"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, June 30, 2011

"I get up every day and work in the morning. I have my coffee and get to work. On good days I look up and it's dark outside and the whole day has gone by and I don't know where it's gone. But there's bad days, too. Where I struggle and sweat and a half hour creeps by and I've written three words. And half a day creeps by and I've written a sentence and a half and then I quit for the day and play computer games. You know, sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." George R.R. Martin

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real ... for a moment at least ... that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to middle Earth." 
~ George R.R. Martin

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It rained last night so the air feels new and the sky is still overcast. A week ago I was awakened at 6:45 by what sounded like German Panzers rumbling into the neighborhood. Since then it has been nonstop chaos as the house that was situated about 12 feet from my back door has been wiped out. As have the pines and grape vines, and a back yard studio. My charming patio and flower beds have been coated with dust and such no matter how often I wash them clean and I feel invaded by all the thunder and bedlam and constant crunching of machinery. It reminds me of a scene from Jurassic Park when the dinosaurs are battling to the death. And I hate needing to close my windows in the summer time, don't you?

But this morning I woke at 7 and the neighborhood was quiet. I'm going to take advantage of the lull to nap all afternoon and putter around here. And it's supposed to rain today which is just fine with me.  

Summer in Words was a big success--the speakers were so knowledgeable and deep and passionate and fun  I felt honored to be in the same room with them. And the attendees were great too. Thanks, thanks, thanks to everyone, especially my instructors (Cheryl Strayed, Deborah Reed, Bill Johnson, Randall Platt, Emily Whitman)  Mary Drew and Jay Collins. As they say, couldn't have done it without you.

The dates for Summer in Words 2012: June 15-17 and it will be located at the Hallmark Inn that overlooks Haystack Rock. People are already signing up for next year, so please don't wait too long to register since the space is limited. Registrations will be open on March 1, 2012

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Monday, June 27, 2011

"There are mountainous, arduous days, up which one takes an infinite time to climb, and downward-sloping days which one can descend at full tilt, singing as one goes." ~ Marcel Proust

Thursday, June 23, 2011

“It’s this simple. The writer is the person who stays in the room. The writer wants to read what she is in the process of creating with such passion and devotion that she will not leave the room. The writer understands that to stand up from the desk is to fail, and to leave the room is so radical and thorough a failure as to not be reversible. Who is not in the room writing? Everybody. Is it difficult to stay in the room, especially when you are not sure of what you are doing, where you’re going? Yes. It’s impossible. Who can do it? The writer.”

     A writer is a person who stays in the room. So you do your work, and when you’re tempted to leave, you don’t. You push on, even if it’s for just a few minutes. On one level, it’s about you, the person, being along with your writing, away from all the temptations of the marketplace, away from all of the fun you’ll have with your friends, and away from all of the terrible noise on e-mail….The world is addictive. It wants us away from the desk, and a writer is a person who likes her work so much, wants her work so much, that she’s going to go get it. You’ve got to go upstream. It’s against the tide to get this kind of work done.
      The second level is, as you’re writing the story, don’t hurry. When you come to a scene, stay there. Stay there long enough to find out what might happen. I’m just pleading for patience, because people do not sit still in a place anymore. There’s almost no here and now in our country, because of the computer, because of cell phones, and because of iPods. We’re all someplace else.” ~Ron Carlson
photo by Jonathon Strong

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I've been mulling this over awhile and have concluded that subtlety is the hardest aspect of writing to teach. After all, it's subjective and it's difficult to explain. So I want to write a series of musings on the topic here and at my (recently neglected) site.{You'll find a post on Subtlety here.}

