Details stir a reader’s senses and haunt with their clarity. Yet details should never be catalogued or listed. Instead, they need to appear natural, enhancing the story in some way. If the details aren’t adding to the story, then leave them out.
Remember, too, that description is static, another reason to insert it sparingly. If you constantly stop your story to describe sunsets, seashores, interiors, hairstyles, and heartbeats, your story will likely lose its momentum. Readers are interested in the forward motion of the story and their eyes veer to dialogue and other places where action and movement is on the page.
A solution is to put description in motion or slip it in through a character’s viewpoint. Thus, insert details via a character’s thoughts, amid action scenes, in the middle of dialogue, while characters are moving.
Old School, a novel by Tobias Wolff, is told with a kind of aching subtlety. Dialogue is spare, descriptions pared down to essentials, but still the story manages to soar, to offer moments when the reader pauses and lingers over words and scenes because they contain so much yet seem to be written with so little. It is a story of a boy who is an outsider, attending a small New England prep school on a scholarship in the early 1960s. In a school filled with “book drunk boys,” there are a number of contests and honors centered on writing and literature. These prizes bring out the best and worst in the boys and eventually result in disgrace for the narrator. Here is a brief passage right before his downfall, the story’s major reversal.
      I was glad for the day of grace I’d been given. After my last class that afternoon I went AWOL across the river and mucked through freshly ploughed fields to the tallest of the neighboring hills, Mount Winston as we called it. …
                I paced the hilltop, exhausted but too nervous to sit. In my classes the blood-roar in my head had rendered me nearly deaf. Most of this was explosive relief and exhilaration, yet with a thumping underpulse of dread. It was one thing to confide your hidden life to a piece of paper in an empty room, quite another to have it broadcast.
                A warm wind blew across the hilltop, and with it the faint cries of boys chasing balls. The school lawns and fields were a rich, unreal green against the muddy brown expanse of surrounding farmland. Between the wooded banks of the river two shells raced upstream, oars flashing. The chapel with its tall crenellated bell tower and streaming pennant looked like an engraving in a child’s book. From this height it was possible to see into the dream that produced the school, not mere English-envy but the yearning for a chivalric world apart from the din of scandal and cheap dispute, the hustles and schemes of modernity itself. As I recognized this dream I also sensed its futility, but so what? I loved my school no less for begging gallantly unequal to our appetites—more, if anything. With still a month to graduation I was already damp with nostalgia. I stretched out on a slab of rock. The sun in my face and radiant warmth on my back lulled me to sleep. Then the wind cooled and I woke with a wolfish hunger and started back.

This passage, which is a transition leading to the action that follows, creates a moment of significance because it reveals his love for the school; it shows us the school from a fresh perspective, a hillside; it reveals the stakes involved; it foreshadows what is to come; and yet lulls the reader with its pastoral mood so that the events that follow are more disturbing. And while it is a fairly long descriptive passage, it is not an inert blob. One technique that keeps this passage from being a static blob is the active verbs scattered throughout: mucked, paced, blew, chasing, raced, flashing, yearning, sensed, loved, begging, stretched, lulled, cooled, and started.
Wolf’s example is a good reminder to add life to descriptions by writing in the active voice whenever possible. For example, here is the passive version: There werehundreds of spectators on the lawn. The active voice can be written: Hundreds ofspectators dotted the lawn. An easy tip is to avoid using There is, There was, There are, or It was to begin your sentences because this construction guarantees these sentences will be passive.
 Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

File Under Highly Recommended:
For those of you who notice, yes, I'm posting in the middle of the night, so I cannot give a sky update except to tell you that yesterday (Tuesday) was raw and wet and the skies scowled overhead. 
I'm reading Amy Bloom's latest short story collection Where the Gods of Love Hang Out and I just cannot recommend it enough. If you write short stories, you've got to read it. If you love connected short stories, read the first four stories and try to work through your envy. If you're interested in what omniscient viewpoint looks like and how it can actually work well at times, note the stories that use it.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries."
 ~ Truman Capote

Three minute fiction winner: Round Five
Gray and drizzly here this morning in Portland. Here's a link to the winner of the three-minute fiction contest.
For Round Five, NPR asked writers to send  original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

The winner was 'Roosts' by Zach Brockhouse. Notice how much the writer accomplished in so few words (it helps that he's a copywriter).
And here is an excerpt:
Some people swore that the house was haunted. Almost every day for three weeks, we'd find a dead one inside of it.
Bill wanted to chop it down, but Mother said no. "They need somewhere safe to die. Someplace warm and maybe a little dry. It stays."
The first one we found was a hoot owl. It lay inside the painted blue plywood walls, its face pressed firmly into the floor like it had been dropped from some great height.
Bill buried it behind his woodshed and we all said grace.
That night I saw the owl on a branch outside of my window. It was pale white and almost completely see-through like milk in an owl-shaped glass. It shifted from leg to leg and kept looking over its shoulder. I couldn't see what it was looking for. It was cloudy and the woods were dark.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Between the Lines: Mastering the Invisible Elements of Fiction Taught by Jessica Morrell
Date: February 26
Location: PNWA, 1241 NW Johnson, room 125
Portland, OR
Times 10-5
Cost: $75
Readers want to be haunted by stories, characters and specific scenes that linger in their memories. While reading they want to be transported to another time and place. The best fiction does this; touching the deep layers in us. A writer achieves this effect by embedding dozens of techniques into his story to create a deep and simmering story world.  Yet, since some elements in fiction are suggested or remain invisible they’re difficult to analyze. This workshop brings these fictional elements into the light to help you create your own nuanced, layered, and compelling stories.  We’ll combine discussion and exercises, and read three short stories during the workshop session, we’ll cover various vital techniques for creating fiction with depth and  resonance. Generous handouts will be included. These techniques include:
How base a story on a single dramatic question.
How to structure scenes then layer them with mood and tone.
How to make decisions about narrative voice and distance.
How theme and premise creates meaning and unity.
How the premise is proven by the story’s ending.
How increasing complications and motivation drive fiction forward.
How tension and suspense contribute to every page and the part foreshadowing plays in achieving them.
The proportion of details needed to create a story world that breathes.  
For more information: contact Jessica at jessicapage(at)spiritone.(dot)com 

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader's face. Whenever the writer writes, it's always three or four or five o'clock in the morning in his head. Those horrid hours are the writer's days and nights when he is writing." ~ Joy Williams

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quick Take:
Direct Characterization versus Indirect Characterization
A problem I see often in beginning writers' manuscripts is when a writer uses direct characterization more often than indirect characterization. Direct characterization is when the author or narrator comments directly on the character as in Melissa was a beautiful woman and every man fell for when he met herIndirect characterization is when the author or narrator shows a character acting and speaking; paints physical descriptions of the character; reveals the character’s thoughts; or reveals other characters opinions of her.  By using one or more of the indirect characterization methods, the author allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Direct characterization can also be supported by indirect techniques. When Melissa waltzed into the party wearing a low-cut dress the color of Cabernet, the room went silent. In other words, you trust the reader to read between the lines.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An Editor's Wish List

 As an editor I sometimes approach a project with trepidation, because I’ve learned that the most interesting and intelligent people are capable of the worst writing. So here is what I always hope to encounter on the page:

No matter what I’m reading—an article in Smithsonian, a memoir, novel, or essay, I want to learn something.  I want to find facts I didn’t know that can improve and interest me. I don’t want to find information in bucketfuls or be force fed, instead I want the information to be easily digestible and even pleasurable.

I want to enjoy reading. I want to occasionally pause to marvel at language or an apt metaphor, I want to enjoy slipping into the writer’s style and thoughts, and world view. I want to be tickled, delighted, and engrossed. Don’t give me tedium or make me feel as if your writing is a mathematical problem that needs solving, instead captivate me.

As I’m captivated, I want to leave my ordinary world and concerns and enter a new world. I hope to be transported through this world by the magic of storytelling (especially if it’s fiction) and by details and specificity in nonfiction. As I travel through your words I want to emerge changed by the experience.

I want to be participate in your writing. I don’t need everything spelled out since I have my own experiences and frame of reference I can bring to your story. I also want to participate in action, in scenes, in emotions, and poignant moments.

I want the writing to make me see or understand things in a new way. I especially want to find a viewpoint that would have never occurred to me. I especially want originality.

As I read I want to use my imagination. I want my inner movie screen to be activated, my inner child to entertained, my ordinary world to vanish.

I want to find answers. Most writing is about a question, a problem, a riddle. I want answers and meaning to emerge as I read.   

I want the writing to linger in my memory for months or years. With the best students and writers I’ve worked with over the years, I often forget names and faces, but recall their stories. 
I want to feel emotions in a world that is sometimes numbing and overwhelming, I especially want to believe in a time when sometimes belief seems difficult

"For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness." ~ James Baldwin

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Hope versus Despair
Sky is steely colored and all looks still out there. I was meeting with an editing client yesterday where we spent several hours talking about her manuscripts and writing career. And we also talked about her weariness and sometimes sense of despair that she  might never be published. It's such a horrible place to be in--writing for weeks, months, and years without a publishing contract or much outward validation that all those hours add up to something worthwhile. I told her the truth--that she has genuine talent and needs to keep plugging away, no matter what.

As a balm for any of those feeling the why-am-I-still-writing despair I'm offering this link to Gertrude Stein's rejection letter and also advice from one of my former students Melissa Coleman. Her memoir  This Life is in Your Hands is about to be published by Harper Collins and it will be excerpted in O magazine in April, a huge coup by any stretch of the imagination.
In an email yesterday she wrote: "Tell your students to keep writing and it will happen! "
Picture YOUR book here
And so it will.   But you gotta believe, you've got to keep trying.

