What is "Doom Eager"?

Lorrie Moore, from "Better and Sicker"
"Martha Graham speaks of the Icelandic term "doom eager" to denote that ordeal of isolation, restlessness, caughtness and artistic experiences when he or she is sick with an idea. When a writer is doom eager, the writing won't be sludge on the page; it will give readers -- and the writer, of course, is the very first reader -- an experience they've never had before, or perhaps a little and at last the words for an experience they have."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Garrison Keillor on the publishing industry

From Writer Unboxed
Publishing: End of an era?
May 31st, 2010 by Kathleen Bolton

Garrison Keillor. Man, I love him and his rich voice booming Good Thoughts to writers every morning on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac.

Garrison Keillor thinks publishing as we know it is over.

"Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea.

We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book. You’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers."

To continue reading:
Publishing: End of an era?

Along with so many others, I hope this is not true. Undoubtedly, publishing has been altered forever by the ebook market and free online content.

"The publisher is a middleman, he calls the tune to which the whole of the rest of the trade dances; and he does so because he pays the piper." - Geoffrey Faber, British academic, publisher, and poet

What happens without the middleman? Is it better for the consumer? The writer? The agent? It sure isn't good for the middleman.

today's found treasure

Found a copy of Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing at the Hospice Thrift Store today for $1.30, which made me excited to find such a treasure at such a price and sad to see any work by such a talent as Atwood for sale for such a pittance, even at a thrift store. I can't wait to read it.

Quote from random page turn:

"In all such magician or wizard or illusionist figures, the question of imposture, of trickery, of manipulation for power of one kind or another, is never very far away. It seems that when the artist tries for a sphere of power beyond that of his art, he's on shifty ground; but if he doesn't engage himself with the social world at all, he risks being simply irrelevant -- a doodler, a fabricator of scrimshaw, a fiddler with bric รข brac, a recluse who spends his time figuring out how many angels can prance of the head of a pen."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thought for the Day

Today's thought comes from composer Edgar Varese as spoken to a reported by modern dance legend Martha Graham.

"Everyone is born with genius but most perople only keep it a few minutes."

The Genius of Martha Graham

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Amy Tan on creativity

Ran across a funny and delightful video of Amy Tan speaking on creativity at the 2008 TED conference. Tan speaks of how nothing can come out of something and how we create. I particularly connected to her thoughts about finding focus and seeing elements in the universe that may have been missed by us before but were always there and can lead us to create the work are mind/spirit wants us to create.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fine Advice from Uncle Ray

I'm busy plotting the novel this weekend. I've stumbled upon an efficient means of laying out the plot, and I do mean "laying out." More will be revealed later.

I don't have much in the way of family. Both my parents were somewhat estranged from their siblings and we moved away from my relatives, mostly in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, when I was twelve. I find family where I can. Sometimes, where I create it or imagine it to be. To this point, I'm a big Ray Bradbury fan. If I had an uncle I actually talked to, I'd want him to be like Ray Bradbury -- with lots of stories about strange carnivals, freaky characters, and life on Mars. So, I think of Bradbury as my Uncle Ray: a silver-haired gentleman wearing thick, black eyeglasses, a bit eccentric, and always with a story to tell.

This passage comes from one of my favorite books by Uncle Ray, on "releasing the creative genius within you," Zen in the Art of Writing.

"Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost any survival creature, you see the same. Jump, run, freeze. In the ability to flick like an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the next -- life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing to escape, it is playing statues to do the same. See the hummingbird, there, not there. As thought arises and blinks off, so this thing of summer vapor; the clearing of a cosmic throat, the fall of a leaf. And where it was -- a whisper.

What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds? In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping."

Thanks for the fine advice, Uncle Ray.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fear and Fiction

Fiction writing is not a place for the safe, for the easy, for the sweet and the shiny.

Tell the story you fear to tell.

Currently, I'm outlining chapters of my manuscript rewrite for Gems in the Rough (formerly Ruby Rising). I avoid stories about fathers. Mine was difficult, distant, demanding. I've spent quite some time and money trying not to think about fathers. So, I was struck when it was pointed out to me that my story partly was a story of father-child relationships. I spent a time denying it, looking to reframe the story. I wanted it to be about feminine power. Not that men in the story were secondary or weak, but, dang it, I was not going to write about fathers. After awhile I came to realize, central to the story is the nature of the father-child relationship. I won't be able to do this story justice by skirting around it.

It feels like I'm bracing myself to rip off a band-aid. I hope the skin's healed underneath.

Words on writing and the psyche:
"You have to sink way down to a level of hopelessness and desperation to find the book that you can write." - Susan Sontag

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation." - Graham Greene

"It's a nervous work. The state that you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of." - Shirley Hazzard.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thought for the Day

Writing is a process, NOT a product.

