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

The Writing Life Too

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grey skies out there today, a breeze swaying the fir trees outside my window,  and I'm so relieved that the hot spell is over around here.

From an Editor's Desk: A Writer Writes

Perhaps the main truth about writing that I’ve learned is that hard work is more important than talent, inspiration, or connections. In fact, for most writers, inspiration is the easy part. Ideas for stories arrive in the shower or when talking with strangers, following the news story that has everyone talking or paying attention to dreams and memories.

Of course inspiration and writing aren’t the same thing. Writing, particularly creating potent, moonglow, break-the-reader’s-heart writing, isn’t about wishing, hoping, or even a certain way of thinking. It certainly isn’t a passive mindset as in waiting for inspiration or stories that float around in the vapors, or sighing wimp-like when they don’t arrive and then drifting off into another activity. And is certainly not a romantic way of spending time, as in tucked up in a garret with disheveled hair, inky fingers and pots of coffee, wandering about the messy room, dreamy-eyed and pretending you weren’t born in Oklahoma. Or New Jersey. Or Kalamazoo.
It’s about work. And incorporating a slew of habits and techniques from seeing the world around you with keen awareness, to incorporating verbs that slice through the page, to learning how structure holds together a story, and judging your final drafts with the heartlessness of a serial killer. But it’s mostly about clear-eyed, practical habits.  The practicality of duct tape and staplers, jump drives, and infant car seats.           

And it’s about developing small daily actions and building them into a lifestyle. These habits are daily investments in your future. And as a person from a working class background, I want to suggest that writers everywhere adopt a laborer’s mindset toward the work of writing instead of chasing the muse. 

"Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice." ~ Octavia Butler
 Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Mystery Of Mystery Writing by Michael Connelly

     Write what you know.  That is the adage every writer hears often and then contemplates while staring at the blank screen.  It is probably good and valuable advice.  But when it comes to the mystery novel the writer must be inclined to write what he or she does not know and never wants to.  For the art of the mystery is the art of turning chaos into calm.  And it is that chaos that that you must write about and still not ever want to truly know.
     I write about the deeds of the fallen. The killers. The chaos. The disorder.  With one good man — the investigator — I then restore order.  I take the box of jumbled puzzle pieces and make the picture whole.  That is what the mystery is all about.  Not the solution to the puzzle but the act of putting the pieces together.  There is a difference.  It may be subtle but it is there.  And in that difference is the reason we love mystery novels.  They reassure us.  They tell us that indeed the puzzle can be carefully constructed and put back together, that order can always be restored, that chaos does not win the day.
     This act of reassurance cannot take place without a noble man or woman at the center of the story.  A person unafraid to wade into that which we don't want to know about and find the solution that will vanquish evil and restore order.  The investigator.  The author Raymond Chandler once wrote, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid…" I don't think a better description or prescription for the investigator has been written since.
     The mystery has evolved in recent decades to be as much an investigation of the investigator as an inquiry of the crime at hand.  Investigators now look inward for the solutions and means of restoring order.  In the content of their own character they find the clues.  I think this only bodes well for the mystery novel.  It is what keeps me interested in writing them.
     When I sit down and stare at the blank screen, I contemplate character.  I think about what I want to do with my investigator this time.  What do I want to say about him?  How do I want to show that he has changed and become more aware of his own life and his surroundings?  It is through these questions that I am stimulated and interested.  My job is to tell a story.  A story full of intrigue and escalating danger for my investigator.  But it must be a story that I would like to read myself first.  It must be a story with a heart and human emotion at its center.  It is the only way to sustain an investigation into something I don't want to know about.
Published in the Walden Book Report, September, 1998
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Friday, August 26, 2011

"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."
~Bukowski (Factotum) (via Andy Mingo, Portland filmmaker)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman

Posted by: Chris Baty on 11/18/2007

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,
By now you're probably ready to give up. You're past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You're not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You're in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more---and that even when they do you're preoccupied and no fun. You don't know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began---a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read---it falls so painfully short that you're pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.
Welcome to the club.
That's how novels get written.
You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It's a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn't build it it won't be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.
The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.
The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm---or even arguing with me---she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, "Oh, you're at that part of the book, are you?"
I was shocked. "You mean I've done this before?"
"You don't remember?"
"Not really."
"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."
I didn't even get to feel unique in my despair.
So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.
One word after another.
That's the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it's the only way to do it.
So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.
Pretty soon you'll be on the downward slide, and it's not impossible that soon you'll be at the end. Good luck...
Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Essay Contest
The Writer and Gotham Writer's Workshop  are combining forces. Submit your best personal essay or memoir to their 2011 Essay/Memoir Contest by November  30 and you could win $1,000, publication in The Writer, and much more.  Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, will be the finalist judge.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You will never overcome your fear that your writing is insipid or incomprehensible or trivial--write in spite of the fear. ~ Paul Raymond Martin

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writing Prompt:
Write about a corpse. I'm serious as a heart attack here.

An example from the opening paragraph of Dredge, a short story by Matt Bell.
"The drowned girl drips everywhere, soaking the cheap cloth of the Ford's back seat. Punter stares at her from the front of the car, first taking in her long blond hair, wrecked by the pond's amphibian sheen, then her lips, blue where the lipstick's been washed away, flaky red where it hasn't. He looks into her glassy green eyes, both pupils so dilated the irises are just slivered halos, the right eye further polluted with burst blood vessels. She wears a lace-frilled gold tank top, a pair of acid wash jeans with grass stains on the knees and the ankles. A silver bracelet around her wrist throws off sparkles in the window-filtered moonlight, the same sparkle he saw through the lake's dark mirror, that made him drop his fishing pole and wade out, then dive in after her. Her feet are bare except for a silver ring on her left pinkie toe, suggesting the absence of sandals, flip-flops. Suggesting something lost in a struggle. Suggesting many things to Punter, too many for him to process all at once."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

photo by Alan Boutot
Melissa Coleman on Writing Hard Truths
As I've already mentioned in this blog, it's a special thrill for me when my readers, students, and clients are published. Such is the case with Melissa Coleman whose beautiful memoir This Life is in Your Hands has become a New York Times bestseller, has garnered great reviews, and was excerpted in O magazine. When I saw her read at Powells in June I noticed a woman who was glowing with happiness at the success of her book. In fact, I've never seen or heard a happier author.

Q: You wrote when blogging at powells.com (http://www.powells.com/blog/author/melissa-coleman/) that facing the truth of  your past was daunting to write about it and that sometimes you wrote while weeping. Do you have advice for writers writing from  these sort of difficult truths?A: My approach was to write about the events of my childhood as if I was trying to solve the mystery of what happened. I needed to understand for myself and the book why my sister had to die and why our good life, which had originally felt like paradise, had to be lost. I also felt a lot of guilt over what happened, and thought it was all my fault. Writing the first draft of this memoir turned out to be an opportunity to finally grieve the death of my sister and the breakup of my family, something I'd never had the chance to do in childhood. Then, as eventually happens with grieving, you break through to the joy you had before the loss. And in writing about the time before the loss, it felt as if I was bringing it and my sister back to life. This was incredibly therapeutic. In the next draft, it was necessary to go in with a critical eye and keep only what was moving the story forward. Those were generally the parts that had somehow transcended therapy to become art. They had been transformed from the day-to-day into something more universal, ie, innocence/paradise and its loss, and a family's struggle to preserver and go on after tragedy.

Q: Along those lines, when writing about difficult topics, how is  this best done with grace and compassion for all involved?A: I can only speak for myself here as there are many paths to grace. For me it was letting the events of the past settle down to their essence through the natural process of grieving. With acceptance of loss comes an acceptance of life. Once you can see the universal in the day to day, you can better accept the pain the events inflicted on you and have compassion for the characters involved.

As well, since the story begins before I was born and ends when I was nine, there was a lot of information I needed to uncover by talking to my parents and the others involved. By doing so, I found they also felt guilt about what happened and that gave me empathy and compassion when writing about them.

