"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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"I know it’s a cliché, but write the book of your heart.  Jumping on a trend bandwagon won’t work if that type of book isn’t one you’re passionate about writing." Shauna Summers, Executive Editor, Ballantine Bantam Dell
Gain Exposure For Your Self-Published Book!
You've put countless hours into writing your book and perfecting it for publication. You did your homework, and found the right self-publisher for you. Now, give your book the exposure and accolades it deserves - enter the Writer's Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards!
You could win:
  • Up to $3000 in cash
  • National exposure for your work
  • The attention of prospective editors and publishers
  • A paid trip to the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City!
Early Bird Deadline: April 1, 2013
Enter Now!
Enter your book into one or more of these categories:
  • Mainstream/Literary Fiction
  • Genre Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Inspirational (Spiritual, New Age)
  • Life Stories (Biographies, Autobiographies, Family Histories, Memoirs)
  • Children's/Picture books
  • Middle-Grade/Young Adult books
  • Reference Books (Directories, Encyclopedias, Guide Books)
  • Poetry
Read the rules and get the details: Writer's Digest Self-Published Awards
Greetings from the Oregon Historical Society:
It is not too late to begin your diary or journal for the Oregon Historical Society's George Himes Prize competition.  We will accept journals or diaries containing entries for any period of time between October 1, 2012, and September 1, 2013.  The deadline for submissions is September 10, 2013.  For more details, rules of the contest, and entry forms, please see our website at http://www.ohs.org/research/library/diary-contest.cfm   Prizes are $1000 in the adult category and $500 in the junior division.  All submissions will become part of the OHS Library's collections.
If you have any questions concerning the contest, please contact us at  libreference@ohs.org  or leave us a message at 503-306-5240.
We look forward to seeing your work.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"There are only two worlds - your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. These worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power; provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters."
  ~Neil Gaiman, The Books of Magic

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Quick Take: Telephone Dialogue
The rains have returned to Portland, I'm working on my Making It in Changing Times Conference coming up on Saturday, (still a few spaces left writer friends) and generally trying to stick to the tasks that have piled up. So I just want to make a quick point: telephone dialogue is tricky to get right. I've worked on several manuscripts where the writer depicts both sides of the conversation. These conversations were always fairly obvious--each person earnestly stating his or her intentions, needs, opinions.  Nothing left to chance. Which  means nothing left to the imagination.

Here's an example from Jess Walter's Citizen Vince that I believe works better.
...After a minute Vince goes to the front of the diner and drops a quarter into a pay phone. Dials.
      "Hey. Is he in?"
      "It's Vince. You up for a game of chess?"
      "Oh, come on. Why do I gott do itlike that?"
      "Jesus. Okay, okay . . .this is twenty-four-fourteen. I need to come in. There. How's that?"
      I need to see you now. Today."
     "Of course it's an emergency. What do you think?"

This makes me want to know what  happens next. How about you?

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch." ~Lili St. Crow

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It’s crucial that writers keep on top of what’s happening in the publishing world. Especially in these days of dizzying changes and wide-open opportunities. With this in mind, every January, the Making It in Changing Times Mini-Conference brings together writers and some of the Northwest’s most accomplished authors and teachers. Our purpose is to outline options for getting published, teach craft to improve your writing, and provide savvy to succeed in today's fiercely competitive market.

Participants can expect encouragement, expertise, insights, and inspiration. The information provided is especially practical and can be immediately put to use.

Keynote address: Lidia Yuknavitch, The Worth of Risk

Also featuring Jessica Morrell, Deborah Reed, Gigi Rosenberg and Kevin Sampsell

Saturday, January 26th, 8:30-5:30
Tabor Space, 5441 S.E. Belmont, Portland, Oregon
Cost: $99 includes Continental breakfast and lunch

Complete schedule is at www.jessicamorrell.com/?page_id=45

Contact Jessica Morrell conference coordinator at jessicapage(at)spiritone(dot)com 
Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of the anti-memoir The Chronology of Water, the novel Dora: A Headcase: A Modern Farce, three books of short stories and a book of literary criticism on war and narrative. She is the founder of chiasmus press, she doesn't see much of a distinction between genres any longer, she publishes widely and without apology, and she is a very, very good swimmer.

The Risk of Worth: What are the risks worth taking on the page and in the world? How do we evolve the art and practice of writing without losing heart? There are some risks worth taking and some risks that are merely a trompe l'oeil...from page to world and back again. Find out more about Lidia at lidiayuknavitch.net

Friday, January 18, 2013

Put Weather in It

 It's so foggy this morning that the giant Douglas firs at the park on the corner are only shadows. Fog seems the ultimate in mood-inducing weather. As if anything can happen and the world is muffled in mystery. For years while teaching I used the beginning of Peter Robinson's suspense tale, Innocent Graves as an example. It's part of his Alan Banks series and the story is about a beautiful young girl found murdered in a fog-shrouded graveyard in Yorkshire.

It's a story beginning with an effective set up:  "The night it all began, a thick fog rolled down the dale and enfolded the town of Eastvale in its shroud. Fog in the market square, creeping in the cracks between the cobbles; fog muffling the sound of laughter from the Queen's Arms and muting the light through its red and amber panes; fog rubbing and licking against cool glass in curtained windows and insinuating its way through tiny gaps under doors."

In these two sentences you've got foreshadowing (The night it all began and shroud), parallelism, terrific verbs,  and deliciously-creepy images all establishing the tone and mood of the story. 

