"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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writing Prompt
If you wrote a letter to your younger self, especially at a vulnerable age (8? 13?) when you needed mentoring or guidance, what would that letter say?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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
Author Sell Thyself
You don't need me to tell you that the publishing world is in an upheaval. Salon.com book critic Laura Miller has written a must-read article Author Sell Thyself. It begins: Last week, the book world saw a particularly symmetrical bit of revolving door ballet as Amanda Hocking -- who famously became a millionaire by selling a series of paranormal romance novels as self-published e-books -- signed a contract with an old-fashioned publishing house, while the bestselling thriller author Barry Eisler walked away from a similar deal, preferring to self-publish his next book. Did I mention it was the same publisher (St. Martin's Press) in both cases? Like I said: symmetrical.

And here is the link to the NY Times piece about Amanda Hocking's book deal with St. Martins.
Why I Write
Lately I've been trying (or perhaps struggling is the precise word--why did I never study web building?) to build a web site for my Summer in Words conference. So I haven't written a lot this week and I'm finding myself a bit adrift without my writing routine. People sometimes ask me why I don't write fiction or why I don't write the story of my life or why I don't write children's books. I'm writing books for writers at this time in my career because it's a way to reach people. And I'm sort of a nerd who likes to figure out how stories and language works and how it all intersects with the human brain.

And I write because I receive emails like this one: 
I'm so happy I found your blog today.

I bought Between the Lines about five years ago, and it has done more to advance my novelcraft than any of the dozens of writing books I have acquired over the years.

Looking forward to your posts and further enlightenment.

One of my YA novels, November Knight, will available in paperback this summer, and I credit your teachings for helping me craft a multi-layered story that lives and breathes not only in the words, but in the subtleties and whisperings of the spaces between the lines.

  Michael J. Pollack

Keep writing, keep studying craft, have heart

Monday, March 28, 2011

From an Editor's Desk:
French historian and novelist Andre Malraux           said, "What is man? A miserable little pile of secrets."
Which leads me to ask: what secrets are your characters keeping hidden from prying eyes? What secrets will be revealed in your memoir? Your short story? Secrets incite curiosity and suspense; reveal so many hidden chambers in the human heart. Although we live in an age of compulsive exposure and tell-all gossip amid a 24-hour news cycle, many  people shroud their secret shames and obsessions and fears and desires within. When you write fiction, know the mysteries within  your characters. When you plot, figure out just how much you can expose and who  these confessions will be revealed to.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Quote of the day:
"In my work there is no drum, there is no song, but the mask is the result of a transformation that occurred in my studio." Willie Cole

Where to Dump a Corpse and other Tips
The sun  just peeked out. I mean it. After raining most of the weekend. Which is why I attended two plays--and am still sort of basking in the images and brilliance I saw on the stage this weekend (Futura and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). For those of you who are writing mysteries and thrillers and face that pesky task of disposing of corpses and such here's a helpful interview with best-selling thriller author Chelsea Cain at Northwest Book Lovers.

Here's a tidbit from that interview:Your writers group is replete with big wigs in the literary world. What’s some of the best advice you’ve gotten from your cohorts? They are all so smart and full of zingers. Chuck Palahniuk is great with objects. He taught me to use objects more and better. Archie’s pillbox in the earlier books, for instance. It’s such great shorthand for what’s going on in his head. How Archie interacts with and thinks about that pillbox ends up being way more revealing than anything he says. And Chuck taught me to go back to The Object at least three times in a chapter. “Don’t lose your objects,” he always says. This is a Dangerous Writer-ism, something Chuck picked up from his old mentor Tom Spanbauer and his Dangerous Writing workshop. Suzy Vitello taught me to take time to reveal a character’s emotional landscape. Don’t wallow in it. But take half a paragraph and unpack (“unpack” – that’s another Dangerous Writer-ism) the goods. Let the reader inside. I’m not talking about exposition. No telling. Just going internal and showing what a character has at stake emotionally. Lidia Yuknavitch teaches me words. She can use words like no one I’ve ever met. Monica Drake taught me to take time with dialog. Her gift for dialog and her sense of timing are amazing. Mary Wysong taught me the power of the smallest gesture. Describing how a character hunches his shoulders or holds a coffee cup can speak volumes. Erin Leonard taught me to embrace absurdity. Cheryl Strayed is incredible at creating small profound moments, and she is such a hard worker and so productive. They all make me feel like an underachiever.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

