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."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Children's Books: An Angelic Autumn

Children's Books: An Angelic Autumn
Karen Springen, Publisher's Weekly

Are angels the new vampires? Does the new bad-boy hottie come with a pair of wings? According to Karen Springen, they are and, yes, he does.

Apparently, angels are in and vamps are on their way out. Of course, last month I heard that mermaids were the new thing in the YA market.

For me, naming any trend the newest, bestest plot/character gimmick means a wave of quickly-written, poorly-edited books flooding the market. Not that the urge to chase the elusive market is not tempting. I don't think, however, the publishing industry can accurately predict where the market will go or what will take off and be the next blockbuster hit. Markets are led by early "alpha readers" who latch onto a book, talk it up, and spread the word, and knowing what they will like is anyone's guess.

You can know this simple truth: They'll love a good story. For my part, I'll aim to write a good story. The market can work itself out.

Steinbeck had it right when he said, "The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thought for the Day

"Complacency is a deadweight on the spirit. It smothers imagination."
Paula Fox

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paula Fox on writing ... and a little Pavese for good measure

"Hard and unremitting labor is what writing is. It is in that labor that I feel the weight and force of my own life. That is its great and nettlesome reward.

It is not easy to convince people who take writing courses just how much labor is required of a writer.

After all, their mouths are full of words. They need only transfer those words to paper. Writing can't be really difficult, like learning to play the oboe, for example, or studying astrophysics.

Pavese, in his diary, also writes:
'They say that to create while actually writing is to reach out beyond whatever plan we have made, searching, listening to the deep truth within. But often the profoundest truth we have is the plan we have created by slow, ruthless, weary effort and surrender.'

Most students of writing need little convincing about the deep truth they have within them, but they are not always partial to 'slow, ruthless, weary effort.' Few of us are. Yet there comes a time when you know that ruthless effort is what you must exert. There is no other way. And on that way you will discover such limitations in yourself as to make you gasp. But you work on. If you have done that for a long time, something will happen. You will succeed in becoming dogged. You will become resolute about one thing: to go to your desk day after day and try. You will give up the hope that you can come to a conclusion about yourself as a writer. You will give up conclusions."
Paula Fox, "Imagining What You Don't Know"

The Guardian has published a wonderful article online about Fox and her works. Click on the link above. It gave me hope to read she didn't publish her first novel until age 43. I turn 43 this December. Perhaps it is not too late for a successful writing career.

Friday, June 25, 2010


" . . . part of me was still a writer, I guess, and a writer is a man who has taught his mind to misbehave."
Mike Noonan, protagonist of Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

time on task = success

When I was teaching high school and middle school English, the easiest way to explain to students and parents how to bring up a student's grade was to simply "do the work and try to do it well." In most cases bad grades had less to do with intelligence and talent than it had to do with "time on task," how long the student spent on an assignment or independent study. Greater time on task equaled better grades.

The same case can be made for success in writing. Here's what novelist David Morrell has to say about accomplishing the task of writing a novel in his non-fiction work on the subject, The Successful Novelist.

"To accomplish the task, the goal has to be redefined. When I sit down to write a novel, I don't think of it as a novel. Oh, sure, I've made my preparations. I know the scope of the plot and the nature of the characters. But if I keep reminding myself of the size of the job, if I constantly bear in mind that I'll be sitting at this same spot a year from now, working on the same project, I'll quit with exhaustion before I get started. For me, the goal isn't to write a novel. It's to write five pages a day. They're not perfect. They need frequent revision down the road. But at least they exist.

If you're someone who doesn't have the luxury of writing all day, restrict your goal to so many words per day or week. The mathematics is interesting. A page a day is 365pages a year, the length of a novel. The key is to subdivide the huge task of a novel into smaller steps. By achieving the manageable goal you've set for yourself, you'll have a sense of daily accomplishment. Focus your attention on the short term, and the novel will take care of itself."

My goal is to average a 1,000 words a day, but I don't write every day. I'm happy if I write 7,000 words in a week, even if it means nothing on one day and 2,500 on another, as long as I make my 7,000 at the end of the week.

What's your writing goal?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

and . . . scene!

Yesterday I struggled with two scenes from the novel. What did I need each scene to do? How did these scenes advance the plot? How did each scene mirror the novel as a whole? Had I entered and exited each scene effectively?

Often the universe will point me in the right direction when I reach out. Here's where it took me.

From The Craft of Writing by William Sloane:

"The experience of fiction is accumulative as well as sequential. All scenes are contributory and all scenes are contributory on most of the various levels of the novel. List, if you must, what each scene does for the action, for the characterizations, for the foreshadowing, for the reader's entire experience at your fiction. Lay the scenes out in front of you and look at them in as relaxed a way as you can and see what they say back to you. But keep in mind that a scene that shows the reader nothing except a couple of characters being all too forgettable is not a scene but a fictional entry.