As a starting point, here are a few suggestions:
Be able to justify every word on every page. Especially modifiers.
Be able to justify every time you slip into a character's thoughts. Can the reader already imagine what he or she is thinking?
Generally don't state a character's motivations. They should be organic to the story, not spelled out as in the huge SURRENDER DOROTHY letters.
Generally don't state your story's themes. You often don't need to state them in a synopsis either. Themes whisper beneath a story, they are like invisible threads that bind it together.
Avoid "on the nose" dialogue--characters or people always saying exactly what they mean. Sometimes when you write dialogue it might be helpful to imagine wresting words from the mouth of a teen--when he or she is at the age when he mostly mumbles and won't answer questions directly.
How was school today?
What did you study?
The usual stuff.
TIP: Present a story as mystery unfolding, not a yellow brick road from point A to point B.
I feel that you take from your life experiences, but to make it fiction, you take it to a deeper level. You transform the mundane disappointments or the joys to make it true storytelling. You have to go much farther. You have to be a kind of spy and listen carefully. ~ Elizabeth Brundage
Quick Take:
For those of you who are writing historical fiction, try writing while playing music from the era you're writing about. (Good luck to those of you who are writing about the 16th century)
Whether we are describing a king, an assassin, a thief, an honest man, a prostitute, a nun, a young girl, or a stallholder in a market, it is always ourselves that we are describing. Guy de Moupassant

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First day of summer and sky is finally blue, full of promise. I've been working on my conference these past few days while thinking about this change of season. About how I'm longing for time outdoors, to spend days in nearby forests and wandering along mountain-fed streams.  I especially love being outdoors on soft summer nights and early mornings. I’ve learned that life is best when dawn  and nightfall are witnessed in all their etchings and fadings, and birdsong is the backdrop to it all. That falling asleep near a burbling stream is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

Writing Prompt
Write about a summer memory, making certain that you weave in all the senses.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The new season feels like it's a long time arriving here since the La Nina weather system seems determined to stick around. Of course, it's the farmers who have more to worry about, not urban flower growers such as myself. Tonight I was meeting with a friend, helping her to unmuddle a rewrite of her manuscript. She sold it to a major publishing house awhile back and the whole thing has turned into a morass of rewrites and dare I say, heartbreak. She's digging herself out of a version that went awry and trying to rescue her  novel, which might I add, is quirky in the best sense of the word, beautiful and meaningful.

When we emerged from the coffee house where we'd convened for hours the sun was blasting down, the air so softened and refined and changed since yesterday that it scarcely seemed like the same place. I arrived home, longing for a night on my patio but knowing I needed to work, so I'm playing Townes Van Zandt songs on YouTube. Remembering the time years ago when I sat in a small club and heard him perform only feet away,  his heart pouring into the room, after meeting him in the hallway before he went on and he flirted with me and I flirted back, but then stopped myself. And the YouTube songs just don't do him justice. What a writer.

I know how these summer days and nights  are in the Northern Hemisphere---you'll be busy gleaning sunshine and stealing every moment of green and sky. But you can still write, you can still write. While the flowers bloom and tomatoes ripen and fireworks explode. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What makes a story? Well, you have to have movement, right? Some people call it plot. Plot is movement that is extremely deliberate. So I would say that I'm for movement, but I'm not for terribly deliberate movement. And at some point, you come to the end of what you have to say. There's pleasure, also, and play. Something different makes every story. Sometimes you like tying up the knot. Sometimes you like to leave it wide open, for people to imagine and to do what they want with it. ~ Grace Paley

Saturday, June 18, 2011

From an Editor's Desk
If you're struggling while plotting, keep asking yourself about cause and effect. How does the inciting incident unbalance the story world? Does the first plot point create a point of no return for the protagonist? Is it the threshold through which he or she must move forward to confront the main conflict in the story?  When a scene ends does it cause a natural push toward the next scene because it has introduced a complication, a dilemma, or problem? 

When I think of plotting I tend to think of rivers and how rivers keep moving south (or north in the case of the nearby Willamette River) the current pushing along objects and swimmers and boats. How rivers are a source of moving energy. Lapping against the shores on which trees and vegetation grow from its nourishment. The mysterious life that floats and swims beneath the surface, the secret depths. How when you stand near a river you always wonder what lies downriver. How many rivers join larger bodies of water. How they contain rocks and boulders and hidden dangers as well as forks and waterfalls. I can remember canoeing the Wisconsin River where it joined the wide Mississippi and how  difficult it was to fight the current there. How the Mississippi wanted to pull us along, send us far from home. And I've stood near the mouth of the Columbia River dumping into the Pacific in a dangerous, roiling roar, amazed at the power of all that water and movement.

So keep planning for downstream, keep looking ahead.

If something in your writing gives support to people in their lives, that's more than just entertainment-which is what we writers all struggle to do, to touch people. ~ Dean Koontz

Academics love to make theories about a body of work, but each book consumes the writer and is the sum of his or her world.~ Jeanette Winterson
Writing Prompt:
What did your father teach you?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The 'Don Knotts Golden Donut Short Story Contest' Seeks Entries
This week, the Writers' Police Academy (WPA) announced that the Don Knotts Golden Donut Short Story Contest is open for entries.

The contest is seeking short stories of exactly 200 words (including the title) about the photograph published here and on the WPA website. The photo was taken by Sunday Kaminski, a Maryland-based photographer whose work has appeared in shows, exhibits and publications including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

The entry guidelines:
-Use exactly 200 words, including the title.
-The image in the photograph must be the main subject of the story.
-The story must be polished and complete (with a beginning, middle and a twist of an ending).
-All stories must be submitted electronically.
-The submission deadline is midnight, August 19, 2011.
-A $20 entry fee must accompany each entry. The proceeds go to the Writers' Police Academy fund to benefit the Guilford Technical Community College criminal justice foundation.
For detailed submission guidelines, go to the WPA website and click on Short Story Contest in the blue menu ribbon at the top of the screen.

The contest winner will receive the Don Knotts Golden Donut Award sponsored by the High Point (North Carolina) Public Library and Krispy Kreme. The award will be presented at the Writers' Police Academy banquet on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The contest is open to everyone. Registration and attendance at the Writers' Police Academy is not required to participate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Advice from Jennifer Eagan: Read
A writer after my own heart.

"My advice is so basic. Number one: Read. I feel like it’s amazing how many people I know who want to be writers who don’t really read. I’m not convinced someone wants to be a writer if they don’t read. I don’t think the problem is that they need to read more; I think they might need to readjust their life goals. Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work. To be reading good things. I feel that you should be reading what you want to write. Nothing less.

The second thing is, I feel like getting in the habit of it is huge. I guess that was my one accomplishment of those two years [with the first failed novel]— making it a routine is a gigantic part of it.
One corollary of that— and this is probably the most important thing for me— is being willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly, something primal about it, like: “This bad stuff is coming out of me…” Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows. For me, the bad beginning is just something to build on. It’s no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well. That’s when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, and that is where I think writer’s block comes from. Like: It’s not happening. 

Well, maybe good writing isn’t happening, but let some bad writing happen. Let it happen!
I mean, when I was writing The Keep, my writing was so terrible. It was God-awful. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: “How can I disappoint?”

So, just write and be happy that you did it. You stuck to the routine. You’re kind of holding the place so that you’re present for when something good is ready to come.

And then it’s all about rewriting. Re-visiting, re-visiting and re-writing. I think it’s a mistake to be too precious about one’s words. I feel the same way about the criticism. You’re not going to break! It’s pretty tough to stick it out, to do this. So, get used to it! People are going to not like it. Okay! You’ll live. So, it’s bad. Okay. You’ll live! They said ‘no.’ You know what? Everyone gets said ‘no’ to a thousand times. If that is really something that you can’t tolerate, this may not work."

You can find the whole (really long) interview at this link
Keep writing, keep reading, keep dreaming
Contest Rosetta Books will host The Galaxy Project writing contest for science fiction novellas or novelettes. Entries must be received before September 2nd.

The digital publisher is running this contest to launch The Galaxy Project, a collection eBook reprints from the classic science fiction magazine Galaxy.

Here’s more from the release: “The winning writer will be guaranteed e-book publication as part of The Galaxy Project collection, a set of the top novellas that appeared originally in Galaxy, and will also receive a $1,000 advance against royalties of 50% of net receipts to 2,500 copies and 60% of net receipts thereafter for world English digital rights. The contest is open now and the submission deadline is Friday, September 2, 2011.”

