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, November 14, 2011

I'm the worst blogger in the world!

I haven't posted anything in four months. I must be the worst blogger in the world.

On a good note, I have been writing, both my own work and work for others.Currently, I'm ghostwriting a memoir for a client about his journey overcoming addiction. Also, I've started by second novel and am plotting books two and three in the GEMS series.

I would love to hear how others maintain their blogs and keep up with their home and work life. Do you have a routine? Do you keep a list of topics you plan to explore? What do you do to keep actively involved in blogging?

Here's how bad of a blogger I am, I don't have more to say other than I've been lax in my posting and need to do better.

How about some words from Anne Tyler?

I've spent so long erecting partitions around the part of me that writes--learning how to close the door on it when ordinary life intervenes, how to close the door on ordinary life when it's time to start writing again--that I'm not sure I could fit the two parts of me back together now.

I need to work on learning how to change gears easily and balance my writing life and home life.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

David Mamet on the purpose of literature

In his essay "The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius," David Mamet writes about the "purpose of literature":
The purpose of literature is to Delight. To create or endorse the Scholastic is a craven desire. It may yield a low-level self-satisfaction, but how can this compare with our joy at great, generous writing? With our joy of discovery of worth in the simple and straightforward? Is this Jingoism? The use of the term's a wish to side with the powerful, the Curator, the Editor: The schoolmaster's bad enough in the schoolroom; I prefer to keep him out of my bookshelf.

I think the question as to what is the purpose of literature is complex and not fully contained in the function "to Delight," but I get Mamet's drift. Readers don't want to be directed or schooled or preached to. They want to encounter, explore, discover for themselves. The delight is in exploration and discovery.

A number of novels pop to mind when I consider the delight of well-crafted literature (of course, my idea of "delight" may seem a bit twisted, as evidenced by my list--the line between delight and disturb may be thin for me). Here's my short list:

Geek Love (Katherine Dunn)
Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Ellen Foster (Kaye Gibbons)
Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
Getting Right With God (Lionel Newton)
The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursala K. Le Quin)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquirel)
Microserfs (Douglas Copeland)

Something akin to "delight" overcame me when I read these novels: I was transported to a unknown place, met a new sort of person, bumped up against a fresh idea; I encountered something for the first time. And I was delighted. I suppose I "learned" something, but it wasn't the author "teaching"; it was the experience serving as instructor.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Should authors sign up for a StumbleUpon account?

See video here.
StumbleUpon CEO Garrett Camp talks to mediabistro.com's Media Beat about the "discovery engine" StumbleUpon. Calling the site not a "social network" but a "discovery engine" where account holders discover fun things they like and give those things a "thumbs up," Camp shares that its 15 million users "refer almost as much traffic as Facebook." So, should authors sign up for a StumbleUpon account? With only so much time to market themselves and so many ways to do so, how do writers decide where to direct their efforts? Is StumbleUpon the new place to discover content and get your writing noticed?

Read about it on GalleyCat
StumbleUpon Topped Facebook in Website Referrals Last Month - GalleyCat

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

John Green on book editors

Author John Green spills the beans about working with a book editor. Green feels they may be more important than writers. There is a case to be made for that sentiment.

Marc Jaffe on editors: "A competent editor is a publisher in microcosm, able to initiate and follow a project all the way through."

If you work with an amazing book editor, don't take the relationship for granted or complain about the costs/turn-around time/critique notes. Be happy the editor devotes himself or herself to your work. There should be a National Editor Appreciation Week . . . or at least a day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

my latestest treat - discovering Lynn Freed's memoir on life and writing

Picked up an engaging book on life and writing at an estate sale a few weeks ago. I had never heard of Lynn Freed, much less read one of her five novels or her award-winning short story collection The Curse of the Appropriate Man (a title, by the way, I desperately wish I'd thought of), but I was immediately drawn to the picture on the front cover of her collection of essays Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home. An attractive and proper, if rather stiff-looking, young girl in a starched, green dress holds a small, leather suitcase. She stands just inside the door of, what I gather, is her home. In a minute, I imagine she will leave her home and enter "the world," where many a splendid and exciting and joyful and rotten thing will happen to her and where "experience" may wrinkle her properly-ironed dress and give her much "life" about which to write.

The second thing that drew me to Freed's book was its subtitle: Life on the Page. I heard this phrase awhile back, on an NPR program. I forget the author who was being interviewed (though I know it was a guy) or the interviewer (maybe Terri Gross, host of Fresh Air), but whatever the circumstances, the phrase "life on the page" was uttered and I fell in love with it. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I wanted to rename my blog "Life on the Page" but couldn't figure out how to transport all my old posts into a new blog or change the web address without losing everything, so I let it go.

But this phrase has stayed with me. There are a few other phrases I keep with me, pulling them out when I need a boost of inspiration: "writing the vivid and continuous dream" (John Gardner), "To write simply is as difficult as to be good." (W. Somerset Maugham), the first lines of books I love. And from that day, I starting carrying this phrase with me, "life on the page," just a little nugget to admire, to contemplate, to wrestle with . . . and here it was again.

So I bought (rescued) Freed's book from the estate sale, where, clearly, no one else could ever appreciate the slim collection of essays the way that I could. Later that day, while waiting for my boyfriend's granddaughter to finish swimming practice, I devoured Freed's memoir, unable to be satisfied by beginning with page one and reading through to the end, in a logical order. Like a box of chocolates, I dove in, reading snippets from different chapters, tasting a paragraph or to, searching for the goodies I knew awaited me inside. And Freed did not disappoint. I haven't finished the whole book (box of chocolates) yet. I've been saving a bit back for a day when I really need it. But I have a little taste I'd like to share, a morsel of sweetness to enjoy, from a chapter on using one's family history and life experience in one's writing:

The role of ruthlessness itself--the sort of pathological ruthlessness that even the mildest of writers can reveal when having to choose between truth and decency--this, I would say, is primary. It involves not only the obvious indecencies, the revelation of bathroom habits and petty adulteries, but, more than this, the revelation, through the story, through the characters in the story, of the human condition itself--its sadness, its absurdity, its loneliness, its familiarity. Is there a safe and decent way to accomplish this? I don't think so. If it is done right, someone will get hurt.

'Everything we write,' said Adrienne Rich, 'will be used against us, or against those we love.'

'Everything you do is deliberately designed to cause your father and me as much hurt as possible,' complained Doris Lessing's mother.

'When I wrote Martha Quest,' wrote Lessing herself, 'I was being a novelist and not a chronicler. But if the novel is not the literal truth, then it is true in atmosphere, feeling, more "true" than this record.'

In a battle of competing truths, fiction, if it is done right, will always win over what fondly passes for fact. Of course it will. It is life on the page. It has made order out of chaos, sense out of the senseless. It has given shape to lives that, without the intervention of the writer, had only the shape of chronology to them--that is to say, one long line.

What a tasty, little nibble of goodness that bit is.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

William Saroyan answers the question How do you write?

American author William Saroyan answers the question How do you write? in his essay "Starting with a Tree and Finally Getting to the Death of a Brother." I think this is perhaps the number one question young and beginning writers want the answer to: How do you write?, meaning how can I write, how can I get good at writing. Here are a few passages from Saroyan's essay:
"My answer is that I start with the trees and keep right on straight ahead. . . . How do you die, write, live, sicken, heal, despair, rejoice? You are lucky if you don't start at the end, at abstraction. If you start at the beginning, at the specific, the seen, the real . . . There is no how to it, no how do you write, no how do you live, how do you die. If there were, nothing would live in the deep and very delicate chain of life. It is the doing that makes for continuance. It is not the knowing of how the doing is done. . . . A writer writes, and if he begins by remembering a tree in the backyard, that is solely to permit him gradually to reach the piano in the parlor room upon which rests the photograph of the kid brother killed in the war. . . . How do you write? You write, man, you write, that's how, and you do it the way the old English walnut tree puts forth leaf and fruit every year by the thousands. . . . If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up."

I don't think Saroyan's answer is quite what the insecure young writer is looking for . . . but I think it's the one he or she needs to hear.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

asking authors questions

Interviewer: How many drafts of a story do you do?

S.J. Perelman: Thirty-seven. I once tried doing thirty-three, but something was lacking, a certain--how shall I say?--je ne sais quoi. On another occasion, I tried forty-two versions, but the final effect was too lapidary--you know what I mean, Jack? What the hell are you trying to extort--my trade secrets?

"Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers I'd be a politician."
- Eugene Ionesco

Just an offering of humor from someone that lives for a good author interview. My favorite series is Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times.

transmedia, the analytics of social media, and paradigm shifts in "traditional publishing": PW reports on the SXSW Interactive Festival

Rachel Deahl and Calvin Reed report for Publishers Weekly on another cool event I didn't get to attend, this year' South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Topics included paradigm shifts in "traditional publishing," analyzing the effectiveness of social media, and the dangers and delights of transmedia. Reading their article made me so jealous I don't get paid to cover neat stuff like this.

Read about it.
SXSWI: All We Got Was a Bunch of New Paradigms

By the way, anyone know a programmer who knows the Android platform and/or other ebook reader platform systems? Got a special project in the works for an animated children's ebook.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

novel finished . . . now the hard part starts

So, I haven't posted anything since Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Am I the worst blogger ever? I have been working hard, though. I finished the novel and have been steadily working on freelance writing and editing gigs, which is great because I have a thing about keeping the power on and the pantry stocked.

Finishing the novel was a glorious feeling. I felt high for days--that great writing euphoria you get when you're in the zone and the words come together seemingly on their own. John Gardner writes about this mental state when the consciousness opens up and you lose yourself in the piece, when you're no longer in the reader's way, in On Becoming a Novelist:
"In some apparently inexplicable way the mind opens up; one steps out of the world. One knows one was away because of the words one finds on the page when one comes back, a scene or a few lines more vivid and curious than anything one is capable of writing--though there they stand."

I was blessed to go there (or to leave here) a few times while writing Gems in the Rough. Those few moments alone were reason enough for writing the novel.

Now the hard part starts . . . revisions! My reading tonight is from Gardner again, this time from The Art of Fiction. Before I begin a full revision cycle (even though I've been revising and editing all along), I plan to read the second half of The Art of Fiction, "Notes on the Fictional Process," as well as his chapter "Publication and Survival" from On Becoming a Novelist, keeping in mind that Gardner had a rough go of it himself when it came to getting published. I have faith, though, and hope. And, a plus in my favor, I love the editing process. Let's see if I still love it after numerous passes through the novel.

Monday, January 17, 2011

words of courage and hope from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this day of celebration, a day set aside to recognize the birth of a great leader, a beacon of hope and transcendence, some words from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

It is incumbent upon each individual to act upon the "urgency of now" to move society forward in whatever capacity each is able.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Faulkner on a "formula to follow to be a good novelist"

Faulkner's advice to those working to become a good novelist is taken from a 1956 interview for The Paris Review:

Interviewer: Is there any possible formula to follow in order to be a good novelist?

Faulkner: Ninety-nine per cent talent . . . 99 per cent discipline . . . 99 per cent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

Interviewer: Do you mean the writer should be completely ruthless?

Faulkner: The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies.

In what ways must we be "ruthless" for our art? I know when I was teaching I had nothing in me to give at the end of the day for my writing. I became content to watch my students learn and advance and create while I stood at the sidelines, cheering them on. Although my "only responsibility" cannot be solely to my art, I will know no peace until my book is written.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

help creativity flow in the new year

"It all begins when the soul would have its way with you." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

If opening up "the soul" allows our creativity to flow, in this new year here's hoping we will all engage in activities to open "the soul" (whatever that term may mean personally) and help our creativity flow.

Here are ten of my favorite techniques for pumping the creative juices:

1. Taking a walk.
2. Reading poetry.
3. Tasting new foods.
4. Creating new recipes in the kitchen.
5. Listening to music.
6. Imagining "What if ... ."
7. Reading the first paragraph of a novel.
8. Recording my dreams
9. Experiencing great art.
10. Imagining life through another's eyes and heart.

Happy New Year, all, and keep the literary faith in 2011.