E-book dust up
The future of e-books in the publishing world is fast evolving. If you're in the process of signing any kind of publishing contract, it's vital to nail down your electronic rights. Here's a case in point: The Catherine Cookson estate is about to offer her books as cut priced e-books, bypassing her publishers. 
From an Editor's Desk:
In your fiction climax don't portray your antagonist or villain screwing up in order for the protagonist to triumph. In the best stories the protagonist somehow outfoxes the antagonist--with more desire, will, desperation, motivation, etc. to win.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

From an Editor's Desk:
Create an early-morning routine that stamps the day with a reminder that you're a writer. Upon rising read a poem, jot down your dreams, write a poem. Dip into the river of language first thing so you can linger there all day.

It's the sort of wet morning where a person, well, at least this person, just doesn't want to creep out of bed. Wet and gray out there in Portlandia and I'm already speculating if I can get a nap in later. But the show must go on for now and I wanted to post this lovely quote by Jeanette Winterson--the source of so many observations that strike me as wise. Who seems to understand the enduring importance of storytelling. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

"There it is; the light across the water. Your story. Mine. His. It has to be seen to be believed. And it has to be heard. In the endless babble of narrative, in spite of the daily noise, the story waits to be heard.

Some people say that the best stories have no words. It is true that words drop away, and that the important things are often left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. The true things are too big or too small, or in any case always the wrong size to fit in the template called language." ~ Jeanette Winterson

Friday, March 25, 2011

It's Flannery O'Connor's birthday

Alice Elliott Dark writes:
Flannery O' Connor thought you couldn't separate a story from its meaning—that it was indescribable except in its own words. At first, I didn't get it. That claim was more readily apparent in music and painting—but couldn't stories be described, their themes extrapolated?
Yet I sensed there was truth in her declaration, and I eventually understood—by reading her stories. You can't really convey what happens to a reader who gives herself over to O' Connor. You can list the events in a story—they're eventful—but those bare bones don't begin to express the complex sensations, effects, and theological revelation that shake you and make you laugh when you're in them. She believes in God, and she is able to show what He is (to her) in His work. I've read her stories lots of times; she's converted me to stories as an art form, unable to be pulled apart.

Alice Elliott Dark was a National Book Awards judge in 2002. Source: National Book Awards

From an Editor's Desk:
The best scenes always multi-task: push the story forward or reverse direction; create change; reveal characters & motivations; reverberate thematically

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Summer in Words update
Registration for Summer in Words is opening on April 1
Dates: June 24-26
Location: Hallmark Resort, Cannon Beach, Oregon
Tip: Reserve your room before May 24th to receive the group discount price

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Arthur Plotnik is in the House
I don't recall exactly when I discovered the word wizard-guru that is Arthur Plotnik. But all I know is that whenever he writes about writing or language or  style everything he says is jam-packed with insights.  Among his books are The Elements of Expression, The Elements of Editing, The Elements of Authorship, and the bestselling writer's guide Spunk & Bite. Now how could you not appreciate a master who calls a book Spunk & Bite? Like me, you might already marvel at his love of language, his sly twists,wordsmithery, and humor. Which is why when I blogged for Powells I recommended that writers read his books, heed his words and called him a freakin genius-god in the writing world. With his latest book Better Than Great, A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives available for preorder and on sale June 1, it seemed like a fine time to ask him questions that I know you'll find elucidating.

Q:Could you tell us why you decided to write Better Than Great, A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives (that's a mouthful). I realize that this is designed to bolster a writer's  vocabulary, but I'm wondering if you might have another secret agenda you'd care to divulge.
A: I could say it was to liberate humankind from the tyranny of stock superlatives, such as great, awesome, amazing, incredible, and unbelievable. But first, I'd wanted to purge my own vocabulary of these exhausted, one-size-fits-all terms, the ones we use for anything to be emphasized. A plate of nachos: awesome. A trip to Machu Picchu: awesome. New haircut: amazing. The seas parting: amazing. I was tired of words that had lost all force and make no distinctions. I even tired of wishing people a great this or fabulous that.

So I started gathering and shaping playful alternatives for my own use. Soon, in a greeting card, I was wishing friends a "spumescently brilliant, rapturous, pleoperfect, clangorous, jollified, gladsome, ebullient, soul-schvitzing, luminous, boffo, festal holiday season, not to mention a nirvanic New Year's and annum analeptic."  The list soon grew into a book idea that everyone called, for their (then) lack of a better word, great.
 You seem to genuinely delight in language. Since words are our humble tools, how can this love of language be passed along to beginning writers?
 A: They have to experience that delight---the heart-juddering frisson of the perfect, unanticipated word or turn of phrase; the savor of sustained lyricism. 

The trouble is, our everyday world hardly brims with language virtuosos or personalities who ignite a passion for words. Abbreviated communication forms like texting are anathema to language-love (though a well-Twittered word can still delight). Without inspiring models (mostly from reading), new writers become message-oriented, attitude-oriented, their language rarely acquiring the texture that makes it adhere and resonate. And so if falls to the deft writing coach to guide beginners through model passages---eloquent to funky examples, Jane Austin to Junot Diaz---hoping to plant the love that cannot be suppressed.
Q: What is your explanation of how language stimulates the senses in a reader and your tips for doing so?
 A: Hey, no essay questions!  But the short advice is: Write to the guts. Get something visceral into the equation---something that stimulates the sensual memory, the emotions, appetite, nervous system. Devices for doing so include surprise (we react chemically to the unexpected), sensual particulars, sensations spelled out, or an association with felt experiences.

For instance, how do you describe a color to make it sensed and felt? Some examples: "Hectic red" (Shelley),with that surprising, visceral modifier. "The black of the void" (Gary Shteyngart), evoking fear---the alarm bell of the senses. "A green-green-green that makes you want to cry" (Sandra Cisneros), spelling out the palpable sensation. "Eyes of "anti-freeze green" (Chuck Palahniuk), a particular reference with chilling associations. "Upholstery the color of Thousand Island Dressing"(John Banville)---something you can, ugh, taste.
Q: Do you have sage advice for when to modify and when to leave the noun alone? And what about adverbs? I'm an anti-adverb editor, but I'm wondering if you're more lenient than I when it comes to these critters.
 A: Leave nouns alone when, in context, they have all the force and clarity they need. "Memories lurk like dustballs at the back of drawers," wrote Jay McInerney.  Did he mean affecting memories? Fragile, hidden dustballs? Dresser drawers? Probably. Did he need to say it? God no. On the other hand, when John Lanchester writes, "This grew in me an . . .  an intellectual tumescence," we do appreciate having the type of tumescence clarified, as well as the evocative image.

Same story with adverbs, which tell us the how (manner) and the how much (degree) of a verb or modifier. He drank copiously (degree). He drank sloppily (manner). He's a reportedly excessive drinker (manner).  Adverbs evolved to supply extra information, nothing wrong with that. What has given them a bad name is their frequent (or cliché) use when the information and/or force is already there: She's completely unique. I was incoherently babbling. You are totally bedazzling.  I hungrily wolfed the meatballs.

But when used inventively, adverbs add nuance, tone, and especially emphasis. In Better Than Great's introduction, I offer some examples from journalism and literature: kneebucklingly sweet; blissfully deranged; searingly gifted; blamelessly beautiful.  And Jessica, didn't you once recklessly describe me as a "freakin' genius-god in the writing world"? With the intensifying adverb "freakin(g)," you were emphasizing the degree of genius-divinity or the strength of your conviction. Maybe it was excessive, but I liked it so much that my wife had it printed on a T-shirt. An adverbial T-shirt.
 Q: Years ago you wrote that voice is in "harmony with your roots." I've used that expression many times while talking to writers about voice--crediting you, of course. I'm wondering if you could talk a bit about voice in fiction and nonfiction and how writers can develop a consistent, potent voice.
 A:Greater genius-gods than I have opined that voice is the total of all the decisions you make as you choose words and put them together. Just about everything in your education and experience influences those decisions, beginning with your roots and including your homies, your favorite literary models, your aspirations, and your relationship to an audience of listeners or readers. Some writing mavens say that you don't make or "develop" a voice, but that it simply emerges along with your personality. Rhetoricians from the Greeks on have presented figures of speech ( for example, hyperbole, metaphor, and irony) and other devices as the means to a style or voice.

I'm a little of both schools: the flavor and consistency of your voice will take care of itself; but understanding the elements of rhetoric---which are about emphasis and persuasiveness---help give it force. Good writing guides teach these elements one way or another, and are worth studying to a point. Mainly, they clear the junk from your writing and reveal patterns for styling your own wit and inventiveness into something voice-like. But when you write, don't think about your voice being heard and adored; what you want an audience to "hear" is ideas, feelings, and story well rendered. The adoration will come.
Q: What's your best advice to writers on editing their own writing?
Standard advice says: Write first---get the words down---and edit later. I edit partly as I write; it makes me feel better as I go forward, but it's disablingly slow. Whenever you do edit, though, follow the big rules: Omit needless words, as Strunk & White rightly tell you; say it shorter, making sure the verbiage is never too much for the thought. Kill your darlings---those belabored turns of phrase that call attention to themselves and away from the message. Favor the concrete---particulars---over abstractions and generalities. Pay attention to verbs; choose lively ones and drop in an unexpected zinger now and then. Of a victim falling to his death from a building, Gary Shteyngart writes, "his head knew the ground" instead of "his head hit the ground." Wow. Don't overdo any device. And of course, burn and kill all clichés and anything that seems stale; when you talk about voice, freshness is everything!   
Q: I'm also wondering if you could start a movement to resuscitate awesome so that it recaptures its original meaning? We'd be happy to aid in the cause.
 A:Yes---in the New Order, "awesome" will be applied only to things inspiring extreme fear or reverence. No more "awesome toilet paper" or other Yelper-ish acclaim for the trivial.

Meanwhile, to prop up the moribund term, Better Than Great suggests such intensifications as: tongue-dryingly awesome, Colossus-of-Rhodes awesome, fall-to-your-knees awesome, awesome on a toot, giga-awesome, industrial-strength awesome, and tera-awesome, which is 10-to-the-twelfth-power awesome, suitable for most divinities.  

But in our campaign, Jessica, let's require anyone uttering "awesome" to stagger backward all atremble,  respecting the gravity of the word. Writers using it casually will be forced to watch hour-long sequences of "King Kong," fearing and revering the awesome ape. Cruel but necessary.
Q: While attending the University of Wisconsin I enrolled in a class on tree identification. We'd meander through lovely  parks near the campus identifying trees and learned the differences between spruce  and pine. Then I moved to the Northwest and am still learning the names of species out here. Can you tell us about your passion for trees as illustrated in The Urban Tree Book? Do you tree gaze in Chicago these days?
A:When I started that book (with my wife, the illustrator) I was a new convert to tree love, the most passionate kind. Learning enough to write an authoritative guide opened worlds of pleasure on every block. Trees took on personalities. I could all but talk with them. Okay, I do sometimes talk to them. Sadly, these days the conversation is often depressing. It's like walking through an injury ward: practically every urban tree is fighting off ailments, many of them caused by our carelessness or lack of care. Trees are like writers to some degree: they give so much, don't ask a lot, get pissed on, and somehow keep giving.