Q: How long did you write before you started working on your memoir?A: I've always wanted to be a writer and my first jobs were in magazines, where I wrote nonfiction articles. At age 30, I moved to Portland, Oregon and heard writer Ursula LeGuin say she believed that in our thirties, our childhood experience begins to "compost" into rich material for writing. I could feel that change occurring. I began to write two novels, one I called my "chick lit thriller" and the other a psychological mystery. I knew on some level they were just practice and that I might or might not seek to publish them. I sought out writers workshops, and found the weekly writers group with you, Jessica Morrell. The group workshop process helped me gain perspective on my writing and learn what was working and what wasn't. With the birth of my twin daughters I realized, thanks to my husband's encouragement, that I needed to write this memoir in order to make peace with the events of my childhood so I could move forward into the future with my own children.

Q: What helps you recall scenes and moments from the past and then render them onto the page?A: I started by filling notebooks with scraps of memories, hundreds of little details or snippets of things that I recalled, as well as the stories we told as a family. It's amazing what happens when you open that door, one memory leads to another memory to another. Every morning when I sat down to write, I would pull out one of these snippets of memory and write as much as I could about it without editing or looking back. I thought of each memory as a bead I was stringing on a necklace. Later, I went back and did extensive research and interviews with the people who were there to fill out and corroborate these memories. Often I would find that it was indeed as I had written it, and that my writer's brain had a better memory than my conscious one. More about this in a blog I wrote on "Finding the Aha Moments in Memoir." (http://grubdaily.org/?p=1405)

Q: You've sort of hit the jackpot as a writer with your book this  Life is in Your Hands being excerpted in O Magazine and  garnering great press and reviews. What's it like to receive this  kind of reception for your memoir?A: The true gift came in the writing of the book, and the peace I was able to find with the past through the process I've described. The rest has been a lovely bonus for which I'm infinitely grateful. I did also envision the best for this book along the way, being sure to feed the belief that it would be well received, so it has been wonderful to see that come to fruition.

Q: Since you have young twin daughters, what is your advice for  writers who also lead busy lives? 
Write in the mornings. Get up as early as you can (and still function) and write as much as possible before you are interrupted. Even if it's only 100 words a morning, then you can go on with your day and know you've done your work. And 100 words a morning for a month is 3,000 words, the length of a feature length magazine article. I found that in the mornings my brain is more attuned to metaphor. In the evenings my brain is more analytical and better for editing. I wrote the first draft of my book fast and furious in the mornings without looking back on anything I'd written before because that took away from writing. Once I had enough material to work with, I began to edit in the evenings after the kids were asleep. I did research and interviews on weekends, because I was also working a 9-5 job. It wasn't until I made the leap and left my job and was able to work on the book full time that everything came together, but I had already written most of it while working 30 hours a week and raising young children, so don't let either of those things stop you!

Q: What' your best writing advice in 10 words or less?
Write about what scares you until you're no longer afraid.

Q: Sushi or pasta?
Sushi, especially Bamboo Sushi in Portland, OR, which strives to use fish harvested sustainably.

Q: What's on your  night stand? 
: There are so many books I'm reading or looking forward to right now, most by writers I've been meeting on book tour:
These all from speaking at the Martha's Vineyard Book Festival:
Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
Townie, by Andre Dubus IIIEmperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Reading My Father, by Alexandra Styron
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports, by Kostya Kennedy
And others along the way:
Little Princes, by Conor Grennan
The O'Briens, by Peter Behrens
The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok
Tragedy of Arthur, by Arthur Phillips

Q: What's next for you? 
: It's been hard to write during book tour, so I'm looking forward to getting back to my morning writing routine and the chance to learn what my much wiser writer's brain has in store for the next book. I can't wait to find out, and will certainly keep you posted.

Thank you, Jessica, for your advice and support over the years, and for inviting me to your blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A talent is formed in stillness, a character in the stream of the world. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Friday, August 19, 2011

From my Division of Shameless Commerce: 

Story writing Intensive September 21-24 Manzanita, Oregon
Story Writing Intensive is open to writers serious about getting published. Our days and nights will be packed with one-on-one meetings, feedback sessions, lectures, and time to work on manuscripts (and walk on the beach).   Enrollment for this Intensive is limited to no more than 12 participants and is by application only. Those who wish to attend must register with a (refundable) $100 deposit and submit the first 4 pages (1000-1200 words) of a manuscript (short story, novel, memoir) and you’ll provide writing samples to all attendees. Tuition includes one catered lunch. Beverages and snacks will be provided and we will gather for a potluck dinner on Wednesday, September 21.

The deadline for submitting writing samples is September 10. total cost is $265.  
We begin Wednesday night, September 21 at 6:30 for a dinner, introductions and opening remarks. Concludes Saturday, September 24 at 9 p.m.
Contact me for more details about the schedule and lodging in Manzanita (a small coastal town about 15 miles south of Cannon Beach) Generous handouts will be provided.
 Expect a focus on:
The velocity of your opening page
Achieving momentum in your first chapter
Character arc
Your protagonist’s defining moment
Creating tension and suspense
Creating  unforgettable characters
Making readers care
Writing dialogue that sizzles
Pacing, pacing, pacing
Plot versus story
Levels of refinement
25 Reasons Why Your Manuscript is Rejected
is now posted at my website. (actually it turned out it's on the wrong page, but oh well) Go here to find it.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: putting characters to work
Hot and sunny here most days now and it feels like August. Not the August of my childhood where those mysterious 'dog days' kept us away from rivers and creeks, but the reliable heat of summer, and then the day ending with cooling breezes wafting in from the Pacific. My ankle is healing, my office is still not unpacked, but life is good.

And just a note, don't forget that NaNoWriMo is coming up in November.  It's your write your ass off challenge--that is finish 50,000 words in one, gulp, month. It might be just the thing to spark or jumpstart your writing life. A way to prove just how many words and stories you have within, although it's best to focus on one story during this blow out session.  Some of my students are planning on participating (one is already stocking her freezer!) and I'm urging other writers I know to jump in.

But on to a bit of advice on Putting Characters to Work: A fictional character’s chief job is to stimulate the reader’s emotions and sympathies while engaging his imagination. He/she does this by donning the work clothes of fiction. These are:
He offers opinions, facts and judgments
He tells anecdotes about important past events
He describes and reports on other characters, action, history, and data
He describes things or setting
He muses and ruminates
He interacts with other characters
He reacts to situations, especially threats
He makes decisions and choices
He has a mission goal in the story and in each scene.
Thought for the day: The good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her.  The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.  ~Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The estimable Katherine Anne Porter
via a Paris Review interview. For the full interview, go here. 
And here's an excerpt:
You were saying that you had never intended to make a career of writing.
I’ve never made a career of anything, you know, not even of writing. I started out with nothing in the world but a kind of passion, a driving desire. I don’t know where it came from, and I don’t know why—or why I have been so stubborn about it that nothing could deflect me. But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had—stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work I’ve ever done. I really started writing when I was six or seven years old. But I had such a multiplicity of half-talents, too: I wanted to dance, I wanted to play the piano, I sang, I drew. It wasn’t really dabbling—I was investigating everything, experimenting in everything. And then, for one thing, there weren’t very many amusements in those days. If you wanted music, you had to play the piano and sing yourself. Oh, we saw all the great things that came during the season, but after all, there would only be a dozen or so of those occasions a year. The rest of the time we depended upon our own resources: our own music and books. All the old houses that I knew when I was a child were full of books, bought generation after generation by members of the family. Everyone was literate as a matter of course. Nobody told you to read this or not to read that. It was there to read, and we read.
From an Editor's Desk: FLASHBACKS
“When you reach a moment of truth in such a story, you realize that that literary instant results from a confluence of a hundred facts and circumstances you’ve read earlier in the story. Every iota is a related, orderly part of a whole that cannot be taken out without damaging the overall structure. When you read a work that gives you this feeling, you know it was written by a master of transition.” James V. Smith, Jr.

Flashbacks are brief scenes of past events that take place before the main action of the novel. They’re used to explain motivations, character histories, background influences, or information that cannot be told during the linear sequence of a story. If a character is an adult when the novel begins, flashbacks are sometimes necessary to reveal how she or he evolved. The best flashbacks are small scenes, whole and sensory.

TECHNIQUES: The most effective flashbacks have a catalyst or device—a song, place, person, a sensory stimulation, an event that plunges the character into a memory. The key to writing flashbacks is that they must be integrated into the plot, while casting light on an issue or character.  Make the transition in and out of the flashback graceful. Use the past perfect tense (had been) as a doorway to the past, a signal to readers that you’re moving backward in time. Once it’s clear to the reader that you’ve returned in time, write in the simple past tense ore present tense if appropriate. When you’re ready to rejoin the story, use another doorway or device to slip into the present again—an unusual word, event, sensory awareness, object.
·   Remember, no matter how intriguing, flashbacks stop the story, so use sparingly.
·   Consider using flashbacks to prolong the outcome, milk the suspense, or slow the pace.
·   Flashbacks are best introduced during lulls in the story or when a character is alone as a good means to enliven a static scene. 
·   Make certain that the flashback is memorable.
·   Bring the reader back to the present through the same doorway that you left it.
·   Don’t solely rely on flashbacks to fill in back story.  There are often more effective and artful ways of revealing information.
·    Avoid jumping from one flashback directly into another.
·    Create clear transitions so that the reader is never lost or confused.
·     If your story is written in the present tense, write the flashback in the past tense. If the story is written in the past tense, the flashback should start in past perfect, then slip into past tense.
·    If most of the story is about a character’s past, use a frame structure which is essentially one long flashback.
·    Never use flashbacks in climatic scenes.
·    Do not use flashback solely to characterize and thus replace dramatic scenes.
·    Be brief. Illustrate the information, then quickly return to the story.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"I don't teach writing.  I teach patience.  Toughness.  Stubbornness.  The willingness to fail.  I teach the life.  The odd thing is most of the things that stop an inexperienced writer are so far from the truth as to be nearly beside the point.  When you feel global doubt about your talent, that IS your talent.  People who have no talent don't have any doubt."  
--Richard Bausch, from Off the Page: Writers talk about Beginnings, Endings and Everything in Between.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Overcast again this morning.
File this one under Inspiration:One of my clients, Deborah  Reed just received a great review of her upcoming book Carry Yourself Back to Me at Publisher's Weekly.    It's a story that will linger with you.

I talk about resonance a lot in writing and here's link to a column on the topic at my website and the first paragraph:
One of my goals in teaching and writing this year is to stress that all writers need raw and abiding respect for their readers. One way to respect readers is to write prose that resonates.  Resonance is writing that is layered and evocative and musical. Resonant writing touches the many layers in the reader. When writing has resonance it has depth, richness, associations, and echoes.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Round up of Opportunities, etc.
Blue is poking out among the clouds this afternoon, but mostly it has been overcast and still on this August Saturday. While my office still has boxes scattered around, the rest of the house is coming together. A few days ago I sprained my left ankle, so I need to spend some time off my feet.  So again, if I'm AWOL around here, that's the reason. I was out running errands yesterday and the results were disastrous. Even sitting at my desk is painful and my foot throbs to a beat only it can hear. But despite the injury,  I'm slowly coming back to my daily routine and once again appreciating what a comfort and ballast a routine can bring to a busy life. If your routine has gone awry you might want to consider ways to lassoo it back in place.

Meanwhile, here are a few things you might want to read or contests you might want to enter:

If you're wallowing in why-is-the-publishing-industry-ignoring-me blues, check out this article about how Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before her best-selling book The Help was picked up. 
It begins: "If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, “She never gives up.” But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, “She. Never. Gives. Up.”

It took me a year and a half to write my earliest version of The Help. I’d told most of my friends and family what I was working on. Why not? We are compelled to talk about our passions. When I’d polished my story, I announced it was done and mailed it to a literary agent.

Six weeks later, I received a rejection letter from the agent, stating, “Story did not sustain my interest.” I was thrilled! I called my friends and told them I’d gotten my first rejection! Right away, I went back to editing. I was sure I could make the story tenser, more riveting, better.

A few months later, I sent it to a few more agents. And received a few more rejections. Well, more like 15. I was a little less giddy this time, but I kept my chin up. “Maybe the next book will be the one,” a friend said. Next book? I wasn’t about to move on to the next one just because of a few stupid l-etters. I wanted to write this book.

A year and a half later, I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry. “You have so much resolve, Kathryn,” a friend said to me. “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?”
That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas, slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubbornness."

And leads me to ask: are you stubborn?

Calling all Oregon poets: go to www.oregonpoets.org for details about  the Oregon Poetry Association's contest.

Narrative Poetry Contest sponsored by Naugatuck River Review publication and $. Go to this link for more details.

Cowboy Short Story Contest by Moonlight Mesa Associates. Go to this link for more details. Both contest deadlines are September 1.
My Autumn 2011 workshop and critique group schedule is now available at http://jessicamorrell.com/?page_id=45

And here's an interesting piece at salon.com about ghostwriters who continue blockbuster series after the authors' deaths. 

Time to put my foot up. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

From an Editor's Desk:
Sensory details penetrate the reader's memory and imagination; revealing specialness, importance, the places in the story where the reader should take note. When the senses are tangible they haunt the reader.
Expendable Words:
a little              definitely              perhaps                   so
almost             even                      probably                  some
anyway            exactly                  proceeded by          somewhat
at the present time                      owing to the fact      started to
began to          fairly                    quite                         such
by means of    in spite of the fact that                         usually
certainly          in the event of     real/really                very
considering the fact that             seem                        with the possible exception of
                    is/was/were          since the time when     when and if
                         just                      slightly                      which  

Root out  clutter, throat clearing, or whatever you want to call these expendable words. Guilty? I know I am.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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"Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make them what we will. It's a way of explaining the universe while leaving the universe unexplained, it's a way of keeping it all alive, not boxing it into time. Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I don't believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots. It's all there but hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end. The best you can do is admire the cat's cradle, and maybe knot it up a bit more. History should be a hammock fit's still a ball of string full of knots. Nobody should mind. Some people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, children, when bright, can come top. It's an all-purpose rainy day pursuit, this reducing of stories called history.or swinging and a game for playing, the way cats play. Claw it, chew it, rearrange it and at bedtime it's still a ball of string full of knots. Nobody should mind. Some people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, people make a lot of money out of it. Publishers do well, children, when bright, can come top. It's an all-purpose rainy day pursuit, this reducing of stories called history." ~ Jeanette Winterson
"When we let ourselves respond to poetry, to music, to pictures, we are clearing a space where new stories can root, in effect we are clearing a space for new stories about ourselves."
~Jeanette Winterson

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Researchers have shown that the human brain pays more attention to beginnings and endings, and that people also remember them best.   So, 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. Emphasis can also push the story ahead and create tension. 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 suggest meaning 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, heartbreaking 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.
Keep writing, keep dreaming have heart

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Writing Prompt:
Write about a character's broken places.

Monday, August 01, 2011

From an Editor's Desk: The sky outside my office window epitomizes summer. I'm working on a lecture on writing action scenes for the upcoming Willamette Writers Conference. Action scenes need to be emotionally engaging, realistic, and simmering with tension. They also need a strong sense of immediacy. When creating an action scene  start with your motivation for writing it. Are you revealing or increasing danger? Upping the stakes?  Showcasing fault lines in a relationship?  Exposing the truth? Staging a confrontation?
In science there is a dictum: don't add an experiment to an experiment. Don't make things unnecessarily complicated. In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story.
- Ben Bova
There are two kinds of writers: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
~ Brian Aldiss