A bit from postmodernist writer Donald Barthelme on his process:

I write a lot - every day, seven days a week - and I throw a lot away. Sometimes I think I write to throw away; it's a process of distillation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


from Comics Briefly 5/25/10 Publisher's Weekly online

Super Size Me Creator Does Comic-Con Documentary

Morgan Spurlock, creator of the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me will be directing a new documentary about San Diego Comic Con entitled Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope. Produced by the geek-culture dream team of Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Harry Knowles, the documentary will follow seven fans on their journeys to and through the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.

I love documentaries, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon, and comic conventions. I'm so geeked out it's silly.

Monday, May 24, 2010

state of gloom

Most writers are in a state of gloom a good deal of the time; they need perpetual reassurance. - John Hall Wheelock

I feel you, Wheelock.

John Hall Wheelock. 1886–1978

Sunday Evening in the Common

LOOK—on the topmost branches of the world
The blossoms of the myriad stars are thick;
Over the huddled rows of stone and brick,
A few, sad wisps of empty smoke are curled
Like ghosts, languid and sick.

One breathless moment now the city's moaning
Fades, and the endless streets seem vague and dim;
There is no sound around the whole world's rim,
Save in the distance a small band is droning
Some desolate old hymn.

Van Wyck, how often have we been together
When this same moment made all mysteries clear;
—The infinite stars that brood above us here,
And the gray city in the soft June weather,
So tawdry and so dear!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Say wha!?

Yesterday, May 20th, was Eliza Dolittle Day, the day set aside each year to celebrate all the glory that is Eliza Dolittle and George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion and the movie My Fair Lady. No, I hadn't heard of it before yesterday either.

Theatre geeks and Audrey Hepburn fans will remember Eliza Dolittle as the Cockney flower girl taught to speak "proper" English by Professor Henry Higgins in order to pass as a duchess and win a bet for the good professor. Hearing about Eliza Dolittle Day on NPR yesterday made me start thinking about language: how it changes and when the "improper" or slang becomes "proper" and standard. PBS online has a great piece on language change, The Truth About Language.

This year it became okay to "unfriend" someone, especially if they became your most recent "frienemy." Last night I went online and bought a "groupon," a one-day only coupon sold exclusively online in groups (except that you don't have to have a group or purchase as a group, you can buy just one, which seemed odd to me). Last Saturday I sent off a "slice-of-life" story for a contest. The word limit was 1,500 words, which makes it too long to be a "short-short" or "flash fiction" but, to those holding the contest, was not to be mistaken with a traditional short story.

It seems like life is finite, objects are finite (even though we arrange, deconstruct, and reconstruct them in new ways all the time) but language has the potential of the infinite, the limitlessness (Is that even a word?). Case in point, recently I joked with my husband that I often felt nervous on social network sites like Facebook. Do I accept a friend request or ignore it? Are my comments clever enough? Why do I feel anxious when no one "likes" my status update? I coined this feeling Social Network Anxiety Disorder or SNAD, only to find out a few days later that SNAD has been diagnosed already, at least by sociologists if not psychologists.

My point is this. I may not like it when people drop there "g"s on words, as in "fixin' to" and "makin' a" or when "converse," as in "She and I conversed about the subject" becomes "conversate," as in "Yeah, we conversate." It's like fighting the tide. I even read in William Zinsser's classic on writing, On Writing Well, that's its okay to end a sentence in a preposition, lest one sound snooty.

So, I guess it's like this, yo. Say wha!? 'liza Dolittle Day waz yesterday? Na! Fer real? Damn! I gotta friend her. Strait up!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thought for the Day

Today's thought comes from William Zinsser's On Writing Well.

Writing is like a good watch--it should run smoothly and have no extra parts.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Good News for the Book Industry

From Publishers Weekly - May 14, 2010

Bookstore sales rose 1.6% in March, to $1.01 billion, according to preliminary estimates released this morning from the U.S. Census Bureau. For the first quarter of 2010, bookstore sales were up 1.2%, to $4.32 billion. Sales for 2009 have been restated as were sales January and February. For the entire retail segment, March sales rose 10.8% and for the quarter were up 6.2%

Increased bookstore sales is great news for the book industry. If you're buying books, remember to spread the love around and purchase books at your local, independent bookstore. I love B & N and Borders, but don't forget to help the little guy (and gal) stay in business and compete with the big dogs. You'll often find a more knowledgeable staff and friendlier service at your local, indie bookstore.

Be part of the story with IndieBound.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Keep the Literary Faith

It's easy to get down on your writing efforts. To let things slide to the point that you wake up one day and realize you haven't written in weeks, months. The manuscript you've been working on is collecting dust, and you find yourself brainlessly answering friends' and family's inescapable inquires into "How's the book coming?" with a pathetic, zombified "It's coming." But, you're lying. It's not coming.

Let's band together to keep the literary faith. We must. We sit in our offices, at our kitchen tables, at the back booth of Panera alone, wandering the dark corridors of our psyches, opening doors, peering in at the memories and impressions heaped up, the treasures of a sentimental horder, in the darkest corners of our subconscious. We must keep the faith, keep writing, and keep connected.

In her essay "Better and Sicker," writer Loorie Moore writes:
Obviously one must keep a certain amount of literary faith, and not be afraid to travel with one's work into margins and jungles and danger zones, and one should also live with someone who can cook and who will both be with one and leave one alone. But there is no formula, to the life or to the work, and all any writer finally knows are the little decisions he or she has been forced to make, given the particular choices. There's no golden recipe. Most things literary are stubborn as colds; they resist all formulas - a chemist's, a wet nurse's, a magician's. Finally, there is no formula outside the sick devotion to the work. Perhaps one would be wise when young even to avoid thinking of oneself as a writer - for there's something a little stopped and satisfied, too healthy, in that. Better to think of writing, of what one does as an activity, rather than an identity - to write, I write; we write; to keep the calling a verb rather than a noun; to keep working at the thing, at all hours, in all places, so that your life does not become a pose, a pornography of wishing.

I write; you write; we write.
Keep the literary faith, friends.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thought for the Day

Trust your writer's instinct. If a passage, a story, an element of your fiction seems unnatural or forced. It probably is. But, keep the faith, that writing is a craft, not magic, and everything can be fixed - even if that means throwing it in the trash and starting over.

The wastepaper basket is the writer's best friend. - Issac B. Singer

The same can be said for the backspace and the delete keys.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Setting in Fiction - and other stuff I got wrong the first time

So I haven't posted in over a month. I've been practicing major writing avoidance behavior. We'll lovely refer to these patterns of behavior collectively as WAB. WAB, as most writers have experienced at one time or another, involves such behavior as talking with others about writing but not writing, reading about writing but not writing, buying books about writing but not writing, writing in one's head but not writing on paper or screen, dreaming about writing but not ... You get the picture.

Much has happened. My WAB started a few days after my last post. The initial joy I felt after my editor's warm reception of my novel's first few pages was quickly followed by pain and heartbreak. Not about the novel concept. Well, not entirely. But, definitely about the novel's setting. I stubbornly tried to convince her and myself I could "layer in" details about the setting, or I could visit northern Idaho (I live along the coast of northeast Florida)and spend a week or so getting the "feel" of the place. Okay, okay, I know. It was a cheap trick. Pictures and websites on the Internet couldn't give me the experience I needed to write convincingly about the setting. The manuscript read like a weak echo of an echo of a sound. There was no there there.

Finally, I took her advice. First - because she's brilliant and I trust her. And, second - because that's what I'm paying her for. She was right. I needed to change the setting. But, to where? After much hand wringing and more than a few vodka and cranberries, I settled on Fernandina Beach, Florida on Amelia Island (renamed Leon Beach and Annabel Island in the novel. Right up the road from Jacksonville, Amelia Island is scenic and folksy, full of southern charm and some other aspects of southern history and culture I find offensive and distasteful. Most important, the setting is secluded, has the small-town feel I wanted, and lends itself to stories of both romance and the paranormal, which are all crucial to the story.

Of course, this means all but a handful of the pages I've written already are useless. To be fair, they're not useless. Writing the first draft did help me understand I need to keep the major themes of the work focused and few in number. I was taking on too much. But, I had over 32,000 words. I was getting so close to mid-point in the plot I could taste it. And, it tasted good.

Okay, breathe. If I keep thinking about it, I'll spiral into WAB again. On a good note, I did rewrite chapter one in the new setting and my editor loved the setting change and the pages. So, yeah! Since then, I've been taking on freelance writing and editing jobs to bring in some cash - because being a broke, unpublished novelist is sad and depressing. I haven't shopped seriously for clothes in months.

So, that's been my writing life this past month or so. Starting over is such fun. I plan on posting a brief description of the novel and a few opening pages soon. I'd love to get feedback. Just, please, for the love of all that is good and beautiful, don't tell me to change the setting.

These learned folks had the following to say about setting:

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Flannery O’Connor

“Every human event happens somewhere, and the reader wants to know what that somewhere was like.” William Zinsser

“He [the writer] must create, stroke by stroke, powerfully convincing characters and settings.” John Gardner

“The size of the setting also defines the fictional dimension.” William Sloane