We writers too often hear about all the scary and disheartening news in the publishing industry. So for a change, here's a piece in McSweeneys, SOME GOOD NEWS FROM THE WORLD OF BOOKS that will lend wind beneath your wings. Yes, I just wrote that cliche on purpose.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have hope

Monday, February 07, 2011

A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream. ~ Gaston Bachelard 

There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this: do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the ideas of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence-an overwhelming determination to succeed. Sophy Burnham

Sunday, February 06, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: Super Bowl Sunday
Sky is clearing here in Portland and my beloved Green Bay Packers are playing in the Super Bowl so I'm keyed up, waiting for the game. Ready for smack talk and beastly, oversized men smashing into other large men while racing around with a ball. Costumes and songs and traditions and silliness and bets riding.

Meanwhile, a big thanks to Julia Hunter and all the women of Emerald City RWA group. I had a fabulous time in Seattle, was inspired by so many productive and intelligent writers, sharing laughs and information. And if you don't ever travel by train, you don't know what you're missing.
A few things we discussed yesterday:
Your protagonist's motivations increase as the story moves forward.
Each time you craft a scene you ask yourself what is the worse possible thing that can happen next.
Always try to base your story on your protagonist's worst fear.
The dominant personality traits of the protagonist (and antagonist) are showcased by the story events.
Know your protagonist's emotional bandwidth--how he or she reacts to stress, pain, threat, joy.
Know how far your protagonist and antagonist will go to achieve their goals.
How the best fiction forces your protagonist into new emotional and physical territory.
In many stories inner conflict needs to drive the protagonist as much as outer conflict.
More to come.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Loving the Internets
Still no rain in sight here in Portlandia. I just want to pause and mention how much I love using the internet this morning. I was googling the synonym for screw for a client's manuscript and came across this photo of a ship's screw:
What's not to love about that image? And, of course, came across many juicy synonyms.

I also wanted to point out this link to George Orwell's fabulous essay Politics and the English Language. Here's an excerpt:  

"In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader.
When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality."
The language for an instant must have been as ordered as the succession of stars / that twilight draws every evening out of the forests & over violet ridges.... I have thought toil could succeed in their realignment / or a line crafted after a succession of stars must radiate the letters / and the consonants who instruct would gather in an ordered constellation. / I have sought throughout the succession of letters / but there is not one so radiant as the line of stars / that twilight draws out of the forest. ~-Bill Deemer
From an Editor's Desk
Imagine that you're seated in a dark theater. Act one begins with a single actor on the stage. He or she is in costume and using posture, gestures, and actions --possibly puttering around the stage. We start to form opinions about his or her state of mind and personality. Possibly the actor is talking to himself or herself. And don't forget the stage set and props, all which are designed to suggest a place and era. In most plays, this opening salvo of an actor alone doesn't last long because sooner or later the phone rings or the doorbell rings or somehow another character enters the stage.
And that's when things get interesting.
In life we humans are often alone, toiling away, or whiling away the hours, or watching television, or cooking dinner. If we were watching ourselves on a screen it would not be dramatic or captivating. I spend a great deal of time at this desk, typing, moving around papers and such. My daily routine is often boring. I would not want to watch me, although I like to imagine that I possess a rich inner life.
In fiction, as much as possible, bring another person onto the stage. A person alone in a room is generally static--not much tension, not much drama, not many reasons to watch. Resist featuring your characters alone in a room. Especially if they're constantly rehashing events that just happened. Mix it up. Lace your dialogue with power plays and mine your scenes with conflict and antagonism. Let things boil and simmer between characters. A terrific example of how two characters on the stage are in nearly constant conflict is in the film The King's Speech. It's beautifully written and acted and there's much to learn when two actors are pitted against each other, as viewers (and readers) lean in for more.
Meanwhile, keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Summer in Words Keynote Speaker
(drumroll please)
I'm thrilled to announce that the keynote speaker for the Summer in Words 2011 will be Cheryl Strayed.
The luminous and talented 
Cheryl Strayed's award-winning stories and essays have appeared in more than a dozen magazines, including the New York Times Magazine, The Sun, Washington Post Magazine, Allure, and DoubleTake.
Her personal essays, Heroin/e and The Love of My Life, were both selected for inclusion in the prestigious Best American Essays collections (in 2000 and 2003 respectively) and she is a winner of the Pushcart Prize for her essay, Munro Country. Her novel, Torch, published by Hougton Mifflin in 2006, was a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award and selected by The Oregonian as one of the top ten books by Pacific Northwest authors.Cheryl's upcoming memoir Wild will be published by Knopf.
"The early hours of morning; you still aren't writing (rather, you aren't even trying), you just read lazily. Everything is idle, quiet, full, as if it were a gift from the muse of sluggishness,

just as earlier, in childhood, on vacation, when a colored map was slowly scrutinized before a trip, a map promising so much, deep ponds in the forest like glittering butterfly eyes, mountain meadows drowning in sharp grass;

or the moment before sleep, when no dreams have appeared, but they whisper their approach from all parts of the world, their march, their pilgrimage, their vigil at the sickbed (grown sick of wakefulness), and the quickening among medieval figures

compressed in endless stasis over the cathedral; the early hours of morning, silence — you still aren't writing,

you still understand so much. Joy is close." ~ Adam Zagajewski Without End