Month: October 2009
MY GLORIOUS RETURN FROM THE BATHROOM
That’s right. I feel better, thanks for asking. Turns out I had a “touch” of the stomach flu. That “touch” had the wallop of a backhanded bitch slap if you ask me, but I’m better now…and back to my bad eating habits. Yay!
Despite being down for the count so many days in a row, I still had a pretty productive week as far as writing goes. We’ve just ended the poetry section of my creative writing class, and so I revised everything I had produced so far for my portfolio and was pretty pleased with some of the pieces. A huge deal considering my limited experience with poetry.
Now that we’re done with poetry, we’re finally wading into fiction, familiar territory. Cheers went up in the class, I tell you. But when I say we’re wading, it’s serious baby steps.
Our first assignment was to select a handful of pictures from a stack the professor brought in, just anything we liked. Then we had to write a short story outline from it.
My pictures were a flock of parrots, an aerial shot of a stone ring, a goatherder holding a baby goat (with an oddly long tail), a group of men playing dominoes, and a man resting in the foreground while a group of people apparently dance the conga in the background. Hmm. Wish I knew that was going to be the assignment before I picked out my pictures. But I made it work. <g>
Next week’s assignment is to write the first page of our story. So as you can see, we are taking tiny little baby steps. At first I was a little bit put out. One page? One lousy page? I wanna write stories! But this process is making me take a closer look at how I put together stories.
The professor brought out the old graph that looks like a mountain, with the inciting incidents, climax, et cetera. And I just thought, oh, man, I don’t put my stories together like that. I just don’t. But as we’re going along, I’m seeing the value of picking out tiny little elements and just writing that and nothing else. I’m enjoying this process of story construction via microscope. We’ll see what happens with my goatherder and parrot flock.
Speaking of the writing process, I discovered the other day that the very esteemed Steven Pressfield has started doing a series of blog posts on his blog entitled “Writing Wednesdays.” Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Check it out!
Also, heads up! NaNoWriMo starts this Sunday! That’s right, folks. Mark your calendars…then clear them. Turn off your phones, ignore your email, and get ready to write. I’ll be up in the wee hours of the night along with the thousands of other foolhardy fools across the globe racking up the word counts. This is the year I reach 50,000 words!
…is my best guess. I’m waiting for the on-call nurse to call me back and let me know if I need to come in and see a doctor, or if I just need to stay home, close to the toilet, my new best friend.
This bites the big one. Me hates barfing! I pride myself on maintaining a pretty minimal barfing record. I believe the last time I barfed was July 4, 2008, due to early pregnancy symptoms.
FINALLY…DRUG POLICY THAT MAKES SENSE.
32 minutes ago, the Associated Press reported the new medical marijuana policy to be issued tomorrow — today! — by the Obama administration: “Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana…” telling prosecutors that “it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.” (Ya think?)
COOL NEW BLOGS!
My brother, who is an awesome artist working in the gaming industry, started a blog a few months ago. He’s been pretty good about posting new art every few days. He’s really been working hard on new techniques, just getting pieces finished and out there for comment. I love his take on Max’s crowning in “Where the Wild Things Are.” Check him out!
My lovely friend Mona, from all the way back in high school, who is also my ass-kicking partner in all things related to writing, just started a new travel/life blog, which includes fantastic pics from all over the world. I love all her cemetery pics. I can’t wait to see what else she digs up from her photo archives. This girl has been everywhere.
Also, I discovered this writer’s blog through an interview posted on NaNoWriMo’s site. I don’t know her personally, but she’s hysterically funny and incredibly inspiring (she’s going to hit her outrageous goal of 1 million words this year — I am in awe). Plus, she’s got her first book out right now. She writes under the name Lauren Gallagher.
TELL ME THE SECRET!
How do other moms do it? I want to know. Seriously. I know that there are women out there who are successfully mothering more than one child while keeping a clean house, making dinner, and pursuing their passions. How? I really want to know.
Even before the baby came, my house was a mess. It’s been a mess since we moved in, a perpetual renovation-in-the-works-ancient-house kind of situation. But even so, dishes have never been done with any sort of regularity in this household. Since the baby arrived, fuhgeddaboudit.
Apparently, my husband suffers from some sort of periodic short-term amnesia because every once in a while, he’ll ask me, “What are you making for dinner?” “Ambrosia and duck a l’orange,” I reply smartly. Come on now! I can’t even start to think about dinner until after the squirt’s tucked away safely in bed and unconscious, and usually my thoughts lean towards anything that comes in a paper wrapper and can be microwaved in a hurry. (Mmm, White Castle….)
As for the pursuit of one’s passions, well, I’m doing my best to pursue them (which feels pretty much like chasing my tail). That means sneaking out of bed at 2:00 in the morning and trying to string words together on a screen through the small opening that is basically as far as my eyelids will open at that time of night. It means plopping beloved child into beloved husband’s lap and escaping to Starbucks for a couple of hours of uninterrupted thinking/writing time. It means frantically diving for the computer the minute a nap begins. It also means balancing a sleeping baby across my lap while typing, trying not to elbow her head, and trying to compose fiction in bed with one leg against a sleeping baby so she feels secure and won’t wake up.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I wanted this baby with all my heart, and I’m so happy she’s here. I just want solutions. I read about women with five children and bestselling novel series, and I’m agape. How? How do they do it? Me wants to know! Is it a magic feather? (If so, how much is it, and where can I get one?) Is it iron-clad discipline? Do they type faster? Are they smarter?
Anyway, if someone knows the answer, let me know. In the meantime, my time here at Starbucks is winding to a close. I know Fat Cat and Puppy will be waiting for me in the window completely through with each other and over the moon to see me coming up the walk. Damn, but it’s worth it. 🙂
THE NEW IMPROVED CHICKEN EGG
I’ve been keeping a file entitled “Crazy People,” with the intention that I’d start sharing some of these stories. This file is getting pretty big, so I figure there’s no time like the present. Besides, I’ve been dying to use this picture.
* * *
I have an aunt — married into the family, I hasten to add — who is convinced that there’s a covert operation somewhere in China that is manufacturing fake eggs and passing them off as real. Why she thinks there would be some benefit to a company to expend massive resources to re-engineer and artifically reproduce chicken eggs when there’s these birds called chickens that reproduce quickly and crap eggs out by the…well, dozen is beyond me.
We were at a dinner with my cousin and her new in-laws when my aunt — her mother — leaned forward to warn us in very conspiratorial tones about this dangerous new product on the market. “Make sure to check the carton,” she said, “to make sure you’re getting natural eggs.”
Okay. At this point, her daughter let her attention be drawn in the other direction — almost gave herself whiplash, poor thing — while I decided I needed to check my plate for fleas.
Why? Because we all know you can’t argue with a crazy person. But even the best of us all fall peril to the siren of possibility.
So I got to sit there and watch my mother draw herself — hell, she dove in headfirst! — into an argument with my aunt about why there are no such things as artificial eggs and how she’s probably smoking too many Chinese herbs. My aunt’s butt-headed refusal to surrender to reality and logic completely dumbfounded my mother, whose level of incredulity was becoming a bit tangible and uncomfortable for the rest of us.
They both looked to the rest of us for support. My mom’s face was a picture-perfect example of “WTF?!” My aunt’s expression was one of, “Poor thing. You’ll soon be saying, ‘I told you so.'”
That’s when good sense returned to my mom, who stabbed her chopsticks into a plate of noodles in front of my other (sane) aunt and remarked on how lovely the food was.
* * *
Postscript: Just to make sure it’s my aunt who’s the crazy one and not us, I Googled “faked eggs,” and apparently it’s an old story that’s been floating around the Net for the last few years, a recent urban legend. Whew!
A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY
I am 36 years old today.
Usually, I treat every birthday like new year’s, trying to figure out where I’m going wrong, what I need to work on, where I want to go, and how to do it faster. But this year…not so much.
This year, I am happy. I feel so grateful and fortunate and lucky for my first 36 years on Earth, and I’m especially happy for the people in my life. When I stop to count my blessings, I realize just how wonderful this life is, what a gift I’ve been given.
Of course, I’m hoping for a couple more sets of 36 years. I’m a bit greedy that way. <g> (That’s right. I want to be old and rotten when I kick the bucket.)
Anyway, here’s to birthdays! Yay!
WORK RELAXATION DON’T THINK
I have read at least two dozen books on writing in my life, and own quite a few I haven’t yet read. So far, I have found three to be well worth their salt: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (which I’ve read at least five times now — this is one I won’t lend out, but have purchased for friends and family); On Writing by Stephen King (which I’ve read at least three times and is currently on loan to my friend’s 13-year-old daughter, a budding author who cranks out word counts like a pro); and an old favorite, Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury.
When I was in 11th grade, Ray Bradbury was a featured keynote speaker at a local university. My English teacher, Mr. Brown, was kind enough to take me with him to hear Mr. Bradbury speak. Mr. Bradbury was a big, imposing guy, with thick white hair, thick black glasses, and a booming voice. Listening to him speak was like riding the People Mover at Disneyland through his life, watching him unfold his memories before our very eyes about dinosaurs, Ireland, catching the great white whale. It was fascinating and exciting and exhilarating. Mr. Brown even lent me money to purchase an audio tape of the event, which I still have to this day.
(Mr. Brown rocked as an English teacher…and it has become more apparent to me as I’ve gotten older just how awesome he really was in his understated way.)
I can listen to this tape and close my eyes and just lose myself in it. The way Ray Bradbury speaks is the way Ray Bradbury writes and, I strongly suspect, lives his life. There’s only one word to describe it: love. Everything he talks about, everything he writes about has come about from something he has fallen in love with. Not a bad way to approach things in my humble opinion.
I was poking through one of our bookcases a few weeks ago, looking for “something good to read,” and I rediscovered my copy of Zen. I bought Zen for my first creative writing class at a community college when I was 18. It was inspiring then, especially fresh from the experience of having heard the same words come from the author’s lips. But reading it again….
It’s amazing how certain things get better as you get older. I read most of the book through a film of tears. I’m convinced that if scientists could harness the fierceness of Ray Bradbury’s love and enthusiasm for life, wars would cease, the energy crisis would be over once and for all, and space travel would become an everyday affair in craft powered by memories. The language, the love, the hot-damn metaphors, the oomph with which he wrote the essays in this book and his other amazing stories…how could I not be inspired?
Before I even finished reading it, I sat down and wrote a sweet little short story. Just like that. One sitting. Not surprisingly, it was a story about the magic of memories and family and life. I was pleasantly surprised. It had been ages since I wrote a story like that. And it started out with the simple idea of what makes sun tea taste so damn good.
When I was younger, this is how I wrote. Catch an idea in a jar, pour it out on the page, stir it up with a pen, and see what kind of pictures came out. As I’ve matured as a writer, my approach has become much more methodical. There’s still enthusiastic leaping across the wilds of metaphors, catching ideas, bits of dialogue, winged what-ifs in my little specimen jar. But once I get them home, my tendency is to remove it with tweezers, pin it to a board, and preserve it for future dissection.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not necessarily a bad approach. It’s yielded a lot of strong stories for me. But it’s definitely a more technical approach. I like to know the shape of a story. I like to outline it. I like to make sure that I completely mine an idea for everything it’s worth before I even start the actual writing, often resulting in very long stories. And although I enjoy the process, at times I end up making it become more work than it needs to be…especially when it comes to editing before I’ve even set Word One on the page. Who knows what bits of goodness have been lost because I tossed something aside for fear that it wasn’t good enough, instead of pursuing it to the end to find out for certain. Kind of akin to not trying a new food because you’re afraid you won’t like it.
Even though this is the way I write — and it works for me — every once in a while, a story finds me, uses me, escapes from me, and I’m running hot on its heels excited to find out where we’ll end up. I love, love, love these stories. They’re the most fun to write. You look up surprised at the time, surprised that you’ve missed a meal (something I never do normally <g>), surprised that you’ve arrived safely home after a day trip to the Rings of Saturn.
But how do you get to see Saturn on a regular basis? Easy. Ask Ray Bradbury. Work. Relaxation. Don’t think.
This is what Ray Bradbury writes: “…[write] one short story a week, Fifty-two stories a year, for five years…Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come…Work then, hard work, prepares the way for the first stages of relaxation, when one begins to approach what Orwell might call Not Think! As in learning to typewrite, a day comes when the single letters a-s-d-f and j-k-l-; give way to a flow of words.”
This is obviously truncated, but the important parts are there. And so I have decided to take Mr. Bradbury’s sage advice and write a story each week. I still have my carefully constructed story projects I’m working on, but once a week, I have committed to sitting down with an idea and letting it take the reins and just go along for the ride.
Last week, I drowsed beneath a kitchen table in Kauai listening to folks share sun tea and magic. This week I’m spying on a witch who has sewn a little stuffed animal for her precious baby, a little guardian, if you will. And next week, I’m going to visit this guy who has this recurring problem of Jesus…well, I’ll tell you next week. <g> I’ve got dozens more stories jostling for a good place in line. I have to write a short story a week just to be fair to everyone.
Thank you, Mr. Brown, for driving me to see Ray Bradbury.
And thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for driving me to write, and for reminding me of why I do this strange thing. For love.
MANAGING YOUR IDEAS
I read a lot of interviews of PUBLISHED AUTHORS. They’ve been there, done that. They’re doing it. They’ve crested the hill and have seen what’s on the other side, and I want to know what it looks like, how to prepare for the journey, tips on packing, dealing with blisters, et cetera.
But one thing they all seem to cite as their No. 1 Most Asked (and Most Perplexing) Question is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s a funny question really. And I think it’s probably one that most young writers feel compelled to ask because they’re looking at The Author, and they’re looking at Their Body of Work, and they’re wondering how did they construct whole universes out of simple air molecules.
But I have a question that doesn’t seem to be asked very often: “How do you manage all the ideas?” Because if they’re anything like me — and I imagine that most writers are in this regard — then they’ve got loads and loads of ideas all over the house, Post-It Notes feathered across computer screens, stashed at the bottoms of purses on gum wrappers, and scrawled across the envelopes of junk mail.
When I’m on top of things — which is as often as The Great Conjunction — I have a little memo pad I carry around, and I periodically transfer my scribbles into easy-to-swallow idea tablets on the word processor. The thing is, if I don’t do this before the expiration date, the ideas can often go stale or even bad, especially depending on how clear my scribbles were to begin with.
The other day I was snooping through my phone and discovered a whole bunch of ideas I had punched in during my daily walk when I apparently didn’t have any pen and paper. These are way past the expiration date. Let me give you some examples:
- Man running alongside car, scary (image)
- Bridge trolls
- Michael Newton, journey/destiny of stars (?)
- Discovery – origami program (?)
- Esquivel – El Cable (awesome song)
- Joan the mad – Juana la Loca (?)
- Skeptic’s wife the medium (character idea)
- Porcelain by Moby (another awesome song)
- When they find my fossils – Kilo (my crazy friend’s outlandish words)
- Lovers of the Arctic Circle (sounds lovely, I wonder who they are)
- Good-bye, Lenin (??)
- Earthquake: a god is being born (self-explanatory)
- Dogs in the wind (imagery)
- Stupid chicken tricks (WTF?!)
- Dialogue: Why so mad? It’s the reefer madness. (?)
- Coven that hosts regular tea parties
- Maceo Hernandez, Japanese drummer
- Suburban safari (I picture tourists hanging out of Land Rovers to take snapshots of the local yokels, an ugly bunch)
Now, this is not a list of my best ideas, but they were definitely ideas that at one time I thought important enough to write down before I forgot them. And in some of the cases…well, I forgot them. Like crazy chicken tricks. I really wish I could remember that one.
The thing is, almost every single note is a seed of a story, a character, a setting, an image, a metaphor. And I’ve got thousands of them. Literally. In boxes. Stacked in a corner of my dining room. And beneath my writing desk. (And I have a sneaking suspicion they have raucous, unprotected sex and produce even more cryptic notes for me to scratch my head over.)
Some of them have held up well with age, and finding them is like unearthing alien relics. Others are puzzles, and well worth puzzling over.
And they’re still coming. Every day, a new one arrives in the tray of my stroller, in the news, stuck to the bottom of my shoe, and even waving at me from the top of a church bell tower. Some days, they arrive in mass immigration, anting across deserts over and under my borders, arriving in packed boats to my harbors, and even coyoting under my nose in huge unmarked vans.
The question is not, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s, “How do you make room for all that company?”
Besides the obvious, making yourself sit down on a regular basis and flesh them out enough so that they make sense — stupid chicken tricks <grumble> — there’s the other obvious solution: write like crazy!
If you don’t, the seeds will wither, dry up, and your forgotten ideas will end up floating lost in the ether, unfulfilled and wasted. And that’s a very, very sad thing. So put out the welcome mat for the new ideas, and then get busy writing! That is why we’re here, right?