Writers need to limit their novellas or novelettes in the range of 15,000 to 20,000 words. The judges for this contest include Nebula Award-winner Robert Silverberg, Locus Award-winner Barry N. Malzberg, and author David Drake. Follow this link for more details.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

File Under: Great News
As I've mentioned before, I always like to keep up on the careers of my students and clients. So I was thrilled to learn that Deborah Reed will be featured on NPR's On the Media program. I'll let you know the date. You can read her interview here and find updates at her at her site. Her upcoming book, Carry Yourself Back To Me can now be pre-ordered at amazon.com. I'll let you all know the date of the broadcast. And again, Deborah will be explaining live at Summer in Words  (Friday night, June 24) how she landed her three-book publishing contract.
Last call to register for Summer in Words Writing Conference

When: June 24-26

Where: The Hallmark Inn & Resort in Cannon Beach

What: This year’s theme is Truth, Risk & Lies

Who: Our keynote speaker is award-winning author Cheryl Stayed

Why: It’s a great way for writers at all stages of their careers to hone their craft, network with fellow writers, and meet published authors and industry professionals with years of experience in their subject matter.

Expect: An emphasis on quality, not quantity; an intimate and welcoming conference so you’ll feel as if you belong; up-to-the-minute information on the publishing industry including how to land a book deal through a backdoor approach and what editors look for in submissions and queries; how to research publishers and agents; and then once you land a book deal, how to publicize your work.

Clincher: True value. The cost of registration ($245) includes workshops, three keynote addresses, two meals and Friday night's reception, Out Loud—a chance to read your work to an audience, a bonfire on the beach, all in a beautiful setting on the Oregon coast overlooking Haystack Rock. Single day rates are also available. And did we mention it’s fun?

Instructors: Bill Johnson, writing guru. Jessica Morrell, author and editor, Randall Platt, prolific, award-winning author, Cheryl Stayed, author extraordinaire, Deborah Reed, hardworking author of two upcoming novels, Adam O’Connor Rodriguez, Senior Editor at Hawthorne Books, & Emily Whitman, author and wise goddess.

For more information contact Jessica at jessicapage (at)spiritone(dot)com
Schedule and instructor interviews and bios are at http://summerinwords.wordpress.com/

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vintage Dave Fryxell:
"When editors talk about writers who are easy edits, they of course mean writers who get all their facts straight, answer reader's basic questions, take care of transitions and (let's not forget) follow the assignment. But when it comes to line editing--working with the nuts and bolts of copy--writers who are easy edits are writers who have mastered the sentence.
      I don't mean writing a grammatical sentence or a sentence in which all the words are spelled right. And I'm not talking about mere mastery of punctuation, knowing where to put a period to end a sentence. Those skills are part of the price of admission.
     But editors also demand sentences that work hard, that get maximum mileage for the expenditure of words. Ultimately, after all, an article is just one sentence after another--so it's vital to make each sentence as strong as it can be. If you're trying to make a living as a writer, sentences are your stock in trade. "

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Quick Take:
Observe "word territory." Give key, multisyllabic, and unusual words plenty of space. Do not repeat a distinctive word unless you're intending to create a specific effect.
But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective. ... The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”
An author's style is his written voice, his spirit and mind caught in ink. ~ John Mason

Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Original: Adam O’Connor Rodriguez
I first appeared with Adam on a panel about writing and publishing about four years ago and since have appeared with him on three more panels. From the beginning, I was impressed with his passion for words, his vast experience as an editor,  his knowledge of the publishing world, and his work ethic. And he’s funny, in a droll sort of understated way.  Hawthorne Books, where Adam is the Senior Editor, is an independent publisher that has published books such as Clown Girl by Monica Drake, The Chronicle of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch,and four books by my hero of heroes, Poe Ballantine.  And be still my heart, Ballantine’s working on two more books for them. If you haven't  read Ballantine, you don't know what you're missing.  And did I mention that Hawthorne's books are gorgeous and show the care they put into them?

Adam will be teaching a workshop at Summer in Words called What an Editor Wants on Friday June 24th.  To read Adam’s short story "The Red Side", go here. To read more about Adam and his approach to editing, go here.
Q: How do you think your life adventures such as riding far and wide on Greyhounds, make you a better writer and editor?