Q:Who do you wish you could meet, living or dead?
A:Why Shakespeare, of course, the real genius-god. We'd quaff a few pints of grog, talk about words, and have a laugh over the evolution of English into rap. I might ask, "Ay yo, Will---whutup wit all dem mysteries 'bout ya'll and who scribed ya plays?"  Thus I'd be getting the 411 for a definitive biography with a seven-figure advance.
Q:Pasta or sushi?
A: Basta with the pasta. And make my maki a dal makhani, the summa-cum-yummy Indian dish.
Q:What's on your nightstand?
A: Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, as you might have guessed by now. His eye and ear are Wüsthof-knife sharp in this, his best novel. Also on the table, my Soft Bite guard against tooth grinding, because apparently it's not enough for writers to grind it out all day
Q: What projects are you working on next?
A: Launching the new book is a big time-suck, but I'm amusing myself gathering modern metaphors as I encounter them, putting them in categories.  Something might come of it, but here's what kind of fun they offer in the meantime (from the APPEARANCE category):
 “You’ve had a face like a smacked arse since you got here.” —Zadie Smith
 “Look at the head on that sheygets, the thing has its own atmosphere, . . .  Thing has ice caps. . . . Every time I see it, I feel sorry for necks.”  ---Michael Chabon
". . . his father’s nose like a skinned animal pinned to his face with the shiny metallic tackheads of his eyes, his mother a shapeless sack of organs with a howling withered skull stuck atop it." ---T.C. Boyle
"He had the complexion of baba ghanoush." ---Marisha Pessl
" ... a visage of absolutely uncompromising vapidity and bloodlessness; a face like the belly of a toad."  ---Will Self

Monday, March 21, 2011

Micro fiction
For those of you who are working at breaking into publishing, don't forget that opportunities exist to publish flash fiction. For inspiration check out  Micr-O Fiction: 8 Provocative Writers Tell Us a Story in 300 Words or Less

Before you answer the siren's call of your garden or other springtime activities, take stock of your writing goals. How much have you accomplished these first months of the year? How are you going to stay on track as the weather becomes sweeter? What are you learning about craft and how are you applying it?
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why Art Matters

Last night we drove south through Washington and into Oregon, a huge silver moon shimmering overhead. I taught a workshop yesterday in northern Washington and Friday we stopped at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington on our way north. In case you're not familiar with it,  it's the home of a studio (the Hot Shop) and a furnace that's in use by visiting artists and the resident glass blowers, and a place to watch their transformations take shape, stunning collections, and is a place as magical as an enchanted forest. In fact, there is an enchanted forest there--only it's in glass.

The highlight of our tour was the children's inspirations that had been turned into art, The Kids Design Glass Collection (it will be there through October 31). "The Museum has a growing collection of objects created by a variety of artists interpreting drawings that have been submitted by children and selected by Museum staff.  This body of work celebrates the rich imagination of children while documenting the interpretive skill of the glass art community. It uniquely fulfills the Museum’s mission to involve the public in a dynamic learning environment that promotes the appreciation of glass as an artistic medium."

I walked out of there my head swirling with color, thinking about the kids, and the glass blowers, and how glass blowing has been in existence for 5,000 years. So grateful for art and the artists who keep alive the ancient forms. Art feeds us. As writers we need to be immersed in all the arts, to be nourished and inspired and rejuvenated.

And with that thought, here's a link to Jeanette Winterson's piece in The Guardian on why art matters The Secret Life of Us. She says in part:
Art is a different value system. Like God, it fails us continually. Like God, we have legitimate doubts about its existence but, like God, art leaves us with footprints of beauty. We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an intimation, at its best, a transformation. We don't need to believe in it, but we can experience it. The experience suggests that the monolith of corporate culture is only a partial reality. This is important information, and art provides it.

 When you take time to read a book or listen to music or look at a picture, the first thing you are doing is turning your attention inwards. The outside world, with all of its demands, has to wait. As you withdraw your energy from the world, the artwork begins to reach you with energies of its own. The creativity and concentration put into the making of the artwork begin to cross-current into you. This is not simply about being recharged, as in a good night's sleep or a holiday, it is about being charged at a completely different voltage. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

"From now on I hope always to stay alert, to educate myself as best I can. But lacking this, in the future I will relaxedly turn back to my secret mind to see what it has observed when I thought I was sitting this one out. We never sit anything out.
We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." ~ Ray Bradbury

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day
To all the Irish and wearers of the green out there. When I was a girl my mother would play "Danny Boy" on the morning of St. Patrick's Day. So this morning while my tea was brewing I found myself singing a few bars "Oh come ye back when summer's in the meadow Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow...." Although it was early and I was having particular trouble with the high notes.

Keeping on top of today's fast-changing publishing industry can be exhausting and worrying. There are so many influences happening that sometimes it seems that predictions are impossible and  hope is waning. Here is Jenna Glazer's latest blog post Publishing and Me, and the Great Freak Out of 2010 about the topic. I thought it was noteworthy because she's so prolific and has lots of contacts in the industry.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people's, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment - once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognise and do not believe in - what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception. That is what I am looking for when I read a novel; one person's truth as far as it can be rendered through language. This single duty, properly pursued, produces complicated, various results. It's certainly not a call to arms for the autobiographer, although some writers will always mistake the readerly desire for personal truth as their cue to write a treatise or a speech or a thinly disguised memoir in which they themselves are the hero. Fictional truth is a question of perspective, not autobiography. It is what you can't help tell if you write well; it is the watermark of self that runs through everything you do. It is language as the revelation of a consciousness. ~ from Fail Better, Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith's 10 Good Writing Habits
Skies are pale slate this morning and rain is drumming down and the misery in Japan continues. It seems so important not to become numb to their suffering and loss, to learn lessons large and small from all that went wrong.

Continuing on with the theme of writers sharing wisdom, here are some jewels from Zadie Smith. She's the author of  White Teeth, Autograph Man, On Beauty. Her essay about writers Fail Better is here and here is a link to a Powells interview where she talks about her writing influences (I do think of families as being somewhat pathological.)

1.When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
2.When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
3. Don’t romanticise your “vocation.” You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer's lifestyle.” All that matters is what you leave on the page.
4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing.  Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet.
8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
9.Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
10.Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
From an article in The Guardian

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Sounds travel through space long after their wave patterns have ceased to be detectable by the human ear: some cut right through the ionosphere and barrel on out into the cosmic heartland, while others bounce around, eventually being absorbed into the vibratory fields of earthly barriers, but in neither case does the energy succumb; it goes on forever - which is why we, each of us, should take pains to make sweet notes." ~ Tom Robbins
If you sign up for my workshops please, please include your email address and phone number. I'm psychic, but I'm not that psychic. Really.

Writing advice: Andrew Morton
Below is more writing advice that first appeared in The Guardian from former British Poet Laureate (which is a ten-year post in England) Andrew Morton
10 Techniques to Spark the Writing
1.Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly.
2.Think with your senses as well as your brain.
3.Honour the miraculousness of the ordinary.
4.Lock different characters/elements in a room and tell them to get on.
5.Remember there is no such thing as nonsense.
6.Bear in mind Wilde’s dictum that “only mediocrities develop”— and challenge it.
7.Let your work stand before deciding whether or not to serve.
8.Think big and stay particular.
9.Write for tomorrow, not for today.
10.Work hard.
Summer in Words

June 24-26
Cannon Beach, Oregon
For anyone in love with words and needing to get them on the page.  
Registration opens April 1

Monday, March 14, 2011

5 Bits of Writing Advice from P.D. James  
1. Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it. 
2. Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious. 
3. Don't just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style. 
4. Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell. 
5. Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer—however happy, however tragic—is ever wasted.
"To me the world of poetry is a house with thousands of glittering windows. Our words and images, land to land, era to era, shed light on one another. Our words dissolve the shadows we imagine fall between."~ Naomi Shihab Nye
Well there's a pause in the rain here and I keep checking in on the news and body count from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. On NPR this morning a reporter in Tokyo mentioned how the people seem dazed and shattered as they try to go about their day.  Now with the worries about the nuclear power plants, I'm wondering how far all the heart break and destruction will reach.

In my lectures about the origins of storytelling I always mention how early humans used stories to communicate their fears and worries, including how nature rattles and thunders and smotes. (I don't think I've ever used smote in a sentence before, but it does feel like a mighty hand sweeps down from time to time, with a ferocity that awes and terrifies.)

These stories, which began back during an Ice Age, were often told out of necessity. Think about it—if you passed on stories about the run-in with the mammoth or the saber tooth tiger, or speculated about a lightening strike from the thunderstorm the previous night, you were passing along valuable lessons in survival.  Over time, these survival stories became more elaborate, humans created art in response to their environment and their questions about pain, and death and stars. 

Eventually mythos evolved—the need to inspire through drama. And here we are still on the brink of a new century, and our new methods of storytelling can show us a tsunami roaring in and destroying marinas, bridges, buildings as if they were as insignificant and flimsy as Tinker Toys and Matchbox Cars as it is happening, across what we imagined was an endless ocean. Images of the ravaged coast almost too horrifying to take in.

The circle of storytelling continues to make sense out of suffering and loss and heartbreak. And to lend hope. Keep writing, keep telling stories.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Quick Take:
Narrative closeness, through your POV character or narrator, creates sympathy and empathy in the reader.
Skies are too gloomy for words this morning and the day promises rain. How can it be time to turn the clocks already? But then I was running errands yesterday and was surprised to see that some of the plum and cherry trees were already blossoming. In the softest shades of pink. Keep writing out there.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

File this under: Inspiration
The sun has broken through and it's spring-like in Portland. One of the best parts about writing books and blogging is hearing from writers all over the world. A while back I exchanged emails with LP OBryan.  He's a writer in Dublin and he wanted to thank me for writing Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction. Today I received this inspiring email that I wanted to share with aspiring writers everywhere. It's also posted on his blog:
First, to all who've followed, supported, and sent me private feedback a gigantic thank you.
A big moment in my life has arrived. I have been offered a three book publishing contract by Harper Collins UK. This will see The Istanbul Puzzle coming out in January 2012, The Jerusalem Puzzle in January 2013 and a further title probably in January 2014.
After I picked myself up of the floor, double checked just in case they mixed up my submission with someone's else's, and said a prayer of thanks, I put the pieces of my exploded brain back together. That process may not be complete yet.

This has been a long time coming. I wrote on and off since childhood, but I began writing in earnest and almost every day in 2000. The first few years were spent in an innocent journey writing a historical novel about a Roman Emperor's son who comes to the decision to murder his father. Then I figured out that there was a craft to writing. Now I measure my books on writing by the number of feet they take up on my bookshelf.

My influences go back further though. The Istanbul Puzzle has, I hope, some of the mystery of The Secret Island, by Enid Blyton, the quest, if in a much much smaller way, of The Lord of the Rings and the modern pace of The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

Then I started attending writers conferences, including Winchester, Thrillerfest NY, The Southern California Writers Conferrence, Listowel Writers Festival. I also began attending writing classes in London, then in Dublin, then online. If I listed them all you would wonder why I needed so much help.

To keep this brief there were a number of exceptional agents, editors and writers who gave me valuable feedback on the way. These include Glenn Meade, the popular Irish thriller writer who read and commented on The Istanbul Puzzle and Pam Ahearn a major US agent out of New Orleans who took the trouble to give me detailed feedback on The Istanbul Puzzle and also I must thank many others in my writing groups, both online and offline, including the Wednesday group here in Dublin who I must thank. I could fill this page with all the names.

I plan to fill my time between now and January with editing The Istanbul Puzzle, starting The Jerusalem Puzzle, and occasional short (mercifully) warts-and-all blog posts on the process of moving from aspiring to published author and seeing my book in print.

And finally, when I do get into Harper Collins' offices later this month in London to discuss the process in detail I plan to kiss the floor. They are wonderful, prescient, amazing, clever, wise and beautiful people each and every wonderful one of them! You have to like the people who saved your life, don't you? Whatever happens next they are the best. The very best.

I would suggest you click on About LP where he describes how he's been plugging at writing for years. And notice that first line: "I was born in Ireland, a misty, indebted and quarellsome isle." Now from that first line can't you tell he's a born storyteller?  
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart