"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Stories We Tell

Do you do this? Tape favorite quotes, poems and passages around your writing nook? Below are some of my notes to self and advice from the masters I've underlined in books and taped to the walls. Stuff I've learned on this writing journey but still need constant reminders of. How about you? Maybe there is something here you can use, something you, too, need reminding of.

Writers must read. (Don't assume everyone does. I'll never forget a young man in one of my creative writing classes who announced smugly, "I don't read. I only write.") Read voraciously in many genres. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent reading.
In order to write, a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
-Dr. Samuel Johnson

Secondly write. Write insatiably. Write like you’re dying. Write, write, write.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
- Ray Bradbury

The topic doesn’t matter. POV doesn’t matter. Genre doesn’t matter. The quality of the writing is all that matters. The art of writing itself is all that matters.

Your first paragraph must be as good as your last. The critical moment which propels your story forward MUST happen in the first 30 pages. "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is one exception that quickly comes to mind. I kept reading only because so many people told me it was good. But it took 100 pages to grab me. Most of us won’t have 100 pages to fool around with.

The stories we tell must set off the vivid and continuous dream, famed author and writing teacher John Gardner so often talked about, wherein the reader instantly forgets that they’re reading printed words on a page.

Improve your vocabulary, not with grandiose tongue-twisters but with small forgotten words. Gardner recommends that you go through the dictionary and write down all the relatively short, relatively common words that you would not ordinarily think to use, and then make an effort to use them as if they’d come to you naturally. Avoid trite, clich├ęd, and sentimental phrases like the scabies, "anything that would distract an intelligent, senstive reader from the vivid and continuous dream."

The characters we knock around must be interesting. The stories we tell must first and foremost be stories.
The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.
-John le Carre

I'd like to end with a wonderfully appropriate parable for the season that was passed on to me from my sister, the editor.

A grandmother is explaining life to her Granddaughter:

"There is a battle going on inside me. It is a fierce battle between 2 wolves. The first wolf is Evil: hatred, anger, greed, envy, ego, sorrow, regret. The second is Good: love, compassion, peace, joy, hope, empathy, serenity.

The same battle is going on inside you and everybody else."

The granddaughter asks, "Which wolf will win"?

The grandmother replies simply, "The one you feed".


I wish all my writerly friends an inspired writing life as laid out in Poets and Writers. While you're there, check out their concise list of contests, grants and awards and literary mags taking submissions. Many of these contests run through the end of January.

Happy New Year. May peace and storytelling reign in 2012. Feed the good wolf and go write some stories.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Zen Of Repetition

Driving home from the hospital,
we say the rosary.
I forget a line in the Our Father
and mumble a replacement.
He finishes for me.
How could I forget
that which was memorized at the knee
of Sister Severe?
Swimming upstream in the wake of his narrative
I navigate the mysteries.
Is it the joyful or the
sorrowful we parley?
He stumbles on the words-
they fall into his handkerchief.
I finish for him.
The miles pass unnoticed
and the mysteries come to an end
but the road continues
and the day approaches
when there won’t be anyone left to finish
that which is forgotten.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Friday Flash 55

Love Me Hard

She picks up the disfigured,
the alcoholic and deranged.
She plays pool all night
and never pays.
The man with a limp,
and the lost lazy eye,
the scoundrels and the cads,
she plays with them all.
She takes them home and loves them hard.
They say that they’re lonely,
so why don’t they call?


If you can tell a story in 55 words, post it and let the most superb host from coast to coast know about it. He can be found HERE, ringing a bell. I had to do this one last time for 2011.
Now,
Tell me a story, tell me a story....

Saturday, December 17, 2011

So You Say You're A Writer?

I don’t like these monotonous gray skies, these decrepit clouds that can’t even deliver a good snowfall, these bleak windswept nights that encircle the crumbling brick of an unfinished house, cold as bare shoulders in an unheated room. Monotony, how wicked is your winter. I don’t like it when someone asks, “What did you do all day?” Knowing full well that I whittled the hours away putting thoughts into words and writing them down.

If I were braver, I would say, “I wrote. That’s all I did."

Writing warms this winter floor and turns monotonous gray skies blue. So, no, I didn’t bake anything or clean anything or visit the sick or feed the poor. Why should any of those things be more admirable than writing? More acceptable? Or is this just a misconception that rests in me? I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to pat myself on the back for any of those things. So why do I cower behind my written words like a plagiarist? There isn’t anything more painstaking than writing, nothing that takes more time, perseverance, memory, and intellect.

Our society measures success by money. Simple truth. So as a writer, most of us live outside the circle of society. If we are to live off our writing, we live outside the needs of society. We work at odd jobs that take as little of our time as possible yet keep us off the dole. We read meters and deliver newspapers and survive dog bites. We wait tables and stock shelves and work for temp agencies. We turn down full time jobs and full time money so we have time to write. We turn down the heat and buy second hand. We live on the fringe and that takes courage. Courage to stand up and say "I'm a writer." It's more than just putting writer as your occupation on your income tax return (though that is very gratifying). It’s putting yourself out there, facing rejection and the inevitable questions, because let’s face it, most people don't know the six questions not to ask a writer.

So they ask.

I have questions of my own. The Protestor was named Time's Person Of The Year, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is on my mind. As I browsed my local bookstore, I kept seeing dumpsters full of books. Would we throw away our books if ordered to do so? Stand idly by and let someone else do it? Would we raise a hand to the oncoming tank? Would we object to police drones flying overhead? If it all comes down around us tomorrow, would we still have the courage to write?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Three Contests of Literary Importance

Winter is the submission season and here are three contests to get you warmed up.

Elana Johnson is doing a query letter critique giveaway. This one is for one day only so enter TODAY.

Next, there are only three weeks left in the Literary Lab's short story contest,Variations on a Theme. Go here or click on the botton on my sidebar for all the information.

Finally, Amazon and Penguin have announced their Breakthrough Novel Award contest for 2012. There's a General Fiction and YA catagory. Have any of you ever done this? Is anyone thinking of doing it?

That's it for now. Sharpen your pencils and put up your Do-Not-Disturb signs. You might not see too much of me over the next few weeks. I have a lot to do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Books In A Dumpster (or who's afraid of OWS?)

"With rebellion, awareness is born." ~ Albert Camus

I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street library on NPR a few weeks ago when they interviewed a school teacher from Wisconsin who was driving to NY on her weekends to help set it up. It struck me at first as whimsical. A library in a park? Out in the open? In a tent? What if it rains? Who keeps track of the books? Who catalogues them? Come on....how could this possibly work?

I've since found out that there is a long history of libraries springing up around progressive movements. The intuition of the Occupy Movement to build libraries resonates with the history of progressive change. It's a democratic impulse that has taken off like wildfire, and libraries have sprung up at Occupy sites around the country, driven by volunteers donating books and cataloging them.


These libraries all have one thing in common: their generous lending policy. You can return a book or you can pass it on to somebody else to read, whatever you see fit, and they are available to anyone.

I would love to donate a bunch of books to the Occupy library. What good are they doing on my shelf collecting dust?


I would love to get one back some day with an OWS stamp on the inside cover. What could be more exciting than to be part of this historic movement that is not going away anytime soon?

As of a month ago, the Occupy Wall Street Library had 5000 books catalogued on Library Thing. But at 2:30 am on November 15th the library was destroyed by the NYPD under the direction of the mayor of New York. Police in riot gear raided the park, seized everything in it and threw it all into garbage trucks. According to the Village Voice, librarians, like the other occupiers, were given only 15 minutes notice before the eviction, and so didn't have time to remove the library.

A college professor who was working at the site as a volunteer when the raid went down reported in The Nation that there were many, many college textbooks destroyed.


"For many," the Village Voice goes on to say, "the People's Library was one of the most remarkable institutions to arise from the occupation of Zuccotti Park. Its generous lending policy and catholic scope -- George Orwell shared space with Ayn Rand and J.K. Rowling -- made it one of the most tangible symbols of the sort of collaborative, open-source movement the occupiers were trying to build."

Of the 5000 donated books that made up the people's library, only about 1,000 were recovered and most of those were unsalvagable.


The good news is that they opened back up the next day with a donation of one. They have since regrouped and are now housed in three mobile units staffed by librarians, which they can take anywhere they want.

What would you think if you ever came across a used book that had a OWS stamp on the inside cover?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T CALL ME

A road, a river, a mountain,
restless desert eddies,
and still more space to navigate;
more than can be gathered.
Beyond the question of what you had
for dinner and if your roses bloom
or stand defeated in the heat,
about what matters, we sometimes fall behind.
Yet I feel you and hear your voice
in the strangers who surround me.
When the very silence howls an absence,
like the coyotes that run your foothills,
I hear you.
In this we aren’t so far apart.
They say we have them here.
Bold in the twilight, hungry and moving.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reunion At Luskey's (a flash 55)

He turned right
And she turned left.
He thought he had her figured out—
reduced to adjectives
on the back of a frame.
But he didn’t.

He called her over
to guess his name.
Like a pop quiz.
Thinking to trip her up
with his freckles and green eyes.
Thinking to make her fall again.


In between researching patterns for Christmas booties and bemoaning the lawn chairs left out in the snow and worrying about what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the house down the road (if we could harness the worry in my family and convert it into energy we could power the whole State of Michigan), I had to post a Friday Flash 55 for the incredible G-Man. Even if you don't have a story in 55 words that you want to share, you should definitely pop in HERE for the scariest thing I've seen this week.

TGIF.