In Robinson's story the fog hides the murderer and the suspects that are roaming the town, hidden.  Weather not only makes a story believable, it  can cause things to happen (thing The Shining  and The Body by Stephen King, create mood (anything written by Edgar Allen Poe), add to tension, (it was a dark and stormy night).   It's uses are too many to mention, but here are a few. Weather affects us every day and needs to affect your story people. Weather can be an event and can be a game changer in a story (The Wizard of Oz, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice when Jane is caught in a heavy downpour ). Weather anchors a story, can be used for symbolism, subtext and to reflect a character's mood. It can be used for dramatic irony such as finding a body in a lovely, sun-drenched garden. It sets an emotional tone such as sun bursting through after a dangerous storm. It can induce physical texture in the story--the cold biting, the rain covering a clue, mud making the path dangerous and slippery.

You can find more examples in my book Between the Lines in the chapter called Sensory Surround. 

I leave you again with my oft-cited advice: Put weather in it.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Writing Life Newsletter

was emailed today. If you didn't receive it or need to update your email address, please contact me.
My column is called Deep Roots.....
It includes this:

Writing is making meaning from all that is within us, all we have experienced. It is these deeply-held experiences and brushes with destiny that we need to mull over. Now, these experiences can be transformed into any form—poems or stories or plays. But they all need to start from some profound knowledge or emotion, a tap root if you will. Maybe you experienced or witnessed injustice. Maybe you always picked the wrong men or women. Maybe someone you loved died too young. Maybe sexual or gender identity have always fascinated you. Maybe your family was scarred by war. Maybe your grandfather was a fisherman. Maybe you always felt left out of the fold. Maybe your family is a matriarchy.  Maybe someone you adored left you. Write from emotional honesty—your true roots.
"Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film." ~ Ansel Adams

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Frank Conroy on superfluous details:

From The Writer's Almanac
"He was invited to the University of Iowa as a last-minute teaching replacement, and he ended up directing the Iowa Writers' Workshop for 18 years. He once scolded a student for using irrelevant details in her short story. He said: "The author makes a tacit deal with the reader. You hand them a backpack. You ask them to place certain things in it — to remember, to keep in mind — as they make their way up the hill. If you hand them a yellow Volkswagen and they have to haul this to the top of the mountain — to the end of the story — and they find that this Volkswagen has nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you're going to have a very irritated reader on your hands."

Monday, January 14, 2013

"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space." Johnny Cash from yesterday's The Writers Alamanac

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Write What You Can Handle

A number of manuscripts I’ve read or worked on over that years have always haunted me. These were written by beginning writers although I’m not certain that they’d classify themselves as beginning writers.  I don’t have a clear definition for beginning writer, just like I cannot classify certain colors of the sky. As I look out my window now the sky is smoke colored. But how to name it?

Some beginning writers plug away at their first story for 3 or 4 years. Some more. Some dabble; some earnestly apply themselves to the task and keep improving.

The ones that I’ve read and wish I hadn’t often feature similar problems. Most are constructed from a grandiose plot, a bloated cast of characters, and innumerable subplots, and they’re usually written in a genre the writer doesn’t actually read much. Often these stories take place in far-away lands the writer has never visited and feature heroes that are as unlike the writer as raisins are unlike jalapeno peppers. These stories are usually doomed.

Here’s the thing: Forget about the advice about writing what you know. Write what you can handle. Start with a comprehensible tale with a handful or so of characters. This  story should unfold in your imagination, as if you’re watching a 3-D movie. It needs a simple, clearly-drawn dramatic question (Who murdered John?) as its basis and sharply-etched conflict. (John was murdered because Alex, the murderer, wanted his wife).

Resist being all fancy and elevated and don’t wander hither and yon. Don’t preach; don’t include stream of consciousness musings about the nature of creativity. Don’t put yourself in the story, especially as a talented and overlooked writer unless you’re writing a memoir or essay. Don’t write a story based on a knotty topic you know nothing about and will take years of research. Most which you accomplish on the internet.  

Write the simplest possible plot based on a timeless theme: forgiveness, justice, freedom, love. Write about emotions you understand, although they might be pitched higher than what has happened to you.

Keep it simple. And yes, high concept and simple can co-exist in your story. Craft beautiful sentences and breathe life into characters. Don’t keep adding until you’ve got a Gaudi-style behemoth.   

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Continuing my bits or Bitter Truths series here.
Whereby I espouse cautionary tidbits about the writing life.

Balance might not be possible all the time.
For years now I’ve heard much talk about balance, as in work-life balance. For years I also pursued it and actually still do. Each person has his or her own definition of this oft-elusive quality. For some it might mean exercising more and fretting less. Or spending that elusive quality time with their kids. For me it means that whatever I’m doing, I’m not fretting that I should be doing something else. So that I can be present with the moment.

Quick Take:

Don't dangle threads without dealing with them. When you raise a question or a problem in a story, do so intending to eventually deal with it/solve it/resolve before the  story ends Dealing with it can be as simple as acknowledging the problem isn't going to be solved within the space of the story, but the acknowledgment needs to be there or the reader will believe the writer simply forgot about it. 

Now, not all subplots need to be wrapped up in a complicated story. But if a subplot is not resolved (and it too has a beginning, middle and end) then the reader still needs a sense of the eventual resolution or that this is an ongoing situation. Meaning a subplot cannot just disappear as the story goes along.