A: Spending as much time as I have riding ground transportation—about 250,000 miles over the past 15 years or so—has given me a lot of time alone to think and read and often write. Just like any experience that’s physically and mentally exhausting and boring—anything from war to jail to a dead-end job—riding Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains for thousands of miles gives me a clearer sense of my mind, I guess. It also allows me a different level of familiarity with the geography of this country. I’ve been everywhere here, so it’s hard to fool me with a fake dialect or regional inconsistency.

Q: How would you describe your ideal writer--as in one you'd want to publish at Hawthorne Books?

A: Most of Hawthorne’s authors are ideal writers, if being a writer is a temperament, not a vocation—they’re all extraordinarily cool, down-to-earth folks who understand that as a small press, we work really hard, much harder than large publishers on average, to get the work out there. As far as my ideal writing goes, I skew more experimental than the dominant aesthetic in Hawthorne’s catalogue, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy and love and champion every book we’ve published.

Q: What kinds of query letters grab your attention?

A: My school of thought on queries is that it’s best if they don’t grab my attention too much—“Hey, I’ve got this book. Check it out,” then launching right into page one of the text—to me, that’s a better query than a 15-page marketing plan. A writer capable of writing a coherent 15-page marketing plan is clearly a professional writer, but that doesn’t mean he or she can write creative work at all. My training and interest as a reader and editor is purely literary, though, so I probably don’t speak for most acquisition editors, who at this point are business professionals far more than creative professionals.

Q: What is the worst mistake writers can make when trying to get published?

A: Calling me on the phone to check in about a manuscript is the best way to make me hate your work before I’ve even read it. Sending a hasty email for the same purpose is a close second. Even if submission processes run slowly, they’re processes. It’s not like we won’t contact you if we want to publish your book. And if we don’t want to publish it, we’ll let you know as soon as we decide that, also. A related point: simultaneously submit all your work, even if presses and magazines tell you not to do so. If you’re lucky enough to get two hits on the same day for the same piece (you won’t be), an editor will understand if you have to withdraw the piece.

Q: What is your best advice to writers in ten words or less?

Revise, set aside, revise; repeat that process, then submit.

Q: Sushi or pasta?

A: You can’t ask a Libra a question like this. There’s an OK sushi place across the street from my apartment, so I probably eat more sushi, but I probably like pasta more. A really good version of either can be transcendent.

 Q: What's on your nightstand?

A: Some cups of water maybe, a lamp. I’m a terrible insomniac and I sleep different hours than my wife, so I keep what I’m reading on a shelf in the living room. Right now, it’s If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, one of my favorite “get you pumped to write” books about writing. Also, after every Memorial Day, I end up watching war documentaries and reading war books for a while, so Dispatches by Michael Herr is the one this year—I’ve read it several times before, and it’s absolutely the best piece of writing about war ever. And I keep trying to work through Freedom by Franzen, but I’m not finding the emotional connection to it that I have to some of his other work.

Q: What projects are you working on next?

A: For Hawthorne, I’m working on James Bernard Frost’s A Very Minor Prophet, a book I love that we’ll be releasing next year. Freelance, I’m working on a brilliant young adult novel by a debut author named Glen Carter. And the morning after the Summer in Words conference, I’m flying back to my hometown in Michigan to spend a month finishing work on a novel I’ve been working on since grad school.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Good News for Women Writers
Dusty-looking sky this morning. Lately there has been squawking about how women writers are often overlooked for prestigious prizes and awards. So when I ran across these two stories this week, I knew I needed to pass them along.
First, the Forbes blog is listing the 10 Most Powerful Women Authors. It begins: "The women selected for this list are powerful because of their ability to influence us through their words and ideas. Collectively, these women hold readers captivated with stories of fantastical worlds, suspense and drama, insights into the complexities of minority experiences and cultures, and fresh takes on societal issues and expectations…not to mention, book sales of up to 800M copies sold and a wealth of prestigious awards and recognition including Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes.
In other words, these 10 women can tell (and sell) a good story.
Although there are many more women throughout history who have proven to be powerful authors, this list is limited to those who are living, with a focus on personal narrative and fiction writers."

The second story that caught by eye was that 13 women were chosen as finalists for the National Book Awards. To which I might add, it's about time.  In this story the writer quips that 'girl genius' is not in our vocabulary. Maybe it's time?
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Meet the Unstoppable Deborah Reed
It's a huge thrill for me when my clients and students are published, especially when they're hard working, talented, and find ingenious means to break into publishing. So it is with Deborah Reed who recently landed a three-book publishing contract. She writes under both Audrey Braun and Deborah Reed and her suspense novel A Small Fortune will be out July 19th, Carry Yourself Back to Me, a literary novel, will be published September 20th. She claims to come from a long line of storytellers and writes with profound insights about relationships, family, and heartbreak, and weaves in prose that's so gorgeous you can only sigh with envy. 

On Friday night, June 24th  she'll be talking about how she broke into publishing at Summer in Words Conference. Her talk is entitled My Way: Truth, Risk & Lies. I asked her to speak at the conference because she's one of the most determined and persistent writers I know, and deserves all the good things that are coming her way, and I knew you all will be inspired by her. 
Q: Could you give us a preview of your Friday night talk and tell us a bit about how you chose a roundabout way to landing a book deal and why you did it?

A: Roundabout seemed my only option. The mindset of publishing over the last few years was (and still is to some degree) going mad, imploding really, at the time my then-agent was trying to sell my work. As a writer of fiction–the hardest genre to sell–I knew I could either go down with it, or take a risk and make something happen on my own. I've always been a do it yourself kind of person so it wasn't much of a stretch for me to pool my resources and take off. The moment I did I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom, calm, and control.
I was chastised more than once by my agent for making too many connections on my own, so I made even more in secret, and it was those secret connections that led me to a 3-book deal.
But there are many good reasons not to break out on one's own in this way, and I will touch upon those as well.

Q: What is your best advice for someone who is frustrated at not being able to break into publishing?

A: You are not alone. Even the most published are frustrated with the hoops and changes taking place. Quality doesn't always equal a publishing contract. It's important to remember this. Becoming a published writer is not for the faint of heart. You have to keep pushing. There's the old joke about what do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.
Most of all, keep writing, and don't forget to read with the same amount of focus and passion you put into writing.
It's also impossible to talk about publishing without talking about the writing itself, which is where one needs to live and breathe 99% of the time. I was offered a book deal at the same time I got accepted into an MFA program. For all of about 10 minutes I considered not attending the program. Becoming a better writer must be your biggest goal. Not writing well enough is, in my opinion, your biggest hurdle.

Q: What is your biggest challenge as a writer and how do you tackle it?
A: From a pure working perspective, my biggest challenges seem to double as gifts. Having a family certainly makes it difficult to devote all the time and headspace I would like to devote to writing, while at the same time having a family makes for relationship dynamics that I often draw on in my writing. It's within this realm of closeness with my children and husband that all the essential stuff of life gets played out–all the misfiring in communication, the good intentions suffocating another's spirit, the tender hearts swelling with love, breaking a little, and healing, over and over and over.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for me is me. I'm self-critical and insecure about my writing. Sure, there are wonderfully warm moments when I feel on solid ground, but they are so damn fleeting. Success has not equaled security for me, and if you think it will for you I'm willing to guess you'll be disappointed. One way I deal with this, at least in one half of my writing life, is something I started doing by accident–I use a pseudonym to write genre fiction. Taking on another persona has wildly resulted in confidence. My alter-ego Audrey Braun has taught Deborah Reed a thing or two about getting words on the page.

Q: What is your best advice to writers in 10 words or less?
A: As Richard Bausch likes to say, stay in the chair.

Q: Sushi or pasta?
A: Neither. I'm a fruit and veggies kind of gal.

Q: What's on your nightstand?
A: A lot of dust. And Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale, and Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag.

Q: What project is next for you?
A: I have one year left of graduate school before I receive my MFA in creative writing so I will finish up with that, while I'm currently working on another suspense novel in the Audrey Braun series, which I hope will be out by summer 2012. I'm also working on a literary novel that I will use as my thesis. I like to keep a pile of balls in the air.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Wisdom from Dwight Swain: Purpose of the Focal Character:
"The focal character has three main functions:
a. To provide continuity.
b. To give meaning.
c.  To create feeling.
     What about continuity?
     Given half a chance, events in a story tend to hang in space, like so many screams in the night. The focal character is a continuing factor  to link them into a cohesive flow and tie to past and future, even though the action moves from 2000 B.C. to A.D. 2000, from New York to San Francisco, and from music hall to morgue. Our attention is on him and his reactions, first and foremost, so everything falls into place.
     He also gives meaning and significance to whatever happens. --Meaning, remember, is always a conclusion you and I draw about something from the way a particular somebody behaves when faced with a specific instance. If that somebody is our focal character, and if he lets go a scream of horror or a gurgle of delight at the sight of the crown jewels or tomorrow's headlines or a hot-pastrami sandwich, then we have grounds for assuming that something about the item in question is uniquely significant to him. Therefore, until something happens to change our minds, we'll deal with such fragments with the same degree of attention or consideration he shows...use them to measure and judge all the story's dimensions....
     It's the judgment of the focal character that we enter the area of said focal character's third function...the creation of feelings.
     What kind of feelings?
     Favorable feelings or unfavorable feelings. Feelings for or feelings against.
     It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of these feelings. The biggest single reason that a focal character exists is to evoke them.
     Because your reader needs someone on whom to pass judgement.
Dwight Swain, The Techniques of the $elling Writer

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief."
  ~Franz Kafka

Friday, June 03, 2011

From an Editor's Desk:
Ideally a short story centers on a life-changing moment in the life of a character, usually the protagonist. The character, who needs to be sketched for readers with vividness and yet conciseness, also needs to possess several physical and emotional attributes to make him or her memorable. The story will begin with an inciting incident that sets off a chain of events that leads to this crucial moment of change. Like longer fiction, short stories take characters into new emotional and physical territory. The ending typically features the protagonist making a choice, decision, heading off on a new beginning, or refusing his or her opportunity to change. And the change that is depicted is not only about the character arc (the character's emotional growth from the beginning to the end of the story) but should also be life altering and typically changes his or her worldview.  

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Truth and Memoir
There's acutally some blue scattered in the sky this morning. Even I, who doesn't mind the gloom because frankly it's much easier to work when the sun is not shining, am tired of the rain. And our annual Rose Festival is happening this weekend and it's been so cool that there just aren't many roses blooming around here. Well, I actually spotted a few yesterday, but I swear they looked lonely and they were dripping from the latest downpour.

I've mentioned the über-wise Jane Friedman of There are No Rules at this blog before. She's featuring a guest post written by Tracy Seeley  author of  My Ruby Slippers The Road to Kansas that is smart and informative. It's called (provactively) When Is Lying in Memoir Acceptable? 3 Key Issues. Here's an excerpt:  "They crop up like weeds in the literary garden, those memoirs that lie. James Frey invented some details of his life and wildly exaggerated others. Greg Mortenson and his co-writer turned two events that happened a year apart into a single, dramatic episode. They also claimed Mortenson had been imprisoned by the Taliban, which others claim never happened.

Then there are entirely fake memoirs—lies from beginning to the end. The international best-selling memoir Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, for example, told a riveting tale of the author’s escape from the Warsaw ghetto to safety among a pack of wolves. It would have made a great novel; none of it was true.

When memoir falsehoods come to light, readers feel betrayed. They expect the truth, and they should. When a memoirist writes, “This happened to me,” readers should be able to trust that it did. Lying about what happened violates that trust. It’s that simple. "

I went back to discover the place I came from and thought I’d left behind, to re-imagine my family story, to learn stories I never knew, to learn what it means to live deeply in the place I find myself, and in my one and only life.” Tracy Seely

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

250 Books All Men Should Read.
Written by female authors. Some of my favorite novels are mentioned at joyland a hub for short fiction: Sula, Housekeeping, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Accidental Tourist, Open Secrets..... You can suggest more titles for the list.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart