"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, April 30, 2013

Quick Take:

Whether you're writing a short story or novel, the problem at the center of the story should be the biggest, baddest, scariest one ever faced by your protagonist. Which means if you're writing a series, things just keep getting worse and worse for your protagonist.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Monday, April 29, 2013

You write in order to change the world…. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” -James Baldwin

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thought for today: Writer's Block

I've said it before and I'll say it again and again. There is no such malaise called writer's blog. It's just another way of saying (or perhaps not admitting)  I'm lazy. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Perhaps you, too, have a coach of the interior like mine – bald and cruel, shaking his sweaty pate at your sloth, ridiculing your sentences, professionally contemptuous. Extremely foul-mouthed. A definite misogynist. A voice that reads over your shoulder and snorts with derision at your characters’ dialogue. A voice in cahoots with every other voice that has ever criticized your efforts and ambitions and haircut. He pretends to be all kinds of things: the Voice of Reason, the Voice of Tough Love. But he is a tyrant. He is the enemy of fiction writing. His “pep talks” are actually spells of paralysis, designed to rob you of all confidence and happiness. In order to write your novel, you must get rid of this sadist. Do whatever it takes to shut him up. Chloroform him; drag him by his white Reebox behind the dugout; bury his shrill, censorious whistle. Then return to your green, blank, mercifully silent playing field, and write. ~ Karen Russell

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Writing a novel is gathering smoke. It's an excursion into the ether of ideas. There's no time to waste. You must work with that idea as well as you can, jotting down notes and dialogue." ~ Walter Mosley Find the complete piece here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


eep Fiction: The Anchor Scenes
    Taught by Jessica Morrell

May 11, 9:30-4:30
Tabor Space, 5441 S.E. Belmont
Cost: $75

The task of a novelist or memoirist is to tell a story so riveting that it will hold a reader’s attention for hundreds of pages. This requires intimate knowledge of characters, their inner lives, and central dilemma. It also requires an understanding of plot, the sequence of events that take readers from beginning to end.
These events won’t hang together without a compelling structure that underlies the whole—the essential scenes that every story needs to create drive, tension, conflict, climax, and resolution.  These must-have scenes in your story, especially the plot points and reversals, power stories forward.
 The anchor scenes we’ll cover are: Inciting Incident, First Plot Point, Mid-point Reversal, Dark night of the Soul,  The Point of No Return, Climax, and Resolution.  We’ll discuss how the protagonist stars in these scenes, how they’re emotionally charged, and build the plot. By the end of the workshop participants will have outlined these crucial scenes and know how change is the basis for scene writing. As part of the lecture we’ll be discussing the anchor scenes in The Old Man and the Sea and the film Witness.   Comprehensive handouts will be included and space is limited.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nonfiction query letters that actually  worked

find them here
I interviewed the great Betsy Lerner some years ago. I asked her what her number one advice for writers is and she replied, "Learn how to write a beautiful query letter."
Even in changing times this holds true. 

You might also be interested in Chuck Sambuchino's agent query series. 
And this reminds me, I have a few that need writing also....

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Realistic Pain: Hurting Your Darlings

It's an overcast in Portland, the sky the color of washed-out steel. Which means I might not sneak in any gardening today although I've got lots to put in the ground and plants to move.

I'm working on a fiction manuscript for a client and in it the protagonist suffers from chronic pain. It's written in first person and it's teaching me how difficult it is to portray chronic pain in that viewpoint. The writer is striving for accuracy, and it's got me thinking about how often a reader needs to learn about the physical  state of the character. We need to know if he or she is at half strength before and during an action or climax scene. But if your character has a ongoing condition, after a while, the reader will assume the pain persists.

Now I'm all for a deep point of view and realistic depictions. How often have you read a novel where a main character has been riding a horse for twelve hours, then is stabbed in the shoulder, only  to jump off the horse and take down a bad guy, with no repercussions of the wound for the remainder of the story? I don't know about you, but when an injury or medical condition isn't portrayed accurately I'm yanked away from the story, and find myself annoyed at the writer. There needs to be the injury, the immediate reaction to the injury, the treatment and ramifications.  

Here's a resource that I stumbled onto  that will help create realistic broken bones and injuries--in your  characters, that is.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

23 fiction query letters that actually worked

Find them here

Hint from AgentQuery: “A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less … A query letter has three concise paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography. Don’t stray from this format. You won’t catch an agent’s attention by inventing a creative new query format. You’ll just alienate your chances of being taken seriously as a professional writer. A query letter is meant to elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript to the agent.”

"A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the - not always greatly hopeful - belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are under way: they are making toward something. Toward what? Toward something standing open, occupiable, perhaps toward an addressable Thou, toward an addressable reality."  - Paul Celan

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pulitzer Prize winners

A big congratulations to all the Pulitzer prize winners. Special appreciation for selecting the brave and powerful Sharon Olds for her Stags Leap.
Here is a lovely photo of her and information on Stags Leap in Vogue. Yes, I said Vogue.
Find all the winners here. 

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Quick Take: Your setting must induce tension

Check out Jack London's example: 
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozenhearted Northland Wild. White Fang, Jack London

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Quick Take: Protagonist

The protagonist in your story is the person who is going to be most hurt and changed by the events in the story. Protagonists must possess: purpose (a need,  desire, or goal, which provides motivation); credibility (proof that he or she is capable and deserves to achieve goal), empathy (enduring when encountering daunting obstacles so readers identify with his or her struggle) and complexity (a knowable inner life, combined with the flaws or contradictions that complicate the situation).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Summer in Words update

Enrollments for Summer in Words 2013 are coming in fast.
Don't wait until the last minute to register or you might not get a spot....

All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction. ~ Steve Almond

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

You must be able to step inside your character’s skin and at the same time to remain outside the dicey circumstances you have maneuvered her into. I can’t remember how many times I advised students to stop writing the sunny hours and write from where it hurts: “No one wants to read polite. It puts them to sleep." ~ Annie Bernays

Words are only painted fire; a book is the fire itself.”

 ~ Mark Twain


Friday, April 05, 2013

R.I.P. Roger Egbert

“When I am writing, my problems become invisible, and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.”

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline
 “We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.” ~ Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

It's the birthday of Émile Zola, born 2 April 1840, died 29 September 1902
  1. If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.
  2. Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest.
  3. The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.
  4. If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.
  5. Everything is only a dream.
  6. There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.
  7. One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines....The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.
Émile Zola Born in Paris (1840). He was inspired by reading Charles Darwin to try to apply scientific principles of observation to the practice of writing fiction. The result was a 20-novel cycle, a kind of fictional documentary about the influence of heredity and environment on an extended family. It was called Les Rougon-Macquart. Some of the novels of the cycle include The Drunkard (1877), Nana (1880), and Germinal (1885). source The Writers Almanac

Monday, April 01, 2013

"There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it?"
  ~Annie Dillard