Scenes are something like miniature stories. They have in them the germ of the entire story or book, and they are like the larger whole in other respects. Scenes have a beginning and an ending, like any complete story. Each scene has a means of perception. Occasionally more than one, but rarely. Each scene has a setting -- it takes place somewhere. Each scene poses the same problems that the story or novel poses. It must establish the reader as fast as possible. It must give evidence as soon as possible that it intends to continue the contract with the reader."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"I may neither choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father."
William Shakespeare

R.I.P., Daddy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

oh, those writers . . .

Feeling a bit snarky today. In honor of the smug snark that lies in the hearts of every writer now and then, two quotes from two of the greats.

"This is what I find encouraging about the writing trade: They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence. They also allow lunatics to seem saner than sane." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

"They always think that if you write well you're somehow cheating, you're not being democratic by writing as badly as everybody else does." - Gore Vidal

Raowww! Writers, please, retract your claws.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Crime and Squirrels Lead Foreign Lists

Publishers Weekly reports on international novels making the scene.
Crime and Squirrels Lead Foreign Lists

Crime novels and feel-good story about the squirrels of Central Park head the list of must-read international novels. I've never been a big fan of crime novels, but The Squirrels of Central Park Are Sad on Monday by French novelist Katherine Pancol has piqued my interest. How about combining the two ideas? A murder in Central Park orchestrated by a rouge band of squirrels -- Of Crime and Squirrels. I kid, of course. Or, do I? Hmmm...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

feeding your muse

I wanted to post something inspirational today. Yesterday's post? Well ... I feel rather bad about it. I don't mean to sound negative, but I'm a realist. I think we all have days when writing is more pain than delight, more terror than thrill. But if we have too many of those days, we may lay down the pen, put away the keyboard, starve our muse from sheer fear and neglect. So, we must find ways to continue to "feed our muse," in the words of dear Uncle Ray. (Note: If you're new to my blog, I've adopted Ray Bradbury as my honorary uncle.)

We must strive to look at things in a new way; stir up things now and then as to see what comes of it; stop to look and listen, though we may get the occasional odd stare. I'll admit it. I've eavesdropped on others' conversations, hoping some overheard tidbit will offer a story idea or help me hone my dialogue-writing skills. I'll do just about anything to keep my muse fed.

Uncle Ray tells us we must "stuff ourselves" with food for our muse. What is this food? The stuff, the sights, the sounds, the impressions of life. Okay, Uncle Ray says it much better than I ever can:
"Similarly, in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes,and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events.
These are the stuffs, the foods, of which The Muse grows."

You heard Uncle Ray. Let's get out there, folks. Stuffing ourselves with the foods of life. Let's feed our muse.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

6 ways to get through a bad writing day

"Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter." - Jessamyn West

While my writing day has not been "hell on earth" today, I think every writer feels this way on occasion.

6 Ways to Get Through The Writing Day From Hell:

1. Talk to a friend or fellow writer.
2. Read words of inspiration.
3. Take a walk.
4. Eat a good meal.
5. Remember writing is rewriting and you can always revise what's not working.
6. Be grateful. If all else fails, remember some other writer probably had it worse that day.

How do you deal with the writing day "from hell"?

Monday, June 14, 2010

file under "Advice to Remember"

I like collecting practical advice for the young writer. In my case, I'm not young, but I am young in my quest for publication. There were the attempts in my early twenties at short story publication in the small presses of the day. And, later in my early thirties, I found some success in the local poetry scene. But, now in my early forties, I've begun my first full-fledged attempt at writing and publishing novels. As I write this I see a pattern of activity in the early years of each decade of adulthood. What does that say about me? I'll have to give it further consideration. Anyway ... advice for the young writer from Ring Lardner:
"A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation for the editor."

Something to think about. I wonder how this applies to electronic submissions?

A few more words of advice to the young writer ...
"My point to young writers is to socialize. Don't just go up to a pine cabin all alone and brood. You reach that stage soon enough anyway." - Cyril Connolly

"Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust your own judgement, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad -- including your own bad." - Doris Lessing

"They're fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talk about themselves." - Lillian Hellman

And on that note ...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

'Bree Tanner' Proves Lackluster for Indies

Publisher's Weekly reports on indie sales of Meyer's newly-released novella.
'Bree Tanner' Proves Lackluster for Indies

I checked this book out yesterday at B&N. I was surprised to find it was 176 pages long, which seems long to me for a novella. This article reports the book to be 190+ pages, which I believe to be incorrect. What constitutes a novella these days? Of course, the font size was larger than your standard book and it appeared each page couldn't have been more than 200 words on average. The story is written without chapter breaks and represents one day in the life of newborn vampire Bree Tanner.

I feel for the independent booksellers trying to sell a book that has been offered online free by the writer and, because of its size, price point, and popularity, can be sold easily at retailers not directly associated with bookselling.

Friday, June 11, 2010

another reason to write

"I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?" - Alice Walker

Monday, June 7, 2010

Thought for the Day

I was saddened by the news of respected journalist Helen Thomas' sudden resignation/retirement from the White House Press Corps. Although I disagree with her remarks regarding Israel, I champion her right to say them.

Today's thought for the day goes out to Thomas and all the other women who show the courage to speak their convictions, even those with whom we may differ in opinion and ideology.

"Well behaved women rarely make history." -Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Friday, June 4, 2010

Do you suffer from BADD (Book Attention Deficit Disorder)?

I think I have Book Attention Deficiet Disorder, or BADD.

Currently, these are the books I'm reading: Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn, Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity by Howard Gardner, and some freelance writing book by Robert Bly, which is in the back seat of my SUV, along with Stephen King's Bag of Bones and a Ray Bradbury short story collection. On my dinning room table sits two YA books I want to, at least, scan through and two books on novel writing that I'm reading for the second time. Last week I bought Anna Karenina and Richard Price's Lush Life, which looks really good and is sitting on the futon in my study. As I write this post, I keep staring over at it, sitting there, waiting for me to pick it up, show it some love. If I could focus and get through one book at time, I might be able finish the books I really want to read, put the others back on the bookshelf, and cozy up Price's urban yarn.

Okay, between the last sentence and this one, I gave in, picked it up, and read the first 10 pages. From page 10:

The kid sighs, tries not to look at the barely curious locals coming out of the Banco de Ponce ATM center and the Dunkin' Donuts, the college kids hopping in and out of taxis.
"C'mon. Do right by me. I'll do right by you." Lugo absently tosses the baggie from hand to hand, drops it, picks it up.
"Do right like how?"
"I want a gun."
"A what? I don't know a gun."
"You don't have to know a gun. But you know someone who knows someone, right?"
"Aw, man ..."
"For starters, you know who you bought this shit from, right?"
"I don't know any guns, man. You got forty dollars a week there. I paid for it with my own money, 'cause it helps me relax, helps me party. Everybody I know is like, go to work, go to school, get high. That's it."
"Huh ... so like, there's no one you could call, say, 'Yo, I just got jacked in the PJs. I need me a onetime whistle, can I meet you at such and such?"
"A whistle?"
Lugo makes a finger gun.
"You mean a hammer?"
"A hammer, a whistle ..." Lugo turns away and tightens his pony-tail.
"Pfff..." The kid looks off, then, "I know a knife."
Lugo laughs. "My mother has a knife."

Now, where else am I going to find dialogue like that? This is how it starts. Add another book to the list. I know I've got it. I've got it BADD.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Novel Writing: Choosing a Method that Works Best for You by Margo L. Dill

Novel Writing: Choosing a Method that Works Best for You by Margo L. Dill

Quick and easy article by Margo L. Dill on methods for novel writing.

I've plotted out the entire book using index cards. Each color index cards represents a different type of scene. Red cards indicate major plot point scenes, purple cards represent scenes that preview the plot point scenes and heighten tension and suspense, while green index cards are scenes that move the story along to the next major plot point and provide relevant information. Blue cards are shorter scenes that focus on character development and setting, and yellow cards are contrasting scenes that depict how the characters' lives could be if they could have what they want, a glimpse of a happy life were it not for the conflict.

I've tried outlines, sticky notes, plot snake charts, chapter summaries, flow charts. I think I've hit upon a method that works for my visual learning style and allows me to rearrange scenes easily and remove or add scenes quickly to see how each effects the structure of the novel as a whole.

A friend that used to work in grocery store sales and marketing calls it my novel "plan-a-gram," after the corporate plan-a-gram charts she was made to follow for product displays. Hey, it works for me. My only complaint now is I can't use my dining table until I finish writing the book.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The 10 strangest books in the English language - Comment Central - Times Online - WBLG

The 10 strangest books in the English language - Comment Central - Times Online - WBLG

I suppose there is an audience for everything. Check out this link to Times Online blog Comment Central on Abe Books' online feature Weird Book Room.

In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others. - Andre Maurois

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2010 UNF Writers Conference

"Let Your Creative Spirit Soar" -- that's University of North Florida's slogan for this year's writers conference. My place is saved and I'm looking forward to the events August 6-8. This year's keynote speaker is Steve Berry, N.Y. Times bestselling author of The Charlemagne Pursuit, The Alexandria Link, and The Venetian Betrayal.

To register for UNF's 2010 Writers Conference online, follow the link below:
Let Your Creative Spirit Soar

UNF has partnered with Florida Writers Association to bring you this year's conference and events.