"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, March 26, 2013

Registration for Summer in Words 2013 is now open

Dates: June 20-23
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Experience: beyond words
Go here for schedule and registration form.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Telling Details Part 2

Start with the Tangible

Specific details are concrete and make abstract concepts understandable, emotions real, and fuzzy ideas clear. Details penetrate the reader’s memory, senses and imagination    As in the real world, the naming of things—bird species, street names, architecture styles—brings accuracy and proximity and reveals a writer hard at work. Don’t mention categories of things such as cats, trees, or cars, instead, bring us closer. Thus write about a Siamese with her distinctive baby whine, comical-looking calicos, a lacy hemlock, an aged Volvo, or a sleek Jaguar of baby blue with white leather interior.
            Use tangible details to reveal the tangles and the complicated, interwoven density of everyday life and relationships. In Barry Lopez’s essay Grown Men, he pays tribute to three men beginning with these lines:
I returned from a week of camping the high desert of eastern Oregon, a respite from the twilight and winter rains on the west side of the Cascade Mountains where I live, to find a letter with a straightforward message, that Odey Cassell was dead.
It had been a year for deaths. My mother had died of cancer in Lenox Hill hospital in New York. An uncle I was close to died of a heart attack among strangers in the Atlanta airport. I had lost with their fading a sense of family, as though the piers had suddenly gone out from the veranda of an ancestral southern home and revealed it abandoned.”

            Tangible details bring the people in nonfiction to life with ringing clarity as in this example from Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory: “A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid.” 

The real world is made up of things—Cumulus clouds, paperback books and ladderback chairs, champagne flutes and good Bordeaux, your favorite pen, your prized red boots, the sofa clothed in tapestry, the belching city bus, the gloomy winter sky. Because the power of our stories will lie in the details. Details pull the readers into a fictional story, give them a sense of place, describe characters and action, reveal tension. In nonfiction details perform these same tasks and are needed to make experiences poignant, sensory, and alive.
The trick is to choose details that are so vital that the writing will suffer without them. Details should affect the outcome of the piece and make us understand theme and meaning

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Telling Details, part 1

The sun is out in Portland this morning, and as with every spring, the colors and blooms are magical. I know that might sound trite, but it seems that the particular shades of pink blossoms ,both soft and vibrant, are impossibly lovely. Some of the trees look like they're spun with fairy cotton, or come from a dream world.

As usual, I've been working on clients' manuscripts and have lately read some quality stories. But sometimes I notice that writers inject details that do little to bring the story alive.  They'll describe a character's hair color for example, or height, or the color of a suit.  These details are specific, yet the scene still feels drained of lifeblood.

Details have a lot of accomplish: they impart information, but  must also capture an essence, must pull us into the fictional world, must make us believe in the reality of that world. The right detail illuminates. If you're describing a character the best details will reveal his or her mood, disposition, lifestyle. Telling details will bring a character or moment into sharp focus. You see, if the reader can somehow enter the world you’re describing in the same way he lives in the real world and enters a fiction story, then he will understand the ideas, emotions, and truths that you’re revealing.

 So I want to know if  the character's hair color is real. Does the character stoop or stand tall? Is the suit expensive or gleaned at a second-hand store? Beautiful manicure or bitten-down nails? Does his or her skin tone suggest health, well being, excitement, illness?  Worn shoes or Jimi Choos? Here's an example from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck is describing his father: There warn't no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man's white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body's flesh crawl--a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white." Notice how those details made you feel something about Huck's father.

 Try this: whenever you meet a person for the first time or visit a home you've never been in before, search for the telling details that reveal that person.
Keep writing, keep noticing, have heart

Friday, March 22, 2013

Did You Self-Publish a Book?
Whether you're a professional writer, a part-time freelancer, or a writing enthusiast who took the leap and published your own book, this competition is for you! The Writer's Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards is the premier competition exclusively for self-published books - and we're currently accepting entries!
What's in it for you?
  • A chance to win $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:
  • Children's/Picture books
  • Genre Fiction
  • Inspirational (Spiritual, New Age)
  • Life Stories (Biographies, Autobiographies, Family Histories, Memoirs)
  • Mainstream/Literary Fiction
  • Middle-Grade/Young Adult books
  • Nonfiction
  • Poetry
  • Reference Books (Directories, Encyclopedias, Guide Books)
Mark your calendar! The early-bird deadline for entries is April 1.
Enter Now!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Good news from Planet Published:

Best-selling Self-Published Author Jennifer L. Armentrout Signs Six-Figure, Three-Book Deal With HarperCollins for Wait for You

Here's an exciting story about stamina, faith, and story ideas that arrive in the shower. We all get them, don't we?
Check out the link here.
Here are the first paragraphs: After the huge success of her self-published best-seller Wait for You, hybrid author Jennifer L. Armentrout has signed a three-book, six-figure deal with HarperCollins imprint Avon for Wait for You and two other upcoming books in the series.

Prior to Wait for You, which she published under the pen name J. Lynn, Armentrout had published 13 other books with indie publishers Spencer Hill Press and Entangled Publishing. She currently has upcoming books with Harlequin (end of 2013) and Hyperion (2014). The deal was negotiated by her agent Kevan Lyon of the Solana Beach, Calif.-based agency Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and is a “major deal,” the highest category in book deal database Publishers Marketplace.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart


You might want to check out today's Writer's Almanac poem Fiction by Lisel Mueller which begins:
Going south, we watched spring
unroll like a proper novel:


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I Write

A squadron of geese just flew overhead in a cloud-pocked sky, daffodils and crocuses are appearing along with the first plum blossoms. Ever since I moved here I've always thought that Portland in spring was a large version of a fairy kingdom. And every spring I feel stirred by the rebirth of the new green, the first flowers, the softer air. I've been asking Facebook friends about why they write. For some of us writing is a natural part of life, as natural as breathing, as necessary as air.   Here's a piece to join in that conversation:

"Words are the elemental sea I crawled out of. My book, this story of mine was whispering in my ears as I was born. And those words are who I am. So daily my magnetic heart draws to itself, like fine metal filings, words; books, street signs, car logos, menus. I have a favorite window seat at the library, a pale wooden table with a heavy straight chair. My writing spot. The passing traffic occasionally draws my page weary eyes; the clouds and their shadows guide some deeper thoughts. It is late May and the blooms of bright flowers are starting to hang out of the planters, shading the street corners with purple and yellow; colors priming the dark asphalt for summer paint. Every Tuesday I watch that man with his singular rustic plowman's stride, pushing his grocery cart, wrapped in shiny black plastic, mounded with his harvest of soda cans and noisy bottles. Just now a child in a dark parka, wearing pink and green polka dot tights and red cowboy boots dances up the library stairs. She looks up at my window. Does she see me? The lost and found rack is full of coats and hats. Who walked away without that bright green sweater? And that hat, wouldn't you think you would know right away something was missing? Time to begin. Well, just a sec. Take a quick peek into this new book. And there, topping Chapter One, is sentence one, a Graham Greene quote: "A story has no beginning or end. The author simply chooses a moment, an arbitrary point, and looks either forward or back". Graham Greene says today I can start anywhere. Why? If I didn 't, you might not see the dancing child, the striding man, or, of course, that hat." ~  Mary Lou McAuley

Monday, March 11, 2013

"What does it feel like to be alive?
Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly back up, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!
It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation's short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit."
  ~Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

Saturday, March 09, 2013

To be really great in the little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.” 

       ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe